Chapter XXVIII.
 

David had one advantage over others that were now hunting Lucy. Mrs. Wilson had unwittingly given him pretty plain directions how to find her farmhouse; and as Eve, in the exercise of her discretion, or indiscretion, had shown David Lucy's letter, he had only to ride to Harrowden and inquire. But, on the other hand, his competitors were a few miles nearer the game, and had a day's start.

David got a horse and galloped to Harrowden, fed him at the inn, and asked where Mrs. Wilson's farm was. The waiter, a female, did not know, but would inquire. Meantime David asked for two sheets of paper, and wrote a few lines on each; then folded them both (in those days envelopes were not), but did not seal them. Mrs. Wilson's farm turned out to be only two miles from Harrowden, and the road easy to find. He was soon there; gave his horse to one of the farm-boys, and went into the kitchen and asked if Miss Fountain lived there. This question threw him into the hands of Jenny, who invited him to follow her, and, unlike your powdered and noiseless lackey, pounded the door with her fist, kicked it open with her foot, and announced him with that thunderbolt of language which fell so inopportunely on Lucy's self-congratulations.

The look Mrs. Wilson cast on Lucy was droll enough; but when David's square shoulders and handsome face filled up the doorway, a second look followed that spoke folios.

Lucy rose, and with heightened color, but admirable self-possession, welcomed David like a valued friend.

Mrs. Wilson's greeting was broad and hearty; and, very soon after she had made him sit down, she bounced up, crying: "You will stay dinner now you be come, and I must see as they don't starve you." So saying, out she went; but, looking back at the door, was transfixed by an arrow of reproach from her nursling's eye.

Lucy's reception of David, kind as it was, was not encouraging to one coming on David's errand, for there was the wrong shade of amity in it.

In times past it would have cooled David with misgivings, but now he did not give himself time to be discouraged; he came to make a last desperate effort, and he made it at once.

"Miss Lucy, I have got the Rajah, thanks to you."

"Thanks to me, Mr. Dodd? Thanks to your own high character and merit."

"No, Miss Lucy, you know better, and I know better, and there is your own sweet handwriting to prove it."

"Miss Dodd has showed you my letter?"

"How could she help it?"

"What a pity! how injudicious!"

"The truth is like the light; why keep it out? Yes; what I have worked for, and battled the weather so many years, and been sober and prudent, and a hard student at every idle hour--that has come to me in one moment from your dear hand."

"It is a shame."

"Bless you, Miss Lucy," cried David, not noting the remark.

Lucy blushed, and the water stood in her eyes. She murmured softly: "You should not say Miss Lucy; it is not customary. You should say Lucy, or Miss Fountain."

This apropos remark by way of a female diversion.

"Then let me say Lucy to-day, for perhaps I shall never say that, or anything that is sweet to say again. Lucy, you know what I came for?"

"Oh, yes, to receive my congratulations."

"More than that, a great deal--to ask you to go halves in the Rajah."

Lucy's eyebrows demanded an explanation.

"She is worth two thousand a year to her commander; and that is too much for a bachelor."

Lucy colored and smiled. "Why, it is only just enough for bachelors to live upon."

"It is too much for me alone under the circumstances," said David, gravely; and there was a little silence.

"Lucy, I love you. With you the Rajah would be a godsend. She will help me keep you in the company you have been used to, and were made to brighten and adorn; but. without you I cannot take her from your hand, and, to speak plain, I won't."

"Oh, Mr. Dodd!"

"No, Lucy; before I knew you, to command a ship was the height of my ambition--her quarter-deck my Heaven on earth; and this is a clipper, I own it; I saw her in the docks. But you have taught me to look higher. Share my ship and my heart with me, and certainly the ship will be my child, and all the dearer to me that she came to us from her I love. But don't say to me, 'Me you shan't have; you are not good enough for that; but there is a ship for you in my place.' I wouldn't accept a star out of the firmament on those terms."

"How unreasonable! On the contrary you should say, 'I am doubly fortunate: I escape a foolish, weak companion for life, and I have a beautiful ship.' But friendship such as mine for you was never appreciated; I do you injustice; you only talk like that to tease me and make me unhappy."

