Lancashire Idylls (III.)

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II.

THE TWO MOTHERS.


THE royal repose of death reigned over the features of little Job as his mother entered the kitchen of the Granny Houses Farm.  She had been summoned from Rehoboth by a collier, fleet of foot, who, as soon as the injured boy was brought to the pit-bank, started with the sad news to the distant village.  No sooner did the woman catch the purport of the news, than she ran out wildly into the snowy air — not waiting to don shawl or clogs, but speeding over the white ground as those only speed who love, and who know their loved ones are in need.

    A wild wind was blowing from the north, and the fleecy particles fell in fantastic whirls and spirals, to drift in treacherous banks over the gullies and falls that lay along the path; while here and there thin black lines, sinuous in their trend, told where moorland waters flowed, and guided the hurrying mother to her distant goal.  The groaning trees, tossed by the tempest, flung off showers of half-frozen flakes, that falling on her flaming cheeks failed to cool the fever other suspense, while the yielding snow beneath her feet became a tantalus path, delaying her advance, and seeming to make more distant her suffering child.

    Ploughing her way through the Green Fold Clough, she climbed the steeps at the further end, and stood, breathless, on the bank of the great reservoir that lay dark in the hollow of the white hills.  Her heart beat savagely and loud — so loud that she heard it above the din of the storm; and cruel pain relentlessly stabbed her heaving side, while her breath was fetched in quick respirations.

    As she thus stood, tamed in her race of love by the imperative call of exhausted nature, Dr. Hale loomed through the snowy haze, and, reading instinctively who she was and whither she was bound, proffered his assistance for the remaining half of the journey.

    He had not walked with her for many yards before he saw her exposed condition.  Her hair was flying in frozen tresses about her unshawled bosom, and no outer covering protected her from the chill blast.

    ‘Mrs. Wallwork,’ said he, ‘you ought not to be crossing the moors a night like this, uncovered as you are.  You are tempting Nature to do her worst with you, you know.’

    ‘Ne’er heed me, doctor.  It’s mi lad yon aw want yo’ to heed.  I shall be all reet if he’s nobbud reet.  I con walk faster if yo’ con,’ and so saying, the jaded woman sprang, like a stung horse, under the spur of love.

    ‘But I have two lives to think of,’ replied Dr, Hale, ‘both mother’s and son’s.’

    ‘Mine’s naught, doctor, when he’s i’ danger.  Who bothers their yeds abaat theirsels when them as they care more for are i’ need?  Let’s hurry up, doctor.’

    And again she sprang forward, to struggle with renewed effort through the yielding snow.  Then, turning towards her companion, she cried:

    ‘Where wur he hurt, doctor?  Did they tell yo’?’

    But the doctor was silent.

    Seizing his arm with eager grip, she continued:

    ‘Dun yo’ think he’s livin’, doctor?  Or is he deead?  Did they say he wur deead?’

    ‘We must be patient a little longer,’ was the doctor’s kind reply.  ‘See! there’s the light in the window of Granny Houses!’

    And there shone the light — distant across the fields, and blurred and indistinct through the falling snow.  Without waiting to find the path, the mother ran in a direct line towards it, scaling the walls with the nimbleness of youth, to fall exhausted on the threshold of the farmstead.

    Raising herself she looked round with a blank stare, dazed with the glow of the fire and the light of the lamp.  In the further corners of the room, and away from each other, sat the old woman and Mr. Penrose and Malachi o’ the Mount, while on the settle beneath the window lay the sheeted dead.

    ‘Where’s th’ lad?’ cried the mother, the torture of a great fear racking her features and agonizing her voice.

    There was no reply, the three watchers by the dead helplessly and mutely gazing at the snow-covered figure that stood beneath the open doorway within a yard of her child.

    ‘Gronny, doesto yer?  Where’s my lad?  And yo', Malachi — yo’ took him daan th’ shaft wi’ yo’; what hadn yo' done wi’ him?’

    Still there was no response.  A paralysis silenced each lip.  None of the three possessed a heart that dared disclose the secret.

    Seeing the sheeted covering on the settle, the woman, with frantic gesture, tore it aside, and when her eye fell on the little face, grand in death’s calm, a great rigor took hold of her, and then she became rigid as the dead on whom her gaze was fixed.

    In a little while she stooped over the boy, and, baring the cold body, looked long at the crushed and discoloured parts, at last bending low her face and kissing them until they were warm with her caress.  Then old granny, turning round to Mr. Penrose, whispered:

    ‘Thank God, hoo’s weepin’!'

    ‘Let her weep,’ said Dr. Hale; ‘there’s no medicine like tears.’


*                *                *                *                *                *                *                *


    That night, long after the snow had ceased to fall, and the tempestuous winds with folded wings were hushed in repose, and distant stars glittered in steely brightness, the two women, holding each other’s hand, sat over the hearth of the solitary moorland farmstead.  They were widows both, and both now were sisters in the loss of an only child.

    Granny, as she was called, bore that name not from relationship, but from her kindliness and age.  It was the pet name given to her by the colliers to whom she so often ministered in their risks and exposures at the adjacent pit.  Into her life the rain had fallen.  After fifteen years of domestic joy, her only child, a son, fell before the breath of fever, and in the shadow of that loss she ever since walked.  Then her husband succumbed to the exposure of a winter’s toil, and now for long she had lived alone.  But as she used to say, ‘Suppin’ sorrow had made her to sup others’ sorrow with them.’  Her cup, though deep and full, had not embittered her heart, but led her to drink with those whose cup was deeper than her own.  The death of little Job had rolled away the stone from the mouth of the sepulchre of her own dead child; and as she held the hand of the lately-bereaved mother she dropped many a word of comfort.

    ‘I’ll tell thee what aw’ve bin thinkin’,’ said the old woman.

    ‘What han yo’ bin thinkin’, Gronny?’

    ‘Why, I’ve bin thinkin’ haa good th’ Almeety is — He’s med angels o’ them as we med lads.’

    ‘I durnd know what yo’ mean, Gronny.’

    ‘Why, it’s i’ this way, lass; my Jimmy and yor little Job wur aar own, wurnd they?’

    ‘Yi, forsure they wur.’

    ‘We feshioned ’em, as the Psalmist sez, didn’t we?’

    ‘Thaa sez truth, Gronny,’ wept the younger woman.

    ‘And we feshioned ’em lads an’ o’.’

    ‘Yi, and fine uns; leastways, my little Job wur — bless him.’

    And the mother turned her tearful eyes towards the settle whereon lay the corpse.

    ‘Well, cornd yo’ see as God hes finished aar wark for us, and what we made lads, He’s made angels on?’

    ‘But aw’d sooner ha' kept mine.  Angels are up aboon, thaa knows; an’ heaven’s a long way off.’

    ‘Happen noan so far as thaa thinks, lass; and then th’ Almeety will do better by ’em nor we con.’

    ‘Nay, noan so, Gronny.  God cornd love job better nor I loved him.’

    ‘But he willn’t ged crushed in a coile seam i’ heaven; naa, lass, will he?’

    ‘Thaa’s reet, Gronny, he willn’t.  But if He mak’s us work here, why does He kill us o’er th’ job, as he’s killed mi little lad?’

    ‘Thaa mun ax Mr. Penrose that, lass; I’m no scholard.’

    ‘Aw’ll tell thee what it is, Gronny.  It noan seems reet that thee and me should be sittin’ by th’ fire, and little Job yonder cowd i’ th’ shadow.  Let’s pool up th’ settle to th’ fire; he’s one on us, though he’s deead.’

    ‘Let him alone, lass; he’s better off nor them as wants fire; there’s no cowd wheer he’s goan.’  Rising from her chair, and turning the sheet once more from off the boy’s face, the mother said:

    ‘Where hasto goan, lad?  Tell thi mother, willn’t taa?’  And then, looking round at the old woman, she said, ‘Doesto think he yers (hears) me, Gronny?’

    ‘Aw welly think he does, lass; but durnd bother him naa.  He’s happen restin’, poor little lad; or happen he’s telling them as is up aboon all abaat thee — who knows?’

    ‘Aw say, Gronny, Jesus made deead fo’k yer Him when He spok’, didn’t He?’

    ‘Yi, lass, He did forsure.’

    ‘Who wur that lass He spok’ to when He turned ’em all aat o’ th’ room, wi’ their noise and shaatin’?’

    ‘Tha means th’ rich mon’s lass, doesndto?’

    ‘Yi!  Did He ever do ought for a poor mon’s lass?’

    ‘He did for a poor woman’s lad, thaa knows — a widder’s son — one like thine.’

    ‘But he’s noan here naa, so we’s be like to bide by it, ey, dear?  Mi lad! mi lad!’

    ‘Don’t tak’ on like that, lass; noather on us ’ll hev to bide long.  It’s a long road, I know, when fo’k luk for’ards; but it’s soon getten o’er, and when thaa looks back’ards it’s nobbud short.  I tell thee I’ve tramped it, and I durnd know as I’m a war woman for the journey.  It’s hard wark partin’ wi' your own; but then theer’s th’ comfort o’ havin’ had ’em.  I’d rayther hev a child and bury it, nor be baat childer, like Miriam Heap yonder.’

    ‘Aw dare say as yo’re reet, Gronny; aw’s cry and fret a deal over little Job, but then aw’s hev summat to think abaat, shornd I?  Aw geet his likeness taken last Rehoboth fair by a chap as come in a callivan (caravan), and it hengs o’er th’ chimley-piece.  But aw’s noan see th’ leet in his een ony more, nor yer his voice, nor tak’ him wi’ me to th’ chapel on Sundos,’ and the woman again turned to the dead boy, and fondly lingered over his familiar features, weeping over them her tears of despair.

    ‘Come, lass, tha munn’t tak’ on like that.  Sit yo’ daan, an’ I’ll tell yo' what owd Mr. Morell said to me when mi lad lay deead o’ th’ fayver, and noan on ’em would come near me.  He said I mut (must) remember as th’ Almeety had nobbud takken th’ lad upstairs.  But aw sez, “Mr. Morell, theer’s mony steps, an’ I cornd climb ’em.”  “Yi,” sez he, “theer is mony steps, but yo’ keep climbin’ on ’em every day, and one day yo’ll ged to th’ top and be i’ th' same raam (room) wi’ him.”  An’, doesto know, every time as I fretted and felt daan, I used to think o’ him as was upstairs, and remember haa aw wur climbin’ th’ steps an’ gettin’ nearer him.’

    ‘But yo’ve noan getten to th’ top yet, Gronny.’

    ‘No, aw hevn’t, but aw’m a deal nearer nor aw wur when he first laft me.  An’ doesto know, lass, aw feel misel to be gettin’ so near naa that aw can welly yer him singin’.  There’s nobbud a step or two naa, and then we’s be i’ th’ same raam.’

    ‘An’ is th’ Almeety baan to mak’ me climb as mony steps as thaa’s climbed afore I ged into th’ same raam as He’s takken little Job too, thinksto?’

    ‘Ey, lass.  Aw durnd know; but whether thaa’s to climb mony or few thaa’ll hev strength gien thee, as aw hev.’

    ‘Aw wish God’s other room wurnd so far off, Gronny — nobbud t’other side o’ th’ wall instead o’ th’ story aboon.  Durnd yo’?’

    ‘Nay, lass; they’re safer upstairs.  Thaa knows He put’s ’em aat o’ harm’s way.’

    ‘But aw somehaa think aw could ha’ takken care o’ little Job a bit longer.  And when he’d groon up, thaa knows, he could ha' takken care o’ me.’

    ‘Yi, lass; we’re awlus for patchin’ th’ Almeety’s work; and if He leet us, we’s mak’ a sorry mess on it and o’.’

    ‘Well, Gronny, if I wur God Almeety I’d be agen lettin’ lumps o’ coile fall and crush th’ life aat o’ lads like aar Job.  It’s a queer way o’ takkin ’em upstairs, as yo’ co it.’

    ‘Hooisht! lass, thaa mornd try to speerit through th’ clouds that are raand abaat His throne.  He tak's one i’ one way, an another i’ another; but if He tak’s em to Hissel they’re better of? than they’d be wi’ us.’

    ‘Well, Gronny, aw tell thee, aw cornd see it i’ that way yet;’ and again the mother caressed the body of her son.

    Once more she turned towards the old woman, and said:

    ‘Aw shouldn’t ha’ caared so mich, Gronny, if he’d deed as yor lad deed — i’ his own bed, an’ wi’ a fayver; bud he wur crushed wi’ a lump o’ coile!  Poor little lad!  Luk yo’ here!’ and the mother bared the body and showed the discoloured parts.

    ‘Did ta’ ever see a child dee o' fayver, lass?’

    ‘Not as aw know on.  Aw’ve awlus bin flayed, and never gone near ’em.’

    ‘Thaa may thank God as thy lad didn’t dee of a fayver.  Aw’s never forgeet haa th' measter and I watched and listened to aar lad’s ravin’s.  Haa he rached aat wi’ his honds, and kept settin' up and makin' jumps at what he fancied he see’d abaat him; and when we co’d him he never knowed us.  Nowe, lass, he never knowed me until one neet he seemed to come to hissel, and then he looked at me and said, "Mother!"  But it wur all he said — he never spok’ at after.’

    ‘Yi; but yo’ see’d yur lad dee — and mine deed afore I could get to him.’

    ‘That is so, lass! but as aw stood an’ see’d mine deein’, I would ha’ gien onything if I could ha’ shut mi een, or not bin wi’ him.  I know summat as what Hagar felt when hoo said, “Let me not see th’ deeath o’ th’ child” — I do so.’

    The younger woman wept, and the tears brought relief to her pent-up heart.  She had found a mother’s ear for her mother’s sorrow; and the after-calm of a great grief was now falling over her.  She leaned her aching head on the shoulders of the older and stronger woman by whose side she sat, and at last her sorrow brought the surcease of sleep.  The fire threw its fitful flicker on her haggard face, lighting up in strange relief the lines of agony and the moisture of the freshly fallen tears.  Now and again she sobbed in her slumber — a sob that shook her soul — but she slept, and sleep brought peace and oblivion.

    ‘Sleep on, lass, sleep on, and God ease thi poor heart,’ said the old Granny, as she held the woman’s hand in hers.  ‘Thaa’s hed both thi travails naa; thaa’s travailed i’ birth, and thaa’s travailed i’ deeath, like mony a poor soul afore thee.  There wur joy when thaa brought him into th’ world, and theer’s sorrow naa he’s goan aat afore his time.  Ey, dear!  A mother’s life’s like an April morn — sunleet and cloud, fleshes o’ breetness, and showers o’ rain.’

