From Crooked Roots (I)
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FROM CROOKED ROOTS.


CHAPTER I.

THE COMING OF THE MISTRESS.


"MOLLINS!  Mollins!  Take seats for Lopham an' Butteridge!  Change for Chowderly!" and the dripping porter turned his back to the swirling storm, glanced along the train, and then darted at a second-class carriage, the door of which was being opened by a trim, mackintoshed, little lady, a complete stranger.

    "Thank you, porter! there's a box in the van, a large black one," and she shook out her skirts and tried to put up her umbrella, whilst the official went forward to look after her luggage.

    "Yes, that is it.  There now! that is all.  Please call a cab."

    She spoke sharply, with a slight southern accent and an air of easy command.

    "There's no cabs here, miss."

    "What!  Oh! well, call a fly or a 'bus or anything."

    She was certainly a stranger, and considering that it was pouring with rain, and windy to boot, and the darkness was coming on unusually early, the porter pitied her.

    "There's no conveyance of any sort, mum; an' t' milk-carts 'as gone."

    "What!  Oh, dear!  Must I walk a night like this?  You can send my box up to Stump Cross to-night, of course?"

    "Not till to-morrow, miss."

    "But you must; I cannot—how far is it to Stump Cross?"

    But all this time a great long-legged youth, with a boy's face and a man's frame, had been standing behind her listening; and at this moment, with an indulgent grin on his face, but without either looking at or speaking to her, he stepped forward, slung the trunk easily up to his shoulder, jerked his head beckoningly in the direction of the station gate, and stalked off.

    "It's all right, miss," said the porter, in answer to her astonished look; and when she had given up her ticket and pulled down her useless umbrella he was a hundred yards in advance, and she had to run to overtake him.

    "Stop! do you know where I want to go?" she cried, a little breathlessly.

    He pulled up as cool and easy as though there were no downpour, smiled at her genially with his round face and twinkling eyes, and evidently waited to be instructed.

    "I want to go to Stump Cross.  How far is it?"

    "Half-a-mile, mile, mile-an'-half, accordin' to—" this in the laziest and most easy-going tone possible.

    She was a live, eager, imaginative little soul, and in spite of wind and rain was beginning to be interested in this odd volunteer porter.

    "According to what?"

    "Accordin' to which way you go."

    "Oh! let us go the very nearest way there is, of course."

    Without a word he turned and led the way, but presently he pulled up and, surveying her in most indolent fashion from head to foot, he raised his eyebrows, grinned all over his face, and cried in the joy of sudden discovery, "Why, you'll be the new schoolmistress?"

    "Yes, I am; but do let us get on."

    Before they had gone many yards, however, he halted again, turned a corner and plunged into a muddy, rutty lane.  The schoolmistress followed dazedly.  She was a student of character, and had accepted this appointment because she wanted to study at first hand the strong peculiar characteristics of the rough country folk of whom she had heard and read so much; and she was already beginning to think that she was in a fair way for being satisfied.  But her assistant had stopped again, and was once more looking her amusedly over.  As she came up to him he turned round, burst into a great sputtering laugh, and marched on.  Pique, and a little odd fear, began to mingle themselves in her emotions: she was a very self-respecting little person, accustomed by her profession to a certain deference, and here was a country hobbledehoy actually laughing at her.

    "Proceed," she said with a little hauteur, for he had pulled up and was eyeing her over again in the twilight.

    The only response was another unmannerly laugh, and she felt she could have boxed his ears.  But he was speaking.

    "Why, mistress, those great lads will eat you!"

    It was exasperating but she couldn't lose her temper to a bumpkin like this.  "My good fellow, will you go on?"

    Without a word he hitched the trunk higher upon his shoulder and led the way.  They were descending pretty rapidly now, and she caught the sound of running water.  Wherever could he be leading her?  All at once they drew up by the side of a stream.  It was nearly a yard deep, and she could dimly discern stepping stones which were evidently used when the water was lower.  He did not speak; he stood still, box on shoulder, and waited for her to draw up alongside.  Where were they now?

    "Oh, dear!" she cried fretfully, "this is no way to bring a lady!"

    "You said the nearest way, miss."

    "Yes, but there is no bridge; how can we get across?"  She was really so uneasy that she leaned a little forward to look into his face.

    "You see that deep pool over there under the old willow?"

    She glanced hastily in the direction indicated, but dared not take her eyes away from his, and was studying his face somewhat anxiously.

    "And you see those holes in the bank side?"

    "Well; but, man, we cannot cross, and I am wet—"

    "Well, now, those there holes—" he leaned over very much closer than she liked; "those there holes—"  But his too free arm suddenly enfolded her, she was lifted from her feet; there was a plodge! plodge! plodge! in the water, and before her startled little scream was over she was set down gently on the other side.  She was hot enough now, and tingling all over with indignation, but as she looked up into his laughing, honest face and twinkling eyes the ridiculousness of the situation struck her, and she went off into a low, silvery laugh.

    "That's it, miss; we shall be there in no time now."

    A few paces further, however, he pulled up again, and bending down and peering through the dusk into her face, he cried, "Young lady, you're a stunner! that's what you are!"

    "Thank you," she laughed, but not feeling quite safe even yet, she urged, "but do let us go on!"

    It was uphill now, and having travelled silently for three or four minutes he paused again, deliberately put down the box, which was heavier than he would have admitted, and stretching out a great paw and speaking as leisurely as though it had been midday and high summer, he said, "Then, miss, as you are a learnèd person, you'll believe in Darwinism?"

    Was there ever anything so absurd—a country clown talking about Evolution in this soaking downpour?

    "Look here, my good fellow, I believe that it is nearly dark and raining, and that I am wet and cold, and tired and hungry, so please make haste."

    He looked a little surprised, as though he had expected her to be superior to the ordinary wants and infirmities of the flesh; and then, with a light laugh, he tossed the heavy burden over his shoulder, much as she had seen schoolboys throw their satchels, and resumed the journey.  There were lights ahead of them now, evidently those of inhabited houses, and she breathed more freely; they were emerging from the old cross lane into a high road.

    "The Stump," he remarked absently, waving his hand in the direction of some more distant lights a little towards their left hand.  They passed the lamplighter and a baker's cart.  "This is it, miss," and although she had told him nothing of the house she was seeking, he stopped before a dwelling that was neither cottage nor villa, and that stood back some little from the road, with a longish piece of garden in front.  "This is Providence Cottage," he continued; but he was evidently thinking of some more abstruse question, and so, gate in hand, he wheeled round and said, "I think Spiritualism is all a flam, don't you?"

    "Oh, bother! go on, man, and let us get indoors," and she stepped back to allow him to lead the way up the garden path.  She could not help laughing, now that she was in safe surroundings, as she thought of the oddities of her companion, but a little cry of dismay escaped her as, in north-country fashion, he opened the door without setting down the trunk, or even knocking, and stepped, all dripping as he was, into the house.

    "Here she is, 'Seenath!" he called out as he set down the trunk, and then, waving his hand carelessly, he added, "The new missis."

