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"It is not that," said Henry, in a low voice.
Grace heard him, but answered Mr. Bayne: "Oh dear, I wish I had known. I fear I have made an unreasonable request: for, of course, after working so hard all the week--but then why did you let me purchase the tools to carve with? Papa says they are very dear, Mr. Bayne. But that is what gentlemen always say if one buys anything that is really good. But of course they WILL be dear, if I am not to be taught how to use them."
She then looked in Mr. Bayne's face with an air of infantine simplicity: "Would Mr. Cheetham take them back, I wonder, under the circ.u.mstances?"
At this sly thrust, Bayne began to look anxious; but Henry relieved him the next moment by saying, in a sort of dogged way, "There, there; I'll come." He added, after a pause, "I will give you six lessons, if you like."
"I shall be so much obliged. When will you come, sir?"
"Next Sat.u.r.day, at three o'clock."
"I shall be sure to be at home, sir."
She then said something polite about not disturbing him further, and vanished with an arch smile of pleasure and victory, that disclosed a row of exquisite white teeth, and haunted Henry Little for many a day after.
He told his mother what had happened, and showed so much mortified pride that she no longer dissuaded him from keeping his word. "Only pray don't tell her your name," said she.
"Well, but what am I to do if she asks it?"
"Say Thompson, or Johnson, or anything you like, except Little."
This request roused Henry's bile. "What, am I a criminal to deny my name? And how shall I look, if I go and give her a false name, and then she comes to Bayne and learns my right one? No, I'll keep my name back, if I can; but I'll never disown it. I'm not ashamed of it, if you are."
This reduced poor Mrs. Little to silence; followed, in due course, by a few meek, clandestine tears.
Henry put on his new tweed suit and hat, and went up to the villa. He announced himself as the workman from Cheetham's; and the footman, who had probably his orders, ushered him into the drawing-room at once.
There he found Grace Carden seated, reading, and a young woman sewing at a respectful distance. This pair were types; Grace, of a young English gentlewoman, and Jael Dence of a villager by unbroken descent. Grace was tall, supple, and serpentine, yet not thin; Jael was robust and ample, without being fat; she was of the same height, though Grace looked the taller. Grace had dark brown eyes and light brown hair; and her blooming cheek and bewitching mouth shone with expression so varied, yet vivid, and always appropriate to the occasion, grave or gay, playful or dignified, that her countenance made artificial faces, and giggling in-the-wrong-place faces, painfully ridiculous. As for such faces as Jael's, it killed them on the spot, but that was all. Jael's hair was reddish, and her full eyes were gray; she was freckled a little under the eyes, but the rest of her cheek full of rich pure color, healthy, but not the least coa.r.s.e: and her neck an alabaster column. Hers was a meek, monotonous countenance; but with a certain look of concentration.
Altogether, a humble beauty of the old rural type; healthy, cleanly, simple, candid, yet demure.
Henry came in, and the young lady received him with a manner very different from that she had worn down at the works. She was polite, but rather stiff and dignified.
He sat down at her request, and, wondering at himself, entered on the office of preceptor. He took up the carving-tools, and explained the use of several; then offered, by way of ill.u.s.tration, to work on something.
"That will be the best way, much," said Grace quietly, but her eye sparkled.
"I dare say there's some lumber to be found in a great house like this?"
"Lumber? why, there's a large garret devoted to it. Jael, please take him to the lumber-room."
Jael fixed her needle in her work, and laid it down gently on a table near her, then rose and led the way to the lumber-room.
In that invaluable repository Henry soon found two old k.n.o.bs lying on the ground (a four-poster had been wrecked hard by) and a piece of deal plank jutting out of a ma.s.s of things. He pulled hard at the plank; but it was long, and so jammed in by miscellaneous articles, that he could not get it clear.
Jael looked on demurely at his efforts for some time; then she suddenly seized the plank a little higher up. "Now, pull," said she, and gave a tug like a young elephant: out came the plank directly, with a great rattle of dislocated lumber.
"Well, you are a strong one," said Henry.
"Oh, one and one makes two, sir," replied the vigorous damsel, modestly.
"That is true, but you threw your weight into it like a workman. Now hand me that rusty old saw, and I'll cut off as much as we want."
