The Ship of Stars/Chapter 16
LIZZIE AND HONORIA
His apprenticeship lasted a year and six months, and all this while he lived with the Jolls, walking home every Sunday morning and returning every Sunday night, rain or shine. He carried his deftness of hand into his new trade, and it was Mendarva who begged and obtained an extension of the time agreed on, "Rather than lose the boy I'll tache en for love." So Taffy stayed on for another six months.
He was now in his seventeenth year—a boy no longer. One evening, as he blew up his smithy fire, the glow of it fell on the form of a woman standing just outside the window and watching him. He had no silly fears of ghosts: but the thought of the buried woman flashed across his mind and he dropped his pincers with a clatter.
"’Tis only me," said the woman. "You needn't to be afeard." And he saw it was the girl Lizzie.
She stepped inside the forge and seated herself on the Dane's anvil.
"I was walking back from prayer-meeting," she said. "’Tis nigher this way, but I don't ever dare to come. Might, I dessay, if I'd somebody to see me home."
"Ghosts?" asked Taffy, picking up the pincers and thrusting the bar back into the hot cinders.
"I dunno: I gets frightened o' the very shadows on the road sometimes. I suppose, now, you never walks out that way?"
"Why, towards where your home is. That's the way I comes."
"No, I don't." Taffy blew at the cinders until they glowed again. "It's only on Sundays I go over there."
"That's a pity," said Lizzie candidly. "I'm kept in, Sunday evenings, to look after the children while farmer and mis'ess goes to Chapel. That's the agreement I came 'pon."
"It would be nice now, wouldn't it——" She broke off, clasping her knees and staring at the blaze.
"What would be nice?"
Lizzie laughed confusedly. "Aw, you make me say't. I can't abear any of the young men up to the Chapel. If me and you——"
Taffy ceased blowing. The fire died down, and in the darkness he could hear her breathing hard.
"They're so rough," she went on, "and t'other night I met young Squire Vyell riding along the road, and he stopped me and wanted to kiss me."
"George Vyell? Surely he didn't?" Taffy blew up the fire again.
"Iss he did. I don't see why not, neither."
"Why he shouldn't kiss you?"
"Why he shouldn't want to."
Taffy frowned, carried the white hot bar to his anvil, and began to hammer. He despised girls, as a rule, and their ways. Decidedly Lizzie annoyed him; and yet as he worked he could not help glancing at her now and then, as she sat and watched him. By-and-by he saw that her eyes were full of tears.
"What's the matter?" he asked abruptly.
"I—I can't walk home alone. I'm afeard!"
He tossed his hammer aside, raked out the fire, and reached his coat off its peg. As he swung round in the darkness to put it on, he blundered against Lizzie or Lizzie blundered against him. She clutched at him nervously.
"Clumsy! can't you see the doorway?"
She passed out, and he followed and locked the door. As they crossed the turf to the high-road, she slipped her arm into his. "I feel safe, that way. Let it stay, co!" After a few paces, she added, "You're different from the others—that's why I like you."
"I dunno; but you be diff'rent. You don't think about girls, for one thing."
Taffy did not answer. He felt angry, ashamed, uncomfortable. He did not turn once to look at her face, dimly visible by the light of the young moon—the hunter's moon—now sinking over the slope of the hill. Thick dust—too thick for the heavy dew to lay—covered the cart-track down to the farm, muffling their footsteps. Lizzie paused by the gate.
"Best go in separate," she said; paused again and whispered, "You may if you like."
"May do what?"
"What—what young Squire Vyell wanted."
They were face to face now. She held up her lips, and as she did so they parted in an amorous little laugh. The moonlight was on her face. Taffy bent swiftly and kissed her.
"Oh, you hurt!" With another little laugh she slipped up the garden path and into the house.
Ten minutes later Taffy followed, hating himself.
For the next fortnight he avoided her; and then, late one evening she came again. He was prepared for this, and had locked the door of the smithy and let down the shutter while, he worked. She tapped upon the outside of the shutter with her knuckles.
"Let me in!"
"Can't you leave me alone?" he answered pettishly. "I want to work, and you interrupt."
"I don't want no love-making—I don't indeed. I'll sit quiet as a mouse. But I'm afeard, out here."
