By Roaring Loom III.

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CHARLEY O’ MARY’S O’ MALLEYS
O’ TH’ HEIGHTS


WHEN I next met with old Harry our conversation turned on the interview which I have just narrated with Mary o’ Malleys o’ th’ Heights.  ‘Well,’ asked the engineer, ‘hoo’s a gradely owd soul, isn’t hoo; a bit o’ burnished gowd, though hoo is poor; one o’ th’ elect, yo’ know, as waits for her craan i’ t’other shop, an’ hoo’s earned it an’ all.  Rich i’ faith, as th’ parsons say, an’ one who’s done aboon her share o’ good works.  But that young’st o’ hers has welly broke her heart; but hoo lives i’ hope, an’ mak’s her prayers for him every day.  An’ th’ owd lass believes they’ll be answered an’ all.  But it’s a dry job when yo’ pray for th’ undoin’ o’ yore own foolishness; an’ it were Mary’s folly ’at set Charley wrong.’

    ‘She indulged him, I suppose,’ I said.

    ‘Yi, an’ aw durnd wonder.  He were a lad as had a way o’ gettin’ raand yo’, an’ th’ better end took to him.  He were nobbud a weyver like Blunt Tummis, but one o’ th’ young maisters geet him into th’ office, an’ like as soon as he dropped th’ shuttle an’ took up th’ pen there were th’ dule to play.  Aw’ll tell yo’ what it is, there’s aboon a few as cornd stand corn.  Porritch is a gradely dish for most o’ us, an’ if Charley had stuck to’t he’d ha’ been all reet.  But he geet on th’ meat diet, an’ it poisoned him, it did for sure.  Aw seed it long afore it come; but there were no tellin’ oather th’ owd woman or th’ lad.  Honest friends is noan welcome i’ these parts, an’ it’s mony a year sin’ naa aw learnt to keep a quiet tongue i’ my head, where other folk’s childer were consarned.  Yo’ll never hear aught wrang agen yore own, will yo’?’  And Harry looked quissically into my face for the assenting nod which from time to time so inspired him in his stories.

    ‘You’ve learnt in a hard school,’ I replied, ‘but your lessons are none the less true.  But what of Charley?’

    ‘First o’ all he started wi’ his line talkin’, an’ th’ lad forgeet th’ speech he were born to.  Then he took to dressin’ aboon his station, an’ he left th’ owd tailor i’ th’ village for a swagger chap i’ Manchester.  After that he began to drop his owd cronies, nobbud noddin’ where he used to meet ’em, an’ that not often.  Yo’ know what followed?  He began o’ knockin’ them balls abaat as they co’ billyyards, an’ suppin’ summat stronger nor ale.  Aw’ll tell yo’ what, a chap hasn’t to go far to find his road to th’ dule.  He con geet to him onywhere, an’ Charley geet to him fro’ where he were bred an’ born.

    ‘One momin’ he were missin’, an’ noabry seemed to know where he’d gone.  They dragged th’ lodge, an’ searched th’ pits, an’ advertised i’ th’ papers, but there were no Charley, an’ th’ lad’s never been heard on sin’.  It fotched th’ white into his mother’s yure, but hoo bore up like th’ woman as hoo were.  There were as went to her to sympathise wi’ her aat o’ curiosity like; but they couldn’t catch th’ owd woman.  Hoo said naught an’ kept her sorrow to hersel’.  Hoo said more to yo’ yesterdo’ nor aw ever heard her say afore.  But then yo’ see yo’ geet howd o’ th’ photograph an’ axed her whose it were.

    ‘As yo’d see, th’ lad were never aat o’ her thoughts.  Like as love clings to that as spurns it; th’ fatted calf were killed for th’ waistrel, yo’ know, an’ not for him as stopped awhom an’ did as he were bidden; an’ if Charley come whom to-morrow Mary’d spend her last penny o’er th’ feast; for after all there’s no fools like mothers, though they’re th’ best o’ fools.’  And the old man fell into one of his ruminating moods, silently gazing and blinking at that child of steel and iron over which he himself had spent so much affection for so many years.

    We were suddenly aroused by the sound of some one stumbling, the lifting of a latch, the clanking of clogs, and a muttered imprecation; then a tall man seemed to fall headlong into the room.

    ‘Corndta lift those feet!’ shouted Harry, waking from his reverie.  ‘Thaa’rt awlus gawmless, as thy mother towd us yesterdo’.  Wheer’s them nutmegs?  Let’s see; haa mony didta buy?’  And when I looked into the face of the one thus addressed, I recognised the photograph of “Blunt Tummis” which I had seen before in Mary’s home.

    ‘Ne’er mind th’ nutmegs, Harry,’ said the lad: aw’ve good news for thee.  We’ve heard fro’ Charley, an’ he’s comin’ whom.’

    ‘Doesta call that good news?’ asked the steely engineer.  ‘He’d better have lain quiet an’ left daycent folk alone.’

    A look of pain crossed the lad’s face, and his eyes filled with tears.

    ‘He were no friend to thee, Tummis, aw con tell thee.  Aw’ve seen him put on thee shameful, makkin’ thee carry his pieces, an’ borrowin’ thy savin’ brass till thaa’d naught left.’

    ‘But then he were aar Charley, thaa knows, Harry.’

    ‘What by that?  Yo’ were his Tummis.’

    ‘But that wirnd bein’ Charley,’ replied the simple-minded fellow.  ‘He were th’ young’st, thaa knows, an’ th’ bonniest, an’ th’ cleverest.’

    ‘An’ yo’ made him th’ worst, naa, didn’t yo’?  Leastways yore mother did.’

    I saw that Thomas’ heart was full — too full for speech; so I took upon myself to speak for him, by chiding Harry for his somewhat uncalled-for cynicism.  ‘Blood’s thicker that water,’ I said, ‘all the world over, and we are to rejoice with those who rejoice.’

    ‘Rejoice!  There’s a deal to rejoice at, when him as has brought naught but sorrow turns up again to bring yo’ more;’ and the old man turned away to his engine, looking up at it with wondrous affection, and saying as he did so, ‘Thaa never did naught wrang, didta?  Bless thee! nobbud when we worked thee too hard, an’ thaa come i’ pieces.’

    After some talk with Thomas, in which in his broken fashion he gave me shreds of their family history, I went with him by request to his mother’s house, to share with him the old woman’s joy.

    ‘It were i’ his own hondwritin’,’ said he, as we walked together to the cottage.  ‘My mother’s read it o’er an’ o’er again, till her owd eyes fair wattered, an’ hoo’s smoored (smothered) it with kisses, an’ pinned it i’ her bosom to keep it fro’ gettin’ lost.  Hoo’ll not let me look at it, becose, as hoo says, aw nobbud mar all as aw touch; but hoo’s read it to me, an’ it’s Charley all o’er again, barrin’ his nowtiness.’

    As we climbed the field path together, I the while listening to the simple fellow’s genuine talk, the outrush of a noble brother’s soul, I fell to thinking of the treasures of worth hidden away in the common domesticities of life.  Here, in a cottage home, were mother and brother, faithful as the morning sun that rose behind the hills, beneath whose shelter they dwelt, their waking thoughts travelling far beyond to where they dreamt their child might roam; their first prayers breathed for his welfare; their unuttered speech a silent converse with him whose voice they longed to hear; and the burden of their memories the days he had shared with them in their home.  Truly, I thought, this is the love that gives cohesion to the family, and hope to life.

    I found the house, as we entered, radiant with the old woman’s smile.  There she sat transfigured beneath the light of a great joy: no longer the Mary of the previous week; time had seemed to roll back the years, and I caught a glimpse of what she had been in the glory of her womanhood and in the pride of her maternity.  She was young, she was beautiful, despite her three-score years and their labour and sorrow.  A holy light seemed to diffuse from around her, and touch everything with its radiance.  The sunlight was kindlier, the plants in the window sweeter in their scents, the fire more playful in its glow, and a soft purring sound came from the old woman’s feet, where the cat was curled in sweet content — at least I thought so.

    In a little while I saw there had been changes in the room.  The photograph which had hung in the shadow lay dusted on the table by her side, whereon a meal was spread, as though she were expectant of some guest, and a chair stood in the ingle nook which was not there on my previous visit.  The surprise was greater to Thomas than myself for he looked in astonishment, at last blurting out after his simple fashion, ‘Nay, mother, what naa?  It’s mony a year sin’ yo’ had th’ best chiney aat; an’ what han yo’ fotched th’ owd cheer daan fro’ th’ attic for?’

    ‘E’ Tummis, lad, thaa were awlus simple.  Th’ Almeety sent thee aboon an aance short o’ wit, or else thaa’s made bad use o’ that He’s gave thee.  Doesn’ta know as aw’ve getten ready for aar Charley?  He’ll noan be so long naa.  Aw’ve noan getten a fatted calf but aw’ve a cock chicken ready yon, an’ a pummer it is an’ all.  He awlus liked a toothsome bit, did Charley, bless him! an’ he shall have it as long as his owd mother lives, an’ hoo’s brass to geet it.’

    ‘An’ that chiney, mother!’ said Thomas, dazed with wonder.

    ‘Yi! lad, it were thy grondmother’s, an’ nobbud love lips sup aat on’t.  An’ th’ cheer were th’ last aw seed him sit in afore he went away, an’ noabry’s set in it sin’, nor will they till he comes whom.’

    It was too much for me, and I turned into the garden to swallow down the emotion which I was vexed with myself for betraying.  It was a golden evening.  Long bars of fading light were dying across the moors, and wreaths of blue vapour played lazily around the cottage roofs below.  The factory was hushed, spindle and loom alike having ceased their noisy play, and now the voices of the toilers in mirth and song floated upward from the vale.  Trees in the garden were lengthening in their shadows, and the murmur of insect life sounded dreamily upon the ear.  In a little while Mary followed me, and stood by the bench on which I was seated, Thomas following her, silent yet deeply moved.  For some moments nothing disturbed what to me was an expectant hush, Mary’s eyes being fixed on a distant gap in the valley where the tunnel terminated with a line that ran from the city beyond the hills.

    Longer grew the shadows, as one by one the bars of moorland light yielded to the approaching gloom; then a haze of mist fell hiding the more distant objects until at last we looked out upon a little world growing less and less with the fall of evening.

    ‘Can yo’ still see th’ tunnel maath, Tummis?’ asked the old woman, arching her eyes with her trembling hand.

    ‘Yi, forsure aw con, mother.’

    ‘Weel, thaa mun tell me when thaa sees th’ first puff o’ steeam fro’ th’ engine ’at brings th’ train up fro’ Manchester.’  And mother and son continued to look in the direction of the fast-vanishing gorge.

    No longer the shadows lengthened, for they had kissed the nightfall and were asleep in its arms; but the stars came out to keep their vigil with the expectant ones.

    ‘There’s no seein’ th’ tunnel naa, mother,’ said Thomas.

    ‘Nowe, lad, there isn’t, so thaa mun listen for th’ skrike o’ th’ whistle.’  And now the ear was as intently strained as had been the eye.

    ‘Aw wish they wouldn’t mak’ so mich din daan i’ the village,’ said the old woman.

    ‘Din, mother,’ said Thomas; ‘there isn’t a breath stirrin’.’

    ‘Yi! there is,’ she said, ‘there’s Whitam’s dog i’ th’ fold, an’ th’ wind yon i’ th’ rookery ’ll noan be still.

    ‘Hooisht !’ said the old woman.

    And as we held our breath there was a rustle of leaves in the old elms, and the faint cry of a benighted bird.

    The moments marked off the minutes, and the minutes were tedious in their flight-at least so thought those who were waiting.  When suddenly the still night air was rent by the piercing shriek of the train emerging from the tunnel, and a sudden change in the signal lights flashed out the joyful message of arrival.

    That piercing shriek, so harsh, so torturing to the nerve, was as a great joy-cry to the tremulously expectant mother; and no birth bells, nor wedding bells, ever sounded in ears the welcome of that station bell, as it was rung that night by thoughtless porter’s hands.

    ‘Go thy ways an’ meet him,’ said Mary to Thomas.

    ‘Meet who?’ asked the simple youth.

    ‘Thy brother ’at’s alive again.’  And with one mad bound the lad leapt out into the darkness.

    ‘They’ll nobbud be abaat seven an’ a haive minutes, by th’ maister’s reckonin,’ said she, turning to me; ‘that were th’ time he allowed hissel’ i’ comin’ fro’ th’ station, an’ aw reckon they’ll step it aat as fast as he used,’ and she turned in her cottage to gauge the measure of the time.

    As the minutes passed the old woman’s excitement became more intense, but it was the excitement of suspense and of silence.  Her whole body was tremulous with restraint, and there was just light enough to discover those tremors and twitchings that tell of the terrible moments of soul tension.  I ventured to lay my hand on hers.  It was cold, though the pulse was beating fast, and there was no response to my touch.  Suddenly she left me, this time not to consult the clock, but to walk down the garden path, and bend her ear across the gate that guarded off her domain from the road.

    ‘Hear yo’,’ said she, ‘that’s a footfalll’ and slowly the steps approached.

    But it was only a weaver plodding towards his moorland home; and as he passed he greeted her with a ‘Good-neet, Mary,’ to which the kindly old woman forgot a return.

    Then came the sound of voices, low and hushed.

    ‘They’re here,’ she said.

    But it was only two lovers, crooning in life’s young dream.

    Then came another pause, broken at last by a steady tramp, and as nearer and nearer it fell, it linked itself with voices clear and strong.

    ‘Aw’m noan mista’en this time,’ she said.  Nor was she.  For as two men loomed in the darkness the voice of simple Thomas rang out.

    ‘Thaa’rt a gradely prophet, mother; he’s come whom, an’ for good an’ all.’

    I slipped out into the darkness, from which the men emerged, and hid myself to hide my tears, and to hide myself from the mother’s joy and the son’s repentance, too sacred for any eyes save those of the angels in heaven, who we are told, rejoice at every wanderer’s return.


*                *                *                *                *                *


    On the morrow when I met with old Harry he greeted me in his rudest vernacular by asking, ‘Han yo’ heard aught?’

    ‘Have you?’ I inquired.

