AT THE GREEN DRAGON.

BY BEATRICE HARRADEN.

CHAPTER I.

HIERONYMUS COMES.

It was a pouring September evening when a stranger knocked at the door of the Crown Inn. Old Mrs. Howells saw that he carried a portmanteau in his hand.

"If it's a bedroom you want," she said, "I can't be bothered with you. What with brewing the beer and cleaning the brass, I've more than I can manage. I'm that tired!"

"And so am I," said the stranger pathetically.

"Go over the way to the Green Dragon," suggested Mrs. Howells. "Mrs. Benbow may be able to put you up. But what with the brewing and the cleaning, I can't do with you."

The stranger stepped across the road to the Green Dragon. He tapped at the door, and a cheery little woman made her appearance. She was carrying what they call in Shropshire a devil of hot beer. It smelt good.

"Good-evening, ma'am," said the stranger. "Can you house me for the night? The hostess of the Crown Inn has turned me away. But you surely will not do the same? You observe what a bad cold I have."

Mrs. Benbow glanced sharply at the stranger. She had not kept the Green Dragon for ten years without learning to judge somewhat of character; and to-night she was particularly on her guard, for her husband had gone to stay for two days with some relatives in Shrewsbury, so that Mrs. Benbow and old John of the wooden leg, called Dot and carry one, were left as sole guardians of the little wayside public house.

"It is not very convenient for me to take you in," she said.

"And it would not be very convenient for me to be shut out," he replied. "Besides which, I have had a whiff of that hot beer."

At that moment a voice from the kitchen cried impatiently. "Here, missus! where be that beer of your'n. I be feeling quite faint-like!"

"As though he could call out like that if he was faint!" laughed Mrs. Benbow, running off into the kitchen.

When she returned she found the stranger seated at the foot of the staircase.

"And what do you propose to do for me?" he asked patiently.

There was no mistaking the genial manner. Mrs. Benbow was conquered.

"I propose to fry some eggs and bacon for your supper," she said cheerily. "And then I propose to make your bedroom ready."

"Sensible woman!" he said, as he followed her into the parlor, where a fire was burning brightly. He threw himself into the easychair, and immediately experienced that sensation of repose and thankfulness which comes over us when we have found a haven. There he rested, content with himself and his surroundings. The fire lit up his face, and showed him to be a man of about forty years.

There was nothing especially remarkable about him. The face in repose was sad and thoughtful; and yet when he discovered a yellow cat sleeping under the table, he smiled as though some great pleasure had come into his life.

"Come along, little comrade!" he said, as he captured her. She looked up into his face so frankly that the stranger was much impressed. "Why, I do believe you are a dog undergoing a cat incarnation," he continued. "What qualities did you lack when you were a dog, I wonder? Perhaps you did not steal sufficiently well; perhaps you had net cultivated restfulness. And your name? Your name shall be Gamboge. I think that is a suitable appellation for you--certainly more suitable than most of the names thrust upon unoffending humanity. My own name, for instance, Hieronymus! Ah, you may well mew! You are a thoroughly sensible creature."

So he amused himself until Mrs. Benbow came with his supper. Then he pointed to the cat and said quietly:

"That is a very companionable dog of yours."

Mrs. Benbow darted a look of suspicion at the stranger.

"We call that a cat in Shropshire," she said, beginning to regret that she had agreed to house the stranger.

"Well, no doubt you are partially right," said the stranger solemnly; "but, at the same time, you are partially wrong. To use the language of the theosophists----"

Mrs. Benbow interrupted him.

"Eat your supper while it is hot," she said, "then perhaps you'll feel better. Your cold is rather heavy in your head, isn't it?"

He laughed good-temperedly, and smiled at her as though to reassure her that he was quite in his right senses; and then, without further discussion, he began to make short work of the fried eggs and bacon. Gamboge, sitting quietly by the fireside, scorned to beg; she preferred to steal. That is a way some people have.

The stranger finished his supper, and lit his pipe. Once or twice he began to doze. The first time he was aroused by Gamboge, who had jumped on the table, and was seeking what she might devour.

"Ah, Gamboge," he said sleepily, "I am sorry I have not left anything appetizing for you. I was so hungry. Pray excuse."

Then he dozed off again. The second time he was aroused by the sound of singing. He caught the words of the chorus:

"I'll gayly sing from day to day,
And do the best I can;
If sorrows meet me on the way,
I'll bear them like a man."
 

"An excellent resolution," murmured the stranger, becoming drowsy once more. "Only I wish they'd kept their determinations to themselves."

The third time he was disturbed by the sound of angry voices. There was some quarreling going on in the kitchen of the Green Dragon. The voices became louder. There was a clatter of stools and a crash of glasses.

"You are a pack of lying gypsies!" sang out some one. "You know well you didn't pay the missus!"

"Go for him! go for him!" was the cry.

Then the parlor door was flung open and Mrs. Benbow rushed in. "Oh!" she cried, "those gypsy men are killing the carpenter!"

Hieronymus Howard rushed into the kitchen, and threw himself into the midst of the contest. Three powerful tramps were kicking a figure prostrate on the ground. One other man, Mr. Greaves, the blacksmith, was trying in vain to defend his comrade. He had no chance against these gypsy fellows, and though he fought like a lion, his strength was, of course, nothing against theirs. Old John of the one leg had been knocked over, and was picking himself up with difficulty. Everything depended on the promptness of the stranger. He was nothing of a warrior, this Hieronymus Howard; he was just a quiet student, who knew how to tussle with Greek roots rather than with English tramps. But he threw himself upon the gypsies, fought hand to hand with them, was blinded with blows, nearly trampled beneath their feet, all but crushed against the wall. Now he thrust them back. Now they pressed on him afresh. Now the blacksmith, with desperate effort, attacked them again. Now the carpenter, bruised and battered, but wild for revenge, dragged himself from the floor, and aimed a blow at the third gypsy's head. He fell. Then after a short, sharp contest, the other two gypsies were driven to the door, which Mrs. Benbow had opened wide, and were thrust out. The door was bolted safely.

But they had bolted one gypsy in with them. When they returned to the kitchen they found him waiting for them. He had recovered himself.

Mrs. Benbow raised a cry of terror. She had thought herself safe in her castle. The carpenter and the blacksmith were past fighting. Hieronymus Howard gazed placidly at the great tramp.

"I am sorry we had forgotten you," he said courteously. "Perhaps you will oblige us by following your comrades. I will open the door for you. I think we are all rather tired--aren't we? So perhaps you will go at once."

The man gazed sheepishly at him, and then followed him. Hieronymus Howard opened the door.

"Good-evening to you," he said.

And the gypsy passed out without a word.

"Well now," said Hieronymus, as he drew the bolt, "that is the end of that."

Then he hastened into the parlor. Mrs. Benbow hurried after him, and was just in time to break his fall. He had swooned away.

CHAPTER II.

HIERONYMUS STAYS.

Hieronymus Howard had only intended to pass one night at the Green Dragon. But his sharp encounter with the gypsies altered his plans. He was battered and bruised and thoroughly shaken, and quite unable to do anything else except rest in the arm-chair and converse with Gamboge, who had attached herself to him, and evidently appreciated his companionship. His right hand was badly sprained. Mrs. Benbow looked after him most tenderly, bemoaning all the time that he should be in such a plight because of her. There was nothing that she was not willing to do for him; it was a long time since Hieronymus Howard had been so petted and spoiled. Mrs. Benbow treated every one like a young child that needed to be taken care of. The very men who came to drink her famous ale were under her strict motherly authority. "There now, Mr. Andrew, that's enough for ye," she would say; "not another glass to-night. No, no, John Curtis; get you gone home. You'll not coax another half-pint out of me."

She was generally obeyed; even Hieronymus Howard, who refused rather peevishly to take a third cup of beef-tea, found himself obliged to comply. When she told him to lie on the sofa, he did so without a murmur. When she told him to get up and take his dinner while it was still hot, he obeyed like a well-trained child. She cut his food, and then took the knife away.

"You mustn't try to use your right hand," she said sternly. "Put it back in the sling at once."

Hieronymus obeyed. Her kind tyranny pleased and amused him, and he was not at all sorry to go on staying at the Green Dragon. He was really on his way to visit some friends just on the border between Shropshire and Wales, to form one of a large house-party, consisting of people both interesting and intellectual: qualities, by the way, not necessarily inseparable. But he was just at the time needing quiet of mind, and he promised himself some really peaceful hours in this little Shropshire village, with its hills, some of them bare, and others girt with a belt of trees, and the brook gurgling past the wayside inn. He was tired, and here he would find rest. The only vexatious part was that he had hurt his hand. But for this mishap he would have been quite content.

He told this to Mr. Benbow, who returned that afternoon, and who expressed his regret at the whole occurrence.

"Oh, I am well satisfied here," said Hieronymus cheerily. "Your little wife is a capital hostess: somewhat of the tyrant, you know. Still, one likes that; until one gets to the fourth cup of beef-tea! And she is an excellent cook, and the Green Dragon is most comfortable. I've nothing to complain of except my hand. That is a nuisance, for I wanted to do some writing. I suppose there is no one here who could write for me."

"Well," said Mr. Benbow, "perhaps the missus can. She can do most things. She's real clever."

