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that we ha' to part ! And all for the sake of a drunken good-fornothing, that might have broken his neck half a dozen times this winter, if that mistaken providence that watches over suchlike wastrels hadn't prevented it ! Hang him ! I wish he was dead !".
“ Don't Ralph ! I cannot bide to hear you !"
“What good is his life? It doesn't benefit one living creaturenot even himself! You ought to wish it too, Nelly, instead of chiding me. Ay, and you would, if you cared half as much about me as I do about you.”
Nelly drew herself slowly away, and looked him straight in the face.
“ You don't mean a word of what you're sayin', or I would give you a bit of my mind for bein' heartless ! Poor old dad! He's never said a cross word to me in my life-not even when he was the worse for drink! He's nobody's enemy but his own, there's that to be said for him, anyway. If ye won't marry me because I mean to stick to my aad feyther, wey aa’ll ha' te bide it as best aa may. But as for me wantin' him deid-ma poor, good-hearted dad, that'll never, never be, and so I tell ye plainly, Ralph ! ”
At this conclusion the young fellow hung his head, feeling rather ashamed of his ill-nature, and the pair walked in a leisurely and dejected manner towards the farm. Where the two roads joined they parted, sullenly miserable, without their customary kiss or even a friendly handshake.
Again the little dene appeared deserted, and resumed its normal aspect of expectation, the spell having been broken momentarily by the young and eager presences.
But the solitude and silence did not have long to reign. Up one bank of the stream straggled a thicket of ragged shrubs, alders and hawthorns; and from thence there emerged, a few minutes afterwards, the figure of a man. He crawled up to the level ground upon his hands and knees, like some prowling beast that had been in hiding
When he reached the road he rose to his feet and stood upright, or at least made as near an approach to that position as his own condition would allow, for he was evidently greatly under the influence of alcohol.
He rubbed his hand across his eyes, and gazed, in a bewildered fashion, in the direction taken by the pair of lovers.
“Ma canny Nelly ! Ma bonny lass !” he muttered in a tremulous, husky voice, the voice of a whisky-drinker, "just te think she should ha' stuck by me like yon ! "
He stood silent for a moment after this, as though endeavouring
to master the situation ; then he gave himself a shake, like as a dog does on emerging from the water.
“You boozy, dram-drinkin' old soaker, dinna ye feel ashamed o' yersel' ?” he burst out, at last. “What's wrong wi' ye? Lemme think.”
But it was of no use for him to try and consider. The earth reeled around and met the sky, and the road rose up and hit him in the face. His brain was on fire, and he could not think.
He stumbled down to the edge of the stream again, and, at the imminent risk of meeting death by drowning, managed to lave his face and head in the icy cold water, and to gulp down great draughts of the same ; making, it must be confessed, a wry face at the latter part of the programme.
Then he sat down on a heap of stones, and, resting his face in his hands, made another effort.
He was the miserable wreck of a fine, stalwart man. Although little past the prime of lise, drink had done its work, and he looked a broken-down old toper on the brink of the grave. He had the bleared, unsteady eyes of a drunkard, a drunkard's loose, slobbery mouth. But his features were of an originally good and pleasing type ; and it was not difficult to trace in his face a likeness to pretty Nelly.
"He was reet, the confoonded young sweep was reet, and ma canny bairn was wrong! There is no use in a life like mine—none whatever ! An' if I was deid, he'd marry her, and she'd be happyshe'd be happy !”
It was not a pleasant retrospect that life of his, look at it how he might. Lost opportunities, hopes that had died unnatural deaths, ambitions that had been drowned under that thirsty sea that had engulphed his manhood, and made of him the sot he was.
God forgive him! The face of the wife whose heart he had broken rose before him now, in his maudlin repentance, to add to his misery. He remembered the look in her eyes as she feebly took his hand in her own dying ones, and laid it upon the head of her baby girl.
“Be good—to Nelly__and—and dinna make her lifelike mine has been through that --cursed drink!”
He had promised, with the tears of maudlin grief in his eyes, and he had honestly meant to keep that promise.
And now her life, the life of that child, was to be wrecked through his!
"It would be all reet, if I were only deid !” he said again, despairingly.
As he stumbled homeward, he noticed with some anxiety the signs of the weather.
The red winter sun had sunk some time before, and the great masses of blue-black cloud pressed heavily down upon the earth, promising either a thunderstorm, or a heavy fall of snow, before morning.
Nelly's eyes looked red and swollen when her father entered the cottage where they lived; but otherwise she showed no traces of the ordeal she had undergone.
It was a poor sort of place, that humble shepherd's hut, but scrupulously clean and neat ; and Martin's supper of bread and cheese was laid out, ready for his arrival.
How different things might have looked, he thought, had he not gone to the bad, years before. He had once been the prosperous owner of a fine big farm himself, for the Daglishes had been yeomen, and owners of their own land, for generations back. But it had all gone, had all melted away to satisfy that unnatural thirst which had taken possession of the last of the family.
