Bulldog And Butterfly by David Christie Murray
BULLDOG AND BUTTERFLY
By David Christie Murray
Author Of 'Aunt Rachel,' 'The Weaker Vessel,' Etc.
Castle Barfield, Heydon Hey, and Beacon Hargate form the three
points of a triangle. Barfield is a parish of some pretensions; Heydon
Hey is a village; Beacon Hargate is no more than a hamlet. There is not
much that is picturesque in Beacon Hargate, or its neighbourhood. The
Beacon Hill itself is as little like a hill as it well can be, and
acquires what prominence it has by virtue of the extreme flatness of
the surrounding country. A tuft of Scotch firs upon its crest is
visible from a distance of twenty miles in some directions. A clear but
sluggish stream winds among its sedges and water-lilies round the
western side of the Beacon Hill, and washes the edge of a garden which
belongs to the one survival of the picturesque old times Beacon Hargate
has to show.
The Oak House was built for a mansion in the days of Queen
Elizabeth, but who built it nobody knows at this time of day, or,
excepting perhaps a hungry-minded antiquary or two, greatly cares to
know. The place had been partly pulled down, and a good deal altered
here and there. Stables, barns, cow-sheds, and such other outhouses as
are needful to a farm had been tacked on to it, or built near it; and
all these appurtenances, under the mellowing hand of time and weather,
had grown congruous, insomuch that the Oak House if stripped of them
would have looked as bare even to the unaccustomed eye as a bird
plucked of its feathers.
The house faced the stream, and turned its back upon the Beacon with
its clump of fir-trees. It had chimneys enough for a villagean
extraordinary wealth of chimneys'twisted, fluted, castellated,
stacked together in conclave or poised singly about the gables. The
front of the house was crossed laterally and diagonally by great beams
of black-painted oak. The windows, which are full of diamonded panes,
were lowbrowed, deep-sunken, long, and shallow. The door had a porch,
and this porch was covered with creepers. In summer time climbing roses
and honeysuckle bloomed there. The garden ran right up to the house,
and touched it all round. The fragrant sweet-william, nestling against
the walls, looked as though it were a natural fringe. Without the
faintest sense of primness, or even of orderliness, everything had an
air of being precisely where it ought to be, and conveyed somehow a
suggestion of having been there always. The house looked less as if it
had been built than as if it had grown, and this feeling was heightened
by the vegetable growth about it and upon itthe clinging ivy, the
green house-leek, the purple and golden moss on the roofs and walls. In
the course of its three hundred years the Oak House had stood long
enough to be altogether reconciled to nature, and half absorbed by it.
In 1850which, though it seem a long while ago, is well within
human memoryand for many years before, the Oak House was tenanted by
a farmer who bore the name of Fellowes, a sturdy and dogmatic
personage, who was loud at the table of the market ordinary once a
week, and for the most part silent for the rest of his life at home.
The gray mare was the better horse. Excepting within doors at the Oak
House, Fellowes ruled the hamlet. There were no resident gentry; the
clergyman was an absentee; the tiny church was used only as a
chapel-of-ease; and Fellowes was the wealthiest and most important
personage for a mile or two. He was a little disposed to be noisy, and
to bluster in his show of authority, and therefore fell all the more
easily captive to his wife, who had a gift for the tranquil saying of
unpleasant things which was reckoned quite phenomenal in Beacon
Hargate. This formidable woman was ruled in turn by her daughter
Bertha, unless looked at through the eyes of susceptible young
manhood, would by no means be pronounced formidable. She was
country-bred and quite rustic; but there are refinements of rusticity;
and for Beacon Hargate, Bertha was a lady. She would have been a lady
anywhere according to her chances; for she was naturally sensitive to
refining influences, and of a nature which, remembering how strong it
was, was curiously tender.
It was May, in the year 1850mid-Mayand the weather was precisely
what mid-May weather ought to be, perfumed and softly fresh, with
opposing hints of gaiety and languor in it. The birds were singing
everywherea vocal storm, and the sheepwho can never express
themselves as being satisfied in any weatherbleated disconsolately
from the meadows. The clucking of fowls, the quacking of ducks, the
very occasional grunt of some contented porker in the backward regions
of the place, the stamp of a horse's foot, and the rattle of a chain in
a manger-ringsounds quite unmusical in themselvesblended with the
birds' singing, and the thick humming of the bees, into an actual music
in which no note was discordant. The day was without a cloud, and the
soft light was diffused everywhere on a skyey haze of whitish blue.
In this positively delightful weather, Bertha stood with folded
hands in the porch of the Oak House (the floor and the far wall of the
kitchen behind her patched with gleams of red and brown light), like
the central figure of a picture framed in live green. She was pretty
enough to be pleasant to look at; but her charms were mainly the growth
of tranquil good temper and sound sense. Broad brow, gray eyes,
resolute little chin, the mouth the best feature of the face, her
expression thoughtful, serene, and self-possessed, the gray eyes a
trifle inclined to dream wide-awake, hair of no particular colour, but
golden in the sunlight. She stood leaning sideways, with one shoulder
touching the trellis-work of the porch, and one pretty little foot
crossed over the other, her head poised sideways and nestled into the
ivy. She was looking far away, seeing nothing, and her folded hands
drooped before her. A bridge, with a hand-rail on either side of it,
crossed the stream and led from a meadow path to the garden. This
meadow path was hiddenpartly by the garden wall, and partly by the
growth of alder and pollard at the side of the streamand a man came
marching along it, unobserved. Before he reached the bridge he brought
his footsteps to a sudden halt, and sent a glance towards the porch.
Seeing the girl there, sunk in day dreams, he slipped back into the
shelter of the withies and took a good long look at her. Twice or
thrice, though his feet did not quit the ground, he made a faint
movement to go on again, and at length, after two or three minutes of
indecision, he walked briskly to the foot of the bridge, threw open the
little gate at the end of it, and, suffering it to fall with a clanking
noise behind him, tramped across the hollow-resounding boards.
At this sudden break upon the rural stillnessfor, in spite of the
chorus of the birds and the farmyard noises which mingled with it, the
general effect was somehow of stillness and solitudethe girl looked
round at the new-comer, drew herself up from her lounging attitude,
placed her hands behind her and there re-folded them, and stood
waiting, with an added flush of colour on her cheek. The new-comer
strode along in a kind of awkward resoluteness, looking straight at the
girl with a glance which appeared to embarrass her a little, though she
returned it frankly enough.
'Here I am, you see,' said the new-comer, halting before her.
He was tallish, well-made, and of middle age. His expression was a
trifle dogged, and for a man who came love-making he looked less
prepossessing than he himself might have wished.
'Good afternoon, Mr. Thistlewood,' said the girl, in a tone which a
sensitive man might have thought purposely defensive.
'Is it yes or no to-day, Bertha?' asked Mr. Thistlewood.
'It has always been no,' she answered, looking down.
'Oh,' he answered, 'I'm perfectly well aware of that. It always has
been no up till now, but that's no reason why it should be no to-day.
And if it's no to-day that's no reason why it should be no again this
day three months. Maids change their minds, my dear.'
'It is a pity you should waste your time, Mr. Thistlewood,' said
Bertha, still looking down.
'As for wasting my time,' returned John Thistle-wood, 'that's a
thing as few can charge me with as a general rule. And in this
particular case, you see, I can't help myself. The day I see you
married I shall make up my mind to leave you alone until such time as
you might happen to be a widow, and if that should come to pass I
should reckon myself free to come again.'
'It has always been no,' said Bertha. 'It is no to-day. It will
always be no.'
The words in themselves were sufficiently decisive, and the voice,
though it had something soft and regretful in it, sounded almost as
final as the words.
'Let's look at it a bit, my dear,' said John Thistle-wood, grasping
in both hands the thick walking-stick he carried, and pressing it
firmly against his thighs as he leaned a little forward and looked down
upon her. 'Why is it no? And if it's no again to-day, why is it always
going to be no?'
'I like you very well, Mr. Thistlewood,' she answered, looking up at
him, 'but I don't like you in a marrying way, and I never shall.'
'As for never shall,' said he, 'that remains to be seen.'
He straightened himself as he spoke, and releasing the walking-stick
with his left hand put the point of it softly, slowly, and strongly
down upon the gravel, dinting the ground pretty deeply with the
'Let's look at it a little further,' he added.
