Clog Shop Chronicles II.
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Giving a Man Away.


WHEN Jimmy Juddy left his sweetheart on the night of their engagement, he walked like a man in a dream.  He crossed the road into Mill Lane, which ran parallel with the Clog Shop, and led down to the mill, and thence on to Beck Bottom, where it joined the road to Clough End.  Jimmy passed the mill without noticing it, and never heard the two or three "How do's" that were addressed to him by passers-by.  His head was bent, and he was muttering to himself.

    Presently he entered the field beyond the mill, and approached a clump of young trees in a corner at the side of the lane.  Here he dropped upon his knees under the shadow of the trees, crying as he did so—

    "Tha's done it, Lord, it's noabry but Thee—but it's like Thee.  Ay! it's like Thee.  Aw've waited twelve ye'r an' Aw gav' up hope lung sin, but Aw see naa 'at it is good boath to hope and to wait for the salvation of the Lord."

    Jimmy spent several minutes on this broken ejaculatory prayer, and then quietly picking up his cans and brushes he made for home.

    As he approached, new thoughts forced themselves upon him.  What would his mother and sister think of these things?  Since his disappointment of twelve years ago, he had given up all thought of marriage, and latterly he had come to regard his duty to his womankind as precluding it.

    The state of his mind was very clearly understood by both mother and daughter, and in their womanly inconsistency they began to evince a most anxious desire that he should take to himself a wife.  But Jimmy was not deceived.  He knew that the certainty they felt of his remaining a bachelor encouraged them in their banterings.

    But his heart told him this was only one of the little self-deceptions which do so much to sweeten life.  He knew that the reality would be terrible.

    Moreover, though old Matty his mother was really healthier than either he or his sister, they had persuaded themselves that her heart was weak, and they had become fertile in inventing devices to prevent her ever being suddenly startled.

    This was an occasion, however, which taxed Jimmy's love-quick inventiveness to its utmost.  He knew how difficult it was to conceal anything from them.  One or other would find him out in no time, and they both boasted they could read him "like a book."  It was no use, therefore, to attempt concealment; only he must break the news gently, for the old woman's sake.

    By this time he had reached their cottage, a little low house standing between the mill lane and the Beck, and having a garden in front that ran to a point at the bridge where the road crossed the Beck.

    Hastily putting away his cans and brushes in the little workshop behind the house, and washing himself, he hurried in, and in his eagerness to get a lead in the conversation lest he should be cornered, commenced at once—

    "Well, Aw hau'n't finished after aw, but"—and then he broke off.

    "Hay, muther, yo' do look bonny.  Yo' getten younger.  If Aw wor a bit younger, Aw'd start o' Courtin' yo'."

    "Bless thee, lad! tha's ne'er done nowt else sin' Aw know'd thee," was the reply.  But this turn to tenderness did not suit Jimmy's purpose at all, so he sat down to his porridge, preparing to talk.

    "Hoo's spending a lot o' brass o' yon haase," he remarked.

    "Hast yerd yet whoa hoo's goin' to have?" asked Alice, who sat with her crutch by her side on the opposite side of the table.

    Jimmy's heart gave a great leap.

    "Have?" he cried, "hoo's having sumbry, that's sartin; everybody's gettin' married na'adays.  Aw'st be goin' off mysel' some fine mornin'."

    Jimmy had made so many threats of this kind to amuse his mother that both women smiled with a sweet sense that their mirth was safe, and Alice was encouraged to pursue the subject by receiving a gentle kick on her crutch from Jimmy's foot under the table.  So she said in gentle raillery—

    "Well, dunna brag sa mitch; its leap ye'r, tha knows."

    "By th' mon it is!" exclaimed Jimmy, "Aw ne'er thowt o' that.  Aw'st ha' to look aat, Aw con see.  Some on 'em 'll happen ax me."

    But the effort to keep excitement out of his speech was a little overdone, and Alice shot at him a glance of quick inquiry, but his mother, noticing nothing, answered—

    "Well, theer's plenty on 'em 'ud do that if they thowt ther wor ony chance for 'em," and the old woman's face beamed with quiet pride in her son's popularity as she continued, "But theer's nooan on 'em good enough for aar Jimmy."

    "Naa, mother, yo'll mak' him mooar consated nor he is," broke in Alice, "but if ony on 'em axed him he couldn't say neaw, especially if hoo wor owd or i' trouble."

    Jimmy bent his head over his porridge, and gave another kick under the table as he answered, in a shamed sort of way—

    "Well, they'an axed me."

    "Wot!  Whoa?" cried both women at once.

    Jimmy took a long, careful look at his mother and shook his head with a smile as he answered—

    "Ay; yo'd like to know, wodn't yo'?"

    "Whoa is it?  Hoo's an impident jade whoever hoo is," cried Alice with sudden misgiving, which brought fear into her face.  But Jimmy was watching his mother.

    "Howd thy bother, Jimmy," she said, with a quiet smile, "th' art nobbut gammin'."

    And Jimmy felt like dropping through the floor as, watching old Matty's face very narrowly, he answered, with an assumption of nonchalance which was ridiculously overdone-

    "It's reet.  Aw've been axed this varry day."

    There was a dead silence.  Both women turned pale; the older one gripped the arms of her chair, and Alice stood up and leaned on her crutch.

    At last the mother said, almost under her breath, "Whoa is it, lad?"

    But Jimmy was alarmed.  There was no reason that he could see why his words should have produced so sudden a change.  So he got up and fussily rearranged his mother's chair cushions as he answered, in a tone of gaiety—

    "Nay; yo' mun guess."

    Neither woman had any heart to do this, for though Jimmy's words were innocent enough, his manner justified the gravest conclusions.  To gratify him they began to select.  They guessed all the marriageable women they could think of, eligible or ineligible, but chiefly the latter.

    "Neaw! neaw!" Jimmy cried, with growing excitement at each guess.

    "Well, whoa con it be?" cried Alice, in perplexity, the pain at her heart making her doubly impatient; "Wheer has to bin to-day?"

    "Aw've bin noawheer but th' Fowt."

     A pale, sickly light shot across old Matty's face as she asked—

    "It's not Beck—Becky o' Tom's, is it?"

    Becky was the handsome, strapping, but somewhat aggressive, maidservant at the Fold farm.

    "Becky?  Neaw," and Jimmy laughed and danced on the sanded floor with gleeful anticipation of the next question, crying as he did so, "Yore warm, muther; yo're warm."

    "Jimmy!" cried Alice, "it's no"—but she stopped, and took a long look at her brother's face, and then she turned and hugged her mother and burst out in a great sob of relief as she cried—

    "It is, mother! it is! it's Nancy."

    Both these women knew of Jimmy's old-time attachment to Nancy, and the look on his quiet face spoke so eloquently of the love that had never been really dead, that they both felt glad for his sake, but with a wistful, dumb sort of gladness.

    They sat on each side of the fire, and made the painter sit down on his favourite low stool between them and tell them all about it.

