The anxieties of the Lady Mallorings of this life concerning the moral welfare of their humbler neighbors are inclined to march in front of events. The behavior in Tryst’s cottage was more correct than it would have been in nine out of ten middle or upper class demesnes under similar conditions. Between the big laborer and ‘that woman,’ who, since the epileptic fit, had again come into residence, there had passed nothing whatever that might not have been witnessed by Biddy and her two nurslings. For love is an emotion singularly dumb and undemonstrative in those who live the life of the fields; passion a feeling severely beneath the thumb of a propriety born of the age-long absence of excitants, opportunities, and the aesthetic sense; and those two waited, almost as a matter of course, for the marriage which was forbidden them in this parish. The most they did was to sit and look at one another.
On the day of which Felix had seen the dawn at Hampstead, Sir Gerald’s agent tapped on the door of Tryst’s cottage, and was answered by Biddy, just in from school for the midday meal.
“Your father home, my dear?”
“No, sir; Auntie’s in.”
“Ask your auntie to come and speak to me.”
The mother-child vanished up the narrow stairs, and the agent sighed. A strong-built, leathery-skinned man in a brown suit and leggings, with a bristly little moustache and yellow whites to his eyes, he did not, as he had said to his wife that morning, ’like the job a little bit.’ And while he stood there waiting, Susie and Billy emerged from the kitchen and came to stare at him. The agent returned that stare till a voice behind him said: “Yes, sir?”
‘That woman’ was certainly no great shakes to look at: a fresh, decent, faithful sort of body! And he said gruffly: “Mornin’, miss. Sorry to say my orders are to make a clearance here. I suppose Tryst didn’t think we should act on it, but I’m afraid I’ve got to put his things out, you know. Now, where are you all going; that’s the point?”
“I shall go home, I suppose; but Tryst and the children—we don’t know.”
The agent tapped his leggings with a riding-cane. “So you’ve been expecting it!” he said with relief. “That’s right.” And, staring down at the mother-child, he added: “Well, what d’you say, my dear; you look full of sense, you do!”
Biddy answered: “I’ll go and tell Mr. Freeland, sir.”
“Ah! You’re a bright maid. He’ll know where to put you for the time bein’. Have you had your dinner?”
“No, sir; it’s just ready.”
“Better have it—better have it first. No hurry. What’ve you got in the pot that smells so good?”
“Bubble and squeak, sir.”
“Bubble and squeak! Ah!” And with those words the agent withdrew to where, in a farm wagon drawn up by the side of the road, three men were solemnly pulling at their pipes. He moved away from them a little, for, as he expressed it to his wife afterward: “Look bad, you know, look bad—anybody seeing me! Those three little children— that’s where it is! If our friends at the Hall had to do these jobs for themselves, there wouldn’t be any to do!”