The New Arcadia/Chapter 18

CHAPTER XVIII.

THE MILKMAID ALL FORLORN.

Question not, but live and labour
Till your goal be won,
Helping every feeble neighbour,
Seeking help from none.
Life is mostly froth and bubble;
Two things stand like stone:
Kindness in another's trouble—
Courage in your own."—A. L. Gordon.

Early that evening Gwyneth, complaining of a headache, retired to her room. Again and again she read the cruel letter. What did the woman mean? Gwyneth did not want her brother. She crushed the note in her hand and flung it from her.

"Yes, I do," she soliloquized with herself. "That is the terrible part of it. I do love him. Why should I not?" she argued. "His affection drew forth mine." Then again her thoughts took another turn. "Yes; this is the way of society. It cast my mother off and broke her heart, because she presumed to love one 'beneath her.' Now I am shamed and insulted, torn from the object of my affection, because the traditions of society forbid my allying myself with one 'above me.' Does not God teach us to love? Attached as Travers and I are, having so much in common, can He intend that, owing to mere accidents of birth and station, we should be separated for ever?"

Long the rival feelings of love and pride wrestled together in her breast. "He would ever be the same. What business was it of any one else?"

But it was other persons' concern. Perhaps they had not considered that enough. She did love him, she repeated, and she kissed the ring he had set on her delicate finger. But, for his sake, she would not come between him and his family and prospects. She would never be an object of toleration; she had no wish to slip in amongst those who did not desire her presence. No; for his sake, on that ring, as she kissed it, she swore she would give him up. She would be hard and cold, to turn his thoughts, his heart away from her.

Then as she looked back on the late happy weeks, the drives, the sailings on the lake, the walks about the hills, refined converse of books and work and travel—conversation so different from that to which she was ordinarily wont to lend her ears—as she realized what she was giving up, she wept, as trembling on the brink of some deep abyss. She set her firm lips, however, till the colour vanished, beating the resolve into her very soul—"It shall be as though it had never been." And so, from very weariness and sadness, she slept.

Before the sun was up, Gwyneth, as was her wont, was lighting the fire, putting away her father's pipes and books, letting the sweet perfume of the flowers in at every opened door and casement. But she had no song this morning to mingle with those of the doves and canaries. Her dog followed her with saddened amazement when his morning greeting was unreturned. The very brightness of the early morning jarred upon her feelings. Why should all else be glad?

"Gwyn, my girl, what ails thee?" asked the father, scanning her face curiously as he munched his toast. "You haven't been crying?"

"I'm only a little tired, father," replied Gwyneth, trying to brighten up.

"I never knowed thee tired and miserable-looking before. What's crossed thee, girl?"

"Nothing, father. Please do not tease me." Then relenting, "One cannot always be gay."

"I will not tease thee." Elms often used the singular pronoun as token of endearment. "But if anything goes wrong, you let me know. I could twist this settlement round my finger; those who cheer the doctor and his son to-day would hoot them to-morrow, if I gave the word. But I do not want to—not yet. Let that young man, however, trifle with you—You need not look like that. Though you haven't told your old father, he's seed what was going on. I suppose he's thrown you over?"

"Who? Mr. Travers? He has done nothing of the kind. There is nothing between us. I have given him up for ever."

"Then you are a bigger fool than I thought."

"That's my affair, father. Please let us change the subject. I'll try to do right, for your sake, father, as well as for others. Please, father," she added, "do not talk as you did just now about the people. I cannot think that they would be so fickle and ungrateful as you often suggest. I will not entertain the idea for one moment."

"Then, my dear, you do not know human nature as I do."

"There must, then, be something wrong, radically, in Church, State, and Society, or somewhere, if the great mass of our people are the cold-blooded, calculating, childish set you always depict them as being. But I must be off to my cows. Good-bye, dad." Imprinting a kiss on his brow, the daughter brisked lightly out of the room.

"Im not going to make others miserable," Gwyneth thought to herself, as she set on her pretty head the wide-brimmed hat, and with milk-bucket in hand and milking-stool over her arm, sallied forth to the cow-yard.

The vale was alive. Strings of people streaming up from the morning bathe at the lake, women and children returning on the trollies, men and boys on foot. Each family had its own space staked out on the shingly shallows of the lake. All bathed together in families. A regulation swimming attire, composed of rough sacking cloth that did not hold the water nor cling to the figure, had to be worn. A Master of Ceremonies checked the slightest infringement of the rules that regulated all proceedings at the bathing-station. Unless exempted by medical certificate, all were expected to bathe regularly. The morning swim and gambol in the waters flowing from the creek out into the deep lake, conduced more than anything to the health and good spirits of the community.

This morning Gwyneth avoided the groups of returning bathers, and sought her cows amongst the two hundred that were lowing about the great milking-shed. It consisted of a long open roof of sawn palings, protecting two rows of bails, thirty on each side. In the centre, rails for the trollies ran, bringing down fodder from the fields and silos a quarter of a mile away, or bearing away the milk in the vats to the creamery and butter factory attached to the lower end of the long building. To each cow, as it was milked, a stated supply of fodder was given by lads in the centre, while a couple of men received the milk and weighed it, entering in a book the amount to be credited to the person contributing.

Next to Gwyneth, old Alec was milking, and next again, the Rev. F. Brown. He usually milked a cow or two, after the morning swim. In the cow-yard he met many he would not otherwise come in contact with in the course of the day. He could spin the genial liquid forth with two hands, frothing the bucket as it rapidly filled, without once staining his white trousers.

"You have not been singing this morning. Miss Elms," remarked Alec, as he let the maiden's cow out of the bail.

"Do not, please, call me miss," remarked Gwyneth, almost petulantly. "I am only a brown milkmaid. Be so good as to turn that cow away, she's been milked."

"Milkmaid or no," replied Alec, gallantly, "I consider the likes of you as much a lady as any that never was no use but to be looked at."

"But I'm only a working-man's daughter, and have no wish to be a 'miss.' This young cow will not give down her milk this morning."

"Owing to me standing here, maybe," replied Alec, apologetically, while he continued—"It's what you are, not what your father was, I looks to. In life the best goes to the top, like the cream up there in the factory whirligig, and I puts you up top, anyhow," and doffing his hat, the good soul returned to his milking operations.