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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThere & Back - Chapter 55. Miss Brown
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There & Back - Chapter 55. Miss Brown Post by :Merry_V Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3401

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There & Back - Chapter 55. Miss Brown

CHAPTER LV. MISS BROWN

The same evening Barbara rode to the smithy, in the hope of hearing some news of Richard from his grandfather. The old man was busy at the anvil when he heard Miss Brown's hoofs on the road. He dropped his hammer, flung the tongs on the forge, and leaving the iron to cool on the anvil, went to meet her.

"How do you do, grandfather?" said Barbara, with unconscious use of the appellation.

Simon was well pleased to be called grandfather, but too politic and too well bred to show his pleasure.

"As well as hard work can help me to. How are you yourself, my pretty?" returned Simon.

"As well as nothing to do--except nursing poor Mark--will let me," she answered. "Please can you tell me anything about Richard yet?"

"Can you keep a secret, honey?" rejoined Simon. "I ain't sure as I'm keeping strict within the law, but if I didn't think you fit, I shouldn't say a word."

"Don't tell me, if it be anything I ought to tell if I knew it."

"If you can show me you ought to tell any one, I will release you from your promise. But perhaps you feel you ought to tell everything to your mother?"

"No, not other people's secrets. But I think I won't have it. I don't like secrets. I'm frightened at them."

"Then I'll tell you at my own risk, for you're the right sort to trust, promise or no promise. I only hope you will not tell without letting me know first; because then I might have to do something else by way of--what do they call it when you take poison, and then take something to keep it from hurting you?--Richard's gone to college!"

Bab slid from Miss Brown's back, flung her arms, with the bridle on one of them, round the blacksmith's neck, and, heedless of Miss Brown's fright, jumped up, and kissed the old man for the good news.

"Miss! miss! your clean face!" cried the blacksmith.

"Oh Richard! Richard! you _will be happy now!" she said, her voice trembling with buried tears. "--But will he ever shoe Miss Brown again, grandfather?"

"Many's the time, I trust!" answered Simon. "He'll be proud to do it. If not, he never was worth a smile from your sweet mouth."

"He'll be a great man some day!" she laughed, with a little quiver of the sweet mouth.

"He's a good man now, and I don't care," answered the smith. "As long as son of mine can look every man in the face, I don't care whether it be great or small he is."

"But, please, Mr. Armour," said Bab timidly, "wouldn't it be better still if he could look God in the face?"

"You're right there, my pretty dove!" replied the old man; "only a body can't say everything out in a breath!--But you're right, you _are right!" he went on. "I remember well the time when I thought I had nothing to be ashamed of; but the time came when I was ashamed of many things, and I'd done nothing worse in the meantime either! When a man first gets a peep inside himself, he sees things he didn't look to see--and they stagger him a bit! Some horses have their hoofs so shrunk and cockled they take the queerest shoes to set them straight; an' them shoes is the troubles o' this life, I take it.--Now mind, I ain't told you what college he's gone to--nor whether it be at Oxford or at Cambridge, or away in Scotland or Germany--and you don't know! And if you don't feel bound to mention the name of the place, I'd be obliged to you not to. But I will let him know that I've told you what sort of a place he's at, because he couldn't tell you himself, being he's bound to hold his tongue."

Barbara went home happy: his grandfather recognized the bond between them! As to Richard, she had no fear of his forgetting her.

With more energy still, she went about her duties; and they seemed to grow as she did them. As the end of Mark's sickness approached, he became more and more dependent upon her, and only his mother could take her place with him. He loved his father dearly, but his father never staid more than a moment or two in the sick-chamber. Mark at length went away to find his twin; and his mother and Barbara wept, but not all in sorrow.

One morning, the week after Mark's death, Mr. Wylder desired Barbara to go with him to his study--where indeed about as much study went on as in a squirrel's nest--and there, after solemn prologue as to its having been right and natural while she was but a girl with a brother that she should be allowed a great deal of freedom, stated that now, circumstances being changed, such freedom could no longer be given her: she was now sole heiress, and must do as an heir would have had to do, namely, consult the interests of the family. In those interests, he continued, it was necessary he should strengthen as much as possible his influence in the county; it was time also that, for her own sake, she should marry; and better husband or fitter son-in-law than Mr. Lestrange could not be desired: he was both well behaved and good-looking, and when Mortgrange was one with Wylder, would have by far the finest estate in the county!

