A Voice from the Past

ONE afternoon when the chestnuts were coming into flower, Maggie had brought her chair outside the front door and was seated there with a book on her knees. Her dark eyes had wandered from the book, but they did not seem to be enjoying the sunshine which pierced the screen of jasmine on the projecting porch at her right and threw leafy shadows on her pale round cheek; they seemed rather to be searching for something that was not disclosed by the sunshine. It had been a more miserable day than usual: her father, after a visit of Wakem's had had a paroxysm of rage, in which for some trifling fault he had beaten the boy who served in the mill. Once before, since his illness, he had had a similar paroxysm, in which he had beaten his horse, and the scene had left a lasting terror in Maggie's mind. The thought had risen, that some time or other he might beat her mother if she happened to speak in her feeble way at the wrong moment. The keenest of all dread with her was, lest her father should add to his present misfortune the wretchedness of doing something irretrievably disgraceful. The battered school-book of Tom's which she held on her knees, could give her no fortitude under the pressure of that dread, and again and again her eyes had filled with tears, as they wandered vaguely, seeing neither the chestnut trees nor the distant horizon, but only future scenes of home-sorrow. Suddenly she was roused by the sound of the opening gate and of footsteps on the gravel. It was not Tom who was entering, but a man in a sealskin cap and a blue plush waistcoat, carrying a pack on his back, and followed closely by a bull-terrier of brindled coat and defiant aspect.

`O Bob, it's you!' said Maggie, starting up with a smile of pleased recognition, for there had been no abundance of kind acts to efface the recollection of Bob's generosity. `I'm so glad to see you.'

`Thank you, Miss,' said Bob, lifting his cap and showing a delighted face, but immediately relieving himself of some accompanying embarrassment by looking down at his dog, and saying in a tone of disgust, `Get out wi' you, you thunderin' sawney!'

`My brother is not at home yet, Bob,' said Maggie, `he is always at St Ogg's in the daytime.'

`Well, Miss,' said Bob, `I should be glad to see Mr Tom - but that isn't just what I'm come for - look here!'

Bob was in the act of depositing his pack on the doorstep, and with it a row of small books fastened together with string. Apparently, however, they were not the object to which he wished to call Maggie's attention, but rather something which he had carried under his arm, wrapped in a red handkerchief.

`See here!' he said again, laying the red parcel on the others and unfolding it, `you won't think I'm a- makin' too free, Miss, I hope, but I lighted on these books, and I thought they might make up to you a bit for them as you've lost; for I heared you speak o' picturs - an' as for picturs, look here!'

The opening of the red handkerchief had disclosed a superannuated `Keepsake' and six or seven numbers of a `Portrait Gallery,' in royal octavo; and the emphatic request to look referred to a portrait of George the Fourth in all the majesty of his depressed cranium and voluminous neckcloth.

`There's all sorts o' genelmen here,' Bob went on, turning over the leaves with some excitement, `wi' all sorts o' noses - an' some bald an' some wi' wigs - Parlament genelmen, I reckon. An' here,' he added, opening the `Keepsake,' `here's ladies for you, some wi' curly hair and some wi'smooth, an' some a-smiling wi' their heads o' one side an'some as if they was goin' to cry - look here - a-sittin' on the ground out o' door dressed like the ladies I'n seen get out o'the carriages at the balls in th' Old Hall there. My eyes, I wonder what the chaps wear as go a-courtin' 'em! I sot up till the clock was gone twelve last night a-lookin' at 'em - I did - till they stared at me out o' the picturs as if they'd know when I spoke to 'em. But, lors! I shouldn't know what to say to 'em. They'll be more fittin' company for you, Miss, and the man at the book-stall, he said they banged ivery-things for picturs - he said they was a fust-rate article.'

`And you've bought them for me, Bob?' said Maggie, deeply touched by this simple kindness. `How very, very good of you! But I'm afraid you gave a great deal of money for them.'

  By PanEris using Melati.

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