    And closing her eyes, she, too, slept.  And in that lone outlying fold, far away in the snowy bosom of the hills, there was the sleep of weariness, the sleep of sorrow, and the sleep of death.  And who shall say that the last was not the kindliest and most welcome?


――――♦――――

 
III.

THE SNOW CRADLE.


AS Mr. Penrose and Malachi o’ th’ Mount closed the door of Granny Houses on the sorrowing widowed mother, there opened to them a fairy realm of snow.  Stepping out on its yielding carpet of crystals, they looked in silent wonder at the fair new world, where wide moors slept in peaceful purity, and distant hills lifted their white summits towards the deep cold blue of the clearing sky.  Steely stars glittered and magnified their light through the lens of the eager, frosty air, and old landmarks were hidden, and roads familiar to the wayfarer no longer discovered their trend.  Little hillocks had taken the form of mounds, and stretches of level waste were swept by ranges of drift and shoulders of obstructing snow.

    No sooner did Mr. Penrose look out on this new earth than a feeling of lostness came on him, and, linking his arm in that of the old man, he said:

    ‘Can you find the way, Malachi?’

    ‘Wheer to, Mr. Penrose?’

    ‘Why, to Rehoboth, of course.  Where else did you think I wanted to go at this time of night?’

    ‘Nay, that’s what I wur wonderin’ when yo’ axed me if I knew th’ way,’ replied the old man.

    ‘Oh!  I beg your pardon; I thought perhaps the snow might throw you off the track.’

    ‘Throw me off th’ track, an’ on these moors and o’?  Nowe, Mr. Penrose, I hevn’t lived on ’em forty years for naught, I con tell yo’.’

    ‘But when you cannot see your way, what then?’

    ‘Then I walks by instink.’

    And by instinct the two men crossed the wastes of snow towards the Green Fold Clough, through which gorge lay the path that led to the village below.

    Just as they traversed the edge of the Red Moss, old Malachi broke the silence by saying:

    ‘Well, Mr. Penrose, what do yo’ think o’ yon?’

    ‘Think of what, Malachi?’ asked the perplexed divine, for neither of them, for some moments, had spoken.

    ‘Think o’ yon lad as has getten killed, and o’ his mother?’

    There are times when a man dares not utter his deepest feelings because of the commonplace character of the words through which they only can find expression.  If Malachi had asked Mr. Penrose to write the character of God on a blackboard before a class of infants, he would not have been placed in a greater difficulty than that now involved by the question of Malachi.  Already his mind was dark with the problem of suffering.  Little Job’s cry for ‘the candle of the Almeety’ had reached depths he knew not were hidden in his heart; while the look in the mother’s face, as she stood snow-covered in the doorway of the farmstead, and as the firelight lent its glare to her blanched and pain-wrought face, continued ceaselessly to haunt him.  And now Malachi wanted to know what he thought of it all!  How could he tell him?

    Finding Mr. Penrose remained silent, Malachi continued: ‘Yon woman’s supped sorrow, and no mistak’.  Hoo buried her husband six months afore yon lad wur born.  Poor little felley! he never know’d his faither.’

    ‘Ah! I never knew that.  Then she has supped sorrow, as you call it.’

    ‘Owd Mr. Morell used to say as he could awlus see her deead husband’s face i’ hers until th’ child wur born, and then it left her, and hoo carried th' face o’ th’ little un hoo brought up.  But it’ll be a deead face hoo’ll carry in her een naa, I’ll be bun for’t.’

    ‘How was it his mother sent him to work in the pit? — such a dangerous calling, and the boy so young.’

    ‘You’ll know a bit more, Mr. Penrose, when yo’ve lived here a bit longer.  His fo’k and hers hev bin colliers further back nor I can remember; and they noan change trades wi’ us.’

    ‘But why need he go to work so young?’ asked the minister.

    Malachi stopped and gazed in astonishment at the minister, and then said:

    ‘I durnd know as he would ha’ worked in th' pit, Mr. Penrose, if you’d ha’ kep' him and his mother and o’.  But fo’k mun eat, thaa knows.  Th’ Almeety’s gan o’er rainin’ daan manna fro’ heaven, as He used to do in th’ wilderness.’

    Mr. Penrose did not reply.

    ‘Yo’ know, Mr. Penrose,’ continued Malachi, ‘workin’ in a coile-pit is like preychin’: it’s yezzy (easy) enugh when yo’ ged used to ’t.  An' as for danger — why, yo’ connot ged away fro’ it.  As owd Amos sez, yo’re as safe i’ one hoile (workshop) as another.’

    ‘Yes; that’s sound philosophy,’ assented Mr. Penrose.

    ‘Mr. Morell once tell’d us in his preychin’ abaat a chap as axed a oracle, or summat, what kind of a deeath he would dee; and when he wur towd that he would happen an accident o' some sort, they couldn’t geet him to shift aat o’ his garden, for fear he’d be killed.  But it wur all no use; for one day, as he wur sittin’ amang his flaars, a great bird dropped a stooan, and smashed his yed.  So yo’ see, Mr. Penrose, if yo’ve to dee in th’ pulpit yo’ll dee theer, just as little job deed i’ th’ coile-pit.’

    As Malachi delivered himself of this bit of Calvinistic philosophy, a sound of voices was borne in on the two men from the vale below, and looking in the direction whence it came, the old man and Mr. Penrose saw a group of dark figures thrown into relief on the background of snow.

    The sounds were too distant to be distinctly heard, but every now and then there was mingled with them the short, sharp bark of a dog.

    ‘I welly think that’s Oliver o' Deaf Martha’s dog,’ excitedly cried Malachi.  ‘Surely he’s noan poachin’ a neet like this?  He’s terrible lat' wi’ his wark if he is.’

    ‘If I’m not mistaken, that is Moses Fletcher’s voice,’ replied Mr. Penrose.  ‘Listen!’

    ‘You’re reet; that’s Moses’ voice, or I’m a Jew.  What’s he doin’ aat a neet like this, wi’ Oliver’s dog?  I thought he’d hed enough o’ that beast to last his lifetime.’

    The two men were now leaning over a stone wall and looking down into the ravine below.  Suddenly Malachi pricked up his ears, and said:

    ‘An’ that’s Amos’s voice an’ all.  By Guy, if it hedn’t bin for Oliver o’ Deaf Martha’s I should ha’ said it wur hevin’ a prayer-meetin’ i’ th’ snow.  What’s brought owd Amos aat wi’ Moses — to say naught o’ th’ dog?’

    Just then an oath reached the ears of the listening men.

    ‘No prayer-meeting, Malachi,’ said Mr. Penrose, a laughing.

    ‘Nowe — nobbud unless they’re like Ab’ o’ th’ Heights, who awlus swore a bit i’ his prayers, because, as he said, swearin’ wur mighty powerful.  But him as swore just naa is Oliver hissel — I’ll lay mi Sunday hat on’t.’

    By this time the moving figures on the snow were approaching the foot of the hill whereon the two men stood, and Malachi, raising his hands to his mouth, greeted them with a loud halloo.

    Immediately there came a reply.  It was from Oliver himself, in a loud, importuning voice:

    ‘Han yo’ fun him?’

    ‘Fun who?’ asked Malachi.

    ‘Why, that chilt o’ mine!  Who didsto think we wur lookin' for?’

    ‘Who knew yo’ were lookin’ for aught but —’

    ‘Which child have you lost?’ cried Mr. Penrose, for Oliver had a numerous family.

    ‘Little Billy — him as Moses pooled aat o’ the lodge.’

    ‘Come along, Malachi, let us go down and help; it’s a search party.’


*                *                *                *                *                *                *                *


Everybody in Rehoboth knew little Billy o’ Oliver’s o’ Deaf Martha’s.  He was a smart lad of eight years, with a vivid imagination and an active brain.  His childish idealism, however, found little food in the squalid cottage in which he dragged out his semi-civilized existence; but among the hills he was at home, and there he roamed, to find in their fastnesses a region of romance, and in their gullies and cloughs the grottoes and falls that to him were a veritable fairy realm.  Child as he was, in the summer months he roamed the shady plantations, and sailed his chip and paper boats down their brawling streams, feeding on the nuts and berries, and lying for hours asleep beneath the shadows of their branching trees.  He was one of the few children into whose mind Amos failed to find an inlet for the catechism; and once, during the past summer, he had blown his wickin-whistle in Sunday-school class, and been reprimanded by the superintendent because he gathered blackberries during the sacred hours.

    A few days previous to his disappearance in the snow he had heard the legend of Jenny Greenteeth, the haunting fairy of the Green Fold Clough, and how that she, who in the summer-time made the flowers grow and the birds sing, hid herself in winter on a shelf of rock above the Gin Spa Well, a lone streamlet that gurgled from out the rocky sides of the gorge.  The story laid hold of his young mind, and under the glow of his imagination assumed the proportions of an Arabian Nights’ wonder.  He dreamed of it by night, and during the day received thrashings not a few from his zealous schoolmaster, because his thoughts were away from his lessons with Jenny Greenteeth in her Green Fold Clough retreat.  On this, the afternoon of the first snowfall of the autumn, there being a half-holiday, the boy determined once more to explore the haunts of the fairy; and just as Mr. Penrose turned out of his lodgings to kill the prose of his life, which he felt to be killing him, Oliver o’ Deaf Martha’s little boy turned out of his father’s hovel to feed the poetry that was stirring in his youthful soul.  The north wind blew through the rents and seams of his threadbare clothing; but its chill was not felt, so warm with excitement beat his little heart.  And when the first flakes fell, he clapped his hands in wild delight, and sang of the plucking of geese by hardy Scotchmen, and the sending of their feathers across the intervening leagues.

    Poor little fellow!  His was a hard lot when looked at from where Plenty spread her table and friends were manifold.  But he was not without his compensations.  His home was the moors, and his parent was Nature.  He knew how to leap a brook, and snare a bird, and climb a tree, and shape a boat, and cut a wickin-whistle, and many a time and oft, when bread was scarce, he fed on the berries that only asked to be plucked, and grew so plentifully along the sides of the great hills.

    The dusk was falling, and the snow beginning to lie thick, as he entered the dark gorge of the Clough; but to him darkness and light were alike, and as for the snow, it was more than a transformation-scene is to the petted child of a jaded civilization.  He watched the flakes as they came down in their wild race from the sky, and saw them disappear on touching the stream that ran through the heart of the Clough.  He gathered masses of the flaky substance in his hand, and, squeezing them into balls, threw them at distant objects, and then filled his mouth with the icy particles, and revelled in the shock and chill of the melting substance between his teeth as no connoisseur of wine ever revelled in the juices of the choice vintages of Spain and France.  Then he would shake and clap his hands because of what he called the ‘hot ache’ that seized them, only to scamper off again after some new object around which to weave another dream of wonder.

    The dusk gave place to gloom, and still faster fell the snow, white and feathery, silent and sublime.  The child felt the charm, and began to lose himself in the impalpable something that, like a curtain of spirit, gathered around.  He, too, was now as white as the shrubs through which he wended his way, and every now and then he doffed his cap, and, with a wild laugh of delight, flung its covering of snow upon the ground.  Then, out of sheer fullness of life and rapport with the scene, he would rush for a yard or two up the steep sides of the Clough and roll downwards in the soft substance which lay deeply around.

    The gloom thickened and nightfall came, but the snow lighted up the dark gorge, and threw out the branching trees, the tall trunks of which rose columnar-like as the pillars of some cathedral nave.  Did the boy think of home — of fire — of bed?  Not he!  He thought only of Jenny Greenteeth, the sprite of the Clough, and of the Gin Spa Well, above which she was said to sleep; and on he roamed.

    And now the path became narrower and more tortuous, while on the steep sides the snow was gathering in ominous drifts.  Undaunted he struggled on, knee-deep, often stumbling, yet always rising to dive afresh into the yielding element that lay between himself and the enchanted ground beyond.  In a little time he came to a great bulging bend, around the foot of which the waters flowed in sullen sweeps.  Here, careful as he was, he slipped, and lay for a moment stunned and chilled with his sudden immersion.  Struggling to the bank, he regained his foothold, and, rounding the promontory of cliff which had almost defeated his search, he turned the angle that hid the grotto, and found himself at the Gin Spa Well.

    He heard the ‘drip, drip’ of falling waters as they oozed from out their rocky bed, and fell into one of those tiny hollows of nature which, overflowing, sent its burden towards the stream below.  He looked above, and saw the fabled ledge — its mossy bank all snow-covered — with the entrance to Jenny Greenteeth’s chambers dark against the white that lay around.  Tired with the search, yet glad at heart with the find, he climbed and entered, the somnolence wrought by the snow soon closing his eyes, and its subtle opiate working on his now wearily excited brain.  There he slept — and dreamed.


*                *                *                *                *                *                *                *


    As soon as Mr. Penrose and Malachi reached the search party, and heard how the boy had been missing since the afternoon, the minister suggested they should search the Clough, as it was his favourite haunt.  His advice was at first unheeded, Oliver declaring he had been taken off in a gipsy caravan, and Amos capping his suspicion by speaking of the judgments of the Almighty on little lads who gathered flowers on Sunday, and blew wickin-whistles in school, and refused to learn their catechism.  Second thoughts, however, brought them over to Mr. Penrose’s mind, and they set out for the Clough.

    The descent was far from easy, the banks being steep, and treacherous with their covering of newly-fallen snow.  Once or twice Amos, in his declaration of the Divine will, nearly lost his footing, and narrowly escaped falling into the defile, the entrance to which they sought to gain.  Oliver manifested his anxiety and parental care in sundry oaths, while Moses Fletcher, who had loved the child ever since saving him from the Lodge, said little and retained his wits.

    When the search party entered the heart of the Clough, Oliver’s dog began to show signs of excitement, that became more and more noticeable as they drew near to the Gin Spa Well.  Here the brute suddenly stopped and whined, and commenced to wildly caper.

    ‘Th’ dog’s goin’ mad,’ said Amos.

    ‘It’s noan as mad as thee, owd lad,’ replied Moses.  ‘I’ll lay ought we’n noan so far fro’ th’ chilt.’

    ‘It is always wise to stop when a dog stops,’ assented the minister.

    ‘Yi; yo’ connot stand agen instink,’ said Malachi.

    ‘Good lad! good lad! find him!’ sobbed Oliver to his dog; and the brute again whined and wagged its tail and ran round and between the legs of the men.

    ‘There’s naught here,’ impatiently cried Amos.

    ‘I’ll tak’ a dog’s word agen thine ony day, owd lad,’ said Moses.

    ‘Well, thaa’s no need to be so fond o’ th’ dog.  It once welly worried thi dog, and thee into th’ bargain.’