    As Jimmy talked with glowing face and brightening eyes, they laughed, rather loud laughs for them, laughs which had odd catches in them, and which once or twice nearly ended in sobs.  Whilst Jimmy was looking up into either of their faces they smiled with hard-forced but very passable smiles, but if he turned to speak more particularly to one, the one not addressed turned her face hastily and brushed away a tear.

    Jimmy talked much about the goodness of God, and God moving in mysterious ways, and they answered "Ay, lad!"  And then he talked about it always being darkest before daylight, and they smiled and nodded and said "Ay" again, but it almost choked them, for a future without Jimmy would be perpetual midnight at Beck Bottom.

    The painter was so radiant, so eloquent on the subject of Nancy, and so constantly blending all his utterances with ejaculations of praise to God, that the women seemed for a time to catch his spirit, and drank Nancy's health with quite a respectable show of gladness in warm, home-made elderberry wine, which smelt strongly of cloves.

    But somehow old Matty tired sooner than usual that night, and after conducting family prayers herself, she rose to retire.

    "Well, good neet, lad!  Hay! who'd a thowt o' this when tha went aat this morning?  But we doan't know what a day nor an haar may bring forth.  Good neet, an' God bless thee."

    When she had reached the top of the stairs, however, Jimmy called to her, and as she stood with one hand on the bedroom door-latch whilst she held a candle in the other, he told her about Nancy saying she wanted mother and daughter more than she wanted the son, and as Jimmy laughed old Matty laughed,—quite a demonstrative attempt for so quiet a person,—but when her bedroom door had been closed behind her the wreathed smile disappeared, darkness and tears came into those old eyes, and the face became white and woeful as she dropped heavily on her knees, crying under her breath as she did so—

    "Aw connot do it, Lord; Aw connot do it.  Lord, help me."  And then, after a long pause, "Thy will—Aw dunnut mean it, but Aw'll say it till Aw con mean it—Thy will be done."
                         .                             .                             .                             .

    Beckside was amazed when the name of Nancy's bridegroom became known, as it did next day, and for a time the verdict seemed doubtful.

    The surprise was so complete as to be aggressive and awaken resentment.  And then everybody felt that it was so natural a thing to have come about that their never having thought of it was a reflection on their intelligence.  But this was only momentary; very quickly the current set steadily in favour of the arrangement, and in twenty-four hours Jimmy and his bride were more popular than they had ever been in their lives.

    The Clog Shop cronies gave Jimmy "a wiggin'" for what they called his "fawseniss," and would perhaps have kept up a show of disapproval but that a better occupation was found for them.

    On the second day after the engagement, Jabe, happening to look up from his work at the click of Nancy's garden gate, saw that young lady and Aunt Judy, with shawls over their heads, making for the Clog Shop with "serious business" writ large on their faces.

    "Jabez," began Judy, as soon as they were inside, assuming an attitude of uncompromising non-surrender, and giving her brother his full name, as she always did when very much in earnest, "Aw want to knaw wheer this poor wench is for t' be married?"

    This was said with slow and weighty deliberation, and Jabe, lifting his head, asked "Wheer?"

    "Ay, wheer?  Hoo wor chesened at th' chapel, and hoo's bin browt up at th' chapel, an' hoo wor born agean at th' chapel, an' aw her fowks is buried i' th' chapel yard, an' Aw reacon hoo'll ha' ta goa to a church two mile away wheer hoo's ne'er bin in her life to be married."

    "An' sarve her reet if hoo's soft enough ta get married," said Jabe; but though the words were rough the sound was not very dreadful.

    "Wot Aw want for t' know is why hoo conna be married at th' chapel?" demanded Judy.

    "'Cause hoo conna."

    "Why, Jabe?" chimed in Nancy.

    "'Cause it's no licensed."

    "An' why isn't it licensed?  Wot's trustees doin' not ta hav' it licensed all these years?" asked Judy.

    "'Cause it'll cost ta mitch."

    "Haa mitch will it cost?" asked Nancy again.

    But something had just entered Jabe's head.  He sat straight up on his stool and looked directly through the window as if he were thinking rapidly.  Presently he answered, looking hard and musingly now at Nancy―

    "Bless thee, wench, Aw dunnut knaw.  But," and here he leaped to his feet and smote his hard fist on the counter, as he cried: "Aw'll tell thee wot.  Tha shall be wed at th' chapel, if th' licence cosses [costs] twenty paand!"

    Three days later Jabe and Long Ben sat at the Clog Shop fire in their Sunday best, reporting to the assembled magnates the result of their excursion to Duxbury.

    The short of it was that the chapel was to be licensed forthwith, and all would be in time for Nancy's wedding.  The deputation, big with the importance of their mission and contact with authority, legal and ecclesiastical, were unusually communicative.

    The "super" had informed them that it was customary to present a Bible and Hymn-Book to the first couple married in the chapel.  That was considered a most becoming idea, and was enthusiastically adopted for the approaching occasion.

    Then Long Ben mentioned that the "super" said he thought the chapel ought to be cleaned and decorated, and in a short time a scheme was sketched for the whitewashing, painting, and cleaning of the chapel by a band of volunteers superintended by Ben himself.

    Then it was suggested that all the Sunday School scholars should attend the ceremony, the girls to be dressed in their white anniversary frocks, but as the married men present hesitated to commit themselves before consultation with their home-rulers, this question was deferred.

    When conversation began to flag, and Ben had glanced once or twice window-wards as if meditating departure, Sam Speck, who, as the most juvenile member of the Club, was considered to have a somewhat dangerous inclination to novelties, asked whether it was not customary to have music at weddings.

    Jabe had "ne'er yerd on't."  Ben thought he had "read about it i' th' papper," and Jethro, the knocker-up, gave it as his opinion that "they on'y hed music when royalty were married."  But Sam stuck to his point, calculating with cunning confidence that an opportunity for the band to display its talents would greatly tempt the members of that organisation, and he was right, and easily carried the day.

    But what sort of music was it to be?  Sam had heard something about wedding marches; but marches were worldly, and nothing but sacred music could be played in the chapel.

    Lige, the road-mender, suggested his invariable selection for all times and seasons, "There'll be no mooar sorra there," but as Jabe vetoed that as inappropriate, Long Ben named the hymn―


"Two are better far than one,
 For counsel or for fight."


to the tune Asylum.  But nobody supported the idea, and at length Jonas Tatlock, the leader of both band and chapel choir, was sent for, and by the time he had smoked two pipes at a furious rate, arguing and demonstrating all the time, he had convinced the company that the "Hallelujah Chorus," which they had been rehearsing intermittently for years, was the correct thing, and it was resolved to go into hard practice at once.
                         .                             .                             .                             .

