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   Chapter 6 No.6

Julia And Her Romeo: A Chronicle Of Castle Barfield / From Schwartz" by David Christie Murray" By David Christie Murray Characters: 14364

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


Mrs. Jenny's simple faith in the talents of Rufus Smith underwent a severe trial during the ensuing night. She had left Julia still sleeping, and the memory of the last glance she had bestowed upon the white face in the light of the carefully-shaded candle haunted her all night, and roused a foreboding too dismal to be expressed, or even formulated in definite thought. The matchmaker lay and trembled all night at that terrible idea, and again the pale-faced dawn visited a sleepless pillow, and found her haggard with anxiety and lack of sleep. Juliet's query to the Friar had been, 'What if the potion should not work?' but Mrs. Jenny's terrified inquiry of her own soul was, 'What if it had worked too well?' What if it had killed Julia in very deed? It was too horrible to happen, Mrs. Jenny said to herself. Too horrible to think of. But, if it had happened, she would have nothing else to think of all her life, and the fancy drove her nearly mad.

She was dressed and afoot even earlier than on the preceding morning. She crept out and encircled the Mountain Farm in a radius of a mile or thereabouts, looking anxiously towards it at every step, as if its silent walls might speak comfort or confirm her fears, even at that distance. The house looked peaceful enough amid its surrounding trees under the tranquilly broadening light of dawn, but Mrs. Rusker knew how ghastly white the face of the poor child she loved as her own might look in that roseate glow. Presently a thin line of smoke curled from a chimney on the noiseless air. The farm was waking to its daily round of life. A burly figure on horseback came towards her as she stood on a little eminence. She waited long enough to identify Samson Mountain, and hid among the ferns and bushes until the horse's hoof-beats had clattered swiftly by on the stony road below her, and faded in the distance.

Time crept on, slow but inexorable. She longed, as she had never longed before for anything, for the courage to go to the farmhouse and ask tidings of Julia. But her fear was greater than her longing, and she roamed at random in a circle, never losing sight of the house, but not daring to approach it or be seen from its windows. She dreaded what might be the news to greet her there. She feared her own face, with its haggard lines of sleeplessness and anxious watching. At last, from the very depths of her misery, she plucked the heart of despairing hope, and made for the farm. The farm labourers and country folk she met stared after her. Even their bovine understandings were troubled by her scared face. She scarcely saw them, or anything but the farmhouse, which drew her now with an influence as strong as its repulsion had been an hour ago. She entered the house by the back door, and made straight for the sitting-room. Mrs. Mountain was there, arranging a tray, on which were tea and jam and other homely luxuries. She wore her ordinary look of placid contentment, and at the sight of her quiet face Mrs. Rusker dropped panting, with a vague unformulated feeling of relief, into a chair.

'Sakes alive! Whativer is the matter?' demanded Mrs. Mountain.

'Julia!' panted the visitor. 'How's Julia?'

'Why,' said Mrs. Mountain, 'how should her be?'

'Is she awake yet?' asked Mrs. Jenny, more calmly.

'No. Her was sleepin' when I seed her, jist for a minute, a hour ago. I'm jist goin' upstairs wi' some breakfast for her. Well, I declare, yo' look as pale as a ghost. What's the matter with you?'

'Oh, I've passed a miserable night,' said Mrs. Jenny, in unconscious quotation from her favourite poet. 'I couldn't sleep a-thinkin' o' Julia.'

'Well, then, you do look poorly,' said her hostess, with all her motherly heart warmed by this solicitude for her daughter. 'Why, theer's no cause to fret i' that way. To be sure, Samson might ha' knowed better than to blunder such a thing as that right out, but, then, he's a man, and that'd account for a'most anything. Married life might teach 'em better, you'd think, and yet after nigh on forty year on it he knows no more about women folk than any bachelor i' Barfield. Theer, tek your bonnet off, an' I'll gi' ye a cup o' tay, an' then you can goo upstairs wi' me and see the wench.'

Mrs. Jenny gratefully accepted the proffered tea, and, having drunk it, much to her inward refreshment, accompanied Mrs. Mountain upstairs. As the latter had said, the girl was sleeping still, and Mrs. Busker saw that her position had not changed by a hair's breadth. She lay like a carven statue, her face marble white in the clear morning light.

