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Susannah had persuaded her uncle to go upstairs and rest upon his bed;
she had not told him that Heber was in the town, and she had her own
reasons for hoping that father and son would not meet.

Heber entered and looked round.

"Where is she?" he asked blankly.

"Gone," said Susannah.

"_Gone?_" cried he.

The woman could scarcely hide the smile that touched her mouth.

"Charles Saunders was here," she said. "They're gone."

For one moment the shepherd stood dumb. Then he also turned and rushed
out of the house.



CHAPTER IV

ACTION



CHAPTER IV

ACTION

IT was almost noon on the day before Talgwynne fair when Catherine
Dennis opened her eyes; she tried to sit up, but her head ached so
unpleasantly that she sank back at once and lay still. Her body and
limbs were so stiff that it was a torment to move, and when Susannah
came in and offered her food she could scarcely eat, though she had
tasted nothing for the last eighteen hours. When her own resolve to
escape returned to her mind, she knew herself to be, for the time
being at least, quite incapable of carrying it out.

The milk, with a plate of bread, had been left on the floor beside her
mattress, and she forced herself to eat and drink, knowing that she
must collect what strength she could muster if her feet were to carry
her away from the cottage and out of Talgwynne. To go to-day was out
of the question, but she determined to take any chance she could get
of slipping off unnoticed on the morrow.

She had no plans beyond her settled desire to turn her back on her own
humiliation and on Susannah, who had brought it home to her. She would
hide herself wherever she could, or tramp the roads as a beggar sooner
than be obliged to accept the grudging hospitality of Heber's cousin.
The idea of waiting under those scornful eyes for the man who might
never come was worse than destitution - worse than the workhouse. As
the day wore on and she was able to get up and sit by the fireside at
old Moorhouse's invitation, she formed a vague scheme of crossing the
Wye and trying for shelter and employment in one of the villages over
the Radnorshire border. She could get no speech of the old man, for
Susannah was never out of the kitchen and would hear every word she
said to him, every question she put. There was a faded glimmer of
amusement in his look, too, as it rested on her - his son's dupe. She
was more and more certain of her own part. Her only wish was never
again to meet any one she had known; but the first problem of escape
was beset with such great difficulty that she could hardly see beyond
it. She knew that Susannah would let her go willingly, but she wished
nobody to know so much as the direction of her own road to oblivion.
Black Heber had forsaken her, but it was just possible that Saunders
might be upon her track. She had not a tear for Saunders, though even
now, amid the stress of mortified pain, her heart swelled as she
thought of the shepherd. Perhaps - perhaps he loved her yet, in spite
of all Susannah had said. Her eyes filled. But she could not risk it
and wait; her pride, once roused, had scourged her so cruelly that it
had terrified her into slavery.

From the talk of uncle and niece she learned that Talgwynne fair would
take place next day and that both were going to it. That should be her
chance. She would profess herself too tired to accompany them, should
they invite her to do so, and as soon as they should be safely gone
she would make her venture. She had never been in the little town, but
her country eye knew the points of the compass and the direction in
which the river Wye ran. She would trust to luck and to what sagacity
she had in finding her way. Talgwynne lay high, and if she followed
the fall of the ground, with her face towards the river, which she had
seen daily from Pencoed, she would find her bearings and be able, when
she reached the Brecon high road, to ask her way to the bridge at
Losbury village, over which she would get into Radnorshire. The day
passed slowly and she went early to her mattress in the little room.
That prison should not contain her much longer.

The fair was in full swing next morning as she closed the door behind
her and hurried along the by-street. The whole world had been drawn as
one man to the centre of attraction, and she scarcely met a living
creature until she was far into the country. She knew her direction
well, once she was out of Talgwynne, for the Black Mountain was a
landmark by which it was easy to guide herself. She could see the
identical smooth stretch on which she had galloped with Heber
Moorhouse, and she was soon in a lane which she felt sure must bring
her down upon the high road. Stiff and weary as she still was, she
pressed on with no goal but Losbury bridge and nothing but chance as a
friend. Chance only stood between her and destitution.

