A week slipped by. We had grown
familiar with Enderley Hill at least I
had. As for John, he had little enough enjoyment
of the pretty spot he had taken such a fancy to, being
absent five days out of the seven; riding away when
the morning sun had slid down to the boles of my four
poplars, and never coming home till Venus peeped out
over their heads at night. It was hard for him;
but he bore the disappointment well.
With me one day went by just like
another. In the mornings I crept out, climbed
the hill behind Rose Cottage garden, and there lay
a little under the verge of the Flat, in a sunny shelter,
watching the ants running in and out of the numerous
ant-hills there; or else I turned my observation to
the short velvet herbage that grew everywhere hereabouts;
for the common, so far from being barren, was a perfect
sheet of greenest, softest turf, sowed with minute
and rare flowers. Often a square foot of ground
presented me with enough of beauty and variety in
colour and form to criticise and contemplate for a
My human interests were not extensive.
Sometimes the Enderley villagers, or the Tod children,
who were a grade above these, and decidedly “respectable,”
would appear and have a game of play at the foot of
the slope, their laughter rising up to where I lay.
Or some old woman would come with her pails to the
spring below, a curious and very old stone well, to
which the cattle from the common often rushed down
past me in bevies, and stood knee-deep, their mouths
making glancing circles in the water as they drank.
Being out of doors almost all day,
I saw very little of the inhabitants of our cottage.
Once or twice a lady and gentleman passed, creeping
at the foot of the slope so slowly, that I felt sure
it must be Mr. March and his daughter. He was
tall, with grey hair; I was not near enough to distinguish
his features. She walked on the further side,
supporting him with her arm. Her comfortable
morning hood was put off, and she had on her head
that ugly, stiff thing which ladies had lately taken
to wearing, and which, Jael said, was called a “bonnet.”
Except on these two occasions, I had
no opportunity of making any observations on the manners
and customs of our neighbours. Occasionally Mrs.
Tod mentioned them in her social chatter, while laying
the cloth; but it was always in the most cursory and
trivial way, such as “Miss March having begged
that the children might be kept quiet Mrs.
Tod hoped their noise didn’t disturb me?
but Mr. March was such a very fidgety gentleman so
particular in his dress, too Why, Miss March
had to iron his cravats with her own hands. Besides,
if there was a pin awry in her dress he did make such
a fuss and, really, such an active, busy
young lady couldn’t look always as if she came
trim out of a band-box. Mr. March wanted so
much waiting on, he seemed to fancy he still had his
big house in Wales, and his seven servants.”
Mrs. Tod conversed as if she took
it for granted I was fully acquainted with all the
prior history of her inmates, or any others that she
mentioned a habit peculiar to Enderley folk
with strangers. It was generally rather convenient,
and it saved much listening; but in this case, I would
rather have had it broken through. Sometimes
I felt strongly inclined to question her; but on consulting
John, he gave his veto so decidedly against seeking
out people’s private affairs in such an illicit
manner that I felt quite guilty, and began to doubt
whether my sickly, useless, dreaming life, was not
inclining me to curiosity, gossip, and other small
vices which we are accustomed I know not
why to insult the other sex by describing
As I have said, the two cottages were
built distinct, so that we could have neither sound
nor sight of our neighbours, save upon the neutral
ground of Mrs. Tod’s kitchen; where, however
I might have felt inclined to venture, John’s
prohibition stopped me entirely.
Thus save the two days
when he was at home, when he put me on his mare’s
back, and led me far away, over common, and valley,
and hill, for miles, only coming back at twilight save
those two blithe days, I spent the week in dignified
solitude, and was very thankful for Sunday.
We determined to make it a long, lovely,
country Sunday; so we began it at six a.m. John
took me a new walk across the common, where he
said, in answer to my question we were
quite certain not to meet Miss March.
“Do you experimentalize on the
subject, that you calculate her paths with such nicety?
Pray, have you ever met her again, for I know you
have been out most mornings?”
“Morning is the only time I
have for walking, you know, Phineas.”
“Ah, true! You have little
pleasure at Enderley. I almost wish we could
“Don’t think of such a
thing. It is doing you a world of good.
Indeed, we must not, on any account, go home.”