Mrs. Benbow, being consulted on this matter, confessed that she could not do much in that line.

"I used to spell pretty well once," she said brightly; "but the brewing and the scouring and the looking after other things have knocked all that out of me."

"You wrote to me finely when I was away," her husband said. He was a quiet fellow, and proud of his little wife, and liked people to know how capable she was.

"Ah, but you aren't over-particular, Ben, bless you," she answered, laughing, and running away to her many duties. Then she returned to tell Hieronymus that there was a splendid fire in the kitchen, and that he was to go and sit there.

"I'm busy doing the washing in the back-yard," she said. "Ben has gone to look after the sheep. Perhaps you'll give an eye to the door, and serve out the ale. It would help me mighty. I'm rather pressed for time to-day. We shall brew to-morrow, and I must get the washing done this afternoon."

She took it for granted that he would obey, and of course he did. He transferred himself, his pipe, and his book to the front kitchen, and prepared for customers. Hieronymus Howard had once been an ambitious man, but never before had he been seized by such an overwhelming aspiration as now possessed him--to serve out the Green Dragon ale!

"If only some one would come!" he said to himself scores of times.

No one came. Hieronymus, becoming impatient, sprang up from his chair and gazed anxiously out of the window, just in time to see three men stroll into the opposite inn.

"Confound them!" he cried; "why don't they come here?"

The next moment four riders stopped at the rival public-house, and old Mrs. Howells hurried out to them, as though to prevent any possibility of them slipping across to the other side of the road.

This was almost more than Hieronymus could bear quietly. He could scarcely refrain from opening the Green Dragon door and advertising in a loud voice the manifold virtues of Mrs. Benbow's ale and spirits. But he recollected in time that even wayside inns have their fixed code of etiquette, and that nothing remained for him but to possess his soul in patience. He was rewarded; in a few minutes a procession of wagons filed slowly past the Green Dragon; he counted ten horses and five men. Would they stop? Hieronymus waited in breathless excitement. Yes, they did stop, and four of the drivers came into the kitchen. "Where is the fifth?" asked Hieronymus sharply, having a keen eye to business. "He is minding the horses," they answered, looking at him curiously. But they seemed to take it for granted that he was there to serve them, and they leaned back luxuriously in the great oak settle, while Hieronymus poured out the beer, and received in exchange some grimy coppers.

After they had gone the fifth man came to have his share of the refreshments; and then followed a long pause, which seemed to Hieronymus like whole centuries.

"It was during a lengthened period like this," he remarked to himself, as he paced up and down the kitchen--"yes, it was during infinite time like this that the rugged rocks became waveworn pebbles!"

Suddenly he heard the sound of horses' feet.

"It is a rider," he said. "I shall have to go out to him." He hastened to the door, and saw a young woman on a great white horse. She carried a market basket on her arm. She wore no riding-habit, but was dressed in the ordinary way. There was nothing picturesque about her appearance, but Hieronymus thought her face looked interesting. She glanced at him as though she wondered what he could possibly be doing at the Green Dragon.

"Well, and what may I do for you?" he asked. He did not quite like to say, "What may I bring for you?" He left her to decide that matter.

"I wanted to see Mrs. Benbow," she said.

"She is busy doing the washing," he answered. "But I will go and tell her, if you will kindly detain any customer who may chance to pass by."

He hurried away, and came back with the answer that Mrs. Benbow would be out in a minute.

"Thank you," the young woman said quietly. Then she added: "You have hurt your arm, I see."

"Yes," he answered; "it is a great nuisance. I cannot write. I have been wondering whether I could get any one to write for me. Do you know of any one?"

"No," she said bitterly; "we don't write here. We make butter and cheese, and we fatten up our poultry, and then we go to market and sell our butter, cheese, and poultry."

"Well," said Hieronymus, "and why shouldn't you?"

He looked up at her, and saw what a discontented expression had come over her young face.

She took no notice of his interruption, but just switched the horse's ears with the end of her whip.

"That is what we do year after year," she continued, "until I suppose we have become so dull that we don't care to do anything else. That is what we have come into the world for: to make butter and cheese, and fatten up our poultry, and go to market."

"Yes," he answered cheerily, "and we all have to do it in some form or other. We all go to market to sell our goods, whether they be brains, or practical common-sense (which often, you know, has nothing to do with brains), or butter, or poultry. Now I don't know, of course, what you have in your basket; but supposing you have eggs, which you are taking to market. Well, you are precisely in the same condition as the poet who is on his way to a publisher's, carrying a new poem in his vest pocket. And yet there is a difference."

"Of course there is," she jerked out scornfully.

"Yes, there is a difference," he continued, placidly; "it is this: you will return without those eggs, but the poet will come back still carrying his poem in his breast-pocket!"

Then he laughed at his own remark.

"That is how things go in the great world, you know," he said. "Out in the great world there is an odd way of settling matters. Still they must be settled somehow or other!"

"Out in the world!" she exclaimed. "That is where I long to go."

"Then why on earth don't you?" he replied.

At that moment Mrs. Benbow came running out.

"I am so sorry to keep you waiting, Miss Hammond," she said to the young girl; "but what with the washing and the making ready for the brewing to-morrow, I don't know where to turn."

Then followed a series of messages to which Hieronymus paid no attention. And then Miss Hammond cracked her whip, waved her greetings with it, and the old white horse trotted away.

"And who is the rider of the horse?" asked Hieronymus.

"Oh, she is Farmer Hammond's daughter," said Mrs. Benbow. "Her name is Joan. She is an odd girl, different from the other girls here. They say she is quite a scholar too. Why, she would be the one to write for you. The very one, of course! I'll call to her."

But by that time the old white horse was out of sight.

CHAPTER III.

THE PRIMARY GLORY.

The next day at the Green Dragon was a busy one. Mrs. and Mr. Benbow were up betimes, banging casks about in the cellar. When Hieronymus Howard came down to breakfast, he found that they had brought three barrels into the kitchen, and that one was already half full of some horrible brown liquid, undergoing the process of fermentation. He felt himself much aggrieved that he was unable to contribute his share of work to the proceedings. It was but little comfort to him that he was again allowed to attend to the customers. The pouring out of the beer had lost its charm for him.

"It is a secondary glory to pour out the beer," he grumbled. "I aspire to the primary glory of helping to make the beer."

Mrs. Benbow was heaping on the coal in the furnace. She turned round and looked at the disconsolate figure.

"There is one thing you might do," she said. "I've not half enough barm. There are two or three places where you might call for some; and between them all perhaps you'll get enough."

She then mentioned three houses, Farmer Hammond's being among the number.

"Very likely the Hammonds would oblige us," she said. "They are neighborly folk. They live at the Malt-House Farm, two miles off. You can't carry the jar, but you can take the perambulator and wheel it back. I've often done that when I had much to carry."

Hieronymus Howard looked doubtfully at the perambulator.

"Very well," he said submissively. "I suppose I shall only look like an ordinary tramp. It seems to be the fashion to tramp on this road!"

It never entered his head to rebel. The great jar was lifted into the perambulator, and Hieronymus wheeled it away, still keeping up his dignity, though under somewhat trying circumstances.

"I rather wish I had not mentioned anything about primary glory," he remarked to himself. "However, I will not faint by the wayside; Mrs. Benbow is a person not lightly to be disobeyed. In this respect she reminds me distinctly of Queen Elizabeth, or Margaret of Anjou, with just a dash of Napoleon Bonaparte!"

So he walked on along the highroad. Two or three tramps passed him, wheeling similar perambulators, some heaped up with rags and old tins and umbrellas, and occasionally a baby; representing the sum total of their respective possessions in the world. They looked at him with curiosity, but no pleasantry passed their lips. There was nothing to laugh at in Hieronymus' appearance; there was a quiet dignity about him which was never lost on any one. His bearing tallied with his character, the character of a mellowed human being. There was a restfulness about him which had soothed more than one tired person; not the restfulness of stupidity, but the repose only gained by those who have struggled through a great fever to a great calm. His was a clean-shaven face; his hair was iron-gray. There was a kind but firm expression about his mouth, and a suspicion of humor lingering in the corners. His eyes looked at you frankly. There seemed to be no self-consciousness in his manner; long ago, perhaps, he had managed to get away from himself. He enjoyed the country, and stopped more than once to pick some richly tinted leaf, or some tiny flower nestling in the hedge. He confided all his treasures to the care of the perambulator. It was a beautiful morning, and the sun lit up the hills, which were girt with a belt of many gems: a belt of trees, each rivaling the other in colored luxuriance. Hieronymus sang. Then he turned down a lane to the left and found some nuts. He ate these, and went on his way again, and at last found himself outside a farm of large and important aspect. A man was stacking a hayrick. Hieronymus watched him keenly.

"Good gracious!" he exclaimed; "I wish I could do that. How on earth do you manage it? And did it take you long to learn?"

The man smiled in the usual yokel fashion, and went on with his work. Hieronymus plainly did not interest him.

"Is this the Malt-House Farm?" cried Hieronymus lustily.

"What else should it be?" answered the man.

"These rural characters are inclined to be one-sided," thought Hieronymus, as he opened the gate and wheeled the perambulator into the pretty garden. "It seems to me that they are almost as narrow-minded as the people who live in cities and pride themselves on their breadth of view. Almost--but on reflection, not quite!"

