MoboReader > Literature > Julia And Her Romeo: A Chronicle Of Castle Barfield / From Schwartz" by David Christie Murray"

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Julia And Her Romeo: A Chronicle Of Castle Barfield / From Schwartz" by David Christie Murray" By David Christie Murray Characters: 19992

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

A summer sunset filled all the sky above Castle Barfield and its encircling fields. The sun had disappeared, leaving behind him a broad reflected track of glory where, here and there, a star was faintly visible. A light wind was blowing from the hollow which sheltered the town towards the higher land whereon the rival houses of Eeddy and Mountain faced each other. Below, it was already almost night, and as the wind blew the shadow mounted, as if the wind carried it. The rose and gold left by the departing sun faded down the sky, and settled at the horizon into a broad band of deep-toned fire, which, to one facing it in ascending from the lower ground, seemed to bind the two houses together. Some such fancy might have been in the head of Mrs. Jenny Rusker, as she went in the warm evening air towards the little eminence on which stood the long low-built house of Samson Mountain, already a-twinkle with occasional lights in the gloom, its own bulk cast against the fast-fading band of sunset.

Mrs. Jenny, hale and vigorous yet, and still a widow, was older by fifteen years than on the day when she unfolded to Dick Reddy the story of Romeo and Juliet. Fifteen years was a good slice out of a lifetime, even in Castle Barfield in the first half of the century, when time slipped by so quietly and left so little trace to mark his flight.

She passed the gate which opened on the public road, and entered the Mountain domain. The air was so still that the bubble of the boundary brook was clearly audible a hundred yards away, with nothing to accent it but the slow heavy flap of a late crow, winging his reluctant flight homewards, and save for him, sky and earth alike seemed empty of life, and delivered wholly to the clinging peace of evening. So that when Mrs. Jenny came to the only clump of trees in her line of progress between the gate and the house the little scream of surprise with which she found herself suddenly face to face with an unexpected human figure was justified.

'Sh-h-h! 'said the figure's owner. 'Don't you know me, Aunt Jenny?'

'Dick!' said Mrs. Jenny, peering at him. 'So it is. You welly frightened the life out o' me. What brings you here, of all places in the world?'

'Can't you guess?' asked Dick. He was tall and broad-shouldered now, an admirable fulfilment of the physical promise of his boyhood, and far overtopped Mrs. Rusker. 'It isn't for the first time.'

'I feared not,' said the old woman. 'You was allays main venturesome.'

'It will be for the last, for some time, Aunt Jenny. I leave Castle Barfield to-morrow.'

'Leave Barfield?' cried the old woman. 'Why, Dick, wheer are ye goin'? You ain't agoin' to do nothin' rash, that I do hope.'

'I am going to London,' said Dick, 'and I must see Julia before I go. You must help me. You are going to the house now, aren't you?'

'Going to London?' repeated Mrs. Eusker, who had no ears for the last words after that announcement. 'What's made you so hot foot to go to London all of a minute like?'

'It was decided to-day. My father suspects what is going on. I feel sure of it, though he has never said a word about it. You know he always meant to make a doctor of me-it was my own choice when I was quite a little fellow, and it has always been understood. Last month he asked me if I was of the same mind still, and to-day he told me that my seat is taken in the coach from Birmingham. You know my father, Aunt Jenny, as well as I do. He has been a very good father to me, and I would not give him pain or trouble for the world. I could not refuse. Indeed, it is my last chance of ever doing anything for myself and making a home for Julia.'

'My dear, they'll never hear on it, nayther of 'em. Samson Mountain 'd rather see his daughter in her coffin than married to any kin of Abel Reddy's. Though he loves her, too, in a kind o' way. An' your father's jist as hard; he's on'y quieter with it, that's all They'll niver consent Niver, i' this world.'

'Then we must do without their consent, that's all. I must see Julia to-night, and you must help me. Tell her that I am here and must see her. Oh, Aunt Jenny, you are surely not going to desert us now, after helping us so often.'

'I'm dub'ous, my dear. I hope good may come of it, but I'm dub'ous. I'm doubtful if I did right in helping you, again your father's will, an' Mr. Mountain's, too.'

'You won't refuse to do so little, after doing so much,' pleaded the young man. 'Why, it was at your house that I used to meet her, when we were children together, and you first christened us Romeo and Juliet.'

'A name o' bad omen, my dear. I wish I hadn't gi'en it to you now.'

'For niver was a story o' more woe, Than this o' Jewliet an' her Romeo.'