    Mrs. Chorlton stood at the end of a short, high chest of drawers, which like the rest of the furniture of the room was of old oak.  She was something over fifty, with a colourless, severe face which looked as though it had never been wrinkled with a smile.  There was not a spot or crease or a misplaced pin about her, and she had the air of one who had found the world out and was no longer to be surprised at anything that might happen.  Her hands were crossed in ostentatious meekness, and she endured the introduction of her visitor without the slightest sign, save a resigned drooping of the eyelids.  The intrepid little schoolmistress was somewhat abashed, and hastened to offer an apologetic explanation of how she missed the train by which she ought to have arrived.  Asenath endured this also, and then, crossing the room, opened a little staircase door and stood stonily waiting.  The volunteer porter favoured the schoolmistress with an expansive grin, picked up the trunk and struggled off with it upstairs; whilst the landlady, mute and patient, took her lodger's mackintosh, pointed sternly to a pair of slippers toasting on the fender, and then proceeded to light a candle.

    "How much ought I to give him?" asked Miss Hambridge, pulling out her purse.

    Asenath replaced the pin with which she had been poking the candle-wick, in her dress bosom, glanced reflectively at the fire, and then answered, with preternatural solemnity, "He is not a hireling."

    "Good gracious!"  But as the odd porter was already coming down the stairs, she went on hastily under her breath, "Should I offend him?  Must I only thank him?"

    "Least said, soonest mended."

    But the subject of the conversation was already in the room again, and seemed almost to fill it.  The schoolmistress had taken off her hat and veil, and stepped forward with words of hasty gratitude.  He did not seem to hear her; he was looking at her face with a surprised but frank and glowing admiration, which, country bumpkin though he was, brought up a slight blush.  When she came down from the bedroom twenty minutes later he was gone, and she was left to think of her new surroundings.  The old furniture, she could see, would have fetched great sums of money in any of the "Antique" shops in the London she knew so well, and being a tasteful little woman she gave herself a little congratulatory hug as she glanced round upon it.  The fireplace was larger than the ones she had been accustomed to in the South of England, and all the ironwork was resplendently polished.  There were old scriptural samplers on the walls, and every article that could accommodate it was furnished with a covering of bright red chintz.  As she drew up to the dainty tea-table she breathed a little sigh of contentment, and thanked her stars that her expectations seemed likely to be more than realised.

    She was a bright, almost intense little woman, and whilst she is thus alone and preoccupied with her meal, we may as well tell what there is to know about her.  Taste, rather than necessity, had made her a teacher, and her coming to Mollins was one of her many freaks.  The only child of a doting but invalid mother, her education had been a series of capricious spurts, periods of hard study and fits of sudden disgust following each other in rapid succession.  Nobody who knew her believed that she could "stick" long enough to gain the degree she had announced her intention of taking, and that is probably why she took it.  But the day when she first paraded before her mother's couch in cap and gown, was also the day when she gave herself up to a period of loose, heedless, indiscriminate reading, which was in its turn suddenly terminated by a resolution to resume an almost forgotten purpose and qualify as a teacher.  Her training course was a giddy succession of brilliant successes and ludicrous failures, but when it came to the actual work of instruction, where personality counts for so much, her success was immediate and pronounced.  She had reached a position far beyond her years and length of experience, when the death of her mother brought another change in her programme of life, and she announced her intention of devoting herself to literature.  Here, however, she received her first serious check, for her little handbook on some educational subject came in for severe treatment at the hands of the reviewers, and she discovered that she could not even explain the secret of her own success as a teacher.

    This brought on another of her crises, and she was presently found in an old-world, south-country village, reading Theology and yellow-backed novels, Science and Socialism, Herbert Spencer and Mark Twain, Professor Drummond and Cotter Morrison.  Nothing seemed to come amiss, and when at last the fit was over, she had discovered that "the proper study of mankind is man," and was resolved to enter at once upon the great science and prepare herself for the writing of a wonderful and altogether original novel.  No sooner said than done; the north-country folk, she had always understood, had most force of character and the strongest personal idiosyncrasies, and to them she would go.  Here she is, therefore; she has accepted a situation at about half the stipend she might have commanded, in order to live amongst and get to understand the sturdy inhabitants of the great county of Lancaster.  She was a vivacious little person, full of fresh, eager interest in life, and as she drew up to the table she congratulated herself that in her trunk-carrier and her landlady she had already found two characters."

    "That is a very odd young man who brought up my trunk, Mrs. Chorlton," she said in her friendliest tone, as Asenath came in with a plate of buttered tea-cake.  The landlady glanced at her lodger with cold condescension, put the cake upon the table, pushed forward a little glass dish of preserves, and then, folding her arms meekly and dropping her eyes she said, "Born to sorra as the sparks fly upward."

    "Bless me!  Have I had an escape?  Is he a bad character?"

    Another droop of the eyes, a long, resigned sigh, and then, "What's bred in the bone, miss—bred in the bone."

    "Oh, poor fellow!"  And then, as she helped herself to tea-cake, "But he talked to me about Darwin, and Spiritualism."

    Without surprise, without interest, just as though it were but another useless detail in the confused conditions of this useless world, Asenath replied, "It's heredittary, miss."

    "Indeed!  Then who is he?"

    It appeared as though the landlady did not intend to reply; she was looking sideways at the fire with solemn, reproachful air; but at last she conceded, "He's three generations of drunkards in him, and his mother was awful pretty—and bad."

    Mrs. Chorlton's tone meant that prettiness was the great offence, and wickedness the natural result, and the new schoolmistress's eyes were sparkling with interest.

    "Oh, how shocking!  Then was she—were they all bad?"

    "The sins of the fathers shall be visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation; but there's things as decent women can't talk about."

    The mistress felt distinctly snubbed, and laughed a little confusedly, but a moment later Asenath, who had reached the kitchen door, turned round and announced severely, "Them that pokes the midden mustn't object to the smell."

                          *                             *                             *                             *

    The mistress had been in Mollins two months, and was perfectly satisfied with her lot.  The change from the slumberous, somewhat enervating, south-country village to the high, bluff, bracing Mollins had put the finishing touches upon her looks and tinged her creamy face with delicate colour.  Mollins, neither town nor village, was just small enough to allow her to know almost all the inhabitants, and the strongly marked characteristics of these latter were subjects of keenest interest to her.  Their curt, expressive speech, their strong, crude prejudices, their openness of manner, all delighted her, and the numerous but carefully disguised little kindnesses, which came so unexpectedly, quickened her interest and stimulated her curiosity, whilst at the same time they quite won her affections.

    The village had about three thousand inhabitants, a Tudor church, all covered with strong ivy, a Mechanics' Institute, a Methodist school-chapel, a big co-operative store, two mills that were working and one that was not, a small foundry, three irregular streets, and a big, broad highway that ran like a backbone through the place and finally disappeared over the shoulder of the hill on which the village stood.  And the inhabitants of the place were as delighted with the new schoolmistress as she was with them.  She already had the entrée of every better-class house in the neighbourhood, including that of the chief employer.  She had sung solos at both the places of worship, had recited at the Mechanics' Institute, taken the chair at a mothers' meeting, and started sewing and cookery classes at the school.  The "Board" had been quite excited when a young lady with a university degree had applied for the vacant appointment as mistress, and correspondingly depressed when she stipulated for a salary so much beyond what they had previously paid.  But the clerk was instructed to banter her down as low as possible, but on no account to miss her; and when he reported that she would not bate a fraction, they seemed to think that another indication of her excellence, and decreed instant acceptance of her offer.