He knocked at the door of the porch, and a great bustling woman opened it. He explained his mission to her, and pointed to the jar for the barm.

"You would oblige Mrs. Benbow greatly, ma'am," he said. "In fact, we cannot get on with our beer unless you come to our assistance."

"Step into the parlor, sir," she said, smiling, "and I'll see how much we've got. I think you are the gentleman who fought the gypsies. You've hurt your arm, I see."

"Yes, a great nuisance," he answered cheerily; "and that reminds me of my other request. I want some one to write for me an hour or two every day. Mrs. Benbow mentioned your daughter, the young lady who came to us on the white horse yesterday."

He was going to add: "The young lady who wishes to go out into the world;" but he checked himself, guessing by instinct that the young lady and her mother had probably very little in common.

"Perhaps, though," he said, "I take a liberty in making the suggestion. If so, you have only to reprove me, and that is the end of it."

"Oh, I daresay she'd like to write for you," said Mrs. Hammond, "if she can be spared from the butter and the fowls. She likes books and pen and paper. They're things as I don't favor."

"No," said Hieronymus, suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of his own littleness; "you are occupied with other more useful matters."

"Yes, indeed," rejoined Mrs. Hammond fervently. "Well, if you'll be seated, I'll send Joan to you, and I'll see about the barm."

Hieronymus settled down in an old chair, and took a glance at the comfortable paneled room. There was every appearance of ease about the Malt-House Farm, and yet Farmer Hammond and his wife toiled incessantly from morning to evening, exacting continual labor from their daughter too. There was a good deal of brass-work in the parlor; it was kept spotlessly bright.

In a few minutes Joan came in. She carried the jar.

"I have filled the jar with barm," she said, without any preliminaries. "One of the men can take it back if you like."

"Oh no, thank you," he said cheerily, looking at her with some interest. "It came in the perambulator; it can return in the same conveyance."

She bent over the table, leaning against the jar. She smiled at his words, and the angry look of resentfulness, which seemed to be her habitual expression, gave way to a more pleasing one. Joan was not good-looking, but her face was decidedly interesting. She was of middle stature, slight but strong; not the typical country girl with rosy cheeks, but pale, though not unhealthy. She was dark of complexion; soft brown hair, over which she seemed to have no control, was done into a confused mass at the back, untidy, but pleasing. Her forehead was not interfered with; you might see it for yourself, and note the great bumps which those rogues of phrenologists delight to finger. She carried her head proudly, and from certain determined jerks which she gave to it you might judge of her decided character. She was dressed in a dark gown, and wore an apron of coarse linen. At the most she was nineteen years of age. Hieronymus just glanced at her, and could not help comparing her with her mother.

"Well," he said pleasantly, "and now, having settled the affairs of the Green Dragon, I proceed to my own. Will you come and be my scribbler for a few days? Or if you wish for a grander title, will you act as my amanuensis? I am sadly in need of a little help. I have found out that you can help me."

"I don't know whether you could read my writing," she said shyly.

"That does not matter in the least," he answered. "I shan't have to read it. Some one else will."

"My spelling is not faultless," she said.

"Also a trifle!" he replied. "Spelling, like every other virtue, is a relative thing, depending largely on the character of the individual. Have you any other objection?"

She shook her head, and smiled brightly at him.

"I should like to write for you," she said, "if only I could do it well enough."

"I am sure of that," he answered kindly. "Mrs. Benbow tells me you are a young lady who does good work. I admire that beyond everything. You fatten up the poultry well, you make butter and pastry well--shouldn't I just like to taste it! And I am sure you have cleaned this brass-work."

"Yes," she said, "when I'm tired of every one and everything, I go and rub up the brasses until they are spotless. When I am utterly weary of the whole concern, and just burning to get away from this stupid little village, I polish the candlesticks and handles until my arms are worn out. I had a good turn at it yesterday."

"Was yesterday a bad day with you, then?" he asked.

"Yes," she answered. "When I was riding the old white horse yesterday, I just felt that I could go on riding, riding forever. But she is such a slow coach. She won't go quickly!"

"No, I should think you could walk more quickly," said Hieronymus. "Your legs would take you out into the world more swiftly than that old white horse. And being clear of this little village, and being out in the great world, what do you want to do?"

"To learn!" she cried; "to learn to know something about life, and to get to have other interests: something great and big, something worth wearing one's strength away for." Then she stopped suddenly. "What a goose I am!" she said, turning away half ashamed.

"Something great and big," he repeated. "Cynics would tell you that you have a weary quest before you. But I think it is very easy to find something great and big. Only it all depends on the strength of your telescope. You must order the best kind, and unfortunately one can't afford the best kind when one is very young. You have to pay for your telescope, not with money, but with years. But when at last it comes into your possession--ah, how it alters the look of things!"

He paused a moment, as though lost in thought; and then, with the brightness so characteristic of him, he added:

"Well, I must be going home to my humble duties at the Green Dragon, and you, no doubt, have to return to your task of feeding up the poultry for the market. When is market-day at Church Stretton?"

"On Friday," she answered.

"That is the day I have to send off some of my writing," he said; "my market-day, also, you see."

"Are you a poet?" she asked timidly.

"No," he answered, smiling at her; "I am that poor creature, an historian: one of those restless persons who furridge among the annals of the past."

"Oh," she said enthusiastically, "I have always cared more about history than anything else!"

"Well, then, if you come to-morrow to the Green Dragon at eleven o'clock," he said kindly, "you will have the privilege of writing history instead of reading it. And now I suppose I must hasten back to the tyranny of Queen Elizabeth. Can you lift that jar into the perambulator? You see I can't."

She hoisted it into the perambulator, and then stood at the gate, watching him as he pushed it patiently over the rough road.

CHAPTER IV.

THE MAKING OF THE PASTRY.

That same afternoon Mrs. Hammond put on her best things and drove in the dogcart to Minton, where Auntie Lloyd of the Tan-House Farm was giving a tea-party. Joan had refused to go. She had a profound contempt for these social gatherings, and Auntie Lloyd and she had no great love, the one for the other. Auntie Lloyd, who was regarded as the oracle of the family, summed Joan up in a few sentences:

"She's a wayward creature, with all her fads about books and book learning. I've no patience with her. Fowls and butter and such things have been good enough for us; why does she want to meddle with things which don't concern her? She's clever at her work, and diligent too. If it weren't for that, there'd be no abiding her."

Joan summed Auntie Lloyd up in a few words:

"Oh, she's Auntie Lloyd," she said, shrugging her shoulders.

So when her mother urged her to go to Minton to this tea-party, which was to be something special, Joan said:

"No, I don't care about going. Auntie Lloyd worries me to death. And what with her, and the rum in the tea, and those horrid crumpets, I'd far rather stay at home, and make pastry and read a book."

So she stayed. There was plenty of pastry in the larder, and there seemed no particular reason why she should add to the store. But she evidently thought differently about the matter, for she went into the kitchen and rolled up her sleeves and began her work.

"I hope this will be the best pastry I have ever made," she said to herself, as she prepared several jam-puffs and an open tart. "I should like him to taste my pastry. An historian. I wonder what we shall write about to-morrow."

She put the pastry into the oven, and sat lazily in the ingle, nursing her knees, and musing. She was thinking the whole time of Hieronymus, of his kind and genial manner, and his face with the iron-gray hair; she would remember him always, even if she never saw him again. Once or twice it crossed her mind that she had been foolish to speak so impatiently to him of her village life. He would just think her a silly, discontented girl, and nothing more. And yet it had seemed so natural to talk to him in that strain; she knew by instinct that he would understand, and he was the first she had ever met who would be likely to understand. The others--her father, her mother, David Ellis the exciseman, who was supposed to be fond of her, these and others in the neighborhood--what did they care about her desires to improve her mind, and widen out her life, and multiply her interests? She had been waiting for months, almost for years indeed, to speak openly to some one; she could not have let the chance go by, now that it had come to her.

The puffs meanwhile were forgotten. When at last she recollected them, she hastened to their rescue, and found she was only just in time. Two were burned; she placed the others in a dish, and threw the damaged ones on the table. As she did so the kitchen door opened, and the exciseman came in, and seeing the pastry, he exclaimed:

"Oh, Joan, making pastry! Then I'll test it!"

"You'll do nothing of the sort," she said half angrily, as she put her hands over the dish. "I won't have it touched. You can eat the burnt ones it you like."

"Not I," he answered. "I want the best. Why, Joan, what's the matter with you? You're downright cross to-day."

"I'm no different from usual," she said.

"Yes, you are," he said; "and what's more, you grow different every week."

"I grow more tired of this horrid little village and every one in it, if that's what you mean," she answered.