'I don't believe much in omens,' said Dick. 'But you will tell Julia that I am here, won't you? It's the last time, for ever so long.'

'I'll tell her,' said Mrs. Rusker. 'But don't stay here; goo down to the Five Ash. Mr. Mountain's gone to Burmungem, an' he'll come across this way when he comes back. You must tek a bit o' care, Dick, for the gell's sake.'

'I'll take care, dear. It's good-bye this time, Aunt. You've been very good to me always, and I shan't forget your kindness while I'm away. And you'll be good to Julia, too, while-while I'm away, won't you?'

Mrs. Rusker's objections had never had any heart in them, and had been merely perfunctory, and such as she conceived her age and semi-maternal authority compelled her to make. She was wholly given over to Dick and Julia, and all her simple craft was for their service. She kissed him, and cried over him, and so they parted, he bound for the Five Ash field, and she for the farmhouse.

'Why, lacsaday, Jenny, whativer is the matter?' asked Mrs. Mountain, when her visitor entered her sitting-room, and gave her tear-stained cheek to her old friend's embrace. Julia, a lithe, graceful girl, rose at the query from the other side of the little table, and came to Mrs. Rusker's side.

'Why, you're cryin',' continued the elder woman. 'What is it, my dear, as has upset you i' this wise?'

'Well, my dear,' said Mrs. Rusker, wiping her eyes and smoothing her dress, as if her grief was done with and put away, 'it ain't a trouble as I expects sympathy from you in.'

Mother and daughter exchanged glances.

'It must be a queer sort o' trouble, then,' said Mrs. Mountain; 'an' you might tell me what it is afore you say that, Mrs. Rusker, arter all these 'ears as we'n knowed each other.'

'Well, if you must know, I've jist sin young Reddy, i' the road, jist outside the Five Ash.' Julia's hand was on her shoulder as she spoke, and she felt the soft touch tremble. 'He's a-leavin' Barfield, agoin' to London, for a long time.'

'Oh, that's the matter, is it? Well, I don't know anythin' agin the young man, barrin' as he is a Reddy. An' for the matter o' that, though o' course a woman has no ch'ice but to stand by the kin as her marries into, I niver found much harm in 'em, unless it is as they're a bit stuck up. I know as you was allays fond on him, an' I hope the young man 'll do well. I've often said to Samson as it was all rubbidge, a-keepin' up a old quarrel like that, as keeps two dacent fam'lys at daggers drawn. Theer, theer, let Julia get you a cup o' tay, an' let's talk o' somethin' cheerful.'

'I'll go and send it in to you,' said Julia. She exchanged one quick glance of intelligence with the widow as she left the room. The old woman had done her errand, and Julia knew where to seek her lover. She found her hat in the hall, and slipped out by the back way, after directing the servant to take in the required refreshment to Mrs. Busker. It was bright moonlight now, and as she ran lightly across the Five Ash field in her white summer dress, Dick, waiting in the shelter of the hedge, saw her plainly, and advanced to meet her.

'Oh, Dick, is it true?'

He took her in his arms and kissed her before he answered. 'Yes, dear, it's true. I am going to London.'

'But why so suddenly, so soon?'

'I must, dear. It is my own choice. I am going to study, to fit myself to take my place in the world, and to find a home for you. Be brave, dear. It is only for a little time.'

'It is all so sudden.'

'Yes. I had hoped to stay a little longer, to see more of you, to get used to my happiness before I lost it. But my father suspects, I am sure, if he does not know, and I dared not refuse. It hurts me to go, but what can I do? You know the man he is. And there is only one thing in the world that your father would help him to do-to separate us. I must go away and make a home for you with my own hands; we can expect no help from them. If we are true to each other we shall be happy yet. Our love may end the ridiculous family squabble which has lasted all these generations. But it would be madness to speak yet.'

'It is that which makes me so unhappy, Dick. Why am I not like other girls? Why can't you come to the farm and ask my father's leave to court me, as other girls' sweethearts do, and as you would like to do? I can't help feeling that this is wrong, meeting you in secret, and being engaged to you against my father's will, without his knowledge.'

'The quarrel is not of our making, Julia. We only suffer by it. I hope we shall bring it to an end, and teach two honest men to live at peace together, as they ought. Why, you're crying.'