    ‘Yi; it’s bin a bruiser i' id time, an’ no mistak’; but it’s turned o’er a new leaf naa — and it’s noan so far off th’ child;’ and Malachi, too, commenced to encourage it in its search.

    ‘It looks to me as th’ child’s getten up theer somehaa;’ and so saying, Moses pointed to the ledge of rock where Jenny Greenteeth was said to slumber through the winter’s cold.

    ‘What mut th’ child ged up theer for?’ asked Amos.  ‘Thaa talks like a chap as never hed no childer.’

    At this rebuff Moses was silent; for not only was he a childless man, but until the day he saved the very child they were now seeking from the Green Fold Lodge, children had been nothing to him.  Now, however, he had learned to love them, and none better than the little lost of spring of Oliver o’ Deaf Martha’s.

    While the two men were wrangling, Mr. Penrose stepped aside and commenced the climb towards the ledge.  The snow lay white and undisturbed on the shelving surface, and there was no sign of recent movements.  Looking round, he discovered the mouth of the recess.  There it stood, black and forbidding.  In another moment the minister stooped down and looked in; but all was dark and silent, nor did he care to go further along what to him was an unknown way.

    ‘Have any of you a light?’ asked he of the men below; and Malachi handed him his collier’s candle and matches, with which he commenced to penetrate the gloom.

    It was a small cavernous opening out of which, in years past, men had quarried stone.  Damp dripped from the roof, and ran down its seamed and discoloured sides.  Autumn leaves, swept there by the wind, strewed its uneven floor, and lay in heaps against the jutting angles.  A thin line of snow had drifted in through the mouth, and ran like a river of light along the gloomy entrance, to lose itself in the recesses beyond.

    The feeble flicker of the candle which Mr. Penrose held in his hand flung hideous shadows, and lighted up the cave dimly enough to make it more eerie and grotesque.  The minister had not searched long before he was startled by a cry — a faint and childish cry:

    ‘Arto Jenny Greenteeth?’

    ‘No, my boy; I’m Mr. Penrose.’

    ‘It’s noan th’ parson aw want; aw want th’ fairy.’

    And then the chilled and startled boy was carried down to the men below.

    In a moment Oliver o' Deaf Martha’s seized; his boy and wrapped him in the bosom of his coat, hugging and kissing him as though he would impart the warmth of his own life to the little fellow.

    ‘It’s noan like thee to mak’ a do like that, Oliver,’ said Amos, unmoved, ‘but thaa shaps (shapes) weel.’  And as the child began to cry and struggle, Amos continued, ‘Sithee! he’s feeard on thee.  He’s noan used to it.  He thinks he ought to hev a lickin’ or summat.’

    But Oliver continued his caresses.

    ‘Well, Oliver, I’ve never sin thee takken that road afore.’

    ‘Nowe, lad!  I’ve never lost a chilt afore.’


――――♦――――


 
I.

A WOMAN’S SECRET.


ON a little mound, within the shadow of her cottage home, and eagerly scanning the moors, stood Miriam Heap.  An exultant light gleamed in her dark eyes, and her bosom rose and fell as though swept with tumultuous passion.  Ever womanly and beautiful, she was never more a queen than now, as the wind tossed the raven tresses of her crown of hair, and wrapped her dress around the well-proportioned limbs until she looked the draped statue of a classic age.  There was that, too, within her breast which filled her with lofty and pardonable pride, for she awaited her husband’s return to communicate to him the royal secret of a woman’s life.

    Miriam and Matthias — or Matt, as she called him — had been seven years married, the only shadow of their home being its childlessness.  Matt’s prayers and Miriam’s tears brought no surcease to this sorrow, while the cruel superstition that dearth of offspring was the curse of heaven and the shame of woman, rested as a perpetual gloom over the otherwise happy home.

    Of late, however, the maternal hope had arisen in the heart of Miriam; nor was the hope belied.  To her, as to Mary of old, the mystic messengers had whispered, and He with whom are the issues of life had regarded the low estate of His handmaiden.  That of which she so long fondly dreamed, and of late scarce dared to think of was now a fact, and a great and unspeakable joy filled her heart.

    As yet her secret was unshared.  Even her husband knew it not, for Matt was away in a distant town, fitting up machinery in a newly-erected mill.  Miriam felt it to be as hard to carry alone the burden of a great joy as the burden of a great sorrow.  But she resolved that none should know before him, whose right it was to first share the secret with herself; so she kept it, and pondered over it in her heart.

    And now Matt was on his homeward journey, and Miriam knew that shortly they would be together in their cottage home.  How should she meet him, and greet him, and confess to him the joy that overwhelmed her?  What would he say?  Would he love her more, or would the advent of the little life divide the love hitherto her undisputed own?  Was the love of father towards mother a greater and stronger and holier love than that of husband towards wife? or did the birth of children draw off from each what was before a mutual interchange?  Thus she teased her throbbing brain, and vexed her mind with questions she knew not how to solve.  And yet her woman’s instincts told her that the new love would weld together more closely the old, and that she and Matt would become one as never before.  And then a dim memory of a sentence in the old creed came upon her — something about ‘One in three and three in one, undivided and eternal’ — but she knew not what she thought.

    As Miriam stood upon the little mound within the shadow of her roof-tree, eagerly scanning the moors for Matt’s return, cool airs laden with moorland scents played around her, and masses of snowy cloud sailed along the horizon, flushing beneath the touch of the after-glow with as pure a rose as that mantling on her womanly face.  The blue distances overhead were deepening with sundown, and the great sweeps of field and wild were sombre with the hill shadows that began to fall.  In a copse near where she stood a little bird was busy with her fledglings, and from a meadow came the plaintive bleat of a late yeaned lamb.  From the distant village the wind carried to her ears the cry of an infant — a cry that lingered and echoed and started strange melodies in the awakening soul of Miriam.  Child of the hills as she was, never before in all her thirty years of familiarity with them, and freedom among them, had she seen and felt them as now.  A great and holy passion was upon her, and she took all in through the medium of its golden haze.  The early flowers at her feet glowed like stars of hope and promise — and the bursting buds of the trees told of spring’s teeming womb and dew of youth; while the shadow of her cottage gable and chimney — falling as it did across the little mound on which she stood — recalled to her the promises of Him who setteth the solitary in families.

    Then she returned to herself, and to her new and opening world of maternity.  No longer would she be the butt at which the rude, though good-natured, jests of her neighbours were thrown, for she too would soon hold up her head proudly among the mothers of Rehoboth.  And as for Matt’s mother — fierce Calvinist that she was, and whom in the past she had so much feared — what cared she for her now?  She would cease to be counted by her as one of the uncovenanted, and told that she had broken the line of promise given to the elect.  How well she remembered the night when the old woman, taking up the Bible, read out aloud: ‘The promise is unto you, and to your children,’ afterwards clinching the words by saying: ‘Thaa sees, Miriam, thaas noan in it, for thaa’s no childer’; and how, when she gently protested, ‘But is not the promise to all that are afar off?’ the elect sister of the church and daughter of God destroyed her one ray of hope by saying: ‘Yi! but only to as mony as the Lord aar God shall co.’  And Matt — poor Matt — across whom the cold shadow had so long lain, and which, despite his love of her, would creep now and again like a cloud over the sunshine of his face — Matt, too, would be redeemed from his long disappointment, and renewed in strength as he saw a purpose in his life’s struggle, even the welfare of his posterity.  These thoughts, and many others, all passed through Miriam’s mind as she stood looking out from the mound upon the sundown moors.

    Dreaming thus, she was startled by a well-known voice; and looking in the direction whence the sound came, she saw her husband in the distance beckoning her to meet him. Nor did she wait for his further eager gesticulations, but at once, with fleet foot, descended the slope, towards the path by which he was approaching.

    Ere she reached him, however, she realized as never before the secret she was about to confide, and for the first time in her life became self-conscious.  How could she meet Matt, and how could she tell him?  In a moment her naturalness and girlish buoyancy forsook her.  She was lost in a distrait mood.  Joy changed to shyness; a hot flush, not of shame, but of restraint, mounted her cheeks.  Then she slackened her pace, and for a moment wished that Matt could know all apart from her confession.

    To how many of nervous temperament is self-consciousness the bane of existence — while the more such try to master it, the more unnatural they become!  It separates souls, begetting an aloofness which, misunderstood, ends in mistrust and alienation; and it lies at the root of too many of the fatal misconceptions of life.  There are loving hearts that would pay any price to be freed from the self-enfolding toils that wrap them in these crisis hours.  And so would Miriam’s, for she felt herself shrink within herself at the approach of Matt.  She knew nothing of mental moods, never having heard of them, nor being able to account for, or analyze, them.  All she knew, poor girl, was that for the first time in her life she was not herself; and as she responded to Matt’s warm greeting, she felt she was not the wife, nor the woman, who but a few weeks ago had so affectionately farewelled him, and who but a few moments ago so longed for his return.

    Nor was Matt unconscious of this change, for as soon as the greeting was over he said, with tones of anxiety in his voice :

    ‘What ails thee, my lass?’

    ‘Who sez as onnythin’ ails me?’ was her reply, but in a tone of such forced merriment that Matt only grew the more concerned.

    ‘Who sez as onnything ails thee?’ cried he.  ‘Why those bonny een o’ thine — an’ they ne’er tell lies.’

    Miriam was walking at his side, her dark eyes seeking the ground, and half hidden by the droop of their long-fringed lids.  Indeed, she was too timid to flash their open searching light, as was her wont, into the face of Matt; and when she did look at him, as at times she was forced to, the glance was furtive and the gaze unsteady.

    ‘Come, mi bonny brid (bird),’ said her husband, betraying in his voice a deeper concern, ‘tell thi owd mon what’s up wi thee.  I’ve ne’er sin thee look like this afore.  Durnd look on th’ grass so mich.  Lift that little yed (head) o’ thine.  Thaa’s no need to be ashamed o’ showing thi t’ace — there’s noan so mony at’s better lookin’ — leastways, I’ve sin noan.’

    Miriam was silent; but as Matt’s hand stole gently into hers, and she felt the warm touch of his grasp, her heart leapt, and its pent-up burden found outlet in a sob.  Then he stayed his steps, and looked at her, as a traveller would pause and look in wonderment at the sudden portent in the heavens of a coming storm, and putting his hand beneath the little drooping chin, he raised the pretty face to find it wet with tears.

    ‘Nay! nay! lass, thaa knows I connot ston salt watter, when it’s i’ a woman’s een.’

    But Miriam’s tears fell all the faster.

    ‘I’ll tell yo’ what it is, owd lass.  I shornd hev to leave yo’ agen,’ and his arm stole round the little neck, and he drew the sorrowful face to his own, and kissed it.  ‘But tell yor owd mon what’s up wi yo’.’

    ‘Ne’er mind naa, Matt; I’ll — tell — thee — sometime,’ sobbed the wife.

    ‘But I mun know naa, lass, or there’ll be th’ hangments to play.  I’ll be bun those hens o’ Whittam’s hes been rootin’ up thi flaars in th’ garden.  By gum! if they hev, I’ll oather neck ’em, or mak’ him pay for th’ lumber (mischief).’

    ‘Nowe, lad — thaa’rt — mista’en — Whittam’s hens hesn’t bin i’ th’ garden sin’ thaa towd him abaat ’em last.’

    ‘Then mi mother’s bin botherin’ thee agen,’ said Matt, in a sharp tone, as though he had at last hit upon the secret of his wife’s sorrow.

    ‘Wrang once more,’ replied Miriam, with a light in her eye; and then, looking up at her husband with a gleam, she said: ‘I durnd think as thi mother’ll bother me mich more, lad.’

    ‘Surely th’ old lass isn’t deead!’ he cried in startled tones.  And then, recollecting her treatment of Miriam, he continued: ‘But I needn’t be afeard o’ that, for thaa’ll never cry when th’ old girl geets to heaven.  Will yo’, mi bonnie un?’

    ‘Shame on thee, Matt,’ said Miriam, smiling through her tears.

    ‘Bless thee for that smile, lass.  Thaa looks more thisel naa.  There’s naught like sunleet when it’s in a woman’s face.’

    ‘Thaa means eyeleet,’ Miriam replied, with a gleam of returning mirth.

    ‘Ony kind o’ leet, so long as it’s love-leet and joy-leet, and i' thi face, an o’.  But thaa’s noan towd me what made thee so feeard (timid) when aw met thee.’

    By this time Matt and his wife were on the threshold of their cottage, and the woman’s heart beat loudly as she felt the moment of her great confession was at hand.

    ‘Naa, come, Merry’ (he always called her Merry in the higher moments of their domestic life) — ‘come, Merry, no secrets, thaa knows.  There’s naught ever come atween thee and me, and if I can help, naught ever shall.’

    Miriam started, and once more wondered if the little life of which Matt as yet knew nothing would come in between herself and him, and divide them; or whether it would bind more closely their already sacred union.

    ‘Naa, Merry,’ continued he, seating himself in the rocking-chair, or ‘courtin’-cheer,’ as he called it, and drawing his blushing, yielding wife gently on his knee, ‘naa, Merry, whod is it?’

    ‘Cornd ta guess?’ asked she, hiding her face on his shoulder.

    ‘Nowe, lass; aw’ve tried th’ hens and mi mother, and aw’m wrang i’ both, an’ aw never knew aught bother thee but t’ one or t' other on ’em.  Where mun I go next?’

    Again there were tears in Miriam’s eyes, and with one supreme effort she raised her blushing face from Matt’s shoulder to his bushy whiskers, and burying her rosy lips near his ear, whispered something, and then sank on his breast.

    Then Matt drew his wife so closely to him that she bit her lips to stifle the cry of pain that his love-clasp brought; and when he let her go, it was that he might shower on her a rain of kisses, diviner than had ever been hers in the seven happy years of their past wedded life.  For some minutes Matt sat with Miriam in his arms, a spell of sanctity and silence filling the room.  In that silence both heard a voice — a little voice — preludious of the music of heaven, and they peopled the light which haloed them with a presence, childlike and pure.  Then it was that Miriam looked up at her husband and said:

    ‘Th’ promise is not brokken, thaa sees, after all.  It’s to us and to aar childer, for all thi mother hes said so mich abaat it.’

    ‘Ey, lass,’ replied he, his manhood swept by emotion, ‘o’ sich is the kingdom o’ heaven.’

    And a gleam of firelight fell on the darkening wall, and lit up an old text which hung there, and they both read, ‘Children are a heritage from God.’


*                *                *                *                *                *                *                *


    ‘An’ arto baan to keep it a secret, lass?’ asked Matt, when once the spell of silence was broken.