    Before she had been with them a month the chairman was heard to declare that she could twist them round her finger, and the mill-owner was reported to have said that if his son did not propose to her he would do it himself and so give his grown-up family a dashing young step-mother.  And young Tom Bradshaw was willing enough, for she really was a piquant little body.  Including his own sisters, she was the best dressed woman in the parish, the simplest garment she put on looking elegant and graceful, whilst the easy lines of her small person left nothing to be desired.  She had a clear skin, a brow too wide, perhaps, for regulation beauty, but intellectual and becoming for all that, grey eyes veiled in long lashes, a perfect nose, a vivacious expression, and a merry, if somewhat ironical, mouth; just made to in his judgment, at any rate, she was just made to ravish and tease, and that such a person should be doomed to the drudgery of school teaching seemed to him the rankest injustice.

    The young master, as he was generally called, had been hitherto an ornamental member of the Board, but now he became most regular, and his signature was appended to the school registers twice as often as that of the chairman, whilst old Mister Bradshaw, his father, went about telling his friends, with a wink, that his son was wonderfully interested in the subject of national education.

    To the great delight of the villagers, Miss Hambridge showed great interest in the folk-lore of the district, and amazed them by giving information that was perfectly new to them about their two favourite picnic resorts, Upsley Castle and Chowderly Abbey.  Confidence begot confidence, her evident interest opened the people's mouths, and she presently discovered that Mollins, like every other old-fashioned, self-respecting village, had a ghost; a ghost that after an absence of many years had suddenly returned to its haunts.  Alas, alas! for antiquarian research and spiritualistic speculations; after she had relentlessly wrung out of Mrs. Chorlton the last details of this remarkable reappearance, carefully inspected, in the day time, Whitelady Lane, and arranged with a company of her friends to watch for the grim visitant, it came out that the ghost had been discovered, and was no other than George Stone, the porter, who had brought her box from the station on the night of her arrival in Mollins.  The young scamp had been caught whilst in the very act of dressing for the character, and brought before the magistrates at Butteridge, where he escaped through the influence of the mill-owner, Mr. Bradshaw, with a fine and a reprimand.


 
CHAPTER II.

SQUINT HALL.


ONE of the first things the schoolmistress noticed when she settled down in Mollins was the inadequacy of the religious accommodation, and inquiry led to some interesting discoveries.  The original village, it appeared, was the cluster of thatched cottages standing about the old church half-a-mile away, and these, with a few farmsteads, constituted the parish.  The coming of machinery, however, had resulted in the gradual up-springing of the modern townlet which stood on the borders of this and two other parishes, and drew its inhabitants from them all.  With true Lancashire conservatism, therefore, the new comers had kept up their old religious attachments, and went out of Mollins to worship.  Just beyond Stump Cross also, there was a large, ugly Congregational Chapel which had been built in the old "Conventicle" days; and though since its re-building in 1839 it had announced its name in big letters on the front gable as "Bethsaida," it was still spoken of by the natives as "the chapil i' th' wood," although the original plantation had long ago disappeared.  This place of worship had played an important part in the history of the locality, and though its present minister was the reverse of popular, and its old-fashioned Calvinistic creed harmonised ill with modern ideas, the old chapel had very strong hold upon the affections of the people, and the great open-air Anniversary was a thing to remember.

    The only misgiving the Mollins folk ever had about the schoolmistress was in connection with her peculiar attitude toward religion.  They could understand and were ready to argue everlastingly with a person of any decided belief, however peculiar, and those who openly avowed worldliness were equally comprehensible; but a person who had no particular leanings and who worshipped with first one sect and then another, with apparently equal satisfaction to herself, was utterly beyond them.  At first they liked her attitude, it was understood to mean that she wished to be equally friendly with all, and was a very becoming and kindly thing.  But when in answer to the inevitable inquiry as to which Church she favoured, she announced that she wished to belong to them all, and demonstrated this by distributing her favours impartially, they shook their heads and could make nothing of it at all.

    To people of her own class she would have described herself as an Eclectic, or perhaps an "Emancipated" Methodist.  She was—though this was not known in Mollins for a long time—the granddaughter of a Wesleyan minister, and the daughter of a long deceased accountant who was spoiled as a business man by his very decided literary tastes.  Her mother remained a devoted Methodist to the end of her days, but the clever, spoilt, only daughter had a personality too distinct to be easily moulded; and her father's free-thinking influences, though ended by death when she was about eleven years of age, together with her own very decided taste for reading, had created within her a sense of the necessity of intellectual independence, and so, though during her mother's life she kept up a nominal connection with her mother's Church, it was perfectly well understood by the few who really knew her that this was a mere conventionality, and that such belief as she had was miles away from either Wesleyan or any other orthodoxy.

    Few knew it, but a little affair of the heart whilst she was yet in her teens had turned her indifference into dislike; for the gentleman concerned was a Wesleyan student.  She was not exactly the sort of person to brook a slight, but at the same time she would have scorned to acknowledge that the unfortunate little episode had in any way influenced her judgment; at the same time, but for her warm affection for the memory of her mother, it is probable she would never have entered a Methodist Chapel again.  She had developed rapidly of late, and had now come to feel that as religion was really a necessary adjunct of national life and prosperity, and as the majority of the people were ignorant and must have some element of superstition in their creeds in order to keep up their interest in them, it was right that those who did not need these "crutches," and in fact found them hindrances, should nevertheless support them for the good they were to others; at any rate, until such times as people grew wise enough to do without them.

    She had no more use for a creed than a chicken has for the shell out of which it is hatched; the supreme thing was character; but if people were not sufficiently educated to take their moral teaching "neat," then it must be spiced with the accessories of superstition and partisanship until they were, and the Churches which provided this ethical teaching must be tolerated and even encouraged.  To her, the emotional introspectiveness of Methodism, the gaudy mummery of Ritualism, and the blatant extravagance of the Salvation Army, were only different forms of the one vice—sensationalism; and must not be discouraged, because "the people loved to have it so," and were not able, or at least not willing, to take their indispensable instruction in any but this sugar-coated fashion.

    Without knowing it, she was really a deeply religious young person, and would have been greatly astonished to find that her profoundest moral impulses and convictions were derived from the gentle, indulgent, but intellectually inferior mother.  But she was at present in open revolt against creeds and sects, and intended to prove, at any rate to herself, that it was possible to live a free, strong, fruitful life outside the trammels of sectarianism.  As to Methodism, she had outgrown it long ago, and would take care never again to come into bondage to its cramping prejudices.  This beautiful world spoke to her in ever-changing tones of the great, good God, and that was enough at present.  Meanwhile, life was rich, full, and fascinating, and human nature the most absorbing and inexhaustively charming of studies.  To the understanding of men and women, therefore, and all the delightfully bewildering intricacies of human character she would devote herself; and it seemed to her that for such an undertaking she could not possibly have selected a more suitable place than this out-of-the-way and somewhat belated little town of Mollins.