'It is of no use,' the girl answered pleadingly. 'It hurts us both,
and it can do no good at all.'
'Let's look at it a bit further,' he said again. 'This day month you
said there was nobody you'd seen you liked better than me. Is that true
'It is quite true,' she answered, 'but it makes no difference.'
'That remains to be seen,' said John Thistlewood again. 'And as for
not liking me in a marrying way, that's a thing a maid can't be
supposed to know much of.' He waited doggedly as if to hear her deny
this, but she made no answer. 'You've known me all your life, Bertha,
and you never knew anything again me.'
'Never,' she said, almost eagerly.
'I'm well-to-do,' he went on stolidly, but with all his force, as if
he were pushing against a wall too heavy to be moved by any pressure he
could bring to bear against it, and yet was resolute to have it down.
'I'm not too old to be a reasonable match for a maid of your years.
You've had my heart this five years I waited two afore I spoke at all
There's a manynot that I speak it in a bragging wayas would be
willing enough to have me.'
'It's a pity you can't take a fancy to one of them,' she said, with
perfect simplicity and good faith.
'Perhaps it is,' answered Thistlewood, with a dogged sigh; 'but be
that as it may, I can't and shan't. Where my fancy lies it stays. I
didn't give my heart away to take it back again. You'll wed me yet,
Bertha, and when you do you'll be surprised to think you didn't do it
At this point the voice of a third person broke in upon the
'That caps all!' said the voice. 'There's Mr. Forbes, the Scotch
gardener at my Lord Barfield's, tells me of a lad in his parts as
prayed the Lord for a good consate of himself. That's a prayer as
you'll never find occasion t'offer, John Thistlewood.'
'Maybe not, Mrs. Fellowes,' answered Thistlewood, addressing the
owner of the voice, who remained invisible; 'but I wasn't speaking in a
'Nono,' returned the still invisible intruder. 'Wast humble enough
about it, doubtless. You'm bound to tek a man's own word about his own
feelings. Who is to know 'em if he doesn't?'
'Just so,' said Thistlewood, with great dryness. He appeared to be
little if at all disturbed by the interruption, but Bertha was blushing
like a peony.
'I sat quiet,' said the girl's mother, leisurely walking round the
door with a half-finished gray worsted stocking depending from the
knitting-needles she carried in both hands,' I sat quiet so as not to
be a disturbance. It's you for making love to a maid, I must allow,
The girl ran into the house and disappeared from view.
'It's me for speaking my mind, at least, ma'am,' returned John, with
unaltered tranquil doggedness.
'Ah!' responded the farmer's wife; 'you're like a good many more of
'em; you'd sooner not have what you want than go the right way to get
Thistlewood digested this in silence, and Mrs. Fellowes set the
'I've always fancied,' he said in a little while, 'as I had your
goodwill in the matter.'
'You've got my goodwill, in a way to be sure,' said the old woman.
'You'd mek the gell a goodish husband if her could find a fancy for
youbut the fancy's everythingdon't you see, John?'
'I'm not above taking advice, Mrs. Fellowes,' said Thistlewood,
digging at the gravel with his walking-stick. 'Will you be so good as
to tell me where I'm wrong?'
'There's one particular as you're wrong in,' returned Mrs. Fellowes,
knitting away with a determinedly uninteresting air, 'and, I misdoubt
me, you can't alter it.'
'What's that?' asked Thistlewood, looking up at her suddenly.
'You're the wrong man, John.'
'That remains to be seen,' he answered, with the same dogged
patience as before.
'You can't win a maid's heart by going at her as solemn as a
funeral,' pursued the old woman. 'If you'd ha' begun sprightly with the
gell, you might ha' had a chance with her. La! says you, what a
pretty frock you're a-wearing to-day; or How nice you do do up your
hair for a certainty.'
'I don't look on marriage as a thing to be approached i' that
fashion,' said Thistlewood.
'Well,' returned the old woman, clicking her needles with added
rapidity, 'I've always said there's no end to the folly o' men. D'ye
hear that there cuckoo? Go and catch him wi' shoutin' at him. An' when
next you're in want of toast at tay-time, soak your bread in a pan o'
Thistlewood stood for a time in a rather dogged-looking silence,
sometimes glancing at the notable woman and glancing away again. Her
eye expressed a triumph which, though purely dialectic, was hard for a
disappointed lover to endure, even whilst he refused to recognise his
'I should regard any such means of gettin' into a maid's good graces
as being despisable,' he said, after a while.
'Very well, my Christian friend,' the farmer's wife retorted, with a
laugh. 'Them as mek bread without barm must look to spoil the batch.'
'I was niver of a flatterin' turn of mind,' said Thistlewood.
'You niver was, John,' responded Mrs. Fellowes, with an accent which
implied something beyond assent.
He flushed a little, and began to tap at his corduroyed leg with the
stick he carried, at first with a look of shamefaced discomfiture, and
then with resolution. He finished with a resounding slap, and looked up
with a light in his eyes.
'I'm pretty hard to beat, ma'am,' he said, 'though I say it as
should not. I'm not going to be conquered here if I can help it. And I
look to have you and Mr. Fellowes on my side, as far as may be asked in
reason. Her'll find no better husband than I should be to her, I am
sure. There's more than a wheedlin' tongue required to mek a married
woman happy. I've pretty well proved as I'm not changeable. There's a
strong arm to tek care of her. There's a homely house with plenty in
it. There's a goodish lump at the bank, and there's nothing heart can
desire as her might not have by asking for it.'
'Well, John,' said the farmer's wife, clicking her needles
cheerfully, 'I've not a word to say again the match. Win the wench and
welcome. My dancin' days is pretty nigh over, but I'll tek the floor
once more with pleasure, if you won't be too long in mekin' ready for
'There's nothing more to be done at present, I suppose,' the lover
said presently, 'and so I'll say good-bye for this afternoon, Mrs.
With this he turned upon his heel, and marching sturdily down the
path and across the little bridge, disappeared behind the withies and
The farmer's wife waited a while until he was out of hearing, and
then, without turning her head, shrilled out 'Bertha!' The girl came
silently downstairs and joined her in the doorway. The mother pursued
her knitting in silence, a faint flicker of a humorous smile touching
her face and eyes now and again. At length she spoke, looking straight
'Why woot'ent marry the man?'
'Mr. Thistlewood?' asked Bertha, making the feeblest possible
defence against this direct attack.
'Ay,' said her mother, 'Mr. Thistlewood to be sure. Why woot'ent
'I like him well enough in a way,' the girl answered 'But I don't
like him that way!
'Whyin a marrying way,' said Bertha.
'Pooh!' answered the notable woman. 'What's a maid know how she'd
like a man?'
'I should have the greatest respect for him,' Bertha answered,
wisely avoiding the discussion of this question, 'if he wouldn't come
bothering me to marry him.'
'Ay! 'said her mother, assenting with a philosophic air. 'That's a
wench's way. When a man wants nothing her'll give him as much as her
can spare. But look hither, my gell! You listen to the words of a old
experienced woman. There's a better love comes after the weddin', if a
gell marries a worthy solid man, than ever her knows before it. If a
gell averts from a man that's another matter. But if her can abide him
to begin with, and if he's a good man, her'll be fond of him before her
'I should never be fond of Mr. Thistlewood, mother,' the girl
answered, flushing hotly. 'It's of no use to speak about him.'
'Did the man ever mek love to you at all,' the mother asked, 'beyond
comin' here and barkin', Wool't marry me?'
'I wish you wouldn't talk of him, mother,' Bertha answered in a
troubled voice. 'I respect him very highly, but as for marrying him,
it's out of the question. I can't do it.'
'Well, well,' returned her mother, 'nobody's askin' you to do
anything o' the sort. I'm trying to find your mind about him. It's high
time 'twas made up one way or other. You've come to a marriageable
'I'm very well as I am,' said Bertha, rather hastily. 'I'm not in a
hurry to be married.'
'You've never been much like other gells,' said her mother, with a
dry humorous twinkle which looked more masculine than feminine. 'But I
reckon you'll be in about as much of a hurry as the rest on 'em be when
the right man comes.'
At this moment a whistle of peculiar volume, mellowness, and
flexibility was heard. The whistler was trilling 'Come lasses and lads'
in tones as delightful as a blackbird's.