"Oh, Lucy, Lucy, did you ever know me--"

"There, now, forgive me; and own you are not in earnest."

"This will show you," said David, sadly; and he took out two letters from his bosom. "Here are two letters to the secretary. In one I accept the ship with thanks, and offer to superintend her when her rigging is being set up; and in this one I decline her altogether, with my humble and sincere thanks."

"Oh yes, you are very humble, sir," said Lucy. "Now--dear friend--listen to reason. You have others--"

"Excuse my interrupting you, but it is a rule with me never to reason about right and wrong; I notice that whoever does that ends by choosing wrong. I don't go to my head to find out my duty, I go to my heart; and what little manhood there is in me all cries out against me compounding with the woman I love, and taking a ship instead of her."

"How unkind you are! It is not as if I was under no obligations to you. Is not my life worth a ship? an angel like me?"

"I can't see it so. It was a greater pleasure to me to save your life, as you call it, than it could be to you. I can't let that into the account. A woman is a woman, but a man is a man; and I will be under no obligation to you but one."

"What arrogance!"

"Don't you be angry; I'll love you and bless you all the same. But I am a man, and a man I'll die, whether I die captain of a ship or of a foretop. Poor Eve!"

"See how power tries people, and brings out their true character. Since you commanded the Rajah you are all changed. You used to be submissive; now you must have your own way entirely. You will fling my poor ship in my face unless I give you--but this is really using force--yes, Mr. Dodd, this is using force. Somebody has told you that my sex yield when downright compulsion is used. It is true; and the more ungenerous to apply it;" and she melted into a few placid tears.

David did not know this sign of yielding in a woman, and he groaned at the sight and hung his head.

"Advise me what I had better do."

To this singular proposal, David, listening to the ill advice of the fiend Generosity, groaned out, "Why should you be tormented and made cry?"

"Why indeed?"

"Nothing can change me; I advise you to cut it short."

"Oh, do you? very well. Why did you say 'poor Eve'?"

"Ah, poor thing! she cried for joy when she read your letter, but when I go back she will cry for grief;" and his voice faltered.

"I will cut this short, Mr. Dodd; give me that paper."

"Which?"

"The wicked one, where you refuse my Rajah."

David hesitated.

"You are no gentleman, sir, if you refuse a lady. Give it me this instant," cried Lucy, so haughtily and imperiously that David did not know her, and gave her the letter with a half-cowed air.

She took it, and with both her supple white hands tore it with insulting precision exactly in half. "There, sir and there, sir" (exactly in four); "and there" (in eight, with malicious. exactness); "and there"; and, though it seemed impossible to effect another separation, yet the taper fingers and a resolute will reduced it to tiny bits. She then made a gesture to throw them in the fire, but thought better of it and held them.

David looked on, almost amused at this zealous demolition of a thing he could so easily replace. He said, part sadly, part doggedly, part apologetically, "I can write another."

"But you will not. Oh, Mr. Dodd, don't you see?!"

He looked up at her eagerly. To his surprise, her haughty eagle look had gone, and she seemed a pitying goddess, all tenderness and benignity; only her mantling, burning cheek showed her to be woman.

She faltered, in answer to his wild, eager look. "Was I ever so rude before? What right have I to tear your letter unless I--"

The characteristic full stop, and, above all, the heaving bosom, the melting eye, and the red cheek, were enough even for poor simple David. Heaven seemed to open on him. His burning kisses fell on the sweet hands that had torn his death-warrant. No resistance. She blushed higher, but smiled. His powerful arm curled round her. She looked a little scared, but not much. He kissed her sweet cheek: the blush spread to her very forehead at that, but no resistance. As the winged and rapid bird, if her feathers be but touched with a speck of bird-lime, loses all power of flight, so it seemed as if that one kiss, the first a stranger had ever pressed on Lucy's virgin cheek, paralyzed her eel-like and evasive powers; under it her whole supple frame seemed to yield as David drew her closer and closer to him, till she hid her forehead and wet eyelashes on his shoulder, and murmured:

"How could I let you be unhappy?!"

Neither spoke for a while. Each felt the other's heart beat; and David drank that ecstasy of silent, delirious bliss which comes to great hearts once in a life.

Had he not earned it?