He had thrown his whip on the chair, and stood facing her. He was a prosperous man, much respected, and much liked for many miles round Little Stretton. It was an open secret that he loved Joan Hammond, the only question in the village being whether Joan would have him when the time came for him to propose to her. No girl in her senses would have been likely to refuse the exciseman; but then Joan was not in her senses, so that anything might be expected of her. At least such was the verdict of Auntie Lloyd, who regarded her niece with the strictest disapproval. Joan had always been more friendly with David than with any one else; and it was no doubt this friendliness, remarkable in one who kept habitually apart from others, which had encouraged David to go on hoping to win her, not by persuasion but by patience. He loved her, indeed he had always loved her; and in the old days, when he was a schoolboy and she was a little baby child, he had left his companions to go and play with his tiny girl-friend up at the Malt-House Farm. He had no sister of his own, and he liked to nurse and pet the querulous little creature who was always quiet in his arms. He could soothe her when no one else had any influence. But the years had come and gone, and they had grown apart; not he from her, but she from him. And now he stood in the kitchen of the old farm, reading in her very manner the answer to the question which he had not yet asked her. That question was always on his lips; how many times had he not said it aloud when he rode his horse over the country? But Joan was forbidding of late months, and especially of late weeks, and the exciseman had always told himself sadly that the right moment had not yet come. And to-day, also, it was not the right moment. A great sorrow seized him, for he longed to tell her that he loved her, and that he was yearning to make her happy. She should have books of her own; books, books, books; he had already bought a few volumes to form the beginning of her library. They were not well chosen, perhaps, but there they were, locked up in his private drawer. He was not learned, but he would learn for her sake. All this flashed through his mind as he stood before her. He looked at her face, and could not trace one single expression of kindliness or encouragement.

"Then I must go on waiting," he thought, and he stooped and picked up his whip.

"Good-bye, Joan," he said quietly.

The kitchen door swung on its hinges, and Joan was once more alone.

"An historian," she said to herself, as she took away the rolling-pin, and put the pastry into the larder. "I wonder what we shall write about to-morrow."

CHAPTER V.

PASTRY AND PERSONAL MONARCHY.

Joan sat in the parlor of the Green Dragon, waiting until Hieronymus had finished eating a third jam-puff, and could pronounce himself ready to begin dictating. A few papers were scattered about on the table, and Gamboge was curled up on the hearth-rug. Joan was radiant with pleasure, for this was her nearest approach to intellectuality; a new world had opened to her as though by magic. And she was radiant with another kind of pleasure: this was only the third time she had seen the historian, and each time she was the happier. It was at first a little shock to her sense of intellectual propriety that the scholar yonder could condescend to so trivial a matter as pastry; but then Hieronymus had his own way about him, which carried conviction in the end.

"Well," he said cheerily. "I think I am ready to begin. Dear me! What excellent pastry!"

Joan smiled, and dipped her pen in the ink.

"And to think that David nearly ate it!" she said to herself. And that was about the first time she had thought of him since yesterday.

Then the historian began. His language was simple and dignified, like the man himself. His subject was "An Introduction to the Personal Monarchy, which began with the reign of Henry VIII." Everything he said was crystal-clear. Moreover, he had that rare gift, the power of condensing and of suggesting too. He was nothing if not an impressionist. Joan had no difficulty in keeping pace with him, for he dictated slowly. After nearly two hours he left off, and gave a great sigh of relief.

"There now," he said, "that's enough for to-day." And he seemed just like a schoolboy released from lessons.

"Come, come," he added, as he looked over the manuscript. "I shall be quite proud to send that in to the printer. You would make a capital little secretary. You are so quiet and you don't scratch with your pen: qualities which are only too rare. Well, we shall be able to go on with this work, if you can spare the time and will oblige me. And we must make some arrangements about money matters."

"As for that," said Joan hastily, "it's such a change from the never-ending fowls and that everlasting butter."

"Of course it is," said Hieronymus, as he took his pipe from the mantel-shelf. "But all the same, we will be business-like. Besides, consider the advantage; you will be earning a little money with which you can either buy books to read, or fowls to fatten up. You can take your choice, you know."

"I should choose the books," she said, quite fiercely.

"How spiteful you are to those fowls!" he said.

"So would you be, if you had been looking after them all your life," Joan answered, still more fiercely.

"There is no doubt about you being a volcanic young lady," Hieronymus remarked thoughtfully. "But I understand. I was also a volcano once. I am now extinct. You will be extinct after a few years, and you will be thankful for the repose. But one has to go through a great many eruptions as preliminaries to peace."

"Any kind of experience is better than none at all," Joan said, more gently this time. "You can't think how I dread a life in which nothing happens. I want to have my days crammed full of interests and events. Then I shall learn something; but here--what can one learn? You should just see Auntie Lloyd, and be with her for a quarter of an hour. When you've seen her, you've seen the whole neighborhood. Oh, how I dislike her!"

Her tone of voice expressed so heartily her feelings about Auntie Lloyd that Hieronymus laughed, and Joan laughed too.

She had put on her bonnet, and stood ready to go home. The historian stroked Gamboge, put away his papers, and expressed himself inclined to accompany Joan part of the way.

He ran to the kitchen to tell Mrs. Benbow that he would not be long gone.

"Dinner won't be ready for quite an hour," she said, "as the butcher came so late. But here is a cup of beef-tea for you. You look rather tired."

"I've had such a lot of pastry," Hieronymus pleaded, and he turned to Mr. Benbow, who had just come into the kitchen followed by his faithful collie. "I don't feel as though I could manage the beef-tea."

"It's no use kicking over the traces," said Mr. Benbow, laughing. "I've found that out long ago. Sarah is a tyrant."

But it was evidently a tyranny which suited him very well, for there seemed to be a kind of settled happiness between the host and hostess of the Green Dragon. Some such thought passed through Hieronymus' mind as he gulped down the beef-tea, and then started off happily with Joan.

"I like both the Benbows," he said to her. "And it is very soothing to be with people who are happy together. I'm cozily housed there, and not at all sorry to have had my plans altered by the gypsies; especially now that I can go on with my work so comfortably. My friends in Wales may wait for me as long as they choose."

Joan would have wished to tell him how glad she was that he was going to stay. But she just smiled happily. He was so bright himself that it was impossible not to be happy in his company.

"I'm so pleased I have done some dictating to-day," he said, as he plucked an autumn leaf and put it into his buttonhole. "And now I can enjoy myself all the more. You cannot think how I do enjoy the country. These hills are so wonderfully soothing. I never remember being in a place where the hills have given me such a sense of repose as here. Those words constantly recur to me:

'His dews drop mutely on the hill,
His cloud above it saileth still,
(Though on its slopes men sow and reap).
More softly than the dew is shed,
Or cloud is floated overhead,
He giveth His beloved sleep.'
 

"It's all so true, you know, and yonder are the slopes cultivated by men. I am always thinking of these words here. They match with the hills and they match with my feelings."

"I have never thought about the hills in that way," she said.

"No," he answered kindly, "because you are not tired yet. But when you are tired, not with imaginary battlings, but with the real campaigns of life, then you will think about the dews falling softly on the hills."

"Are you tired, then?" she asked.

"I have been very tired," he answered simply.

They walked on in silence for a few minutes, and then he added: "You wished for knowledge, and here you are surrounded by opportunities for attaining to it."

"I have never found Auntie Lloyd a specially interesting subject for study," Joan said obstinately.

Hieronymus smiled.

"I was not thinking of Auntie Lloyd," he said. "I was thinking of all these beautiful hedges, these lanes with their countless treasures, and this stream with its bed of stones, and those hills yonder; all of them eloquent with the wonder of the earth's history. You are literally surrounded with the means of making your minds beautiful, you country people. And why don't you do it?"

Joan listened. This was new language to her.

Hieronymus continued:

"The sciences are here for you. They offer themselves to you, without stint, without measure. Nature opens her book to you. Have you ever tried to read it? From the things which fret and worry our souls, from the people who worry and fret us, from ourselves who worry and fret ourselves, we can at least turn to Nature. There we find our right place, a resting place of intense repose. There we lose that troublesome part of ourselves, our own sense of importance. Then we rest, and not until then.

"Why should you speak to me of rest?" the girl cried, her fund of patience and control coming suddenly to an end. "I don't want to rest. I want to live a full, rich life, crammed with interests. I want to learn about life itself, not about things. It is so absurd to talk to me of rest. You've had your term of unrest--you said so. I don't care about peace and repose! I don't----"

She left off as suddenly as she had begun, fearing to seem too ill-mannered.

"Of course you don't," he said gently, "and I'm a goose to think you should. No, you will have to go out into the world, and to learn for yourself that it is just the same there as everywhere: butter and cheese making, prize-winning and prize-losing, and very little satisfaction either over the winning or the losing; and a great many Auntie Lloyds, probably a good deal more trying than the Little Stretton Auntie Lloyd. Only, if I were you, I should not talk about it any more. I should just go. Saddle the white horse and go! Get your experiences, thick and quick. Then you will be glad to rest."

"Are you making fun of me?" she asked half suspiciously, for he had previously joked about the slow pace of the white horse.

"No," he answered, in his kind way; "why should I make fun of you? We cannot all be content to go on living a quiet life in a little village."

At that moment the exciseman passed by them on horseback. He raised his hat to Joan, and looked with some curiosity at Hieronymus. Joan colored. She remembered that she had not behaved kindly to him yesterday; and after all, he was David, David who had always been good to her, ever since she could remember.

"Who was that?" asked Hieronymus. "What a trim, nice-looking man!"

"He is David Ellis, the exciseman," Joan said, half reluctantly.