I know, and knew then, that his anxiety
was in earnest; that whatever other thoughts might
lie underneath, the sincere thought of me was the
one uppermost in his mind.
“Well, we’ll stay that is,
if you are happy, John.”
“Thoroughly happy; I like the
dashing rides to Norton Bury. Above all, I like
coming back. The minute I begin to climb Enderley
Hill, the tan-yard, and all belonging to it, drops
off like an incubus, and I wake into free, beautiful
life. Now, Phineas, confess; is not this common
a lovely place, especially of a morning?”
“Ay,” said I, smiling
at his energy. “But you did not tell me
whether you had met Miss March again.”
“She has never once seen me.”
“But you have seen her? Answer honestly.”
“Why should I not? Yes,
I have seen her once or twice or so but
never in any way that could annoy her.”
“That explains why you have
become so well acquainted with the direction of her
He coloured deeply. “I
hope, Phineas, you do not think that that
in any way I should intrude on or offend a lady?”
“Nay, don’t take it so
seriously indeed, I meant nothing of the
kind. It would be quite natural if a young man
like you did use some pains to look at such a ‘cunning
piece of Nature’s handiwork’ as that apple-cheeked
girl of seventeen.”
“Russet apple. She is
brown, you know a real ‘nut-brown
mayde,’” said John, recovering his gay
humour. “Certainly, I like to look at her.
I have seen many a face that was more good-looking never
one that looked half so good.”
“Sententious that;” yet
I could not smile he spoke with such earnestness.
Besides, it was the truth. I myself would have
walked half-way across the common any day for a glance
at Miss March. Why not he?
“But, John, you never told me
that you had seen her again!”
“Because you never asked me.”
We were silent. Silent until
we had walked along the whole length of a Roman encampment,
the most perfect of the various fossés that seamed
the flat tokens of many a battle fought
on such capital battleground, and which John had this
morning especially brought me to look at.
“Yes,” I said at last,
putting the ending affirmative to a long train of
thought, which was certainly not about Roman encampments;
“yes, it is quite natural that you should admire
her. It would even be quite natural, and not
unlikely either, if she ”
“Pshaw!” interrupted he.
“What nonsense you are talking! Impossible!”
and setting his foot sharply upon a loose stone, he
kicked it down into the ditch, where probably many
a dead Roman had fallen before it in ages gone by.
The impetuous gesture the
energetic “impossible,” struck me less
than the quickness with which his mind had worked
out my unexpressed thought carrying it
to a greater length than I myself had ever contemplated.
“Truly, no possibilities or
impossibilities of that sort ever entered my
head. I only thought you might admire her, and
be unsettled thereby as young men are when they take
fancies. That would grieve me very much, John.”
“Don’t let it then?
Why, I have only seen her five times; I never spoke
to her in my life, and most probably never shall do.
Could any one be in a safer position? Besides,”
and his tone changed to extreme gravity, “I
have too many worldly cares to think of; I can’t
afford the harmless little amusement of falling in
love so be easy, Phineas.”
I smiled; and we began a discussion
on camps and fossés, vallum and praetorium;
the Danes, Saxons, and Normans; which, doubtless, we
carried on to a most learned length: but at this
distance of time, and indeed the very day after, I
plead guilty to having forgotten all about it.
That long, quiet Sunday, when, I remember,
the sun never came out all day, but the whole earth
and sky melted together in a soft, grey haze; when
we lay on the common and heard church-bells ringing,
some distant, some near; and, after all was quiet,
talked our own old sabbath talks, of this world and
the world to come; when, towards twilight, we went
down into the beech-wood below the house, and sat idly
there among the pleasant-smelling ferns; when, from
the morning to the evening, he devoted himself altogether
to my comfort and amusement to perfect
which required of him no harder duty than to be near
me always; that Sunday was the last I ever
had David altogether for my own my very
It was natural, it was just, it was
right. God forbid that in any way I should have
About ten o’clock just
as he was luring me out to see how grand the common
looked under the black night, and we were wondering
whether or no the household were in bed Mrs.
Tod came mysteriously into the parlour and shut the
door after her. Her round, fresh face looked
“Mr. Halifax, might I speak a word to ’ee,
“With pleasure. Sit down,
Mrs. Tod. There’s nothing wrong with your
“No, I thank’ee.
