THE man in his shirt-sleeves wheeling the handcart entered the rural cyclists' rest in a kind of triumph, though such a man and such a vehicle are fairly common objects of the roadside. The latter was but a general dealer’s truck, the other was a young fellow who seemed addicted to odd jobbing, yet whose smartness of bearing spoke of thwarted hopes of the military career. He was evidently outward bound from London, but that was nothing out of the way.
The unwonted challenge to curiosity was the something alive that stirred under the shawl and jacket that covered his load. For when his back was turned and the children were free to peep under the inverted washing-basket that served as a sunshade for his burden they saw a face ! It was the face of a young woman, quite comely to look upon as it lay there, with the well-brushed hair and the neatness of simple finery about the throat that showed some other woman’s care. Only it was pallid to the last degree and slightly drawn with weariness, if not with pain, while its transparency of blue veins formed quite a pattern on the closed lids.
The young man reappeared in a moment, wiping his lips with the back of his hand, less, perhaps, for table manners than to hide the distortions of a dry face. Then, after a “Come out of it !” to the children, which caused all but the boldest to fall back at least half a yard, he bent over the recumbent figure.
“Try something," he urged, “just to wet your whistle—lemonade.”
Lite girl—she was hardly moreopened her eyes, smiled gratefully at him, shook her head.
“I'm doin' ginger beer this journey," he said; "l can't 'xac'ly recommend it, but I'm no judge.”
She tried to laugh, and actually achieved a smile that was all the sweeter because it was so faint.
“1 don't want nothin’; thank yetad the same.”
“Soon 'ome,” he said. “I've asked the way, and we’re goin’ by the short cut."
“ ’Ow good you are—and me a utter stranger !”
“Well, I was goin’ to put it the other way. I ain't seen the country for years as I’ve seen it to-day. It’s a lesson for a chap like me to see the stuff growin’ in the fields. What a lot of room it takes to make a load for a markit cart—seems like a waste of ground.”
“I wish I wasn't so ’eavy.”
“I wish you was ’eavier, but they 11 soon set that right for yer—at ’ome.”
She shook her head again, evidently for thoughts, and with that a tear fell that was already trembling on the very verge of the lid. “I know what I’m goin’ ’ome for.”
“And I ain’t a-goin’ to ask yer ; bekos I know what you’re goin’ to say, and I don’t want yer to say it agin. Makes me low-sperrited : it really do.”
The laugh that she had struggled
for came this time. “I'm very ungrateful, an' ! know it, an' I won't do it again."
"You're very weak, that's what's the matter with you, an' nothin’ else. But the fresh air, an’ the sunshine, an’ the ole mother '11 soon set that right. Take my tip—nex' week you’ll be dancin' on the green."
"Yes, that’s me," she said in a tone that bespoke rather acquiescence than conviction. “Soon get well after I seen the green fields."
“Why shouldn’t you see ’em now? I've seen ’em for the last two mile, nothin’ else, and the flowers atop o' that, an' the birds skylarkin' in the trees. Why shouldn't you sit up for a bit? What a fool I've bin! Pretty sort o' miss for a hinvalid. Ere: 'old ’ard."
He raised her gently, laid the basket at her back, and settled her up generally as well as he could.
“There, ow's that? Why, you're in a harmchair now ! \\ hat price them
things in the ’edges yonder? Wish I knowed their names."
“We used to call 'em ‘quake grass' and ‘cat's tail' when I was a kid."
It was a very simple story as far as it had gone. “Pickles"—such was
her professional name, derived in the primitive way from her calling—was a country-bred girl who had come to work in a London jam factory, and had lived on her capital of strength till she was struck down by fever. Then came, in due courses, the hospital, the turning point of the malady, the beginning of convalescence, interrupted by the necessity of turning out of the crowded ward to make room for more pressing cases. The institution was not to blame; nothing in the rate of growth in relief could overtake the rate of growth in suffering. The reaction—more moral than physical— set in when the girl, lying alone in her dismal bedroom in the tenement house, felt sure she was going to die. Yes, she was going to die; there could be no doubt about that, and all she wanted was to die in the village nestling among the Hertfordshire hills in
which she was born—to die under her mother’s roof. She was not uncared for in the slum. Neighbors were kind to “Pickles”-—most of them knew her by no other name—but the satisfaction of her w ish to go home was bevond them, as it involved a journey by road and an ambulance bed. Even that might have been managed if they had known how to set about it, but they did not.
Then “Sallery,” the wheeler of the barrow—whose psuedonym was but a corruption of the name of a vegetable of which he was inordinately fond— got up a boxing match for her benefit among a few friends, and realized bv it some seventeen shillings and sixpence, and two black eyes. He was not a boxer by profession, but he had cheerfully stood punishment in the cause of charity in a set-to with a local celebritv which was the chief feature of the entertainment. His trade was simply that of a handy man. He beat carpets, cleaned windows, looked after an office or two, and was in steady work. The benefit fund was inadequate, for the bruises had no marketable value. Sallery was heard confessing as much at the door of her room to the woman who opened it to his knock. He had never seen the patient in his life: she was a pore gal “on her uppers," that was enough for him, for he had been that way himself. But he had not come to confess failure. “Weel 'er down myself Saturday afternoon, and charnce it." was his next happy thought. "I know where I can git a nice little conweyance for ’arf a dollar out au' 'ome.”
“It's nigh on fifteen mile," wailed a voice from the bed. "Can’t be done with one pair of arms. Eet me die ’ere."
“Round at. ten o'clock Saturday, said Sallery. cutting short the discussion of ways and means. "’Ere’s the gate monev for the benefit. Bring 'er up to time, and you'll find me at the door." And so it was settled, in spite of another wail from the bed.
