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She came to her senses, and stared at him a long time.
Then she looked down at her wet clothes. Then she s.n.a.t.c.hed her hand away, and covered her face with both hands, and began to rock and moan, and finally turned round and hid her face against the very floor as if she would grovel and burrow into it.
"Are you better, my dear?" said the doctor, quietly.
No reply. And the face still crushed against the floor.
"The next time you faint away, don't let it be on the banks of a river.
You have been going too long without food; and you fainted away and fell into the river. Luckily it was not very deep or it might have been serious. You have given us a fine fright, I can tell you."
While these words were being uttered, Jael, who did not miss a syllable, began to look very, very slowly round with scared and troubled eyes, and to defend herself. "I remember naught," said she, doggedly. "Who took me out?"
She looked timidly at him, and saw his wet clothes.
"Oh, squire, why did you spoil your clothes for me?" and she laid her head on his knee and began to cry.
"My clothes!" said Raby. "The girl wants to break my heart."
"Eh, dear! and I've spoiled the beautiful carpet," said Jael, piteously.
"D--n the carpet!" said Raby, nearly blubbering.
All this time Amboyne was putting himself in Jael's Dence's place.
"Is there a good fire in her room?" asked he, with a significant look.
Raby took the hint, and said he would go and see.
As soon as he was out of the room, the transmigrator began to talk very fast to Jael. "Now look here, Jael, that poor man is alone in the world now, and very sad; he wants you to keep his house for him. He has been sending messages all day after you, and your room has been ready ever so long."
"My room in this house?"
"Yes. But we could not find you. However, here you are. Now you must not go back to the farm. The poor squire won't be quite so sad if he sees you about him. You know he was always fond of you Dences. You should have seen him cry over you just now when he thought you were dead."
"I am more cared for than I thought," said Jael, softly.
"Yes, but not more than you deserve, my dear." He dipped a sponge-cake in wine. "Oblige me by eating that."
She took it submissively.
She ate another, and a third.
"It's a very wicked la.s.s you are so good to," said she, softly, and some gentle tears began to flow.
"Stuff and nonsense!" said the doctor. "What do you know about wickedness? I'm a better judge of that than you, and I say you are the best girl and the most unselfish girl in the world; and the proof is that, instead of sitting down and nursing your own griefs, you are going to pluck up courage, and be a comfort to poor Mr. Raby in his lonely condition."
These words appeared to sink into Jael's mind: she put her hands to her head, and pondered them. Perhaps she might have replied to them, but Raby came down, and ordered her to her apartment.
She took a step or two in that direction, but presently drew back and would not move. "The women-folk! They'll see me on the stair, this figure."
"Not they. They are all in bed."
"Are they so? Then please let me go to the kitchen for a dry cloth or two."
"What to do?"
"To dry the rug a bit. Just look--what a mess I've made!"
"I'll say it was the dog."
"Will you, though? Oh, but you are a good friend to me this night. Then I'll go. Let me wring my gown a bit, not to mess the stairs as well."
"No, no; I'll take all the blame. Will you go, or must the doctor and I carry you?"
"Nay, nay, there's no need. Your will is my pleasure, sir."
So Mr. Raby showed Jael to her room, and opened a great wardrobe, and took out several armfuls of antique female habiliments, and flung them on the floor; rich velvets, more or less faded, old brocades, lace scarves, chemises with lace borders; in short, an acc.u.mulation of centuries. He soon erected a mound of these things in the middle of the floor, and told her to wear what she liked, but to be sure and air the things well first; "for," said he, "it is a hundred years or so since they went on any woman's back. Now, say your prayers like a good girl, and go to bed."
"Ay," said Jael, solemnly, "I shall say my prayers, you may be sure."
As he left the room she said, in a sort of patient way, "Good squire, I am willing to live, since you are so lonely."
Early next morning Mr. Raby was disturbed by female voices in a high key. He opened his window quietly, intending to throw in his ba.s.s with startling effect, when, to his surprise, he found the disputants were his dairymaid and Jael Dence.
"And who are you that interferes with me in my work? Where do you come from? Did ye get in over the wall? for ye never came in at no door. Who are you?"
"I am one who won't see the good squire wronged. Aren't ye ashamed?
What, eat his bread, and take his wage, and then steal his b.u.t.ter!"
"If ye call me a thief, I'll law ye. Thief yourself! you don't belong to the house; whose gown have you got on your back? Here, James! Tom!
here's a strange woman making off with the squire's lady's clothes, and two pounds of b.u.t.ter to boot."
Jael was taken aback for a moment by this audacious attack, and surveyed her borrowed habiliments with a blush of confusion. Several servants came about at the noise, and her situation bade fair to be a very unpleasant one: but Mr. Raby put in his word; "Hold your tongues, all of ye. Now, Jael Dence, what is the matter?"
Instantly all eyes were turned up to the window with a start, and Jael told her tale: "Sir," said she, "I did see this young woman take out something from under her ap.r.o.n and give it to a little girl. I thought there was something amiss, and I stopped the girl at the gate, and questioned her what she was carrying off so sly. She gives a squeak and drops it directly, and takes to her heels. I took it up and brought it in, and here it is, two beautiful pounds of b.u.t.ter, fresh churned; look else!"--here she undid a linen wrap, and displayed the b.u.t.ter--"so I challenged the dairymaid here. She says I'm a thief--and that I leave to you, Squire; you know whether I come of thieves or honest folk; but what I want to know from her is, why her la.s.s dropped the b.u.t.ter and took to her heels at a word?"
"Now, my good Jael," said the Squire, "if you are going to interfere every time you catch my servants pilfering, you will have a hard time of it. However, zeal is too rare a thing for me to discourage it. I must make an example. Hy, you young woman: I dare say you are no worse than the rest, but you are the one that is found out; so you must pack up your clothes and begone."
"Not without a month's warning, or a month's wage, sir, it you please,"