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done) and the eagerness of his rugged dark face, that he was not incapable of some sort of meditation alike on things seen and things unseen. There was a kind of indefinable pathos in the simple fact of such a man's existence. He did not seem to be wanted by anybody in the world—at times he did not seem to want himself. If he had been born in a town he would probably have been brutalised beyond all hope. But he had lived always with his face close to the breast of the Great Mother, and a widespread reputation for stupidity was the worst that had ever been urged against him by the people among whom he had spent his years; and, to say truth, stupidity was considered no unpardonable sin in Teignbury. It was so very common. Nor had Jacob ever been harshly condemned on the score of his unmistakable plainness of feature, and his still more obvious ungainliness of body. His physical imperfections were acquiesced in almost reverentially by the country folk in that scattered neighbourhood, very much as they accepted the ugliness of the toad, the craftiness of the weasel, and the fact that some days were pleasant and some not, and some harvests good and some bad. When people with short memories were speaking of Jacob, and happened to forget his name, they might be sure of making his personality manifest by referring to him descriptively as the ugly man of Teignbury. And truly he was less than handsome. One of his shoulders was a good deal lower than the other: the right side of his ill-shapen body appeared to be partially paralysed ; his hands and feet were out of ail reason; and his face, with its curiously ungraceful black beard, its high cheek-bones, and dark bewildered-looking eyes, could hardly be said even remotely to suggest anything like an ideal dignity of manhood. There came the sound of laughter from the garden, and Jacob moved farther from the door in the wall. He usually seemed to walk with difficulty, though he was accounted a good workman ; but now his step was like the pained movement of some sorely wounded creature. Each ring of merriment from the garden had an effect upon him as of actual laceration of the flesh. Still, he did not hurry: he was a slow son of toil. When he got out from under the trees he came to a stile beside a small pond ; on the other side of the stile was a pathway leading through more trees, an irregular avenue. Some rabbits were scampering about this path: some of them frisked round, cocked their ears, and stared saucily at Jacob ; and Jacob leaned slightly on the stile and watched them with a familiar sense of companionship. He had always claimed kinship with the animal creation—not that he ever said so, or even thought of anything so
pagan : still, the paganism, if paganism it be, was there, deep-rooted in his nature. There was something very solacing in the reflection that though men might make merry over this shameful thing that had happened, yet the creatures of wood and field would, at least, remain respectfully silent. He loved them all the more ever after for this consideration they showed him in his hour of suffering.
But there came a noise like the growl of a dog in the pheasant cover south of the avenue, and the rabbits fled. The declining sun could send down his glory here, and there was the shine of it all upon the little stagnant pond. Floating on the water, its stem and half of its petals already sucked down, was a white rose ; evidently some one from the Hall had let it fall into the water while getting over the stile. The rose was lying close to the bank, and Jacob went down on his knees, took it from the water, shook it with friendly gentleness, and threw it upon the grass, where a passer-by would be likely to see it. As he was getting up from his knees the stable clock chimed six. “I'll go back and put on my coat and things,” Jacob Laur said to himself. The other men were hastening to the tool-house, but Jacob contrived to slip out his coat and hat without their seeing him. Then he limped home through the avenue and the fields. He lived with his widowed mother, and he was her only child.
He washed himself with a great splashing noise in the garden behind their cottage ; then, having rubbed himself with a coarse towel until you might have supposed he was trying to get the skin off his face and arms, he sat down in silence with his mother at the teatable. She was a very old and weary-looking mother. No one seemed to see much to admire in this bent and white-haired woman; yet her wrinkled sad face was a face of wonderful sweetness and beauty in Jacob's eyes. And all that she was to him he was to her. He had always told her all his heart so far as he had been able to tell it ; and as they sat together at tea on this lovely July evening in the little sitting room that was dearer to them than the pompot kings, with the sunshine on the low wall where hung the faded picture of a famous battle, the canary (a venerable and beloved creature also; making believe to sing in its big wicker cage at the open window, and the fragrance of the common flowers heavy upon the summer air, Jacob told his mother of the sorrow that had come upon him. She was a wise old woman, this labouring man's mother, and very little it was that she had to say in reply.
"It mayn't be true, Jacob,” she said, regarding him with infinite compassion. For she knew perfectly well, and had known for weeks past, that the story that had just reached Jacob's ears was a dreadful fact. “Some folks has evil tongues when there's no call to have 'em,” she went on, the solar rays glorifying the white weariness of her face. “Maggie was always a good girl in Teignbury, and her father and mother and all her friends afore her ; they was all born and bred here, and lived and died respectable. I can remember 'em years and years back, afore you was born, Jacob, an' it seems ontrue to natur' as she should forget her past. If I was you, I'd not judge her harsh, Jacob."
“No, no, I'm not seekin' to judge her, mother. No, no ... no, no.” He shook his head as he sat looking out upon the shining green world ; then, as though speaking to himself, he said: “I'll go east when dusk sets in an’ ask her mother.”
“ You're not good friends wi' her mother, Jacob.”
“No; I remember that. She's not a pleasant-spoken woman: leastways not while I'm by. But she's her mother-she ought to know the truth.”
"Mothers don't allays like to speak the truth, Jacob.”