Filial obligation is a point upon which those parents lay the heaviest stress who have done the least to develop the relation between them and their children. The first duty is from the parent to the child: this unfulfilled, the duty of the child remains untaught.

"I am sorry to go against you, papa," said Barbara, "but I cannot marry Mr. Lestrange!"

"Stuff and nonsense! Why not?"

"Because I do not love him."

"Fiddlesticks! I did not love your mother when I married her!--You don't dislike him, I know!--Now don't tell me you do, for I shall not believe you!"

"He is always very kind to me, and I am sorry he should want what is not mine to give him."

"Not yours to give him! What do you mean by that? If it is not yours, it is mine! Have you not learned yet, that when I make up my mind to a thing, that thing is done! And where I have a right, I am not one to waive it!"

Where husband and wife are not one, it is impossible for the daughter to be one with both, or perhaps with either; and the constant and foolish bickering to which Barbara had been a witness throughout her childhood, had tended rather to poison than nourish respect. Whether Barbara failed to yield as much as Mr. Wylder had a right to claim, I leave to the judgment of my reader, reserving my own, and remarking only that, if his judgment be founded on principles differing from mine, our judgments cannot agree. The idea of parent must be venerated, and may cast a glow upon the actual parent, himself nowise venerable, so that the heart of a daughter may ache with the longing to see her father such that she could love and worship him as she would; but when it comes to life and action, the will of such a parent, if it diverge from what seems to the child true and right, ought to weigh nothing. A parent is not a maker, is not God. We must leave father and mother and all for God, that is, for what is right, which is his very will--only let us be sure it is for God, and not for self. If the parent has been the parent of good thoughts and right judgments in the child, those good thoughts and right judgments will be on the parent's side: if he has been the parent of evil thoughts and false judgments, they may be for him or against him, but in the end they will work solely for division. Any general decay of filial manners must originate with the parents.

"I am not a child. I am a woman," said Barbara; "and I owe it to him who made me a woman, to take care of her."

"Mind what you say. I have rights, and will enforce them."

"Over my person?" returned Barbara, her eyes sending out a flash that reminded him of her mother, and made him the angrier.

"If you do not consent here and now," he said sternly, "to marry Mr. Lestrange--that is, if, after your mother's insolence to lady Ann.--"

"My mother's insolence to lady Ann!" exclaimed Barbara, drawing herself, in her indignation, to the height of her small person: but her father would rush to his own discomfiture.

"--if, as I say," he went on, "he should now condescend to ask you--I swear--"

"You had better not swear, papa!"

"--I swear you shall not have a foot of my land."

"Oh! that is all? There you are in your right, and I have nothing to say."

"You insolent hussy! You won't like it when you find it done!"

"It will be the same as if Mark had lived."

"It's that cursed money of your mother's makes you impudent!" "If you could leave me moneyless, papa, it would make no difference. A woman that can shoe her own horse,--"

"Shoe her own horse!" cried her father.

"Yes, papa!--You couldn't!--And I _made two of her shoes the last time! Wouldn't any woman that can do that, wouldn't she--to save herself from shame and disgust--to be queen over herself--wouldn't she take a place as house-maid or shop-girl rather than marry the man she didn't love?"

Mr. Wylder saw he had gone too far.

"You know more than is good!" he said. "But don't you mistake: you're mother's money is settled on you, but your father is your trustee!"

"My father is a gentleman!" rejoined Barbara--not so near the truth as she believed.

"Take you care how you push a gentleman," rejoined her father.

"Not to love is not to marry--not if the man was a prince!" persisted Barbara.

She went to her mother's room, but said nothing of what had passed. She would not heat those ovens of wrath, the bosoms of her parents.

