He sighed and turned from the window. He had quite forgotten Hetty.
He stepped to the door to summon Johnny Whitelamb: but the sound of voices drew him across the passage to the best parlour, and there at the threshold his eyes fell on Sukey’s headdress.
“Yes, father.” Sukey stepped forward to be kissed.
“Take off that—that thing!”
“Yes, father.” She untied the strings obediently.
“If your husband chooses to dress and carry you about the country like a figure of fun, I cannot prevent him. But in my house remember that I am your father, and take my assurance that, although Jezebel tired her head, she had the saving grace of not looking like a fool.”
Mr. Wesley turned on his heel and strode back to his books.
“Why don’t you stand up to him?” asked Mr. Dick Ellison suddenly, on the road to Kelstein.
“To father?” Hetty came out of her day-dreams with a start.
“Yes: you’ve been having a tiff this morning, anyone can see. Young man is poison to him, hey? Why don’t you take a leaf out of my book? ’Paternal authority’—and a successor of the apostles into the bargain—that’s his ground. Well, I don’t allow him to take it. ‘Beggars can’t be choosers’ is mine, and I pin him to it. Oh, yes, I’m poison to him, but it does him good. ‘That cock won’t crow,’ I say. He’s game enough on his own dunghill, but a high-blooded lass like you ought to be his master by this time. Hint that you’ll cut the painter, kick over the traces—you needn’t do it, y’know. Threaten you’ll run and join the stage—nothing unlikely in that— and, by George, it’d bring him up with a clove hitch! Where’s your invention?”
Hetty gazed at the horse’s ears and considered. “It’s easy for you, Dick, who have nothing in common with him, not even affection.”
“Oh, I like the old fellow well enough, for all his airs with me,” said Mr. Dick Ellison graciously.
“If they annoyed you more, you might understand him better—and me,” replied Hetty.
Silence fell between them again and the gig bowled on.
The frozen canal ran straight towards the sunset, into a flooded country where only a line of pollard willows, with here and there an alder, marked the course of its left bank. But where Hetty waited the banks were higher, and the red ball on the horizon sent a level shaft down the lane between them.
She was alone. Indeed, the only living creature within sight was a red-breast, hunched into a ball and watching her from a wintry willow bough; the only moving object a windmill half a mile away across the level, turning its sails against the steel-gray sky—so listlessly, they seemed to be numbed.