Matters being in this advancing state, Stockdale was rather surprised one cloudy evening, while sitting in his room, at hearing her speak in low tones of expostulation to some one at the door. It was nearly dark, but the shutters were not yet closed, nor the candles lighted; and Stockdale was tempted to stretch his head towards the window. He saw outside the door a young man in clothes of a whitish colour, and upon reflection judged their wearer to be the well-built and rather handsome miller who lived below. The miller's voice was alternately low and firm, and sometimes it reached the level of positive entreaty; but what the words were Stockdale could in no way hear.
Before the colloquy had ended, the minister's attention was attracted by a second incident. Opposite Lizzy's home grew a clump of laurels, forming a thick and permanent shade. One of the laurel boughs now quivered against the light background of sky, and in a moment the head of a man peered out, and remained still. He seemed to be also much interested in the conversation at the door, and was plainly lingering there to watch and listen. Had Stockdale stood in any other relation to Lizzy than that of a lover, he might have gone out and investigated the meaning of this: but being as yet but an unprivileged ally, he did nothing more than stand up and show himself against the firelight, whereupon the listener disappeared, and Lizzy and the miller spoke in lower tones.
Stockdale was made so uneasy by the circumstance, that as soon as the miller was gone, he said, 'Mrs. Newberry, are you aware that you were watched just now, and your conversation heard?'
'When?' she said.
'When you were talking to that miller. A man was looking from the laurel-tree as jealously as if he could have eaten you.'
She showed more concern than the trifling event seemed to demand, and he added, 'Perhaps you were talking of things you did not wish to be overheard?'
'I was talking only on business,' she said.
'Lizzy, be frank!' said the young man. 'If it was only on business, why should anybody wish to listen to you?'
She looked curiously at him. 'What else do you think it could be, then?'
'Well--the only talk between a young woman and man that is likely to amuse an eavesdropper.'
'Ah yes,' she said, smiling in spite of her preoccupation. 'Well, my cousin Owlett has spoken to me about matrimony, every now and then, that's true; but he was not speaking of it then. I wish he had been speaking of it, with all my heart. It would have been much less serious for me.'
'O Mrs. Newberry!'
'It would. Not that I should ha' chimed in with him, of course. I wish it for other reasons. I am glad, Mr. Stockdale, that you have told me of that listener. It is a timely warning, and I must see my cousin again.'
'But don't go away till I have spoken,' said the minister. 'I'll out with it at once, and make no more ado. Let it be Yes or No between us, Lizzy; please do!' And he held out his hand, in which she freely allowed her own to rest, but without speaking.
'You mean Yes by that?' he asked, after waiting a while.
'You may be my sweetheart, if you will.'
'Why not say at once you will wait for me until I have a house and can come back to marry you.'
'Because I am thinking--thinking of something else,' she said with embarrassment. 'It all comes upon me at once, and I must settle one thing at a time.'
'At any rate, dear Lizzy, you can assure me that the miller shall not be allowed to speak to you except on business? You have never directly encouraged him?'
She parried the question by saying, 'You see, he and his party have been in the habit of leaving things on my premises sometimes, and as I have not denied him, it makes him rather forward.'
'Tubs--they are called Things here.'
'But why don't you deny him, my dear Lizzy?'
'I cannot well.'
'You are too timid. It is unfair of him to impose so upon you, and get your good name into danger by his smuggling tricks. Promise me that the next time he wants to leave his tubs here you will let me roll them into the street?'
She shook her head. 'I would not venture to offend the neighbours so much as that,' said she, 'or do anything that would be so likely to put poor Owlett into the hands of the excisemen.'
Stockdale sighed, and said that he thought hers a mistaken generosity when it extended to assisting those who cheated the king of his dues. 'At any rate, you will let me make him keep his distance as your lover, and tell him flatly that you are not for him?'
'Please not, at present,' she said. 'I don't wish to offend my old neighbours. It is not only Owlett who is concerned.'
'This is too bad,' said Stockdale impatiently.
'On my honour, I won't encourage him as my lover,' Lizzy answered earnestly. 'A reasonable man will be satisfied with that.'
'Well, so I am,' said Stockdale, his countenance clearing.