    ‘Yi!’ he said, ‘he’s come whom, an’ i’ a better mind an’ all.  Th’ owd lass is wick with glee.  There were some fine feastin’ up at th’ cottage last neet.  A cock chicken, an’ bacon collops an’ all, an’ th’ best chiney fotched aat, an’ Tummis geet his concertina daan and played “Owd Lang Syne,” and “Home, Sweet Home,” an’ th’ owd woman would have ’em wind up wi’ th’ “Owd Hundreth,” and they sung it to th’ Doxology or summat, an’ all for a waistrel, a lad as broke his mother’s heart.  E’ dear, it’s a weary world.  Aw wonder when they’ll kill a cock chicken o’er Tummis? an’ he’s worth a thaasand o’ th’ likes of yon spark.  Aw cornd piece it up, onyroad.  Aw’ll noan believe it’s reet even if th’ Bible says so.’

    ‘There’s something stronger than the Bible, Harry,’ I said.

    ‘What’s that ?’ asked the old man.

    Then I told him it was a mother’s love.

    As we were talking, Thomas came into the engine-house, a smile lighting up his broad face.  There was no stumbling through the door this time, for his step was light and nimble; and seizing Harry by the hand, he seemed to play with him for some time at pump-handle.

    ‘Here, owd mon,’ said Harry, ‘mind what thaa’rt abaat.  Aw’se want that hond yet a bit to fettle th’ engine wi’.’

    But Thomas continued to wring it and to raise it in such a series of quick successions that Harry began to question his sanity, and shouted out:—

    ‘Drop it, aw tell thee, thaa mun be off it.  Durnd play thy mad tricks on me.’

    Great tears began to stream down poor Thomas’ cheek, and a sob almost choked his utterance as he said, — ‘He’s come whom, Harry, he’s come whom.’

    ‘Weel, thaa needn’t lame a chap o’er th’ job, needta?  What’s he baan to do naa he has come.  Tak’ up his clerkin’ again?’

    ‘Nay, he’s goin’ back to his looms.  It were th’ clerkin’, he says, as sent him to th’ dule.’

    ‘Oh, indeed!’ was the cool rejoinder.  ‘There’s some folk gets there fast enough, choose what they do.’

    ‘But he’s had enough,’ said Thomas.

    ‘Let’s hope so,’ replied old Harry; but I saw the engineer turn aside and quietly raise his cotton waste to his eye; and when he again turned towards us there were white streaks on his grimy face, which told of channels ploughed by those rivers whose source is love.



    And what of Charley o’ Mary’s o’ Malley’s o’ th’ Heights?

    He was true to his vow, and laid aside his clerking, for good and all.  The pen which had been his temptation he discarded for the shuttle, toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing, and finding over his looms that balm of life which he had failed to taste in those fields in which he had wandered, and where, to use old Harry’s expression, ‘he had fed th’ swine, an’ ne’er been paid even i’ gettin’ his share o’ th’ husks as he’d put i’ th’ troughs for ’em.’


――――♦――――

 
THE WEAVER’S WEDDING


AWLL tell yo’ what,’ said old Harry to me a few days after Charley’s return, ‘aw think folks are losin’ their wits.  There’s Mary yon killed a cock chicken o’er th’ home-comin’ o’ th’ young waistrel, an’ naa they say Blunt Tummis is baan to get wed.  It’s a weary world, shuzhaa.’

    ‘You are in a melancholy mood, Harry, this morning,’ I laughingly replied.  ‘Why shouldn’t old Mary be glad, and Thomas wed a wife?’

    ‘Weel, aw noan envy th’ lass her job.  Tummis is a daycent lad, an’ meeans reet; but a chap as’ll buy nutmegs by th’ paand as they buy tay an’ sugar, will nobbud be gawmless abaat th’ haase, to mak’ th’ best on’t.  Aw wonder haa he shapped his maath?’

    ‘What?’ I asked.

    ‘Shapped his maath, yo’ know, when he axed her if hoo’d wed him.  Aw never thought as th’ lad could show up for a job o’ that sort.’

    ‘Love is bold,’ I said, ‘and knows little of the fears that overcome old men like ourselves.’

    ‘But there’s gam (game) i’ owd uns,’ retorted old Harry.  ‘Leastways, there were when Sammy o’ th’ Brig popped th’ question to Mary o’ Margaret’s, seventy-five year agen seven-an’-twenty.  An’ he geet her an’ all, an’ a gradely wife hoo made him.  But then he had brass, an’ Tummis is nobbud a three-loom weyver, an’ a bit blunt an’ all.  Aw con understand a chap facin’ up to a woman when he’s gettern a bit o’ summat else beside hissel’ as he con offer her, a haase an’ furnitur’, an’ an owd stockin’ wi’ summat in it.  But when a chap’s naught but hissel’, an’ naught mich o’ that, then it’s up another street, to my thinkin’.  An’ there’s nowt mich i’ Tummis, poor lad, naa is there?’

    ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Thomas has character.’

    ‘Character!’ cried the old man; ‘it’s baance an’ brass women i’ these parts go in for.  A chap as con talk, an’ ape th’ quality, an’ put a brass ring on his hond, an’ tees his stomach up wi’ a chain, an’ swings his stick as though he owned th’ side o’ th’ street he walked on, an’ were baan to have t’other side left him when his faither deed — them’s th’ chaps as fotch th’ lasses.’

    ‘Come, come,’ I said; ‘if you’d a daughter you would rather turn her over to the care of a man like Blunt Thomas, as you call him, than to one of the dandies you speak of.’

    ‘It’s happen as yo’ say,’ was his reply.  ‘Aw’ve naught agen th’ lad; he’s been a daycent son to his mother; an’ they say them’s th’ sort as mak’s daycent husbands.  But aw thought Sarah Ann would ha’ looked somewhere else than to Tummis.’

    ‘Who is the girl?’ I asked.

    ‘Aw durnd know as yo’ con co’ her a girl,’ replied the old man, rubbing his head with his cap, as though bothered in the calculation of the woman’s age.  ‘Hoo’s been a mony years an’ never growed no owder ― at a ston’still like.  But hoo’s owd enough to look after him, an’ that’s a deal when a felley’s noan so sharp.  Hoo’ll be a mother as weel as a wife to th’ lad, yo’ll see; an’ what he’s short on hoo’s getten, both i’ sense an’ years, an’ aw daresay i’ brass an’ all.  Aw durnd understond it.’  And again the old man rubbed his bald brow with the greasy head-covering he called a cap.

    Just then, who should step briskly into the engine-house but the man whose fate we were discussing.

    ‘Mornin’, Harry,’ said he; ‘grond day, isn’t it?’

    ‘So it seems, to look at thee.  Thaa’rt liftin’ thy feet, aw see, an’ thaa looks fair breetsome.  Has somebody left thee a fortin or summat?’

    ‘Nay, Harry, aw durnd know as they have.

    ‘What fortin aw get aw shall have to work for.’

    ‘Even if it’s a wife!’ I slily suggested.

    ‘Yi!’ said Harry; ‘aw hear thaa’rt baan to join th’ club.’

    ‘Th’ Consarvitive Club?’ asked the simple-minded fellow.

    ‘Nay, aw meean that club where felleys tee theirsel’s to their wives’ apronstrings, an’ have to ax ’em for three-hawpence for haive an aance o’ baccy.’

    The poor lad was confused, and blushed to the roots of his hair, stammering something which I failed to translate, and betraying the soft place in his heart for Sarah Ann.

    ‘Naa, thaa’rt tellin’ tales o’ thysel’.  There’s nobbud two things mak’s a chap go as red as thaa’rt gone — love an’ shame; an’ aw knows thaa’s done naught to be shamed on.  But might aw ax thee a question, Tummis?  Haa didta pluck up when thaa axed her?’

    To one unversed in Lancashire operative life, it would seem that such a question would have aroused the wrath of him to whom it was addressed, but it must be remembered that among these people all things are in common; and, moreover, old Harry was a privileged inquisitor, and Thomas a simple-minded, trustful youth.  Consequently the question was not resented, but met with the frankness with which it was asked.

    Shuffling his feet and twisting the button on his jacket, he said:—

    ‘Thaa sees, Harry, it were i’ this way: aw’d thought a deal on her for mony years, but hoo seemed so mich aboon me as aw said naught to noabry.  But aw couldn’t get her aat o’ my head, an’ aw fun’ my een wanderin’ fro’ my warps to where hoo were weyvin’, an’ mony were th’ faults i’ my pieces (flaws in the web) i’ follerin’ her instead o’ my own work.’

    ‘Yi!’ said old Harry; ‘women again.  There’s naught i’ this warld they durn’d mar, and they’ll breed mischief i’ th’ next if they get there an’ ar’na watched.  But go on with thy tale, lad.’

    ‘Then there were my mother, yo’ know; hoo’d noabry to live wi’, an’ aw didn’t like leavin’ her to hersel’, for th’ owd woman were ’onely like.  But when aar Charley come back aw thought there were no reason why aw shouldn’t try my luck, so aw plucked up an’ axed th’ lass if hoo’d wed me.’

    ‘An’ what did hoo say?’ asked Harry.  ‘Did hoo say aught abaat th’ nutmegs?’

    ‘Nowe, hoo didn’t,’ said Thomas, betraying for the first time a shade of anger.  ‘If hoo had aw’ve ha’ takken care hoo’d ha’ been no wife o’ mine.  But aw’ll tell thee what it is, Harry; a felley may mak’ a bigger foo’ o’ hissel’ nor i’ buyin’ a paand o’ nutmegs, as thaa did that day when thaa supped ale an’ wheeled thysel’ an’ thy cinders into th’ goit.’

    It was a well-directed blow, and it told, and for a few moments the old man was silent.

    ‘And how long did she take to think about it?’ I ventured to ask, both wondering and ashamed at my audacity, but spurred on by the curiosity which the simply-told story roused in me.

    ‘Nobbud abaat three days,’ was his reply.  ‘Hoo met me as aw were comin’ aat o’ chapel last Sundo’ neet, an’ as we walked together up th’ broo (hill) it seemed as though hoo had summat on her mind, for hoo kept looking on th’ graand, an’ said naught.  As we turned th’ lane, an’ crossed th’ moors, aw said to mysel’, “Tummis, it’s naa or never,” so aw oppens my maath, and axed her if hoo’d settled it?  “Yi,” hoo said, “aw think aw have.”  “What,” aw says, “doesta nobbud think?”  “Nay,” hoo says, “aw’m sure.”

    ‘Aw were never drunken i’ my life, Harry,’ said the poor fellow, ‘but my head started goin’ raand like a throstle, an’ th’ hills chased one another, like as aw’ve seen waves at Blackpool shore.

    ‘“Weel,” said hoo i’ a bit, “hasto naught to say, Tummis?”  “Aw’m full,” aw says.  “Full o’ what?” hoo axed.  “Luv,” aw whispered.  Then hoo clipped me an’ kussed me, an’ said, “Thaa’rt a gradely lad, an’ aw’ll mak’ thee a gradely wife.”’

    ‘An’ what did thaa do, Tummis?’

    ‘Aw’m noan baan to tell th’ likes o’ thee, Harry;’ and the simple-minded fellow left us, humming an air in his speechless delight.

    A few days afterwards, I was sitting with his old mother in that cottage home that now knew no shadow, when, turning to me, she said:—

    ‘One comes an’ another goes, thaa sees.  Th’ Almeety’s good, and He gives afore He tak’s away.  Tummis is takkin’ to hissel’ a wife, an’ Charley’s takken again to his owd mother, an’ so th’ world pieces up, an’ th’ pattern comes aat reet at th’ end.  He’ll mak’ a good husband, will Tummis; he’s ne’er turned me a hair grey, nor brought a tear to my een.  He hasn’t th’ wit o’ aar Joe, aw know, nor th’ push o’ aar Dick, nor th’ looks o’ aar Charley.  Like as natur’ didn’t bless him wi’ a square headpiece, but it’s made up for it wi’ his heart, bless him! for after all it’s th’ heart ’at mak’s th’ home, fillin’ th’ wife’s face wi’ leet an’ th’ mother’s soul wi’ gladness.’  And the old woman turned aside to weep her joy tears unseen.

Then turning again towards me, she said, the factory, and little work was done at the looms. It was an early wedding, as was the custom among the operative class in those days; and at half-past nine the ceremony was over, and the guests seated at the breakfast, served in the house of the mother of the bride.

    I regret that no artist has preserved for us on canvas the picture of a wedding among the factory toilers of the county Palatine.  The truth is, this great treasure-house of pathos and humour as yet remains sealed; it awaits the open sesame of the master mind.

    The kitchen was long and low, the table at which the guests were seated extending lengthways from the fireplace to the door.  At the head sat Thomas and Sarah Ann; he, poor fellow, distressingly self-conscious; she, as self-possessed as though bending over her looms.  To his right was the old mother, Mary o’ Malley’s o’ th’ Heights; while on the other side of his wife there paired the mother of Sarah Ann.  After this the guests sat anyhow, save that engaged couples took care to sit against one another, with many a hearty squeeze.

    Three kinds of meats were ranged round the table, tongue and ham and beef, sliced and piled up high on plates, in which the company thrust their forks and ‘helped themselves.’  Huge piles of bread and butter were crowded in between sponge cakes, apple-tarts, and varied kinds of preserve.  But the favourite of the feast was the relish known as ‘pickles.’  Every kind was represented, from the rich purple of the cabbage to the amber yellow of the cauliflower; but the popular taste was for that vulgar spheroid, lingering so long in its odour, though none the less tickling to the palate ― the onion.

    Two urns were kept constantly on tap, for tea was the beverage, and greedily was it consumed — tea sweetened to sickliness and spilt unconscionably in saucer and on cloth.

    As the second and third round of cups disappeared, tongues were loosened, and wit began to fly — wit such as is only heard at a Lancashire wedding, and which no pen can reproduce.

    ‘Weel, Tummis,’ said an old crone, ‘thaa’s made a mon o’ thysel’ to-day, shuzhaa.  Thaa’s been a long time i’ makkin’ up thy mind; but thaa’s made it up at last an’ shown thy sense o’er it an’ all.’

    ‘Yi!’ responded a matronly-looking woman, ‘he’s had th’ sense to go where there were a whom for him, an’ a woman an’ all.  Here’s her ealth,’ and the company raised their cups and took a gulp of tea.

    ‘Hasto getten a family Bible gi’en thee wi’ a place to put th’ childers’ names in?’ asked a youth, as he spluttered over his fourth cup.

    ‘Thee howd on,’ said the mother of the bride; ‘aw’ll noan hear th’ owd Book made a jest on by thee, or onybody else.’  And the youth sank back into silence.

    ‘Who’s baan to be th’ next to follow yo’ to th’ altar, thinksta?’ inquired a ruddy-faced girl, in whose eye burnt the fire of curiosity.