    She was musing thus as she strolled along the footpath that crossed the fields from Stump Cross to the parish church one soft, quiet evening, just on the edge of dark.  As she generally did when she came near it, she stood for a moment to glance at the lovely, ivy-buried church and its quaint old gate, and then turned down the old road by which most of the worshippers came to service.  This would take her past the end of Doffer's Yard, the Mollins slum, but as it was not yet dark and the locality was soon crossed, she thought she might venture in safety and thus save a long walk round through the village.  She had turned into Love Lane, and was quickening her pace to get out of the unsavoury neighbourhood, when she heard a noise, a cry, a gruff voice, and then a series of shrill women's screams.  She pulled up and hesitated, but the screaming continued.  What must she do?  She was only a few yards from the entrance of Doffer's Yard, and could only escape by turning back.

    She was not a coward, but she had a fastidious horror of painful sights, especially such as revealed the baser side of human nature.  This sounded like that most horrible of all things—a man thrashing his wife.  She started forward and stopped again, glanced apprehensively round, ducked her head, and commenced to run.  She was approaching the entrance of the yard; three dirty women and some children were standing at the corner and staring down the opening, with expressions of lazy amusement on their faces.  Another scream, a burst of ribald laughter, and she stood in the opening, staring down the yard, to behold George Stone marching across the open space with a kicking, swearing, screaming old woman in his arms and a great bleeding scratch across his face.  Carrie shuddered and turned away, but there was another cry, and she turned to observe the old beldame making futile grabs at George's short-cut hair, and finally lugging his head down in the evident endeavour to bring his ear near enough to bite.  George was smiling all the time, like an over-indulgent parent at the tantrums of a spoilt child.

    The filthy yard, with its heaps of ashes and rubbish, its pungent dog-kennels and rabbit-hutches and its decrepit drunken-looking pump, the dirty women, the dingy houses, all combined to make a repulsive setting to a scene that reminded her of momentary glimpses she had had of London slums, and the interest she had begun to feel in George Stone as a possible character study gave way to sudden loathing and a sense of keen disappointment.  She had no notion whatever of finding subjects by raking amongst the dregs of society, even in Hollins.  She was so much the teacher that she did not always discriminate between the children and their parents, and so, taking a step forward, she approached the women near her, crying, in her pretty, imperious way,—a way so irritating to women and so amusing to men—"What is he doing?  It is an outrage!  Stop him!"

    The females addressed had not previously observed her, but two of them, who had unsatisfactory records as to their relationships with the School Board, shrank away, whilst the third, her dirty arms folded across her breast, turned and looked at her with easy, apologetic smile.

    "It's nothin', miss; you'd get used to it if you lived here."

    "Nothing?  It's brutal!  Beating his mother!"

    The woman glanced with a knowing grin at her companions, and then turning to watch the scene again, she drawled, "It looks as if t' boot were on t'other leg, doesn't it?" and then she added with a curious laugh, "It allus has been sin' I know'd 'em."

    But the big George and his struggling burden had now disappeared in the corner house at the bottom of the yard, and so, as the women now commenced to give their undivided attention to her, she turned away and hastened homewards.  The whole scene had left a painful, nauseating impression upon her, and she was acutely disappointed to think that such things could take place in the village she was beginning to be so interested in.  Next day, however, she recovered her spirits, and having nothing better to do, got the details of George's history.  He was a child of dubious origin, and had been brought up by the old woman she had seen in his arms the night before.  The old hag was a monthly nurse to the poorer portion of the population, a quack doctor of sinister repute, a surreptitious fortune-teller, a smoker and a taker of opium.  Though ordinarily clean and tidy in her person, she had occasional outbursts of drinking, during which she became slatternly and dirty.  Much darker things were hinted at about her, but so far she had managed to keep herself out of the clutches of the law.

    George's parents were a bad lot on both sides, and when they died, before he was four years of age, a sum of money left for his maintenance had vanished, nobody knew how, and so his upbringing,—if old Lyd's management of him could claim such a title,—had been of the roughest.  He was beaten much and often, made to work at all sorts of odd employments whilst he was yet of tender years, and was the subject of many wranglings between the School Board officer and his foster-mother.  In spite of coarse and scanty fare and hard treatment, he had grown apace, and it was an open secret that he had been sent to the mill long before the age fixed by the law, an achievement about which old Lyd chuckled mightily when in her cups.  With such a protector and amid such surroundings, George had lived until about seventeen years of age; but about that time he lost his employment at what was called the "bottom shop," in consequence of one of his usual freaks, and when a fortnight passed and he was still out of work, old Lyd turned him incontinently out of the house, expediting his departure by means of a poker, which left a permanent impression on his skull.  It was known that he spent three weeks in direst straits, and was for most of the time without either food or shelter.  But when he eventually got work at the big mill and subsequently went to lodge at the other or more respectable end of Love Lane, old Lyd suddenly recovered her interest in him, met him at the mill gates when he came out with his first week's wages, and raised a small riot when he lazily declined to return to her residence.

    Ever since then she had kept up her periodical attacks, hunting him from place to place, until he found it difficult to get lodgings of any kind.  She had spells of sobriety, during which she let him alone, and the first indication the villagers had that she had broken out again was the sound of her shrill voice, outside the door of the house wherein her truant foster-son lodged.  That in all these episodes George had never once laid untender hand upon the old persecutor and never shown anything but good-humoured imperturbability, was attributed by Carrie to constitutional indifference.  But every now and again she had a passing thought that it might be explained another and better way.  Further inquiries, however, did not encourage the hope, for she soon discovered that he was about the best-known person in the locality, and all that was told about him was disappointing.  He was the ringleader of all the mischief that was done in the neighbourhood, and his influence over the youths of his age was so strong and dangerous that even old Mr. Bradshaw, the owner of the chief mill, had been compelled to send his only son away to boarding school to save him from being utterly depraved.  This was years ago, of course, but it struck the quick-witted little mistress as being somewhat odd, that if the mill-owner suspected and disliked George so much he still found him employment; and a deft little question or two brought out the fact that the ne'er-do-weel's position at the mill indicated anything but dislike on the part of the employer.  She was not the least surprised to find that George was popular with the millgirls,—such young men generally were, unfortunately—but that all the women of the village, of all ages and characters, talked of his many escapades and detailed his eccentricities much as they would have recounted the freaks of a precocious but favourite child, struck her as being something more than singular.  Gradually she found herself drifting into a very unsatisfactory state of mind; her judgment affirming that George was but a type of the good-humoured but commonplace scapegrace, and therefore not worth troubling about; whilst some queer, unworthy fascination, some freakish woman's inquisitiveness, made her strangely curious about him.

    Her circle of acquaintances was widening fast, however, and much more interesting and important people were turning up; but just when George Stone was dropping out of her mind he was brought back to her attention in a somewhat unusual and not quite pleasant way.

    It appeared that when old Lyd Partington returned to sobriety after the scene of which Carrie had been an unwilling witness, she had a fit of most uncommon and unexpected repentance, and on sudden impulse had walked off to the workhouse that she might be saved from further annoying her foster -son.  This was exactly to Carrie's mind; there was good in everybody if only you could find it, and it only wanted some sign from George Stone that he had appreciated the old dame's sacrifice to make a very pretty story of its kind.  Alas! George did nothing: he did not even go and see the old woman in her new abode, and when her few belongings were sold by auction he attended the sale, did his best to make the thing a farce, bought several articles and entertained his companions with a bonfire made of the purchased goods.