"I wonder when he is going to test the beer at the Green Dragon," said the historian anxiously. "I wouldn't miss that for anything. Will you ask him?"

Joan hesitated. Then she hastened on a few steps, and called "David!"

David turned in his saddle, and brought his horse to a standstill. He wondered what Joan would have to say to him.

"When are you going to test the beer at the Green Dragon?" she asked.

"Some time this afternoon," he answered. "Why do you want to know?"

"The gentleman who is staying at the inn wants to know," Joan said.

"Is that all you have to say to me?" David asked quietly.

"No," said Joan, looking up at him. "There is something more: about the pastry--"

But just then Hieronymus had joined them.

"If you're talking about pastry," he said cheerily, "I never tasted any better than Miss Hammond's. I ate a dishful this morning!"

The exciseman looked at Joan, and at the historian.

"Yes," he said, as he cracked his whip, "it tastes good to those who can get it, and it tastes bad to those who can't get it."

And with that he galloped away, leaving Joan confused, and Hieronymus mystified. He glanced at his companion, and seemed to expect that she would explain the situation; but as she did not attempt to do so he walked quietly along with her until they came to the short cut which led back to the Green Dragon. There he parted from her, making an arrangement that she should come and write for him on the morrow. But as he strolled home he said to himself, "I am much afraid that I have been eating some one else's pastry! Well, it was very good, especially the jam-puffs!"

CHAPTER VI.

THE EXCISEMAN'S LIBRARY.

David Ellis did not feel genially disposed toward the historian; and yet when he stood in the kitchen of the Green Dragon, testing the new brew, and saw Hieronymus eagerly watching the process, he could not but be amused. There was something about Hieronymus which was altogether irresistible. He had a power, quite unconscious to himself, of drawing people over to his side. And yet he never tried to win; he was just himself, nothing more and nothing less.

"I am not wishing to pry into the secrets of the profession," he said to David Ellis; "but I do like to see how everything is done."

The exciseman good-naturedly taught him how to test the strength of the beer, and Hieronymus was as pleased as though he had learned some great secret of the universe, or unearthed some long-forgotten fact in history.

"Are you sure the beer comes up to its usual standard?" he asked mischievously, turning to Mrs. Benbow at the same time. "Are you sure it has nothing of the beef-tea element about it? We drink beef-tea by the quart in this establishment. I'm allowed nothing else."

David laughed, and said it was the best beer in the neighborhood; and with that he left the kitchen and went into the ale-room to exchange a few words with Mr. Howells, the proprietor of the rival inn, who always came to the Green Dragon to have his few glasses of beer in peace, free from the stormy remonstrances of his wife. Every one in Little Stretton knew his secret, and respected it. Hieronymus returned to the parlor, where he was supposed to be deep in study.

After a few minutes some one knocked at the door, and David Ellis came in.

"Excuse me troubling you," he said, rather nervously, "but there is a little matter I wanted to ask you about."

"It's about that confounded pastry!" thought Hieronymus, as he drew a chair to the fireside and welcomed the exciseman to it.

David sank down into it, twisted his whip, and looked now at Hieronymus and now at the books which lay scattered on the table. He evidently wished to say something, but he did not know how to begin.

"I know what you want to say," said Hieronymus.

"No, you don't," answered the exciseman. "No one knows except myself."

Hieronymus retreated, crushed, but rather relieved too.

Then David, gaining courage, continued:

"Books are in your line, aren't they?"

"It just does happen to be my work to know a little about them," the historian answered. "Are you interested in them too?"

"Well," said David, hesitating, "I can't say I read them, but I buy them."

"Most people do that," said Hieronymus; "it takes less time to buy than to read, and we are pressed for time in this century."

"You see," said the exciseman, "I don't buy the books for myself, and it's rather awkward knowing what to get. Now what would you get for a person who was really fond of reading: something of a scholar, you understand? That would help me for my next lot."

"It all depends on the taste of the person," Hieronymus said kindly. "Some like poetry, some like novels; others like books about the moon, and others like books about the north pole, or the tropics."

David did not know much about the north pole or the tropics, but he had certainly bought several volumes of poetry, and Hieronymus' words gave him courage.

"I bought several books of poetry," he said, lifting his head up with a kind of triumph which was unmistakable. "Cowper, Mrs. Hemans--"

"Yes," said Hieronymus patiently.

"And the other day I bought Milton," continued the exciseman.

"Ah," said the historian, with a faint smile of cheerfulness. He had never been able to care for Milton (though he never owned to this).

"And now I thought of buying this," said David, taking from his pocket a small slip of paper and showing it to his companion.

Hieronymus read: "Selections from Robert Browning."

"Come, come!" he said cheerily, "this is a good choice!"

"It is not my choice," said David simply. "I don't know one fellow from another. But the man at the shop in Ludlow told me it was a book to have. If you say so too, of course that settles the matter."

"Well," said Hieronymus, "and what about the other books?"

"I tell you what," said David suddenly, "if you'd come to my lodgings one day, you could look at the books I've got and advise me about others. That would be the shortest and pleasantest way."

"By all means," said the historian. "Then you have not yet given away your gifts?"

"Not yet," said David quietly. "I am waiting awhile."

And then he relapsed into silence and timidity, and went on twisting his whip.

Hieronymus was interested, but he had too much delicate feeling to push the inquiry, and not having a mathematical mind he was quite unable to put two and two together without help from another source. So he just went on smoking his pipe, wondering all the time what possible reason his companion could have for collecting a library beginning with Mrs. Hemans.

After a remark about the weather and the crops--Hieronymus was becoming quite agricultural--David rose in an undecided kind of manner, expressed his thanks, and took his leave, but there was evidently something more he wanted to say, and yet he went away without saying it.

"I'm sure he wants to speak about the pastry," thought Hieronymus. "Confound him! Why doesn't he?"

The next moment the door opened, and David put his head in.

"There's something else I wanted to say," he stammered out. "The fact is, I don't tell anybody about the books I buy. It's my own affair, and I like to keep it to myself. But I'm sure I can trust you."

"I should just think you could," Hieronymus answered cheerily.

So he promised secrecy, and then followed the exciseman to the door, and watched him mount his horse and ride off. Mr. Benbow was coming in at the time, and Hieronymus said some few pleasant words about David Ellis.

"He's the nicest man in these parts," Mr. Benbow said warmly. "We all like him. Joan Hammond will be a lucky girl if she gets him for a husband."

"Is he fond of her, then?" asked Hieronymus.

"He has always been fond of her since I can remember," Mr. Benbow answered.

Then Hieronymus, having received this valuable assistance, proceeded carefully to put two and two together.

"Now I know for whom the exciseman intends his library!" he said to himself triumphantly.

CHAPTER VII.

AUNTIE LLOYD PROTESTS.

Auntie Lloyd was a material, highly prosperous individual, utterly bereft of all ideas except one; though, to be sure, the one idea which she did possess was of overwhelming bulk, being, indeed, the sense of her own superiority over all people of all countries and all centuries. This was manifest not only in the way she spoke, but also in the way she folded her hands together on the buckle of her waist-belt, as though she were murmuring: "Thank heaven, I am Auntie Lloyd, and no one else!" All her relations, and indeed all her neighbors, bowed down to her authority; it was recognized by every one that the mistress of the Tan-House Farm was a personage who must not be disobeyed in the smallest particular. There had been one rebel in the camp for many years now: Joan. She alone had dared to raise the standard of revolt. At first she had lifted it only an inch high; but strength and courage had come with years, and now the standard floated triumphantly in the air. And to-day it reached its full height, for Auntie Lloyd had driven over to the Malt-House Farm to protest with her niece about this dictation, and Joan, though she did not use the exact words, had plainly told her to mind her own business.

Auntie Lloyd had been considerably "worked up" ever since she had heard the news that Joan went to write for a gentleman at the Green Dragon. Then she heard that Joan not only wrote for him, but was also seen walking about with him; for it was not at all likely that an episode of this description would pass without comment in Little Stretton; and Auntie Lloyd was not the only person who remarked and criticised. A bad attack of sciatica had kept her from interfering at the outset; but as soon as she was even tolerably well she made a descent upon the Malt-House Farm, having armed herself with the most awe-inspiring bonnet and mantle which her wardrobe could supply. But Joan was proof against such terrors. She listened to all Auntie Lloyd had to say, and merely remarked that she did not consider it was any one's affair but her own. That was the most overwhelming statement that had ever been made to Auntie Lloyd. No wonder that she felt faint.

"It is distinctly a family affair," she said angrily. "If you're not careful, you'll lose the chance of David Ellis. You can't expect him to be dangling about your heels all his life. He will soon be tired of waiting for your pleasure. Do you suppose that he too does not know you are amusing yourself with this newcomer?"

Joan was pouring out tea at the time, and her hand trembled as she filled the cup.

"I won't have David Ellis thrust down my throat by you or by any one," she said determinedly.

And with that she looked at her watch, and calmly said that it was time for her to be off to the Green Dragon, Mr. Howard having asked her to go in the afternoon instead of the morning. But though she left Auntie Lloyd quelled and paralyzed, and was conscious that she had herself won the battle once and for all, she was very much irritated and distressed too. Hieronymus noticed that something was wrong with her.

