“Oh, how maddening!” she cried. “I have left my basket behind.”
“Never mind; I will find it and have it filled and sent to you.”
“Thank you. I am sorry to trouble you.”
“Not at all. I hope you do not want the hemlock to help you to get rid of the burden of life.”
“Nonsense. I want it for my father, who uses it for medicine.”
“I will bring it myself to-morrow. Is that soon enough?”
“Quite. I am in no hurry. Thank you, Mr. Trefusis. Good-bye.”
She gave him her hand, and even smiled a little, and then hurried away. He stood watching her as she passed along the avenue under the beeches. Once, when she came into a band of sunlight at a gap in the trees, she made so pretty a figure in her spring dress of violet and white that his eyes kindled as he gazed. He took out his note-book, and entered her name and the date, with a brief memorandum.
“I have thawed her,” he said to himself as he put up his book. “She shall learn a lesson or two to hand on to her children before I have done with her. A trifle underbred, too, or she would not insist so much on her breeding. Henrietta used to wear a dress like that. I am glad to see that there is no danger of her taking to me personally.”
He turned away, and saw a crone passing, bending beneath a bundle of sticks. He eyed it curiously; and she scowled at him and hurried on.
“Hallo,” he said.
She continued for a few steps, but her courage failed her and she stopped.
“You are Mrs. Hickling, I think?”
“Yes, please your worship.”
“You are the woman who carried away an old wooden gate that lay on Sir Charles Brandon’s land last winter and used it for firewood. You were imprisoned for seven days for it.”
“You may send me there again if you like,” she retorted, in a cracked voice, as she turned at bay. “But the Lord will make me even with you some day. Cursed be them that oppress the poor and needy; it is one of the seven deadly sins.”
“Those green laths on your back are the remainder of my garden gate,” he said. “You took the first half last Saturday. Next time you want fuel come to the house and ask for coals, and let my gates alone. I suppose you can enjoy a fire without stealing the combustibles. Stow pay me for my gate by telling me something I want to know.”
“And a kind gentleman too, sir; blessings.”
“What is the hemlock good for?”
“The hemlock, kind gentleman? For the evil, sir, to be sure.”
“Scrofulous ulcers!” he exclaimed, recoiling. “The father of that beautiful girl!” He turned homeward, and trudged along with his head bent, muttering, “All rotten to the bone. Oh, civilization! civilization! civilization!”
“What has come over Gertrude?” said Agatha one day to Lady Brandon.