Her tears had been running quietly for some minutes past, but at this she began to sob unrestrainedly. Dick comforted her in the orthodox fashion, and in that sweet employment almost succeeded in forgetting his own sorrow. He drew bright pictures of the future: youth held the palette, and hope laid on the colour. Two or three years of partial separation-so little-and he would have a livelihood in his hand, and could offer her a safe asylum from parental tyranny, and bid his own people either to accept the situation or renounce him, as they might choose. He was quite

heroic internally about the whole business. He felt the promise of the coming struggle brace his nerves, and he was more than ready for the test. Young love is selfish at the best, and the heroic likeness of himself doing battle with the world of London half obliterated the pitiful figure of the poor girl, left at home, with nothing to fill her heart but dreams. For him, the delight of battle; for her, long months of weary waiting.

It was no doubt of him, but only the rooted longing for assurance of his love, that made her ask,

'You won't forget me, Dick, in London?'

Forget her! His repetition of the word, his little laugh of loving scorn, were answer enough, though he found others, and arguments unanswerable, to clinch them. How could he forget the sweetest, dearest girl that ever drew the breath of life, the prettiest and the bravest? She spoke treason against herself in asking such a question. He could no more forget her in London than Romeo, Juliet in Mantua. She laughed a little at his recalling the old story, from which Mrs. Jenny had drawn so many illustrations of the course of their love since they were children. It recalled the old woman to their minds.

'I shall write to you every week, and send the letters under cover to her,' said Dick. 'And you may be sure that I shall find-or make-plenty of opportunities to run down here from time to time. There is a coach every day to Birmingham.'

They had been walking slowly all this time. It was night now, the last gleam of sunset had faded, the stars were lustrous overhead, and a yellow moonlight flooded the surrounding country. A long distance off, faint but clear in the dead hush of the summer night, they heard, but did not mark, the beat of horses' hoofs approaching them.

'I must go, Dick,' said Julia. 'It is late, and they will wonder where I am No, let me go now, while I have the strength.'

He took her in his arms again, and her head dropped on his shoulder, and the tears began to run afresh. He held her close, but in that last moment of parting could find no word of comfort, only dumb caresses. The hoof-beats were near at hand now, just beyond the bend of the road. They rounded the corner, and broke on the lovers' ears with a loud and startling suddenness. The girl broke away, and ran through the gate into the field with a stifled sob. Dick turned, and walked down the road in the direction of the approaching horseman. The moon was at the full, and shone broadly upon his face and figure.

'Hullo!' cried the rider, in gruff challenge, and pulling his horse into Dick's path, reined in. The young man looked up and recognised Samson Mountain. Flight would have been as useless as ignominious, and it had never been Dick's way out of any difficulty.

'Well?' he asked curtly, and stood his ground.

'Is that my daughter?' demanded Mountain, pointing with his heavy whip after the white figure glinting across the field. 'Spake the truth for once, though you be a Reddy.'

'It's a habit we have,' said Dick quietly. His calm almost surprised himself. 'Yes.'

Mountain had always been of a heavy build, and of late years had increased enormously in girth and weight. But his wrath at this confirmation of his half guess stirred him so, that before the sound of the word had well died out on the air he had dismounted, and came at the young man with his riding-whip flourished above his head.

'Don't do that, sir.' Dick spoke in a low voice, though quickly; and there was something in his tone which brought the weapon harmlessly to the farmer's side again. 'It is your daughter. We love each other, and she has promised to be my wife.'

Mountain staggered, as if the words had been a pistol bullet or a stab, and struck furiously. Quick as was Dick's parry, he only half saved himself, his hat spun into the road, and the whip whistled within an inch of his ear. He made a step back, and stopped a second furious stroke. The whip broke in the old man's hand, and he flung the remaining fragment from him with a curse.

'I can't strike you, sir,' said Dick. 'You're her father.' Mountain's choking breath filled in the pause, and Dick went on: 'You know well enough there's not another man in England I'd take that from.'

'You're a coward, like all your tribe,' said Mountain.

'Not at all, I assure you, sir,' said Dick calmly. 'If you like to send anybody else with that message, I'll talk to him. Let us talk sensibly. What harm have I ever done you? Or my father either? Why should two honest families keep up this ridiculous story, which ought to have been buried ages back? Why not let bygones be bygones? I love your daughter. I am a young man yet, sir, with my way to make in the world, and I am going away to London to study. I met your daughter to-night to say goodbye to her, and if you had not come I should have gone away and said nothing until I could come and claim her, with a home worthy of her to take her to.

But since you know, I speak now. We love each other, and intend to marry.'