She plodded on for some time, knowing that she could not long keep to
the beaten tracks and remain unseen; soon the dispersing fair would
pour men, women and animals along every road and lane. The sound of
some one following her on horseback made Catherine's heart jump into
her mouth. She rushed on and climbed over a gate, which was
fortunately only a few paces in front, and concealed herself behind
the hedge, crouching and peering between the leaves like some
frightened animal. She held her breath as Charles Saunders rode past
her hiding-place at the hurrying nondescript pace of one whose
prudence forbids him to trot downhill while his feelings will not
allow him to walk.

Saunders had lost his flushed appearance; he was pale now and his head
was perfectly clear. As he had not fallen in with Heber while on his
way from Moorhouse's cottage, he was firmly persuaded that the
shepherd had returned for Catherine before he reached it with
Susannah. Though the buying and selling had not abated, and the fair
would rage on for another couple of hours, he shook the dust of
Talgwynne off his feet, embittered by his own folly in listening to
the impudent woman who had made him forget what was due to himself and
led him into fresh ignominy and defeat. His enmity against the
shepherd was more keen than ever. His lips closed and unclosed as
though in speech with his rival.

As the sound of his going died away, the girl raised herself and
looked over the gate at his retreating figure. She felt as if she
never wished to see a man again. They were creatures moved by some
hidden spring that she could not divine nor understand - she, who stood
perplexed on the outskirts of life. Passion and jealousy and the deep
workings, set astir by womankind, of that primæval combat of male with
male were unlearned lessons.

She rose and pursued her way along the fields, afraid to return to the
lane, and resolving afresh, since she had seen Charles, not to venture
out upon the high-road till dusk. Then she reflected that her pocket
was empty and that when dusk came her prospects would be no better.
Her goal was Losbury bridge; but she would have to travel some way on
the other side of it before she reached the village she had in her
mind. There was a post office there, she knew, for she had once been
in it, and she meant to ask the post-mistress if there was anybody in
the place who needed a girl to do servant's work. It was a forlorn
hope, but Catherine had burned her boats; and, with the pathetic
trustfulness of youth, she did not believe that the world would let
her starve. For a coward, she had grown bold indeed.

The foregoing day had poured with rain, and the grass was wet and
heavy. She was so determined to keep far from all thoroughfares that
she was obliged to go many times out of the straight line. She pushed
her way through hedges and thickets and found herself, when the
afternoon was well advanced, in sight of the road. Her feet were
soaked, her boots coated with mud; and her skirts were soaked too, for
a smart shower had caught her in the open. The skies had become
overcast, and she shivered as she sat resting in the seclusion of a
hollow.

Tears began to roll down her cheeks; excitement and wounded pride and
the novelty of a definite object had kept her up; but at last these
guides and supporters were losing their hold and her heart was sinking
in the face of the cheerless outlook. Her teeth chattered and her head
felt like lead. When she got up she was shaking so much that she had
to lean against a tree. She dared not think of the miles between her
and that little village over Losbury bridge, and she could not afford
to await the falling of the light as she had meant to do before
trusting herself to the open road. Down below her was yet one more
pasture, and then she must emerge on the highway and take her chance
of meeting some wayfarer who might recognise her. She plodded on,
thinking less of that risk than of the increasing misery of dragging
herself forward. A climb down a steep hedge-grown bank would bring her
out not fifty yards from the whitewashed walls of a toll-house. Half a
mile east of it was Losbury bridge, spanning a reach of the river
above the flat, green meadows.

She looked up and down the road as she stood on the bank and bent back
the strong suckers in the gap she had chosen; there was not a human
creature within sight. A white milestone was on the hither side of the
white toll and the white gates which barred the way. The window stared
towards her up the vacant thoroughfare after the sleepless, vigilant
fashion of toll-house windows. She began to scramble down, clinging to
the tough whips of hazel; there was a cluster of nuts just by her
shoulder, and she paused to gather it. She was not hungry, but she
might be hungry yet and thankful for so much as a few filberts. As she
turned, stretching out her disengaged hand, her foot went from under
her. She was not the only person who had made a passage through that
gap, and the wet mud had been trodden into a slide by some one else's
heel. The springy bough flew upwards, tearing itself from her grasp as
she slipped and fell.