    ‘Libby yon, aw’se think,’ was the universal reply.

    ‘Th’ axin’s is noan i’ Libby’s honds, thaa knows; her felley has to settle that.’

    ‘An’ when arto baan to put ’em up, Dicky?’ was the general cry.

    ‘Thee ne’er heed,’ said he laughingly.  ‘They’ll noan be so long, will they, Libby lass?’  And Libby’s eyes watered as she munched between her teeth a succulent onion from the vinegar by her side.

    ‘E’ dear, haa folks keep gettin’ wed,’ said a philosophical lad, who had just come on what they term ‘the plan.’  ‘Marryin’ an’ givin’ i’ marriage, as i’ th’ days o’ Noah.’

    ‘Here, come, noan o’ thy preychin’.  What would thaa have folk to do if they didn’t get wed?  Aw’m wearin’ my third wife naa, an’ aw’d wed again afore aw’d live alone.  Didn’t th’ Almeety say ’at it weren’t good for a chap to live o’ermich by hissel’? an’ aw’ll swear by th’ Gospel rather than by yo’, though yo’ are a local preycher;’ and the embryonic divine was left to pick his teeth in silence with his fork.

    There were those who throughout this jollity kept steadily at the feast, grinding away with a persistence that was not only annoying to the delicate ear, but highly complimentary to the caterers.  These, now, having filled to repletion, leaned back, at peace with all the world, placing their labour-stained hands over their rotund stomachs and yawning, like over-gorged cobras, for their sleep.  Then it was suggested that a hymn be sung, and one of the girls, seating herself at a small harmonium, struck up the melody which ended with the lines,


‘Is it well with thy soul, is it well?’


the men taking up the refrain with their deep bass and tenor voices,


‘It is well with my soul, it is well.’


    As the clock drew near to the hour of noon, and the time arrived for the bride and bridegroom to depart to the city beyond the hills, in the suburbs of which lay the famous Belle Vue, further restraint was removed.  There was laughter loud and long, and jokes not always savoury, yet innocently spoken.  Arms stole round waists, and the onion-flavoured breath was warm, as caresses were exchanged between faces now heated and aglow with the liveliness of the hour.  One or two of the old crones drew soothing whiffs from church-warden pipes, and the flavour of rum penetrated the stifling air.

    In a little while Thomas and his wife were seen away from the station amidst boisterous laughter and a volley of jokes, and then the young folks paired to wander under the sunshine on the moorland side, and to dream of the time when they twain should become one.

    I sat on with the old folks around the fireside, listening to their stories of the past — stories redolent of wit and pathos, some, true, of a coarser grain, others tender in their touch of humanness, but all of family history, its suffering, its triumph, its advent and its departure.  Names of the dear dead were tremulously uttered on the lips of bereaved ones.  Women told of their hour of trouble and their hour of triumph; indeed, a great domestic panorama was unfolded, sometimes dark with tragedy, sometimes bright under the sky of side-splitting mirth.  Yet all was told in simplicity, in innocence and in good faith — the volume of village life, closed to the eye of the busy world beyond, yet open to me as I sat and gleaned its treasures.

    That night, as I returned from the cottage of the bride, I met my old friend Harry.

    ‘Weel,’ he said, ‘haa han yo’ gone on?  Yo’ll ha’ seen an’ heard summat, aw’ll warnd.  But it’s a weary world after all, altho’ folk get wed.’  And as he passed away into the darkness I must own to feeling somewhat of the pessimistic spirit of the old man whose estimate of life was so sombre and so quaint.


――――♦――――

 
‘IN MEMORY OF ――’


WE were strolling by the side of the river, inky with refuse of manufacture, and swollen with the flushings of a hundred lodges fed in its tortuous course.  Around us lay the factories, their tall chimneys smokeless — for it was Saturday afternoon; while beyond the adjacent meadowlands swept the moors, losing themselves in the summer haze that danced along their summits and then died away in the distant blue.

    Old Harry was in a communicative mood, pointing out different landmarks, and recounting quaint scraps of history, as we here and there passed the scattered cottages of one and another of the valley’s sons.  True, they had been but the slaves of competitive service, but in character royal among the generations of men.

    Stepping out towards the graveyard, and reaching a knoll all studded with rude slabs still more rudely lettered, he seated himself, and bade me be seated also, by the side of a mound on which grew a cluster of the spirals of the golden rod.  It was not the first time I had seen the old man at this grave, and I knew some of his spare moments were spent in tending it; but the link that bound him to it I had failed to discover.  Was the coveted knowledge now to be mine?  Aware that a question, or even a hint, would silence him, I decided to provoke him to speech by that assumed indifference I had never known to fail.

    In a little while I was rewarded, for, taking off his cap, and laying it by the side of the grave, he said:—

    ‘Him as lies under that sod were co’ed Gentle Jone.  He were liked aboon a bit, aw con tell yo’; an’ happen him an’ me were as thick as ony two i’ th’ parish.  E’ dear, it’s a sad tale; aw durnd know why aw’ve started tellin’ on’t; but it were i’ my mouth like, an’ yo’ mud as weel hear it to th’ end.’

    I was touched with the old engineer’s pathos.  My constant contact with him was beginning to discover springs of feeling hidden away beneath the hard crust of his outward life, each story of his, told to me in the spare hours of his labour, proving more and more that he was a man, and not, as I had supposed, a mere crank in the machinery he tended.

    ‘Jone were th’ watchman, yo’ mun know ― watchman of th’ factory, aw mean, not a perliceman.’

    I nodded to show I understood his meaning.

    ‘Yi, he were th’ watchman of th’ factory, an’ there were noan ’at knew him ’at didn’t love him.  Th’ lasses all took to him, an’ th’ little childer were wick wi’ glee when they come near him, an’ th’ dumb critters would let him do onythin’ wi ’em.  But it were his voice ’at fotched folk; it were as soft as a woman’s, an’ fun’ its way straight to yore heart i’ th’ same feshion: that were why they co’ed him Gentle Jone.’

    ‘Was he a native of these parts?’ I asked.

    ‘Nay, he come fro’ Yorshur.  There were a bit of a mystery abaat him like.  Noabry seemed to know his belongin’s, an’ he’d noather wife nor child; though there were as said he’d had both.  But what set folk talkin’ were th’ cat as he brought wi’ him; an’ it’s on th’ cat my story hangs.’

    ‘A cat!’ I exclaimed.  ‘Was it his familiar, then?  A sort of climax to the mystery you speak of?’

    ‘Nay, th’ cat were as gentle as Jone hissel’, an’ as big a favourite.  It were welly awlus wi’ him.  Whether he were i’ th’ mill, or th’ garden, th’ cat were his companion, talkin’ to him i’ a quiet meawin’ feshion, or purrin’ an’ rubbin’ itsel’ agen his trouser leg, or else sittin’ i’ th’ sunleet an’ winkin’ its een an’ yawnin’ an’ cleanin’ itsel’ wi’ its tung till its fur were as breet as guinea gowd; while he, poor chap, would dig i’ the graand, or root amang th’ plants, every naa an’ then whistlin’ to’t an’ co’in’ it pratty names.’

    ‘And do you say the cat followed him to his work in the mill?’

    ‘Yi; it couldn’t bide to be baat him; nor, for that matter, could he bide to be baat th’ cat; an’ of a neet when he come to th’ factory it oather follered, or were carried, lyin’ snug i’ th’ lodge-haase, or else goin’ up an’ daan wi’ him on his rounds.  Aw’ve nursed it mony an haar i’ th’ boiler-hoile, an’ it would eyt its meat wi’ me, an’ sup milk fro’ my can.’

    ‘It is not often men take to cats,’ I said.  ‘Women and old maids have the feline tastes ― that is, if proverbial lore be correct.’  But he ignored my criticism as though he heard it not.

    ‘Aw said to him one day, “Jone, lad, haa is it thaa’s so takken wi’ that critter? thaa couldn’t think more on’t if it were thy own breed.”  But he nobbud took th’ cat on his knee an’ stroked it; though aw did see a drop of brine in his een, an’ felt there were summat behind aw couldn’t ged at; an’, for that matter, aw’d no bisness, for doesn’t owd Solomon say ’at strangers has no reet to meddle wi’ th’ bitterness of other folk’s hearts?  But it were fair wonderful haa Jone an’ th’ cat understood one another an’ stuck to one another an’ o’.  It were David and Jonathan o’er again; nobbud this time Jonathan were th’ cat.’  I was obliged to interrupt with a hearty laugh, for this quaint biblical reference was too much for me, and broke, for the time, the spell which the pathos of the old man’s story had laid upon my heart.  I soon recovered myself, however, as he continued:—

    ‘Well, as aw were tellin’ yo’, everybody seemed to be friends wi’ Jone an’ his cat.  But, as misfortin would have it, there were some young blood knockin’ abaat i’ th’ shap’ of th’ manager’s son.  He’d just left boardin’-schoo’, an’ thought becose he knew haa to shap’ his mouth i’ talkin’ he could shap’ hissel’ to aught fro’ usin’ a screw-key to regelatin’ th’ stars.’

    Then, after a moment’s meditation, as though the old man was weighing his words, he said, ‘Aw tell yo’ what, th’ owd uns are bad to beat.  There’s noan so mony o’ ’em left naa, worse luck!  They were a gradely stock.  Noan o’ yore fine-talkin’, dandy-walkin’, glass-wi’-care sort of chaps.  Nowe!  Th’ owd uns were gradely talkers, an’ they dressed gradely an’ o’.  They knew them as worked under ’em, an’ never caanted theirsel’s as belongin’ to ony other breed.  “Harry, owd lad,” th’ owd manager used to say, “Harry, owd lad, haa arto?”  “Weel an’ hearty,” aw used to say, “an’ as dry as a lime-burner’s clog.”  Then he’d wink his een, an’ laugh, an’ tell me as th’ payday were comin’.  But he never left me baat a shillin’ to drink his health.  But, bless yo’! th’ young uns durnd know yo’.  They never look i’ yore direction unless they want summat, an’ then they durnd know haa to ax yo’ civil.’

    ‘Come, come, Harry, you are suffering from the prejudice of age,’ I said.  ‘The lads who are growing up will think as much of those under whom they work in years to come as you think of those with whom you used to work.’

    ‘Nay,’ replied the old man, ‘aw cornd see that.  But aw mun to my tale, for th’ sunleet’s dyin’.  Th’ manager’s son, as yo’ mun know, went in for fancy pigeons.  Aw con tell yo’ he knew a deal more abaat brids nor cotton, an’ spent a deal more time o’er ’em.  They used to tell all sorts of tales abaat th’ fancy prices as th’ lad had gi’en for th’ brids.  Aw said to him one neet, “They tell me as yo’ve dropped a couple of five-paand notes o’er that pair of pigeons.  Why, mon,” aw says, “there’s ten week of my sweat i’ that.”  But he nobbud turned on me, an’ said aw could tak’ my sweat to sombry else if aw wernd satisfied wi’ what aw geet for it.  “That’s boardin’-schoo’,” aw says.

    ‘One neet th’ same youth come across Jone an’ his cat i’ th’ scutchin’-room, where he managed to tread on th’ crayter’s tail, accidental like on purpose.  Well, cat natur’s nobbud cat natur’, same as human natur’s nobbud human natur’, so th’ cat made a pincushion of his leg, when he turned raand wi’ a curse an’ kicked it agen one of th’ machines.  “Be merciful,” says Jone.  “Thee preych that doctrine to thy cat,” says th’ lad; “an’ if it gets i’ my gate agen aw’ll do summat war nor punce it.”

    ‘Th’ same week th’ pigeons were missin’ — them as had cost so mich brass — an’ there were th’ ferrups to play, aw con tell yo’.  Th’ whole factory were turned upside daan, an’ th’ bobbies were fotched, an’ th’ bill-sticker set agate postin’ th’ walls wi’ notices, or rewards, or summat.  But still th’ pigeons kept bein’ missed; so they put Lame Jim on th’ watch, an’ offered him five bob if he could find aat th’ thief

    ‘Aw said to Jone one day, “Jone, lad, keep that cat o’ thine close, or tha’ll be missin’ it, for aw hear as yon lad has noan forgi’en it for scratin’ his leg, an’ he swears’ it’s it ’at tak’s th’ pigeons.”  But Jone nobbud laughed his gentle laugh, an’ stroked th’ cat’s yed.  But aw were noan so far wrong i’ my calkilations; for one neet, as Lame Jim were watchin’, an’ th’ manager’s son wi’ him, what should they see comin’ raand th’ end of th’ pigeon-coite but Jone’s cat.  Geddin’ howd on’t by th’ scrui, th’ young chap said, “Aw’ve caught thee at last, thaa sly devil.  Thaa never does nowt wrong, doesto?  Nowe!  Thaa’rt a pious cat, thaa art.  Thaa’rt carries it i’ thy looks, but naa aw’ve getten thee aw mean to keep thee.  We’ll see what metal thaa’s made on.”  Then, turning to Lame Jim, he said, — “Fotch th’ dogs into th’ laboratory.”

    ‘“Nay,” says Jim; “if you’ve a mind aw’ll draan her for yo’ i’ th’ lodge; but surely you’re noan baan to bait her wi’ th’ dogs?”  But he nobbud cursed him, an’ telled him to do as he were towd.  So he hobbled off after th’ dogs, for he were a coward when he were cornered, Jim were.’

    ‘Do you mean to say they put the dogs on Jone’s cat?’

    ‘Yi, they did so, an’ co’ed it sport; but they might have gi’en th’ poor critter a chonce i’stead of shuttin’ it up i’ th’ laboratory, where there were no gate aat.

    ‘Lame Jim telled me all abaat th’ fight after it were o’er; for the owd cat were gam’ to th’ last.  Hoo were stannin’ i’ a corner wi’ her back up an’ her tail as thick as yore arm when they set th’ terriers on her; an’ he says hoo stood her graand i’ fine feightin’ feshion, givin’ th’ dogs th’ length an strength of her claws, an’ howdin’ th’ fort like an’ owd warrior.

    ‘This didn’t suit th’ lad, haaever, so he shaated, “Come aat of that!” geddin’ behind th’ cat, an’ skiftin’ her wi’ his foot, an’ makkin’ th’ odds three agen one — two dogs an’ a felley, as co’ed hissel’ a mon, agen a critter whose only sin had been its natur’.’

    ‘Never, surely!’ I cried.