    ‘Why shouldn’t I?  There’s no one as aw know as has any reet to know but thee.’

    ‘But they’ll noan be so long i’ findin’ it aat.  Then they’ll never let us alone, lass.  There’ll be some gammin’, aw con tell thee.’

    ‘I’m noan feared on ’em, Matt. I con stan’ mi corner if thaa con.’

    ‘Yi, a dozen corners naa, lass.  Thaa knows it used to be hard afore when they were all chaffin’ me at th’ factory, but they can talk their tungs off naa for aught I care.  But they’ll soon find it aat.'

    ‘None as soon as thaa thinks, Matt.  They’ve gan o’er sperrin (being inquisitive) long sin’, and when they’re off th’ scent they’re on th’ wrang scent.’

    ‘Aw think aw’d tell mi mother, lass, if aw were thee.’

    ‘Let her find it aat, as t’others ’ll hev to do.’

    ‘As thaa likes, lass.  But thaa knows hoo’s fretted and prayed and worrited hersel a deal abaat thee for mony a year.  And if hoo deed afore th’ child were born we sud ne’er forgive aarsels.’

    ‘Thaa’rt mebbe reet, lad.  It’ll pleaz her to know, and hoo’s bin a good mother to thee.’

    ‘Yi.  Hoo’s often said as if hoo could nobbud be a gron’mother hoo’d say, as owd Simeon said, “Mine een hev sin Thy salvation.”’

    ‘Well, we’ll go up and see her when th’ chapel loses to-morrow afternoon.  Put that leet aat, lad; it’s time we closed aar een.’

    Matt turned down the lamp, and shot the bolt of his cottage door, and followed his wife up the worn stone stairway to the room above, to rest and await the dawning of the Sabbath.

    That night, as the moonbeams fell in silver shafts through the little window, and filled the chamber with a haze of subdued light, a mystic presence, unseen, yet felt, filled all with its glory.  The old four-poster rested like an ark in a holy of holies, its carved posts of oak gleaming as the faces of watching angels on those whose weary limbs were stretched thereon.  The rugged features of Matt were touched into grand relief, his hair and beard dark on the snowy pillow and coverlet on which they lay.  On his strong, outstretched arm reposed she whom he so dearly, and now so proudly, loved, her large, lustrous eyes looking out into the sheeted night, her pearly teeth gleaming through her half-opened lips, from which came and went her breath in the regular rhythm and sweetness of perfect health.  Long after her husband slept she lay awake, silently singing her own ‘Magnificat’ — not in Mary’s words, it is true, but with Mary’s music and with Mary’s heart.

    And then she slept — and the moonbeams paled before the sunrise, and the morning air stirred the foliage of the trees that kissed the window-panes, and little birds came and sang their matins, and another of God’s Sabbaths spread its gold and glory over the hills of Rehoboth.


――――♦――――

 
II.

HOW DEBORAH HEARD THE NEWS.


IT was Sabbath on the moors — on the moors where it was always Sabbath.

    Old Mr. Morell used to say, ‘For rest, commend me to these eternal hills;’ and so Matt Heap thought as he threw open his chamber casement and looked on their outline in the light of morning glory.  Their majesty and strength were so passionless, their repose so undisturbed.  How often he wondered to himself why they always slept — not the sleep of weariness, but of strength!  And how often, when vexed and jaded, had he shared their calm as his eyes rested on them, or as his feet sought their solitudes!  How they stirred the inarticulate poetry of his soul!  At times he found himself wondering if their sweeping lines were broken arcs of a circle drawn by an infinite hand; and anon, he would ask if their mighty mounds marked the graves of some primeval age — mounds raised by the gods to the memory of forces long since extinct.

    As Matt looked at these hills, there rolled along their summits snowy cumuli — billowy masses swept from distant cloud tempests, and now spending their force in flecks of white across the blue sky-sea that lay peaceful over awakening Rehoboth.  A fresh wind travelled from the gates of the sun, laden with upland sweets, and mellowing moment by moment under the directer rays of the eastern king; while the sycamores in the garden, as if in playful protest, bent before the touch of its caress, only to rise and rustle as, for the moment, they escaped the haunting and besetting breeze, lending to their protest the dreamy play of light and shade from newly-unsheathed leaves.  There was a strange silence, too — a silence that made mystic music in Matt’s heart — a silence all the more profound because of the distant low of oxen, and the strain of an old Puritan hymn sung by a shepherd in a neighbouring field.  Matt’s heart was full, and, though he knew it not, he was a worshipper — he was in the spirit on the Lord’s Day.

    ‘Is that thee, Matt?’

    ‘Yi, lass, for sure it is.  Who else should it be, thinksto?’

    ‘Nay, I knew it were noabry but thee; but one mun say summat, thaa knows.  What arto doin’ at th’ winder?  Has th’ hens getten in th' garden agen?’

    ‘Nowe, not as aw con see.’

    ‘Then what arto lookin' at?  Thaa seems fair gloppened (surprised).’

    ‘I’m nobbud lookin’ aat a bit.  It’s a bonny seet and o’, I can tell thee.’

    ‘Thaa’s sin' it mony a time afore, lad, hesn’t ta?  Is there aught fresh abaat it?’

    ‘There’s summat fresh i’ mi een, awm thinkin’.  Like as I never seed th’ owd country look as grand as it looks this morn.’

    ‘Aw’ll hev a look wi’ thee, Matt; ther’ll happen be summat fresh for my een and o’.’  And so saying, Miriam crept to his side and, in unblushing innocence, took her stand at the window with Matt.

    It was a comely picture which the little birds saw as they twittered round and peeped through the ivy-covered easement where Matt and Miriam stood framed in the morning radiance and in the glow of domestic love — she with loose tresses lying over her bare shoulders, all glossy in the sunshine, her head resting on the strong arm of him who owned her, and drew her in gentle pride to his beating heart — the two together looking out in all the joy of purity and all the unconscious ease of nature on the sun-flooded moors.

    ‘It’s grand, lass, isn’t it?’

    ‘Yi, Matt, it is forsure.’

    ‘And them hills — they’re awlus slumberin’, arn’t they?  Doesto know, I sometimes wish I could be as quiet as they are.  They fret noan; weet or line, it’s all th’ same to them.’

    ‘They’re a bit o’er quiet for me, lad.  I'd rather hey a tree misel.  It tosses, thaa knows, and tews i’ th' tempest, and laughs i' th’ sunleet, and fades i’ autumn.  It’s some like a human bein’ is a tree.’

    ‘An’ aw sometimes think there’s summat very like th' Almeety i’ th’ hills.’

    ‘Doesto, Matt?  Ey, aw shouldn’t like to think He were so far off as they are, nor as cowd (cold) noather.’

    ‘Nay, lass, they’re noan so so far off.  Didn’t owd David say, “As th’ mountens are raand abaat Jerusalem, so th’ Lord is raand abaat His people”?’

    ‘He did, forsure.  But didn’t he say that a good man were like a tree planted by th’ brookside?’

    ‘Yi ; and he said summat else abaat a good woman, didn’t he, Miriam?’

    ‘What were that, lad?'

    ‘Why, didn’t th’ owd songster say, “Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine by th’ sides o’ thine house, and thi childer like olive plants raand abaat thy table”?’

    Miriam blushed, and held up her lips to be kissed; nor did Matt faintly warm them with his caresses.


*                *                *                *                *                *                *                *


    That afternoon, as Matt and Miriam walked down the field-path towards the Rehoboth shrine, they wondered how it was that so much praise was rendered to the Almighty outside the temple made with hands.  Both of them had been taught to locate God in a house.  Rehoboth chapel was His dwelling-place — not the earth with the fullness thereof, and the heavens with their declaration of glory.  Yet, somehow or other, they felt to-day that moor and meadow were sacred — that their feet trod paths as holy as the worn stone aisle of the conventicle below.  The airs of spring swept round them, carrying notes from near and far — whisperings from the foliage of trees, and cadences from moors through whose herbage the wind lisped, and from cloughs down which it moaned.  Early flowers vied with the early greenery carpeting the fields, and the grass was long enough to wave in shadow and intermingle its countless glistening blades.  Then their hearts went out towards Nature’s harmonies; and tears started to Miriam’s eyes as the larks dropped their music from the sunny heights.  Now they passed patient oxen looking out at them with quiet, impressive eyes, and the plaintive bleat of the little lambs still brought many a throb to Miriam’s heart.

    Turning down by the Clough, they met old Enoch and his wife, who, though on their way to Rehoboth, were so full of the spirit of the hour and the season that they thought little of the bald ritual and barn-like sanctuary that was drawing their steps.

    ‘This is grond, lad,’ said Enoch to Matt, as he threw back his shoulders to take a deep inspiration of the moorland air. ‘It’s fair like a breath o’ th’ Almeety.’

    ‘Yi; it’s comin’ fro’ th' delectable mountains, for sure it is.  I'm just thinkin' it’s too fine to go inside this afternoon.’

    ‘I’ll tell thee what, Matt, I know summat haa that lad Jacob felt when he co’d th’ moorside th’ gate o’ heaven.’

    ‘Ey, bless thee, Enoch, it wernd half as grand as this!’ said his wife, as she plucked a spray of may blossom from a hawthorn that overarched the path through the Clough.

    ‘Mebbe not, lass; but aw know summat haa he felt like.’

    ‘Did it ever strike thee, Enoch, that there were a deal o’ mountain climbin’ among th’ owd prophets — like as they fun th’ Almeety on th’ brow (hill)?’

    ‘Aw never made much o’ th’ valleys, lad.  Them as lived in ’em hes bin a bad lot.  We may well thank God as we live up as high as we do.  But I’ll tell yo' what — we’re baan to be lat’ for the service.  Step it aat, lasses.’

    On reaching the chapel yard, they found Amos Entwistle dismissing his catechism class with a few words of warning as to deportment during service, whilst old Joseph was busy cuffing the unruly lads whose predilections for dodging round the gravestones overcame the better instinct of reverence for the day and for the dead.  Mr. Penrose was just entering the vestry, and discordant sounds came through the open door as of stringed instruments in process of tuning.

    The congregation was soon seated — a hardy race, reared on the hills, and disciplined in the straitest of creeds.  Stolid and self-complacent, theirs was an unquestioning faith, accepting, as they did, the Divine decrees as a Mohamedan accepts his fate.  What was, was right — all as it should be; elect, or non-elect, according to the fore-knowledge, it was well.  Sucking in their theology with their mothers’ milk, and cradled in sectarian traditions, they loved justice before mercy, and seldom walked humbly before God.  And yet these Rehoboth mothers had borne and reared a strong offspring — children hard, narrow, and self-righteous, yet of firm fibre, and of real grit withal.

    The mothers of Rehoboth were famous women, and bore the names of the great Hebrew women of old.  Among them were Leahs, Hannahs, Hagars, and Ruths, yet none held priority to Deborah Heap, the mother of Matt.  Tall, gaunt, iron-visaged, with crisp, black locks despite her threescore years, she was a prophetess among her kindred — mighty in the Scriptures, and inflexible in faith.

    Hers was the illustrious face of that afternoon’s congregation — the face a stranger would first fasten his eye on, and on which his eye would remain; a face, too, he would fear.  History was writ large on every line, character had set its seal there, and a crown of superb strength reposed on the brow.  She guarded the door of her pew, which door she had guarded since her husband’s death; and her deep-set eyes, glowing with suppressed passion, never flinched in their gaze at the preacher.  Now and again the thin nostrils dilated as Mr. Penrose smote down some of her idols; but for this occasional sign her martyrdom was mute and inexpressive.

    No one loved Deborah Heap, although those who knew her measured out to her degrees of respect.  She was never known to wrong friend or foe; and yet no kindly words ever fell from her lips, nor did music of sympathy mellow her voice.  Her life had been unrelieved by a single deed of charity.  She was, in old Mr. Morell’s language, ‘a negative saint.’  Mr. Penrose went further, and called her ‘a Calvinistic pagan.’  But none of these things moved her.

    The grievance of her life was Matt’s marriage with an alien; for Miriam was a child of the Established Church.  Great, too, was the grievance that no children gladdened the hearth of the unequally yoked couple; and this the old woman looked on as the curse of the Almighty in return for her son’s disobedience in sharing his lot with the uncovenanted.

    And yet Matt loved his mother; not, however, as he loved his wife, for whom he held a tender, doting love, which the old woman was quick to see, though silent to resent, save when she said that ‘Matt were fair soft o’er th’ lass.’  Nothing so pleased him as to be able to respect his mother’s wish without giving pain to his wife.  Always loyal to Miriam, he sought to be dutiful to Deborah, and, though the struggle was at times hard and taxing, few succeeded better in holding a true balance of behaviour between the twin relations of son and husband.

    Now that Miriam had confided to him her secret, he felt sure his mother’s anger would be somewhat turned away when she, too, shared it.  And all through the afternoon service he moved restlessly, eager for the hour when, at her own fireside, he could convey the glad news to her ears.

    And when that hour came, it came all too soon, for never were Matt and Miriam more confused than when they faced each other at the tea-table of Deborah.  A painful repression was on them; ominous silence sealed their lips, and they flushed with a heightened colour.  Matt’s carefully-prepared speech forsook him — all its prettiness and poetry escaped beyond recall; and Miriam was too womanly to rescue him in his dilemma.

    ‘It’s some warm,’ said Matt, drawing his handkerchief over his heated brow.

    ‘Aw durnd know as onybody feels it but thisel, lad,’ replied his mother; ‘but thaa con go i' th’ garden, if thaa wants to cool a bit.  Tea’s happen made thee sweat.’

    Then followed another painful pause, in which Miriam unconsciously doubled up a spoon, on seeing which the old woman reminded her that her ‘siller wurnd for marlockin’ wi’ i’ that fashion’; and no sooner had she administered this rebuke than Matt overturned his tea.

    ‘Are yo’ two reet i’ yor yeds (heads)? snapped his mother.  ‘Yo’ sit theer gawmless-like, one on yo’ breakin' th’ spoons, and t’other turnin’ teacups o’er.  What’s come o’er yo’?’

    ‘Mother,’ stammered Matt, ‘Miriam has summat to tell yo’.’

    ‘Nay, lad, thaa may tell it thisel,’ said Miriam.

    ‘Happen thaa cornd for shame, Miriam,’ stammered Matt.

    ‘I durnd know as I’ve ought to be ashamed on, but it seems as though than hedn’t th’ pluck.’

    The old woman grew impatient, and, supposing she was being fooled, rose from the table, and said:

    ‘I want to know noan o’ your secrets.  I durnd know as I ever axed for ’em, and if yo’ wait till aw do, I shall never know ’em.’