    Never a brighter day dawned than the one on which Jimmy and Nancy were to be married.  All nature smiled, and human nature, at any-rate in Beckside, put on its very best.  The Amateur Painting Committee had done its work, and the chapel was resplendent and very redolent of whitewash and paint.  Nancy's Sunday School class, in their white frocks, and carrying "posies," occupied the front pew.  The band had taken possession of the singing pew in the left hand corner, and overflowed into the adjoining pews, as on "Sarmon" days.  The villagers, even including Job Sharples, had packed every available inch of space, the gallery being reserved for the children.  The registrar was in the vestry, and the "super" was walking about in the aisles exchanging greetings with his people.

    Presently the vestry door opened, and the registrar beckoned the minister.  Arrived in the little sanctum, the "super" found an old woman with a black poke bonnet, and a face almost as white as the frill in her bonnet front.

    "Good morning, Mrs. Crawshaw; this is a happy day for you," said the minister.

    "Happy!  My heart's welly broken; but he's bin a good lad, an' Aw've come to give him away."

    "To give him away, Mrs. Crawshaw?"

    "Ay; Aw've nowt else to give her."

    "But it is the lady who is given away, you know, not the gentleman."

    But just then there was a commotion in the chapel.  The bridal party was coming.  There were no cabs in Beckside, and even the very respectable thought it no dishonour to walk to their wedding, and at that moment the weddingers were coming arm in arm up the hill, and the front of the somewhat long procession had reached the chapel door.  The minister hastened to his place within the communion-rail, and amid a buzz of excitement the party walked up the aisle.

    Jimmy, with a huge blush-rose in his coat, looked warm, but quiet and radiantly happy.  Nancy, flushed and proud as any duchess, glanced around as she reached the communion-rail as if in search of something, but the minister was commencing, so she had to give attention to the business in hand.

    When they had got about halfway through the service, and the happy couple stood with clasped hands, there was an interruption.

    The vestry door opened, and Jimmy's mother, calling out "Wait a minute," hobbled to the front, and, placing her hands on the heads of the bride and bridegroom, cried out―

    "God bless thee, lad!  May thy childer be as good to thee as tha's been to me.  God bless thee, Nancy.  God's gien thee a good 'art an' a bonny face, and thy fayther's gienthee th' farm, but Aw'm givin' thee aw as Aw have.  God bless yo' booath."

    There was a perfect chorus of quavering "Amens," accompanied by a display of handkerchiefs and a wiping of eyes, for this staid, still old woman, who during a lifetime had never spoken in chapel before,—not even at those great Beckside institutions, the Love-feasts,—had touched a chord in every heart.

    Then the service was finished, and the "super," in a neat speech, presented the Bible and Hymn-Book to the happy pair, after which the people clapped, and the boys in the gallery set up a thunderous stamping.  Then the bridal party adjourned to the vestry to sign the register, during which there was such a tuning of instruments and resining of fiddle-bows as was not heard even at the anniversary in Beckside.

    Jonas Tatlock, mounted on a high stool at one corner of the singing pew, watched the vestry door as for dear life, and as it opened he cried excitedly—

    "Naa, lads, brast aat — Wun, two, three, fower!"

    And they did "brast aat."  Handel's grand chorus probably never received so entirely original a rendering, and it certainly was never produced with more whole-hearted earnestness and meaning than by the perspiring, but joyful, Beckside band.

――――♦――――

 
Tatty Entwistle's Return.


A STERN, lowering look sat on the minister's face as he lifted the Clog Shop latch.  He had come to Beckside on very serious business.  That very forenoon a woman, agitated and tearful, and with a slight bruise on her forehead, had called at the manse in Duxbury, and had complained that her husband had struck her, and that she could no longer live with him.  And this husband turned out to be none other than Nathan Entwistle, the Beckside blacksmith, who was chapel steward and trustee in the Beckside Methodist Church.

    The good "super" was grievously shocked.  A humane and chivalrous man himself, he was scandalised to think of such an act being committed by a church steward.  What a disgrace it would be if it got abroad.  What a scandal would be caused, and what injury would be done to the name of religion! The thing must be hushed up and the two brought together again; and if that could not be brought about, then such measures of discipline must be taken as would make it clear to all outsiders that the Church condemned, repudiated, and punished such conduct.

    What a beast that Nathan must be!  And he had always thought him such a quiet, decent fellow.  And so deeply attached to the cause, too!  He was very much afraid that the morals of these rough north-country folk were very lax.  It was very painful, but he must do his duty.  Unless Nathan repented and made full amends, he must be expelled, if only as a warning to the rest.  And even if Nathan was contrite, he must be relieved of his offices.  Such conduct could not be passed over.  He must be faithful at all costs.

    These were the thoughts which were passing through the minister's mind as the venerable horse he hired jogged lazily along towards Beckside.  As he entered the village, the glances and nods and winks which the villagers made to each other as he passed them confirmed him in his fears that the thing had become a public scandal; and so, after putting up his horse at the Fold farm, he came across to the Clog Shop in a stern and resolute frame of mind.

    Long Ben and the Clogger, who were alone, rose with joyous surprise at this unexpected call, but the look on the minister's face checked them.

    "Well, brethren, this is a serious matter," he said, with a sigh, as he pulled off his gloves and stuffed them into his overcoat pocket, and then turning up his coat tails sat cautiously down on an old clogging-bench near the fire.

    The faces of the two friends formed themselves into notes of interrogation.  They glanced with quick inquiry at their visitor, and then at each other, and then Jabe inquired―

    "Wot dew yo' meean, Mester ' Shuper'?"

    "I mean about Nathan.  Such conduct is infamous for a Christian man, and a member, too.  But you don't mean to say you know nothing about it?"

    "We knaw nowt wrung abaat Nathan," said Jabe slowly and decisively, "and wot's mooar, there's noabry can tell nowt nother."

    "If they'll speik th'truth," added Ben, whose face wore an emphatic and almost defiant indorsement of Jabe's remark.

    "But haven't you heard?  Is it possible you don't know what he has done?"

    "He's dun nowt as he needs ta be shawmed on, Aw'll back," cried the Clogger doggedly.

    "Ashamed," cried the "super," beginning to feel that Beckside morality was laxer even than he had expected.  "It's not a matter for shame, it's a matter for punishment.  The law of the land punishes it, and the Church certainly cannot be below that.  If all I hear be true, we shall be compelled to expel him."

    "Hexpel!  Ay, yo'll ha' plenty of hexpellin' ta dew if yo' starten wi' Nathan.  Yo'll ha' t' hexpel us aw woll yo're abaat it."

    "But, Mr. Jabez, it is a misdemeanour; you cannot know what he has done, to talk like that."

    "Well, wot has he done?" shouted the Clogger petulantly, whilst both his face and that of Ben became dark with gathering storm-clouds.

    "Done?  Why, he has struck his wife."

    The anger-puckers suddenly straightened themselves out on the faces of the two friends.  An amused mischievous light leapt into their eyes, and after a momentary effort to control themselves they burst into a low chuckling laugh.

    The "super " was indignant.  Had these men no sense of shame in them?  And, besides, their laughter was insulting.

    "An' han yo' cummed aw th' way fro' Dux-bury abaat that?" asked Jabe, when he could check himself.