    ‘Yi, but he did; he skifted th’ cat wi’ his foot; but whether th’ dogs thought he were baan to punce them an’ o’, Lame Jim didn’t know, nobbud they caared daan, an’ left th’ cat a clear gate.

    ‘Th’ next raand were fought under th’ laboratory bench, where, for a bit, th’ cat had it all her own way, th’ dogs bein’ afraid of facin’ her scratin’s.

    ‘“Fotch her aat!” shaated th’ lad to th’ dogs, “fotch her aat!”  But they shook their yeds, an’ pawed their noses, for they’d not calkilated on th’ length of th’ cat’s claws.

    ‘“We’ll alter this,” said he, and set agate cursin’ as though he were beside hissel’; an’ geet howd of th’ bench an’ poo’ed it to one side.  Then Jim says as haa th’ cat jumped into th’ middle of th’ room, twistin’ raand like a scopperel as hoo did it; an’ leetin’ on her feet, set up a dance on all fours, caperin’ an’ baandin’ as though hoo were on red-hot bricks.

    ‘Th’ dogs were noan behindhand i’ keepin’ her company; but it were noan a case of partners turn an’ turn abaat; it were a case of two to one an’ death.  Aw believe th’ fur did fly, an’ for a minute it were give an’ take like leetnin’.  Then th’ terriers geet separated, an’ as th’ cat couldn’t look two roads at once, an’ geet tired of her spinnin’s i’ th’ air, hoo were raked both fore an’ aft, as th’ sailors say, an’, as yo’ may expect, th’ dogs came off wi th’ laurels, an’ dirty ’uns an o’.’

    ‘They were indeed,’ I replied, almost too indignant to speak.  ‘And this was what they call sport?’

    ‘That neet Jone come into th’ boiler-hoile, an’ axed me if aw’d seen aught of th’ cat; for, as he said, he thought he’d yerd it maulin’ fro’ th’ direction of th’ laboratory as he’d been on his raand through th’ factory.

    ‘Like as aw guessed o’ at once, though aw’d yerd nowt.  “When did yo’ miss it?” aw axed.

    ‘“Abaat haive-past seven,” he said, “as aw were crossin’ th’ factory yard.”

    ‘“Then it’s time it turned up, owd lad,” aw towd him, “for that’s aboon two haars sin’.  Let’s go an look for’t.”

    ‘Th’ first felley as we met aatside were th’ young blood, follered wi’ his two dogs; but he said nowt, so we said nowt, an’ passed on.  Then we come up agen Lame Jim gettin’ aat of th’ gate as fast as his leg would carry him.  “Hallo, Jim!” aw says, “is that thee?  Hasto seen Jone’s cat?”  But what he said noather on us could tell, an’ he follered th’ young un into th’ dark.

    ‘I’ a bit, Jone stumbled o’er summat i’ th’ path.  “What’s that?” he says; an’ as if to answer him there came a meaaw as weak as a kitlin’s.  Then he turned on his lantern, an’ there, lyin’ i’ th’ grass, were all that were left of th’ owd cat.

    ‘It were th’ first an’ th’ last time aw ever yerd Jone swear.  Not as he said mich, but what he said made up for his bein’ quiet so mony years.  “Here, Harry,” he says, “tak’ that lantern;” an’ then he took th’ cat up i’ his arms as though it had been a babby, an’ made for th’ engine-haase.  Well, when we geet it to th’ leet we fun’ it were nowt but a piece of tag-rag.  Its poor yed were laid bare to th’ bone, an’ one of its een were lyin’ loose like a glass taw.  Its fur looked as though it had been through th’ scutchin-machine, an’ one of its legs hung loose like a bough that yo’ve part brokken.  But it were noan dead for all that, an’ it turned th’ ee that were left on both of us, as though it were axin’ for summat; an’ when Jone stroked it, where there were a bit of fur left to stroke, it tried to lift itsel’ to lick his hond.

    ‘“Ged a drop of hot watter, Harry,” Jone said, “an’ aw’ll wesh its wounds.  Shame on ’em!  Sithee there;” an’ he pointed to a rip in its shoulder where th’ teeth of one of th’ dogs had left th’ flesh bare to th’ bone.

    ‘Well, aw fotched th’ watter, an’ we set to an’ doctored th’ poor thing, Jone touching it as gently as yo’n seen a mother touch a childt ’at’s deein’, an’ all th’ while th’ cat looked its thanks wi’ its odd ee.

    ‘It were lyin’ on a bit of sackin’ across his knee, an’ aw could see haa he stooped daan o’er it a deal lower nor he’d any need to, to keep fro’ showin’ th’ tears as fell hot an’ fast on the poor thing’s wounds.  Then he looked up.  “Harry,” he said, “th’ cat never touched his pigeons, whose ever else did.  It’s noather a thief nor a murderer, whatever they may be as mauled it.”  Then he started agen a-weshin’ it; but it were no use, its meaawin’s geet weaker an’ weaker, until at last when it opened its mouth we could hear nowt.  I’ a bit it drew its legs up, an’ dithered all o’er as if it were starved; then stretched itsel’ aat an’ died.

    ‘As soon as aw could find my tung, aw says to Jone, “Yo’ll be even wi’ yon lad, aw reckon?”

    ‘“Nay,” he says, “Him as is aboon can tak’ care of His own, an’ if He watches o’er th’ sparrows aw durnd know as He’ll forget th’ likes of this,” an’ he lapt th’ cat up i’ th’ sackin’, an’ set it by his side.

    ‘I’ a bit he turned to me agen.  “Harry,” he says, “aw daresay thaa’s often thought me soft, an’ if it were o’er yon cat aw’ll own to’t.  Thaa sees, it were a link — a link between th’ livin’ an’ th’ dead, as they say.  Her as it belonged to when it were a kitlin’ were th’ only child aw ever had, a little lass as cost her mother’s life th’ day hoo were born.  As long as hoo lived aw’d th’ memory of her mother before my een, an’ when th’ child went aw kept th’ cat for th’ child’s sake.  Doesto wonder as aw took to’t?  It were th’ last of what once were a happy home.  It’s th’ ’sociation, thaa knows, as mak’s us tak’ to things; an’ mony a time as aw’ve looked in its een aw’ve seen th’ faces of them as is gone.”

    ‘Poor Jone! he fair broke daan, an’ sobbed fit to break his heart.  Then, drawin’ nearer, he said, “Aw shall noan be so long mysel’.  Aw’ve had my warnin’s;” an’ he pressed his hond agen his chest as though i’ smothered pain.  “Happen it’s as weel th’ owd cat’s gone first; bud aw could ha’ liked it to dee gradely.  Onyroad, aw’se live long enoof to gi’ it daycent burial up i’ th’ garden yon amang th’ flaars; an’ then, Harry, thaa mun be like to do as mich for me, for there’s brass enoof to lay me by an’ o’ when th’ end comes.”  Then he lifted th’ sackin’ wi’ th’ cat in, an’ carried it to his cottage on th’ hillside, an’ buried it i’ th’ bonniest nook i’ th’ garden.

    ‘Like as he never looked up no more; an’ fro’ Gentle Jone folk took to co’in’ him Silent Jone.  Aw welly think as th’ young chap were sorry for what he’d done; an’ there were as said as he sent a Persia cat i’ a hamper to Jone on Christmas Eve.  But while he were kind to’t, he never took to’t same as he did to t’other.  As he used to say, “It’s noan a memory, Harry,” meanin’ as it had no ’sociations like of them as he’d loved.  But he weren’t so long i’ joinin’ them as had left him to toar on by hissel’; an’ when he deed two year later, aw laid him by as he axed me, an’ there he slumbers, an’ nobbud th’ grave, an’ thee an’ me, knows th’ secret.’

    And after one more long and lingering look the old man rose and turned his face away from the lowly mound.


――――♦――――

 
FAITHFUL JOE’S DELIVERANCE


I NOTICED among other of my Lancashire experiences that almost every operative was known by a by-name ― a by-name associated with some incident either in his own or in his ancestors’ past.  Adventures, eccentricities, and quaint sayings uttered under some crisis, were creative of the distinguishing appellation by which both men and women were recognised and saluted.  There was Billy Baat Cap, whose father was never known to have worn headgear; and Rough Yed whose progenitors had been noted for their tangled locks; and Sam o’ the Lime Gals, whose family at a distant date had driven the pack-horses across the upper moorland roads.  But the name that arrested me most was that of Faithful Joe, a simple-hearted man, much of whose time was spent between the factory and the engine-house in doing what were called ‘odd jobs’ for Harry and the overlookers, as the case might be.

    There was a quaintness about this man that roused my interest, and an open sincerity that won my respect.  He had reached his seventieth year, and was worn and grey in the service of his employers.  There were many things about him which I had noted, one being that in place of imprecation he invoked the Divine aid, and while other men were calling upon the Almighty to do His worst, Joe generally asked Him to do His best.  One morning, while breaking up some old machinery in the factory yard, a portion, springing from the blow of the hammer, struck Joe in the mouth, destroying two of his front teeth.  The man whose ill-directed stroke had wrought the damage found relief in a mighty curse, when, to my astonishment, Joe turned round, his mouth discoloured and choked with blood, and stammered, ‘It’s thy prayers, lad, aw want, an’ not thy curses.’  It was then a consciousness began to dawn on me as to the origin of the fellow’s nickname.

    I had noticed also that Joe had the respect of his fellow-workmen.  There were some at the factory known as ‘perfessers,’ who were anything but possessors, and their long prayers at the little chapel on the hill were a mockery to those among whom they worked; the non-professors sneering and chaffing and casting their innuendoes at what they called ‘the walk and conversation.’  One wag had gone so far as to say that ‘th’ Sundo’ coit were awlus i’ pawn till th’ week-end,’ a forcible way of setting forth the inconsistencies of men who believed they were called to be saints.  But Faithful Joe was not after this order.  As far as I could see, and as far as I could hear, he was real grit; or, as the villagers said, ‘ jannock.’  I had never heard anyone say anything but good of him, and I knew old Harry, who had the power to read character by intuition and know the heart by instinct, was prepared to stake his life on Joe’s sincerity.

    One day, while in conversation with the old man as to the doings of some of the more original and striking personalities employed at the mill, I asked him for the history of Faithful Joe.

    ‘Naa, there’s a mon for yo’.  He’s flayed o’ naught an’ noabry when he thinks he’s getten howd o’ th’ reet end.  Sithee! he ne’er did naught i’ his life ’at he’s ony need to be ashamed of; an’ he ne’er geet wrang i’ his life bud when he trusted th’ Almeety a bit o’ermich.’

    ‘Trusted the Almighty a bit overmuch!  What do you mean?’ I asked, unable to subdue my tone of surprise.

    ‘Aw meean what aw say,’ replied old Harry.  His faith, yo’ know, made a fooil on him.  Joe’s one o’ those Methodys as is awlus believin’, an’ one time he believed o’ermich.’

    My friend’s theology perplexed me, and I wondered whether it was a new truth he was presenting, or an old truth in a new light.  Certainly the idea of over-trusting God was new to me, although I had learnt to distinguish between the fanatic who expects miracles to be wrought on his behalf, and the sane man who believes that the Almighty helps those only who help themselves.  Seeing my perplexity, my friend continued: ‘Yo’ know aw’m not a fine talker, an’ aw’m not gradely religious, but onyroad aw think there’s a bit o’ common sense up aboon.  If there weren’t we should be ill off daan here among th’ fooils, for they’re as thick as blackberries — leastways i’ these parts they are;’ and the old man looked round him with an eye of scorn.  ‘Naa, there’s them as Joe belongs to.  They awlus sattle everythin’ by prayer; bud then, yo’ know, prayer willn’t sattle bills, as some o’ th’ shop-keepers con tell yo’.  Aw were never a prayin’ chap mysel’; nowe, aw were never a form-thumper; like as aw awlus believed more i’ elbow grease.  Not as aw’ve a word to say again’ Joe, yo’ know.  Bud then he’s one o’ those ready-made uns.’

    ‘Ready-made ones?’ I asked.

    ‘Yi! there’s some as is shapped reet afore they’re born, an’ some as is shapped wrang, an’ never get reet though they live to be as owd as ’Thusla;’ and, looking up with a wicked twinkle in his eye, he capped this rich bit of philosophy by saying, ‘Aw’m one o’ that soart, yo’ know.’

    After a hearty laugh at this quaintly-stated truth, I asked him if he’d ever tried Faithful Joe’s methods, but he peremptorily stopped me by saying, ‘Aw durnd want a sarment; Him as made us is just, an’ a felley can nobbud do his best.’

    I was anxious, however, to know the story which I felt sure was associated with old Harry’s remarks about this Faithful Joe, and what he had called the folly of his over-trustfulness; but I was vexed in my own mind as to how to start him.  Fortunately, however, the time for shutting off steam was at hand, so I waited patiently till the old man’s cessation from what he called ‘elbow grease’ would give him half-an-hour’s quiet, and, as I hoped, half-an-hour’s communicativeness.  I was not disappointed, for after the engine was at rest he found his way to my side, and, wiping his sweaty brow with his wad of cotton waste, said, ‘Yo’re waitin’ to yer abaat Faithful Joe, arn’t yo’?  Sit yo’ daan; it’ll not tak’ long to tell.’

    Once more I found myself seated in this strange arcanum, where the secrets of hearts had been so often revealed to me by old Harry’s prophetic lips.  Here, under the shadow of the great beam, and amid the silence of the mighty wheel, the life of a whole village had been laid bare by one of those chroniclers who, seeing all, forgets nothing.  What the schools and the world had failed to flash upon my unobservant eye, the rudely-told stories of this uneducated man had accomplished.  He had taught me what a wonderful thing the human heart is, and he had taught me to feel with and for others.  After all, life’s secrets are not for the wise and prudent, but for the unalloyed simplicity of such as my friend, and for such as are willing to sit with the same simplicity as learners at their feet.