    ‘It’s happen one as yo’d like to know, though, mother.’

    ‘It’s happen one as you’d like to tell, lad,’ replied the old woman, softening.

    ‘Well, if we durnd tell yo’, yo’ll know soon enough, for it’s one o’ them secrets as willn’t keep — will it, Miriam?’ asked Matt of his blushing wife.

    But Miriam was silent, and refused to lift her face from the pattern of the plate over which she bent low.

    ‘Dun you think yor too owd to be a gron-mother?’ asked Matt of his parent, growing in boldness as he warmed to his confession.

    ‘If I were thee I’d ax mysel if I were young enugh to be a faither, that I would,’ said the old woman.

    ‘Well, I shall happen be one afore so long, shornd I, Miriam?’

    But tears were streaming from Miriam’s eyes, and she answered not.

    And then there dawned on the mind of Deborah the cause of her son’s confusion, and a light stole across the hard lines of her face as she said:

    ‘Is that it, lad?  Thank God! thaa’rt in th’ covenant after all.’


――――♦――――

 
III.

‘IT’S A LAD!’


NAA, Matt, put on thi coite and fotch th doctor, an tak' care thaa doesn’t let th’ grass grow under thi feet.’

    Matt needed no second bidding.  In a moment he was ready, and before the old nurse turned to re-ascend the chamber stairs the faithful fellow was on his way towards the village below.

It was a morning in November, and as Matt hurried along he passed many on their way to a day’s work at the Bridge Factory in the vale.  Most of them knew him, dark though it was, and greeting him, guessed the errand on which he raced.  Once or twice he collided with those who were slow to get out of his path, and almost overturned old Amos Entwistle into the goit as he pushed past him on the bank that afforded the nearest cut to the village.

    ‘Naa, lad, who arto pushin’ agen, and where arto baan i’ that hurry?  Is th’ haase o’ fire, or has th’ missus taan her bed?’

    But Matt was beyond earshot before the old man finished his rude rebuke.

    Throughout the whole of his journey Matt’s mind was a prey to wild and foreboding passion — passion largely the product of a rude and superstitious mind.  Questions painful, if not foolish, haunted and tormented him.  Would Miriam die?  Had not the seven years of their past life been too happy to last?  Did not his mother once reverse the old Hebrew proverb, and warn him that a night of weeping would follow a morning of joy?  Would Heaven be avenged on his occasional fits of discontent, and grant him his wish for a child at the cost of the life of his wife?  He had heard how the Almighty discounted His gifts; how selfish men had to pay dearly for what they wrenched against the will of God.  As he hurried, these thoughts followed on as fleet feet as his own, and moaned their voices in his ears with the sounds of the wind.

    It was not long before he reached Dr. Hale’s door, where he so lustily rung, that an immediate response was given to his summons, the man of science putting his head through the window and asking in peremptory tones who was there.

    ‘It’s me, doctor — me — Matt, yo’ know — Matt Heap — th’ missis is i’ bed, and some bad an’ o’.  Ne’er mind dressin’.  Come naa;’ and the half-demented man panted for breath.

    ‘I’ll be with you in a minute, Matt.  Don’t lose your head, that’s a good fellow,’ and so saying, the doctor withdrew to prepare for the journey.

    To Matt, the doctor’s minute seemed unending.  He shuffled his feet impatiently along the gravel-path, and beat a tattoo with his fingers on the panels of the door, muttering under his breath words betraying an impatient and agitated mind; and when at last the doctor joined him, ready for departure, the strain of suspense was so great that both tears and sobs wrung themselves from his over-strained nature.

    The two men walked along in silence, Matt being too timid to question the doctor, the doctor not caring to give Matt the chance of worrying him with foolish fears.  Now and again Matt in his impatience tried to lead the doctor into a run, but in this the self-possessed man checked him, knowing that he covered the most ground who walked with an even step.  For a little time Matt submitted to the restraint without a murmur.  At last, however, his patience failed him, and he said:

    ‘Do yo’ never hurry, doctor?’

    ‘Sometimes, Matt.’

    ‘And when is those times, doctor?’

    ‘They’re bad times, Matt — times of emergency, you know.’

    ‘An’ durnd yo’ think my missis is hevin’ a bad time up at th’ cottage yonder?  I welly think yo’ might hurry up a bit, doctor.  You’ll geet paid for th' job, yo’ know.  I’m noan afraid o’ th’ brass.’

    Dr. Hale laughed at the importunity of Matt, but knowing the doggedness of the man, somewhat quickened his steps, assuring his impatient companion that all would be well.  The doctor soon, however, regretted his easy-going optimism, for on mounting the brow before the cottage, Malachi o’ th’ Mount’s wife met him, and running out towards him, said:

    ‘Hurry up, doctor; thaa’rt wanted badly, I con tell thee.  Hoo’s hevin’ a bad time on’t, and no mistak’.’

    It did not take the doctor long to see that his patient was in the throes of a crisis, and with a will he set about his trying work, all the more confident because he knew the two women by his side were experienced hands — hands on whom he could rely in hours of emergency such as the one he was now called to face.

    As for Matt, he sat in the silent kitchen with his feet on the fender and an unlighted pipe between his teeth.  The morning sun had long since crossed the moors, but its light brought no joy to his eyes — with him, all was darkness.  He heard overhead the occasional tread of the doctor’s foot, and the movements of the ministering women, while occasionally one of them would steal quietly down for something needed by the patient above.  Between these breaks — welcome breaks to Matt — the silence became distressful, and the suspense a burden.  Why that hush?  What was going on in those fearful pauses?  Could they not tell him how Miriam was?  Was he not her husband, and had he not a right to know of her who was his own?  By what right did the women — good and kind though they were — step in between himself and her whom he loved dearer than life?  And as these questions pressed him he rose to climb the stairway and claim a share in ministering to the sufferings of the one who was his own.  But when he reached the foot he paused, his nerve forsook him, and he trembled like a leaf beneath the breeze.  Straining his ear, he listened, but no sound came save a coaxing and encouraging word from the old nurse, or a brief note of instruction from Dr. Hale.  Should he call her by her name?  Should he address her as Merry, the pet name which he only addressed to her?  He opened his lips, but his tongue lay heavy.  He could scarcely move it, and as he moved it in his attempt to speak, he heard its sound as it parted from, or came in contact with, the dry walls of his mouth.  How long he could have borne this suspense it would be hard to say, had he not heard his mother’s voice at the kitchen-door calling.

    ‘Is that yo’, mother?’ said Matt, dragging himself from the foot of the stairway leading to the chamber above.  ‘Is that yo’?’

    ‘Ey, Matt, whatever’s to do wi’ thee; aw never see thee look like that afore.  Is Miriam bad, or summat?'

    ‘Nay, mother, they willn’t tell me.  But go yo’ upstairs, and when you’ve sin for yorsel come daan and tell me.’

    Old Deborah took her son’s advice, and went upstairs to where the suffering woman lay pale and prostrate.  She saw, by a glance at the doctor’s face, that he was more than anxious, while the mute signs of the nurse and Malachi o’ th' Mount’s wife confirmed her worst suspicions.

    During his mother’s absence there returned on Matt the horrible suspense which her visit had in part enabled him to throw off.  Once more he felt the pressure of the silence, and the room in which he sat became haunted with a terrible vacancy — a vacancy cold and shadowy with an unrelieved gloom.  There all round him were the familiar household gods; there they stood in their appointed places, but where was the hand that ruled them, the deity that gave grace to that domestic kingdom of the moors?  He looked for the shadow of her form as it was wont to fall on the hearth, but there was only a blank.  He lent his ear to catch the voice so often raised in merry snatch of song, but not the echo of a sound greeted him.  There was a room only, swept and garnished, but empty.  Then he thought of the great drama of life which was being enacted in the chamber overhead, and he asked himself why the hours were so many and why they walked with such leaden feet.  There was she, his Merry, torn between the forces of life and death, giving of her own that she might perpetuate life, and braving death that life might be its lord — there was she, fighting alone! save for the feeble help of science and the cheer and succour of kindly care, while he, strong man that he was, sat there, powerless, his very impotence mocking him, and his groans and anguish but the climax of his despair.

    In a little while Matt’s mother came down-stairs with hopelessness written on every line of her hard face.

    ‘Thaa’ll hev to mak’ up thi mind to say good-bye to Miriam, lad.  Hoo’s noan baan to howd aat much longer.  Hoo’s abaat done, poor lass!’

    ‘Yo’ mornd talk like that to me, mother, or I’ll put yo’ aat o’ the haase.  I’m noan baan to say good-bye to Merry yet, by — I’ ammot!’

    ‘Well, lad, thaa’s no need to be either unnatural nor blasphemous o’er th' job.  What He wills, He wills, thaa knows; and if thaa willn’t bend, thaa mun break.’

    ‘But I’ll do noather, mother.  Miriam’s noan baan to dee yet, I con tell yo’.’

    Just then Dr. Hale descended from the chamber, and beckoning Matt, whispered in his ear that he deemed it right to tell him that he feared the worst would overtake his wife, and that she would like to see him.

    The words came to Matt as the first great blow of his life.  True, he had anticipated the worst; but now that it came it was tenfold more severe than his anticipation.  Looking at Dr. Hale with eyes too dry for tears, he said:

    ‘Aw connot see her, doctor; aw connot see her.  Yo’ an’ th’ women mun do yor best; and don’t forget to ax the Almighty to help yo’.’  And so saying, Matt went out in despair into the wild November day.

    As he rushed into the raw air the wind dashed the rain in his face as though to beat him back within his cottage home.  Heedless of these, however, he pressed forward, wild with grief, seeking to lose his own madness amid the whirl and confusion of the storm.  Low-lying, angry clouds seethed round the summits of the distant hills, and mists, like shrouds, hung over the drear and leafless cloughs.  The moorland grasses lay beaten and colourless — great swamps — reservoirs where lodged the moisture of a long autumn’s rain, while the roads were limp and sodden, and heavy for the wayfarer’s foot.  But Matt was heedless of these; and striking a drift path that crossed the hills, he followed its trend.  Along it he walked — nay, raced rather, like a man pursued.  And pursued he was; for he sought in vain to escape the passions that preyed on him, tormenting him.  Sorrow, anguish, death; these were at his heels; and, worse than all, he thought his dying wife was following him, pleading for his return.  Why had he forsaken her?  Was it not cowardice — the cowardice and selfishness of his grief?  Once or twice a fascination took hold of him, and, despite the terror that awed him, he threw a glance over his shoulder to see if after all he were pursued by the shadow he so much feared to meet.  Then the wind began to utter strange sounds — wailings and lamentations — its burden being a wild entreaty to return; and once he thought he heard an infant’s cry, and he paused in his despair.

    A steep and rugged path lay before him — a path that led under trees whose swaying branches flung off raindrops in blinding showers, and a gleam of light shot shaft-like from a rift in the sombre clouds, and falling across his feet, led him to wonder how heaven could shed a fitful smile on sorrow like his own.

    Familiar with the moods of nature, he deemed the hour to be that of noon; nor was he mistaken, for the sky began to clear, and with the light came the return to a calmer mind. He now, for the first time, realized the folly — probably the disaster — of his flight.  Might he not be needed at the cottage?  Was not his dying wife’s prayer for his presence and succour?  Had not an unmanly selfishness led him to play the coward?  Thoughts like these led him to marshal his resolves, and turn his steps towards the valley below.

    No sooner did he do this than a strong self-possession came to him, and swift was his return.  The clouds were now parting, and as they chased one another towards the distant horizon, the sun — the watery November sun — shone out in silver upon the great stretch of moorland, and lit it up like a sea of light.  Little globes of crystal glistened on the hedgerows, and many-coloured raindrops glowed like jewelled points on the blades of green that lay about his feet.  A great arch of sevenfold radiance spanned the valley, based on either side from the twin slopes, and reaching with its crown to the summit of the skies.  It was now a passage from Hebrew tradition came to his mind, and he thought of him of whom the poet wrote, ‘and as he passed over Penuel, the sun rose upon him.’

    And yet his heart failed him as he drew within sight of the cottage door.  Was it the house of life, or the house of death? — or was it the house where death and life alike were victorious?  He paused, and felt the blood flow back to its central seat, while his bones began to shake, and his heart was poured out like water.  But the battle was won, though the struggle was not over, and he pressed on towards his home.

    The first thing he saw on entering the door was Dr. Hale seated before a cup of steaming tea, with a great weariness in his eye, who, when he saw Matt, threw a look of rebuke, and in somewhat stern tones said:

    ‘You can go upstairs, Matt, if you like; it’s all over.’

    With a spasm in his throat Matt was about to ask what it was that was all over; but he was forestalled by old Malachi’s wife, who, pushing her head through the staircase doorway into the room, cried:

    ‘It’s a lad, Matt, and a fine un an’ o’!’

    ‘Hang th’ lad!’ cried Matt; ‘how’s Miriam?’

    ‘Come and see for thisel; hoo’s bin waitin’ for thee this hawve haar.’

    With a bound or two Matt cleared the stairway and stood by the side of Miriam.

    There she lay, poor girl! limp and exhausted, wrapped in her old gown like a mummy, her long, wet hair, which was scattered in tresses on the pillow, throwing, in its dark frame, her face into still greater pallor.

    ‘Thaa munnot speak, Miriam,’ said the nurse in a low tone.  ‘If thaa moves tha’ll dee.  Thaa can kiss her, Matt; but that’s all.’

    Matt kissed his wife, and baptized her with his warm tears.

    ‘And hesn’t thaa getten a word for th’ child, Matt?’ cried old Deborah, who sat with a pulpy form upon her knees before the fire.  ‘It’s thy lad and no mistak’; it favours no one but thisel.  Look at its yure (hair), bless it!'  And old Deborah stooped over it and wept.  Wept — which she had never done since her girlhood’s days.

    But Matt’s eyes were fixed on Miriam, until she, breaking through the orders of the doctor, said:

    ‘Matt, do look at th’ baby — it’s thine, thaa knows.’

    And then Matt looked at the baby.  For the first time in his life he looked at a new-born baby, and at a baby to whom he was linked by ties of paternity, and his heart went out towards the little palpitating prophecy of life — so long expected, and perfected at such a price.  And he took it in his arms, while old Deborah said:

    ‘Thaa sees, lad, God’s not forgetten to be gracious.  Th’ promise is still to us and aars.’

    But Malachi’s wife sent Matt downstairs, saying:

    ‘We’n had enugh preachin’ and cryin’.  Go and ged on wi’ thi wark.  Th’ lass is on th’ mend, and hoo’ll do gradely weel.’


――――♦――――

 
IV.

THE LEAD OF THE LITTLE ONE.