Martin's reflections, as the drink died out of him, were of a very sad and depressing character. He leant his head on his hand, and kept watching Nelly all the while. It was the only good and beautiful trait left in him now, that he loved this girl passionately, and, to some extent, unselfishly.
For her sake he had made several attempts to break the chain that bound him, but the fascination was too powerful to be resisted. His blood was, by this time, little else than alcohol, and within his veins like cried out to like. Nevertheless a rush of tenderness still came over his soddened senses whenever she gave him a kind word or glance.
“Ye're not well, daddy?” she said now, in a gentle voice, as she noticed that he ate no supper, and looked sick and sorry ; does your head ache very
“ Dinna speak like that, Nelly, ma bairn! Tell me that aa'm a shame an’a disgrace to ye, and that the sooner aa’m out o' the world the better for everyone, but dinna pity me. Ay canna bide it !"
“ I'll say nothing of the kind,” retorted Nelly, indignantly. "I would like well to see you get the better of the drink, for your own sake, as well as mine, but I'll never wish you owt but good, never ! Ye've been a kind feyther to me, anyways.”
"A kind feyther!” groaned the old shepherd. "Oh! Nelly,
Nelly, ye break ma hairt wi' yer tenderness. Do ye not wish me deid, then?"
For answer, Nelly came across to where he sat, put her soft loving arms around his neck, and kissed the poor, bleared, drink. sodden face over and over again.
Many a time afterwards did the memory of those kisses rise to the girl's mind, and comfort her inexpressibly.
Before daybreak the clouds had resolved themselves into a storm of snow, the most penetrating and persistent that had been known, even in that bleak district, for many years.
Long ere dawn Martin Daglish was up and away over the fells, to look after the outlying flocks in his charge.
On these extensive border farms, where the grazing land is composed both of valley and fell, and where the sheep travel miles away from any place of safe shelter and refuge, the utmost precautions are necessary in rough seasons to prevent the flocks from perishing from cold, or being engulphed in a living grave of snow-drifts.
In the hollows these same drifts form to an alarming depth, and many a fleecy clad carcass lies buried beneath every considerable fall of snow, unless the greatest care is taken to prevent such catastrophes.
Martin was a good and careful shepherd, and, spite of his failing, was never known to neglect the safety of his sheep.
But on this morning, as he crossed the moors in the face of that blinding storm, he recognised the fact that it would take him all his time to prevent many of them from perishing in this storm. The other shepherds were off, also, in different directions; but the district under Martin's special charge was the most remote and the one soonest in danger, because it lay in a situation that exposed it to the inclemency of the weather.
The snow came down in that fine, powdery, impalpable sort of fashion which denotes a protracted and heavy fall; and it was all that Martin could do to keep to the track. Had he not been the most experienced and weather-wise of pedestrians he must have inevitably been lost at once. The snow glued his eyelids together, penetrated his clothing, and froze upon his face. Even his dog Rover, a colley of great sagacity and experience, required some encouragement to induce him to face the storm, and every now and again he whined, and drew closer to his master's heels, as though protesting against the cruelty of Nature.
Long before they reached the place where the last flock of sheep
were huddled helplessly together, awaiting in stupid resignation their doom, both man and dog were about spent.
But at sight of the silly, frightened sheep, Rover gave a joyous bark and bounded forward at once, true to his instinct and training. With the stupidity of their kind, the creatures had chosen the very worst spot they could have selected wherein to abide during the severity of the storm.
The wind whirled and eddied up a narrow gorge, and laid great wreaths of snow all about their woolly sides.
Martin knew that if they could be once driven round to the other side of the hill, where the wind would keep the ground comparatively free from snow, and where there was also some shelter to be obtained from a hemel and a roughly-constructed fold-yard, fenced round with stone walls, there would be little to dread ; and they could be looked after and fed, until the severity of the storm was past.
But it required considerable determination to make the creatures move at all, and still more to do so in the teeth of the cutting wind. The cold had benumbed them, and rendered them almost torpid.
Rover's approach, however, roused them to a faint display of animation; and he began proceedings at once by running around and biting, or pretending to bite, the laggards, barking all the while as loudly, as his strength would allow.
After a minute or two they began to move in the direction indicated to the dog by his master; and, very slowly, but surely, they were gradually led away from their dangerous situation into safety. It took a long time for them to reach the other side of the hill, and to find the part fenced in by the roughly-built and mortarless stone walls, and the hurdles stuffed with ragged furze ; but the difficult task was accomplished at length, and every sheep and yearling lamb was folded safe.
Martin the shepherd gave a great sigh of relief as the last bleating straggler passed through the gap, and he placed a hurdle across it to prevent their egress; but he acknowledged to himself that a few minutes longer and they would inevitably have mastered him.
He was faint from lack of food. Since the noon of the previous day not a morsel had passed his lips, for he had loathed the sight of victuals after his debauch, and had left home in such haste that morning that he had no time to break his fast, even though Nelly insisted upon getting up and lighting the fire and boiling the kettle. He had swallowed a drink of tea, but nothing more. Now