'Is this him?' said the old woman, turning upon her daughter.
Bertha blushed, and turned away. The mother laughed. A light
footstep sounded on the echoing boards of the little bridge, and the
human blackbird, marching gaily in time to his tune, flourished a
walking-stick in salutation as he approached.
'Good-afternoon, Mrs. Fellowes,' cried the newcomer.
'Good-afternoon, Miss Fellowes.'
They both returned his salutation, and he stood before them
smilingly, holding his stick lightly by the middle, and swinging it
hither and thither, as if keeping time to an inward silent tune. His
feet were planted a little apart, he carried his head well back, and
his figure was very alert and lithe. He made great use of his lips in
talking, and whatever he said seemed a little overdone in emphasis. His
expression was eager, amiable, and sensitive, and it changed like the
complexion of water in variable weather. He was a bit of a dandy in his
way, too. His clothes showed his slim and elastic figure to the best
advantage, and a bright-coloured neckerchief with loose flying ends
helped out a certain air of festal rural opera which belonged to him.
'I passed Thistlewood on my way here,' he said, laughing brightly.
'He looked as cheerful as a frog. Did y' ever notice what a
cheerful-looking thing a frog is?'
He made a face ludicrously like the creature he mentioned. The old
woman laughed outright, and Bertha smiled, though somewhat unwillingly.
'I don't like to hear Mr. Thistlewood made game of, Mr. Protheroe,'
she said a moment later.
'Don't you, Miss Fellowes?' asked Mr. Protheroe. 'Then it shan't be
done in your presence again.'
'That means it may be done out of my presence, I suppose,' the girl
'No, nor out of it,' said the young fellow, bowing with something of
a flourish, 'if it displeases you.'
'Come in, Lane, my lad,' said the mother, genially. 'I've got the
poultry to look after at this hour. Bertha 'll tek care of you till I
come back again.'
Lane Protheroe bowed again with the same gay flourish, and
recovering himself from the bow with an upward swing of the head,
followed the women-folk into the wide kitchen as if he had been
crossing the floor in a minuet. If these airs of his had been assumed
they would have touched the ridiculous, but they were altogether
natural to him; and what with them and his smiling, changeful,
sympathetic ways, he was a prime favourite, and seemed to carry
sunshine into all sorts of company.
When the mother had left the kitchen the girl seated herself
considerably apart from the visitor, and taking up a book from a
dresser beside her, began to turn over its pages, stopping now and
again to read a line or two, and rather ostentatiously disregarding her
companion. He sat in silence, regarding her with a grave face for a
minute or thereabouts, and then, rising, crossed the room and placed
himself beside her, bending over her, with one hand resting on the
dresser. She did not look up in answer to this movement, but bent her
head even a little more than before above the book.
'I'm glad to be left alone with you for a minute, Miss Fellowes,' he
began gently, and with a faint tremor and hesitation in his voice,
'because I've something very special and particular to say to you.'
There he paused, and Bertha with a slight cough, which was a trifle
too casual and unembarrassed to be real, said, 'Indeed, Mr. Protheroe?'
and kept her eyes upon the book.
'They say a girl always knows,' he went on, 'and if that's true you
know already what I want to say.'
He paused, but if he expected any help from her in the way either of
assent or denial, he was disappointed. He stooped a little lower and
touched her hand with a gentle timidity, but she at once withdrew it.
'You know I love you, Bertha? You know you're dearer to me than all
the whole wide world beside?'
Still Bertha said nothing, but the hand that turned the leaves of
the book trembled perceptibly.
'I've come to ask you if you'll be my wife, dear! if you'll let me
make you my lifelong care and joy, my darling! You don't guess how much
I love you. You don't know how much your answer means to me.'
The girl rose, and, carrying the book with her, walked to the
kitchen window and looked out upon the garden, the river, and the
fields, without seeing anything. She was evidently agitated, and did
not find an answer easily. Lane followed her, and when for a moment she
dared to look up at him she encountered a look so tender, anxious, and
ardent that she lowered her eyes in quick confusion. He seized her
hand, and for a brief instant she let it rest in his.
'Speak to me,' he murmured, caressingly and pleadingly. 'Tell me.'
'I don't understand you, Mr. Protheroe,' the girl said pantingly.
'Not understand me, dear? 'he whispered; 'I am asking you to be my
'I understand that,' she answered, drawing herself away from him,
and speaking with difficulty. 'It is you I don't understand.
'Tell me how, darling,' he said softly.
'You tell me,' she said, lifting a pale and agitated face, 'that I
can't guess how much my answer means to you. But you come here
whistling and dancing, as you always come, as if you hadn't a care upon
'Don't make that a reproach against me, dear,' said he. 'Why it was
just the thought of you made me so happy.'
She looked up at him with an expression of doubt and pain, and as
their eyes met he caught one of her hands in both his, and held it.
'Dear Bertha!' he said, with a sudden moisture in his eyes. 'There
is nobody so good. There is nobody so lovely.'
She drew away from him again, though some sort of electric influence
seemed to come out of him, and draw her strongly to him.
'I must wait,' she said. 'II don't know you well enough. I don't
understand you. You are too light. You are too careless. I don't know
how far I can believe you.'
'Oh!' he cried, 'believe me altogether, dear. I love you with all my
heart and soul!'
She moved to the middle of the room, and sheltered herself behind a
table which stood there.
'I hardly know whether you have a heart,' she answered then. 'You
fancy you feel all you say,' she added quickly. 'You feel it for the
He stood at the other side of the table with brows suddenly grown
'I shall feel it all my life,' he said. 'It's the one thing I've
ever been in earnest about. I never thought I should feel as I do. If
you like to wait, dear, before answering me, I'll wait just as long as
ever you please.' His gloom was gone, and he was all eagerness and
vivacity again. 'There's nothing I won't do for your asking. I'll cure
every fault I've got. I'll be everything you'd like to have me. Try me,
darling. Wait and see. But give me only just a little bit of hope.
Don't send me away quite hungry. Tell me you care for me just a
littlenot as I care for youI don't expect that. It doesn't stand to
reason yet awhile you should.'
There she shot one swift glance at him, averting her gaze at once.
'I won't say I don't like you,' she answered with a candour half
rustic, half characteristic of herself 'But I won't answer yes or no
'Very well, dear,' he answered tenderly. 'You shall have time to
know if I'm in earnest, or if I've taken nothing more than a passing
fancy. Shall I ask you again this day six months?'
'I won't promise you an answer then,' she said. 'I will answer you
when I am certain.'
'You could care for me, then,' he urged her, 'if you were only quite
sure I loved you, and always would love you? Why, Bertha, I'd put my
hand in that fire to save you from a finger-ache. I'd jump into the
Weale there if I thought I could make you happy by doing it. I'd live
my whole life your servant for a smile a year.'
His eyes flashed or moistened with every phrase, his gestures were
superabundant and intense, and his voice was genuinely tender and
His ardent eyes and voice thrilled the girl, and yet she doubted
him. There was a fear in her mind which she could not shake away.
People in Beacon Hargate were not rich in opportunities for the
study of the acted drama, but Bertha had seen a play or two in the
great town hard by, and Lane looked and talked rather too much like a
stage lover to her mind. In the unreal life behind the footlights
lovers talked with just such a fluency, just such a tender fiery
emphasis. In real life John Thistlewood came doggedly a-wooing with a
shoulder propped against a doorpost, and had hard work to find a word
for himself. If only that one absent element of faith could be imported
into the business, Lane Protheroe's fashion of courting was certain to
be infinitely more delightful than John Thistlewood's, but then the
absent element was almost everything. And for poor Bertha the worst
part of it seemed that she loved the man she doubted, and could not
love the man in whose affection she held the profoundest faith. That
the rough, clumsy, and persistent courtier loved her was one of the
indisputable facts of life to her. She knew it just as surely as she
knew that she was alive. She knew it, and the knowledge hurt her, for
she could fancy nothing less hopeful than Thistle-wood's wooing, and
she was without a spark of mere vanity.
'I think it is because you say so much that I don't feel quite able
to believe it all,' she said. 'You feel it when you talk about it, but
it seems to me as if you had to talk before you get to feel it.'
His brows bent down over gloomy eyes again, and he folded his arms
as he looked at her. Once more poor Bertha thought of the stage lover
she had seen, and a long-drawn sigh escaped her.
