Stephen listened breathlessly, and his face glowed with intense interest; but he was not a boy of ready speech, and, before he could utter a word, Tim burst in before him with a question, ’Please, is there a Tim in the Bible?’ he asked.
‘Yes,’ answered Miss Anne, smiling again; ’he was a young man who knew the Bible from his youth.’
‘That ain’t me, however,’ said Tim in a despondent tone.
‘There is nothing now to prevent you beginning to know it,’ continued Miss Anne. ’Listen: as Stephen cannot come to me at Botfield, you shall meet me in the Red Gravel Pit at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning as long as the summer lasts, and I will teach you all. Bring little Nan with you, Stephen.’
Down the same narrow green pathway trodden by the feet of Stephen’s angry master and his brother the evening before, they now watched the little light figure of the young lady, as she slowly vanished out of their sight. When the gleaming of her dress was quite lost, Stephen rubbed his eyes for a moment, and then turned to Martha and Tim.
‘Is she a real woman, dost think?’ he asked.
‘A real woman!’ repeated Martha rather scornfully; ’of course she is; and it’s a real silk gown she had on, I can tell thee. Spirits don’t go about in silk gowns and broad daylight, never as I heard tell of, lad.’
The red Gravel pit.
At the entrance of the lane leading down to the works at Botfield there stood a small square building, which was used as the weighing-house for the coal and lime fetched from the pits, and as the pay-office on the reckoning Saturday, which came once a fortnight. Upon the Saturday evening after his interview with the master, Stephen loitered in the lane with a very heavy heart, afraid of facing Mr. Wyley, lest he should receive the sentence of dismission from the pit. He did not know what he could turn his hand to if he should be discharged from what had been his work since he was eight years old; for even if he could get a place in one of the farmhouses about as waggoner’s boy, he would not earn more than three shillings a week; and how very little that would do towards providing food for the three mouths at home! Fearful of knowing the worst, he lingered about the office until all the other workmen had been in and come out again jingling their wages.
But the master and his brother Thomas had been taking counsel together about the matter. Mr. Wyley was for turning the boy off at once, and reducing him to the utmost straits of poverty; but his more prudent brother was opposed to this plan.