    "Certainly! and I am pained and humiliated to see that you think so lightly of the matter.  It may be Beckside morality, but it is not mine, and it's not the morality of the New Testament either."

    But even this sharp sally could not disturb the serene good temper into which the two cronies had laughed themselves, and after enjoying another broad grin, Jabe said―

    "Bless yo', Mester 'Shuper,' yo' dooan't knaw Beckside yet, an' Aw'm feart yo' dooan't knaw women fooak nother.  Naa, tak' yo'r coit off and hang it upo' that peg on th' parlour dur, an' come an' sit yo' daan, woll Aw tell yo' a thing or two."

    After getting the minister an old leathern cushion to lean his back upon against the chimney jamb, he continued―

    "Women, Mestur 'Shuper,' are loike dogs; the woss yo' sarve 'em the better they loike yo.'  Han yo' niver noaticed as aw th' scamps i' th' country has good wives as 'ull welly dee for 'em?  But if yo' foind a felley as is a gradely dacent chap, a bit better nor common, he's sartin to be henpecked.  Well, its o' thatunce wi' Nathan.  Hoo's a dacent hardworkin' woman, but that nattering, an' unyessy, an' discontented, ther's noa biding near her.  A felley as has lived wi' her i' this loife 'ull need noa purgatory i' th' next, Aw con tell yo.'"

    Having thus got fairly going, Jabe proceeded at length to give the minister a full and particular account of the marital experiences of poor Nathan, interspersed with sententious moralisings on the ways and wiles of women.

    Nathan, it appeared, had been married into the teens of years.  He and his wife were both members of the Church at the time of their marriage, but about three years after Nathan fell into drinking habits, driven to it, Jabe averred, by the "nattering" of his wife.  However that may have been, in Nathan's drunken days Tatty was a model wife, patient and still-tongued, loyal to her husband, and ready to quarrel with anybody who spoke a word against the blacksmith.  Everything that womanly ingenuity could devise was done by Tatty to shield her husband and preserve his character.

    During this time, also, she was most diligent at all the means of grace, took great interest in all chapel affairs, and prayed incessantly at class and prayer meetings for her husband's reclamation.

    After a while, Nathan came to his senses, chiefly through the good offices of the Clogger and his friends.  Tatty was, of course, greatly delighted and thankful, and Nathan was never tired of proclaiming how much he owed to the patience and kindness of his wife in his wild days.

    Gradually Nathan was drawn into Church work, and as he could write better than most of his associates, was installed chapel steward, which office he had held ever since.  But as Nathan's zeal waxed warm, Tatty's grew cold.  It soon required all Nathan's persuasive powers to keep her going to chapel at all.  She ceased altogether to attend class and prayer meetings, and whilst willing for Nathan to attend the sanctuary, she ceased to see any particular reason for doing so herself.

    In course of time she discovered that Nathan had too much to do at the chapel.  As they had no living children, she complained of her loneliness, and in swearing, nagging tones rated Nathan, saying again and again, "Tha'rt allis aat o' th' haase."

    The Clog Shop, however, became her most particular aversion.  Its owner and his friends were denounced without measure or mercy, and though Nathan was one of the least regular visitors to this favourite village resort, he came in for more abuse about it than all the other transgressors put together.

    Nathan played the bass viol in the band, which, of course, brought that cherished institution into ill repute with his wife, and latterly the practice nights before the "Sarmons" had been times of tribulation for the blacksmith.  More than once he had found the strings of his instrument cut when he reached it down from the joists to take it to the practice, and when, on the third occurrence of the kind, he bluntly charged his wife with doing the damage, she flew into a "tantrum," flounced out of the house, and went away to Duxbury to her sister's.

    Poor Nathan, deeply attached to his wife, and full of grateful memories of her bygone faithfulness, was perplexed and alarmed when she did not come home that night.  And next morning he was at Duxbury by breakfast-time, humbly begging Tatty's pardon and coaxing her to come back again.

    But something of the same kind occurred again not long after, and Mrs. Nathan went off again; and since then, at every little tiff, Tatty might be seen sitting like a statue at the far end of the coach on her way to Duxbury, and Nathan was certain to follow in a few hours or days at most, to get forgiven and bring her back.

    Of course such proceedings soon became common property, and whenever Nathan's wife was absent from home, the blacksmith was quizzed by his customers at the smithy as to when he was going to fetch her back.

    Another element of difficulty between the two and, perhaps at bottom the cause of all the rest, was that they were childless.  Three of their four little ones had died in infancy, and the fourth—little Nathan, a wee fragile bit of humanity—lived to be about four years of age and then quietly faded out.

    Some time before his death, however, Nathan had taken him into the smithy one afternoon against his wife's wishes, and whilst there the little fellow trod upon the head of a long-shafted hammer, which tilted up quickly and struck the little fellow on the temples.  He dropped on the floor like a dead thing, and Nathan with a wild cry snatched him up and carried him into the cottage.  He soon recovered, and seemed all right; the doctor, in fact, said that he was very little the worse, but as he died about a month after, although the doctor scoffed at the idea of the accident having anything to do with the child's decease, its mother evidently had her own opinion on the subject, and in moments of anger of late had darkly hinted that but for Nathan she might still have had "one comfort i' loife."

    To a man pining for child-love, this was hard to endure, and on the day of the now notorious quarrel, Tatty, carried beyond all restraint, had openly charged her husband with responsibility for the death of the little one.  Nathan, smarting with a sense of cruel injustice and white with indignation, lost all control of himself, and struck his wife a smart slap on the face.  Upon which Tatty had taken her usual excursion, adding this time, the serious step of going to tell the minister.

    This, and much more, was told to the "super" as he sat toasting his shins before the Clog Shop fire, and by the time that Jabe had finished, he had veered round decisively to Nathan's side of the question, and proposed to go down to the smithy and offer Nathan his sympathy, suggesting also that he should go and persuade Tatty to return home.

    "Yo' mun dew nowt o' th' sooart.  Let her bide, an' come whoam when hoo's ready.  An' leave Nathan to uz; we'll poo' him through, yo'll see."

    When the minister had gone, the two stewards fell into close consultation on the case in hand, and decided that this time, instead of avoiding the subject carefully, out of respect to Nathan's feelings, they would wait their opportunity and persuade him to bring things to a crisis by letting his wife stay away until she came back of her own accord.

    Two or three nights later, Nathan sauntered into the Clog Shop in that restless, absent manner which always came upon him when his wife was away.  Jabe, still at his bench, followed the blacksmith with his eyes as he passed up the shop, and having previously resigned his position of chief spokesman to Ben for this occasion only, he motioned to him that now was the time, and then turned round again and went on with his work with much unnecessary demonstrativeness.

    Ben silently handed his tobacco-box to the newcomer.  The two smoked on for some moments without speaking; and then Ben leaned forward out of the nook and said in a low voice, which was not quite so steady as it ought to have been―

    "We've bin killin' a pig; wilt come an' ha' thy dinner wi' us o' Sunday?"

