WHEN Stephen Kennedy heard that Eppy had gone back to her grandparents, a faint hope revived in his bosom; he knew nothing of the late passage between the two parties. He but knew that she was looking sad: she might perhaps allow him to be of some service to her! Separation had fostered more and more gentle thoughts of her in his heart; he was ready to forgive her everything, and believe nothing serious against her, if only she would let him love her again. Modesty had hitherto kept him from throwing himself in her way, but he now haunted the house in the hope of catching a glimpse of her, and when she began to go again into the town, saw her repeatedly, following her to be near her, but taking care she should not see him: partly from her self-absorption he had succeeded in escaping her notice.
At length, however, one night, he tried to summon up courage to accost her. It was a lovely, moonlit night, half the street black with quaint shadows, the other half shining like sand in the yellow light. On the moony side people standing at their doors could recognize each other two houses away, but on the other, friends might pass without greeting. Eppy had gone into the baker's; Kennedy had seen her go in, and stood in the shadow, waiting, all but determined to speak to her. She staid a good while, but one accustomed to wait for fish learns patience. At length she appeared. By this time, however, though not his patience, Kennedy's courage had nearly evaporated; and when he saw her he stepped under an archway, let her pass, and followed afresh. All at once resolve, which yet was no resolve, awoke in him. It was as if some one took him and set him before her. She started when he stepped in front, and gave a little cry.
|Dinna be feart, Eppy,| he said; |I wudna hurt a hair o' yer heid. I wud raither be skinned mysel'!|
|Gang awa,| said Eppy. |Ye hae no richt to stan' i' my gait!|
|Nane but the richt o' lo'ein' ye better nor ever!| said Kennedy, | -- gien sae be as ye'll lat me ony gait shaw 't!|
The words softened her; she had dreaded reproach, if not indignant remonstrance. She began to cry.
|Gien onything i' my pooer wud mak the grief lichter upo' ye, Eppy,| he said, |ye hae but to name 't! I'm no gauin' to ask ye to merry me, for that I ken ye dinna care aboot; but gien I micht be luikit upon as a freen', if no to you, yet to yours -- alloot onyw'y to help i' yer trible, I mean, I'm ready to lay me i' the dirt afore ye. I hae nae care for mysel' ony mair, an' maun do something for somebody -- an' wha sae soon as yersel', Eppy!|
For sole answer, Eppy went on crying. She was far from happy. She had nearly persuaded herself that all was over between her and lord Forgue, and almost she could, but for shame, have allowed Kennedy to comfort her as an old friend. Everything in her mind was so confused, and everything around her so miserable, that she could but cry. She continued crying, and as they were in a walled lane into which no windows looked, Kennedy, in the simplicity of his heart, and the desire to comfort her who little from him deserved comfort, came up to her, and putting his arm round her, said again,
|Dinna be feart of me, Eppy. I'm a man ower sair-hertit to do ye ony hurt. It's no as thinkin' ye my ain, Eppy, I wud preshume to du onything for ye, but as an auld freen', fain to tak the dog aff o' ye. Are ye in want o' onything? Ye maun hae a heap o' trible, I weel ken, wi' yer gran'father's mischance, an' it's easy to un'erstan' 'at things may well be turnin' scarce aboot ye; but be sure o' this, that as lang's my mither has onything, she'll be blyth to share the same wi' you an' yours.|
He said his mother, but she had nothing save what he provided her with.
|I thank ye, Stephen,| said Eppy, touched with his goodness; |but there's nae necessity; we hae plenty.|
She moved on, her apron still to her eyes. Kennedy followed her.
|Gien the yoong lord hae wranged ye ony gait,| he said from behind her, |an' gien there be ony amen's ye wad hae o' him, -- |
She turned with a quickness that was fierce, and in the dim light Kennedy saw her eyes blazing.
|I want naething frae your han', Stephen Kennedy,| she said. |My lord's naething to you -- nor yet muckle to me!| she added, with sudden reaction and an outburst of self-pity, and again fell a weeping -- and sobbing now.
With the timidity of a strong man before the girl he loves and therefore fears, Kennedy once more tried to comfort her, wiping her eyes with her apron. While he did so, a man, turning a corner quickly, came almost upon them. He started back, then came nearer, looked hard at them, and spoke. It was lord Forgue.
|Eppy!| he exclaimed, in a tone in which indignation blended with surprise.
Eppy gave a cry, and ran to him. He pushed her away.
|My lord,| said Kennedy, |the lass will nane o' me or mine. I sair doobt there's nane but yersel' can please her. But I sweir by God, my lord, gien ye du her ony wrang, I'll no rest, nicht nor day, till I hae made ye repent it.|
|Go to the devil!| said Forgue; |there's an old crow, I suspect, yet to pluck between us! For me you may take her, though. I don't go halves.|
Eppy laid her hand timidly on his arm, but again he pushed her away.
|Oh, my lord!| she sobbed, and could say no more for weeping.
|How is it I find you here with this man?| he asked. |I don't want to be unfair to you, but it looks rather bad!|
|My lord,| said Kennedy.
|Hold your tongue; let her speak for herself.|
|I had no tryst wi' him, my lord! I never said come nigh me,| sobbed Eppy. | -- Ye see what ye hae dune!| she cried, turning in anger on Kennedy, and her tears suddenly ceasing. |Never but ill hae ye brocht me! What business had ye to come efter me this gait, makin' mischief 'atween my lord an' me? Can a body no set fut ayont the door-sill, but they maun be followt o' them they wud see far eneuch!|
Kennedy turned and went, and Eppy with a fresh burst of tears turned to go also. But she had satisfied Forgue that there was nothing between them, and he was soon more successful than Kennedy in consoling her.
While absent he had been able enough to get on without her, but no sooner was he home than, in the weary lack of interest, the feelings which, half lamenting, half rejoicing, he had imagined extinct, began to revive, and he went to the town vaguely hoping to get a sight of Eppy. Coming upon her tête à tête with her old lover, first a sense of unpardonable injury possessed him, and next the conviction that he was as madly in love with her as ever. The tide of old tenderness came throbbing and streaming back over the ghastly sands of jealousy, and ere they parted he had made with her an appointment to meet the next night in a more suitable spot.
Donal was seated by Andrew's bedside reading: he had now the opportunity of bringing many things before him such as the old man did not know to exist. Those last days of sickness and weakness were among the most blessed of his life; much that could not be done for many a good man with ten times his education, could be done for a man like Andrew Comin.
Eppy had done her best to remove all traces of emotion ere she re-entered the house; but she could not help the shining of her eyes: the joy-lamp relighted in her bosom shone through them: and Andrew looking up when she entered, Donal, seated with his back to her, at once knew her secret: her grandfather read it from her face, and Donal read it from his.
|She has seen Forgue!| he said to himself. |I hope the old man will die soon.|