'I can't think it's all quite real,' she said, almost desperately.
'You think I say too much?' he retorted. 'It seems to me as if I
said too little. It seems to me as if there weren't any words to speak
such thoughts and feelings.'
'Is that because you don't value the words? 'she .' asked him.
'Don't you think that if you felt what the words do mean that they'd
seem enough for you?'
'I know I'm a good-for-nothing beggar,' he answered, with a sudden
air of weary self-loathing and disdain. 'I know. I've got a way of
taking everything in deadly earnest for an hour or two. But,' with a
sudden swerve into the track of self-justification, 'if that makes you
think I'm fickle and weak-willed, you're all wrong, darling. There are
some fellowsI know plentywho go through life like a lot of oysters.
They don't feel anythingthey don't care about anything, or anybody.
But, bless your heart, my dear, they never get doubted.'
Bertha took this for a satiric dig at the absent Thistlewood, and
spoke up for him, needlessly, as it happened.
'Still waters run deep, Mr. Protheroe.'
'Some of 'em do,' responded Mr. Protheroe, with profoundest gloom,
which lightened suddenly into a smile as bright as sunshine. 'But some
of 'em don't run at all. And some of 'em are as shallow as any puddle
you'll find along the road, only they're so bemuddled you can't see to
the bottom of 'em. You can plumb 'em with your little finger, though,
if you don't mind soiling it.'
Now this innocent generalisation seemed gratuitously offensive to
the absent Thistlewood, and chilled Bertha greatly.
'That may be very true of some people,' she responded; 'but it isn't
true of all the quiet people in the world.. And I don't think, Mr.
Protheroe, that the people who make the greatest parade of their
feelings are the people who really have the most to speak of.'
'Why, that's true, too, of some people,' returned Protheroe; 'but
there are all sorts in the world, dear. Some say a lot and feel a lot
Some feel a lot and say nothing. Some say nothing and feel nothing. It
may be a fault with meI don't knowbut when I start to say a thing I
want to say all of it. But surely a feeling isn't less real because you
don't seem able to express it whatever words you choose.'
'Where the feeling's sacred the words are sacred,' Bertha objected.
'Tell me what it is you fear about me,' he besought her, leaning
across the table, and searching her face with his eyes. 'You don't
believe I should have a wandering mind if you said yes, and we should
once be married?'
She had laid the book upon the table, and now betook herself to
fingering the leaves again.
'I've no right to pick faults in you, or give you lessons, Mr.
'Oh yes, you have,' he answered. 'All the right in the world. If
you'll take in hand to show me my faults, I'll take in hand to cure 'em
so far as a man may.'
'I don't think you're fickle,' said the girl hesitatingly; 'but I do
think you're shallow, Mr. Protheroe.'
'Not a bit of it, dear,' he protested. 'I'm as deep as Gamck. As for
your still waters running deep, it'd be a better proverb to my mind to
say deep waters run stillat times. Niagara's deepish, folks say that
have seen it. That's not to say that I even myself with Niagara, you'll
understand, though 'tis in my nature to splash about a good deal. But
all that apart, Bertha dear, try to make up your mind to take me as I
am, and help me to make a man o' myself.'
At this point back came the farmer's wife with a clatter of pails in
the back kitchen to indicate her arrival in advance. Lane took his
leave with a reluctant air, going away much more gravely than he had
'Well,' said Mrs. Fellowes, drawing her knitting from a capacious
pocket and falling to work upon it at once, 'hast sent Number Two about
Bertha cast an embarrassed look at her and blushed.
'Mother,' she said, 'you seem to find out everything.'
'Can find my way to the parish church by daylight,' the elder woman
answered with complacency. 'But you tek care, my wench, whilst thee
beest throwin' all the straight sticks aside, as thee doesn't pick up a
crooked 'un at the last. Thee hast a fancy for the lad, too, that's as
plain to be seen as the Beacon.'
'Oh!' cried Bertha, reddening again. 'I hope not.'
'For me, my gell,' said her mother. 'For me. And it's outside my
thinkin' why a maid shouldn't tek a fancy to him. A lad as is stiddy
an' handsome, and as blithe as sunshine! He's as fond as a calf into
She liked to hear him praised, and, woman-like, began to depreciate
'I don't think he's very solid, mother,' she said.
The elder woman smiled at the transparent artifice, and refused to
be entrapped by it.
'No,' she answered. 'Lane's a bit of a butterfly, I will say. And
Jack Thistlewood's a bulldog. Mek your ch'ice betwixt 'em while they'm
there to be chose from. Which is it to be? Butterfly or bulldog?'
But Bertha answered nothing.
Things may have changed of late years, but in those days the parish
churchyard was the great meeting-place for lovers who as yet were
undeclared or unaccepted. The youth and the maid were both there for a
purpose altogether removed from love-makingthe meeting had the
advantage of being accidental and certain. It was a tacit assignation
which was almost certain to be kept, and even the shyest of sweethearts
would dare to walk homewards together a little of the way even in the
lightest of summer evenings.
When Sunday morning came, and the one musical bell began to tinkle,
Bertha stood before her open bedroom window, tying her bonnet-ribbons
at the glass, in the embarrassing certainty that both her lovers would
be waiting outside the church to meet her. This certainty was the less
to be endured, because Bertha had the sincerest desire to close with
heavenly rather than with earthly meditations on a Sunday, but she
could no more help being flustered by the thought of Lane Protheroe,
and being chilled by the anticipation of Thistlewood's look of bulldog
fidelity, than she could help breathing. The girl's trouble was that
she could not give her heart to the man who commanded her respect,
whilst it was drawn fluttering with all manner of electric palpitations
towards another whom she thought infinitely less worthy.
There was nothing in the world against Lane Protheroe in any serious
sense. Nobody spoke or thought ill of him, or had ground for ill
speaking or thinking. But it was generally conceded that he was
a butterfly kind of young fellow, and there was a general opinion that
he wanted ballast. Rural human nature is full of candour of a sort, and
Lane was accustomed to criticism. He took it with a bright
carelessness, and in respect to the charge of wanting ballast was apt
to answer that ballast was a necessary thing for boats that carried no
cargo. Thistlewood was generally admitted to be a well-ballasted
personagea man steady, resolved, serious, entirely trustworthy.
'John Thistlewood's word is as good as his bond,' said one of his
admirers one day in his presence.
'John Thistlewood's word is his bond,' said John Thistlewood,
'as any man's ought to be.'
People remembered the saying, and quoted it as being characteristic
of the man,a man cut roughly out of the very granite of fidelity.
Surely, thought Bertha, a girl ought to esteem herself happy in
being singled out by such a man. The cold surface covered so steady, so
lasting a glow. And as for Lanewell, Lane's heats seemed the merest
flashes, intense enough to heat what was near them, but by no means
enduring. There was danger that anything which was of a nature to keep
on burning might catch fire at him, and when well lit might find that
the creating heat had gone out, or had withdrawn itself. She knew
herself, by instinct, faithful to the core, and if once she consented
to love the man, she would have to go on doing it. That looked likely
to be terrible, and she fought against herself continually. And she not
only tried not to love the butterfly, but had tried her loyal hardest
to love the bulldog. The last chance of success in the second
enterprise went out finally when Thistlewood had once so far conquered
his clumsy reticence of manner as actually to put his arm about her
waist. Then every fibre of her body cried out against him, and she
escaped him, shivering and thrilling with a repulsion so strong that it
seemed like a crime to her. How dared she feel the touch of so
estimable a man to be so hateful? But from that moment the thing was
settled beyond a doubt. She could respect John Thistlewood, she could
admire the solidity and faithfulness of his characterbut, marry him?
That was asking for more than nature could agree to.
If Lane had only resembled John a littleah! there was a glow of
certainty called up by that fancy which might have been altogether
delicious had the fancy been well grounded. If John had only been a
little more like Lane? She was hardly so sure. Obviously, John was not
the man for this girl to warm her heart at.
