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“Death ain't no subject for cuttin' jokes upon,” said Mrs. Tucker, supplying a rebuke for lack of a retort ; " and as there'll be friends present, I do hope you'll be a little becomin' in your talk, Joan, on a Sabbath day of all others.” Then, without giving Joan time to reply, she began inquiring about Uncle Zebedee and Adam, and how long they were likely to be absent. “And what do ye think o'your cousin, Eve ?” she asked. “I have seen so little of him," said Eve, evasively.
Why, they only come home, as you may say, to go away agen,' explained Joan. “Eve didn't see nothin' of Adam but the one evenin'."
Mrs. Tucker sighed.
“Ah!” she said, “I saw the sodgers go past, and come back again.'
Iss; no wiser than they was afore, though,” laughed Joan. "Don't laugh, Joan,” said her mother.
“Why, you wouldn't have me cry 'cos they was balked, would 'ee?"
“They won't allus be balked," said Mrs. Tucker; “luck don't last for ever, and the sins of the father often falls heavy on the childern."
“Oh, well,” retorted Joan, "if Adam's back ain't bowed down with nothin' heavier than the sins uncle'll lay 'pon it, he'll walk upright to the end of his days. But there, mother,” she added, catching sight of Eve's face," don't let's begin a cavil—that ain't becomin' o' Sundays, nor no other days; and Eve, here, 's bin lookin' forward to spend the day with 'ee, 'cos her's bin allays used to quiet Sundays."
This discernment on the part of Eve as to the visible difference between the two households, diverted Mrs. Tucker from her dismal forebodings into questioning her guest on the usual habits of herself and her mother, until the arrival of Mr. and Mrs. Blamey engrossed her attention, and Eve and Joan were left to their own devices. Too thorough a housekeeper to allow her mind to wander from the dinner, which, having provided, she wished to see appreciated, Mrs. Tucker's next efforts were centred on helping the dishes to the best advantage, and proportioning the supply to each person's requirements; a task so onerous that, the meal over, she was not sorry to be left quietly alone with her elderly friends, and therefore raised no objection to her stepson Sammy accompanying Joan and Eve into the orchard, where he was directed to find a sheltered spot, that they might sit down and enjoy the apples which lay in yellow heaps under most of the trees. The two girls occupied the gnarled root of a withered trunk, while Sammy, having ascertained that the grass was too “ vady" for
him to sit down upon, took up his position at the nearest tree which he leaned against, chewing the end of a flower-stalk, and casting looks of sidelong admiration at Joan.
“Here, where's your knife to?” exclaimed Joan, stretching out her hand for a fresh apple which she selected with particular care ; “I wants to skin one. Did 'ee ever try that, Eve?"
“ Try what,” said Eve, recalling her drowsy attention.
Why, to skin a apple without a-breakin' it, and throw the peelin' over yer shoulder to see what letter it makes ? I'm goin' to do this wan;" and she began to carefully set about the task. “ Whatever letter comes is the first letter o' your sweetheart's name. There," she exclaimed, giving the requisite twirl before jerking the apple peel over her shoulder. “Look. Eve, what is it, eh ? "
Well, I can hardly tell,” said Eve ; "’tis something like a C, and yet it's like a Q."
“I knaws, 'tis a S,” and Sammy directed an unmistakable leer towards Joan.
"A S spells Ass,” said Joan, snappishly. “Naw, it doan't,” sniggered Sammy; " 't wants another S for he.”
"Well, then, you go and stand there,” said Joan, “then 't will be all complete, word and picter too. Here, I'm full,” she added throwing away the apple in disgust. “Now what else could we do? Ain't there no place else for us to go to, eh, stupid ?”
“There's the mill,” suggested Sammy,“ but he ain't a doin' nothin',
“Niver mind, for want o' better let's have a look at 'un. Have ee ever seen the inside of a mill, Eve?”