    Nathan's lip quivered, tears swam in his eyes, and he stared steadily before him without speaking.

    Ben took several long draws at his pipe, and then, touching Nathan gently on the knee, he said soothingly―

    "Every heart knoweth its own bitterness."

    Nathan seemed shaken by a sort of internal convulsion.  He bent forward, propped his chin on his knees, and sat staring into the fire, whilst great tears splashed down upon the chip ashes at his feet.

    Jabe, at his bench, had suddenly stopped working, and was holding his breath to listen, though his eyes were still fixed on his work.

    Presently Nathan faltered: "Hay, bud Aw dew loike aar Tatty.  Aw'll fetch her whoam i' th' morn."

    "Tha'll dew nowt o' th' sooart," shouted Jabe from his bench; and, dropping further pretence of work, he threw down his hammer, and, unable any longer to keep out of the business, came and joined them at the fire, and plunged at once into hot discussion on the hitherto forbidden topic.

    Ben and he insisted that Nathan had made his own trouble by always being so anxious to get his wife back; that he would have no peace of his life until she was cured of this habit, and that as she was "a dacent woman enough i' mooast things," it was his duty to make one supreme effort to bring her to her senses.  They prophesied that she would be sure to come back soon, and that, if once she had to come of her own accord, there would be an end to her vagaries, at anyrate in that direction.

    Nathan took a great deal of persuading, and both his advisers realised that their task was only commenced, for, as Jabe said, the blacksmith would "tak' a lot o' keeping to it."

    And indeed he did.  Lonely at home, save for the occasional presence of a girl who came to do the housework, he spent his evenings at the Clog Shop, and often when the rest had left for the night all the arguments had to be gone over again, and all the objections once more answered.

    Slowly Nathan settled down to a doggèd endurance of his troubles, praying almost night and day that the Lord would forgive him for his part in the trouble, and soften the heart of his absent wife toward him.

    Meanwhile Tatty gave no sign, and as everybody avoided naming her to the blacksmith, he did not even hear the bits of news of her that did reach the village.

    It was reported at the Clog Shop that Tatty was looking "ter'ble bad"; and whilst some of the cronies cried, "Sarve her reet," Long Ben remarked softly, "Hoo'll be whoam afoor lung, yo'll see."

    One night Nathan, heavy of heart and out of love with all the world, pulled the sneck out of his cottage door and strolled wearily towards his favourite resort.

    As he approached, he heard a number of voices raised in animated discussion, and, opening the door, he came upon a rather odd scene.

    There, on a clog stool behind the counter, sat Lige, the road-mender, with a face beaming with mystery, importance, and delight, holding on his knees a bundle of old clothes containing a very young baby; and standing over him, scarcely less excited, were several others of the Clog Shop fraternity.

    "Aw wor comin' whoam fro' my wark up th' Brogden Loan [Lane], an' Aw yerd it skriking i' th' hedge bottom," cried Lige, in answer to Nathan's look of amazement.

    "It'll be some poor wench's chance-chilt, Aw reacon," said Long Ben, in pitying tones.

    "It's a bonny un, chuse wot it is," said Jabe, with unwonted music in his voice as he turned back the edge of the old Paisley shawl in which it was wrapped, and looked intently into its face.

    The child gazed up at him with owl-like solemnity, and then puckered its mouth as if it would have spoken if it could, and the hard, crusty, misogamous old Clogger beamed upon it with delight as he murmured―

    "Bless thi, tha'rt ta pratty for a chance-chilt."

    Just then Nathan came round the corner of the counter, and bent down over the baby.  After gazing at it a moment he stepped back, and surveying the little bundle of rags and humanity, he asked―

    "Wot art goin' ta dew wi' it, Liger?"

    Before we could answer, Jabe broke in―

    "Aar Judy can tak' cur on it ta-neet, and i' th' morning Aw—Aw—reacon it'll ha' ta be ta'n to th' bastile [workhouse]."

    There was silence for a moment or two, every man looking a strong protest, but feeling that he could think of no better thing to do.

    "Has ony on yo' ony idea whoase it is? asked Nathan, still looking hard at the little one, which was just beginning to cry.

    "It's noabry's abaat here," said Sam Speck, who, through his sister Lottie, knew all the secrets of the village.

    "Then, Aw'll have it," cried Nathan, and before Lige could object he had snatched the baby from his knee, and was dandling it up and down to stop its crying.

    "Thee tak' it?" objected Lige, taken aback, and not too pleased to be thus summarily robbed of his treasure; "wi' thy wife"―

    But he stopped, and could have bitten his tongue off as he remembered what he was saying; but Nathan took it up.

    "Ay! wife or noa wife, Aw'll tak' it.  Aw mun ha' summat i' th' haase ta talk to."

    Others were raising objections, but a new idea had evidently struck Long Ben, and, motioning and winking at the rest, he gently encouraged Nathan in his purpose, and in a few moments a small procession started for the smithy, led by the blacksmith proudly carrying his new-found joy.

    Arrived at the cottage, Nathan held the baby whilst Lige went upstairs to fetch the long-disused cradle, and Sam Speck put a pan of milk on the fire to provide the little one with food.

    In a few minutes Long Ben turned up, bringing his buxom wife, who, after expressing lofty scorn of the blundering ways of men folk, took the baby from Nathan, and, after cuddling and kissing it, pulled out a bundle of old baby clothes, and soon had it washed, dressed, fed, and asleep in the cradle.

    When the others departed, they left Nathan pulling the cradle string and humming "Rock of Ages," as he had done so often in days gone by, and musing pathetically over his former experiences, now so vividly brought back to his mind.  It was arranged that Mrs. Ben should fetch the baby presently for the night, until some other arrangement could be made.

    Nobody claimed the little one, and Nathan, to his great delight, remained in undisturbed possession of it.  The baby came on famously, and crept so deep into Nathan's heart that Mrs. Ben began to fear it would take the place of the absent Tatty.  One night Ben was the victim of a severe curtain lecture, and next day being market day, Mrs. Ben set off in the coach to Duxbury.

    After doing her business, she made her way into a quiet part of the town, and in a few moments was sitting talking confidentially with Nathan's wife.

    Tatty, looking thin and pensive, made all sorts of inquiries about Beckside and its doings, but carefully avoided any reference to the smithy.

    Mrs. Ben tried several times to draw her, but it was of no avail, until at last, growing desperate, she blurted out―

    "Hast yerd wot yo're Nathan's getten?"

    "Neaw."

    "Whey, he's getten a babby."

    Tatty turned and looked with a long, wistful, sidelong glance at her friend, and then with a great sigh changed the subject, and could not be brought back to it.

    But Mrs. Ben knew what she was about, and next night after dark, the tall, wan form of Tatty Entwistle might have been seen stealing down the darker side of the Beckside road toward the smithy.