The worst of it was that he would never find or look for another
girl, and his long courtship, though it could never endear him, or even
make him tolerable as a lover, served at least to have established a
sort of claim upon her. The great faithful heart might break if she
should throw herself away. The depth of his affection, as she realised
it for herself, could only be understood by one capable of an equal
passion. She never guessed, or came near to guessing, that her
conception of him was the realisation of herself; but it is only great
hearts which truly know what great hearts can be, and her profound
conception of Thistle-wood's fidelity was her own best certificate to
The little musical bell went on tinkling as she walked across the
fields. It had various rates of movement to indicate to distant
worshippers the progress of the time, and she gave a careful ear to its
warnings, so regulating her steps as only to enter the churchyard at
the last minute.
There sure enough were both John and Lane waiting to pay their
morning salutation. Happily, to her own mind, there was time for no
more than a mere hand-shaking and a good-morning, and she walked into
the church, beautifully tranquil to look at, though she could hardly
believe that all the congregation could not guess with what a startled
feeling her heart had begun to beat. By and by the influences of the
place and the service began to soothe her, though she only succeeded in
excluding her lovers by a conscious process of forgetfulness which was
not so far removed from memory as it might have been.
The Thistlewood pew was a little to the front on her right, and the
Protheroe pew a little to her front on the left, but she kept her eyes
so studiously downcast that she got no glimpse of either, until a
strange and altogether remarkable feeling of something missing
surprised her into looking up. Her eyes went first to the Protheroe
pew, and Lane was not there. Then in spite of herself she listened for
Thistlewood's voice in the Responses, and not detecting it, was
impelled to look for him. He also was absent, and she began to quake a
little. Was it possible they had stayed outside to quarrel? This fear
would have been sufficiently serious at any time, but on a Sunday,
during church hours, it magnified itself, which fact is in itself
enough to prove that though the idea perturbed her she foresaw no very
terrible consequences. It would be hateful to be quarrelled over, but
both the combatantsif combatants they were to bewould respect her
too much to proceed to extremities, and thereby make the quarrel
public, and her a target for all tongues.
John and Lane had met in the churchyard pretty early, and whilst
there were friends to greet, and to pass the time of day with, things
went smoothly enough. But as the churchgoers filed by ones and twos
into the building, each began to be aware of a solitude which was
peopled only by the disagreeable presence of the other. John,
ostentatiously disregardful of his adversary, planted himself at the
gate, so as to be before him in his greeting. Lane, rather unusually
erect and martial in his walk, marched past him into the village
roadway, and there loitered for the same intent. Thistlewood,
recognising the meaning of this manouvre, strolled into the roadway,
and doggedly planted himself a yard or two beyond the spot where his
rival had halted. Lane, with an air to the full as ostentatiously and
offensively dis-regardful as the other's, marched past Thistlewood with
half a dozen soldierly-looking strides, and bringing himself to an
abrupt halt made a disdainful back at him. Again Thistlewood advanced,
but this time he drew himself up a trifle behind his rival, and laid a
finger on his shoulder.
'Well?' said Protheroe, without turning his head.
'I shall want a word with thee by and by, my lad,' Thistlewood said
'Have it now,' replied Lane, settling his shoulders jauntily.
'There's time in plenty afore us,' Thistlewood answered, regarding
him with supreme disfavour.
The younger man looked straight before him with an exasperating
aspect of indifference.
'When you like,' he said.
'Very well,' replied Thistlewood. 'In five minutes' time from now.'
'Church time,' said Lane smilingly, surveying the landscape.
'Beest that keen set on the sermon?' John inquired.
'Don't know that I am,' replied the enemy, rising a little on his
toes, and then settling his shoulders anew.
'Five minutes' time from now.'
The jaunty airs and scornful disregard began to warm Thistlewood's
blood a little.
'Canst look a man i' the face when thee talk'st to him? 'he asked.
'Yes, bless your heart and soul alive!' cried Lane, swaggering round
and beaming on him.
For half a minute they looked at each other, the one angry,
resolute, and lowering, with head bent a little forward, his glance
directed upward past his down-drawn brows, the other smiling with
seeming sweetness and gaiety.
Thistlewood seemed to restrain himself with something of an effort.
'We'll talk together by and by,' he said, and turning, deliberately
walked back into the churchyard.
For a few seconds Lane stood glorying, but on a sudden it occurred
to him that his rival was behaving in a more dignified manner than
himself, and this was a reflection not to be endured without instant
action. So he marched back into the churchyard also, and left John in
the foreground. When Bertha appeared her elder lover paid his respects
first, and Lane came up afterwards, looking, as she remembered later
on, prodigiously gloomy and resolved.
The bell had been silent for a minute, and the curate's voice had
begun to drone within the building. The rivals were alone, and nobody
was within sight or earshot.
'Shall we walk a pace or two, Mr. Protheroe?' asked John.
Mr. Protheroe, without speaking, sauntered out at the gate, vaulted
a stile opposite, and paused in a field pathway. Thistlewood followed,
throwing first one leg and then the other over the rail with a sort of
'Now,' said Lane.
'We'll walk on a little bit,' answered Thistlewood, and there was
silence for a minute or two as they strode along the grass. Then when
they had reached the shelter of a little copse which hid them from the
whole landscape on the church side, John said, 'Now,' in turn, and the
two halted. Each was paler than common by this time, and Lane's eyes
sparkled, whilst the other's burned steady with resentment.
''Twixt man and man as is willing to come to understand one another,
Mr. Protheroe,' said Thistlewood, 'a very few words suffices. I'll have
thee nor no man else poaching on my manor.'
'Well,' Lane answered, 'if ever I should arrive at owning a manor,
I'd say the same. But I'd be sure of my title-deeds afore I took to
warning other men off the ground.'
'Let's talk plain English,' said John, apparently quite untouched by
'With all my heart,' said his rival, 'the plainer the better.'
'I find you very much i' my way,' Thistlewood began ponderously.
'I don't find you a little bit in mine,' Lane answered.
'You talk to sting,' said Thistlewood, with dull dignity. 'I want to
talk so as to be understood. I find you very much i' my way, as I was
saying, and I won't have you theer.'
'And how do you mean to set about getting rid of me?'
'I've set about harder jobs than that i' my time, lad.'
'Like enough. But how do you mean to set about this one?'
'All in good time,' said Thistlewood. 'Sha'st find out speedily.'
'Show me now,' said Lane.
A breach of the peace seemed imminent, but, 'Afore thee and me comes
to that,' the elder answered, 'I want thee to have fair warnin'. It's
unbecomin' in a man to brawl over the maid he wants to marryI'm a
man as never changed nor halted nor turned aside from anything he set
his mind upon. I've been courtin' Miss Fellowes now this three year. It
stands to reason as a frivolish young chap like you can mek no count of
how a man feels, or of what a man 'ud do in a like case.'
'That stands to reason, does it?' 'It stands to reason,' answered
Thistlewood. 'I suppose it stands to reason likewise that I am to stand
to one side, and leave the road clear after this?'
'It'd be the wisest thing you ever did.' 'Well, now, Thistlewood,
you'll please understand that, for all so frivolous as I may be, I'm
hardly that easy to be swayed. As for who has a right on the ground,
it's a mere piece of impudence to talk about it. That's neither for me
nor you to choose. If ever I get straight No I'll go, but I'll have
it before I go, for that's a man's bounden duty to himself.'
'Understand thyself as bein' warned away,' said Thistlewood.
'Understand thy warning as being laughed at,' answered Lane. 'You
talk plain English? So will I. You've got the wrong pig by the ear.
You're no better than a dog in the manger. You've always been spoken of
up till now as a man to play fair, but now it strikes me you play very
far from fair, and cut a poor figure. As for threatsa man who won't
take a hiding when it's offered to himwhat's he good for, I
should like to know?'
Here, as elsewhere, Mr. Protheroe was true to nature, and spoke with
striking emphasis. He was quite red-hot with scorn at the imaginary
fellow who would not take the proffered hiding, though a minute
earlier, when he had told Thistlewood that he had the wrong pig by the
ear, his manner had been marked by a cold and lofty superiority.
'Beest warned! 'said Thistlewood, 'that's enough.'
'Not half enough, nor yet a quarter,' cried Lane, with a bellicose
air, not unmixed with swagger. 'I've taught my hands to take care of my
head, sir, and they'll be ready to do it whenever the time occurs. But
it always seemed a bit ridiculous to me to talk about fighting
beforehand When the fight's over there is something to talk
'You seem to be in a hurry for that there hiding,' said Thistlewood.