“Ay, I've not forgot that. But there's no help for 'em sometimes; an’ when their daughters is in trouble it's small comfort as false lies 'll bring 'em.” He went on with his meal in an absent-minded way. When he had finished he began to get ready to set out.
“I think as you'd best wait, as you said, till dusk, Jacob,” his mother said.
“It's wastin' time," he replied. “It'll be sundown when I get there."
“Nay, if you'll be advised by your mother, you'll wait, my lad. There's mockers i' the village ; an' it's ill being laughed at when sorrow's come t' your door.”
“Yes, I'll wait a while,” Jacob said.
He left home, after all, before the sun went down. It was a walk of some three miles and a half to the somewhat secluded cottage in which Maggie Dell's mother had lived during her widowhood. But the night was very pleasant. The air was so buoyant that when Jacoh got to the eastern end of the village he could distinctly hear the cries of the wild fowl high up amid the misty solitudes of the greai Teignbury hills.
He rested several times on the way, and it was nearing nine o'clock when he reached his destination—a diminutive tworoomed dwelling that only became visible when he got close to it by reason of the grotesque mass of bushes and fruit and other trees which for years had kept up a brave struggle for breathing space ail round it. There were two queer little windows in front of Mrs. Dell's abode, with an even queerer door between them ; and from one of these windows a faint light, which Jacob knew to be firelight, was shining. He went up to the window (there was only a narrow flower border before it) and looked in. A woman was sitting alone in the firelight in the room. The shine from the grate was so feeble that Jacob could barely distinguish the outline of Mrs. Dell's face. She looked back at him through the window, but made him no sign of welcome. He opened the door, without knocking, in his quiet, deliberate way, and went down the stone-floored passage between the two rooms. He said : “Good evening, Mrs. Dell,” with gentle courtesy, as he limped into the room where Maggie's mother sat ; but his salutation was not returned. Mrs. Dell remained seated, her back to her visitor, her face to the fire, her whole attitude expressive of protest against this intrusion. It was indeed in her heart to say : “Good-evening !' Good-night, I should think, for decent folks !” but she decided that the more dignified course was to receive this ugly fellow with severe · silence.
She was softly rocking a cradle. Jacob had seen her so engaged on previous occasions when he had mustered up courage to visit the home of the merry-hearted, bright-eyed girl whose being seemed, by some mysterious process, to be infused in his own. The mistress of the Teignbury mill was another daughter of Mrs. Dell's ; she was a Morris by marriage, and had been endowed with a large and tempestuous family, one or more of whom the grandmother usually took care of as a sort of company in her widowed loneliness. The children she took were generally the youngest, for the grown-up bairns found that they could not get on at all pleasantly with grandma.
Jacob seated himself behind her, a little to her lest, near to the cradle, the wooden canopy of which he now and then touched timidly and apparently unconsciously as he spoke.
“I've come to ask about Maggie, Mrs. Dell,” he began, in the tone of a reverent-minded man speaking of sacred things. He waited a minute or so to see if she would say anything that might prevent his uttering the word of her shame ; but Mrs. Dell did not speak : did not give the slightest indication that she was aware of his
she's been in servicaid it if it's the garden for
talked about borough. Mat Maggie
presence. “I'm told,” he went on, holding his great hand above the head of the cradle, as though to protect or bless the babe there, “I was told this afternoon in the garden for the first time—I'll tell you who it was as said it, if it's false—that Maggie's had a child since she's been in service at Corborough. No.... I'll not believe it! ... But it's talked about in the village, Mrs. Dell, and if there's anybody in Teignbury as should know what's true and what's a lie about Maggie's character it's her own mother ... an' if you'll kindly tell me whether or no ... for there's pain an' grief upon me, Mrs. Dell. ..."
She could scarcely hear his concluding words, but she quite understood his meaning.
“Well, I don't know as you've a right to ask sich a question, Jacob Laur! But sin' you hev' asked-forgettin' what the wise proverb says about folks mindin' their own business !—well, it's true as Maggie's become a mother. I've not seen the child ; I've not seen her ; so you needn't worrit me an' yourself askin' no more questions !”
And she turned her back upon him again, as though resolved not to discuss the painful subject. It did not, indeed, seem as if Jacob were going to ask any more questions. His outstretched hand had fallen on his knee ; there was that in his posture which seemed to tell of anguish too deep for words-and, to say truth, Jacob was at no time able to express his thoughts with much felicity. He sat as still and as silent as a stone for some minutes. Mrs. Dell continued to rock the cradle. But as the time went on, and Jacob did not speak, did not stir, she began to fidget in her chair, and at last glanced round at her visitor. His head was bowed; Mrs. Dell fancied for a moment that he had fallen asleep.
“Well, Jacob Laur, there's no call, as I can see, for you to sit there on other folks' chairs as if you was a log o'wood shaped summat like a man !” she said sharply.
He raised his hand to his head ; he appeared to be giddy, or to have forgotten where he was.
“Ay, it's great wickedness," he said. But his voice was free from reproach. It was as though he had meant to say : “There's been great wickedness-great wrong-poor Maggie ! poor Maggie !"
“Well, you needn't preach !” said Mrs. Dell. “It's not your place; an’ if that's all you've come for, then you're not welcome to stay !”
"I'll not trouble you long, Mrs. Dell. ... Have you been to Corborough to see Maggie since this happened?”