While he was sawing off a piece of the plank, Jael stood and eyed him silently a while. But presently her curiosity oozed out. "If you please, sir, be you really a working man?"
"Why, what else should I be?" was the answer, given rather brusquely.
"A great many gentlefolks comes here as is no better dressed nor you be."
"Dress is no rule. Don't you go and take me for a gentleman, or we sha'n't agree. Wait till I'm as arrogant, and empty, and lazy as they are. I am a workman, and proud of it."
"It's naught to be ashamed on, that's certain," said Jael. "I've carried many a sack of grain up into our granary, and made a few hundred-weight of cheese and b.u.t.ter, besides house-work and farm-work. Bless your heart, I bayn't idle when I be at home."
"And pray where is your home?" asked Henry, looking up a moment, not that he cared one straw.
"If you please, sir, I do come from Cairnhope village. I'm old Nat Dence's daughter. There's two of us, and I'm the youngest. Squire sent me in here, because miss said Hillsborough girls wasn't altogether honest. She is a dear kind young lady; but I do pine for home and the farm at times; and frets about the young calves: they want so much looking after. And sister, she's a-courting, and can't give her mind to 'em as should be. I'll carry the board for you, sir."
"All right," said Henry carelessly; but, as they went along, he thought to himself, "So a skilled workman pa.s.ses for a gentleman with rustics: fancy that!"
On their return to the drawing-room, Henry asked for a high wooden stool, or chair, and said it would be as well to pin some newspapers over the carpet. A high stool was soon got from the kitchen, and Jael went promptly down on her knees, and crawled about, pinning the newspapers in a large square.
Henry stood apart, superior, and thought to himself, "So much for domestic servitude. What a position for a handsome girl--creeping about on all fours!"
When all was ready, he drew some arabesque forms with his pencil on the board. He then took an exquisite little saw he had invented for this work, and fell upon the board with a rapidity that, contrasted with his previous nonchalance, looked like fury. But he was one of your fast workmen. The lithe saw seemed to twist in his hand like a serpent, and in a very short time he had turned four feet of the board into open-work. He finished the edges off with his cutting tools, and there was a transformation as complete as of linen cloth turned lace.
Grace was delighted. "Shall I ever be able to do that?"
"In half a day. That's not carving; that's trickery. The tool does it all. Before I invented this saw, a good workman would have been a day over that; but now YOU can do it in half an hour, when you are master of the instrument. And now I'll show you honest work." He took one of the k.n.o.bs and examined it; then sawed off a piece, and worked on the rest so cunningly with his various cutters, that it grew into a human face toward their very eyes. He even indicated Jael Dence's little flat cap by a means at once simple and ingenious. All the time he was working the women's eyes literally absorbed him; only those of Grace flashed vivid curiosity, Jael's open orbs were fixed with admiration and awe upon his supernatural cleverness.
He now drew some more arabesques on the remaining part of the board, and told Miss Carden she must follow those outlines with the saw, and he would examine her work on Monday morning. He then went off with a quick, independent air, as one whose every minute was gold.
"If you please, miss," said Jael, "is he a real working man, or only a gentleman as makes it his pastime?"
"A gentleman! What an idea! Of course he is a working man. But a very superior person."
"To be sure," continued Jael, not quite convinced, "he don't come up to Squire Raby; but, dear heart, he have a grander way with him than most of the Hillsborough gentlefolks as calls here."
"Nonsense!" said Grace, authoritatively. "Look at his nails."
Henry came twice a week, and his pupil made remarkable progress. She was deferential, attentive, enthusiastic.
By degrees the work led to a little conversation; and that, in due course, expanded into a variety of subjects; and the young lady, to her surprise, found her carver well-read in History and Sciences, and severely accurate in his information, whereas her own, though abundant, was rather loose.
One day she expressed her surprise that he could have found time to be so clever with his fingers and yet cultivate his mind.
"Well," said he, "I was lucky enough to have a good mother. She taught me all she knew, and she gave me a taste for reading; and that has been the making of me; kept me out of the public-house, for one thing."
"Ah! you WERE fortunate. I lost my mother, sir, when I was but eight years old."
"Oh dear, that was a bad job," said Henry brusquely but kindly.
"A very bad job," said Grace, smiling; but the next moment she suddenly turned her fair head away and tears stole down her cheeks.