She lay at the roadside with one foot doubled beneath her. Movement
brought a feeling of such deathly sickness that she raised her head
only to drop it again on the moss of the bank. She felt sure that her
leg must be broken, and, not daring to stir, forgot all but the black,
imminent fear of pain; the moment's despair was enough for her without
the additional bewilderment of looking further.

She gathered her wits again to consider how long it might be before
some one passed, and she prayed for the sound of human approach as
earnestly as she dreaded it. But for the distant bark of a dog, the
encompassing rural life might have been extinct and she herself in the
desert of Sahara.

At last she was able to look up. Her leg could still move, she found,
and she got herself into a less cramped position. Timidly she touched
her ankle; it was already swollen, but, if it was not really broken,
she might try to get as far as the toll. With the help of the tangled
growth on the bank, she drew herself until she sat upright, and saw
that a short, broad figure was standing in front of the gate
contemplating her in an attitude suggesting interest, suspicion, and
the power to deal forcibly with anything. The woman - if woman it
were - stood, sharply outlined against the white bars, feet planted
wide apart, arms akimbo, and head at an attentive and purposeful
angle. Catherine raised herself on one arm and called as loudly as she
could, then, as a twinge of pain shot through her foot, she lay back
once more against the bank.

A minute afterwards she raised her eyes to a round, snub-nosed face
within a yard of her own. It was surmounted by a man's felt hat,
secured in its place by a piece of twine which was tied in a careful
bow under the chin. The loops of the bow were drawn to exact evenness
and the long ends hung down over a person shaped much like a beehive.
The notion that she had never seen any one wearing so many clothes
wandered across the girl's dazed brain.

"By Pharaoh! I thought ye was market-peart!" exclaimed a voice whose
depth, coming from a petticoated being, made Catherine start.
"Watchin' ye, I were, to see how soon ye'd plump down again, once ye
was up."

"I've hurt my foot," said the girl, with a catch in her breath - "maybe
it's broken."

"It's the 'edge that's broken," observed the other, looking up into
the gap. "Where d'ye come from?"

"Talgwynne," replied Catherine, the zealous caution of her day
forgotten.

"Talgwynne?" shouted her companion. "There's a good many'll copy ye
comin' from Talgwynne! Elijah Jones o' the Bush went by in 'is cart
not an hour since, singin' like a bird, an' Mrs. Jones 'oldin' 'im so
as 'e couldn't be sprawlin' over the 'orse's tail. 'E'd been out three
times between this and the last turnin', so her told me. 'By Pharaoh'!
says I, '_I'd_ larrup 'im'! When 'e 'eard that 'e was nigh out o' the
cart an' over the dashboard again."

"But I'm afeared my ankle's broken," said Catherine irrelevantly.

Her face was so grey and pinched that the woman's suspicions changed
to concern; she put a stout arm under her and managed to raise her
till she stood upright.

"Try if ye can't 'obble," said she, as they stood clinging together.

The girl obeyed and found that by resting her whole weight on her
companion's shoulder she could move forward, and the two set off
towards the toll as best they could. It was painful work, but relief
at the discovery that her bones were whole gave Catherine courage, and
her white lips were taking a little colour as they neared the house.
Above the conspicuous window was a black board which displayed in
white lettering, '_Maria Cockshow_, _Tollkeeper_'; and as Catherine
saw it she remembered hearing that a tollkeeper's widow from
Herefordshire, of whose looks and dealings rumour had strange tales,
was in charge of one of the gates near Losbury. It was, presumably, on
the shoulder of this person that she now leaned.

At their approach a white, smooth-haired dog of dubious ancestry burst
from regions behind the toll, and with the indecent instinct of low
breeding for the disastrous and unusual, set about its aggravation by
a storm of high-pitched barks. Catherine almost fell as Mrs. Cockshow
ducked down without warning, and, snatching up a stone from the road,
sent it thundering against the dog's ribs.

"That'll 'elp ye 'ome!" said she, as the animal dived with a yell
under the lowest bar of the gate.