Eve never had, and, though perfectly ignorant of what she was to see, expressed her desire of seeing it; and up they got, Joan leading them by a way that should avoid Mrs. Tucker interposing her dictum against such an adventure. A gap in the orchard hedge brought them to a field of rank grass, at the far end of which was the stream which ran down to the mill-wheel, where Eve was for stopping to gaze at the fringe of maiden-hair and the great clumps of hart'stongue which peeped out amid the blackness of the crevices. The clumsy key, red with rust, hung on a nail outside the small door, which, for the greater convenience of dropping down the sacks, had a sliding shuttered entrance. Sammy took down the key, and then deliberately took off his coat and waistcoat and hung them on the nail.
“Why, what do you do that for ? " said Eve.
“ 'Cos of the flour,” said Joan, an apprehension creeping over her that she had made rather a foolish proposal. However, as they had got so far they might as well go on; but as a precaution she added, “ Best take your gown up around 'ee, Eve. I shall put mine over my head," and she suited the action to her words.
Seeing them thus prepared, Sammy opened the door—whish-h-h! --and up rose a cloud of flour-dust.
They's rats, I reckon,” he said, leading the way into an all but dark space, with nothing visible except white sacks and barrels.
“Oh! I hope there ain't any rats here now,” exclaimed Eve; "I can't bear rats.”
“Can't 'ee ? ” said Sammy, with some surprise. "Us caught five and-twenty here last week, and they's nothin' to what there's up aloft.”
“ Then I shan't go there,” said Eve, preparing to beat a retreat. “ Joan!” But Joan, who was already half-way up the ladder which opened into the upper story, called out:
“Nonsense, Eve! don't pay no heed to what he says. Come along with me.”
“Wan at a time,” interposed Sammy, "'cos Bill Wyatt's a put his—” but before Sammy could get out the word “foot,” a cloud of dust was thrown into the air, and the heels of two shoes were sticking through the ladder. Eve gave a scream, Sammy sprang forward, but too late. Joan, not having been warned in time, had missed her footing on the broken rung of the ladder, and being encumbered by the careful enveloping of her gown, had tumbled headlong into a cask of flour. To recover her was the work of a minute, and before the cloud had time to disperse or Eve could advance near enough to offer her assistance, Joan, only waiting to give herself a hasty shake, had attacked the unlucky Sammy like a fury, nor did she stop until forced to do so by want of breath ; then, as if this explosion of her temper had expended her wrath, she burst into a fit of laughter exclaiming :
“ I say, what do I look like? whatever will mother say? No, my dear sawl, don't 'ee, for goodness sake, come anighst me; 'tis enough for one of us to look like a flour-bag."
“Oh, Joan, you ain't hurt?" said Eve.
“Lord, no, I ain't hurt; but I've a made that great lutterputch feel the weight o' me hand, though. Don't you come a near me," she called out to Sammy, who stood beating his arms together in his vain endeavour to free himself from the flour, “or I won't leave a whole bone in yer ugly body.”
“What had we best do?” said Eve. “You're covered all over; your hair's as full of flour as if 'twas powdered.”
"I can't tell what to do,” said Joan, hopelessly ; "I shouldn't mind if 'twasn't for mother, but there'll be no stoppin' of her. Here. I'll tell 'ee what 'tis," she exclaimed, with sudden inspiration : "I must make out that I'm ahurt somewheres in my insides, and every time she opens her mouth to spake, I'll raise a groan. Here!” she called out to Sammy. “You be off in, and tell mother I've afalled down in the mill-house, and you think I'm hurt terrible bad.”
Sam hesitated for a moment, but a movement forward from Joan sent him away like a rocket, and before Eve could suggest any more truthful evasion by which Mrs. Tucker’s anger could be averted, to their dismay she was seen running towards them, with Mr. and Mrs. Blamey following in the rear. “So well be killed for a sheep as a lamb,” said Joan, with a doleful look at the sorry plight of her smart dress; so down she flopped on the stones, by which mancuvre Mrs. Tucker's first view of her was half-lying on the ground, with her face as white as her own kerchief.
