’Why, my aunt wanted to help him, but did not know how,—but I was up at grey dawn this morning, and saw him pass in the direction of Elverton. I knew he was gone on a fool’s errand to appeal to an old friend; he had, it seems, bowed his proud heart to that. True, he had saved this man’s life: more, he had saved him from dishonor and disgrace, but I felt none the less certain he would get no aid there. So I took L5 from Aunt Ally’s cash-box, and putting them inside a blank letter, I directed it in a feigned hand, only adding the words, “from one who sympathises with learning and ability in distress,” for he’s proud of his learning, and rode like mad over the hills to get there before him; there I watched for him, and got a footmail to give him the letter, and came back as fast as I went.’
’Now, God bless you for it, Edward, you are a wild boy, but you have a good heart.’
‘Boy! Man, you mean, Mary. I’m eighteen this summer.’
‘I should not have thought you so old.’
’Aye, aye, you judge like the rest, because my carcase is not as big as Lumping Dick’s the butcher boy’s, and because you have known me as a child when you were a grown woman, you think I am to remain a child always.’ And he petulantly shook back the masses of long dark hair that shadowed his wild but handsome countenance.
At this moment Johnson entered the room. His step was feeble and slow, but his countenance no longer bore the look of deep dejection that had in the morning characterized it. His eye brightened still more when he saw Mary.
‘Now God bless you, Miss Waters, for thinking of my poor lambs,’ said he. ’I scarcely dared to hope for them. I have brought food for them—see!’ he added. ’I little dreamed anyone would have been here before me.’
‘Sit down,’ said Mary, rising; ’you are fatigued and weak. I must go now, as my grandfather will need me, but we will send you something to make your house more comfortable.’
‘I shall not require it, Miss Mary: I have nearly five pounds here.’
‘Why, how is that?’
’It was handed me this morning by a strange footman in Elverton, after the door was shut in my face of the only man I ever tamed my spirit to ask aid from: yes, the cowardly hypocrite that dared not deny me to my face, sent his lacquey to tell me he was unwell, and could not be disturbed by beggars. May the curse—’
‘Stay!’ said Mary, ’curse him not, leave his punishment to his Maker; but did not the agent take the five pounds for the rent?’
’No; he said there was a warrant and costs of suit that made it fourteen pounds more, and was going to send the bailiffs to turn me out this very evening; but a strange old seaman came forward and paid the amount. I should have been here sooner, but I went round to the village shop to buy food for the little ones.’