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CHAPTER XXXV. KEZIA PROVES AN UNFAITHFUL STEWARD. The absence of the master made little difference in the aspect of things at Bod Elian. Knowing so well as everyone there did what he would desire and expect to be done, and the relentless manner with which he would regard any neglect, his absence became almost as impressive as his presence. Kezia felt that it gave a sacred responsibility to her; and she went about the house with a firmer step, a more erect bearing, and a greater seriousness and earnestness in her watchful eyes. Hirell, seeing that she considered her her chief and most anxious charge, showed a gentle, childlike submission as sweet to Kezia as it was unexpected; for Hirell's will was not generally very yielding to any but Elias, who in his house made all wills bend to his, not by tyranny, but by the force of his own example in obeying that Will to which he tried to shape his whole life.
The farm labourers were as punctual to their hours as when he was at home; the very sheep-dog seemed to assume a look of graver responsibility than was his wont, and to rush up the mountain at the appointed time, and drive his charge down, and trot round them as he brought them home, with more than usual zeal. The yard-dog was perhaps low-spirited at missing his master's firm step and short salutation, for he had been captious all day and restless all night, barking loudly when light appeared in any window on his side of the house, and even when the moonbeams glided across the yard, or when the deepening silence of all other things made the torrents sound loud and grand-worthy of the mighty hills whose silver tongues they are.
'Hirell,' said Kezia, as they sat at work together earlier than usual on the morning when Cunliff, who knew, of course, their early habits, was making his way towards Bod Elian,
is it well, dear, to give yourself so much time for thinking when it only makes you sad ?'
Kezia was sitting at the hall door, Hirell just outside, on the ancient stone which was used in olden times to assist the portly dames of Bod Elian to mount their horses when they rode to church or fair; and above her head hung by a rusty chain the little cow-horn bugle by which the guests of those days announced themselves.
When Kezia spoke to her she was looking away far down the field-path by the ravine where she had stood and listened to Robert Chamberlayne's footsteps, on that quiet autumnal night when she felt he was leaving Bod Elian never to return. The ravine was now one long tangled wilderness of fresh May beauty; and it did not remind her of that night, or of Robert Chamberlayne, but of the day at Ewyn y Rhaiadr, and of the hard words Elias had spoken to her on her return. As Kezia spoke she broke off her reverie, and gently took up a piece of homely work on which Kezia was engaged, saying,
Wise or foolish, Kezia, it certainly is not kind while you have so much to do. As to its making me sad to think, I must not mind that, if it brings to me things that I ought to know.''
“What things, Hirell ? '. . 'Don't ask me, Kezia ; miserable things.'
'Yet yon told me you could not help being happy, even in spite of poor Hugh.'
* And I told you the truth. I am happy.'
• Then what have you to do with these miserable thoughts you speak of?'
"Ah, what have I to do with them ? ' said Hirell, dropping her work, and playing with the rusty chain above her head, which she leaned against the wall, to hide from Kezia the tears that came into her eyes. What have I to do with them, Kezia ? why, when I am happiest, are they sent down before me, like the unclean creatures in Peter's vision ? Like him, Kezia, I sicken and cry, “Not so, Lord !” but again and again they come.'
'I don't know how it is, Hirell, but you never had such thoughts as these before,' said Kezia.
Do not say so, Kezia ! I know whom you blame for it.'
So saying, she roused herself, and again took up her work, smiling and shaking her head.
'I blame no one, dear,' Kezia protested, but I can see it is with you as with so many others—these strong earthly affections bring with them so much pain, restlessness, anxiety,
She stopped, and something in her voice made Hirell look at her with a shrewd and loving glance.
“And yet Ne MISI believe it to be a qö from heaven,' adder Keria
The greatest of here's wonders. Em ud; which I Suppose we movtals sately on what to do with better than we should know what to do with any of the lesser wonders the moon or the stars-Tere they given to ms. Ah! Kezia, look, look!
Kezia glanced inqeringly at her, not knowing where she meant her to look for Hireli's eyes were bent upon her work. There was on her face a strongly subdmed jor, the meaning of which Kezia did not for the moment understand ; but soon she heard a step, and the nest instanı her hand was in Mr. Rymer's, and te was speaking to her with very hearty friendliness; and then a few moments later she was away in the house alone, feeling glad she had had presence of mind enough to gather up her work and come in quickly, leaving the two by themselves.
The quiet, deep joy and tenderness of Hirell's look as he stood before her, made Cunliff forget everything but her and his own pleasure at their meeting again.