THE child grew, and its first conquest was the heart of old Deborah.  Before the little life she bowed, and what her Calvinistic creed was weak to do for her, a love for her grandson accomplished.  Often and long would she look into his face as he lay in her arms, until at last she, too, caught the child-feature and the child-smile.  Rehoboth said old Deborah was renewing her youth; for she had been known to laugh and croon, and more than once purse up her old lips to sing a snatch of nursery rhyme — a thing which in the past she had denounced as tending to ‘mak’ childer hush’t wi’ th’ songs o’ sin.’  The hard look died away from her eyes, and her mouth ceased to wear its sealed and drawn expression.  The voice, too, became low and mellow, and her religion, instead of being that of the Church, was now that of the home.

    One morning, while carrying the child through the meadows, she was overtaken by Amos Entwistle, who stopped her, saying:

    ‘Tak’ care, Deborah, tak’ care, or the Almeety will overthrow thi idol.  Thaa’rt settin’ thi affections on things o’ th’ earth; and He’ll punish thee for it.’

    ‘An’ do yo’ co this babby one o’ th’ things o’ th’ earth?’ cried the old woman fiercely.

    ‘Yi, forsure I do.  What else mut it be?’

    ‘Look yo’ here, Amos,’ said Deborah, raising the child in her arms so that her rebuker might look into its little features, ruddy and reposeful — features where God’s fresh touch still lingered; ‘luk yo’ here.  Han yo’ never yerd that childer’s angels awlus behold th’ face o’ their Faither aboon?’

    ‘Eh! Deborah, lass, aw never thought as Mr. Penrose ud turn thi yed and o’.  Theer’s a fearful few faithful ones laft i' Zion naa-a-days.  Bud aw tell thee, th’ Lord ’ll smite thi idol, and it ’ll be thro’ great tribulation that tha’ll enter th’ Kingdom.’

    ‘I’d ha’ yo’ to know, Amos Entwistle, that I’m noan in yor catechism class, an’ I’m noan baan to be.  Yo’ can tak’ an’ praitch yor rubbidge somewheer else.  Yo’ve no occasion to come to me, I con tell yo’.’  And then, looking down at the reposeful little face, she kissed it, and continued, ‘Did he co thee an idol, my darlin’?  Ne’er heed him, owd powse ud he is!’

    Before nightfall Deborah’s encounter with Amos was the talk of Rehoboth, and it was freely reported that the old woman had become an infidel.  Whether the cause of her infidelity resulted from Mr. Penrose’s preaching or the advent of her grandchild was a disputed point.  Old Amos declared, however, ‘that there were a bit o’ both in it, but he feared th’ chilt more than th’ parson.’

    Deborah’s first great spiritual conflict — as they called it in Rehoboth — was when her grandchild cut its first teeth.  The eye of the grandmother had been quick to note a dullness and sleepiness in the baby — strange to a child of so lively and observant a turn — and judging that the incisors were parting the gums, she wore her finger sore with rubbing the swollen integuments.

    One morning, as she was continuing these operations, she felt the child stiffen on her knee, and looking, saw the little eyes glide and roll as though drawn by a power foreign to the will.  A neighbour, who was hastily called, declared it to be convulsions, and for some hours the little life hung in the balance.  It was during these hours that Deborah fought her first and only great fight with Him whom she had been taught to address as ‘th’ Almeety.’

    Ever since her conflict with Amos, she could not free her mind from superstitious thoughts about ‘the idol.’  Did she love the child overmuch, and would her over-love be punished by the child’s death?  She had heard and read of this penalty which the Almighty imposed upon those who loved the creature more than the Creator; and she, poor soul, to hinder this, had tried to love both the Giver and the gift.  Nay, did she not love the Giver all the more, because she loved the gift so much?  This was the question that vexed her.  Why had God given her something to love if He did not mean her to love it? — and could she love too much what God had given?  Once she put this question to Mr. Penrose, and his reply lived in her mind: ‘If there is no limit to God’s love of us, why should we fear to love one another too dearly or too well?’  But now the test had come.  The child was in danger; a shadow fell on the idol.  Was it the shadow of an angry God — a God insulted by a divided love?

    It was in the torturing hold of questions such as these that she once more met Amos, who, laying the flattering unction to his soul that he could forgive his enemies, struck a stab straight at her heart by saying:

    ‘Well, Deborah, th’ chilt’s dying, I yer.  I towd thee he would.  Th’ Almeety goes hawves wi’ no one.  He’ll hev all or noan.’

    ‘What! doesto mak’ aat He’s as selfish as thisel, Amos?  Nay, I mun hev a better God nor thee.’

    ‘Well, a’ tell thee, He’s baan to tak’ th' lad, so thaa mut as weel bow to His will.  Them as He doesn’t bend He breaks.’

    ‘Then He’ll hev to break me, Amos; for aw shall never bend, aw con tell thee.’  And the old woman stiffened herself, as though in defiance of the Providence which Amos preached.

    ‘Why, Deborah, thaa’rt wur nor a potsherd.  Thaa knows thi Bible: “Let the potsherds strive wi’ th’ potsherds; but woe to th’ mon that strives wi’ his Maker.”’

    ‘Well, I’m baan to wrostle wi’ Him, an’ if He flings me aw shannot ax yo’ to pick me up, noather.’

    ‘Thaa mun say, “Thy will be done,” Deborah.’

    ‘Nowe! never to th’ deeath o’ yon chilt.’

    ‘Doesto say thaa willn’t?’

    ‘Yi, Amos, aw do!’

    Then Amos turned away, groaning in spirit at the rebellious hearts of the children of men.

    The child came safely through the convulsions, however, and as the sharp edges of the little teeth gleamed through the gums, the old woman would rub her finger over them until she felt the smart, and with tearful eye thank God for the gift He had spared, as well as for the gift He had granted — little dreaming that as she nursed her treasure she nursed also her mentor — one who, though in the feebleness of infancy, was drawing her back to a long-lost childhood, and bidding return to her the days of youth.

    The old grandmother now became the light of Matt and Miriam’s home.  Instead of paying the occasional visit at her house, she was ever at theirs — indeed, she could not rest away from the child.  Miriam long since had ceased to fear her.  ’The little un,’ as she used to tell Matt, ‘had drawed th’ owd woman’s teeth;’ to which Matt used to reply, ‘Naa, lass, the teeth’s there, but hoo’s gi’en o’er bitin’.’

    Not infrequently, both son and daughter would rally her on the many indulgences she granted the child, and Matt often told her that what ‘he used to ged licked for, th’ chilt geet kissed for.’  Mr. Penrose, too, ventured to discuss theology with Matt in the old woman’s presence, and she no longer eyed him with angry fire as he discoursed from the Rehoboth pulpit on the larger hope.  As for Amos Entwistle, he continued to prophesy the death of the child, and when it still lived and throve, in spite of his prediction, he contented himself by saying that ‘Deborah hed turned the Owd Testament blessin’ into a curse.’


*                *                *                *                *                *                *                *


    On Sunday afternoons Matt and Miriam would leave the boy at his grandmothers while they went to the service at Rehoboth.  Then it was the old woman took down the family Bible, and showed to him the plates representative of the marvels of old.  These began to work on the child’s imagination; and once, when the book lay open at Revelation, he fastened his little eyes on a hideous representation of the bottomless pit.

    ‘What’s that, gronny?’ said he, pointing to the picture.

    ‘That, mi lad, is th’ hoile where all th’ bad fo’k go.’

    ‘Who dug it?  Did owd Joseph, gronny?’

    ‘Nowe, lad; owd Joseph nobbud digs hoiles for fo’k’s bodies.  That hoile is fer their souls.’

    ‘What's them, gronny?’

    ‘Nay, lad!  A connot tell thee reet — but it’s summat abaat us as we carry wi’ us — summat, thaa knows, that never dees.’

    ‘And why do they put it in a hoile, gronny?  Is it to mak’ it better?’

    ‘Nay, lad; they put it i’ th’ hoile because it’s noan good.’

    ‘Then it’s summat like mi dad when I'm naughty, an’ he says he’ll put me i’ th’ cellar hoile.’

    ‘But he never does — does he, lad?’ asked the grandmother anxiously.

    ‘Nowe, gronny.  He nobbud sez he will.’

    And then, after a pause, he continued, ‘But, gronny, if God sez He’ll put ’em in He’ll do as He sez — willn’t He?’

    ‘Yi, lad; He will, forsure.’

    ‘An’ haa long does He keep ’em in when He gets ’em theer?  Till to-morn t’neet?’

    ‘Longer lad.’

    ‘Till Kesmas?’

    ‘Yi, lad.’

    ‘Longer nor Kesmas?’

    ‘Yi, lad.  But ne’er heed.  Here’s summat to eat.  Sithee, I baked thee a pasty.’

    ‘I noan want th’ pasty, gronny.  I want to yer abaat th’ hoile.  Haa long does God keep bad fo’k in it?’

    ‘Ey, lad.  I wish thaa’d hooisht!  What doesto want botherin’ thi little yed wi’ such like talk?’

    ‘Haa long does He keep ’em i’ th’ hoile?’ persistently asked the boy.

    ‘Well, if thaa mun know, He keeps ’em in for ever.’

    ‘An’ haa long’s that, gronny?  Is it as long as thee?’

    ‘As long as me, lad!  Whatever doesto mean?’

    ‘I mean is forever as long as thaa’rt owd?  Haa owd arto, gronny?'

    ‘I’m sixty-five, lad.’

    ‘Well, does He keep ’em i’ the hoile sixty-five years?’

    ‘Yi, lad.  He does, forsure.  But thi faither never puts thee i’ th’ cellar hoile when thaa’s naughty, does he?’

    ‘Nowe, I tell thee he nobbud sez he will.’

    ‘By Guy, lad!  If ever he puts thee i’ th’ cellar hoile — whether thaa’rt naughty or not — thaa mun tell me, and I’ll lug his yed for him.’  And the old woman became indignant in her mien.

    ‘But if God puts fo’k i’ th’ hoile, why shuldn’t mi faither put me i’ th’ hoile?  It’s reet to do as God does — isn’t it, gronny?’

    ‘Whatever wilto ax me next, lad?’ cried the worn-out and perplexed old woman.  ‘Come, shut up th’ Bible, and eat thi pasty.’

    But the little fellow’s appetite was gone, and as he fell asleep on the settle his slumber was fitful, for dark dreams disturbed him — he had felt the first awful shadow of a dogmatic faith.

    Nor was old Deborah less disturbed.  Sitting by the fire, with one eye on the child and the other on her Bible, the gloomy shadows of a shortening day creeping around her, she, too, with her mind’s eye, saw the regions of woe — the flaming deeps where hope comes never.  What if that were her grandchild’s doom! — her grandchild, whose father she would smite if even for a moment he shut his little son up in the cellar of his home!  How her heart loathed the passion, the cruelty, that would wreak such an act!  And yet He whom she called God had reserved blackness and darkness for ever for the disobedient and rebellious.

    Horror took hold of her, and the sweat moistened her brow.  The firelight played on the curls of the sleeping boy, and she started as she thought of that other fire that was never quenched, and she rose and shook her clenched hand at heaven as the possibility of the singeing of a single hair of the child passed through her mind.

    For a time Deborah stood alone, without a God, the faith in which she had been trained, and in which she had sheltered in righteous security, shrinking into space until she found herself in the void of a darkness more terrible than that of the pit which she had been speaking of to the child.  She saw how that hitherto she had only believed she believed, and that now, when her soul was touched in its nether deeps, she had never believed at all in the creed which she had fought for and upheld with such bitterness.  There, in the twilight of that Sabbath evening, she uttered what, to Rehoboth, would have been a terrible renunciation, just as a lurid beam shot its level fire across the moors, and as the sun went down, leaving her in the horror of a great darkness.

    And then, in the gathering gloom, was heard the voice of the child calling:

    ‘Gronny!  Gronny!’

    ‘Well, mi lad, what is’t?’

    ‘Gronny, I don’t believe i’ th’ hoile.’

    ‘Bless thee, my darlin’ — no more do I.’

    ‘I durnd think as God ud send me where yo’ an’ mi dad wouldn’t let me go — would He, gronny?’

    ‘Nowe, lad, He wouldn’t, forsure.’

    And then, lighting the lamp, and turning with the old superstition to her Bible to see what the law and the testimony had to say as she opened it at random, her eyes fell on the words: ‘If ye, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him.’

    That afternoon, when Matt and Miriam returned from Rehoboth, they found old Deborah less than the little child she watched over; for she, too, had not only become as a little child, but, as she said, least among the little ones.


――――♦――――

 
VII.

HOW MALACHI O’ TH’ MOUNT
WON HIS WIFE.


‘So yo’ want to know haa aw geet haud o’ my missus, dun yo’, Mr. Penrose?  Well, if hoo’ll nobbud be quiet while aw’m abaat it, aw’ll tell yo’.’

    And so saying, Malachi drew his chair to the fire, and blew a cloud of tobacco-smoke towards the rows of oat-cakes that hung on the brade fleygh over his head.

    ‘It’s forty year sin’ I furst wore shoe-leather i’ Rehoboth, Mr. Penrose.’

    ‘Nay, lad, it’s noan forty year whol Candlemas.  It were February, thaa knows, when thaa come; and it’s nobbud October yet.  An’ thaa didn’t wear shoon noather, thaa wore clogs — clogs as big as boats, Mr. Penrose; an’ they co’d him Clitter-clatter for a nickname.  Hasto forgetten, Malachi?’

    ‘Aw wish thaa wouldn’t be so plaguey partic’lar, lass, an’ let a felley get on wi’ his tale,’ said Malachi to his wife.  And then, turning to Mr. Penrose, he continued: ‘Aw were tryin’ to say as it were forty year sin’ I come to Rehoboth.’

    ‘Forty year come Candlemas, Malachi.’

    ‘Yi, forty year come Candlemas.  Aw were bred and born aboon Padiham, an’ aw come to th’ Brig Factory as cut-looker, an’ never laft th’ job till aw went to weighin’ coil on th’ pit bonk.’

    ‘All but that eighteen month thaa were away i’ Yorksur, when th’ cotton panic were on, thaa knows, lad.’

    ‘Yi, lass, aw know.  Naa let me ged on wi’ mi tale.  Well, as aw were sayin’, Mr. Penrose, I come in these parts as cut-looker at th’ Brig Factory, and th’ fust lass as brought her piece to me were Betty yonder.’

    ‘Thaa’rt wrang agen, Malachi.  Th’ fust lass as brought her piece to thee were Julia Smith.  Aw remember as haa hoo went in afore me, as though it were nobbud yester morn.’