Now Sammy-wise in his generation—had merely popped his head in at the door and curtailed his announcement into: “Joan's down by the mill: her's hurt herself terrible bad ;” and by the time Mrs. Tucker had got to the door, Sam had disappeared, leaving her fears to increase with each step she took, until at the sight of Joan pale and prostrate they culminated in an outburst of motherly tenderness which made her rush forward, throw her arms round her daughter, and exclaim :
“Awh, my dear! whatever have 'ee done to yourself?” and when a minute after Joan extricated herself from the embrace, it was to see the tears trickling down her mother's face.
“Mother, don't 'ee; I ain't hurt a bit,” cried Joan. “I would go into the mill, and I fell smack through the ladder into a cask of flour. Iss, you may scold now so much as you will, I don't care a bit; for I wouldn't ha' believed afore you cared half so much for me.”
Mrs. Tucker turned to Eve, who tried to give some further explanation; then she asked Joan again if she was sure she hadn't hurt herself anywhere, and finally suggested they should go in and see if they couldn't rid her of the flour; but in all this she gave her daughter no word of reproach.
“Whatever shall I do about goin' to chapel ? ” said Joan, as the clock warned them it was time to get ready. “I've brushed till my arms ache, but my things is still like a millard's.”
“I'll stay home with you,” said Eve.
“Will 'ee ? that's a dear; and,” she added, with a propitiatory look towards her mother, “us'll have down the big Bible and read chapters verse by verse.
“ 'Tis very good of you to offer, Eve,” said Mrs. Tucker, “but I've bin to a place o' worship once to-day, and you haven't, so I'll stop with Joan, and you go off to chapel with Mrs. Blamey.” And so the matter was settled, and as Joan said when they finally returned home : “There's what
do think and what you don't think, for if anybody ’ed a told me that 'stead o' showin' off to chapel, I should ha' sat at home quiet with mother, I wouldn't ha' believed it."
“And she seemed to have enjoyed the evening,” said Eve.
“Awh, well! I don't know about that,” replied Joan, doubtingly. “I daresay her wished herself to chapel, but I didn't; for mother's a bootiful reader, and the Bible's a wonderful book.”
The next week passed away and another was nearly at its close, and yet Joan and Eve remained alone---no tidings had come of the Lottery. Joan was not in the least uneasy, yet she kept wondering what could be the reason of their unexplained delay, until, having come to the end of all other conjectures, she finally settled down to the belief that they must have given up the Indiaman, and gone across to Guernsey. However, one afternoon, as the two girls were discussing the advisability of accepting an invitation from Ann Lisbeth to join her and her cousin Jessie, the door opened, and in walked Adam.
“Ah," he said, in answer to the visible surprise his sudden appearance had created, “I thought I should catch you napping. You didn't expect to see me, did you ?”
“No, indeed we didn't,” said Joan, who had jumped up and ran forward to meet him ; " but I'm so glad you'm come, Adam! Why, where's uncle? Wherever have 'ee bin to all this long whiles? I thought you was never comin' back no more. Why, however could the boat have come in, and me not to know it?” “ There isn't any boat in yet,” said Adam.
What, uncle not come ?” “No; he won't be here till to-morrow, or perhaps next day. A pilot boat landed me at Plymouth, then I rode so far as Looe, and walked the rest."
During this speech Adam had advanced towards Eve, had taken her hand, and, to her annoyance, while he was speaking still kept hold of it; after one ineffectual effort at withdrawal, she let it remain passive, until, having finished what he was saying to Joan, he turned, and for the first time looking fixedly at her, said:
“Well, cousin Eve?"
* Yes, but I do,” said Adam, tightening his hold of her hand. “ Now, look up at me and say, ' Adam, I'm glad you've come back.”