    Carrie was disappointed; the little spark of finer feeling she thought she had detected in George's patient endurance of the old woman's persecutions proved to be only boorish stolidity after all, and the fact that Lyd's curious penitence had made no impression upon him whatever discouraged her altogether, and she gave him up.

    For fully two months she scarcely saw her first study, and she heard less about him than she could have thought possible with his peculiarities.  Then she learnt that he had bought a piece of land and was building himself a house, building it himself, in fact, with the assistance of a few kindred spirits; and any thought that he was at last showing prudence and thriftiness was at once dispelled when she heard that the new erection was the most fantastic and eccentric of building freaks.  She was wearying of George by this time, and began to feel that he was only silly; but one day, as she was returning from a visit to the house of a sick scholar, she turned in at the top of Love Lane and immediately stood still with a surprise, which gradually changed to amusement.  There at the side of the road, with one gable against an embankment which had been evidently strengthened recently to keep the building up, and the other in an old garden, stood a structure which proclaimed in every drunken line of its construction the hand of the amateur.  It was made of stones of all shapes and sizes, which were held together by thick layers of rough, mud-coloured mortar, plentifully supplied.  The house was low and squat, and its chimney tall and tapering.  There were four windows in the front, but no two of them were the same size or shape, and the little one in the gable end was so near the corner that it seemed as though it were making desperate efforts to peep round the edge at its companions.  The woodwork was evidently freshly painted, but the colours were so unusual and so staring, that Carrie gasped as she looked at them.  The window-sills and door-frames were a dull blue, an originally-shaped spout bright green, whilst the front door was a dazzling vermilion, with a row of black spots down the middle.  The garden, which was not quite finished, had a large, roughly-made model of the parish church, in wood, whilst a pigeon cote nearer the road had a comical weathercock in the shape of a man and not remotely suggestive of the Bethsaida minister.  The effigy held in its hand a sort of banner, on which was inscribed, in irregular letters, "AS LONG AS I LIVE I'LL CROW."

    One of the garden beds was edged with a row of broken spirit bottles, a sort of defiant challenge to the local Temperance Society, she supposed; and on the upper lintel of the flaring front door was a legend in yellow paint, "SQUINT HALL."  That this was George Stone's new house she did not need to be informed, and that he had carried out his fantastical freak in the most thorough manner was also perfectly clear.  "Squint Hall!"  She laughed as she glanced round.  Well, if ever a place deserved such a name, this is it! and she took a step nearer to inspect more closely the inscription over the door.  But at this moment the gaudy door swung open, and there stood proudly framed in the doorway, old Lyd Partington.  She looked younger, cleaner, and in every way better, for her sojourn at the Poor-house.  She wore a trim, dark-coloured dress, a neat white cap, a white apron, and but for the long clay pipe in her mouth would have presented a most creditable appearance.

    "Hay! ay!" she cried, in answer to Carrie's astonished look.  "Isn't it pratty?  Did yo' iver see sitch beeyutiful colours?" and she waved her pipe stem at the door and its ludicrously coloured framework.

    "But, Mrs. Partington! you went—I thought you—" and here Carrie checked herself.

    "It wur me last shot, but it hit t' bull's eye, didn't it?" and the old woman leered at her delightedly.

    "The last shot?  I don't understand?"

    "Yes, yo' do!  Yo' didn't think I went yonder to stop, did yo'?  Not me!" and then dropping her voice and nodding her head with comical cunning, she went on, "I did it o' purposs."

    "On purpose?"

    "Ay, sure!  I'd tried everything else, hadn't I?"

    "But how did you get out?"

    "Out?  He fotched me, didn't he?  I know'd he would!  He'd niver sleep a wink an' me there, an' he built this beeyutiful house i' six weeks, all for me."

    "For you?"

    "Ay, for me?  Hay, bless him! bless him!  I shall niver get drunk no more!"

    "Then you are living together again, are you?"

    "We are that!  He came wi' a carrige an' pair an' brought me out like a lady.  Hay, he's as soft as a kitlin an' as good as a collige full of parsons!"

    The schoolmistress was always strong in Carrie, and so putting on her most serious look, she said, "But you haven't been very kind to him in the past, you know?"

    The grey old face fell suddenly, and the white-capped head dropped.

    "No, but he's sarving me out, isn't he now?"

    "Serving you out?"

    "Ay, that's what he calls it; he likes sarvin' folk out—like that.  He says it's funny."

    As Carrie turned away, with a number of strange thoughts struggling together in her mind, the old woman called to her; and then, hurrying forward, she dropped her voice and whispered impressively, "I'st niver get drunk no more—niver!"

    And as the schoolmistress went home she began to think that perhaps these low-type people were not the least worth studying after all.


 
CHAPTER III.

THE INCONSISTENCIES OF MOLLINS.


THE schoolmistress found Mollins more interesting every day.  Remote and self-contained, it had a life all its own, and presented features that were palpably inconsistent with each other and almost contradictory.  The people were sturdy and independent in the extreme, had curious, strongly-marked prejudices and odd limitations, and clung tenaciously to old ways and modes of thought, and yet in some things they were almost in advance of their times.  Those of them who favoured the Established Church listened to the sermons with all the keenness of Dissenters, and discussed them afterwards in the churchyard and at the "Ring o' Bells" public-house until turning-out time.  The Methodists, who seemed to Carrie to be all officials of some sort, manifested a patronising tolerance of all other sects, and worked their Sunday school as though the chapel were but a lower department of its activities.  The theology of both church and chapel was transparently Methodist, but with a curious Calvinistic tinge, which she soon discovered was only a variety of that race-old fatalism so universal amongst isolated people.  Old-fashioned enough in most things, the villagers were advanced Educationalists, and their School Board elections were times of fiercest conflict.  Periodical literature was astonishingly abundant, and the men, at any rate, were omnivorous readers.  The reading-room of the Mechanics' Institute was filled every night, and she found that whilst a new novel was always tolerably easy to obtain from the librarian, she had to wait sometimes for weeks for such books as Cooke's "Boston Lectures" or any volume by Professor Drummond; and when she did get one it was generally so bethumbed that the print near the bottom corners of the pages was almost undecipherable and the volume was redolent of mill-oil.

    Politically the inhabitants were Conservatives, but with characteristic inconsistency they were also Socialists, their practical politics being compressed into the old Lancashire proverb, "A Radical is a Tory 'bowt brass" (without money).  And as they were all connected with the locally omnipotent co-operative store, and nominally owners of their own cottages, their inconsistency on this point was at least logical.  The one political question upon which Mollins was unanimous was the abolition of the House of Lords, but the Church people were inordinately proud of the fact that their vicar was an "Honourable," and the Methodists, whilst they always suspected a minister with a degree, were never weary of bragging that their schoolmistress was a "Bee Hay."

    These manifold inconsistencies were sources of continual surprise and interest to the young teacher, but when she left the general and came down to the particular she soon found herself in deep water.

    George Stone, for instance, was their standing proof of the doctrine of heredity, and yet she made the astonishing discovery that any girl of his class in the village would have married him, and that he held a somewhat important position for so young a man at the mill.

