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as if struck by a new idea, for soine moments; then he said, “ Ay." After this he looked thoughtfully at Alma and her parcels for some moments, until his soul again found expression in the words, “Like a lift?” the vague meaning of which was elucidated by the pointing of his whip toward the wagon.
Alma assented, and with the wagoner's assistance soon found berself, with all her merchandise, comfortably installed in the great wagon, which was empty save for a few household and farming necessaries from Oldport. Before mounting—a feat, by the way, not unworthy of a gymnast—she stroked the wheel-horse's thick, silken coat admiringly.
“You do take care of your horses at Malbourne, William,” she said. “I beard father say this morning he never saw a bettergroomed and handsomer team than yours.”
Williain went on silently arranging Alma's seat, and stowing her parcels for her; but a smile dawned at the corners of his mouth, and gradually spread itself over the whole of his face, and his pleasure at length found a vent, when he reached the ground, in a sounding thwack of his broad hand on the wheeler's massive iank -a thwack that set the bells a-tremble on the horse's neck, and sent a sympathetic sbiver of music through all the emulous brotherhood.
“Ay,” he observed, with a broad smile of admiration along the line of softly swayivg tails and gently moving heads, with their nostrils steaming in the cold air ;; "he med well say that."
“Ay," echoed Jem, the satellite, removing the sledge-mallet from the wheel and striding to the front, with a reflection of his chief's pleasure in his ruddy face as he glanced affectionately at the team, “that he med."
It was not Alma's admiration which evoked such satisfactionshe was but a woman, and naturally could not tell a good horse from a donkey; but her father, Ben Lee, Sir Lionel Swaynestone's coachman, a man who had breathed the air of stables from his cradle, and who drove the splendid silk-coated, silver-harnessed steeds in the Swaynestone carriages, his opinion was something. With a joyous crack of the whip, and a strange sound from the recesses of his throat, William bid his team “Gee-up!"
The mighty hoofs took hold of the road, the great wheels slowly turned, a shower of confused harmony fell in dropping sweetness from the bells, and with creaking and groaning, and nodding heads, and rhythmic blending of paces and music, the wagon lumbered ponderously along the level chalk road which led, uninclosed by hedge or fence, over the open down.
To ride in a wagon with ease, and at the same time enjoy the surrounding landscape without a constant exercise of gymnastic skill in balancing and counter-balancing the body in response to the heavy swaying and jerking of the unwieldy machine, is difficult; to sit on the ledge is to be an acrobat; to lie on the floor is to see nothing but sky, besides having one's members violently wrenched one from the other. Alma, however, was very comfortably placed on a pile of sacks, which served as an arm-chair, deadened the jerking power of the motion, and left her head and shoulders above the ledge, so that she could well see the gray surrounding landscape in the deepening haze.
She leaned back with a feeling of agreeable languor, wrapped her hands in her shawl, and gazed dreamily on the down rising steeply to the left, and forming, where chalk had been quarried in one place, a miniature precipice, crested with overhanging copse, rich in spring with fairy treasures of violets in white sheets over the moss, clusters of primroses and oxlips among the hazel-stumps, blue lakes of hyacinth, and waving forests of anemone; and sho gazed on the sloping fields, farmsteads, and bounding forest to the right, lulled by the steady music of the bells, among which she heard from time to time William's satisfied growl of " Ay, he med well say that," and the occasional song of Jem, as he trudged along by the leader:
“For to plow, and to sow, and to reap, and to mow,
Is the work of the farmer's bu-oy-oy."
Happy and harmless she looked in her rustic chariot, as they rolled slowly along in the gathering gloom, now over a heathy stretch nearly at the summit of the down, past a lonely, steeproofed, red-tiled hostelry, with a forge cheerily glowing by its side, whence the anvil-music rose and blended pleasantly with that of the bell-team, and over which hung a sign-board bearing the blacksmith's arms, the hammer, with the couplet inscribed beneath, “By hammer and hand, All arts do stand.”
Down-hill now, with the heavy drag cast beneath the wheel by mighty efforts on the part of Jem; then again on the level road, with the chalk down always rising to the left, and falling away to the right; past farm-houses, where the cattle stood grouped in the yard, and the ducks quacked for their evening meal; then once more down a hill, steep and difficnlt, down to the level of a willowshaded stream by a copse, outside which daffodils rioted all over the sloping lea descending to the brook-side in spring; and then again up and up, with straining and panting and creaking, with iron feet pointed into and gripping the steep chalk road, with louder pealing of the fairy chimes, whose rhythm grows irregular and fitful, with strange shouts and gestures from the men, with “Whup!" and “Whoa!” and “Hither ! " with many pauses, when the great heads droop, the music stops, and the mallet is brought into requisition.
