‘Sir,’ he said, looking up to him, ’I’m afraid I can’t explain myself. You know it was for my sake that the Lord Jesus was killed, yet His Father has forgiven me all my sins; and when I think of that, I can forgive the master even for little Nan’s death with all my heart. But I don’t always remember it; and then I feel a little glad at the fire. I haven’t got much religion yet. I don’t know everything that’s in the Bible.’
‘Yet I could learn some lessons from you, Stephen,’ said Mr. Danesford, after a pause. ’What do you suppose I should do if anybody tried to take Danesford Hall from me?’
‘I don’t know, sir,’ answered Stephen.
‘Nor do I,’ he said, smiling; ’at any rate, they should not have it with my consent. Nor shall anybody take Fern’s Hollow from you. I have been down to Longville about it, but Mr. Wyley is too ill to see me. By the way, I told Miss Anne I was coming up the hills after you. She wants to see you, Stephen, as soon as possible after your work is done.’
Mr. Danesford rode on over the hills, and Stephen walked some way beside him, to put him into the nearest path for Danesford. After he was gone he watched earnestly for the evening shadows, and when they stretched far away across the plains, he hastened down to the cabin, and then on to Longville, to his appointed interview with Miss Anne.
The master’s deathbed.
When the master at last consented to leave the sight of his old dwelling burning into blackened heaps, he seemed to care nothing where he might be taken. He was without a home, and almost without a friend. It was not accident merely, but the long-provoked hatred of his people, that had driven him from the old chambers and the old roof which had sheltered him for so many years, and where all the habits and memories of his life centred. Miss Anne had not been long enough at Botfield to form friendships on her own account, except among the poor and ignorant people on her uncle’s works; and she accepted most thankfully the offer of the doctor from Longville to give them a refuge in his house. No sooner had they arrived there than it was discovered that the master was struck with paralysis, brought on by the shock of the fire, and all the terrifying circumstances attending it. He was carried at once to a bedroom, and from that time Miss Anne had been fully occupied in nursing him.
He had seemed to be getting better the last day or two, and his power of speech had returned, though he spoke but rarely; only following Miss Anne’s movements with earnest eyes, and hardly suffering her to leave him, even for necessary rest and refreshment. All that afternoon he had been tossing his restless head from side to side, uttering deep, low groans, and murmuring now and then to himself words which Miss Anne could not understand. She looked white and ill herself, as if her strength were nearly exhausted; but after the doctor had been in, and, feeling the master’s pulse, shook his head solemnly, she would not consent to leave his bedside for any length of time.