    ‘It were i’ the time o’ th’ cotton panic, an’ that’s aboon thirty year sin’.  E’ dear, it nobbud seems like yesterdo’ that aw used to keep punchin’ another hoile i’ th’ strap to stop th’ gnawin’ i’ mi inside there were naught bud th’ wind to satisfy.  We used to call these parts “th’ valley o’ desolation” i’ those days, an’ there were no mistak’ abaat it noather, for th’ chimbleys stood like graveyard moniments o’er what were as good as a village o’ deead folk.  There were scarce a sound i’ th’ streets, for the little uns were too clammed to cry, an’ their faithers an’ mothers were a’most feeared to breathe lest th’ bit o’ breeath that were in ’em went aat for good.  It were bad enuff for chaps like mysel’ as had naught bud theirsel’s to keep; bud, by Guy, them as had haive-a-dozen little maaths raand a bare table went through th’ mill an’ no mistak’.  Aw used to dry a two-thre yarbs i’ those days an’ put ’em i’ mi pipe for baccy, an’ walk raand th’ countryside pikin’ up a crust fro’ onybody.  Bud there were them as had to stop awhom wi’ the childer, watchin’ their little faces grow whiter an’ thinner as th’ church clock struck off th’ haars, an’ as th’ days pulled raand on crutches.  But it were th’ stillness ’at used to plague me; aw could ston’ th’ hunger, for aw were young an’ strong, but th’ silence geet into my brain, an’ worked like mad.  One day aw went on th’ tops, an’ did an haar’s shaatin’, for aw felt aw mun yer summat if it were nobbud my own voice; an’ as th’ echo saanded raand th’ hills it come back as though th’ devil were mockin’ me, an’ aw lay daan i’ th’ heather an’ graand my teeth.  Bud there were noabry suffered more nor Faithful Joe an’ th’ wife.  Although he had been a careful chap he’d had no chonce to save, for his wage were nobbud a little un, an’ when he were at work he’d welly as mony childer as he’d shillin’ a week to keep ’em.  Th’ pawnshop soon emptied the haase; an’ one mornin’ Joe an’ th’ missus faand theirsel’s an’ little uns baat bite or sup.

    ‘Aw’ve yerd Joe say as there were two kinds o’ clammin’ — one when yo’re clammin’ yorsel’, an’ t’other when yo’ see those as yo’ve brought into th’ world clammin’ wi’ yo’.  Th’ one he reckons is bacon collops to t’other; an’ aw daresay he’s reet.

    ‘Well, as aw were sayin’, Joe had naught i’ th’ haase, nor had he th’ prospect o’ gettin’ naught; when all at once one o’ th’ little uns went an’ sat hersel’ on his knee, an’ said, “Daddy, cornd God send naught?”  “We’ll try Him, my lass,” said Joe, an’ then he telled ’em all to kneel daan, an’ Joe began to pray.

    ‘“Sithee! Harry,” he said, when he telled me abaat it at after, “aw prayed like th’ very devil.”  “Bud, Joe,” aw says, “they say as prayin’ isn’t mich i’ th’ devil’s line.”  “Well,” says Joe, “all aw know is aw were i’ a devil o’ a temper while aw were prayin’.”  “What didta say?” aw axed him.  “Why,” he says, “aw towd th’ Almeety as he said i’ His Book ’at th’ bread an’ th’ watter were awlus sure to His childer, an’ that th’ righteous were never forsaken nor their seed beggars.  Then aw telled Him as He knew we belonged to th’ seed; that my faither were a Methody afore me, an’ his faither afore him an’ aw towd Him straight ’at if He wouldn’t send cotton He were baand to send bread;’ an’ all th’ while th’ childer were sobbin’, an’ th’ missus full o’ sorrow abaat th’ little un ’at were comin’, an’ havin’ naught to feed it wi’, an’ wurr off nor Him as they wrapped i’ swaddlin’ clooathes.’

    Here Harry broke off in his narrative, for his voice grew thick, and the wad of cotton waste found its way to his eyes to stanch their flow of tears.  Then, looking up at me, he said, ‘Aw’m gettin’ owd an’ soft, thaa sees; bud Joe, like, could awlus touch a tender spot i’ me.’  Then, in a little while, he continued:—

    ‘Well, when th’ prayer were over, th’ little ’un ’at axed if God couldn’t send summat went to th’ dur to see if aught had come; and what did hoo find bud a basket o’ provisions an’ a bag o’ meal.

    ‘“Horray!” hoo shaated.  “He’s sent it; aw thought He would; an’ th’ rest o’ th’ childer follered her, an’ hugged th’ basket an’ th’ meal into th’ haase.

    ‘I’ less time than it tak’s me to tell th’ food ’i th’ basket had flitted into th’ stomachs of th’ little uns, while Joe started a-mixin’ th’ meal wi’ watter an’ makkin’ what they call i’ these parts “stirabaat,” shaatin’ all th’ time at th’ top o’ his voice, “Glory!”  “A feast o’ fat things on th’ lees!”  “Manno fro’ aboon!”  “The Bread o’ Life sent daan fro’ Heaven!” an’ a lot more Methody lingo, as is all Greek to th’ likes o’ me.

    ‘When they’d put all aat o’ seet, an’ licked their lips that they might lose naught, th’ same little lass said: “Let’s put th’ bag an’ th’ basket aatside; th’ Almeety’ll happen fill it for us again to-morn.”  So they did as hoo said, an’ there were more joy i’ that haase nor there’d been for mony a day.

    ‘I’ a bit there come a knock at th’ dur, an’ th’ grocer’s lad axed ’em, when they oppened it, if they knew who’d stolen th’ groceries an’ th’ meal, as, he said, he were takkin’ them to th’ Grange, an’ had nobbud left them on th’ wall while he ran back for summat he’d forgetten.

    ‘Joe says as haa he felt what he’d eaten turn o’er i’ his stomach, an’ he stood like a mon fair gloppened.  Bud th’ little lass said, “We’ve just finished it, the leavin’s an’ o.’ ”

    ‘“Finished what?” shaated th’ lad.  “Yo’ durnd meean to say as yo’ve taan th’ groceries?”  ‘By this time Joe an’ th’ wife seed th’ mistak they’d made; while th’ lad started cursin’ an’ swearin’, an’ vowin’ as his maister would both seck him an’ send Joe to jail.

    ‘I’ a bit th’ owd chap come daan hissel’.  “Joe,” he says, “what’s this aw yer abaat thee?  Aw never thought thaa’d tak’ to thievin’, aw thought thy line were prayin’; bud it turns aat thaa con do a bit o’ booath, an’ thaa’rt not th’ only one.  Thaa mun oather pay for what thaa’s getten an’ eyten, or aw’se put the bobbies on thy track.  We’re honest folk i’ these parts.”

    ‘Aw welly think as th’ grocer would ha’ passed it o’er if it hadn’t been for Joe’s wife.  Hoo’d awlus a sharp tongue, but it were double-edged that mornin’.

    ‘“Thaa’s a deal o’ need to talk!” hoo shaated.  “Thaa should cleean thy own pan afore thaa starts blackin’ other folks’.  What do yo’ know abaat honesty, wi’ yore sanded sugar an’ yore meal ’at’s haive bran?”

    ‘“Naa, my good woman,” said th’ grocer, puttin’ aat his hond.

    ‘“Durnd good woman me.  If aw’m a thief as thaa says, there’s naught good abaat me,” an’ hoo pushed him off th’ threshold, an’ shut th’ dur i’ his face.  Then hoo turned raand to Joe an’ said, “Thy prayin’s getten us into lumber this time, an’ no mistak’; bud aw durnd know as it matters; th’ childers getten their little ballies filled, thank God!”

    ‘Well, next mornin’ there were a warrant aat for Joe, an’ he were marched off afore th’ magistrate.  E’ what a court-haase there were!  It were fair lined.  Aw never seed so mony hungry faces afore.  Bud they’d all forgetten their hunger i’ poor Joe.  Th’ bench were full an’ o’; an’ th’ owd maister were i’ th’ chair wi’ th’ owd Methody superintendo at his back to speak a word for Joe.

    ‘Th’ grocer’s lad were th’ first witness, an’ he swore as he were takkin’ a parcel o’ groceries to th’ Grange wi’ a bag o’ meal, an’ ’at when he were passin’ Faithful Joe’s dur he remembered he’d forgetten two bottles o’ pickled onions, an’, clappin’ daan his basket on th’ yard wall, he run back for ’em as fast as his legs could carry him.  Bud when he come back wi’ th’ pickles under his arm he fun’ th’ basket an’ th’ bag empty, an’ when he axed Faithful Joe if he knew aught abaat ’em, one of his little lasses telled him they were all eyten.

    ‘Th’ owd maister axed th’ lad how long he were away, bud he couldn’t tell him, for he said he stopped on th’ road to kick a fooitball.

    ‘Then th’ grocer geet into th’ box, an’ backed up all th’ lad had said, tellin’ th’ magistrates as haa Faithful Joe’s wife had insulted him an’ called him a rogue.

    ‘When th’ magistrates had yerd all, they axed Joe what he had to say for hissel’.

    ‘Yo’ know Joe’s face as weel as aw do.  Yo’ never saw feear in it, an’ yo’ never saw it shadowed.  It’s looked too mich i’ God’s face for that.  Well, th’ owd chap stood up an’ says, “Gentlemen, aw’ve naught to hide, for aw’ve done naught wrang.  We were all clammin’, for we hadn’t brokken a bit o’ bread for four days; an’ aar little Jenny axed if God couldn’t send summat if He’d a mind.  So aw went daan on my knees an’ towd Him what th’ little lass said, an’ when aw geet up they oppened th’ dur an’ fun’ th’ basket an’ th’ meal.  Gentlemen,” he says, stretchin’ hissel’ up, “what would yo’ ha’ done?”

    ‘There were silence till yo’ could yer th’ watches tickin’ i’ th’ fobs.

    ‘Then th’ owd maister, who all th’ while had been rubbin’ his een, said, “Aw should ha’ done as yo’ did, Joe.”

    ‘There were a bonny row i’ that hoile, aw con tell yo’; th’ felleys threw their caps up, an’ th’ lasses as had shawls waved ’em raand their yeds, an’ aw thought Joe’s hond would ha’ come off wi’ th’ greetin’s as he geet.

    ‘“Aw’ll sattle his bill for him,” said Pinch Billy, who were on th’ bench.  An’ there were some as said it were th’ first time his purse had been oppened to th’ poor.

    ‘Aw durnd know as there’s mich more to tell bud fro’ that time to this we’ve awlus called him Faithful Joe.’

    ‘Then his faith did not get him into trouble after all?’ I slily suggested.

    ‘It welly did,’ was the sharp reply.  ‘Onyroad, aw shouldn’t care to run as close a shave; bud, for all that, when aw come to die aw think a prayer o’ Joe’s will do me more good nor doctor’s physic an’ parson’s groans.’

    As I left the old man in the shadows of the engine-house, I was more perplexed than ever with those contradictions which he had never more innocently betrayed than in the narration of this touching story.


――――♦――――

 
THE STEAM GEE-GEE


ONE afternoon, while in the engine-house, I grew fascinated with the slow and rhythmic movement of the ponderous beam.  Looking at it until my brain seemed to catch its oscillation, I turned to the old engineer, who was by my side, telling him that it reminded me of a giant’s see-saw ― an iron horse on which a Titan or an Anak might sport in his moments of play.

    ‘Aw know naught abaat yore giants nor yore Anaks,’ was his prosaic rejoinder; ‘though aw’ve seen both men an’ lads cross-stride it afore to-day; an’ when it’s been goin’ an’ all.  There’s them as is fools enuff for aught where a bit o’ risk is consarned; an’ aw’ve had ’em in here at their marlocks more times nor aw care to think on.  Once it were nearly bein’ “up,” as they say; an’ daan an’ all, for th’ matter o’ that.  Bud it’s a long tale, an’ aw cornd tell it yo’ till loisin’-time.’  Then, hurrying off to another part of the machinery, he left me gazing up at the rise and fall of the ponderous beam, and wondering what strange story I was going to hear about it and its past.

    Meanwhile, left to myself, my imagination continued its play, and I seemed to see in the glow of the cranks and the gleam of the cylinder the fire which this monster demanded daily as its food.  Then I grew conscious of the piston’s throb as it awoke within me the sense of the mighty pulse of trade; while the roar of the wheels sounded like the clamour of a wrathful multitude — a protest against ceaseless toil voicing itself in the very powers that imposed it.  And all the time the beam rose and fell, nodding as if in mockery; while the revolutions of the fly-wheel threw dark bars of chasing shadows in quick succession across the whitewashed wall.

    At last the roar lessened and the wheels slowed down as old Harry laid his hand on the stop-valve by my side.  For a few moments the engine continued to revolve from its own momentum; then, ceasing, it stood sublime in rest as it had been majestic in movement.  Now arose the strange hum that ever plays around a sleeping engine — a hum dreamy and melodious, the song of rest that follows the roar of labour; and as I yielded to it I sat down on an old chest, and lost myself in the sudden quiet of the closing hour.

    In a little while the old man, freed from his toil, came and sat by my side.  At first he preserved the silence which with him was always the prelude of speech; then, diving deep into his trousers pocket, he brought forth his tobacco box of steel, out-rivalling in its polish the knobs and bosses of the engine of which he was so proud.  Pressing his thumb against some unseen spring, the lid flew open, revealing the dark twist coiled like a reptile within its narrow limits.  Measuring with a practised eye the length required for his pipe’s replenishment, he cut it asunder with his formidable knife, and with the skill of an adept, portioned it into morsels which he rubbed between his oily palms.  There was no hurry in these movements — rather calm absence of mind which betrayed a pre-occupation, as though his brain were filled with other thoughts.  And so it was; for he was dreaming of the past which shortly he was to make so real to me in the story of the Steam Gee-Gee.

    ‘He were nobbud a little un, a very little un; but he were as wick as they make ’em.’

    By this time the pungent fumes were ascending from the blackened bowl, correcting the smell of oil and spent steam which filled the engine-house with such a sickly atmosphere.  For a moment or two the whiffs came quickly; then he drew slowly and heavily, blowing out clouds of blue vapour from his mouth as if it were the outlet of some factory furnace, until, at last, as though he had settled some calculation, he withdrew his pipe, saying:—

    ‘It were thirty-five year ago come last Whissuntide, an’ th’ afternoon afore we were closin’ for th’ holidays.’

    Here I had two facts jerked out without apparent sequence — ‘a little un,’ and some adventure connected with him dating back a space of five-and-thirty years.  But I knew my man, and that silence was the oil that would accelerate the wheels of his story.  So I continued to gaze up at the beam, now stationary, as it cast its black shadow and looked down with darkening frown; when, suddenly, as I anticipated, he continued:—

    ‘Aw were sayin’ he were nobbud a little un, but he were none th’ less a trimmer.  Somehaa mischief doesn’t ax for mich room.  There’s more devilment i’ a tarrier nor i’ a Newfoundland, ony day; an’ aw’ve lived long enuff to find aat ’at them as is least often tak’s most management: leastways, it’s so wi’ women an’ childer.