    The blacksmith's shop stood sideway on to the road, and the cottage was behind it, facing into the smithy yard, Tatty stole quietly up amongst heaps of old iron, cart hoops, and disabled agricultural implements, and was soon at the side of the house.  Nathan, man-like, had lighted the lamp, but had forgotten to draw the blind.

    Tatty drew softly near, stole along the house side until she was close to the window, and then, standing on a broken pulley, which enabled her to see over the curtain, she peered round the corner of the window into the house.

    There sat Nathan in the rocking-chair, with the baby in his arms, talking to it as he rocked it.  Her heart smote her as she saw how thin her husband's face had become, but that pain gave way to another of a quite different kind as she saw how happy he seemed to be with the little one.

    It began to rain, but Tatty never felt it.  Presently the baby dozed off, and Nathan put it into its cradle and made it cosy.  The cradle stood where she could see all this, and as she watched there came into her eyes that hunger of child-love which only a childless mother knows.

    Then Nathan took something down from the mantelpiece, and began to look earnestly at it, whilst the firelight flickered up into his face.  It was a little glass photo of Tatty, taken at the last Brogden wakes, and the watching woman almost cried out as she saw him looking at it so intently.

    Suddenly he fell to his knees with the likeness still in his hands, and though she could not quite hear what he said, yet the way he held up the little photo as if showing it to his Maker told her all she wanted to know.

    Then Nathan got up, and after glancing at the cradle he put on his coat and went out.  Tatty crept back into the shade of the coal house to avoid being seen as her husband crossed the yard.  When she was sure he had gone, she stepped out of her hiding-place, picked up a bit of old iron, which she could see on the ground by the light through the window, and inserting it into the hole of the sneck, gently lifted the latch and went inside.

    The first thing she did was to go to the mantelpiece and make sure that it was her likeness that Nathan had been looking at.  Then she turned to the cradle, half smiled as she noted how clumsily the baby had been put into it, and then, turning down the coverlet, she stood looking down on the sleeping infant.

    It was certainly pretty.  What if it had crept into her place in Nathan's heart!  Oh, what a fool she had been, and what a sinner too!

    But just then a step at the door made her start.  A smothered exclamation told her that Nathan had returned.  But she did not move.  Her back was to him, but she felt he was looking at her.  There they both stood for quite a long time, until at last, slightly turning towards him, she asked―

    "Whoa's is this babby, Nathan?"

    "It's moine."

    "Tha'rt no' it's fayther."

    "Neaw, bud Aw'm goin' to be, if God helps me."

    There was silence again for most of a minute, and then Tatty turned her back full upon her husband again, and dropping her head, murmured―

    "Aw—Aw'll be its muther, if tha'll let me."

    Then she heard a sob behind her, felt herself being drawn down into a chair, and in a moment more was held fast in the tight, silent embrace of the now happy blacksmith.

    Hours after, as Nathan was picking up the cradle to carry it upstairs, baby and all, he noticed that the child's clothes had been changed, and it was wearing the night-gown of the little Nathan they had lost.  As he made toward the staircase, his wife said

    "Has t'baby a name, Nathan?"

    "Neaw, no' yet."

    "Then we'll caw him Nathan, shall us?"

    And that was how Tatty Entwistle came home.


――――♦――――

 
Coals of Fire.


FOUR dusky figures sat toasting themselves at the Clog Shop fire.  Long Ben occupied the Ingle-nook nearest the door, and Sam Speck the other, whilst Jabe and Jethro, the knocker-up, were in front.  A heavy thaw was going on outside, and the fire was therefore so large that those who did not enjoy the shelter of the nook, were, as Jethro remarked, "frizzled o' wun side an' frozzen o' t'other."

    Evidently something serious was under discussion.  Jabe's bristly brows were drawn together, his lips pursed out grimly, and his tell-tale leg was riding up and down over the end of the other knee at a furious rate.  Sam's small face seemed to have sharpened under some internal feeling, and Jethro sat in his favourite attitude, with his chin propped on his knees, glowering into the fire.  Long Ben's flabby and hairy face was drawn up into that pathetic pucker suggestive of imminent weeping, which it always assumed when anything mentally disagreed with him.

    "Ther'll be a ter'ble judgment for aw this," said Jethro, moving his head round solemnly in his knee-propped hands.

    "Well, if there isna, Aw'st give o'er believin' i' Providence, that's aw abaat it," said Sam, with great emphasis.

    "Dunna thee meyther thysel'," answered Jabe. "Aw've lived a good while naa, an' Aw ne'er seed it miss yet.  If ther's owt trew i' th' Bible it's th' owd text, 'Be sure your sin will find you out,' an' it allis does—an' especially sins o' this soart."

    "Why, dust think as th' Almighty's wuss daan o' this mak' o' sins nor ony other?" asked Jethro.

    "Aw meean to say as Aw've known a tooathre [two or three] chaps i' my time as hez played fawse wi' women, but Aw hav'n't known wun case wheer it didn't cum back on 'em ten times wus.  Neaw," he added, after a moment's reflection, "not th' odd un."

    The general principle laid down by Jabe obtained unanimous acceptance in Beckside, but this particular application of it was new, and so his friends sat in silence for a few moments meditating on the law thus expounded, and ransacking their memories for examples confirmatory or otherwise.

    "If Jimmy Juddy hed as mitch pluck as a maase" (mouse), began Sam presently—but just then the shop door opened, and in stepped a man, stamping his slushy clogs as he did so.  He was a stumpy fellow with a rough red face, a slight cast in one eye, and a fringe of straight red hair under his chin.

    Jabe and Jethro, as soon as they saw who the visitor was, made pantomimic facial signals to those in the nook, and looked hard for a moment at each other, and then at their pipe bowls.

    "Cowd neet, chaps," said the last comer, but nobody spoke, and Sam muttered something under his breath about "impidence."

    "Hast ony 'bacca?" said the stranger to Jabe, pulling out his pipe; but Jabe, usually generous in his distribution of dark shag, neither moved nor spoke.

    The intruder perched himself on the protruding end of the bench on which Long Ben sat, and after glancing round with a slightly perplexed look slapped Jabe on the sleeve and said, with a show of triumph―

    "Naa, tha sees; wheer should Aw ha' been if Aw'd wed yond' wench?  Aw should a' leuked weel wi' a paralysed wife, shouldn't Aw?  Aw wor nobbut just i' time, tha sees; bud maa luck"―

    But he never finished his tale of self-gratulation, for he was suddenly seized from behind by the coat collar, jerked to his feet, and then lifted up and thrown across the Clog Shop counter, as a schoolmaster throws a boy over a bench, and Long Ben, with white, quivering face and blazing eyes, stood over him, and picking up an unfinished clog sole held him tightly down, and belaboured him, schoolmaster fashion, until he kicked and bellowed and even cursed.

    Laying on until the victim's howl became a shriek, Ben suddenly stopped, opened the shop-door, and flung the sufferer out into the dark road, where he landed in a heap of slushy snow.

