William Morris Archive


There she was for thrusting her hand into a truss of sweet hay, but he cried out against it: yet she was obstinate, and the two hands went in together with laughter enough, so out they passed again, blinking at the white hot sun. But as they stood together just outside the barn, looking to see the cows that stood huddled together by the byre door, lo! A tramp, and a jingling, and there was come the team from the field; two iron-grey leaders, a dapple grey wheeler, and behind a red roan and another dapple grey and a brown horse, with a sunburnt, red-lipped, freckle-faced boy swinging about on the first one.

Clara went up to the second iron-grey, (while the lad stopped his charge, grinning and pleased) and made much of him, and cried out laughing to John to feed him with his wisp of hay.

'Why shouldn't mine go in the syllabub?' he said.

'Why,' she said, 'I meant you to drink off mine, but since you won't, we'll mix them half and half.'

She took his wisp, as he stood there blushing again, and gave him back the two halves, and then took the horse's black forelock in her right hand, while she held the clean hay away with her left. It was a pretty sight, thought Mrs Mason, and she wished Arthur there to see it.

So away went the team to their stable, and then Mrs Mason turned, with no little affection, to her cows; and singling out a great strawberry-coloured Durham, coaxed it easily enough from the rest. The four of them went off to the walnut tree in procession—first the goodwife with the china bowl; then the cow, lowing and slobbering; then Clara, holding a great trail of sweet clematis, and then John with the pail and milking-stool. So the syllabub and further milking went on, Clara twisting the clematis into the cow's horns—who repaid that attention by eating as much of it as she could get at—and singing the while a snatch of a sweet old tune (a Christmas carol, no less) while John did the looking on.

Then came the cow-boy for the cow, and the syllabub was drunk with laughter enough as they sat on the flowering grass; and a little west wind got up to cool the fiery afternoon, and Clara began to sing again in a pause of the merry talk, at first with a serious, dreamy face, till her mother joined in, and the two raised their voices, while John, listening, grew serious to melancholy as he looked at Clara's sweet eyes and wide brow drawn into a little frown by her eagerness, yet felt more melancholy still when the song was done.

They sat nearly silent after this for some while, with the crickets chirupping about them, and the afternoon was wearing fast; till, to bring them back to earth again, there was a heavy footstep behind them, and the farm bailiff came up, a commonplace, businesslike-looking man, who shook John's hand and asked with an overdone appearance of interest, about the health of the rector. Then he tried a compliment to the ladies, and a warning against sitting in the grass, as they got up and turned towards the house again. Then came tea; and after that the bailiff went away a while, and they all sat under the mulberry tree again, quiet, and rather sad perhaps, till again the bailiff appeared with books that needed Mrs Mason's attention; and then John, who had not spoken for a long while, said:

'Well, I must go, Mrs Mason. I ought to have gone long ago. You won't forget our day, will you?'

She smiled pleasantly on him as he turned away, and Clara said:

'I'll go with him a little way, mother, unless you want me to help you write out at once.'

'No, it will do when you come back, dear,' said she.

So Clara's bonnet was on in a minute, and the two went round the house by the same path by which Clara had first come to him that day; and then the two went slowly and soberly in the golden evening down to the river; she talking to him, asking questions about Arthur's illness, then of what books they were reading; and then, shyly and hesitatingly, she asked about the Latin and Greek books they learned at school. He answered, and talked well enough now, but at every turn he said that Arthur could answer her better; and so they went slowly enough along the border of the stream, till he bethought him of taking home some of the water­flowers to stuff the jug on the bedroom table with, and had soon gathered a great bundle, which he thrust into his empty fishing-basket, she standing by all the while and going on with her talk.

This was just at the end of that more cheerful end of the river, and the evening was so far spent that the sun was setting in a cloudless orange sky. So, when he had shut his basket, Clara said:

'I must go back again now, John.'

'Yes, don't tire yourself,' he said, with a mighty effort. She walked, though, a little, with him silent, till at last she said

'Now I must go. Don't forget the letter to Arthur.'

'O, no,' he said.

'John,' she said, 'I'm afraid I haven't been quite myself today.'

'O, you've been cleverer and brighter than ever,' he said. 'And—'

'Well,' she said, 'I didn't feel so. You don't know how startled I was by your saying you were going to London—though I know you must, and always knew you would have to—but I don't like it.'

'But you mustn't think that we shan't see each other often again, after a time,' he said. 'Something is sure to happen that will bring us together.'

'I hope so,' she said. 'Give my love to Arthur. Good-bye.'

And she took his hand, and seemed as if she was going to kiss him, but did not; and turning with a kind frank smile, went swiftly on her way back again.

He stopped a minute looking after her, with something that was certainly pain; then strode on quickly, thinking how long the day had been since morning; but the pain softened soon, and he was soon dreaming of her feet brushing through the dewy grass, and the night wind rustling her dress, and her great lovely eyes turning slowly to look at the yellowing moon when it should shine through the willow boughs. The sun was down before he had got to the bridge, and by the time he was walking between the Battle Meads it was already something more than twilight.

Continue to Chapter 12

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