    In those early days it seemed to her that she heard more of Stone than of any three other of the villagers; and whilst they had interminable series of tales to tell, illustrating his many shortcomings, she was compelledto think from their half-boastful way of relating these things that they had a sneaking sort of love for and pride in the scapegrace. One day she heard that he was likely to leave the village. He was a wonderful cricketer, and had had an offer of a situation as "pro." to a club some twenty miles away, but when she discovered that the news created something like a scare in the place, and that the whole committee of the Mollins club had twice interviewed him with the object of retaining his services, and that his wages had been advanced at the mill with the same purpose, she felt that she really had not yet begun to understand these very contradictory people.  And when she elicited by long and persistent argumentation with George himself that his real reason for declining the offer so attractive to him was reluctance to give up some small official position he held in the Methodist Sunday school, she felt like a detective who has lost his last clue and is compelled to commence again.

    She had noted that these Lancashire people were all shrewd and keen in matters of money, and this did not quite please her, but at the Methodist Anniversary she sat, as luck would have it, next to George Stone, or, rather, he came and sat next to her; and at the collection, just as she was rejoicing over the fact that he had put two shillings on the collection plate, someone jogged the arm of the collector, George's top shilling slipped a little, and she could scarcely suppress an exclamation when she noticed that the two shillings were simply the sandwich that concealed a sovereign.

    Whether most to admire the generosity of the gift or the sweet ingenuity that was employed to conceal it she did not know, but when she compared the whole incident with the public estimate of George's character, she found herself in deep water indeed.  To complete her bewilderment, she found, when she consulted a village philosopher with whom she had struck up an acquaintance, and who was a Methodist official, that he did not see anything strange in George's conduct, and was surprised at her perplexity.

    The aforenamed sage was Mrs. Chorlton's brother, and a bachelor, and Carrie had found him quite as interesting in his way as George Stone was in his.  He was the village tripe-dresser, who did his business in a little wooden lock-up shop which stood in the open space opposite the big "Co-op. store."  He was very busy at the week-ends, and very much at liberty in the earlier part of the week.  Talk was the breath of life to him, and as he posed as a sort of village oracle, Carrie soon became extremely interested in him.  A little, emphatic, pugnacious individual, a bundle of angularities and a walking compendium of crabbed Lancashire philosophy, he was, in spite of his trade, a vegetarian, a teetotaler, and an anti-vaccinator; and had a knobby, oversized head that was thatched with a coat of coarse, dark-red hair, and which he wore at all times and seasons, outdoor and in, uncovered. He loved a wrangle as he loved nothing else in life, and he and the schoolmistress were soon on terms of the most intimate and delightful opposition. All subjects were alike to him—and to her; neither ever gave way an inch, and he being a philosopher, and she a woman, they scorned the pettifogging limitations of logic and natural sequence, and skipped about from topic to topic with bewildering independence.  He lodged with his sister, Carrie's landlady, and soon learnt to know at what hour she was ready to accept the gage of battle; then, if it pleased him so to do, he would strut into the parlour, and, spreading himself before the fire, fling out a sentence incomprehensible to any third person unacquainted with the last discussion, but rousing and feather-raising to his eager lady disputant.

    On the Tuesday after the Methodist "sermons," as Carrie sat in her place by the side of the fire, Lot stalked into the room, spread himself in his usual attitude, glanced absently around, raised his head, projected his clean-shaven, impudent-looking chin, and announced oracularly, "All women are superstitious!"

    Carrie accepted the challenge with an easy smile, gave a disentangling jerk to her fancy wool, and mildly answered—

    "And all men think loud assertion is the same thing as proof."

    The oracle gave a relishing grin, pulled himself up, stretched out an argumentative palm, and smiting it with the only whole finger on his right hand, he demanded—

    "Are you a woman or are you not?"

    "Well?"

    "Are you a hinstructor of the rising generation, and a 'Bee Hay,' or are you not?"

    "Well?"

    Punctuating every word with his expressive forefinger against his palm, "Do you, or do you not, believe in the devil?"

    In her secret delight at her opponent's peculiarities, Carrie had unconsciously dropped into something of his manner, and so, with another gentle tug at her wool, she replied—

    "Where there's smoke there's fire!  When there are so many children there must have been a father!"

    Lot glowed with a sense of victory.

    "Prevarication, mistress, is the language of defeat," and then breaking off and energetically exercising left palm and solitary right finger, "Tell me this, now, tell me this!  Does God ever make anythin' for nothin'?"

    "We were talking of the devil."

    "The devil!  Yes, miss, we was talkin' of the devil! an' what I say is this, there isn't no devil, 'cause there isn't no need of one!"

    Now Carrie found these argumentations all the more interesting, because the point disputed had always some connection, however remote, with some circumstance of village life, and this bit of gossip, though often long in coming, did generally present itself sooner or later, and so, to get the more quickly at the little kernel hidden in all this shell and husk, she mildly objected—

    "Yes, but dogmatic assertion does not prove even that."

    Lot shook himself, jerked back a tuft of overhanging hair, shot out palm and finger once more, and beating them one against the other, insisted sternly—

    "What need of a devil when there's human nature?  Devil! it's waste of good stuff to make a devil!  Human nature beats him holler!"

    George Stone came into Carrie's mind, but she had her own side of the discussion to think about, and so she demurred.

    "Your argument proves too much."

    "Too much!  It does that! it proves everything.  Give human nature half a chance an' it 'ull lick Owd Scratch all to flinders!"

    Carrie shook her head decisively, but then on second thoughts, she inquired, "For instance?"

    As a rule, Lot resented being reduced to definite statement, but for once he snapped at the opportunity.

    "Instance!  Now, look here, mistress," and stretching out his palm, and raising his lone finger to the level of his head, he brought it down with a sudden blow; a flipperty-flopperty, fly-by-sky lass as wears high boots an' brown stockings of a Sunday an' goes to th' mill in a picture hat.  A lass as carries 'to let' written on every inch of her body, an' spends all she addles (earns) upo' fine clothes, and thinks as every lad as looks at her is i' luv wi' her—human nature!  And here's five foot 'leven of Billy-goat, as full of the desires of the flesh as an egg's full of meat—human nature!  Here's human nature—there's human nature!  An' when these two is seen arm i' arm walkin' out of a night, there's no more need of a devil nor a chicken has for its shell."

    Carrie feared that Lot was alluding to some local occurrence, and not a mere hypothetical one created for the sake of argument, and she dropped her head, became busy with her wool, and did not reply.

    Lot, troubled far more at apparent and premature victory than he would ever have been by the completest defeat, and a little uneasy lest he should have trespassed upon the bounds of propriety, resumed his argument to get her to speak.

    "Devil? there is no devil!  He died o' competition an' nothin' to do long sin'.  Human nature's brokken his wind and licked his head off!"

    But Carrie was anxious to get away from the disagreeable topic, and so she lifted her eyes abruptly.

    "Mr. Crumblehulme, do you share the popular opinion about George Stone?"

    The fact that an opinion was popular was sufficient to make it anathema to Lot; and so he cried in hasty repudiation—

    "Me?  Never!  Pop'lar opinion's like a hen-pecked husband—always wrong!" and then he added, as she remained silent, "I know nothin' good about him, at any rate."

    "Then, for once, popular opinion agrees with you."