There was a shed behind the house, with a considerable patch of
garden; and the honest smell of the manure-heap proclaimed the
neighbourhood of live stock to instructed noses. The dog was waiting
for the two women at the door with his tail tucked in. His senseless
face and the horrid length of leg that raised his body high above the
ground did not suggest youth, and reminded the observer less of a
puppy than of a foolish person on stilts. He followed, unabashed, but
without raising his tail, as Catherine and Mrs. Cockshow entered. A
person skilful to notice could have gained some clue to the
toll-woman's character from his demeanour; for even this vulgar
creature might be supposed to know his world.



CHAPTER V

PENCOED



CHAPTER V

PENCOED

AS Heber's appearance at her door in search of Catherine convinced
Susannah that the girl had fled alone, she longed to rush after his
rival and tell him of her discovery. She had not doubted that
Catherine was with the shepherd. The moment she realised that there
was still a chance of bringing Saunders and the truant together, her
spirits, which had been dashed to the earth on finding the bird flown,
rose again, and she cast about for some means of communicating with
Charles. Her only anxiety was lest the two men should meet in the town
and the shepherd learn how she had deceived him. She could but trust
to chance to prevent that; and, had she known it, chance had proved
kind, for Charles went straight to the Hand of Friendship, and,
mounting his horse without a word to anybody, set his angry face
homewards. In the course of the harassed evening which followed,
Susannah made up her mind to write to him.

Most people thought it a curious thing that Susannah's destiny seemed
to have nothing better in store than attendance upon a half-crippled
old man. But most people scarcely realise as a truth that, to the
accomplishment of any end, no matter how obvious or how commonplace,
there is required a procession of acquiescent circumstances which
would make the observer giddy, could he see it. Any human being who
meets a stranger in the road has only to think of the chain of
chances - each of which has fulfilled itself - to be forged before that
meeting can be brought about, and of the one link whose lack would be
the undoing of the whole. We speak of 'the hour and the man' as though
they were the only ingredients of fate, and as if their simultaneous
appearance were all that was needed. But the hour may come and the man
with it, and some untoward arrangement of detail may triumph over
both.

Everything had gone smoothly with Susannah but the one detail of her
own temperament. She had grasped life with both hands, caring no whit
how much good others got out of it and thinking only of the passing
day. She could not remember the time when masculine eyes had not
followed her, and now, though her sun had passed its zenith, they
followed her still. It was nearly three years since she had arrived to
keep house for her uncle and so been thrown against her cousin Heber.
Though few men had come to close quarters with her disturbing
personality without feeling its influence, the shepherd, unlike others
in this as in most of his ways, had treated her with the plain
friendliness he might have shown to a man. Perhaps it was this that
made Susannah feel for him what she had never felt for the many who
had courted her and whom she had looked upon as mere pleasant
accessories of life.

She was not a woman given to recognising failure under any
circumstances; where a man was concerned, never. Heber had touched her
imagination - and she had more of it than is given to most women of her
class - and her heart too. She would bring him to her yet, she promised
herself. There was a power in her that hard work and a cramped life
had not been able to destroy. The consciousness of femininity in a
working woman, should it be alive when its necessary function of
attracting a mate and securing a home is accomplished, seldom survives
the birth of her first child. Susannah Moorhouse had neither mate nor
child; but it is possible that, had she gone through the ordeal of
acquiring both, that consciousness would have endured, damaged,
perhaps, but living still. There were some large qualities in her and
persistence was one of them, though its roots were in her settled
belief in herself. She meant to employ every means to attain her
desire. She sought no witch and brewed no potion, though superstition
still lurked in the crevices of the country and one or two aged people
professed themselves able to heal cattle and to deal with scalds,
unrequited affection and other human difficulties, by the mild charms
they practised.

But Susannah's trust was in none of these; she knew herself to stand,
by virtue of some indefinable quality, in a different relationship to
men from that of the women about her. She would draw the man of her
choice to her by that unnamed force which she knew herself to possess
and which she had put forth so often in idleness. It was no wonder
that her neighbours, shrewish spinsters and toiling mothers of
families, had not a good word for her; the gulf between them was so
great.