    ‘Well, never mind, thaa wur t’ fust I seed, an’ that’s near enugh, isn’t it, Mr. Penrose?’

    The minister nodded, and smiled at old Betty, who so jealously followed the story of her husband’s early life.

    ‘Well, when hoo put her piece daan afore me, I couldn’t tak’ mi een off her.  Aw were fair gloppent (taken by surprise), an’ aw did naught but ston’ an’ stare at her.

    ‘“What arto starin’ at?” hoo said, flushin’ up to her yure (hair).

    “‘At yo’,” I said, as gawmless as a nicked goose.’

    ‘“Then thaa’d better use thi een for what th’art paid for, an’ look at them pieces i’stead o’ lookin’ at lasses’ faces.”’

    ‘And hoo walked aat o’ th’ warehaase like a queaan.  An’ dun yo’ remember, Betty, haa th’ young gaffer laffed at me, an’ said as aw could noan play wi’ th’ likes o’ yo’?’

    ‘Yi, aw remember, Malachi; but ged on wi’ yor tale.  Mr. Penrose here is fair plagued.’

    ‘Indeed, I’m not.  Go on, Malachi.  Take your own time, and tell your story in your own fashion.’

    ‘Aw will, Mr. Penrose, if hoo’ll nobbud let me.  Betty were a four-loom weyver; and i’ those days there wernd so many lasses as could tackle th’ job.  An’ th’ few that could were awlus piked up pratty quick for wives — for them as married ’em had no need to work theirsels, and had lots o’ time on their hands for laking (playing) and such-like.  Bud that wernd th’ reason aw made up to Betty.  It wernd th’ looms that fotched me; it were her een.  There’s some breetness in ’em yet; bud yo’ should ha’ sin ’em forty years sin’!  They leeted up her bonnie cheeks like dewdrops i’ roses; an’ noabry ’at looked i’ them could see ought wrang i’ ’em.’

    ‘Malachi, if thaa doesn’t hold thi tung I’ll smoor (smother) thee wi’ this stockin’.  Thaa’rt as soft as when thaa were a lad;’ and the old woman held up the article of clothing that she was darning in her hand, and shook it in a threatening manner at her eloquent spouse.

    ‘In a bit, Mr. Penrose, I geet as I couldn’t for shame to look into Betty’s een at all; an’ then aw took to blushin’ every time hoo come i’ th’ warehouse wi’ her pieces, an' when hoo spoke, aw trembled all o’er like a barrow full o’ size.  One day hoo’d a float in her piece, and aw couldn’t find it i’ mi heart to bate her.  And when th’ manager fun it aat, he said if I’d gone soft o’er Betty, it were no reason why aw should go soft o’er mi wark, and he towd me to do mi courtin’ i’ th’ fields and not i’ th’ factory.  But it were yeasier said nor done, aw can tell yo’, for Betty were a shy un, and bided a deal o’ gettin’ at.

    ‘There used to be a dur (door) leadin’ aat o’ th’ owd warehaase into th’ weyvin’ shed, an’ one day aw get a gimlik an’ bored a hoile so as aw could peep thro’ an’ see Betty at her wark.  It wernd so often as aw’d a chance, bud whenever th’ manager’s back were turned, an’ aw were alone, I were noan slow to tak’ my chance.  It were wheer I could just see Betty at her looms.  Bless thee, lass, aw think aw can see thee naa, bendin’ o’er thi looms wi’ a neck as praad as a swan’s, thi fingers almost as nimble as th’ shuttle, an’ that voice o’ thine treblin’ like a brid!’

    ‘Do ged on wi’ yor tale, Malachi; what does Mr. Penrose want to know abaat lasses o’ forty year sin’?  He’s geddin’ one o’ his own — and that’s enough for him, aw’m sure.’

    ‘Aw nobbud want him to know that there were bonnie lasses i’ aar time as well as i’ his — that were all, Betty.'

    ‘Well, ged on wi’ yo’, an’ durnd be so long abaat it, Malachi.’

    ‘One day, Mr. Penrose, as aw were peepin’ through th’ hoile i’ th’ warehaase dur at Betty, aw could see that there were summat wrong wi’ one o’ th’ warps, for hoo were reachin’ and sweatin’ o’er th’ loom, an’ th’ tackler were stannin’ at her side, an’ a deal too near and o’ for my likin’, aw con tell yo’.

    ‘Just as hoo were stretchin’ her arm, and bendin’ her shoulders to get owd o’ th’ ends, the tackler up wi’ his an’ clips her raand th’ waist.

    ‘Well, hoo were up like a flesh o’ greased leetnin’, and fotched him a smack o’er th’ face as made him turn the colour o’ taller candles.  Yo’ remember that, Betty, durnd yo’?

    ‘Yi! aw remember that, Malachi,’ said the old woman, proudly recalling the days of her youthful prowess; ‘there were no man ’at ever insulted me twice.’

    ‘When aw see th’ tackler put his arm raand Betty, I were through th’ dur and down th’ alley wi’ a hop, skip and jump, and hed him on th’ floor before yo’ could caant twice two.  We rowl’d o’er together, for he were a bigger mon nor me, an’ I geet my yed jowled agen th’ frame o’ th’ loom.  But I were no white-plucked un, an’ aw made for him as if aw meant it.  He were one too mony, however, for he up wi’ his screw-key and laid mi yed open, an’ I’ve carried this mark ever sin’.’  And the old man pointed to a scar, long since healed, in his forehead.  ‘Then they poo’d us apart, an’ said we mutn’t feight among th’ machinery, so we geet up an’ agreed to feight it aat i’ th’ Far Holme meadow that neet, an’ we did.  We fought for over hawve an haar, summat like fifteen raands, punsin’ and o’ (kicking with clogs).  As aw told yo’, he were th’ bigger mon; bud then aw hed a bit o’ science o’ mi side, an’ I were feytin’ for th’ lass aw luved, an’ when he come up for th’ fifteenth time, I let drive atween his een, and he never seed dayleet for a fortnit.’

    ‘An’ thaa were some stiff when it were all o’er, Malachi,’ said Betty.

    ‘Yo’re reet, lass!  Aw limped for more nor a week, but aw geet thee, an’ aw meant it, if aw’d had to feight fifteen raands more —’

    ‘So, like the knights of olden time, Malachi, you fought for your fair lady and won her.’

    ‘Nay, Mr. Penrose, you morn’d think he nobbud won me wi’ a feight; he’d summat else to do for me beside that.  Aw noan put mysel up for a boxin’ match, aw con tell yo’.’

    ‘Nowe, Mr. Penrose, th’ feight were nobbud th’ start like.  It were sometime afore th’ job were settled.  Yo’ see, I were a shy sort o’ a chap and back’ard like at comin’ for’ard.  One day, haaever, Molly o’ th’ Long Shay come up to me when th’ factory were losin’, and hoo said, “Malachi, arto baan to let Amos Entwistle wed that lass o’ Cronshaw’s? for if thaa art thaa’rt a foo’ (fool).  Thaa’rt fond o’ her, and hoo’s fond o’ thee.  If hoo’s too praad to ax thee to be her husband hoo’s noan too praad to say ‘Yea’ if tha’ll nobbud ax her to be thi wife.”

    ‘Molly o’ Long Shay were noan sich a beauty, bud aw felt as aw could aw liked to ha’ kuss’d her that day, an’ no mistak’.

    ‘“Ey, Molly,” aw said, “if aw thought thaa spok’ truth, aw’d see Betty to-neet.”

    ‘“See her, mon,” hoo said, “an’ get th’ job sattled.”

    ‘Well, yo’ mun know, Mr. Penrose, that Betty’s faither were fond o’ rootin’ i’ plants, an’ as aw’d a turn that way mysell thought aw'd just walk up as far as his haase, and buy a twothree, and try and hev a word wi’ Betty i’ th’ bargain.  So aw weshed mysel, and donned mi Sunday best, and went up.

    ‘When aw geet theer, Betty were i’ th’ garden by hersel, as her faither were gone to a deacons’ meetin’ at Rehoboth.

    ‘“What arto doin’ up here, Malachi?” hoo sez.

    ‘“I’ve nobbud come up to see thi faither abaat some flaars,” aw stuttered.

    ‘“He’ll noan be up for an hour or two yet,” hoo said.  “He’s gone to Rehoboth.  Is it a flaar as aw con get for thee?”

    ‘“Yi!” aw sez, “yo’ con get me th’ flaar aw want.”

    ‘“Which is it?” said hoo.  “Is it one o’ those lilies mi faither geet fro’ th’ hall?”

    ‘“Nowe,” aw said; “it didn’t come fro’ th’ hall; it awlus grow’d here.”

    ‘“Well, if thaa’ll tell me which it is, thaa shall hev it; where abaats is it?”

    ‘Mr. Penrose, did yo' ever try an’ shap’ your mouth to tell a lass as yo' luved hir?’

    Mr. Penrose remained silent.

    ‘Well, if ever yo’ did, then yo’ know haa aw felt when hoo axed me where th’ flaar were as aw wanted.  Aw couldn’t for shame to tell her.  Then hoo turned on me an’ said:

    ‘“If thaa’ll tell me where the flaar is I’ll give it thee, but don’t stand grinnin’ theer.”

    ‘Then aw plucked up like.  Aw said: “Aw think thaa knows where th’ flaar is, Betty.  An’ as thaa said I mun hev it, I’ll tak’ it.”  And I gave her a kuss on th’ cheek ’at were nearest to me.’

    ‘And did she strike you as she struck the tackler?’ asked Mr. Penrose.

    ‘Did hoo strike me — ?  Nowe; hoo turned t’other cheek and geet a better and longer kuss nor th’ first.’

    ‘So that is how Malachi won you, is it, Betty?  The story is worth a chapter in a novel.’

    ‘Nay, aw wernd so easily won as that, Mr. Penrose.  There were summat else i’ th' way, and aw welly thought once he’d ha’ lost me.’

    ‘And what was that?’

    ‘Well, yo’ see,’ said Malachi, ‘Betty were a dipper, an’ I were a sprinkler.  And when I axed th’ old mon for Betty he said as dippin’ and sprinklin’ wouldn’t piece up.  And then hoo were a Calvin an’ I were a Methody, and that were wur and wur.

    ‘Th’ owd mon stood to his gun, and wouldn’t say “Yez” till I gave in; an’ aw stood to mi gun, and to Betty an’ o’, an’ towd her faither ’at aw were as good as ony on ’em.  One day th’ lass come to me wi’ tears in her een, and said:

    ‘“Malachi, didsto ever read Solomon’s Song?”

    ‘“Yi, forsure aw did.  Why doesto ax me that question?”

    ‘“Doesto remember th’ seventh verse o’ th’ last chapter?” hoo said.

    ‘“Aw cannot say as ’ow I do.  What is it?”

    ‘“It’s that,” said hoo, puttin’ her little Bible i’ my hand.

    ‘And when I tuk it aw read, “Many waters cannot quench love.”

    ‘“Well,” aw sez, “what abaat that?”

    ‘“Why,” hoo cried, “thaa’rt lettin’ Rehoboth waters quench thine.”

    ‘“Haa doesto mean?” aw axed.

    ‘“Why, thaa willn’t be dipped for me.”‘

    Here Mr. Penrose broke into a hearty laugh, and complimented Betty, telling her she was the sort of woman to make ‘converts to the cause.‘  Then old Malachi put on his wisest look, and continued:

    ‘Mr. Penrose, aw mut as weel tell yo’ afore yo’ get wed, that it’s no use feightin’ agen a woman.  They’re like Bill o’ th’ Goit’s donkey, they’ll goa their own gate, an’ th’ more yo’ bother wi’ ’em th’ wur they are.  A mon’s wife mak’s him.  Hoo shap’s everythin’ for him, his clooas, his gate, and his religion an’ o’.  Talk abaat clay i’ th’ honds o’ th’ potter, why it’s naught to a man i’ th’ honds o’ his missus.’

    ‘So you were baptized for the love of Betty, were you, Malachi?’

    ‘Yi; bud I were no hypocrite abaat it, for aw told her aw should never be a Calvin, an’ aw never have bin.  Doesto remember what thaa said, Betty, when aw tell’d thee aw should never be a Calvin?’

    ‘Nay, aw forget, lad; it’s so long sin’.’

    ‘Bud aw haven't forgetten. Thaa said, “Never mind, thaa’s no need to tell mi faither that; thaa can keep it to thisel.”  Aw’ll tell yo' what, Mr. Penrose, a woman’s as deep as th' Longridge pit shaft.‘

    ‘Well, thaa’s never rued o’er joinin’ Rehoboth, Malachi.‘

    ‘I’ve never rued o’er weddin’ thee, lass; an' aw think if thaa’d gone to a wur place nor Rehoboth aw should ha’ followed thee.  Leastways, I shouldn’t ha’ liked thee to ’a’ tempted me.’

    ‘But thaa’s not tell’d him all, Malachi.’

    ‘Nowe, lass, aw hevn’t, but aw will.  Have yo’ seen yon rose-tree that grows under the winder — that tree that is welly full durin’ th’ season?’

    The minister nodded.

    ‘Well, when aw fetched her fro’ her faither, hoo said aw mun tak a flaar an’ o’, as aw coomd for one on th’ neet as aw geet her.  So aw took one o’ th’ owd felley’s rose-trees, an’ planted it under aar winder theer, and theer it’s stood for nigh on forty year, come blow, come snow, come sun, come shade, an’ the roses are still as fresh an' sweet as ever.  An’ so art thaa, owd lass,’ and Malachi got up and kissed into bloom the faded, yet healthy, cheek of Betty, his conquest of whom he had just narrated to Mr. Penrose, and whom he still so dearly loved.


――――♦――――

 
VIII.

MR. PENROSE BRINGS HOME A
BRIDE.


WHEN Rehoboth heard of the coming marriage of Mr. Penrose many were its speculations on the woman he was taking for wife.  Amos Entwistle said ‘he’d be bun for’t that th’ lass wouldn’t be baat brass noather in her pocket nor in her face’; to which old Enoch’s wife replied that ‘hoo’d need both i’ Rehoboth, where they fed th' parson on scaplins (stone chippings), and teed his tung with deacons’ resolutions.’

    Milly wondered ‘if th’ lass ’ud be pratty,’ and ‘what colour her een ’ud be’; while old Joseph declared ‘hoo’d be mighty high-minded, but that hoo were comin’ to wheer hoo’d be takken daan a bit.’

    The most philosophic judgment was that of Malachi o’ th’ Mount, who, turning on Amos one evening in the chapel yard, said:

    ‘Look here, owd lad; it were yor pleasure to stop single; it were mine to get wed.  We both on us pleeased aarsels; let th’ parson do th’ same.  He’ll noan ax thee to live wi’ th’ lass; he’ll live wi’ her hissel.  Then let him pleease hissel.’