'Oh!' said Mountain. He had gone all on a sudden as cool as Dick, and nothing but his stertorous breathing hinted of the rage which filled him. 'That's it, is it? Then, if you're finished, hear me. I ain't got the gift o' the gab as free as you, but I can mek plain my meanin', p'raps. I'd rather see her a-layin' theer '(he pointed with a trembling hand at the ground between them); 'I'd rather lay her there, dead afore my eyes, an' screw her in her coffin a'terwards, than you or any o' your kin should as much as look at her, wi' my goodwill. And now you've got your answer, Mr. Fair an' Fine. Remember it, an' look out for yourself. For, by the Lord! 'he went on, with a solemn malignity doubly terrible in a man whose passion was ordinarily so violent, 'if iver I ketch you round my house again, I'll put a bullet atween thy ribs as sure as my naame's Samson Mountain.'

With this, he took his horse by the bridle, and passed through the gate, leaving the young man to his own reflections. He took the beast to the stable, delivered him into the care of a servant, and made straight for the parlour, where his wife and Mrs. Rusker were seated at an early supper.

'You're back early, Sam,' said the former, rising to draw an additional chair to the table. 'Wilt have some tay, or shall Liza draw you a jug o' beer?'

Samson returned no answer, either to this or to Mrs. Rusker's greeting.

'Lawk a mussy, what ails the man? 'asked Mrs. Mountain, as Samson stood looking round the room. She had never seen such an expression on her husband's face before. The skin was livid under its rude bronze, and his lips twitched strangely.

'Wheer's that wench of ourn?' he asked, after a second glance round the room, Mrs. Busker's heart jumped, and she held on tight to the arm-pieces of her chair.

'Julia?' said Mrs. Mountain. 'Her's about the house, I reckon.'

'Call her here,' said Samson; and his wife wondering, but not daring to question, went to the door of the sitting-room and screamed 'Julia!' A servant girl came running downstairs at the call, and said that Miss Julia did not feel well, and had gone to bed.

'Fatch her down,' said Samson from the sitting-room, and the girl, on receipt of a confirmatory nod from Mrs. Mountain, went upstairs again. Samson took a chair and sat with his head bent forward and his arms folded, staring at the paper ornaments in the grate.

'Samson!' said his wife appealingly, 'don't skeer a body i' thisnin. Whativer is the matter?'

'Hold thy chat,' said Samson. 'Thee'st know soon enough,' and the trio sat in silence until Julia entered the room. She was pale, and there were traces of tears on her cheeks, and Samson, as he glanced at her askance from under his heavy eyebrows before he rose, saw that she was struggling to repress some strong emotion. She advanced to kiss him, but he repelled her-not roughly-with his heavy hand upon her shoulder.

'You wanted to see me, father,' she asked, trembling.

'I sent for you.'

Mrs. Rusker was in a state of pitiable excitement, if anybody had had the leisure to notice her.

'Theer's some'at happened to-day as it's fit an' right as yo' should know. I met ode Raybould today i' th' Exchange, an' he tode me some'at as I'd long suspected, about his son Tom. I reckon you know what it was.'

Julia knew well enough. Tom Raybould was a young farmer, a year or two older than herself. She had known him all her life, and he had been a schoolfellow and chosen chum of her brother's. He had shown unmistakable signs of affection for her, but had never spoken. He was a good fellow, according to common report, and she had a good deal of liking and respect for him, and a little pity, being a good girl, and no coquette.

'I see thee understandest,' said Samson. 'I told th' ode man as he might look on it as settled, an' Tom 'll be here to-morrow. He's a likely lad, an' he'll have all the Bush Farm when his father goes, as must be afore long, i' the course o' nature. The two farms 'll goo very well in a ring fence. Theer's no partic'lar hurry, as I know on, an' we'll ha' the weddin' next wik, or the wik after.'

The girl's breast was labouring cruelly, in spite of the hand that strove to still it.

'Father!' she said. 'You don't mean it!'

'Eh?' said Samson. 'I ginerally mean what I say, my wench. I should ha' thout as yo'd ha' known that by this time.'

He stopped there, for Julia, but for her mother's arm, would have fallen.

'You great oaf!' cried Mrs. Mountain, irritated for once into open rebellion. 'Oh, it's like a man, the stupid hulkin' creeturs as they are, to come an' frighten the life out of a poor maid i' that style.'

'Theer, theer!' said Samson, with the same heavy and threatening tranquillity he had borne throughout the interview. 'Tek her upstairs.'

He sat down again, and without another word filled and lit his churchwarden, and stared through the smoke-wreaths at the grate.

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