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Chapter 11

Two mornings after Patty's arrival, Hetty sat in the schoolroom telling a Bible story to her pupils, George Grantham and small Rebecca; the one aged eight, the other barely five. They were by no means clever children; but they knew a good story when they heard one, and Hetty held them to the adventures of Joseph and his Brethren, although great masses of snow were sliding off the roof, and every now and then toppling down past the window with a rush-- which every child knows to be fascinating. For the black frost had broken up at last in a twelve hours' downfall of snow, and this in turn had yielded to a soft southerly wind. The morning sunshine poured in through the school-room window and took all colour out of the sea-coal fire.

"One night Joseph dreamed a dream which he told next morning to his brothers. And his dream was that they were all in the harvest-field, binding sheaves: and when Joseph had bound his sheaf, it stood upright, but the other sheaves around slid and fell flat, as if they were bowing on their faces before it. When he told this, it made his brothers angry, because it seemed to mean that he would be a greater man than any of them."

"I don't wonder they were angry," broke in George, who was the Granthams' son and heir, and had a baby brother of whom he tried hard not to be jealous. "Joseph wasn't the oldest, was he?"

"No: he was the youngest of all, except Benjamin."

"And even if he dreamed it, he needn't have gone about bragging. It was bad enough, his having that coat of many colours. I say, Miss Wesley--you're not a boy, of course--but how would you feel if your father made everything of one of your brothers?"

"I wonder if he dreamed it on a Friday?" piped Rebecca.

"Why, child?"

"Because Martha says"--Martha was the Granthams' cook--"that Friday's dream on Saturday told is bound to come true before you are old."

"We shall find out if it came true. Go on, Miss Wesley."

"But if it was Friday's dream," Rebecca persisted, "and he wanted it to come true, he couldn't help telling it."

"Couldn't help being a sneak, I suppose you mean!"

A sound outside the window cut short this argument. All glanced up: but it came this time from no avalanche of snow. Someone had planted a ladder against the house, and the top of the ladder was scraping against the window-sill.

"Too short by six feet," Hetty heard a voice say, and held her breath. The ladder was joggled a little and fixed again. Footsteps began to ascend it. A face and a pair of broad shoulders rose into sight over the sill. They belonged to William Wright.

"I--I think, dears, we had better find some other room."

Hetty had sprung up and felt herself shaking from head to foot. For the moment he was not looking in, but stood at the top of the ladder with his head thrown back, craning for a view of the water-trough under the eaves.

"About two feet to the right," he called to someone below. "No use shifting the ladder; 'twon't reach. Stay a minute, though--I don't believe 'tis a leak at all. Here--"

He felt the closed window with the palm of his hand, then peered through it into the room; and his eyes and Hetty's met.

"Well, I do declare! Good morning, miss: 'tis like fate, the way I keep running across you. Now would you be so kind as to lift the latch on your side and push the window gently? The frame opens outwards and I want to steady myself by it."

She obeyed, and was turning haughtily to follow the children when George, who loitered in the doorway watching, called out:

"Is he coming into the room, Miss Wesley?"

She glanced over her shoulder and halted. The man clearly did not mean to enter, but had scrambled up to the sill, and balanced himself there gripping the window-frame and leaning outwards at an angle which made her giddy. The sill was narrow, too, and sloping. She caught her breath, not daring to move.

He seemed to hear her, for he answered jocularly: "'Tis to be hoped the hinges are strong--eh, missy?--or there's an end of William Wright."

"Do, please, be careful!"

"What's that to you? You hate me bad enough. Look here--send the child out of the room and give me a push: a little one'd do, and you'll never get a better chance."

Still she held her breath; and he went on, gazing upwards and apparently speaking to the eaves.

"Not worth it, I suppose you'll say?--Don't you make too sure. Now if I can get my fingers over the launder, here--" He worked his way to the right, to the very edge of the sill, and reached sideways and upwards, raising himself higher and higher on tip-toe. Hetty heard a warning grunted from below.

"No use," he announced. "I can't reach it by six inches."

"What are you trying to do?" Hetty asked in a low voice, with a hand over her heart.

"Why, there's a choke here--dead leaves or something--and the roof-water's running down the side of the house."

She glanced hurriedly about the room, stepped to the fireplace and picked up a poker--a small one with a crook at the end. "Will this help?" she asked, passing it out.

"Eh? the very thing!" He took it, and presently she heard it scraping on the pipe in search of the obstruction. "Cleared it, by Jingo! and that's famous." He lowered himself upon the flat of his broad soles. "You ought to ha' been a plumber's wife. My! if I had a headpiece like that to think for me--let alone to look at!"

"Give me back the poker, please."

"No tricks, now!" He handed it back, chuckled, and lowering himself back to the topmost rung of the ladder, stood in safety. "You're as white as a sheet. Was you scared I'd fall? Lord, I like to see you look like that! it a'most makes me want to do it again. Look here--"

"For pity's sake--"

Was the man mad? And how was it he held her listening to his intolerable talk? He was actually scrambling up to the sill again, but paused with his eyes on hers. "It hurts you? Very well, then, I won't: but I owe you something for that slap in the face, you know."

"You deserved it!" Hetty exclaimed, flushing as she recoiled from terror to unreasonable wrath, and at the same moment hating herself for arguing with him.

"Did I? Well, I bear ye no malice. Go slow, and overlook offences-- that's William Wright's way, and I've no pride, so I gets it in the end. Now some men, after being treated like that, would have sat down and wrote a letter to your father about your goings-on. I thought of it. Says I, 'It don't take more than a line from me, and the fat's in the fire.' Mind, I don't say that I won't, but I ha'n't done it yet. And look here--I'm a journeyman, as you know, and on the tramp for jobs. I push on for Lincoln this afternoon; and what I say to you before leaving is this--you're a lady, every inch. Don't you go and make yourself too cheap with that fella. He's a pretty man enough, but there ain't no honesty in him."

He was gone. Hetty drew a long breath. Then, having waited while the ladder too was withdrawn, she fetched back the children and set them before their copy-books.

"Honesty is the best policy."--She saw Master George fairly started on this text, with his head on one side and his tongue working in the corner of his mouth; and drawing out paper and ink began to write a letter home.

"Dear Mother--," she wrote, glanced at George's copy-book, then at the window. Five minutes passed. She started and thrust pen and paper back into the drawer. Patty must write.

Arthur Quiller-Couch