'I'm a'most doubtful about wakin' her,' said her mother. 'Theer's no doubt as Samson gi'en her a shock, an' sleep's good for her. But her's had welly fifteen hours of it now, if she's been asleep all the tima Julia, my love,' she said softly, almost in the sleeper's ear. 'My sakes, how pale her is. Jenny! come here!'

They both bent above her. Mrs. Rusker's heart was beating like a muffled drum, and seemed, to her own ears, to fill the house with its pulsation.

'Julia!' said Mrs. Mountain again, in a louder voice, and shook the girl with a tremulous hand, 'Julia!'

The white eyelids did not even stir.

'My blessid! Julia! Don't skeer a body i' this way!' She shook the girl again. 'Jenny! whativer's come to the silly wench?'

Mrs. Jenny was more frightened, and with better reason, than her companion. Julia's marble pallor, and the awful stillness of her form-the keenest glance could not detect a quiver in the face or a heave of the bosom-almost stilled that exigent pulse within her own breast with a sudden anguish of despair.

'Oh, Jenny, she's a-dyin'!'

Mrs. Mountain's scream rang through the house, and startled every soul within it, except that marble figure on the bed. Hurried steps came up the stairs, the heavy tread of a man, the light patter of women's feet, and the room filled as if by magic.

'Fetch a doctor,' screamed Mrs. Jenny; 'Julia's a-dyin'!'

Samson Mountain stood for one moment with his hands aloft and his eyes glaring at his daughter. Then he dropped with a sobbing groan into a chair, with his head in his hands. There was a general scream from the women. One, more serviceable than the rest, called from the window to a gaping yokel below in the yard, and bade him ride for help. Her face and voice froze him for a moment, but he caught the words 'Miss Julia,' and two minutes after he was astride a broad-backed plough-horse, making for the distant village.

Samson Mountain sat with his face hidden and spoke no word; at the sight of him his wife's face had turned to sudden rage, and she stood over him like a ruffled hen, and clacked commination of masculine imbecility, intermixed with wild plaints for her child.

Julia slept through the tumult as she had slept through the calm, and Mrs. Jenny, kneeling beside her with her face in the bedclothes, moaned love and penitent despair. Samson raised his head at last, and looked with a dazed stare first at his daughter and then at his wife, and left the room without a word, pursued by a hailstorm of reproach. He went into the yard and pottered aimlessly about, looking

old and broken on a sudden. The sound of horses' hoofs roused him; it was the rustic messenger returning. 'Where's the doctor?' demanded Samson. 'Gone to Heydon Hey. What am I to dew?' 'Follow him an' fetch him back. Hast not gumption enough to know that?' asked Samson wearily. The man started again, and Samson began once more his purposeless wanderings about the yard. He had no sense of time or place, only a leaden weight on heart and limb, which in all his life he had never known before. He leaned his elbows on the fence of the fold yard, and became conscious of a running figure which neared him rapidly. He watched it stupidly, and it was within twenty yards of him before he recognised it-Dick Reddy, dust and mud to the collar, hatless, and panting.

'Julia!' he gasped. 'Tell me, is it true?' 'Julia's dyin,' said Samson. 'My God!' he cried, with sudden passion, as if his own voice had unlocked the sealed fountain of his grief, 'my little gell's a-dyin'!'

'Mr. Mountain,' said Dick, 'I love her, you know I love her. Let me see her.' His voice, broken with fatigue and emotion, his streaming eyes, his outstretched hands, all pleaded with his words.

'It's all one who sees her now,' said Samson, and leaned his elbows on the fence again. Dick took the despairing speech for a permission, and entered the house. At the bottom of the stairs, in the otherwise deserted hall, he met Mrs. Jenny, a very moving statue of terror.

'Dick,' she said, clutching the young man by the arm, 'I can't abear it any longer. Come in here wi' me.' She pulled him into a side room, and sitting down, abandoned herself to weeping, wringing her hands, and moaning.

'I can't abear it any longer,' she repeated. 'I must tell somebody, an' I'll tell you. It's all my wicked cruel fault.'

The old woman was so crazed with her secret that she would have spoken in the shadow of the gibbet. Ramblingly and incoherently, with many breaks for tears and protestations and self-accusation, she told her story.