'Hurry's no word for it,' the younger man responded, with cheerful
'Very well,' said the elder, taking off his hat and bestowing it
carefully upon the grass, 'sha'st have it.'
Lane, for his part, threw down his hat, flourished his coat off,
dropped it behind him, rolled up his sleeves, and waited whilst
Thistlewood made his preparations more slowly. Protheroe set that
mellow whistle of his to work on 'The British Grenadiers,' and his
enemy smiled grimly to think how soon he would silence the music.
Half a minute later they were standing foot to foot and eye to eye,
the music already silenced. It would have been difficult from the mere
aspect of the men to say on which side the advantage lay. In height and
reach they were nearly equal, and, if Thistlewood's weight and muscle
were in his favour, Protheroe was as active as a cat.
And here might have been recorded a bit of history to warm the blood
of such as love and remember the old-fashioned manhood of England. We
are grown too refined and civilised nowadays for the old rude
arbitrament, and so fair play has ceased to be the Englishman's motto
in fighting, and the English rustic shoots and stabs like the rustic of
other lands. All fighting is foolish, more or less, but we had the
manliest, friendliest, most honourable, and least harmful way of doing
it amongst all the sons of men, and so our Legislature killed out the
'noble art' from amongst us, and brought us to the general ugly level.
It was in the reign of the Tipton Slasherwhich, as people learned
in the history of manners will remember, was a longish time agowhen
these two Britons stood up to arrange their differences after the
fashion then in vogue. There was nobody to see fair play, and so they
saw it for themselves, as all fighting Englishmen did when there was a
code of honour to go by. It was not a mere affair of hammer and tongs,
but very fair scientific fighting, the science vivified by enjoyment,
and full of energy, but never forgotten for a second. The pleasure was
keen on both sides, for from the beginning of their knowledge of each
other these two had been in antagonism, and at the last it was a real
treat to let all go and have at it.
'I was always a bit frivolous, as you said just now, Mr.
Thistlewood,' Lane remarked in the first enforced pause of the combat,
'but I'd like you to bear me witness that I stick to what I'm at while
I'm at it.'
This address was delivered pantingly, whilst the speaker lay flat
upon his back on the grass, with his arms thrown out crosswise.
Thistlewood disdained response, and sat with one great shoulder propped
against a dwarf oak, breathing fast and hard. When this sign of
distress had a little abated, he arose, and said 'Time' as if he had
been a mere cornerman in the affair, and rather bored by it than
otherwise. Lane rolled over on to his face, rose to his hands and
knees, smiled at his adversary for a little while, as if to give him an
appetite for the business in hand, and then got to his feet and made
Now for a man to hold his own at this particular form of fighting
against an equal adversary for a bare five minutes argues five grand
things for him, and these are chastity, temperance, hardihood,
strength, and courage. It speaks well for these admirable qualities in
both of them that Messrs. Thistlewood and Protheroe made a good hour of
it. The advantages and disadvantages had been so equally distributed
that by this time they were pretty nearly harmless to each other, but
each was sustained by the hope of victory, and each would have died,
and, for the matter of that, would have gone on dying, rather than
yield the precious palm to the other.
Now the clergyman who ministered to the spiritual wants of Beacon
Hargate was never disposed to gorge his flock with too much doctrine at
a time, and on this Sabbath had an invitation to luncheon at a great
house some four or five miles away, and so treated his parishionersto
the scandal of some and the joy of othersto the shortest discourse
they had ever heard from the pulpit. By this mischance it happened that
the combatants were discovered by a silent male advance-guard of the
home-returning congregation, who ran backhis footsteps soundless on
the grassto spread the splendid news. Sunday or week-day there was no
more welcome break in the monotony of life in Beacon Hargate than that
afforded by a fight. The time being church-time, and the combatants men
of respectable position, lent piquancy to the event, of course, as who
shall say me nay? The churchgoers, two or three farmers, Mr. Drake, the
manager of Lord Barfield's estates at Heydon Hey, and a handful of
labourers came up, at first stealthily, and then more boldly, and
looked on at the finish.
It was plain that the fight had been severe, but it was equally
plain that the best of it was over; and when Farmer Fellowes interposed
as amicus curio, nobody but the two most concerned had any
especial resentment against him.
Even for them Farmer Fellowes had a crumb of comfort.
'Finish it another time, lads,' he said. 'Where's the good o' goin'
on wi' it i' this manner? Why a child might homber the pair on you. Get
fresh an' have another turn to-morrow, if the 'casion's worth it.'
So the fight was left undecided after all, and the adversaries were
led off to the neighbouring brook, where they made themselves as
respectable to look at as they could before they took their several
ways. They were unsightly for a week or two, and were close watched by
their women folk lest they should renew the strife.
Beacon Hargate knew perfectly well the reason of the battle, and
Bertha was mightily disdainful and indignant over both her lovers, who,
to her fancy, had disgraced themselves and her. Six days after the
fight John Thistlewood's business for once in a way, as well as his
inclination, took him to Fellowes's farm, and there Bertha (who for
very shame had not quitted the house since Sunday) first saw the result
of the fray. The stalwart farmer's face was discoloured, and, in
places, still swollen. She saw the wicked handiwork of Lane Protheroe,
and vowed within herself that she would see that dreadful young man no
more. She could have cried for pity of poor Mr. Thistlewood, who had
been thus shamefully treated for the crime of being faithful in love.
If John had known it, he had at this instant the best chance of
being taken as Bertha's husband he had ever had, or was like to find.
But he was shamefaced about the matter, as heroes not uncommonly are
with regard to their achievements, and was disposed to think himself at
an even unusual disadvantage.
Bertha stifled in her heart whatever tender sentiments Protheroe had
inspired, and was prepared to pass him whenever she might meet him with
such a manner as should indicate her new opinion of him beyond chance
of mistake. Thistlewood had appeared on the Saturday, and on the Monday
the fates threw her younger lover in her way. She discerned him from a
distance, herself unseen. His figure dipped down into the hollow, and
she could not see him again until they met at some turning or other of
the tortuous lane. If pride had not forbidden it she could have turned
to fly homewards, but she hardened her heart and went on until his
footsteps sounded clearly on the stony road.
Then he turned the corner, and she lifted one glance of superb
disdain which melted suddenly under a terror-stricken pity. For this
hero was worse battered than Number One had been, and one of those
eyes, which had used to be so expressive and eloquent, was decorated by
'Oh, Lane!' cried the girl, clasping her hands, and turning white
'Did I frighten you, my dear?' said Lane. 'It's nothing. It'll all
be right in a day or two.'
'I hope so,' she answered, recovering herself, and seizing on
principle before it made away for ever. 'I wish you to know that I
think you have behaved very disgracefully, and I hope you will never
speak to me again.'
'Why,' said Lane, 'that's hard measure, Bertha; and as for behaving
disgracefullyif a man threatens to punch your head you must give him
the chance to punch it. That's man's law, anyhow, whether it's woman's
'I am sure Mr. Thistlewood is no quarreller,' said Bertha, with
great dignity and severity of demeanour. 'It takes no great penetration
to guess who began it.'
'There's one thing I will say for him,' returned Lane; 'he's a
truth-telling fellow, to the best of my belief. Ask him who began it.
He'll tell you. Not that I should take any particular blame or shame
for having begun it myself, but since that's how you look at it,
dearwhy, I should like you to be satisfied.'
'Do you think, Mr. Protheroe,' demanded Bertha, 'that it's the way
to win a girl's esteem to brawl about her in public on a Sunday?'
'That's what Thistlewood said,' Lane answered, with cunning
simplicity. 'It's unbecoming, said he, in a man to brawl over the
maid he wants to marry.'
'I was certain he would say so, and think so,' returned Bertha, with
a sinking of the heart. She wanted grounds for pardoning Lane.
'Well,' said Lane, with a retrospective air, 'we talked for a while,
and he was good enough to promise me a hiding if I didn't keep out of
his waymeaning, of course, at your father's house. I didn't seem to
take it quite so meekly as he thought I ought to, and by and by says
he, You seem to be in a hurry for that hiding. So I just made answer
that hurry was no word for it, and then, the pair of us being keen set,
we got to it. The day was an accident, and I daresay a piece of
forgetfulness on both our sides. But you see, my dear, a man's just as
bound to guard his self-respect on a Sunday as on a week-day.'