    "Oh! it does, does it?  I'll show it!  Let it mind its own business—George Stone's a varmint!"

    "So they say."

    Oh, why was she so provokingly complacent to-night?  Why didn't she argue and contradict?  He must rouse her.

    "George Stone?  Doesn't that prove the devil's dead.  He'd 'a' made a better job on him!  There's just enough o' good in him to spoil t' relish o' bad; enough to bother him but not enough to help him.  Human nature's a worse devil nor t' devil, but a fine sight clumsier!"

    "But you don't believe that he couldn't do right if he liked?"

    "No, but he can't like."

    "Nonsense!  Why, that's rank fatalism!"

    "Blow fatalism; I talks fac's!"

    "Facts?"

    "Ay, fac's!  His mother was a bad 'un—that's a fac'; an' her father afoor her—that's a fac'; an' his father afoor him—that's a fac'!  Why, mistress, can't you see it in him wi' your own eyes?"

    "I see that he is a handsome fellow, and there's God and his conscience and good people to help him; and I don't believe a word of your miserable fatalism—so there!"

    Lot, delighted to have aroused her, but puzzled by her position, flung up his head, drew down the corners of his long mouth, and then returning to the fray, cried, "Why, mistress, he's just one big skinful of original sin!"

    "And yet you Methodists countenance him?"

    Lot stared, half stupefied.

    "Countenance him?  And why not?  Why, mistress, there's no real badness i' th' lad!"

    "He's a 'varmint,' 'off a bad stock,' 'full of original sin,' and yet there is no badness in him.  How am I to understand that?" and Carrie smiled up at the little man in demure anticipation of victory.  It was one of her ideas that people acquired, believed, defended, and were prepared to suffer for creeds they would never dream of applying to practical life, and this was a confirmation.

    "Understand?" and Lot gaped at her in helpless amazement.  "Why, mistress, you don't understand theology at all!"

    "Probably not.  Then it wasn't George Stone who was seen in the lane with Netty Swire?"

    "Did anybody ever hear the like of that!" and Lot in sheer despair addressed himself to the long-cased clock.  "George!  Why, she's making t' lad a common profligate!"

    "I am only quoting Mr. Lot Crumblehulme, who said he was a varmint and full of original sin."

    "But that's different, isn't it?  Why, mistress, he wouldn't hurt a fly, wouldn't George; he's nobody's enemy but his own."

    Carrie had already got more information out of her fiery little opponent than he usually imparted, and was very well satisfied with the result.  But she loved to see Lot in his "tantrums," and was curious about George; and so, after a meditative pause, she said, "Mr. Crumblehulme, are you a physiognomist?"

    Lot was floored; he was not sure he had ever heard the term before, and hadn't the faintest idea what it meant.

    "No! I'm not.  I'm a theologist and a commonsensist, that's what I am."

    "Because you said just now that George was no man's enemy but his own, which means that he is weak.  Now it only requires the very slightest knowledge of physiognomy, and one single glance at George's face, to show that whatever else he may be he is not that."

    Lot's head was thrown back and his lips moving; he was secretly repeating "physiognomist" over and over again to impress it upon his memory and store it up for future use.  But just then the clock struck seven, and he had to hurry away to one of those innumerable committees the chapel people indulge in.  As he did so Mrs. Chorlton, his sister and Carrie's landlady, came in with coals, and as she retired and closed the kitchen door after her she gave her opinion of her brother and his eternal arguments by wearily quoting, "The crackling of thorns under a pot."

                         *                             *                             *                             *
    "Studying architecture, George?  It seems to be of a style and period all its own, doesn't it?"

    Carrie was returning from her duties, and came upon young Stone standing in the road and gazing in profound abstraction at the old Methodist School-chapel.  He wore an expression, as far as she could judge from a side look, quite new to her, and still continued his stare at the old building.  Then he turned to her with a face more than grave, and pointing at the shapeless structure, he cried in tones of almost unnatural solemnity, "That belongs to the architectural order of a higher world! Mistress; those old foundations are laid deep in the souls of men, and those tottering pinnacles have their heads in glory!"

    "Bless us!  What a sentiment, and from what a source!"

    "We talk of Britain's bulwarks, lady, and our national defences!  The first line of national defence in this country is the Sunday-school.  They ought to be built of silver, they ought to be gemmed with diamonds!"

    "Good gracious!"  There were tears in the man's voice—and in his eyes too.

    "Delighted to hear you say so, George," she began, with seriousness equal to his own; but he seemed powerfully moved, and interrupted her.  "The foundation of north-country religion and north country commercial integrity is the Sunday-school.  At bottom the Lancashire cotton trade and the Yorkshire wool trade depend on that.  The foundations of our great Exchanges are our Sunday-schools.  That old place there is one of the Lebanon quarries where the stones of the everlasting temple are hewn.  Old! it never can be old.  That Sunday-school is helping to make heaven, and it will never stop until we see the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God!"

    Carrie walked away, subdued and softened.  What an inexplicable mixture this man was!  His sentiments had almost broken her down.  They were extravagant and picturesque, but oh I so beautiful, coming from such a source.  How wonderful, and yet how pathetic, that a wild young rake like this should have moments and thoughts so lowly and spiritual.  She thought somehow of Samson grinding in the mills of the Philistines and mill that her eyes were wet with sorrowful tears.  Surely, surely a man so young and with such sentiments in him must have something better in store than the popular voice predicted.  Arrived at her lodgings, and still full of her later experiences, she had to tell Mrs. Chorlton.  That good lady listened with her unalterable air of weary patience, and then remarked, as she made her usual form of retreat: "Ay, he anus talks that way when he's in drink!"


 
CHAPTER IV.

NETTY SWIRE.


MISS HAMBRIDGE'S greatest social achievement in the eyes of the Mollins folk was her complete conquest of the Bradshaw family.  The mill-owner and his children took to her at once, and all the more so perhaps because from the very first she had never treated them as anything but her equals.  It was impossible to patronise her as they had done her predecessors, and though they were at first mildly surprised at her easy manner with them, they by no means resented it, and soon forgot it; whilst the charm of her personality and many social accomplishments soon made her a very desirable acquaintance in their eyes.  It was not long, however, before she discovered on the part of the only son and heir signs of special attention, which, though common enough to her, were in this case quite unmistakable, as was also the indubitable evidence that the other members of the family contemplated the possibility of closer association with something more than complacency.  The discovery came upon her with something of a shock—her study of human nature seemed likely to degenerate into a commonplace love affair.  But the Bradshaws were very likeable people, and Mr. Tom a fine, well-made, manly-looking fellow, and she had no notion whatever of permanent maidenhood, and so she decided to let things take their course for the present.