Joy choxes its own seasons for coming to us, and as often as not makes its way to our hearts over sorrow's writhing form. Hirell thought of this as, in a voice of self-reproach, she murmured taking her hands from Cunliff
Ab pur, poor Hugh!'.
I know, I have heard all, Hirell,' said Cunliff. 'I will help your father to discover where he is, I will do all I can for him, all that they will let me when he is found. But Hirell, I have come to ask you to spend this day with me as we spent One memorable day together. I have things to say to you that I cannot talk of hurriedly, and I have business which takes me from here again instantly.'
Away again! Instantly,' repeated Hirell.
Yes, instantly. I must within a few hours be in the neighbourhood of Shrewsbury to see the agent of some great man's property there. I need only spend a few minutes with him, then all the day, this exquisite May-day, with you, Miroll, if you will come with me. You will like to look over the castlo and grounds. You shall be back here at night. Can you rofuso me? The first time I ever asked you to trust
• It cannot, cannot be, Mr. Rymer. My father would never
forgive me. Ah ! he was so hurt when he heard how it was with us. He thought we had practised deception towards him. He never used such words to me before, and to hear you spoken of so harshly, that is what I cannot bear. And, Kezia ! I am under a solemn promise to my father to be guided by her in all things while he is away, and I know she would never, never consent to my going away-so far too-oh no, Mr. Rymer, ask me no more.
Hirell, I do not ask you again, as you have no faith in me but now I shall go and speak to Kezia myself.'
Then leaving Hirell agitated by a great longing to godread of acting wrongly to her father in his absence, and a yet more tender fear of offending Mr. Rymer, in whom she had such perfect reliance, he went into the house, found Kezia, and pleaded his cause before her.
She was terribly startled when she first understood what his request was; but he made the excuses for it so unanswerable, spoke so well of the engrossing nature of his affairs, the shortness of the time at his command, the necessity for Hirell and himself (and here he spoke with a grave seriousness) arranging their plans definitely for the future, and settling how he could best move with regard to Hugh, gave such sacred promises as a gentleman and a man of honour as to the care he would take of Hirell, and the hour at which he would bring her safely back to Bod Elian; in short, so impressed and overpowered the timid Kezia, that she was already half in. clined to yield, when Hirell came in, and added her entreaties to her lover's.
She assured Kezia she would not for the world consent to this, still less urge it, if, after thought and prayer, it seemed to her wrong. But she had thought and had asked counsel, and felt sure no warning against it had entered her heart. She asked Kezia if her conduct since her father's departure had given her cause to doubt or trust her; and at that question the sweetness of her humility and submission came to Kezia's heart, and moved her lips to a trembling consent.
Mr. Rymer gallantly kissed her hand, and Hirell's sweet eyes looked their thanks. In less than a quarter of an hour they were gone, and Kezia sitting alone, her heart full of misgivings.
Suppose Elias should return before the day was out. What would he say to her? What an unfaithful steward would be think her! How slowly the time went in her loneliness ! Whon would the day and her anxiety be over?
It was yet early in the afternoon when she was sitting with her work on the old mountain-stone, and her eyes most unreasonably beginning already to look for the return of her charge, when she heard a step, the sound of which turned all her vague anxiety to very painful and certain fear.
She rose and turned. Elias was toiling up the path, his face and attitude eloquent of failure, fatigue, hopelessness.
HIRELLS JOURNEY. CUNLIFF felt himself possessed by a wild joyousness, unlike the calm, deep happiness he had had in Hirell's society at Ewyn y Rhaiadr. His step was quick and elastic, his glance restless, his very voice irrepressible ; and Hirell smiled to hear him several times singing a snatch of some sweet air she had never heard, and which, as soon as she was interested in it, would be stopped and another begun.
Hirell's mood was very different. She was silent, and her steps were slow and measured.
As they were descending the little path between the ravine and the field, Cunliff looked round at her quickly.
This is the first time, Hirell, I've seen you walk down here,' said he. • 'At other times you have always come.bounding down with the speed of a born mountaineer as you are. The chamois itself could hardly have so certain, vigorous, or delicate a foothold. Do you come so slowly to-day, as a wholesome check on my impatience, or why?!
Hirell looked into his half-laughing, half-jealous eyes, and smiled with an affection so deep and tender, that his doubting was changed to delight.
'How bright and merry of heart you can be,' she said. 'I envy you, Mr. Rymer, and yet I don't know for why. I believe my happiness is at least as great as your own.'
"Yet till I reminded you.-you are coming along blithely now-you walked at that funereal pace.'
When I see Nanny rushing down the hill,' said Hirell, and her pails swinging lightly in her hands, Kezia and I look