You are very kind, sir. No, it be about that
poor Miss March.”
I could see John’s fingers twitch
over the chair he was leaning on. “I hope ”
he began, and stopped.
“Her father is dreadful bad
to-night, and it’s a good seven-mile walk to
the doctor’s at S ; and Miss
March says that is, she don’t, for
I bean’t going to tell her a word about it but
I think, Mr. Halifax, if I might make so bold, it
would be a great kindness in a young gentleman like
you to lend Tod your mare to ride over and fetch the
“I will, gladly. At once?”
“Tod bean’t come in yet.”
“He shall have the mare with
pleasure. Tell Miss March so I mean,
do not tell her, of course. It was very right
of you to come to us in this way, Mrs. Tod.
Really, it would be almost a treat to be ill in your
house you are so kind.”
“Thank’ee, Mr. Halifax,”
said the honest landlady, greatly delighted.
“But a body couldn’t help doing anything
for Miss March. You would think so yourself,
if you only knew her.”
“No doubt,” returned John,
more politely than warmly, I fancied, as he closed
the door after the retreating figure of Mrs. Tod.
But when he came and sat down again I saw he was
rather thoughtful. He turned the books restlessly,
one after the other, and could not settle to anything.
To all my speculations about our sick neighbour, and
our pearl of kind-hearted landladies, he only replied
in monosyllables; at last he started up and said,
“Phineas, I think I’ll go myself.”
“To fetch Doctor Brown.
If Tod is not come in it would be but a common charity.
And I know the way.”
“But the dark night?”
“Oh, no matter; the mare will
be safer under me than a stranger. And though
I have taken good care that the three horses in the
tan-yard shall have the journey, turn and turn about;
still it’s a good pull from here to Norton Bury,
and the mare’s my favourite. I would rather
take her myself.”
I smiled at his numerous good reasons
for doing such a very simple thing; and agreed that
it was right and best he should do it.
“Then shall I call Mrs. Tod
and inquire? Or perhaps it might make less fuss
just to go and speak to her in the kitchen. Will
you, Phineas, or shall I?”
Scarcely waiting my answer, we walked
from our parlour into what I called the Debateable
No one was there. We remained
several minutes all alone, listening to the groaning
“That must be Mr. March, John.”
“I hear. Good heavens!
how hard for her. And she such a young thing,
and alone,” muttered he, as he stood gazing into
the dull wood embers of the kitchen fire. I
saw he was moved; but the expression on his face was
one of pure and holy compassion. That at this
moment no less unselfish feeling mingled with it I
Mrs. Tod appeared at the door leading
to the other half of the cottage; she was apparently
speaking to Miss March on the staircase. We heard
again those clear, quick, decided tones, but subdued
to a half-whisper.
“No, Mrs. Tod, I am not sorry
you did it on my father’s account,
’tis best. Tell Mr. the young
gentleman I forget his name that
I am very much obliged to him.”
“I will, Miss March stay,
he is just here. Bless us! she has shut
the door already. Won’t you take
a seat, Mr. Halifax? I’ll stir up the
fire in a minute, Mr. Fletcher. You are always
welcome in my kitchen, young gentlemen.”
And Mrs. Tod bustled about, well aware what a cosy
and cheerful old-fashioned kitchen it was, especially
But when John explained the reason
of our intrusion there was no end to her pleasure
and gratitude. He was the kindest young gentleman
that ever lived. She would tell Miss March
so; as, indeed, she had done many a time.
“‘Miss,’ said I
to her the very first day I set eyes on you, when I
had told her how you came hunting for lodgings (she
often has a chat with me quite freely, being so lonesome-like,
and knowing I to be too proud to forget that she’s
a born lady) ’Miss,’ said I,
’who Mr. Halifax may be I don’t know,
but depend upon it he’s a real gentleman.’”
I was the sole amused auditor of this
speech, for John had vanished. In a few minutes
more he had brought the mare round, and after a word
or two with me was clattering down the road.
I wondered whether this time any white-furred
wrist stirred the blind to watch him.