The court gathered to see her off. One lent a mattress to make her com-
fortable, another a pillow, a third a shawl, and Sallery his jacket, for her feet. And now, here they were, on the road again at the beginning of their second lap, with five miles of their journey to the good, and with Sallery stepping out in fine style and watching his charge as she lay in a half-doze. It was all delight now in the landscape—scampering rabbits from the burrows, the hum of bees, meadowsweet, mallow, and poppy going strong, walnut and mulberry leaf in the plantations, sweetbriar in the cottage porches, with the dog-rose. The girl opened her eyes at last, and then kept them open, though, considering the beauty of the setting, the charioteer had perhaps more than his due share of her regard. It was but natural, after all. The message of the whole scene was beauty of one kind or another; and in that line how could you beat the goodness of Sallery? In other respects, however, he could hardly enter into comnarison with the glories of nature. But he was straight—his service in the militia had done that for him—and strong. Could she ever forget, the girl thought, how Le had lifted her “like a babby” and put her to rights with a hand as tender as the hand of a nurse? The sense of happiness that was gradually stealing over her would have been imperfect without the evidence of his strength. She was in powerful custody ; it was all right.
“What a load you got !” she said at last. It was her first essay in what might be called conversation, and, though it was not much to the purpose, it was music to Sallery’s ears.
“Ah, you're right there, on’y they wouldn’t ’xac’ly reckon it a load in the street trade. Tt’s what you might call a ’arf load—plenty to look at and nothin’ to wheel. Like ’all a-blowin’ and a-growin’.’ when they takes the flowers round. Why, you ain’t in it beside bannaners, for all they look like nothin’ one by one.”
“Lor, there’s the half-way ’ouse,” she said at the next halt. “It’s a sight for sore eyes. I ain’t seen the place
for four year. Uw it’s changed. \\ hy, there’s another name over the bootmaker's shop. An’ another post office. My!” Sallery, deliberately avoiding the half-way house as too much of a trial for virtuous endeavor, now entered a cake shop and returned in a few minutes with a cup of tea and a small scaffolding of sponge cakes. "NTo 'urry,” he said ; “we got lots of time in ’and.” They were welcome to her, and she ate and drank with relish, while he sat on the edge of the barrow and watched every mouthful as tenderly as a nursing bird.
“\\ hat are you going to ’ave yourself?" she asked.
"Plenty o’ time for that. You ain’t goin’ to leave that last one. It’s considered bad luck in sponge cakes.”
“Not till you ’ave something for 3'ourself. Fluís urged, he produced a substantial packet of bread and cheese from one pocket of his coat, and a small bottle of beer from another, and settled down to his meal. I11 that form, it had occurred to him, while packing for the journey, beer might be positively genteel.
“Another cup o’ tea?”
“Nothin’ more. So ’appy, so ’appy now !”
She fumbled for her purse, and offered him sixpence as he took back cup and plate.
“Who’re yer gettin’ at?” said Sallery. When next she stirred she was in her mother’s arms at the gate of home. She was expected ; the neighbors gathered round ; and soon she was well enough to tell the tale of her journey. With this, of course, there was a cry for Sallery, with more than one offer of lodging for the night. But he was nowhere to be found, and there was no trace of him save for the report that as soon as he had left her in safe keeping he had set off on his return journey to the erv, “I’ll step it now.” It was a great disappointment for all, and almost a relapse for the girl. The worst of it was there was no writing to thank him. “Mr, Sallery, London,”
would hardly have been enough ; and it was impossible to carry it further than that, for he was as unknown to her before the journey as she had been to him.
A week passed, and there was no trace of Sallery until the following Saturday, when an urchin came as the bearer of a message to the cottage door. I fe had been told to say that "a party” would be glad to know how “that party” was getting on, and that he (the party of the first part) would be waiting to hear at the corner of the lane. The girl flew out to find her preserver in a state of smartness that betokened Sunday best. He was not even dusty, for this time he had come down by train and walked over from the neighboring station. No need to ask now after her bodily health. The air and the quiet had done wonders, and she was able to drag him almost by main force towards the garden gate. Sallery made a feeble resistance, and was understood to murmur something about not wishing to intrude.
“None of your larks this time,” was ail she vouchsafed in reply. Tt was a levee after that. The neighbors crowded in to overwhelm him with thanks, and the bashful Sallery found himself, to his utter consternation, the hero of the hour, while “Pickles” stood by to prevent his escape and her mother made preparations for tea. Sallcry’s longest speech in recognition of these attentions was, “Pore people got to be pals to one another— what do you think?”
When quiet was restored, and the time came for Sallery to take his leave, he timidly ventured the request that the girl would see him to the station. “It’ll be company like,” he said—“if you feel you're up to it.” Her eyes flashed. “Do 1 look as if I couldn't walk a mile?" and she faced him in all the strength of her restored health and her restored happiness. It was impossible to deny it, yet somehow it seemed a sore disappointment. “You won't want me 'angin' about no more,” he said sheepishly. She took the matter in her own hands now, as she saw she would have to do.
“No, not ’angin’ about; you ain't quite the sort, I don't think, for a ’angir-on.”
It puzzled him. It might mean one thing and it might mean another. Yet somehow she was delighted to see that he took it the wrong way, and that he seemed troubled to have to take it so.
“Go on jumpin’; it shows you are gettin' well, though I ain't goin' to say that it don't hurt.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, last week you couldn't have scared a feller back for nuts. 'Spose it's the country hair."
“Jest where you’re wrong."
“\Vhat is it, then?"
“It's you,” she said, laying her hand on his arm and looking up into his honest eyes.
The parson's clerk, I dare say, learned both their real names in due course, I never did.
VAW DO the very best I know how—the very best ' T can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what is said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing 1 was right would make no difference.—Abraham Lincoln.
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