Though Heber's engagement to Catherine was a staggering blow to her,
its breaking came soon enough to give her courage again. Nay, there
was a fatalism in her that had, perhaps, preserved her from
superstition by taking superstition's place; and it suggested to her
mind, preoccupied as it was with one idea, that larger powers than her
own were playing into her hands. When she heard that Charles Saunders
was to marry the girl she had never seen, and was more than ever
curious to see, she resolved to possess her soul in patience. She
smiled, standing before the cheap square of looking-glass that hung on
her wall. There were lines in the face before her to which she would
fain have been blind, but there were other things too. And all comes
to him who waits. She meant to wait - not passively, but intelligently.
Then Black Heber had brought the girl he loved, and, with the
miraculous blindness of manhood, had given her into the charge of the
woman who loved him.

If Susannah's views of life were more enterprising than those of her
neighbours her education had not differed from theirs, so it was a
laborious business to her to write a letter. She went through a good
deal of mental exercise before she lost sight of it in the maw of the
local postman's bag.


"MISTER SAUNDERS, Sir," she had begun:

"I take the liberty of writing these few lines. Mister
Saunders you may spose Catherine Dennis is gone with Heber, but
not she. He nows no more nor you where shes gone. She run from
here for fere of him sir, if you look you will find her yet.

"No more from your welwisher,

"SUSANNAH MOORHOUSE."


Whether or no she expected an answer to this letter, she hoped for
one; and when some days passed and brought no sign from Charles, she
began to grow restless. Heber had not returned, though, hitherto, he
had always contrived to pay a weekly visit to his father, if but for
five minutes. He was the old man's favourite son and the only one of
four brothers who lived within reach.

The uncertainty as to what was going on began to prey upon Susannah's
nerves. Events which meant so much to her had run quickly enough of
late to make inaction doubly unbearable; and, if she could not see
Saunders, she must at least see her cousin. Pencoed Chapel was the
only place in which she was sure of meeting him, and she informed her
uncle that she meant to go there on the following Sunday.

The distance from Talgwynne put walking out of the question; but she
descended from the farm gig in which an acquaintance had driven her as
near to Pencoed as wheels could go, to make the rest of her way on
foot. She had been obliged to start early to reach the chapel in time
for the meeting, and as she neared it the sound of singing came to her
on the wind. She paused outside the door; looking stealthily in, and
seeing the tall figure of Black Heber, she slipped noiselessly into a
seat.

The little, box-like building was half full of men and women; elderly
people, for the most part, in dark-coloured clothes. The windows,
which were small, with diamond leaded panes set low in the walls, let
in an even light on their subdued homeliness.

Apart from them, at a table covered with faded red cloth, was the same
man who had baptized Catherine in the pool at Bethesda.

The hymn was a long one and the singers were well embarked on it; the
predominance of men in the gathering gave it a fulness and strength of
sound; and, as it was one immensely popular in the district, its
solemn rhythm and swaying time were marred by no uncertainties. Heber
stood in a line with Susannah, by the opposite wall, head and
shoulders above the other worshippers, his eyes fixed on his book. She
could hear his strong, melodious voice separately, fervent, and
steady; and she listened to it as a person by a river's side will
listen to the tune of one particular eddy in the full underlying rush
of water.

It was easy to see, here in the quietness of the chapel, how much more
of youth there was in the man than in the impression he gave to
others. He was little over thirty and the lines on his face were not
lines of care, but the marks traced by exposure and hard exercise. His
eyes were the narrowed eyes of men who look over long distances in
rigorous weathers, and if his thin beard hid jaw and chin, the outline
of his chest and shoulders was sharp and young. Now and again he would
look up, throwing back his head as he sent a note from his expanded
lungs into the swell of the hymn. The words that floated out round her
had neither interest nor meaning for Susannah; for her there was only
a single person, a single voice, under that roof. They had reached the
last lines:


"Ye men of God, lift up your souls,
Nor halt with failing breath;
Yet one more stream before us rolls,
The dark blue flood of death.

Across its waves our pathway lies,


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