Now any one who does not know exactly how mothers feel and think, would have expected my mother (than whom could be no better one) to pet me, and make much of me, under my sad trouble; to hang with anxiety on my looks, and shed her tears with mine (if any), and season every dish of meat put by for her John’s return. And if the whole truth must be told, I did expect that sort of thing, and thought what a plague it would be to me; yet not getting it, was vexed, as if by some new injury. For mother was a special creature (as I suppose we all are), being the warmest of the warm, when fired at the proper corner; and yet, if taken at the wrong point, you would say she was incombustible.

Hence it came to pass that I had no one even to speak to, about Lorna and my grievances; for Captain Stickles was now gone southward; and John Fry. of course, was too low for it, although a married man, and well under his wife’s management. But finding myself unable at last to bear this any longer, upon the first day when all the wheat was cut, and the stooks set up in every field, yet none quite fit for carrying, I saddled good Kickums at five in the morning, and without a word to mother (for a little anxiety might do her good) off I set for Molland parish, to have the counsel and the comfort of my darling Annie.

The horse took me over the ground so fast (there being few better to go when he liked), that by nine o’clock Annie was in my arms, and blushing to the colour of Winnie’s cheeks, with sudden delight and young happiness.

‘You precious little soul!’ I cried: ‘how does Tom behave to you?’

‘Hush!’ said Annie: ‘how dare you ask? He is the kindest, and the best, and the noblest of all men, John; not even setting yourself aside. Now look not jealous, John: so it is. We all have special gifts, you know. You are as good as you can be, John; but my husband’s special gift is nobility of character.’ Here she looked at me, as one who has discovered something quite unknown.

‘I am devilish glad to hear it,’ said I, being touched at going down so: ‘keep him to that mark, my dear; and cork the whisky bottle.’

‘Yes, darling John,’ she answered quickly, not desiring to open that subject, and being too sweet to resent it: ‘and how is lovely Lorna? What an age it is since I have seen you! I suppose we must thank her for that.’

‘You may thank her for seeing me now,’ said I; ‘or rather,’—seeing how hurt she looked,—’you may thank my knowledge of your kindness, and my desire to speak of her to a soft-hearted dear little soul like you. I think all the women are gone mad. Even mother treats me shamefully. And as for Lizzie—’ Here I stopped, knowing no words strong enough, without shocking Annie.

‘Do you mean to say that Lorna is gone?’ asked Annie, in great amazement; yet leaping at the truth, as women do, with nothing at all to leap from.

‘Gone. And I never shall see her again. It serves me right for aspiring so.’

Being grieved at my manner, she led me in where none could interrupt us; and in spite of all my dejection, I could not help noticing how very pretty and even elegant all things were around. For we upon Exmoor have little taste; all we care for is warm comfort, and plenty to eat and to give away, and a hearty smack in everything. But Squire Faggus had seen the world, and kept company with great people; and the taste he had first displayed in the shoeing of farmers’ horses (which led almost to his ruin, by bringing him into jealousy, and flattery, and dashing ways) had now been cultivated in London, and by moonlight, so that none could help admiring it.

‘Well!’ I cried, for the moment dropping care and woe in astonishment: ‘we have nothing like this at Plover’s Barrows; nor even Uncle Reuben. I do hope it is honest, Annie?’

  By PanEris using Melati.

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