John was away a wonderfully short
time, and the doctor rode back with him. They
parted at the gate, and he came into our parlour, his
cheeks all glowing with the ride. He only remarked,
“that the autumn nights were getting chill,”
and sat down. The kitchen clock struck one.
“You ought to have been in bed
hours ago, Phineas. Will you not go? I
shall sit up just a little while, to hear how Mr. March
“I should like to hear, too.
It is curious the interest that one learns to take
in people that are absolute strangers, when shut up
together in a lonely place like this, especially when
they are in trouble.”
“Ay, that’s it,”
said he, quickly. “It’s the solitude,
and their being in trouble. Did you hear anything
more while I was away?”
“Only that Mr. March was rather
better, and everybody had gone to bed except his daughter
and Mrs. Tod.”
“Hark! I think that’s
the doctor going away. I wonder if one might
ask No! they would think it intrusive.
He must be better. But Dr. Brown told me that
in one of these paroxysms he might Oh, that
poor young thing!”
“Has she no relatives, no brothers
or sisters? Doctor Brown surely knows.”
“I did not like to ask, but
I fancy not. However, that’s not my business:
my business is to get you off to bed, Phineas Fletcher,
as quickly as possible.”
“Wait one minute, John.
Let us go and see if we can do anything more.”
“Ay if we can do
anything more,” repeated he, as we again recrossed
the boundary-line, and entered the Tod country.
All was quiet there. The kitchen
fire burnt brightly, and a cricket sang in merry solitude
on the hearth; the groans overhead were stilled, but
we heard low talking, and presently stealthy footsteps
crept down-stairs. It was Mrs. Tod and Miss
We ought to have left the kitchen:
I think John muttered something to that effect, and
even made a slight movement towards the door; but I
don’t know how it was we stayed.
She came and stood by the fire, scarcely
noticing us. Her fresh cheeks were faded, and
she had the weary look of one who has watched for many
hours. Some sort of white dimity gown that she
wore added to this paleness.
“I think he is better, Mrs.
Tod decidedly better,” said she, speaking
quickly. “You ought to go to bed now.
Let all the house be quiet. I hope you told
Mr. Oh ”
She saw us, stopped, and for the moment
the faintest tinge of her roses returned. Presently
she acknowledged us, with a slight bend.
John came forward. I had expected
some awkwardness on his part; but no he
was thinking too little of himself for that.
His demeanour earnest, gentle, kind was
the sublimation of all manly courtesy.
“I hope, madam” young
men used the deferential word in those days always “I
do hope that Mr. March is better. We were unwilling
to retire until we had heard.”
“Thank you! My father
is much better. You are very kind,” said
Miss March, with a maidenly dropping of the eyes.
“Indeed he is kind,” broke
in the warm-hearted Mrs. Tod. “He rode
all the way to S , his own self,
to fetch the doctor.”
“Did you, sir? I thought you only lent
“Oh! I like a night-ride.
And you are sure, madam, that your father is better?
Is there nothing else I can do for you?”
His sweet, grave manner, so much graver
and older than his years, softened too with that quiet
deference which marked at once the man who reverenced
all women, simply for their womanhood seemed
entirely to reassure the young lady. This, and
her own frankness of character, made her forget, as
she apparently did, the fact that she was a young
lady and he a young gentleman, meeting on unacknowledged
neutral ground, perfect strangers, or knowing no more
of one another than the mere surname.
Nature, sincerity, and simplicity
conquered all trammels of formal custom. She
held out her hand to him.
“I thank you very much, Mr.
Halifax. If I wanted help I would ask you; indeed
“Thank you. Good-night.”
He pressed the hand with reverence and
was gone. I saw Miss March look after him:
then she turned to speak and smiled with me.
A light word, an easy smile, as to a poor invalid
whom she had often pitied out of the fulness of her
Soon I followed John into the parlour.
He asked me no questions, made no remarks, only took
his candle and went up-stairs.
But, years afterwards, he confessed
to me that the touch of that hand it was
a rather peculiar hand in the “feel” of
it, as the children say, with a very soft palm, and
fingers that had a habit of perpetually fluttering,
like a little bird’s wing the touch
of that hand was to the young man like the revelation
of a new world.