    ‘He were th’ manager’s child, an’ th’ only one he had.  An’ happen it were as well it were so, for he were more than he could manage.  He were one of those lads as were everywhere, an’ everywhere at once.  There were no follerin’ him — nowe, not wi’ yore een when yo’ put yore spectacles on.  If yo’d teed him wi’ a string to th’ table, he’d ha’ been off, th’ table on his back an’ all.  He were awlus i’ lumber (mischief), an’ he were awlus gettin’ aat on’t baat trouble, while th’ lads as were noan as bad as hissel’ geet all th’ kicks an’ th’ luggin’s.  He used to play all mak’s o’ larks wi’ th’ lasses, puttin’ worms i’ their baskets, an’ sich like.  One day he tumbled into th’ lodge, an’ then dried hissel’ by th’ boiler fires.’

    ‘Then had his parents no control over him?’ I asked.

    ‘No more nor a babby has o’er a colt.  An’ yet he were th’ leet o’ their een an’ th’ joy o’ their heart.  They could never do enuff for him, an’ he could never do naught wrang for them.  He were a idol, aw tell yo’, an they used to worship him like two fools.’

    ‘Did he trouble you much?’ I asked; for I was longing for the adventure rather than for a description of the character of the boy.

    ‘Trouble me!’ cried the engineer.  ‘He were never aat o’ my gate.  Aw were awlus comin’ across him at his marlocks.  He were oather swarmin’ up th’ rods, or openin’ th’ escape-valves, or cross-stride th’ sway-beam, till aw welly lost my wits; an’ all th’ more so becose his faither towd me he should howd me responsible for th’ lad’s life.  One day he come to me an’ says, “Harry,” he says, “if there’s a yure o’ yon lad’s head hurt while he’s abaat those engines it’ll be as mich as thy shop’s worth, so naa thaa knows.”  “Well,” aw says, “aw’ll do my best; bud aw think it would be better if yo’d do summat as weel, for th’ lad’s none o’ mine; if he were, he’d have to do as he were towd.”  But his faither nobbud cursed me, an’ towd me to do the same.

    ‘Well, one afternoon i’ June, five-an’-thirty year ago, th’ lad were sneakin’ abaat th’ hoile wi’ a leet i’ his een aw none cared for, an’ as limber as an eel.  There were no follerin’ him, an’ there were no talkin’ to him.  One minute he were on th’ guard, an’ lookin’ into th’ wheel-race; an’ then he were at the stop-valves, an aw thought naught bud he would be shuttin’ off th’ steam.  “Sithee,” aw said, “aw’ll go an’ fotch thy faither to thee;” bud th’ young imp nobbud put his finger to his nose an’ said, “Fotch him.”  “Aw will,” aw says, an’ turned o’ my heel to see if aw could see aught o’ him.

    ‘Well, as luck ’ud have it, aw come fair on th’ top o’ him as aw come aatside, for he were i’ th’ factory yard talkin’ to his missus.

    ‘“Is Eustace all reet?” hoo axed me as hoo see who it were.

    ‘“Naa,” aw says, “yo’ want to know what aw cornd tell yo.  He were when aw left him i’ th’ engine-haase.”

    ‘“Left him i’ th’ engine-haase?” hoo screamed.  “Why, man, yo’ must be mad to leave my child among them murderous wheels.”

    ‘“Nay,” aw says, “it’s th’ lad as is mad, noan me.”  Then the manager turned on me an’ said as aw mun treat his wife an’ child wi’ courtesy.

    ‘“It’s more nor th’ engine ’ll do,” aw said, pointin’ o’er my shoulder to where aw’d left th’ little lad.  “Them as plays tricks wi’ steam an’ steel mun ’bide by th’ consequences.  An’ th’ engine-haase is noan a nosery (nursery), an’ aw’m noan paid to look after yore little un.”

    ‘Ha mich longer we should ha’ talked aw durnd know, for all three on us were losin’ aar tempers; bud we were brought to by a skrikin’ fro’ th’ engine-haase, as though somebry had getten caught by th’ wheels, an’ were makkin’ a louder din nor they made.

    ‘“That’s aar little Eustace!” shaated th’ manager’s wife, her face bleachin’ like a calico piece.

    ‘“By Guy, it is!” shaated th’ manager; an’ they both made as fast as their legs ’ud carry ’em to th’ engine-haase door.

    ‘Aw were none slow o’ follerin’, aw con tell yo’; an’ i’ less time nor it tak’s to tell, we were i’ th’ inside, lookin’ raand for th’ little lad.

    ‘“Where is he?” screamed th’ woman, runnin’ abaat wi’ her honds clasped, an’ her een i’ every nook i’ th’ place.

    ‘“God knows,” said her husband, in a voice as thick as though he were speakin’ through a soof (sough).

    ‘Just then there were a terrible skrike.  There were no mistakkin’ it; an’ aboon th’ roar o’ th’ engine yo’ could yer th’ child cryin’, “Mother, mother!”

    ‘If th’ engine had come daan on th’ top o’ us we couldn’t ha’ been more flayed; an’ when we looked to where th’ saand come fro’ we seed th’ youngster a-cross-stride th’ beam, wi’ his knees set i’ th’ web like a vice, an’ his little feet just touchin’ th’ lower flange.

    ‘“Howd thy yed daan, Eustace!” aw shaated; “howd thy yed daan!” for we’d been repairin’ th’ engine, an’ hadn’t shifted all th’ baulks an’ pulleys fro’ th’ principles o’ th’ roof an’ every time th’ beam tipped th’ lad’s brains come nigh o’ bein’ spilt at his mother’s feet.

    ‘He did as he were towd, haaever, an’ rode game, as they say, duckin’ his little yed wi’ every lift o’ th’ beam.

    ‘“Stop th’ engine, yo’ fool!” roared his faither; an’ aw ran like leetnin’ to th’ stop-valve, an’ turned it faster nor aw’d ever turned it i’ my life afore.  Bud it were all no use.  Aw turned an’ turned an’ turned, an’ naught come on’t; th’ speed kept up all th’ same.

    ‘“Is it never baan to stop?” yelled th’ manager, layin’ his hand upon my shoulder, while his missus ran up th’ steps to th’ beam-chamber, where th’ lad were sittin’ at one end an’ playin’ see-saw wi’ death at t’other.

    ‘“For God’s sake, woman,” aw shaated, “ston’ back!”  But hoo reached aat her arms as though hoo never yerd me, an’ welly came tumblin’ daan into th’ wheel-race below.

    ‘Then th’ manager geet howd o’ me by th’ shoulder.  “Come back,” he says, “an’ let me try.”  An’ pullin’ me aat o’ th’ gate, he seized th’ stop-valve hissel’.  Bud he mut as weel ha’ twirled an umbrelly; th’ engine kept on all th’ same.  Then, wi’ a look as though he’d seen a thousand devils, he whispered, “By G—, Harry, th’ spindle’s stripped.”  An it were as he said.’

    ‘I don’t understand what you mean,’ I said, interrupting the old man in his story.

    ‘Durnd yo’ see, when th’ thread on th’ spindle strips, th’ valve’s no use; it willn’t run down, an’ yo’ can’t shut th’ steam off.’

    ‘And what was your next move?’ I asked.

    ‘There were no movin’ for a bit, aw con tell yo’; we stood gawmless like, an’ stared one another i’ th’ face. Bud that weren’t th’ worst.  Th’ engine started racin’; for th’ news spreads fast i’ th’ factory, an’ as th’ weyvers began to hear what were up, they shut off their looms, for they were fain to see, an’ this put all th’ more i speed on th’ engine.

    ‘Aw’ve seen a bit i’ my time, but aw’ll never forget what aw seed that afternoon.  There were th’ lad sittin’ low on th’ beam as it welly doubled its speed, an’ nobbud missin’ by an inch or two th’ baulks that lay across th’ principles o’ th’ roof an’ all th’ while an iron pulley close to his ear ready to crack his yed if he moved it; his mother kneelin’ as near as hoo could ged to him on th’ beam-chamber floor, wi’ her honds lifted to th’ Almeety; his faither daan below holdin’ on to th’ rail that guarded th’ fly-spur, an’ shaatin’ to him to keep cool; th’ honds all th’ time flockin’ an’ chokin’ up th’ door-hoile, an’ makkin’ th’ excitement ten times wur wi’ their screams; an’ me lookin’ up, an’ not knowin’ which way to turn.  Then owd Amos, th’ mechanic, said, “Thaa con shut off th’ steam at th’ junction-valves of th’ boilers.”

    ‘“By Guy!” aw says, “aw never thought o’ that;’ an’ aw were off i’ a jiffy to do as he said.  Bud th’ luck were agen us that day, for after aw’d shut off one, t’other stuck.  Yo’ see we were none so particular i’ those times as we are naa, an’ dirt used to get into th’ valve seatin’s an’ stop ’em shuttin’.’

    I had once more to stay the old man in his narrative, and ask him to explain; whereupon he told me that there was a double check in the supply of steam from the boilers to the cylinders, a stop-valve and a junction-valve — the stop-valve in the engine-house being the one for ordinary use, the other being called into requisition in times of emergency.  This time, however, both had failed, and the roaring boilers mercilessly drove the steam without check or hindrance into the cylinders, the engines meantime racing with the lessened burden of the stopped looms.

    ‘While aw were i’ the boiler-haase fightin’ wi’ th’ junction-valves, them as were i’ th’ engine-haase telled me as haa twice th’ lad’s mother tried to geet howd on him an’ pull him off on to th’ beam-chamber floor, an’ hoo would have fotched him off an’ all, bud th’ manager geet howd on her an’ held her back, to save both her life an’ that o’ him hoo thought hoo could save.  It seemed as though there were naught for it bud death.  There were some as were afraid o’ th’ beam comin’ i’ two, for th’ speed had none lessened; an’ others expected Eustace to tipple off for he’d begun o’ bein’ sick, an’ closed his een as if he’d made up his mind to die.

    ‘At last somebry shaated, “Draw th’ boiler fires;” an’ haive a dozen on ’em ran daan below, an’ i’ less time nor it tak’s to tell, the fire-hoile were suffocatin’ wi’ cinders an’ sulphur.  More nor one geet brunt, aw con tell yo’; bud that mattered little, for there were life to save.  Then aw bethought me an’ opened th’ ’scape-valves; an’ what wi’ drawin’ th’ tires an’ lettin’ off th’ steam, we brought th’ engine to its senses, an’ stopped its little game.

    ‘Th’ first thing as th’ manager did when he lifted Eustace fro’ th’ beam were to kiss him; an’ then he started sobbin’ like a child.  It were the only time aw ever see tears i’ his een.  Aw’d awlus takken him to be a chap as had no reserve for soft water ― a flinty sort, yo’ know, wi’ no springs abaat him.  It were summat to see him cry, an’ aw thought all th’ better on him for’t.  Then he took th’ child an’ put him beside his mother, who were lyin’ i’ a dead faint on th’ beam-chamber floor; bud like as when hoo felt his little arms raand her neck hoo come to, an’, pressin’ him agen her bosom, hoo said, “Thank God thaa’s safe.”  Then th’ lasses an’ th’ felleys as were craadin’ raand set up a great cheer.  Bud th’ mother didn’t seem to hear it, for hoo kept openin’ her lips as though hoo were makkin’ a prayer.’

    ‘And did it cure Eustace?’ I asked.

    ‘It did fro’ mechanicin’,’ said the old man, ‘for aw never seed his yed i’ th’ engine-haase at after.’


――――♦――――

 
OLD HARRY’S ROMANCE


AFTER listening to old Harry’s story about Faithful Joe, I determined to look up the hero for myself for I felt sure that he was a man whose acquaintance would be profitable for those who were in search of striking and original personalities.  Thus it came to pass on the following Saturday afternoon I ventured to trespass upon the domestic domain of him concerning whose early life I had been so deeply interested by the stirring story of old Harry.  Not but what I knew Joe by sight, and had more than once spoken to him in my factory wanderings; but until the engineer lifted the curtain of his past I had not been more than ordinarily interested in him.  Now, however, I was desirous of knowing him at close quarters, for I was convinced that, despite his over-zeal and rude religious fervour, he was a man whom to know would be a revelation.  I had other hopes as well.  Might not this man of whom Harry knew so much know something of Harry, and might I not from him secure the key of the sphinx-like engineer?  For, truth to tell, this old man had been little more than a veiled oracle to me, an unknown interpreter of the lives of others.  I daresay if I had cared to glean his past history I might have gleaned a few stray ears from village gossip.  But, for all this, I felt he was at best but little known.  Silent, observant, isolated, while he read others, there were none who seemed to have broken the seal of his inner life.  Many times I had made the attempt, but in vain.  Now that my stay was limited, and my departure at hand, I confess curiosity had laid a strong hold on me, and I was vexed in my mind to know something of the unknown.

    I found Faithful Joe’s house cursed by the uniformity that marks the dwellings of the Lancashire operative.  There it stood, cold and fashionless, in a lengthy row of grey and smoke-stained stone, pierced by lines of windows that looked like so many dead eyes in the gloomy shadow of the narrow street.  The door was ajar, as all the doors in a Lancashire village are, now letting in a whiff of heather-laden air from the hills, and now the choke of down-falling smoke from adjoining factory chimneys, or the cooling vapour from some neighbouring lodge.  Within, this sombre baldness was somewhat dispelled by rude knick-knacks and a ruddy fire.  Coloured prints hung from the walls, and anti-macassars of many tints gave scant comfort to the high-backed chairs.  The ruins of the midday meal were scattered on the table, among them being crusts and egg-shells, with a clean-scraped butter-pot; while spilt tea blotched the newspaper which had played the part of cover to the seamed deal board.  Joe I found seated by the fire, blowing clouds of tobacco smoke towards the brade-fleigh over his head, whereon were hung the wafer-like ovals of oaten cakes; while by his side sat his wife conning the contents of the Weekly News, and now and then reading aloud any tit-bit that might serve as relish to her husband’s taste.  A huge chest of drawers with brass fittings filled up the farther side of the room, their top being loaded with books and workboxes, relieved by pot shepherds and shepherdesses, and a rearing horse with its valiant rider; while an eight-day clock with rusty tick beat out the flight of time to its all unconscious auditors.

    ‘Am I intruding?’ I asked, as I stood in the doorway taking in the scene, and fearful lest these old dwellers in the valley should resent the unexpected advent of one whom they called ‘furriner.’