    One or two of the women vexed themselves as to whether she would be a Martha or a Mary; and when Deborah Heap was appealed to she said, ‘Let’s hope hoo’ll be a bit o’ both.’

    Old Joseph, overhearing this last remark, injected his venom by hinting that ‘no doubt hoo’d be a Mary, but that th’ maister at whose feet hoo’d sit would be a different sort to Him as went to Bethany.’

    Then it was Abraham Lord’s wife suggested that Joseph should find th’ parson a pair o’ wings, so as he might mate hissel wi’ a angel, for she was sure naught less ’ud suit Rehoboth fo’k.’  And Oliver o' Deaf Martha’s wife climaxed the discussion by saying, ‘if that were bein’ a parson’s wife, hoo’d rather be where hoo were, although their Oliver did tak' drink and ooine (punish) her.’

    ‘I’ll tell thee what, lad,’ said Mrs. Lord to her husband on the night of the chapel yard conclave — ‘I’ll tell thee what.  I feel fair grieved for that lass th’ parson’s wed.  They’n mad’ up their minds they’ll never tak’ to her; and there’s no changin’ th’ mind o’ Rehoboth.’

    ‘But we’ll tak’ to her, mother,’ cried Milly, crossing, with her crutch, from the window at which she had been sitting, to take her place at her mother’s side.  ‘We’ll tak’ to her; aw con luv onybody ’at Mr. Penrose luves.’

    ‘Bless thee, lass! aw beleeve thaa con.  An’ we will tak’ to her, as thaa sez.  Fancy thee leavin’ me to get wed, an’ livin’ i’ a strange place, and all th’ fo’k set agen thee afore they see thee!  It mak’s mi heart fair wark (ache).’

    ‘But thaa knows, misses, hoo’ll happen not tak’ to thee an’ Milly.  Hoo’ll happen be a bit aboon yo’ — high-minded like.’

    ‘Hoo’ll tak’ to Milly if hoo’s takken to Mr. Penrose, lad; thaa’ll see if hoo doesn’t.  Didn’t he read a bit aat o’ one o’ her letters where hoo said hoo were fain longin’ to see Milly becose hoo liked th’ flaars an' stars an’ sich like?’

    ‘Yi; he did forsure.’

    ‘Aw know hoo’ll tak’ to me, mother.  An’ if hoo doesn’t, I’ll mak’ her, that’s all.’

    ‘Aw don’t somehaa think ’at Mr. Penrose ud wed a praad woman, Abram.  Do yo’?’

    ‘I durnd think he would, lass.  Bud then th’ best o’ men mak’ mistakes o’er th’ women they wed.’

    ‘Yi; they say luv’s gawmless; but aw welly think Mr. Penrose knows what he’s abaat.’

    ‘Th’ Lord help him, if he doesn’t!  They say a mon hes to ax his wife if he’s to live.’

    ‘Aw yerd Amos say t’other day, faither, that a chap hed to live thirty year wi’ a woman afore he know’d he were wed.’

    ‘Did th’ owd powse say that, lass?’ cried Milly’s mother.  ‘I nobbud wish l’d yerd him.  He’s lived more nor thirty year baat one, an’ a bonny speciment he is.  Bud it’s a gradely job for th’ woman ’at missed him.  He were welly weddin’ Malachi o’ th’ Mount’s wife once over.’

    ‘Yi; hoo’d a lucky miss, an’ no mistak’.  But happen hoo’d ha’ shapped him.’

    ‘Never, lad.  There’s some felleys that no woman can shap’, and Amos is one o’ em.’

    ‘Aw towd him, faither, that yo’ know’d yo’ were wed, and yo’d nobbud been agate seventeen year.’

    ‘An’ what did he say to that, Milly?’ asked her mother.

    ‘Why, he towd me aw know’d too mich.’

    And at this both Abraham and his wife joined in hearty laughter.

    ‘When does Penrose bring his wife to Rehoboth, missis?’

    ‘Saturday neet.  We’s see her for th’ fust time o’ Sunday mornin’.  Hoo’s baan to sit wi’ Dr. Hale.’

    ‘There’ll be some een on her, aw bet,’ said Abraham.

    ‘Wernd there, just.  Poor lass!  I could fair cry for her when aw think abaat it.  An’ away fro’ her mother, an’ o’.’

    ‘But then hoo’ll hev her husband, wernd hoo?’ asked Milly.

    ‘For sure hoo will; bud he’ll be i’ th' pulpit, and not agen her to keep her fro’ bein’ ’onely like.’

    ‘Ey, mother, aw sometimes think it must be a grand thing for a woman to see her felley in a pulpit.’

    ‘Don’t thee go soft on parsons, lass,’ said her father.


*                *                *                *                *                *                *                *


    If there had been no other welcome to the minister's wife on her Sabbath advent at Rehoboth, there was the welcome of Nature — the welcome born of the bridal hour of morn with moorland, when the awakening day bends over, and clasps with its glory the underlying and far-reaching hills.  From out a cloudless sky — save where wreaths of vapour fringed the rounding blue — the sun put forth his golden arms towards the heathery sweeps that lay with their rounded bosoms greedy for his embrace, and gave himself in wantonness to his bride, kissing her fair face into blushing loveliness, and calling forth from the womb of the morning a myriad forms of life.  Earth lay breathless in the clasp of heaven — they twain were one, perfect in union, and in spirit undivided.  Rehoboth was seductive with a sweetness known only to the nuptials of Nature in a morning of sunshine on the moors.

    It wanted two hours before service, and the young wife was wandering among the flowers of the garden of the manse that was to be her home, her spouse seated at his study window intent on the manuscript of his morning’s discourse.  Intent?  Nay, for his eye often wandered from the underscored pages to the girl-wife who glided with merry heart and lithe footstep from flower to flower, her skirts wet as she swept the dew-jewels that glistened on the lawn and borders of the gay parterres.  She, poor girl! supposing herself unwatched, drank deeply of the morning gladness, her joyous step now and again falling into the rhythmic movements of a dance.  She even found herself humming airs that were not sacred — airs forbidden even on weekdays in the puritanic precincts of Rehoboth — airs she had learned in the distant city once her home.  Was she not happy? and does not happiness voice itself in song?  And is not the song of the happy always sacred — and sacred even on the most sacred of days?

    Alas! alas! little did the young wife know the puritanic mood of Rehoboth.  Behind the privet hedge fencing off the paradise, on this good Sunday morning, lurked Amos Entwistle.

    The old man, hearing the voice on his way to Sunday-school, stopped, and, peeping through the fence, saw what confirmed his bitterest prejudices against the woman whom Mr, Penrose had married; and before a half-hour was passed every teacher and scholar in Rehoboth school was told that ‘ th’ parson hed wed a doncin’ lass fro’ a theyater.’

    Standing in his desk before the first hymn was announced, Amos cried in loud tones:

    ‘Aw seed her mysel donce i’ th’ garden, on God’s good Sunday morn.  I seed her donce like that brazened (impudent) wench did afore King Herod, him up i’ his study-winder skennin’ at her when he ought to ha’ bin sayin’ o’ his prayers.  An’ aw yerd her sing some mak’ o’ stuff abaat luv, and sich like rubbidge.  What sort o’ a wife dun yo' co that?  Gi’ me a lass as can strike up Hepzibab, and mak’ a prayer.  It’s all o’ a piece — short weight i’ doctrin’, and falderdals i’ wives.’

    And as Amos finished the delivery of this sentiment, and held the open hymn-book in his hand, he reached over to administer a blow on the ears of a child who was peeping through the window at a little bird trilling joyously on the deep-splayed sill outside.

    During the pause between the close of Sunday-school and the commencement of morning service, congregation and scholars darkened the chapel yard in gossiping groups, each on the tiptoe of curiosity to catch a first glimpse of the bride of their pastor.  All eyes were turned towards the crown of the hill which led up from the manse, and on which Mr. Penrose and his wife would first be seen.  More than once an approaching couple were mistaken for them, and more than once disappointment darkened the faces of the waiting folk.  With some of the older members weariness overcame curiosity, and they entered the doors, through which came the sound of instruments in process of tuning, while Amos Entwistle, cuffing and driving the younger scholars into the chapel, upbraided the elder ones by asking them ‘if th’ parson were the only chap as hed ever getten wed?’

    At last the well-known form of the preacher was silhouetted on the brow of the hill, and by his side the wife whose advent had created such a prejudice and distaste, unknown though she was, among these moorland folks.  The murmur of announcement ran round, and within, as well as without, all knew ‘th’ parson’s wife wor amang ’em.’

    As the couple entered the chapel yard the people made way, ungraciously somewhat, and shot the young bride through and through with cruel stares.  Mr. Penrose greeted his congregation with a succession of nervous nods, jerky and strained, his wife keeping her eyes fixed on the gravestones over which she was led to the chapel doors.

    ‘Sithee! hoo’s getten her yers pierced,’ said a loudly-dressed girl, a weaver at the factory in the vale.

    ‘Yi; an' hoo wears droppers an’ o’,’ replied the friend whom she addressed.

    ‘Ey! haa hoo does pinch,’ critically remarked Libby Eastwood, the dressmaker of the village.

    ‘Nay, Libby; yon’s a natural sized waist — hoo’s nobbud small made, thaa sees,’ said the woman to whom the remark had been made.

    ‘Well, aw’d ha? donned a bonnet on a Sunday.’

    ‘Yi; so would I.  An’ a married woman an’ o’ — aw think hoo might be daycent.’

    ‘Aw’ll tell thee what, Mary Ann — there’s a deal o' mak’ up i’ that yure (hair), or aw’m mista’en,’

    ‘Yo’re reet, lass; there is, an’ no mistak’.’

    ‘Can hoo play th’ pianer, thinksto?’

    ‘Can hoo dust one?’

    ‘Nowe, aw’ll warnd hoo cornd.’

    ‘Hoo thinks hersel’ aboon porritch, does yon lot.’

    ‘Dun yo’ think hoo can mak’ porritch?’ sneered Amos to the woman who passed the unkindly remark.

    ‘Nowe, Amos, aw durnd.  Yon lass’ll cost Penrose some brass.  Yo’ll see if hoo doesnd.’

    While this criticism was going on in the chapel yard, Mrs. Penrose was seated in the pew of Dr. Hale, somewhat bewildered and not a little overstrained.  Here, too, poor woman, she was unconsciously giving offence, for on entering she had knelt down in prayer, Old Clogs declaring that ‘hoo were on her knees three minutes and a hawve, by th’ chapel clock;’ while at the conclusion of the service, after the congregation were on their feet in noisy exit, her devotional attitude led others to brand her both as a ‘ritual’ and a ‘papist.’

    During the afternoon there was a repetition of the morning’s ordeal, and at the service the young wife was again the one on whom all eyes were fixed, and of whom all tongues whispered.  Never before had she been so called to suffer.  If the keen glances of the congregation had been softened by the slightest sympathy she could better have stood the glare of curiosity; but no such ray of sympathy was there blended with the looks.  Hard, cold, and critical — such was the language of every eye.  Rehoboth hated what it called ‘foreigners’ — those who had been born and brought up in districts distant from its own. All strange places were Nazareths, and all strangers were Nazarenes, and the cry was, ‘Can any good thing come out therefrom?’  And to this question the answer was ever negative.  Outside Rehoboth dwelt the alien.  In course of years the prejudice towards the intruder submitted itself to the force of custom, and less suspicious became the looks, and less harsh the tongues.  Even then, however, the old Rehobothite remained a Hebrew of Hebrews; while the others, at the best, were but proselytes of the gate.  It was the first brunt of this storm of suspicion from which the minister’s wife was suffering, and she was powerless to stay it, or even allay its stress; nor could her husband come to her deliverance.  Milly, however, like the good angel that she was, proved her friend in need, and all unconsciously, and yet effectively, turned the tide of cruel and inquisitorial scorn first of all into wonder and then into delight.

    And it came about in this manner.  As the congregation were leaving the chapel at the close of the afternoon service, and poor Mrs. Penrose, sorely bewildered, was jostled by the staring throng, Milly pushed her way with her crutch to the blushing woman, and, handing her a bunch of flowers, said:

    ‘See yo’, Mrs. Penrose, here’s a posy for yo’.  Yo’re maister sez as yo’ like flaars, an’ aw’ve grow’d these i’ my own garden.  Aw should ha’ brought ’em this mornin’, but aw couldn’t ged aat; an’ mi mother wouldn’t bring ’em for me, for hoo said aw mun bring ’em mysel.’

    Mrs. Penrose could not translate the vernacular in which the child spoke, but she could, and did, translate the gift; and tears came into her eyes as she reached out her hand to take from the crippled girl the big bunch of roses, tiger-lilies and hollyhocks which Milly extended towards her.  There was a welcome in the flowers of Rehoboth, if not in the people, thought she; and, at any rate, one little soul felt warmly towards her.

    As Mrs. Penrose looked at the blushing flowers and caught the scents that stole up from them, and as she looked at the little face on which suffering had drawn such deep lines — a little face that told of pity for the lonely bride — a home feeling came over her, and she felt that there was another in Rehoboth, as well as her husband, by whom she was loved.  To Mrs. Penrose little Milly’s gift made the wilderness to rejoice and the desert to blossom as the rose; and, stooping, she kissed the child, while her tears fell fast and starred the flowers she held in her hand.

    That kiss, and the tears, won half the hearts of the Rehoboth congregation.

    ‘Hoo’s a lady, whatever else hoo is,’ said an old woman; ‘an' if hoo’s aboon porritch, hoo’s none aboon kissin’ a poor mon’s child.’


*                *                *                *                *                *                *                *


    That evening, as Mr. Penrose walked with his wife along the path of the old manse garden, he turned to her, saying:

    ‘This has been a trying Sunday, little woman.’

    ‘Yes; but I’ve got over it, thanks to that little lame girl.  It was her nosegay that brought me through, Walter, and that little face of hers, so full of kindly concern and pity.  You don’t know how hard my heart was until she came to me — hard even against you for bringing me here.’

    ‘And you kissed Milly, didn’t you, Lucy?’

    ‘Yes.  I didn’t do wrong, did I?’

    ‘No.  That kiss of yours has touched hearts my theology cannot touch.  You are queen here now.’

    ‘Yours — and always!’

    Then he drew her to his side, and kissed her as she had kissed Milly, and on lips as sweet and rosy as the petals that fell at their feet.



THE END.

 

BILLING AND SONS, PRINTERS, GUILDFORD.

 



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