The next morning she ran to saddle Miss Brown. To her astonishment, her friend was not in her box, nor in any stall in the stable; neither was any one visible of whom to ask what had become of her; for the first time in her life, everybody had got out of Barbara's way. In the harness-room, however, she came upon one of the stable-boys. He was in tears. When he saw her, he started and turned to run, looking as if he had had a piece of Miss Brown for breakfast, but she stopped him.

"Where is Miss Brown?" she said.

"Don' know, miss."

"Who knows, then?"

"P'raps master, miss."

"What are you crying for?"

"Don' know, miss."

"That's not true. Boys don't cry without knowing why?"

"Well, miss, I ain't _sure what I'm crying for."

"Speak out, man! Don't be foolish."

"Master give me a terrible cut, miss!"

"Did you deserve it?"

"Don' know, miss."

"You don't seem to know anything this morning!"

"No, miss!"

"What did your master give you the cut for?"

"'Cause I was cryin'."

Here he burst into a restrained howl.

"What were you crying for?"

"Because Miss Brown was gone."

"And you cried without knowing where she was gone?" said Barbara, turning almost sick with apprehension.

"Yes, miss," affirmed the miserable boy.

"Is she dead?"

"No, miss, she ain't dead; she's sold!"

The words were not yet out of his mouth when he turned and bolted.

"That's my gentleman-papa!" said Barbara to herself before she could help it. Had she been any girl but Barbara, she would have cried like the boy.

Not once from that moment did she allude to Miss Brown in the hearing of father or servant.

One day her mother asked her why she never rode, and she told her. The wrath of the mother was like that of a tigress. She sprang to her feet, and bounded to the door. But when she reached it, Barbara was between her and the handle.

"Mother! mother dear!" she pleaded.

The mother took her by the shoulders, and thought to fling her across the room. But she was not so strong as she had been, and she found the little one hard as nails: she could not move her an inch.

"Get out of my way!" she cried, "I want to kill him!"

"Mammy dear, listen! It's a month ago! I said nothing--for love-sake!"

"Love-sake! I think I hear you! Dare to tell me you love that wretch of a father of yours! I will kill _you if you say you love him!"

Barbara threw her arms round her mother's neck, and said, "Listen, mammy: I do love him a little bit: but it wasn't for love of him I held my tongue."

"Bah! Your bookbinder-fellow! What has be to do with it?"

"Nothing at all. It wasn't for him either, it was for God's sake I held my peace, mammy. If _all his children quarrelled like you and dad, what a house he would have! It was for God's sake I said nothing; and you know, mammy, you've made it up with God, and you mustn't go and be naughty again!"

The mother stood silent and still. It seemed for an instant as if the old fever had come back, for she shivered. She turned and went to her chair, sat down, and again was still. A minute after, her forehead flushed like a flame, turned white, then flushed and paled again several times. Then she gave a great sigh, and the conflict was over. She smiled, and from that moment she also never said a word about Miss Brown.

But in the silence of her thought, Barbara suffered, for what might not be the fate of Miss Brown! No one but a genuine lover of animals would believe how she suffered. In her mind's eye she kept seeing her turn her head with sharp-curved neck in her stall, or shoot it over the door of her box, looking and longing for her mistress, and wondering why she did not come to pat her, or feed her, or saddle her for the joyous gallop across grass and green hedge; and the heart of her mistress was sore for her. But at length one day in church, they read the psalm in which come the words, "Thou, Lord, shalt save both man and beast!" and they went to her soul. She reflected that if Miss Brown was in trouble, it might be for the saving of Miss Brown: she had herself got enough good from trouble to hope for that! For she heartily believed the animals partakers in the redemption of Jesus Christ; and she fancied perhaps they knew more about it than we think,--the poor things are so silent! Anyhow she saw that the reasonable thing was to let God look after his own; and if Miss Brown was not his, how could she _be_?

But the mother was sending all over the country to find who had Miss Brown; and she had not inquired long before she learned that she was in the stables at Mortgrange. There she knew she would be well treated, and therefore told Barbara the result of her inquiries.

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