    ‘Oh, it’s yo’, is’t?’ said Joe, as he looked round and recognised me.  ‘Yo’re welcome for th’ owd mon’s sake.’  And then, turning to his wife, he continued, ‘It’s th’ chap as mates wi’ Harry, thaa knows, lass, him as thaa’s yerd me talk on.’

    Dropping the paper on her knees, the woman thus addressed gave me a keen glance of scrutiny, and then, as though satisfied, said, ‘Come in, we’ll charge yo’ naught for yore company; it’s rent free for th’ likes o’ yo’ where Joe an’ me’s consarned.’

    I thanked them, and entered, taking the proffered chair.  But I found them slow at converse, and for the first half-hour they left me to talk alone.  Eventually, however, as they learnt to trust me, they became more communicative; and when, by skilful manoeuvring, I directed the conversation to old Harry, I found to my delight that I had struck a theme that was most congenial.

    ‘Aw’ve known him all my life,’ said Joe.  ‘We were mates together when we were lads, an’ naa we’re owd men we’ve fun’ no need to part company.  He th’ owdest, an’ aw durnd know but what he’s th’ better o’ th’ two, for though he’s no perfesser, he keeps his armour a deal breeter nor some o’ them as is.  We started workin’ for th’ owd gaffers when we were childer, an’, as the sayin’ is, we’ve grown wi’ their growth an’ strengthened wi’ their strength.’

    ‘Not where brass is consarned,’ interrupted his wife.  ‘Yo’ve both on yo’ seen aboon a two-thre fortunes made at yon mill, bud noather on yo’s made yore own, shuzhaa.  It’s been the owd tale o’er again — to them as has is gi’en.’

    ‘Come, come, owd lass,’ said Joe; ‘charity hides a multitude o’ sins, thaa knows.’

    ‘Yi,’ she said, ‘a deal too mony for my likin’ where some folks is consarned.’

    ‘Harry does not seem to have many friends, does he?’ I asked.

    ‘That all depends on what yo’ call friends,’ was Joe’s response.  ‘If there’s few as loves him, there’s none bud respects him, for he’d do reet by th’ Devil, Harry would.’

    ‘He’s not married?’ I quietly asked, fearful of betraying my curiosity.

    ‘Nay, he were never wed.  He’s lived a ’onely life, noather chick nor child to bless hissel’ wi’.’

    ‘Bud he were welly bein’ wed once,’ said Joe’s wife, her woman’s appetite being whetted, now that the old man’s past was beginning to be laid bare.

    ‘Ah!’ I said, ‘is there a romance hidden away in his far past?’

    ‘There’s a lass, onyroad,’ cried the woman, ‘an’ a bonny un hoo were an’ all.’

    ‘A quarrel?’ I asked.

    ‘Nay,’ said the old man, shaking his head; ‘it were wurr nor a quarrel — it were deeath.  Tell him th’ tale, Betty; thaa’s not forgetten it, although it’s fifty year sin’.’

    ‘Forgetten it?  Nowe, nor aw never shall;’ and then, placing her paper across her knees, she told the story, which was as follows:—

    ‘To begin at th’ beginnin’,’ she said, ‘Harry were a weakly lad, an’ they ne’er expected they’d pull him through th’ early years o’ his life.  An’ what were wurr, he’d a stepfaither as couldn’t bear th’ seet on him, an’ punched him whenever he get i’ his gate.  Then his mother deed, an’ he went to his grandfaither’s, who used to sup all th’ lad’s weekly wage, an’ lug him when there were no more to get at.

    ‘Next door to where they lived were a little lass called Alice; an’ like as th’ two on ’em geet thick, goin’ back’ards and forrards to th’ mill together, an’ sharin’ one another’s baggin’.  If onybody put on Alice, Harry used to feight ’em; an’ if onybody put on Harry, Alice used to gie ’em th’ length o’ her tongue, an’ it were noan a short un, aw con tell yo’.

    ‘Well, fro’ a lad an’ lass they grew up to be man an’ woman, all th’ time keepin’ company.  Aw’ve yerd Alice say hoo didn’t know when hoo didn’t love Harry; an’ aw’ve yerd Harry say th’ same abaat th’ lass.

    ‘Hoo were a reg’lar May flaar, an’ no mistak’.  Hoo’d awlus a blush on her cheek, an’ a twinkle i’ her een, an’ a kind word on her tongue, an’ her touch were as tender as an angel’s.  There were mony a one as wanted her, but hoo nobbud laughed an’ said Harry were her mon.  An’ he were ’an o’, for there were noabry come up to him i’ her een; an’ it were th’ same wi’ him; he worshipped th’ very graand hoo walked on, an’ th’ very looms hoo wove at.  They say as haa he used to run up fro’ th’ fire-hoile just to have a peep at her through th’ weyvin’-shade dur.  Aw used to weyve again’ her i’ those days, an’ somehaa or other hoo awlus knew when he put his yed o’er th’ looms.  Hoo’d no need to look up an’ catch his een; there were summat telled her baat that; an’ when aw couldn’t see him mysel’ aw knew he were there by the blush as come o’er Alice’s cheek.

    ‘There were noabry in all th’ village bud wished ’em weel, for they were th’ sort as minded their own business an’ meddled wi’ naughht as didn’t consarn ’em; bud somehaa or other Providence were again’ them.  If folk could ha’ had their own way they’d ha’ getten wed.  Bud then, as yo’ know, folk cannot, an’ it’s happen as weel.

    ‘Aw remember meetin’ her one summer’s neet after hoo’d been a walk o’er th’ tops wi’ Harry.  Th’ stars were glentin’, an’ th’ new-mown hay filled all th’ valley wi’ a sweetness as it’ll tak’ heaven all its time to beat.  Bud there were a sob i’ th’ wind as it come fro’ th’ moors, an’ yo’ felt sad like as yo’ listened to’t.  Aw remember as hoo laid her hond on my shoulder an’ said, “Hear yo’, Betty, there’s sorrow yonder.”  “Whatever do yo’ meean?” aw axed, lookin’ into her een that were fillin’ wi’ tears.  “E’ dear,” hoo says, “it’s too good to last, lass, is this;” an’ hoo cried as if her heart would fair break.

    ‘Aw never seed Alice again.  That night hoo were takken wi’ fayver, an’ afore a week were o’er hoo were deead an’ buried.  There is as says ’at Harry has never smiled sin’.  Onyroad, th’ dayleet went aat for him, an’ it welly seems to me his has been a neet baat a dawn.  As yo’ know, he’s not a chap as says mich; an’ his were a tearless sorrowin’ an’ o’.  Bud it were all th’ wurr for that; as aw says, them as con cry never dees o’ a brokken heart; it’s when th’ tears willn’t flow ’at th’ heart breaks.  An’ it were so wi’ Harry.

    ‘There were as said he’d tak’ to drink; bud while he’s ne’er been aboon havin’ a bit o’ a spree, he didn’t swallow his sorrow wi’ ale as some folks do.  Aw welly thought he’d loise his wits, though; an’ for th’ matter o’ that he did; bud aw suppose yo’ll ha’ heard, so aw needn’t tell yo’.’

    I assured Joe’s wife that I knew nothing, and that her story was all the more interesting because it was breaking new ground.  Since listening to her I had been slowly interpreting what before had been the indecipherable hieroglyphics of old Harry’s life.  Looks, movement, words, as well as his quaint philosophy, became self-explanatory, and what I had before supposed, now stood out confirmed by fact.  Here was a man whose dream had been rudely broken at its dawn; one whose better angel had flown before the word of that resistless power that takes not Yea nor Nay from creature man; one whose life had been retrospect, the retrospect of gloom; one in whom sentiment had been choked, in its place going forth the sluggish stream of unrelieved and unremunerated duty.  I understood now why the man was married to his engines and to his masters; I understood why he had become the dumb and passive slave of toil.  The romance which ever gives reality and vitality to life had been withdrawn from him in earliest years, and henceforth he had become the automaton of labour, a mere tool in the giant hand of gain.

    ‘Naa, Joe,’ said his wife, ‘thaa’d better finish th’ tale, for it had more to do wi’ thee nor me, thaa knows, an’ thaa’s telled it too often to forgeet it.’

    ‘Aw’se ne’er forgeet it,’ said he; ‘told or untold, it’ll live i’ my memory to my deein’ day.  It were abaat a week after th’ lass were buried, an’ for two-thre days Harry had been missin’ fro’ his wark.  We searched for him all o’er, high an’ low, far an’ wide.  Then we took to draggin’ th’ lodge an’ follerin’ th’ river.  Bud it were all no use.  We come across plenty o’ deead cats an’ dogs, bobbin-skips an’ weft-cans, bud there were no Harry.

    ‘One day there were a chap come through th’ village as used to fettle clocks and weather-glasses, an’ he telled ’em at th’ public-haase haa there were a mon o’er at Cragstall ’at kept dashin’ his yed again’ th’ gravestones an’ talkin’ to th’ folk as were below th’ graand.

    ‘Naa, yo’ mun know as Cragstall were fifteen mile away, an’ it were where they’d ta’en Alice to bury, her folk comin’ fro’ there.  I’ those days news didn’t travel very fast, for we’d noather railways nor tallegraphs i’ these parts; so when aw yerd what th’ clock-fettler said, aw says, “By gum, it’ll be Harry hissel’;” an’ as I yo’ll yer, it were.  Baat stoppin’ for second thoughts, aw set off just as aw were, straight across th’ moors.  Aw were young i’ those days, an’ th’ best walker i’ the countryside.  Five mile an haar baat stoppin’ for baggin’ — that were th’ measure o’ my foot when aw were twenty year owd.  Aw remember as it were a full moon, an’ th’ moors stretched aat an’ dipped i’ silvery leet, naa an’ again throwin’ their black shadows when a mound set its back up again’ th’ lamp o’ heaven.  Aw struck o’er Croyden yonder, an’ when aw gained th’ ridge aw took th’ lower side just to tak’ th’ sting aat o’ th’ wind as were blowin’ fro’ th’ yest, an’ hissin’ through th’ long grass, an’ makkin’ it shiver — summer though it were.  When aw come to th’ dip as leads daan under th’ Scars, aw felt a bit scared, for th’ rocks threw aat flaysome shadows, an’ aw began to wish aw were at whom.  Bud aw kept up my nerve till aw come on th’ moors again, an’ i’ a bit leeted on th’ high road.  Aw con remember haa my clogs rung aat i’ th’ neet air, an’ haa every naa an’ then they struck fire fro’ th’ stones aw stumbled o’er; an’ aw con remember haa quiet th’ farms were as aw passed ’em, barrin’ the barkin’ o’ th’ dogs as were roused by th’ noise o’ my footfall.

    ‘Th’ parish church aw were bun’ for lie abaat a mile an’ a haive off th’ high road, so aw turned by Rawstron Wood, an’ then climbed up th’ stream side to Fallbarn, where aw geet a good view o’ th’ graveyard i’ the hollow.  It were lyin’ i’ a sea o’ breetness, th’ owd buildin’ an’ th’ moniments as silent as th’ deead ’at were beneath ’em, their shadows at their side like doubles.

    ‘As aw geet nearer aw met a two-thre folk stonnin’ an’ lookin’ at summat amang th’ tombs.  “What are yo’ doin’ here?” aw says; “it’s abaat time all daycent folk were i’ bed;” an’ just then th’ clock i’ th’ church tower started strikin’ twelve.

    ‘“Thaa’s a deal o’ room for talkin’,” says one on ’em, gettin’ howd o’ my coit collar.  “Who arto, an’ where doesta come fro’?”

    ‘“Aw’m lookin’ for a chap,” aw says, “’at’s gone crazy o’er loisin’ his lass as were buried here a week ago.”

    ‘“Weel, he’s yonder, sithee,” said th’ mon, an’, loosenin’ his howd o’ my coat, he pointed towards th’ churchyard, where a felley was wanderin’ amang th’ graves.

    ‘There he were, sure enuff sometimes on his knees an’ sometimes on his face, talkin’ an’ prayin’, an’ then shaatin’ an’ cursin’, as he doubled his fist an’ shook it at th’ stars.

    ‘“Doesta see?” said an owd mon by my side, “he wants to feight the Almeety, but he cornd get at him.”

    ‘Leavin’ th’ men, aw went daan into th’ churchyard, just as he’d thrown hissel’ wi’ his face on th’ grass, chewin’ an’ grindin’ it wi’ his maath, and foamin’ all the while like a dog ’at’s gone mad.

    ‘“Harry,” aw says, stoopin’ daan o’er him an’ tryin’ to lift him, “what arto doin’ here, lad?”

    ‘He lifted his yed an’ looked up at me wi’ een as glared like a cat’s i’ th’ deead time o’ neet.

    ‘“Come, Harry,” aw says, “pull thysel’ together.  Thaa’s wet through, though thy hond’s hot enuff an’ no mistak’.”  Bud he flung hissel’ on the grass again, an’ started rakin’ up th’ sods on th’ grave, as though his honds had been iron.

    ‘I’ a bit th’ felleys come fro’ o’er the wall where aw’d left ’em, an’ as Harry had gone off i’ a deead faint, we geet him moved into a shade near by.

    ‘When the mornin’ come, an’ when th’ doctor were brought, he said it were another case o’ fayver.  An’ so it were, an’ aw were th’ one as nursed him through’t.  Bud he were never th’ same at after.  As the missus said, th’ dayleet went aat, an’ his neet’s been baat a dawn.’


――――♦――――

 
‘SHUTTING OFF STEAM’


CIRCUMSTANCES called me away from the scene of busy activity where for so long a time old Harry had played the part of communicative friend.  But although I was distant from him I could not shake off the presence of his personality.  Wherever I went he companioned me, and again and again I found myself not only falling into his quaint modes of expression, but passing through those scenes which he had so realistically described.  I carried with me, too, the roar and clatter of the machinery; and though my haunt for the time being was a quiet rural nook, the loud voices of the operatives and the clatter of their iron clogs found their way into the ear of my imagination, and proved to me that my sojourn in a manufacturing centre had become an incorporate part of my life.  Nor am I alone in this experience; for since then I have found many who having once lived among the mill-workers of Lancashire have never afterwards been able to lose the image and superscription which their strong individuality impresses on the sojourner’s mind.  And it was even so with me.  Neither a Lancashireman by birth nor residence, the twelve months spent among these operatives had done more in the development of practical ideas than all my previous years of travel and study, and I anticipated with eagerness the time of my return.