Happy and barmless, indeed, was Alma, the lashes drooping over her rose-leaf cheeks, her fancies roving unfettered. She was hoping to get home betimes, for she had something nice for father's tea among her parcels, and she was thinking of the penny periodical folded up in her basket, and wondering how the heroine was getting on in the story which broke off abruptly at such an interesting moment in the last number. Was the peasant girl, in whom Alma detected a striking likeness to herself, really going to marry the poor young viscount who was so deplorably in love with her She could not help furnishing the viscount with the form and features of Mr. Ingram Swaynestone, Sir Lionel's eldest son, though the latter was fair, while the viscount happened to be dark.
Now they are at the summit of the steep hill, and pause to breathe and replenish pipes. On one side is dense coppice; on the other, Swaynestone Park slopes down in woodland, glade, and park-like meadow to the sea-bounded horizon. Then on again, up bill and down dale, past cottage and farmstead, with the park always sloping away to the sea on the right. Lights glow cheerily now from distant cottage windows, and they can even catch glimpses of lights from the facade of Swaynestone House between the trees occasionally, while the merry music peals on in its drowsy rhythm, and little showers of sparks rise at the contact of iron-shod wheel and foot with the flinty road.
They have just passed the entrance-gates of Swaynestonelonely gates, unfurnished with a lodge-and the wagon stops with interrupted music at some smaller gates on the other side of the road, where the upland still rises, not in bare down, but in rich meadow, to a hanging wood, out of which peeps dimly in the dusk a small wbite structure, built with a colonnade supporting an archi. trave, to imitate a Greek templeAlma's home.
“Ay! he med well say that,” repeated the wagoner, still digesting the pleasure of Ben Lee's compliment, and slapping the wheelhorse's vast flank, so that the fairy chime began again, and the smack resounded like an accompaniment to its music. It was fairly dark in the road; the misty dusk of evening was overshadowed by the thick belt of chestnut, lime, and beech bounding the park by the road-side; and the large horn lantern was handed to Alma to aid her in gathering her parcels together, and its light fell upon her bright dark eyes, and rosy, dimpled cheeks, making her appear more than ever as if her gaudy dress was but a disguise assumed for a frolic. Her almond-shaped, rather melancholy eyes sparkled as she looked in the young carter's stolid face, and thanked him heartily.
“I have had such a nice ride," she added pleasantly, and the horses one by one dropped a bell-note or two to emphasize her words.
“You must gie I a toll for this yere ride," returned William, with a look of undisguised but not rude admiration.
Alma flushed, and drew back. “How much do you want? she asked, taking out her purse, and pretending not to understand.
“You put that there in your pocket,” he replied, offended, “and gie I a kiss."
“Indeed, I shall do nothing of the kind,” retorted Alma. “Let me get down. I'll never ride with you again, if I walk till I drop -that I won't!"
But the wagoner insisted on his toll, and vowed that she should not descend till it was paid; and poor Alma protested and stormed vainly, while Jem leaned up against a horse and laughed, and adjured her to make haste. Alma burst into tears, wrung her hands, and wished that she had not been so obdurate to poor Charlie Judkins. He would not have been so rude, she knew. Nor, indeed, would William have been so persistent had she not offended him by her unlucky offer of money, and ronised the dogged obstinacy of his class. She darted to the other side of the wagon, but in vain; William was too quick, and she was just on the point of raising her voice in the hope that her father might be near, when a light, firm step was heard issuing from the park-gates, and a clear and singularly musical voice broke into the dispute with a tone of authority.
“For shame, William Grove!" it said. “How can you be so cowardly? Let the girl go directly. Why, it is Alma Lee, surely!”
The speaker emerged into the little circle of light cast by the lantern-a slight, well-built, youthful figure of middle height yet commanding presence, clad in dark gray, with a round, black straw hat and a neat white necktie, the frequent costume of a country curate in those days, when the clerical garb had not reached so high a stage of evolution as at present. His beardless face made him look still younger than he really was; his features were refined and clearly cut; his bair very dark; and his eyes, the most striking feature of his face, were of that rare, dazzling light blue which can only be compared to a cloudless noon sky in June, when the pale, intense blue seems penetrated to overflowing with floods of vivid light.
“I waren't doing no barm,” returned the wagoner, with a kind of surly respect; “I gied she a ride, and she med so will gie I a kiss."
“And you a married man!” cried the indignant young deacon; " for shame!”
“There ain't no barm in a kiss," growled William, with a sheepish, discomforted look, while he stood aside and suffered the newcomer to help Alma in her descent.
“There is great harm in insulting a respectable young woman, and taking advantage of her weakness. As for a kiss, it is not a seemly thing between young people who have no claim on each other, though there may be no positive harm in it. You ought to know better, William."
"There ain't no harm for the likes of we," persisted the wagoner.
“ 'Tain't as though Alma was a lady; she's only a poor man's daughter."
“And a poor man's daughter has as much right to men's respect as a duchess,” cried the young fellow, with animation. “I wonder you can say such a thing, Grove. And you a poor man yourself, with a little daughter of your own! How would you like her to be kissed against her will ? ”.