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"Not I! Do you mean to try me?" "Look!" she said, as if in answer; and they turned on the brow of the hill, and together looked down on the vast woods of Lovel spread out below-woods upon whose brown surface the young green had encroached little by little, like the sea upon a coast set thick with little islets and promontories, till at length, growing bold, it had overspread all, and now lay pulsing in the sunlight—a tide whose ebb and flow bore mysterious whisperings with it, rising at moments to a song more sweet and human than ever yet was reached by ocean's lullaby.
"And do you wish him back?" said Mr. Eyre, looking keenly at his wife.
"Indeed I do!" she said, her eyes fixed on the distant turrets that rose greyly out of that shimmering light. "Not a day passes but I think of him-poor Frank!"
"And do you think he has stayed away these six years on your account?"
"I don't know," said Madcap, turning her head aside; “only you see I was Frank's first, his only sweetheart!"
"And that is better than being a man's last," said Mr. Eyre, with a queer smile.
And why not first and last?" said Madcap, that spark of faithfulness in her eyes which, once lit in a woman, from however unworthy a source, is quenched but with her breath. "Might not two people love each other in youth, and grow to each other in middle age, till at length they toddled down the steep incline more in love than ever?"
"As you and Frank might have done?" said Mr. Eyre; "and now I come to think of it, you seemed to love each other very much. That box on the ear, for instance
"He had been worrying me," said Madcap, hanging her head, " and so I got on the ladder to count the plums.”
"And ate six," said Mr. Eyre. "I reckoned them as I stood at the bottom."
"You'came three hours before you were expected," said Madcap reproachfully; "and who would have thought of your coming straight to the kitchen garden?"
"You came down backwards," said Mr. Eyre, smiling at his recollections; "such a young shape, and such a slim foot and ankle, I wished the descent had been twice as long; and halfway down you stopped, and said you would stay there till doomsday unless I promised not to try and kiss you."
"And you promised," said Madcap, jogged by memory into
fiercer blushes than the actualities of life had caused her these five years. "It sounded just like Frank's voice; but when I turned round and saw you-why had you got that look on your face?" she cried, stopping short to laugh. "Of course I boxed your ears-who could help it?"
"And so my acquaintance with Frank's sweetheart began," said Mr. Eyre, thinking of his friend.
'Why did I go?" he added as one thinking aloud. "I loved the boy, and I suppose loved you for his sake before ever I saw you."
"But when did you begin loving me for myself?" said Madcap coaxingly.
He turned and looked at her; Frank's face faded away, and with it another that had lifted memory's shroud to peer at him with eyes as wistful as his friend's
'Let me see," he said, was it when you tucked your skirts round your ankles and walked out of the room on your hands?"
"You had no business in the schoolroom, nor Frank either," cried Madcap, ashamed. "I had forbidden him to come there; and-and how do you know it was I, after all? No one could positively swear to another person's heels!"
"And, when next we met, you walked demurely and wore boots," said Mr. Eyre gravely; "yet I could have sworn to those shoes as the very same that I had seen twinkling down the ladder. No-I did not fall in love with you then."
"But perhaps you had done it already?" said Madcap, saucy, though abashed.
'Perhaps," he said; "and you?"
"You were so old, so grave, so-so respectable," said Madcap, looking away. "Do you know, I was so amazed when I heard
that you had the reputation of being-wicked."
"Did Frank tell you that?"
"Frank! No; it was Lady Betty.'
"And what did you say?"
"That it must have been so long ago I wondered people hadn't quite forgotten it!"
"Did I seem such an old fellow to you as that, Madcap?" said Mr. Eyre, laughing.
"O! yes," she said gravely; "you see Frank and I were so dreadfully young—and two of a trade never agree!
And so, as I was old, the tales of my wickedness did not trouble you?"
"No," said Madcap very low; "only-when you stayed away so long-sometimes they would knock hard at my ears to be let in; and when Lady Betty screamed out, 'He's got another sweetheart; he'll never come back-he'll never come back!' I began to say to myself that I was to be punished just as I had punished Frank.”
"No," said Mr. Eyre; "others may suffer, but you never shall. It was our first parting; would to God," he added, with sudden bitterness, "that I might never have left you for an hour since the moment that we first met."