    Quietly closing the door and putting down the catch, so that the offender could not return, Ben lounged back to his seat in the nook in a somewhat breathless condition.

    After the first little start of surprise, the assembled friends had watched Ben's proceedings with considerable satisfaction, and now—though not a muscle of their faces moved—they listened to the evicted visitor's curses outside without a single sign that they heard; and the next remark that was made was on a totally different subject, which gives an opportunity of explaining the meaning of what had just happened.

    The man whose ignominious expulsion has been described lived at the other—that is, the Mill Lane—end of the irregular little row of cottages in which the Clog Shop stood.  He kept a sort of store, and, disclaiming all such distinctions as usually obtain amongst tradesmen, seemed to have adopted the most profitable branches of each business, and was something of a grocer, something of a draper, did a little in the hardware and ironmongery, with a blending of chemistry, butchering, greengrocery, and tailoring.  It was even darkly hinted in certain quarters that he was not above a little illicit trade in clogs.

    The building he occupied had been left to him by his father, but so disposed of that he could neither sell nor forfeit it.  For a short time the father of the present occupant had got the premises licensed, under the name of the Bull Inn; but as Beckside could not sustain two public-houses, and the Bridge Inn was well established, the speculation failed, but ever afterwards the villagers associated the owners with this unfortunate venture, and so the present occupant was known, not as Hiram Crompton, but as Hiram Bull, or, by the older people, as Hiram Bill Bull.

    Hiram possessed strong, rude health, which gave him a good flow of animal spirits, and developed in him the habit of loud, blustering laughter; but that this was not good nature was made abundantly clear by the fact that he manifested an unscrupulous directness as to his own interests, a total disregard for the feelings and interests of others, and a keen enjoyment of misfortune or suffering in his fellow-mortals.

    There was also a certain rough smartness about him and a sublime self-confidence, which made the oracular Jabe say again and again that "Brains is nowt wheer brazzenness cums."

    Some time before the episode above described, Alice Crawshaw, Jimmy Juddy's sister, who at that period was a sweet, fair-haired girl of about four-and-twenty, amazed everybody by accepting an offer of marriage from Hiram.

    That Jimmy disapproved of the union goes without saying.  There was a series of painful scenes at Beck Bottom, first between Jimmy and Hiram, and then between Jimmy and his sister, but Hiram carried the day, and Alice seemed infatuated.  In his loud way the storekeeper was proud of his conquest, but more because it was a triumph over others than because he had any extraordinary attachment to Alice.

    Becksiders never became reconciled to the arrangement, for every few days some new story of Hiram's greed or cruelty was circulated, and people pitied Alice when it was known that the wedding-day was fixed, and the bride-elect was making her wedding-dress and bespeaking the guests.

    One night about this time Long Ben went to the Clog Shop with a face that was a flag of distress.  Jabe, who was alone, perceived it, and knew better than to ask any questions.  Presently, after many relightings of a pipe, which somehow would not keep in, Ben applied a blazing chip to his clay, and remarked, between the resultant puffs in his slow way―

    "'Bill Bull' 'ull ne'er be deead while his son lives."

    It sounded as though he had finished, but Jabe knew better, and so commenced picking wax from his horny fingers, and Ben pulled a nail out of his pocket and poked it down the still refractory pipe-bowl as he resumed―

    "Aw seed him clippin' (embracing) Tom Plum's widder o'er th' caanter as Aw went past this forenoon."

    An exclamation broke from Jabe's lips, but he checked himself as Ben continued.

    "Tha'll see, there'll be noa weddin' at th' Beck Bottom yond'."

    And so it proved.  For though poor Tom Bibby, generally known as Tom Plum, had only been dead a few weeks, Hiram had already shown quite extraordinary energy in obtaining the widow's smile, and as Tom had left her £1200 nobody looked far for the reason.  Alice Crawshaw heard of the matter pretty early, of course, but laughed at the idea of it, and went gaily on with her bridal preparations.

    She wanted a little dress lining of some sort one day, and slipped up to Hiram's as the nearest shop to procure it,

    After a little playful talk during her selection of the material, she turned to go, when Hiram called her back and said with smiling brutality―

    "Ther' mun be noa moat marlocking between thee an' me, Alice.  Aw'm goin' t' marry Tilly Plum next week."

    Alice gasped, but the entrance of a customer set Hiram off in a garrulous conversation with the last arrival, and poor Alice, with white face and whiter lips, held her hand to her side and fled home.

    A few days later Hiram and Tilly went away to be married, and returned home on what should have been Alice's wedding-day.  Alice had never been seen in the village since.

    Quiet Jimmy, her brother, not yet recovered from the disgrace of his dismissal from the mill, went about with his head down, and old Matty, their mother, had fainted in the class-meeting, and Long Ben had had to take her home in his spring cart.

    Next morning news passed from loom to loom in the mill weaving-shed that the doctor had been seen going in great haste to Beck Bottom, and by noon everybody knew that Alice Juddy had had a stroke.

    This last event was the one under discussion when Hiram entered the Clog Shop, and the details now given will explain what then took place,

    But Hiram continued to prosper, and the prophecies with which this story commenced remained unfulfilled.  But they were not forgotten.  Hiram was not the sort of person to hide his light under a bushel, and every now and again some fresh act of hard, brazen greed brought him vividly before people's minds, and evoked fresh crops of fateful prediction.

    Then Tilly died, and Hiram, after making a scene of blubbering emotion at the grave which caused Silas the chapel-keeper to declare, "Aw welly picked him into th' hoile," dismissed the mourners without the customary tea, and was seen out the same evening at his favourite sport of rabbit-shooting.

    In a few weeks the storekeeper brought another wife home, a stranger, but as he was disappointed in his expectation that she was well off,—her money going from her on her re-marriage,—she was, as Jabe put it, "nattered to deeath i' noa time."

    Then Hiram by some trickery got possession of a bit of land at the end of Long Ben's property, and immediately set up a most unscrupulous claim as to the right of light, and proceeded on resistance to put up "spite and malice boards" outside Ben's end windows.  This drove the quiet carpenter into most distasteful litigation, from which he finally withdrew at the eleventh hour, leaving Hiram to gloat over an expensive victory.

    Besides these more prominent episodes, "Th' Bull," as he was now invariably called, kept himself in people's minds by numberless acts of petty cheating and oppression, aggravating the feeling against him until the Clog Shop Club gave up prediction in despair; and Sam Speck became so cynical in his remarks about Providence, that Jabe declared it was "nowt short o' blasphemious."

    Then Hiram began to gamble, and became the chief patron of the pigeon-flyers and foot-racers who frequented the Bridge Inn, greatly angering Jabe and his friends by exploiting one of the most promising youths at the Sunday School, and turning him into a sprint-runner under the title of "the Lancashire Deerfoot."

    When Jimmy Juddy was married, and came with his sister and mother to live at the Fold farm, Hiram had the effrontery to try to patch up the long estrangement, but Jimmy's wife undertook the matter, and so "cooamed his yure" (hair) for him that he was glad to get away, and revenged himself by mocking poor Alice's lameness as she went past on her crutch.

