CHAPTER I LONGING FOR FLIGHT.
'Grandfather! I want to speak to you; please listen.'
'Well, who said I would not listen? But speak up, Biddy.'
The old man put his hand to his ear, and his granddaughter leaned over the back of his chair.
'Don't call me Biddy, grandfather. I am Bryda.'
'Bryda! Phew! Your poor mother was called Biddy, and you ain't better than she was that I know of.'
'Well, never mind; but this is what I want to say, and Betty is quite of my mind. Do let me go to Bristol. Jack Henderson heard old Mrs Lambert say she would like a bright, sharp girl to help her in the house, and I am bright and sharp, grandfather!'
'I daresay, and make you a drudge!'
'No; I shouldn't be a drudge. I should be treated well, and you know Mrs Lambert is a relation.'
'Relation! that's very pretty, when she has taken no heed of you for years. No, no; stay at home, Biddy, and put such silly stuff out of your head. Goody Lambert may find somebody else—not my granddaughter. Come! it's about supper-time. Where's Bet? She doesn't want to gad about; she knows when she is well off.'
Bryda pouted, and darted out of the large parlour of Bishop's Farm into the orchard, where the pink-and-white blossoms of the trees were all smiling in the westering sunshine of the fair May evening.
The level rays threw gleams of gold between the thickly-serried ranks of the old trees—many of them with gnarled, crooked branches, covered with white lichen—some, more recently planted, spreading out straight boughs—the old and young alike all covered with the annual miracle of the spring's unfailing gift of lovely blossoms, which promised a full guerdon of fruit in after days.
In and out amongst the trees Bryda threaded her way, sometimes brushing against one of the lower boughs, which shed its pink-and-white petals on her fair head as she passed.
'Betty!' she called. 'Bet, are you here? Bet!'
Bryda had come to a wicket-gate opening on a space of rugged down, golden with gorse, and from which could be seen an extensive view of Bristol in one direction, and of the village of Langholm and the woods of Leigh on the other.
Bishop's Farm was on the high ground of the Mendips, not a mile distant from the church of Dundry, whose tower is a landmark of this district, and is seen as a beacon to the country-side for many miles.
'Yes, here I am. Bryda, what is the matter?'
Betty was seated on a bit of rock, anxiously looking down on a lamb which the shepherd had brought from the fold, as it seemed, to die.
'It's just dying, that's what it. It's no use making a to-do Miss Betty. Lor'! the master can afford to lose one lamb, and it's no fault of mine.'
'It should have been brought in last evening, Silas. I'll carry it in myself, poor dear little thing.'
'Better not, better not; let it die in peace, miss. No mortal power can save it now. The mother is all but dying, too, and if I save her it's as much as I can do. There, I told you so. It's gone, poor dumb thing.'
For the lamb give one little feeble moan rather than a bleat, drew its thick legs together convulsively, and then lay still....