"I'm afeard o' the ghost. There's something comin'—let me in, co-o!"
Taffy unlocked the door and held it half opened while he listened.
"Yes, there's somebody coming, on horseback. Now, look here—it's no ghost, and I can't have you about here with people passing. I—I don't want you here at all; so make haste and slip away home, that's a good girl."
Lizzie glided like a shadow into the dark lane as the trample of hoofs drew close, and the rider pulled up beside the door.
"You're working late, I see. Is it too late to make a shoe for Aide-de-camp here?"
It was Honoria. She dismounted and stood at the doorway, holding her horse's bridle.
"No," said Taffy: "that is, if you don't mind the waiting."
With his leathern apron he wiped the Dane's anvil for a seat, while she hitched up Aide-de-camp and stepped into the glow of the forge-fire.
"The hounds took us three miles beyond Carwithiel: and there, just as they lost, Aide-de-camp cast his off-hind shoe. I didn't find it out at first, and now I've had to walk him all the way back. Are you alone here?"
"Who was that I saw leaving as I came up?"
"You saw someone?"
"Yes." She nodded, looking him straight in the face. "It looked like a woman. Who was she?"
"That was Lizzie Pezzack, the girl who sold you her doll, once. She's a servant down at the farm where I lodge."
Honoria said no more for the moment, but seated herself on the Dane's anvil, while Taffy chose a bar of iron and stepped out to examine Aide-de-camp's hoof. He returned and in silence began to blow up the fire.
"I dare say you were astonished to see me," she remarked at length.
"I'm still forbidden to speak to you. The last time I did it, grandfather beat me."
"The old brute!" Taffy nipped the hot iron savagely in his pincers.
"I wonder if he'll do it again. Somehow I don't think he will."
Taffy looked at her. She had drawn herself up, and was smiling. In her close-fitting habit she seemed very slight, yet tall, and a woman grown. He took the bar to the anvil and began to beat it flat. His teeth were shut, and with every blow he said to himself "Brute!"
"That's beautiful," Honoria went on. "I stopped Mendarva the other day, and he told me wonders about you. He says he tried you with a hard-boiled egg, and you swung the hammer and chipped the shell all round without bruising the white a bit. Is that true?"
"And your learning—the Latin and Greek, I mean; do you still go on with it?"
He nodded again, towards a volume of Euripides that lay open on the workbench.
"And the stories you used to tell George and me; do you go on telling them to yourself?"
He was obliged to confess that he never did. She sat for a while watching the sparks as they flew. Then she said, "I should like to hear you tell one again. That one about Aslog and Orm, who ran away by night across the ice-fields and took a boat and came to an island with a house on it, and found a table spread and the fire lit, but no inhabitants anywhere—You remember? It began 'Once upon a time, not far from the city of Drontheim, there lived a rich man——'"
Taffy considered a moment and began "Once upon a time, not far from the city of Drontheim—" He paused, eyed the horse-shoe cooling between the pincers, and shook his head. It was no use. Apollo had been too long in service with Admetus, and the tale would not come.
"At any rate," Honoria persisted, "you can tell me something out of your books: something you have just been reading."
So he began to tell her the story of Ion, and managed well enough in describing the boy and how he ministered before the shrine at Delphi, sweeping the temple and scaring the birds away from the precincts: but when he came to the plot of the play and, looking up, caught Honoria's eyes, it suddenly occurred to him that all the rest of the story was a sensual one, and he could not tell it to her. He blushed, faltered, and finally broke down.
"But it was beautiful," said she, "so far as it went: and it's just what I wanted. I shall remember that boy Ion now, whenever I think of you helping your father in the church at home. If the rest of the story is not nice, I don't want to hear it."
How had she guessed? It was delicious, at any rate, to know that she thought of him; and Taffy felt how delicious it was, while he fitted and hammered the shoe on Aide-de-camp's hoof, she standing by with a candle in either hand, the flame scarcely quivering in the windless night.
When all was done, she raised a foot for him to give her a mount. "Good-night!" she called, shaking the reins. Half a minute later Taffy stood by the door of the forge, listening to the echoes of Aide-de-camp's canter, and the palm of his hand tingled where her foot had rested.