'I have been very deeply wounded,' said Bertha. 'I wished to respect
you both, and now I can respect neither of you. Good-morning, Mr.
Mr. Protheroe stood discomfited, and looked mournfully after her as
she walked away. When she had disappeared round the bend of the road he
sat down upon the bank and plucked grasses with mechanical fingers,
turning the thing up and down in his mind for an hour or thereabouts.
Suddenly he jumped to his feet and resumed his walk, smiling with head
erect, and that mellow whistle of his rose on the air with jollity in
every note of it, for it had broken upon his mind like sunshine to
remember her first exclamation on seeing him. He was a young man who
was in the habit of making sure of things, and he had never in his life
been surer of anything than he felt about this. The name, the tone, the
look, meant more than a common interest in him. She had called him
'Lane' for the first time in his life. She had clasped her hands, and
turned pale at the sight of him. All this meant victory for his dearest
hopes, and so he leapt to his feet, and marched off whistling like the
Bertha pursued her way along the tortuous bridlepath with thoughts
which resembled the way she travelled. Like the road, her fancy seemed
to turn back upon itself pretty often and yet in the main it held in
the same direction. Of course, fighting was a brutal business to a
girl's way of thinking, but then, when she came really to think of it;
men were strange creatures altogether, half terribly glorious and half
contemptible. Lane had endured all these injuries simply and merely
because he loved her! She could have no conception of the possibilities
of masculine joy in a fight for its own sake, or of the masculine sense
of honour which compelled the meeting of a challenge half-way. Of
course it was mightily unpleasant to be talked about, as the heroine of
such a business. The village tongues had been busy, and would never
altogether stop wagging for the remainder of her lifetime.
The influence of long years of respect for Thistle-wood seemed to
turn her mental steps backward now and then. That so quiet and retired
a man, and so little given to proclaiming himself should have made the
most sacred wishes of his heart a matter of common gossip was
understandable only on one hypothesis. His love and his despair carried
him out of himself. That, of course, was a daring thing for any girl to
think, but then Bertha was bound to find reasons.
Mainly, her mind was occupied in the reconstruction of her previous
belief about Lane Protheroe. He also, it would seem, had manly
qualities in himcould stand up to be beaten in the cause of the woman
he loved. The blows hurt her so, in the mere fancy of them, that she
more than once put up her hands to her face to guard it. By the time
she had accomplished her errand, and was on the way back to her
father's farmhouse, she was all tenderness and forgiveness and
admiration for the newly-revealed Lane, but then, as the fates would
have it, just as she began to think of her cruelty to him, and of the
terribly low spirits into which she must have thrown him, the familiar
jocund whistle broke upon her ears, and when she stood still in a
dreary amaze at this, she could hear the steps of the lover, who ought
to have been altogether love-lorn, marching along in something very
like a dance in time to his own music. What was one to think of such a
man? She was back in a moment to her old opinion of him. No rooted
feeling in himno soliditynothing to be sure of!
She made haste home, and there shut herself in her own room and
cried. Her mother walked upstairs, and finding the girl thus mournfully
engaged, sat down tranquilly beside her and produced her knitting. The
click of the needles had an effect of commonplace which helped to
restore Bertha to her self-possession, and in a little time her tears
ceased, and moving to the window she stood there looking out upon the
landscape. The monotonous click of the needles ceased, and she knew
that her mother had laid down her work in her lap and was regarding
her. She turned, with a ghost of a smile.
'You're thinkin', no doubt, as you're full o' trouble, my wench,'
began the mother, 'and it's no manner o' use in talkin' to young folks
to try an' mek out as a thing as pains don't hurt. But if you can only
bring 'em t' understand as it won't hurt much by and by, you've done
summat for 'em, may be. What's the trouble, wench? Come an' tell thy
'It's all over now, mother,' said Bertha
'Not it,' returned Mrs. Fellowes, 'nor won't be yet a while. Beesn't
one as cries for nothing, like most gells. I was niver o' that kind
Bertha would not, perhaps could not, make a confidante even of her
mother in this matter, but Mrs. Fellowes had a remarkable faculty for
striking human averages, and she got near the truth in her guesses.
'There's one thing fixed and sure, my dear,' she said, 'and that is
as follows: ayther you must find a mind to wed one of 'em, or you must
pluck up a spirit and tell 'em you'll wed nayther.'
'I have told Mr. Thistlewood that I can never marry him,' said
'And what about Lane?' her mother asked her.
'I can never marry him either,' the girl answered steadily. She had
her voice under perfect control, but her averted face and the very
lines of her figure enlightened the shrewd old mother.
'Hast told him so?' she asked.
'I have told him,' Bertha answered, 'never to speak to me again.'
'Hoity, toity, deary me!' cried the old woman. 'And what says he to
'He didn't greatly seem to care,' said Bertha, with a beautifully
assumed air of indifference.
'Maybe he didn't set such store by what you told him as to tek it in
'Oh,' said the girl, languidly and indifferently, 'he knew I meant
'And didn't seem to care? My dear, you're talkin' of Lane
'He cared for a minute, perhaps,' Bertha said, her assumed
indifference and languor tinctured with bitterness by this time. 'He
cared for a minute, perhaps; just as he does about everything. I heard
him whistling an hour afterwards.'
The disguise was excellent, and might have deceived a woman who had
known her less intimately and watched her less closely, but it was
transparent to the mother.
'That's the trouble, is it?' said Mrs. Fellowes, gravely betaking
herself once more to her knitting. Bertha had been crying already, and
had hard work to restrain herself. 'Look here, my darlin',' the mother
said, with unwonted tenderness of tone and manner, 'if you can't read
your own mind, you must let a old experienced woman read it for you.
The lad's as the Lord made him. What we see in any o' the men to mek a
fuss about, the Lord in His mercy only knows; but, to my mind, Lane's
'the pick o' ten thousand. He's alive, and that's more than can
be said of many on 'em. He's a clever lad, he's well to look at, and
'Mother,' cried the girl, almost passionately, her own pain wrung
her so, 'he has no heart. He cares for a thing one minute, and doesn't
care for it the next. He pretendsno, he doesn't pretendbut he
thinks he cares, and while he thinks it I suppose he does care. But out
of sight is out of mind with him.'
'Makest most o' thine own troubles, like the rest on us,' said Mrs.
Fellowes philosophically. But, in a moment, philosophy made way for
motherly kindness, and, rising from her seat, she bestowed her knitting
in a roomy pocket and put her arms about her daughter's waist. 'Art
fond of the lad all the same,' she said. 'Ah, my dear, there's nothin'
likely to be sorer than the natur as picks flies in the things it's
fond on. There's a deal o' laughin' at them as thinks all their geese
is swans, but they're better off in the long run than them as teks all
their swans to be geese.'
Bertha said nothing, but she trembled a little under the caress, and
her mother, observing this, released her, went back to her chair, and
once more drew forth her knitting.
'I reckon,' she said, after a pause, 'as John Thistlewood's had the
spoiling of thee. Thee'st got to think so much o' them bulldog ways of
his'n, that nothin' less 'll be of use to any man as comes a-courtin'.'
'Don't talk about it any more, mother,' said Bertha, with an air of
weary want of interest. 'I have said good-bye to both of them.'
And there the interview ended.
It became evident that Bertha was likely to have a troublesome time
before her. First of all came John Thistlewood, dogged and resolute as
ever, propping himself against the chimney-piece, flogging his gaitered
legs with the switch he carried, and demanding Ay or No before his
time. Bertha determined to treat him with some spirit.
'You don't need me to tell you that I respect you very highly, Mr.
Thistlewood. But you oughtn't to need me to answer your question any
more. I shall be obliged if you will be so good as not to ask it
'I shall ask it,' said the dogged John, 'till it comes to be
answered one way or another.'
'It has been answered almost often enough to my way of thinking,'
She had never been tart with Thistlewood until that moment, but he
manifested no surprise or emotion of any kind.
'It never has been answered, an' never will be till I see thee
married, whether to me or another. When that day come to pass you've
heard the last of my question.'
Thus the dogged John; and he being disposed of for a while, came
Lane. To him the persecuted maid was a little less severe than she had
been, but she was inexorable.
'If you like to come here as a friend, Mr. Protheroe, in a few
months' time, I daresay we shall all be very glad to see you.'