'I've killed her, Dick. But it was for your sake and hers as I done it. I reckon they'll hang me, an' it'll serve me right.' She besought him not to betray her, and, in the same breath, announced her intention to surrender herself at once to the parish constable; and, indeed, between fear and remorse and sorrow for the hopeless love she had striven to befriend, was nearly mad. Dick heard her with such amazement as may be best imagined, and suddenly, with a cry that rang in her ears for many a long day afterwards, ran from her and scaled the stairs to Julia's room, led thither by the sound of Mrs. Mountain's weeping. The old woman stared, as well she might, at the intrusion, with a wonder which for a moment conquered sorrow. He went straight to the bed, and leaned over the stark figure upon it.

'She's not dead yet,' he said, more to himself than to the grief-stricken mother. Mrs. Mountain heard the words, and clutched his arm. He turned to her. 'Trust me,' he said, 'and I'll save her.' The wild hope in the mother's eyes was terrible to see. 'I love her,' said Dick. 'You will trust me? Do as I bid you, and you shall have Julia back in an hour.'

Samson Mountain meanwhile wandered in the same purposeless fashion about the farm, and held dumb converse with himself. He was a rough man, something of a brute-a good deal of an animal-but animals have their affections, and he loved Julia as well as it was in his nature to love anything. It was ingrained in him by nature and by years of unquestioned domination to bully and browbeat all defenceless people; but Julia, the most defenceless of his surroundings, had been treated always with a lighter hand. Childlike, she had taken advantyage of her immunity in many little ways, and though Samson had never forborne to bluster at her girlish insubordination, he rather liked it than not, and relished his daughter's independence and spirit. Julia was the only creature in the household who dared to hold her own against him. He was proud of her beauty and what he called her 'lurning,' and, more or less grumblingly, petted her a good deal, and would have spoiled her had she been of spoilable material. But till this heavy blow fell he had never sounded the depths of his own affection for her. The suddenness of the blow stunned and bewildered him. He remembered his words to Dick during their stormy interview in the road, when he had said that he would rather see Julia dead than married to him. Had Providence taken him at his word? He did not say it, he did not even think it consciously, but he would have submitted to almost any conceivable indignity at the hands of Abel Eeddy himself, to have felt his daughter's arms about his neck again. Little incidents of Julia's past life were fresh and vivid in his memory. He had forgotten many of them, years ago, but they sprang up in his mind now, like things of yesterday.

He had wandered back to the front of the house, and sat upon the rustic bench beside the porch, with his elbows propped upon his knees, and his eyes hidden in his shaking hands, when a voice fell on his ear.

'Neighbour!'

He raised his head. Abel Reddy stood before him.

With something of the old instinct of hatred he had believed to be unconquerable he rose and straightened himself before the hereditary enemy.

'Neighbour,' said Reddy again. The word was pacific, but Mountain's blurred eyes, dim with pain and dazzled by the sunlight, could not see the pity in his old enemy's face, and he waited doggedly. 'It's come to my ears as you're i' sore trouble. So am I. Your trouble's mine, though not so great for me as it is for you, I was wi' Dick when he heard o' your daughter's danger, an' what I'd suspected a long time I know now to be the truth. I did my best to keep 'em apart-it was that as Dick was going to London for. It seemed to behove me to come to you and offer you my hand i' your affliction. I take shame to myself that I didn't mek an effort to end our quarrel long ago. We're gettin' on in life, Mr. Mountain, and we've got th' excuse o' hot blood no longer.'

Therewith he held out his hand, and Samson, with hanging head, took it with a growl, which might have been anathema or blessing. And as the life-long enemies stood so linked, a window was suddenly opened above, and Mrs. Mountain's voice screamed to her husband,

'Samson! Her's alive! Her's awake! 'Both men looked up, and beheld an unexpected picture framed by the open window, Dick violently embraced by Mrs. Mountain, and submitting to the furious assault with obvious goodwill.

'When the liquor's out, why clink the cannikin?' The story of Julia and her Romeo, like all other stories, had found its end, and merged a little later into the history of Mr. and Mrs. Richard Reddy. The family feud was buried, and Samson and Abel made very passable grandfathers and dwelt in peace one with another. Dick never told a living soul, not even Julia herself, of the stratagem by which Mrs. Jenny had succeeded in uniting them, and Mrs. Jenny, by complete reticence on the subject, disproved the time-worn calumny which declares woman's inability to keep a secret.

THE END

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