"And yet you stayed away all yesterday and last night," said Madcap as they left the high-road for a part of Mr. Eyre's estate that he rarely visited.
"O! a mere matter of business; it won't detain me again," he said carelessly as through an open gateway they
Rode under groves that looked a paradise
Of blossom, over sheets of hyacinth
That seemed the heavens upbreaking through the earth; .
for high above them closed vast apple-boughs, now all coral and white with blossom, while at their feet the hyacinth of her million bells had woven a carpet of azure, above which now and again a bird swept low, as thinking that in seeking earth he had chanced to light upon heaven.
From overhead the busy coil of winged life struck out a faint aromatic scent, penetrating as the wild far-off sweetness of the blackcap's note. To an exquisite rhythm of sight, sound, and scent Madcap seemed to move as she passed down that long arcade, silent, yet no more dumb under her delight than is a flower whose language is her breath, or a stormy sunset who speaks living words to us by its hues.
Mr. Eyre was no longer by her side, but he was close at hand; and there lies the soul of a woman's rest or unrest, whether the man she loves be within her reach or beyond it—and Madcap did not miss him as she went, counting her treasures up as poor mortals will, when all unknown to themselves the first quivering shaft of disaster threatens them.
"This apple blossom looks well for the crops," said Mr. Eyre to the farmer who had joined him.
"Well, sir, there's the late frosts yet; and Providence don't usually take much 'count of farmers."
"I suppose Providence is not responsible for all your gates being open," said Mr. Eyre, who had enjoyed the ride through
half a mile or so of uninterrupted orchard, but blamed the carelessness that had made it practicable.
"It's just that old Busby," said the farmer, scratching his head, "he must ride through here instead of by the high-road; he's scouring the country about the 'morial for the poor soul up at th' gaol, and every unborn babe in the parish must sign it, or he'll know the reason why."
"Have you signed?" said Mr. Eyre, looking at the man keenly.
"No," said the man sturdily; "the woman drowned the child, and an ounce of fact is worth a pound of talk. Whether th' feyther was up at th' Tower or elsewhere-I beg your pardon, sir,” he added, stumbling in his speech; “and to be sure, you were married to the young mistress then; but somebody she come to look for in this village, that's certain, and who else could it be but the young lord?"
"Pshaw!" said Mr. Eyre, with a gesture of disgust; "it's impossible."
"Young men will be young men," said the farmer, shaking his head; "they don't allus keep in mind Feyther Williams' advice, who
Thought of the future whatever he did,
That he never might grieve for the past.
But lor! sir, what a sight of pleasant things that old chap must have missed!"
Mr. Eyre joined for a moment in the farmer's hilarity, then rode forward to rejoin his wife.
He had scarcely done so when he heard behind him the almost noiseless sound of horses' hoofs coming over the turf; he guessed that they were in pursuit of him, and, turning to her, cried—
"One' gallop, Madcap!" and at a touch the blood-horses stretched fleetly out almost to racing speed, and like winged creatures breasted the long low hill before them, while far behind, like dull, leaden echoes came the pursuing feet.
Had some of Madcap's own wild spirit leaped into Mr. Eyre's veins that day as they rode neck and neck, horses and riders alike exulting in that masterful rush through the soft spring air? Of their own will the horses seemed to stop at the prisongates of Marmiton, but before she could even cast a glance at the building, Mr. Eyre had seized her bridle, and turned her face and his own homewards.
"So ends a happy day," he said, as at the end of the straggling town his keen eye detected a mounted messenger
approaching, who bore in his hand one of those yellow envelopes that in rural lives not infrequently cause a revolution.
"No!" cried Madcap, still breathless, and all her young blood kindled in her by the dare-devil ride; "it is only just begun!"
Prince Charlie, who knew his mistress's every mood, and had carried her bare-backed many a time in glorious spurt over hill and dale, tried to nestle his velvet nose in her hand, at which she threw her arms round his neck.
"O! Charlie," she whispered in one of his big, quivering ears, "don't you feel young to-day-just as we used to long ago ?"
Mr. Eyre read his message through twice; then telling the man that there was no reply, asked Madcap if she were too tired to ride farther.
"For it is your birthday, Madcap; and we will spend it together; but to-morrow-to-morrow