ELLEN CARLEY’S TRIALS.
Christmas came in the old farm-house near Crosber; and Ellen Carley, who had no idea of making any troubled thoughts of her own an excuse for neglect of her household duties, made the sombre panelled rooms bright with holly and ivy, laurel and fir, and busied herself briskly in the confection of such pies and puddings as Hampshire considered necessary to the due honour of that pious festival. There were not many people to see the greenery and bright holly-berries which embellished the grave old rooms, not many whom Ellen very much cared for to taste the pies and puddings; but duty must be done, and the bailiff’s daughter did her work with a steady industry which knew no wavering.
Her life had been a hard one of late, very lonely since Mrs. Holbrook’s disappearance, and haunted with a presence which was most hateful to her. Stephen Whitelaw had taken to coming to the Grange much oftener than of old. There was seldom an evening now on which his insignificant figure was not to be seen planted by the hearth in the snug little oak-parlour, smoking his pipe in that dull silent way of his, which was calculated to aggravate a lively person like Ellen Carley into some open expression of disgust or dislike. Of late, too, his attentions had been of a more pronounced character; he took to dropping sly hints of his pretensions, and it was impossible for Ellen any longer to doubt that he wanted her to be his wife. More than this, there was a tone of assurance about the man, quiet as he was, which exasperated Miss Carley beyond all measure. He had the air of being certain of success, and on more than one occasion spoke of the day when Ellen would be mistress of Wyncomb Farm.
On his repetition of this offensive speech one evening, the girl took him up sharply:—
“Not quite so fast, if you please, Mr. Whitelaw,” she said; “it takes two to make a bargain of that kind, just the same as it takes two to quarrel. There’s many curious changes may come in a person’s life, no doubt, and folks never know what’s going to happen to them; but whatever changes may come upon me, that isn’t one of them. I may live to see the inside of the workhouse, perhaps, when I’m too old for service; but I shall never sleep under the roof of Wyncomb Farmhouse.”
Mr. Whitelaw gave a spiteful little laugh.
“What a spirited one she is, ain’t she, now?” he said with a sneer. “O, you won’t, won’t you, my lass; you turn up that pretty little nose of yours—it do turn up a bit of itself, don’t it, though?—at Wyncomb Farm and Stephen Whitelaw; your father tells a different story, Nell.”
“Then my father tells a lying story,” answered the girl, blushing crimson with indignation; “and it isn’t for want o’ knowing the truth. He knows that, if it was put upon me to choose between your house and the union, I’d go to the union—and with a light heart too, to be free of you. I didn’t want to be rude, Mr. Whitelaw; for you’ve been civil-spoken enough to me, and I daresay you’re a good friend to my father; but I can’t help speaking the truth, and you’ve brought it on yourself with your nonsense.”