"What is the matter?" he asked kindly. "Has Auntie Lloyd been paying a visit to the Malt-House Farm, and exasperated you beyond all powers of endurance? Or was the butter-making a failure? Or is it the same old story--general detestation of every one and everything in Little Stretton, together with an inward determination to massacre the whole village at the earliest opportunity?"

Joan smiled, and looked up at the kind face which always had such a restful influence on her.

"I suppose that is the root of the whole matter," she said.

"I am sorry for you," he said gently, as he turned to his papers, "but I think you are not quite wise to let your discontent grow beyond your control. Most people, you know, when their lives are paralyzed, are found to have but sorry material out of which to fashion for themselves satisfaction and contentment."

Her face flushed as he spoke, and a great peace fell over her. When she was with him all was well with her; the irritations at home, the annoyances either within or without, either real or imaginary, and indeed all worries passed for the time out of her memory. David Ellis was forgotten, Auntie Lloyd was forgotten; the narrow, dull, everyday existence broadened out into many interesting possibilities. Life had something bright to offer to Joan. She bent happily over the pages, thoroughly enjoying her congenial task; and now and again during the long pauses of silence when Hieronymus was thinking out his subject, she glanced at his kind face and his silvered head.

And restless little Joan was restful.

CHAPTER VIII.

THE DISTANCE GROWS.

So the days slipped away, and Joan came regularly to the Green Dragon to write to the historian's dictation. These mornings were red-letter days in her life; she had never before had anything which she could have called companionship, and now this best of all pleasures was suddenly granted to her. She knew well that it could not last; that very soon the historian would go back into his own world, and that she would be left lonely, lonelier than ever. But meanwhile she was happy. She always felt after having been with him as though some sort of peace had stolen over her. It did not hold her long, this sense of peace. It was merely that quieting influence which a mellowed nature exercises at rare moments over an unmellowed nature, being indeed a snatch of that wonderful restfulness which has something divine in its essence. She did not analyze her feelings for him, she dared not. She just drifted on, dreaming. And she was grateful to him too, for she had unburdened her heavy heart to him, and he had not laughed at her aspirations and ambitions. He had certainly made a little fun over her, but not in the way that conveyed contempt; on the contrary, his manner of teasing gave the impression of the kindliest sympathy. He had spoken sensible words of advice to her, too; not in any formal set lecture--that would have been impossible to him--but in detached sentences given out at different times, with words simple in themselves, but able to suggest many good and noble thoughts. At least that was what Joan gathered, that was her judgment of him, that was the effect he produced on her.

Then he was not miserly of his learning. He was not one of those scholars who keep their wisdom for their narrow and appreciative little set; he gave of his best to every one with royal generosity, and he gave of his best to her. He saw that she was really interested in history, and that it pleased her to hear him talk about it. Out then came his stores of knowledge, all for her special service! But that was only half of the process; he taught her by finding out from her what she knew, and then returning her knowledge to her two-fold enriched. She was eager to learn, and he was interested in her eagerness. It was his nature to be kind and chivalrous to every one, and he was therefore kind and chivalrous to his little secretary. He saw her constantly in "school hours," as he called the time spent in dictating, and out of school hours too. He took such an interest in all matters connected with the village that he was to be found everywhere, now gravely contemplating the cows and comparing them with Mr. Benbow's herd, now strolling through the market-place, and now passing stern criticisms on the butter and poultry, of which he knew nothing. Once he even tried to sell Joan Hammond's butter to Mrs. Benbow.

"I assure you, ma'am," he said to the landlady of the Green Dragon, "the very best cooking butter in the kingdom! Taste and see."

"But it isn't cooking butter!" interposed Joan hastily.

But she laughed all the same, and Hieronymus, much humbled by his mistake, made no more attempts to sell butter.

He seemed thoroughly contented with his life at Little Stretton, and in no hurry to join his friends in Wales. He was so genial that every one liked him and spoke kindly of him. If he was driving in the pony-carriage and saw any children trudging home after school, he would find room for four or five of them and take them back to the village in triumph. If he met an old woman carrying a bundle of wood, he immediately transferred the load from herself to himself, and walked along by her side, chatting merrily the while. As for the tramps who passed on the highroad from Ludlow to Church Stretton, they found in him a sympathetic friend. His hand was always in his pocket for them. He listened to their tales of woe, and stroked the "property" baby in the perambulator, and absolutely refused to be brought to order by Mrs. Benbow, who declared that she knew more about tramps than he did, and that the best thing to do with them was to send them about their business as soon as possible.

"You will ruin the reputation of the Green Dragon," she said, "if you go on entertaining tramps outside. Take your friends over to the other inn!"

She thought that this would be a strong argument, as Hieronymus was particularly proud of the Green Dragon, having discovered that it was patronized by the aristocrats of the village, and considered infinitely superior to its rival, the Crown Inn opposite.

But the historian, so yielding in other respects, continued his intimacies with the tramps, sometimes even leaving his work if he chanced to see an interesting-looking wanderer slouching past the Green Dragon. Joan had become accustomed to these interruptions. She just sat waiting patiently until Hieronymus came back, and plunged once more into the History of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, or the Attitude of the Foreign Powers to each other during the latter years of Henry VIII.

"I'm a troublesome fellow," he would say to her sometimes, "and you are very patient with me. In fact, you're a regular little brick of a secretary."

Then she would flush with pleasure to hear his words of praise. But he never noticed that, and never thought he was leading her further and further away from her surroundings and ties, and putting great distances between herself and the exciseman.

So little did he guess it that one day he even ventured to joke with her. He had been talking to her about John Richard Green, the historian, and he asked her whether she had read "A Short History of the English People." She told him she had never read it.

"Oh, you ought to have that book," he said; and he immediately thought that he would buy it for her. Then he remembered the exciseman's library, and judged that it would be better to let him buy it for her.

"I hear you have a very devoted admirer in the exciseman," Hieronymus said slyly.

"How do you know that?" Joan said sharply.

"Oh," he answered, "I was told." But he saw that his volcanic little companion was not too pleased; and so he began talking about John Richard Green. He told her about the man himself, his work, his suffering, his personality. He told her how the young men at Oxford were advised to travel on the Continent to expand their minds, and if they could not afford this advantage after their university career, then they were to read John Richard Green. He told her, too, of his grave at Mentone, with the simple words, "He died learning."

Thus he would talk to her, taking her always into a new world of interest. Then she was in an enchanted kingdom, and he was the magician.

It was a world in which agriculture and dairy-farming and all the other wearinesses of her everyday life had no part. Some people might think it was but a poor enchanted realm which he conjured up for her pleasure. But enchantment, like every other emotion, is but relative after all. Some little fragment of intellectuality had been Joan's idea of enchantment. And now it had come to her in a way altogether unexpected, and in a measure beyond all her calculations. It had come to her, bringing with it something else.

She seemed in a dream during all that time; yes, she was slipping further away from her own people, and further away from the exciseman. She had never been very near to him, but lately the distance had become doubled. When she chanced to meet him her manner was more than ordinarily cold. If he had chosen to plead for himself, he might well have asked what he had done to her that he should deserve to be treated with such bare unfriendliness.

One day he met her. She was riding the great white horse, and David rode along beside her. She chatted with him now and again, but there were long pauses of silence between them.

"Father has made up his mind to sell old Nance," she said suddenly, as she stroked the old mare's head. "This is my last ride on her."

"I am sorry," said David kindly. "She's an old friend, isn't she?"

"I suppose it is ridiculous to care so much," Joan said; "but you know we've had her such a time. And I used to hang round her neck, and she would lift me up and swing me."

"I remember," said David eagerly. "I've often watched you. I was always afraid you would have a bad fall."

"You ran up and caught me once," Joan said, "And I was so angry; for it wasn't likely that old Nance would have let me fall."

"But how could I be sure that the little arms were strong enough to cling firmly to old Nance's neck?" David said. "So I couldn't help being anxious."

"Do you remember when I was lost in that mist," Joan said, "and you came and found me, and carried me home? I was so angry that you would not let me walk."

"You have often been angry with me," David said quietly.

Joan made no answer. She just shrugged her shoulders.

There they were, these two, riding side by side, and yet they were miles apart from each other. David knew it, and grieved.

CHAPTER IX.

DAVID LAMENTS.

David knew it, and grieved. He knew that Joan's indifference was growing apace, and that it had taken to itself alarming proportions ever since the historian had been at the Green Dragon. He had constantly met Joan and Hieronymus together, and heard of them being together, and of course he knew that Joan wrote to the historian's dictation. He never spoke on the subject to any one. Once or twice Auntie Lloyd tried to begin, but he looked straight before him and appeared not to understand. Once or twice some other of the folk made mention of the good-fellowship which existed between Joan and the historian.

"Well, it's natural enough," he said quietly. "Joan was always fond of books, and one feels glad she can talk about them with some one who is real clever."

But was he glad? Poor David! Time after time he looked at his little collection of books, handling the volumes just as tenderly as one handles one's memories, or one's hopes, or one's old affections. He had not added to the library since he had spoken to Hieronymus and asked his advice on the choice of suitable subjects. He had no heart to go on with a hobby which seemed to have no comfort in it.