    This last offence was still burning in the breasts of the confederates of the cloggery, when most startling news came to Beckside.  Old Croppy, the Brogden rent and debt collector, brought it, and told it to the first person he met, who happened to be Sam Speck.

    Without waiting for full details, Sam hurried to the Clog Shop and electrified Jabe by opening the door and shouting: "It's cum at last," and then rushed out to fetch Ben, picking up Jethro as he returned.

    It was a proud moment for Sam, and after banging the door to, and setting his back against it, as if afraid someone would escape before he could tell his tale, he exclaimed: "'Th' Bull's' busted."

    After a moment's pause to get his breath, he descended to such details as he knew.  Hiram had embarked some three years before in a coal-mine speculation at Yardley Woods, beyond Duxbury.  Suddenly there had been a collapse, and as his co-speculators were men of no substance, and the liability was unlimited, the creditors, who had been shamefully robbed, came down on Hiram.

    Croppy's report turned out to be substantially correct, and when the sale came every member of the Club attended, and seemed to derive grim satisfaction from watching the gradual despoilment of the oppressor's residence.

    Hiram himself was there in his shirt sleeves, pretending to render obsequious assistance to the auctioneer and his clerks, and laughing his hoarse laugh over sundry jokes of his own.  Towards evening, however, he grew quiet, and a haggard, desperate look sat on his face.

    When the sale was over there was an adjournment to the usual council chamber.  There was only a small, make-believe fire, as it was early summer, but the friends gathered round it from sheer force of habit, and soon every available seat was occupied, and the Clog Shop full of smoke.  Everybody saw retribution in the circumstances of the day; everybody admitted the ampleness of the "judgment"; and everybody had his own particular wise saw or text of Scripture to confirm his opinion.

    "We con run fast and run fur, as wun o' th' owd ministers used for t' say," said Lige, the road-mender, "bud theer's Wun aboon as 'owds th' reins, and He can bring us daan ta aar marraboanes ony minnit, if it suits Him."

    "Ay," sighed four or five, through pipe-embarrassed lips, and the irrepressible Sam gave a new turn to the conversation by observing―

    "Aw wundur wot he'll dew for a bed taneet; he'll ha' ta lie upo' th' boards, Aw'm thinkin'."

    A rather lengthy silence followed, during which each seemed to be occupied with his own particular mental picture of the ruined man in the empty house.

    Long Ben, who had never spoken during the discussion, now began to manifest signs of uneasiness.  After puffing out several volumes of smoke in rapid succession, he heaved a deep sigh, and then said meditatively―

    "He used dew my sums for mi at th' schoo'."

    "Ay, an' he's bin doin' sums for folk ever sin', as plenty knows ta their sorra," rejoined Sam, and the rest, attracted by the first word not condemnatory which had been spoken of Hiram that night, turned their eyes on Ben in mild surprise.

    Ben fidgeted in his seat; and just when the inquiring eyes were turning away from him, he brought them back with wide open astonishment as he murmured―

    "When Aw wor i' bed wi' th' maysles, he brought me a brid's neest wi' four eggs in—just ta bree-breeten me up a bit," and Ben's voice quivered most strangely as he recalled this boyhood reminiscence.

    "He's moastly spent his time robbin' neeses (nests) sin' he grew up," said Sam again.

    Ben made an impatient gesture with his pipe, and Jabe, his eyes gleaming with a look of injured justice, said―

    "Why, tha'll want ta whitewesh owd Scratch next."

    There was an awkward pause, and presently Ben took his pipe out of his mouth, carefully and deliberately reared it in the extreme corner of the nook, and then, rising to his full height, and buttoning his coat as a preparation for departure, he said―

    "Chaps, wot yo' say's reet enouff, bud Wun as yo' aw know said, 'If thy enemy hunger, feed him,' and Ben Barber's no' goin' t' sleep in a warm bed to neet while wun of his fellers lies o' bare boards.  Neaw, not even if his name's Hiram Bull."

    With an agitated gesture Ben strode to the door.  As he got opposite the window, however, he suddenly pulled up, whilst the rest all heard the Fold farm garden gate click.

    Ben, peering through the dusty glass, made an exclamation which instantly brought every man in the shop to his side, and, following the direction of his eyes, they saw Jimmy Juddy looking cautiously up and down to see that nobody was about.  Then he stepped lightly back into the house, and almost instantly returned carrying a single bed and a pillow, whilst Alice stole quietly after him carrying in her free hand a basket of provisions.

    Not a man in the shop drew his breath as Jimmy and his sister crossed the triangle toward Hiram's; but when they had passed, every man turned and looked into his neighbour's face with an expression on his own of wonder, admiration, and rising shame.

    "Naa, that is religion," cried Long Ben at last, struggling to keep back a rush of tears, and then flinging open the door, and crying in a choking voice, "Aw'll ne'er be byetten (beaten) wi' a lame woman," he plunged into the twilight in the direction of home.

    Hiram, under the combined influence of drink and desperation, was attempting to sing a public-house song, accompanied by two pigeon-flyers who had come to offer him a bed for the night, when Jimmy and his sister, white and trembling, knocked at his door.

    "Cum in," he shouted, and Jimmy stepped into the middle of the almost empty room and threw down the bed and pillow, whilst Alice, her heart beating almost into her ears, followed him.

    "It's nobbut a flock un, but tha'rt welcome to it, Hiram," stammered Jimmy, straightening himself, and Alice added, "An' heer's a tooathre vittles fer—fer th' sake o' owd toimes!"  And then she broke down and began to cry.

    And then there came a bang at the half-opened door, and Jabe came limping in with a three-legged table, followed by Lige carrying some fire-irons and an old copper kettle.  Sam Speck came next with a collection of crockery, and in a minute or two afterwards Long Ben brought a hand cart on which was a wooden bedstead which he had actually taken from under one of his own children.

    By this time Hiram's sporting friends had sidled off, and Hiram was sitting leaning his head on one arm, which was laid across the arm of his chair.  One or two spoke to him, but he never answered; and so, at a signal from Jabe, the visitors stole quietly away, and Hiram was alone with the tokens of a human kindness in which he had never believed.

    Early next morning Jethro going his knocking-up rounds, found the storekeeper pulling down the "spite and malice boards" outside Ben's side windows.  And on the following Sunday he slunk into chapel after the service had commenced and crept into Silas' box behind the door.  Next week he was seen helping Silas to clean the chapel out, and it soon began to be prophesied that Alice Crawshaw and he would marry after all.

    But they never did, for Jimmy's gentle sister died next year, and Hiram almost immediately emigrated, carrying with him one strange piece of luggage: a woman's crutch.  Ever since then the collection at the "Sarmons" has been helped up by a bank order from the States, with which there always comes an unsigned note, inscribed "IN MEMORY OF ALICE CRAWSHAW."



[The Knocker-up]

 


 

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