'Well,' said Lane, with fine irrelevance, 'as an enemy this is a
house I shall never make a call at. But look at the matter for a
minute, my darling'
'You must not talk to me like that, Mr. Protheroe,' Bertha said,
with great coldness.
'Like what, my dear?' asked the ingenious Lane.
'Like that, Mr. Protheroe,' replied Bertha.
'I think it so often, that I'm afraid I'm bound to say it sometimes;
but, if it offends, I hope you'll forgive me. You know you are
my darling, don't you? You know there isn't a queen in the world I'd
even with you if every hair of her head was hung with Koh-i-noors. Out
of the fulness of the heart the mouth speaketh, the Wise Man says. So,
if I do let slip my dear or my darling now and then, you'll know
it's accident, and you won't take offence at itwill you?'
This was agile but unsatisfactory.
'Please understand me, Mr. Protheroe,' said Bertha, with rural
dignity; 'you must not come here again until you can come merely as a
'Bertha! You can't mean it! What have I done? What has changed you?'
'Mr Protheroe!'the rural dignity made an insulted goddess of her
to Lane's fancy'what right have you to say that I have changed?'
'Why, Bertha,' he said, meekly and strickenly, 'wasn't I to come in
six months' time and get an answer?'
'Will you oblige me by coming for your answer in six months' time,'
answered Bertha. 'Good-afternoon, Mr. Protheroe.'
Bertha thought herself more cruel to herself than to him. She knew
how infinitely more cruel she was to Thistlewood, but that was not a
thing to be avoided. She and he alike must suffershe in giving pain
and he in bearing it. Bertha's heart ached over Lane, and the
bitterness of it was to know that in a week or two the butterfly nature
would have ceased to care. He was hotly in love to-day, no doubt, but
he would be out of love to-morrow, may be, and in a month or two hotly
in love again elsewhere.
On the Sunday following these interviews dogged John was at church,
and the butterfly Protheroe also. Thistlewood looked as he always
looked, rudely healthy, and a masterpiece of masterfulness and sullen
perseverance and resolve. Lane was pallid and miserable, and Bertha
remarking him was compelled to fall back on the bitter consolation of
her former thoughts. He would take it heavily for a day or two, and
would then forget all about it. He cast a glance or two in Bertha's
direction, and his eyes were full of melancholy appeal. But for her
certainty he would have moved her, for she was predisposed to be moved,
and she had hardly expected to have had so much effect upon him. He
walked dejectedly out of church at the close of the service, and
Thistlewood half by accident shouldered him. He took it meekly, and
made no sign.
Two or three days later came a piece of news of the sort Bertha had
expected. Mr. Protheroe was heard of as having made one of a picnic
party in the neighbourhood of Heydon Hey, and of this party he was said
to have been the life and soul. He was reported to have paid marked
attentions to Miss Badger, daughter of a wealthy cheesemonger in Castle
Barfield High Street. The young lady was rumoured to be possessed of
great personal attractions, and a pretty penny, present and
Foreseen as it was, the news stung a little when it came. Even the
most butterfly-like of lovers might have waited a little longer!
And yet next Sunday, when Bertha went to church, quite resolved not
to waste so much as a glance upon him, he looked paler and more
dejected than he had done a week ago. She looked in spite of
herselfshe must needs look at him,and it was evident that as yet
the cheesemonger's daughter had found no way to cheer him. Thistlewood
never altered. Those strong self-contained natures have a power upon
themselves as they have on other people. He could last for years in
solid and complete devotionhe could apparently wait for everand
could yet hide from the eyes of the outer world the steady fires which
burned within him. That butterfly nature of poor Lane's forced
Thistlewood's virtues into prominence by contrast, and the girl had
them almost constantly in her thoughts. There was nothingshe told
herself remorsefullythat this typical piece of solidity and devotion
would not do for her. Her faith in his attachment transcended bounds,
and she felt it to be a thousand pities that she could not love him.
It does not happen in every life-history that this sort of profound
feeling finds an opportunity of proof, but in the story of the lives of
John Thistlewood and Lane Protheroe this thing came to pass in such
wise that he who ran might read the natures of the men, and know them
once for all.
Bulldog John had gone on doggedly courting, and butterfly Lane had
taken to seeing too much convivial company in Heydon Hey and Castle
Barfield, and there was a fear in Bertha's mind that if her influence
had not been permanent, it had at least started the young man on a
track likely to prove disastrous. These emotional people, quick to feel
and quick to forget, are hardly to be dealt with without danger.
Lane's dissipations must have been graver than even rumour gave them
discredit for being. His midnight junketings had made a ghost of him,
and to see him at any moment when he thought himself unobserved was to
wonder how long such a mournful and broken young gentleman could
possibly rouse himself to fill the part of King even in a rustic
Autumn was on the land. The corn-shocks were standing in the
stubbled fields, and the night air was full of gossamer, which twined
itself about the faces of all wayfarers. Rural work had gone on merrily
all day, and when the sun set silence fell, and darkness like a warm
shroud. Lights flickered a while in the village and the farmhouse, and
then went out one by one. The moon stole over the Beacon Hill, and
looked mildly across the valley.
There was not a breath of air stirring, and not a sound upon the
night except for the placid and continual gurgle of the stream which
had no voice at all by day. Yes. One other sound there was, a sound as
of some one moving uneasily in a creaking chair. Creak, creak, creak It
grew momently. Crackle, crackle, crackle. Still it grew. A tongue like
the tongue of a snakeso light and fine and swift was itflashed out
of a crevice, and flew back again, flashed out again, and again
withdrew. Then the snake's body flashed out after it, and melted on the
moonlit air. Another, and another, and another. Then a low roaring
noise, and all the windows of the basement shone out ruby-coloured, and
the moon looked bleared by contrast.
A distant voice from the village called out 'Fire!' There was a
crash of opening windows, a tumult of clapping doors, a storm of
barking dogs, excited voices, hurrying feet.
Old and young, male and female, robed anyhow, ran hard towards the
farmhouse, and poured in a thunderous stream across the echoing wooden
bridge which spanned the river. The farmhouse was a tower of flame,
fantastic turrets springing here and there. The dry timbers, centuries
old, made the best of food for fire, and the place flamed like a
tar-barrel. The screams of doomed horses came with hideous uproar from
the stables in the rear.
The farmer and his wife, the men servants and the maid servants,
were in the garden, all pale with fear and helpless; but the mother
tore the night with calling on her daughter's name.
Bulldog John and his rival came last of all, though they ran like
hounds, and they crossed the bridge and dashed through the crowd
'Oh, John,' cried the agonised mother, clutching at him as though he
were an ark of safety. 'You'll save herwon't you? God help her!
You'll save herwon't you, John?'
One figure, black as night against the fierce glow of the flame,
dashed across the space between the crowd and the farmhouse. It was
hardly seen, and scarce believed in by those who thought they saw.
'John,' cried the wretched mother, 'you'll save her! You as loved
her so! You'll save her!'
There is no manhood in the world that needs to be ashamed to hang
back from an enterprise so hopeless and so terrible. The woman shrieked
and prayedthe man stood motionless with white face and staring eyes.
Then came one wild cry from half a dozen throats at once, and next
upleapt a roar that struck the noise of the fire out of being for an
instant. For the figure, black against the fiery glow, was back again,
by some such stupendous chance, or heaven-wrought miracle, as only
desperate valour ever wins. A figure huddled in a blanket lay in his
arms, and as he came racing towards the crowd they fell together. They
were lifted and borne out of the circle of fierce heat and flying
The house was left to burn, and every thought was centred on the
rescuer and the rescued. The fresh air roused Bertha from her swoon,
and at the first opening of her eyes and the first words she spoke the
mother went as mad with joy as she had been with terror.
'Alive!alive! Safe!safe! And oh, my God! my Christian friends,
it was the Butterfly as did it!'
But it was a full month later when Lane Protheroe asked his first
'Hush! my dear, dear darlin',' said Mrs. Fellowes, her eyes brimful
of tears. 'Lie quiet, there's a dear.'
'Safe and well, love; safe and well.'
'I'm thirsty,' said the Butterfly.
He was supplied with a cooling drink, and fell to sleep smiling,
with unchanged posture. In half a dozen hours he woke again.
And we leave them hand in hand, yearning on each other through their