To-night he sat in his little sitting-room smoking his pipe. He looked at his books as usual, and then locked them up in his oak chest. He sat thinking of Joan and Hieronymus. There was no bitterness in David's heart; there was only sorrow. He shared with others a strong admiration for Hieronymus, an admiration which the historian never failed to win, though it was often quite unconsciously received. So there was only sorrow in David's heart, and no bitterness.

The clock was striking seven of the evening when some one knocked at the door, and Hieronymus came into the room. He was in a particularly genial mood, and puffed his pipe in great contentment. He settled down by the fireside as though he had been there all his life, and chatted away so cheerily that David forgot his own melancholy in his pleasure at having such a bright companion. A bottle of whisky was produced, and the coziness was complete.

"Now for the books!" said Hieronymus. "I am quite anxious to see your collection. And look here; I have made a list of suitable books which any one would like to have. Now show me what you have already bought."

David's misery returned all in a rush, and he hesitated.

"I don't think I care about the books now," he said.

"What nonsense!" said Hieronymus. "You are not shy about showing them to me? I am sure you have bought some capital ones."

"Oh, it wasn't that," David said quietly, as he unlocked the oak chest and took out the precious volumes and laid them on the table. In spite of himself, however, some of the old eagerness came over him, and he stood by, waiting anxiously for the historian's approval. Hieronymus groaned over Mrs. Hemans' poetry, and Locke's "Human Understanding," and Defoe's "History of the Plague," and Cowper, and Hannah More. He groaned inwardly, but outwardly he gave grunts of encouragement. He patted David on the shoulder when he found "Selections from Browning," and he almost caressed him when he proudly produced "Silas Marner."

Yes, David was proud of his treasures; each one of them represented to him a whole world of love and hope and consolation.

Hieronymus knew for whom the books were intended, and he was touched by the exciseman's quiet devotion and pride. He would not have hurt David's feelings on any account; he would have praised the books, however unsuitable they might have seemed to him.

"My dear fellow," he said, "you've done capitally by yourself. You've chosen some excellent books. Still, this list may help you to go on, and I should advise you to begin with 'Green's History of the English People.'"

David put the volumes back into the oak chest.

"I don't think I care about buying any more," he said sadly. "It's no use."

"Why?" asked Hieronymus.

David looked at the historian's frank face, and felt the same confidence in him which all felt. He looked, and knew that this man was loyal and good.

"Well, it's just this," David said, quite simply. "I've loved her ever since she was a baby-child. She was my own little sweetheart then. I took care of her when she was a wee thing, and I wanted to look after her when she was a grown woman. It has just been the hope of my life to make Joan my wife."

He paused a moment, and looked straight into the fire.

"I know she is different from others, and cleverer than any of us here, and all that. I know she is always longing to get away from Little Stretton. But I thought that perhaps we might be happy together, and that then she would not want to go. But I've never been quite sure. I've just watched and waited. I've loved her all my life. When she was a wee baby I carried her about, and knew how to stop her crying. She has always been kinder to me than to any one else. It was perhaps that which helped me to be patient. At least, I knew she did not care for any one else. It was just that she didn't seem to turn to any one."

He had moved away from Hieronymus, and stood knocking out the ashes from his pipe.

Hieronymus was silent.

"At least, I knew she did not care for any one else," continued David, "until you came. Now she cares for you."

Hieronymus looked up quickly.

"Surely, surely, you must be mistaken," he said. David shook his head.

"No," he answered, "I am not mistaken. And I'm not the only one who has noticed it. Since you've been here, my little Joan has gone further and further away from me."

"I am sorry," said Hieronymus. He had taken his tobacco-pouch from his pocket, and was slowly filling his pipe.

"I have never meant to work harm to her or you, or any one," the historian said sadly. "If I had thought I was going to bring trouble to any one here, I should not have stayed on. But I've been very happy among you all, and you've all been good to me; and as the days went on I found myself becoming attached to this little village. The life was so simple and refreshing, and I was glad to have the rest and the change. Your little Joan and I have been much together, it is true. She has written to my dictation, and I found her so apt that, long after my hand became well again, I preferred to dictate rather than to write. Then we've walked together, and we've talked seriously and merrily, and sadly too. We've just been comrades; nothing more. She seemed to me a little discontented, and I tried to interest her in things I happen to know, and so take her out of herself. If I had had any idea that I was doing more than that, I should have left at once. I hope you don't doubt me."

"I believe every word you say," David said warmly.

"I am grateful for that," Hieronymus said, and the two men grasped hands.

"If there is anything I could do to repair my thoughtlessness," he said, "I will gladly do it. But it is difficult to know what to do and what to say. For perhaps, after all, you may be mistaken."

The exciseman shook his head.

"No," he said, "I am not mistaken. It has been getting worse ever since you came. There is nothing to say about it; it can't be helped. It's just that sort of thing which sometimes happens: no one to blame, but the mischief is done all the same. I don't know why I've told you about it. Perhaps I meant to, perhaps I didn't. It seemed to come naturally enough when we were talking of the books."

He was looking mournfully at the list which Hieronymus had drawn out for him.

"I don't see that it's any use to me," he said.

He was going to screw it up and throw it into the fire, but the historian prevented him.

"Keep it," he said kindly. "You may yet want it. If I were you, I should go on patiently adding book after book, and with each book you buy, buy a little hope too. Who knows? Some day your little Joan may want you. But she will have to go out into the world first and fight her battles. She is one of those who must go out into the world and buy her experiences for herself. Those who hinder her are only hurting her. Don't try to hinder her. Let her go. Some day when she is tired she will be glad to lean on some one whom she can trust. But she must be tired first, and thus find out her necessity. And it is when we find out our necessity that our heart cries aloud. Then it is that those who love us will not fail us. They will be to us like the shadow of a great rock in a weary land."

David made no answer, but he smoothed out the crumpled piece of paper and put it carefully into his pocket.

CHAPTER X.

HIERONYMUS SPEAKS.

Hieronymus was unhappy; the exciseman might or might not be mistaken, but the fact remained that some mischief had been done, inasmuch as David Ellis' feelings were wounded. Hieronymus felt that the best thing for him to do was to go, though he quite determined to wait until he saw the hill-ponies gathered together. There was no reason why he should hasten away as though he were ashamed of himself. He knew that not one word had been spoken to Joan which he now wished to recall. His position was a delicate one. He thought seriously over the matter, and wondered how he might devise a means of telling her a little about his own life, and thus showing her, without seeming to show her, that his whole heart was filled with the memories of the past. He could not say to Joan: "My little Joan, my little secretary, they tell me that I have been making havoc with your heart. Now listen to me, child. If it is not true, then I am glad. And if it is true, I am sad; because I have been wounding you against my knowledge, and putting you through suffering which I might so easily have spared you. You will recover from the suffering; but alas! little Joan, that I should have been the one to wound you."

He could not say that to her, though he would have wished to speak some such words.

But the next morning after his conversation with David Ellis he sat in the parlor of the Green Dragon fondling the ever faithful Gamboge.

Joan Hammond looked up once or twice from her paper, wondering when the historian would begin work. He seemed to be taking a long time this morning to rouse himself to activity.

"I shall take Gamboge with me when I go," he said at last. "I've bought her for half a crown. That is a paltry sum to give for such a precious creature."

"Are you thinking of going, then?" asked Joan fearfully.

"Yes," he answered cheerily. "I must just wait to see those rascals, the hill-ponies, and then I must go back to the barbarous big world, into which you are so anxious to penetrate."

"Father has determined to sell Nance," she said sadly; "so I can't saddle the white horse and be off."

"And you are sorry to lose your old friend?" he said kindly.

"One has to give up everything," she answered.

"Not everything," Hieronymus said. "Not the nasty things, for instance--only the nice things!"

Joan laughed and dipped her pen into the ink.

"The truth of it is, I'm not in the least inclined to work this morning," said Hieronymus.

Joan waited, the pen in her hand. He had said that so many times before, and yet he had always ended by doing some work after all.

"I believe that my stern task-mistress, my dear love who died so many years ago--I believe that even she would give me a holiday to-day," Hieronymus said. "And she always claimed so much work of me; she was never satisfied. I think she considered me a lazy fellow, who needed spurring on. She had great ambitions for me; she believed everything of me, and wished me to work out her ambitions, not for the sake of the fame and the name, but for the sake of the good it does us all to grapple with ourselves."

He had drawn from his pocket a small miniature of a sweet-looking woman. It was a spiritual face, with tender eyes; a face to linger in one's memory.

"When she first died," Hieronymus continued, as though to himself, "I could not have written a line without this dear face before me. It served to remind me that although I was unhappy and lonely, I must work if only to please her. That is what I had done when she was alive, and it seemed disloyal not to do so when she was dead. And it was the only comfort I had; but a strong comfort, filling full the heart. It is ten years now since she died; but I scarcely need the miniature, the dear face is always before me. Ten years ago, and I am still alive, and sometimes, often indeed, very happy; she was always glad when I laughed cheerily, or I made some fun out of nothing. 'What a stupid boy you are!' she would say. But she laughed all the same. We were very happy together, she and I; we had loved each other a long time, in spite of many difficulties and troubles. But the troubles had cleared, and we were just going to make our little home together when she died."

There was no tremor in his voice as he spoke.