    This, however, was delayed beyond my anticipation, and three years passed before I again found myself in that smoke-canopied valley where old Harry had been the central and Plutonic character.  As I travelled in the train the spurs of hills again gave me a familiar welcome.  Bleak, barren, and coldly grey, they ran out on each side, dotted here and there with outlying farmsteads and lone folds, and dipping towards the trough of the valley, through which ran a turbid river, turning in its course a myriad wheels, for on its banks stood many-storied factories from which sounded the spoom of the spindles and the clatter of the loom.  Around these were barrack-like blocks of gloomy cottages, into whose cabined rooms were crowded the families who tented at the mills.  A hard lot was theirs.  By day the stuffy atmosphere of the workshop; by night the still more stifled air of the overcrowded chamber.  True, on either hand blocks of better-built houses raised their new stone-dressed faces; but the old hands loved the old homes — many of them, as families, having lived there for three and four generations, their little horizon bounded by the encircling hills, save when Whit-week trips swept them to the seaside, or some Saturday afternoon saw them wandering in the streets of the great city some sixteen miles distant from this outlying centre of busy trade.

    As I alighted from the train, and walked up the narrow street, the factories were ‘loosing’ for the day.  How familiar were the old faces wrapped in their many-coloured shawls — faces pale and wan, yet full of the expression peculiar to factory labour!  How familiar was the old vernacular, making up for its want of music in its strength of tone!  How familiar, too, the clatter of the clogs, and the sharp ring of their iron-tipped soles!  Although a drizzle was falling, aggravated by a heavy mist from the hills, and clouds of smoke which had fought all day in vain to reach the upper air, my heart still beat with a home feeling, and as I exchanged words with many whom I passed, and felt the warmth of their cheer, I realised more than ever the hold which these people had gained over me, and, to some extent, the kindly feelings which I had unwittingly roused in their hearts during my brief sojourn with them.

    Naturally, my thoughts went out towards old Harry, and I began to wonder how the intervening years had dealt with his work-worn body, or if they had been productive of more of those strange adventures which so thrilled me in their rude narration.  I knew that if he were living I should find him in his old haunt — either roasting before the boiler fires, or melting in the hot breath of that demon of commerce which he had so carefully watched over through the long years of his life.  Thus it was, bag in hand, before seeking the shelter of my hotel, I turned quickly off to the right, down a narrow tortuous opening, on one side of which stood knots of tumbledown dwellings flanked by a huge structure, from whose many windows the twinkling lights were gradually disappearing, and out of whose lodge gates a few belated operatives were hurrying home.  Slipping round the corner, I passed under the big gates into the square-paved yard, and, looking beyond, caught a glimpse of the fiery throats of the boilers as they devoured with hungry relish the fuel which had that day been thrown into their iron maws.  Hurrying on into the great sheet of light which they threw in front of them, I looked eagerly for the face of old Harry; but it was not to be seen.  Strange faces were there, and strange voices; but he for whom I looked, the man who had been the presiding genius at this feast of flame, was no longer at his wonted place, and in his absence I seemed to read his fate.

    This did not deter me, however, from stepping down into the fire-hole, where I was greeted by a man stripped to the waist, and lurid in the light of the furnace he was raking for the night.  Stopping for a moment in his scorching labour, he roughly asked: —

    ‘Well, what is’t?  Ston’ aat o’ th’ gate, or yo’ll get those fine clooathes spoiled, yo’ will, for sure;’ and turning round to his task, he thrust the iron rake far into the flame, turning it and drawing while showers of red-hot ash fell at his feet.  Fierce was his expression as reflected in the furnace glare; while the muscles of his arms shone like polished bosses, and the mobile play of strength in the bared breast and shoulders told of a might herculean, and of a toil destructive of the energies with which it taxed the human frame.  The short-cropped hair was wet with perspiration, and sweat drops rolled down the low forehead, only making the smart of the eyes the harder to bear — eyes that smarted from their long gaze into the furnace fire.

    Slackening off for a second time, he turned to me again, saying: —

    ‘What is’t thaa wants?  If it’s th’ gaffers, they’ve gone whom long sin’; an’ if they hadn’t, yo’d none find ’em here.  This hoile’s for them ’at works, an’ not for them as does naught; get aat o’ my gate;’ and the long rake was again plunged into the deeps of the tunnel-shaped furnace, a volley of fearful oaths and imprecations seeming to supply the energy so much needed for this scorching work, the sweat the while dripping off on to the iron floor on which the man was standing.  When he again paused for breath, I ventured to address this demon of toil by asking him if he could tell me where old Harry was.

    ‘Nowe,’ was his rough reply, ‘aw cornd.’

    ‘Has he left here, then?’ I inquired, in a somewhat surprised tone.

    ‘Yi! he changed shops abaat two year sin’.’

    ‘And you don’t know where he is?’

    ‘Nowe, an noabry else; an’ noabry will till they ged to th’ same shop.’

    Gradually the truth began to dawn on me as I detected in these rough words the man’s method of announcing my old friend’s death.

    ‘Ah,’ I said, ‘he’s passed away, has he?’

    ‘Yo’ con call it what yo’ like; bud foine names cannot tak’ th’ sting aat o’ th’ owd king — when he bites, he bites for good an’ all.  He none wanted to go; he would fain ha’ stopped at th’ owd shop.  Bud he’s beat his last fire as far as this world’s consarned, chuz what he’s doing naa.  Bud aw’ve no time to talk to yo’ abaat owd Harry, nor onybody else, for that matter;’ and the long rake was again plunged into the flames.

    As I turned away into the darkened yard of the factory, all the darker for the sad news I had just heard, I stumbled across Faithful Joe, whose welcome was as cordial as that of the fire-beater’s had been uncouth.

    ‘What next!’ shouted he, as he recognised my features, and grasped my hand, under the flicker of the lodge lamp.  ‘Well, if ever!  Come along wi’ yo’ into th’ haase: th’ owd woman ’ll be fain to see yo’.  Thaa’s just i’ time; th’ taypot’s on th’ hob, and there’s some buttered cake i’ th’ oven.  Wheer hasto been all these years?  There’s been some gradely changes sin’ yo’ were here last.  The owd mon’s deead, as yo’ll know.  Yi! he sleeps up at th’ Chapel Hill yonder; he’s getten a cool spot for once i’ his life, shuzhaa.  There was scarce a dry ee i’ th’ village when they carried him shoulder high up th’ lane yon’.  An’ th’ gaffers were there an’ all; an’ it would ha’ been a shame if they hadn’t, for th’ owd chap were as true as th’ steel he tented.  Bud come inside an’ aw’ll tell yo’ all abaat him.’

    We were soon seated in Faithful Joe’s snug kitchen; and, as he said, the tea was on the hob and the cake was in the oven, both of which were soon brought forth to satisfy our sharpened appetites, his wife the while knitting over her whitened hearthstone, her peaceful face lit up by the fire’s cheerful glow, a striking contrast to the demon expression of the man whom I had just left at the boilers in the mill.

    ‘Well,’ said Faithful Joe, ‘aw suppose yo’ll be fain to yer summat abaat owd Harry’s death.  As yo’ know, he were a hard un, an’ he died gam’.  Th’ owd chap cotched a hoarst (cold), an’ like as he’d naught to fall back on, for his vitals were consumed wi’ th’ fire he’d tented for so mony years.  We all seed what were comin’, an’ we telled him to tak’ care o’ hissel’; bud it were all no use; he worked on all th’ same, his cough all th’ while tearin’ his inside aat.  Aw couldn’t bear to yer it; bud he toared on, did th’ owd felley, ramblin’ among th’ machinery, an’ stickin’ to th’ engines till th’ end.  They were like to get him a mate at last, an’ aw think that finished him, for he lost all heart when he seed a fresh face i’ th’ engine-haase.  Bad as he were, he were awlus there at startin’-time, an’ when his hond were so dithery as he couldn’t lift a tot o’ ale, he fun’ strength to turn on th’ steam i’ th’ mornin’s, an’ shut it off again at neets.  He were some anxious to be at his work.  “Sithee, Joe,” he said to me one neet, after a bout o’ coughin’, an’ as th’ engines were slowin’ daan, “sithee, Joe, aw could like to stop wi’ ’em, an’ lie me daan an’ die beside them.”  An’ he welly did; for next mornin’ they picked him up by th’ side o’ th’ fly-wheel, an’ carried him whom for good.  Did yo’ ever see Harry cry?  Aw never did afore that mornin’ just as they carried him aat through th’ dur, he turned his head an’ looked at th’ weigh-baulk (sway-beam), and said, “Good-bye, owd lad; we’re ne’er meet no more.”  “Howd thy din,” says owd Rough Cap, who were carryin’ him, for his heart were full, an’ he could scarce speak.’  And Faithful Joe’s heart was full too, and his wife’s also, nor was mine otherwise, and we all three wept.

    ‘How long did he keep his bed?’ I asked.

    ‘Nobbud abaat three days; an’ aw were wi’ him when he closed his een, an’ th’ missus here laid him aat.  Bud aw tell yo’ he were gam’ to th’ last.  Yo’ should ha’ yerd him when th’ parson went to see him an’ pray o’er him.  “What done yo’ want wi’ th’ likes o’ me?” he axed th’ curate when he come to th’ bedside.  An’ when th’ young felley towd Harry he’d come to see abaat his soul, he telled him he could manage that bit o’ business for hissel’.  Liftin’ hissel’ up i’ bed, he stretched aat his owd black hond, an’ said, “Sithee, aw’ve done reet by th’ maisters, aw’ve done reet by th’ honds, an’ aw’ve done reet by my naybors.  Aw’ve awlus given as much work as aw geet paid for, an’ thrown a bit in i’ th’ bargain; aw’ve awlus paid for my beer an’ baccy, an’ my two-thre porridge, an’ aw owe noabry naught.  Aw’ve done as aw’d be done by, an’ aw’se be treated th’ same as aw’ve treated others; an’ aw durnd know as yo’ con mak’ it ony better or ony wurr for me, for all yo’ve brought a book wi’ yo; so naa yo’ know.”’

    I had to stop Joe in his narrative by giving vent to a hearty laugh; for despite my tears the grotesque humour broke in upon my sorrow, knowing as I did how unconscious it would all be on old Harry’s part.

    ‘But thaa hasn’t telled him all, Joe,’ said the wife, clicking loudly with her knitting-needles, and smiling through the mist that suffused her eyes.  ‘Finish thy tale naa thaa’s started.  He’ll think no wurr o’ owd Harry when thaa’s towd him.’

    ‘Well, it were i’ this road,’ continued Joe.  ‘Th’ curate didn’t seem satisfied, so, turnin’ to th’ owd lad, he said, “Bud, Harry, if thaa’s awlus paid for thy beer, thaa’s sometimes supped more nor were good for thee.”  Bud he shook his head, an’ says, “Nay, thaa’s off it.  When aw supped ale, as thaa says, aboon my share, it were to do me good; an’ if yo’ come to be poisoned wi’ th’ stink o’ a fire-hoile, yo’ll want summat else to clear yore stomach nor watter an’ pop.  Th’ Great Maister’s just, an’ He knows when aw’ve fuddled it were to keep me agate.”’

    ‘And what did the curate say to that?’ I asked.

    ‘He showed his wisdom, an’ kept his maath shut,’ was Faithful Joe’s reply; ‘for, as yo’ know, it were no use tryin’ to talk agen owd Harry.  When he’d getten his face square, for he were terrible tickled, he opened his book an’ read a prayer, an’ very beautiful it were.  Bud it were all no use, for when he’d done, owd Harry nobbud looked up and said, “It’s poor gam’ yo’ fotch wi’ paper pellets.”

    ‘It were that neet he died, an’, as aw tell yo’, aw were wi’ him.  It were towards the deead haar an’ all, an’ th’ wind were howlin’ raand th’ haase like a hurricane.  He’d slumbered a deal sin’ th’ curate had left him, bud abaat nine o’clock he were ta’en wi’ a hiccough as plagued him terrible.  Th’ missus here had made him some barley-water wi’ a lemon squeeze, an’ aw kept tryin’ to get him to sup; bud it were no use — it all come back.  Abaat ten o’clock th’ owd chap pricked up his yers, an’ gettin’ howd on me he said, “Hearken, there’s th’ factory bell!”  “Nay, Harry,” aw says, “there’s been no bell i’ yon factory for thirty year; they call ’em wi’ whistles naa, thaa knows; aw should ha’ thought thaa’d called ’em often enuff not to forget that.”  Bud he nobbud kept saying, “Th’ bell, th’ bell.  Whatever shall aw do?  Aw’m lat’, aw’m lat’;” an’ throwin’ daan th’ clooathes, he tried to put his legs on th’ chamber floor to don his britches.  Poor owd felley! his shanks were like spindles, an’ he dithered an’ tottered till aw had to geet him back again, while all th’ time he kept sayin’ between his hiccoughs, “Th’ bell, th’ bell.”  Then he quietened daan, an’ a bit o’ slumber come on, an’ aw con tell yo’ aw’d many thoughts as aw sat an’ watched th’ owd face i’ th’ flicker o’ th’ lampleet.  It were a grand face for all it were a dirty un; bud then, yo’ know, th’ dirt were o’ th’ reet sort — th’ sort as weshes aat at deeath.  Aw welly thought aw could see th’ angels at their blessed wark, for th’ owd chap’s soul seemed to shine through his wrinkled owd face, an’ a song start fro’ th’ lips that had spilt aboon their share o’ oaths.  Th’ bed-clooathes an’ all seemed as though they were bein’ weshed i’ th’ sunleet.  Th’ missus here says it were imagination; bud aw say it were transfiguration.  Onyroad, th’ owd chap seemed swallowed up i’ glory.’

    ‘And did he speak again?’ I asked.

    ‘Yi! once, abaat midneet.  He oppened his een like, an’ puttin’ his hond on my arm, whispered summat at first aw couldna mak’ aat.  So aw bent daan o’er him, for aw were anxious to cotch his last words, an’ aw says, “What is’t, Harry?”  Bud his hiccoughs were so bad ’at aw couldn’t cotch what it were he said.  Then aw yerd summat abaat “th’ Maister’s hond bein’ on th’ stop-valves,” an’ aw could just cotch th’ words—“Joe, He’s shuttin’ off th’ steam.”’



    Next morning, the clouds having lifted, I walked quietly up to the Chapel Hill burial-ground to seek old Harry’s resting-place.  I had little difficulty, for a plain stone slab soon caught my eye, on which were cut the words —


IN MEMORY OF
OLD HARRY
A MASTER’S TRIBUTE


How long I lingered I know not.  All that I know is — my tribute was tears.



THE END



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