"We enjoyed everything," he went on; "every bit of fun, every bit of beauty--the mere fact of living and loving, the mere fact of the world being beautiful, the mere fact of there being so much to do and to be and to strive after. I was not very ambitious for myself. At one time I had cared greatly; then the desire had left me. But when she first came into my life, she roused me from my lethargy; she loved me, and did not wish me to pause one moment in my life's work. The old ambitions had left me, but for her sake I revived them; she was my dear good angel, but always, as I told her, a stern task-giver. Then when she was gone, and I had not her dear presence to help me, I just felt I could not go on writing any more. Then I remembered how ambitious she was for me, and so I did not wait one moment. I took up my work at once, and have tried to earn a name and a fame for her sake."

He paused and stirred the fire uneasily.

"It was very difficult at first," he continued; "everything was difficult. And even now, after ten years, it is not always easy. And I cared so little. That was the hardest part of all: to learn to care again. But the years pass, and we live through a tempest of grief, and come out into a great calm. In the tempest we fancied we were alone; in the calm we know that we have not been alone; that the dear face has been looking at us lovingly, and the dear voice speaking to us through the worst hours of the storm, and the dear soul knitting itself closer and closer to our soul."

Joan bent over the paper.

"So the days have passed into weeks and months and years," he said, "and here am I, still looking for my dear love's blessing and approval; still looking to her for guidance, to her and no one else. Others may be able to give their heart twice over, but I am not one of those. People talk of death effacing love! as though death and love could have any dealings the one with the other. They always were strangers; they always will be strangers. So year after year I mourn for her, in my own way, happily, sorrowfully, and always tenderly; sometimes with laughter, sometimes with tears. When I see all the beautiful green things of the world, and sing from very delight, I know she would be glad. When I make a good joke or turn a clever sentence, I know she would smile her praise. When I do my work well, I know she would be satisfied. And though I may fail in all I undertake, still there is the going on trying. Thus I am always a mourner, offering to her just that kind of remembrance which her dear beautiful soul would cherish most."

He was handling the little miniature.

"May I see the face?" Joan asked very gently.

He put the miniature in her hands. She looked at it, and then returned it to him, almost reverently.

"And now, little secretary," he said, in his old cheery way, "I do believe I could do some work if I tried. It's only a question of will-power. Come, dip your pen in the ink, and write as quickly as you can."

He dictated for nearly an hour, and then Joan slipped off quickly home.

Up in her little bedroom it was all in vain that she chased the tears from her face. They came again, and they came again.

"He has seen that I love him," she sobbed. "And that was his dear kind way of telling me that I was a foolish little child. Of course I was a foolish little child, but I couldn't help it! Indeed I couldn't help it. And I must go on crying. No one need know."

So she went on crying, and no one knew.

CHAPTER XI.

HIERONYMUS GOES.

They were captured, those little wretches, the hill-ponies, having been chased down from all directions, and gathered together in the enclosure set apart for their imprisonment. There they were, cribbed, cabined, and confined, some of them distressed, and all of them highly indignant at the rough treatment which they had received. This gathering together of the wild ponies occurred two or three times in the year, when the owners assembled to identify their particular herd, and to reimpress their mark on the ponies which belonged to them. It was no easy matter to drive them down from the hills; though indeed they came down willingly enough at night to seek what they might devour. Then one might hear their little feet pattering quickly over the ground, helter-skelter! The villagers were well accustomed to the sound. "It's only the hill-ponies, the rascals!" they would say. But when they were wanted, they would not come. They led the beaters a rare dance over hill and dale; but it always ended in the same way. Then, after four or five years of life on the hills, their owners sold them, and that was the end of all their fun, and all their shagginess too.

Hieronymus stood near the enclosure watching the proceedings with the greatest interest. The men were trying to divide the ponies into groups, according to the mark on their backs. But this was no easy matter either; the little creatures kicked and threw themselves about in every direction but the right one, and they were so strong that their struggles were generally successful. The sympathies of Hieronymus went with the rebels, and he was much distressed when he saw three men hanging on to the tail of one of the ponies, and trying to keep him back from another group.

"I say, you there!" he cried, waving his stick. "I can't stand that."

Mrs. Benbow, who was standing near him, laughed, and called him to order.

"Now don't you be meddling with what you don't understand," she said. "You may know a good deal about books, but it's not much you'll know about hill-ponies."

"That's quite true," said Hieronymus humbly.

"Come along with me now," commanded Mrs. Benbow, "and help me buy a red pig!"

Nothing but a red pig would have made Hieronymus desert the hill-ponies. A red pig was of course irresistible to any one in his senses; and the historian followed contentedly after the landlady of the Green Dragon. She made her way among the crowds of people who had come to this great horse-fair, which was the most important one of the whole year. Hieronymus was much interested in every one and everything he saw; he looked at the horses, and sheep, and cows, and exchanged conversation with any one who would talk to him.

"There's a deal of money will change hands to-day," said a jolly old farmer to him. "But prices be dreadful low this year. Why, the pigs be going for a mere nothing."

"I'm going to buy a pig," Hieronymus said proudly, "a red one."

"Ah," said the farmer, looking at him with a sort of indulgent disdain, "it's a breed as I care nothing about."

Then he turned to one of his colleagues, evidently considering Hieronymus rather a feeble kind of individual, with whom it was not profitable to talk.

The historian was depressed for the moment, but soon recovered his spirits when he saw the fascinating red pigs. And his pride and conceit knew no bounds when Mrs. Benbow actually chose and bought the very animal which he had recommended to her notice. He saw David Ellis, and went to tell him about the pig. The exciseman laughed, and then looked sad again.

"My little Joan is very unhappy," he said, half in a whisper. "The old white horse is to be sold. Do you see her there yonder? How I wish I could buy the old mare and give her to Joan!"

"That would be a very unwise thing for you to do," said Hieronymus.

"Yes," said David. "And do you know, I've been thinking of what you said about her going out into the world. And I found this advertisement. Shall I give it to her?"

Hieronymus looked at it.

"You're a dear fellow, David," he said warmly. "Yes, give it to her. And I too have been thinking of what you said to me. I've told her a little of my story, and she knows now how my heart is altogether taken up with my past. So, if I've done any harm to her and you, I have tried to set it right. And to-morrow I am going home. You will see me off at the station?"

"I'll be there," said the exciseman.

But there was no sign in his manner that he wished to be rid of Hieronymus. The historian, who all unconsciously won people's hearts, all unconsciously kept them too. Even Auntie Lloyd, to whom he had been presented, owned that he "had a way" about him. (But then he had asked after her sciatica!) He spoke a few words to Joan, who stood lingering near the old white mare. She had been a little shy of him since he had talked so openly to her; and he had noticed this, and used all his geniality to set her at her ease again.

"This is my last afternoon," he said to her, "and I have crowned the achievements of my visit here by choosing a red pig. Now I'm going back to the big barbarous world to boast of my new acquirements--brewing beer, eating pastry, drinking beef-tea, cutting up the beans, making onion pickles, and other odd jobs assigned to me by Queen Elizabeth of the Green Dragon. Here she comes to fetch me, for we are going to drive the red pig home in the cart. Then I'm to have some tea with rum in it, and some of those horrible Shropshire crumpets. Then if I'm alive after the crumpets and the rum, there will be a few more odd jobs for me to do, and then to-morrow I go. As for yourself, little secretary, you are going to put courage into your heart, and fight your battles well. Tell me?"

"Yes," she said; and she looked up brightly, though there were tears in her eyes.

"Do you know those words, 'Hitch your wagon to a star?'" he said. "Emerson was right. The wagon spins along merrily then. And now good-bye, little secretary. You must come and see me off at the station to-morrow. I want all my friends around me."

So on the morrow they gathered round him, Mr. Benbow, Mrs. Benbow, two of the Malt-House Farm boys, the old woman who kept the grocer's shop, and who had been doing a good trade in sweetmeats since Hieronymus came, the exciseman, and Joan Hammond, and old John of the wooden leg. They were all there, sorrowful to part with him, glad to have known him.

"If you would only stay," said Mrs. Benbow; "there are so many odd jobs for you to do!"

"No, I must go," said the historian. "There is an end to everything, excepting to your beef-tea. But I've been very happy."

His luggage had increased since he came to Little Stretton. He had arrived with a small portmanteau; he went away with the same portmanteau, an oak chair which Mr. Benbow had given him, and a small hamper containing Gamboge.

"Take care how you carry that hamper," he said to the porter. "There is a dog inside undergoing a cat incarnation!"

To Joan he said: "Little secretary, answer the advertisement and go out into the world."

And she promised.

And to David he said: "When you've finished that book-list write to me for another one."

And he promised.

Then the train moved off, and the dear kind face was out of sight.

*      *      *      *      *

Mrs. Benbow went home to do the scouring and cleaning.

David rode off to Ludlow and bought a book.

Joan sat in her room at the Malt-House Farm, and cried her heart out. Then she looked at the advertisement and answered it. "It was kind of David," she said.

*      *      *      *      *

So Joan went out into the world.

*      *      *      *      *

The weeks, the months, seem long without her. He buys his books, and with every new book he buys new comfort. He recalls the historian's words: "Some day, when she is tired, she will be glad to lean on some one whom she can trust."

So David waits.

THE END.