    Moreover, she was beginning to have misgivings about herself, and began to fear that she lacked the "philosophic temperament."  Her studies of character got entangled with her affections, her heart ran away with her head, and her "subjects" had an awkward way of becoming objects of personal interest, about whose well-being she became most unscientifically anxious.  Netty Swire, for instance.  Netty was a member of a highly respectable family of working people, her father was a fine old saint of the type so often produced in Methodist village societies, and of her two brothers one was a lay preacher and the other a class leader.  They were people of deep if somewhat stern piety, and held their heads high in the noble pride of spotless reputations.  How came it, then, that so vain and empty-headed a person as little Netty should come of such a stock?  And what would happen if the flirtation of which old Lot Crumblehulme had spoken, and which was evidently not an ordinary courtship, should continue?  Always a schoolmistress, the mothering instinct was strong in her, and she felt she had a duty to perform to the wayward girl; and it was only according to the natural contrariness of things that she could not get an opportunity of speaking with her, whilst the unnecessary George Stone turned up at every point.  Scarcely a day passed but she met him somewhere, and though he was always respectfulness itself in his manner, yet first one little circumstance and then another occurred which brought them into contact with each other and which generally ended in putting her under some additional obligation to him.  She stopped one day to admire the piping of a pretty canary outside a cottage door; George went by as she listened, and two days later when she returned from school she found a fine, cathedral-shaped fretwork birdcage containing three lovely little songsters.  When she insisted on the present being returned, Mrs. Chorlton peremptorily refused, ignoring all her arguments, and announcing oracularly as she made her habitual retreat into the kitchen, "Poor folk has feelings!"

    She sent George a polite letter, but feared he would either presume upon it, or with rustic modesty avoid her for a time.  He did neither.

    "What delightful little creatures those are, George!  I'm quite in love with them already."

    She overtook him coming from the Mechanics' Institute, and they walked a little way up the hill together, George's face beaming with satisfaction and sly mischief.  The light in his eyes piqued her curiosity, but she already knew that she could say anything to him.

    "It is awfully good of you; you really are kind."  And then—she never knew how it happened—but she blurted out, "Why aren't you kinder to yourself, George?"

    "Self?"  He laughed ironically, but his twinkling eyes showed her plainly that he was simply talking for the pleasure of listening to her.

    "Yes, yourself.  You have good in you, I am certain.  Why don't you respect yourself more?"

    "Self?  Ah, mistress, I'm down on that chap; he's a bad lot, he is."

    "Nonsense!  I don't believe it.  Who says you are bad?"

    "Everybody!" and then, as the first gleam of seriousness came into his face, he went on, "Besides, I know myself, don't I?"

    But she could not be sure even now that he was not laughing at her.

    "No, you don't know yourself if you talk like that.  There's good in everybody, if they will only give it a chance.  If everybody said I was bad I'd just be good to disappoint them.  You could be a true man if you liked, George Stone."

    Alas! he was only admiring her and greedily feeding his eyes on her pretty earnestness.

    "George, you are strong, you have a powerful nature and a strong will, and if I were you I'd just laugh at the prophesying world and show them what a man I could be."

    She had forgotten everything for the moment but his future, and her face paled with the excitement of deep interest.  George's jocular, incredulous manner suddenly changed; they had come to the four-road ends where they must part, and a strong, fierce earnestness suddenly flamed up into his face.

    "Mistress, you do not know, you cannot know.  Strong?  Why, the very smell of beer takes the stiffening out of me like starch out of a collar, and if folk could see inside me no decent man, to say nothing of a woman, would ever be alone with me.  I'm bad, I tell you, bad in and out, and bad altogether!  I was made that way, and have never known aught else!"

    There was indignant resentment and bitter despair in his tones as he spoke, and Carrie, amazed and inexpressibly shocked, stepped back.

    "Ay! keep away, keep away!  I'm a leper, a spotted thing, bad bred and bad brought up; it's pollution for such as you to speak to me!"

    "Oh, no! no!  No!  Don't! it is terrible; there must be good in you and for you, somewhere!"

    George paused a moment to recover himself, glanced nervously round as though he feared she might be disgraced by being seen to speak with him, and then dropping his voice he said, huskily, "You are right, mistress, there is one thing, just a weak little speck of a thing that you will very likely think nothing at all.  You know that old Sunday-school we were talking about?  There's the only chance in life for me.  There are some blessed old chaps down there who couldn't say 'twelve times, to save their lives, but they have held on to me and put up with me, and talked to and 'clouted' me, and lo—loved me, and if ever any good comes of George Stone—which it won't—it will be through that place and those old teachers;" and dashing the tears from his eyes, he wheeled suddenly round and left her standing in the lane.

    She was crying too as she walked to her lodgings.  It was no use: interesting though these villagers were, they were none of them so absorbing as the man she had just left.  How sad that he should have such views of himself, and yet how inevitable, seeing how he had been brought up and who had given him his theological notions—and for a moment or two her heart was hot against those stern Methodists to whom both she and he owed their real theology.

    That same night Carrie was holding her cookery class at the Mechanics' Institute, and Netty Squire was there for the first time for a month.  She was never very well-behaved, but to-night she surpassed herself; and Carrie, who pitied and trembled for the pretty, brainless little thing, determined to have matters out with her as they went home, and even, if she proved tractable, to broach the more serious affair.

    "Janet and Sarah, will you wash up to-night, I want Netty to see me home?" she said as she pulled on her gloves.

    Seeing the mistress home generally meant something, usually a little lecture on deportment, and so Netty set the girls laughing again by making a face behind the teacher's back.

    "Netty, why do you come to the class? you are not interested in cooking, anyone can see," she said, as they moved up the hill.

    Netty tossed her head to throw back her overhanging, yellow fringe, and replied, saucily, "Hay, bless you, no!  Somebody else'll cook for me."

    "Then why do you come to the class?  You only make disturbance."

    "Bless you!  I couldn't get out if I didn't."

    "Then you don't get out to come to the class?"

    "Me?  No!  I've better fish to fry;" and then she added to herself, but loud enough for Carrie to hear, "but he's away this week."

    "But that is very mean and deceitful."

    "Ay, I dare say; it's naughty, but it's nice!"

    Carrie bridled with indignation.  "But it's wicked, I tell you, and dangerous.  Have you no respect for yourself?"

    "Well, what mun I do?  We mun have chaps, uz women, you know."

    "Thank you!  Please remember you are speaking to a woman.  But, Netty, this young man is a gentleman, they say.  Have you ever thought what it may lead to?  Why not take one of your own class?"

    The little minx's lip went up.  "Them!  I wouldn't look at t' best on 'em!" and then she added, sullenly, "nobbut one, an' he won't look at me."

    Carrie had no scruples with such a creature and so she asked, "And who may that be?"

    "George Stone!  See, miss, I'd lie me down i' the road wipe his shoes, and he won't even look at me;" and she was fiercely in earnest all at once.

    Carrie felt she was being drawn away from the real subject, but she could not help herself somehow, and so she asked, "And does George know this?"

    "Know it?  Ay does he, I've shown him plain enough; but he wouldn't touch me with th' end of a stick!"

    Carrie, without analysing the feeling that prompted her, mutely thanked God, but she had her task to finish, and so, though she felt as though she were soiling her soul, she went on: "But this other lover, they say he is a gentleman by dress, and if so, he can never marry you."

    "Won't he, I'll show him!"

    "But, Netty, it is absurd!  It is wicked! you are tempting ruin."

    "Shut up!  What's it got to do with you?  I'll have him, I tell you! and the more folk talk, the more I'll have him.  Oh, if they only knew who"—but she stopped suddenly, for Carrie had walked away.

    Arrived at home, the schoolmistress's first business was to write a note requesting Netty not to attend the class again, and then she drew off her boots, put on her slippers, and sat down by the fire to think.  She felt very depressed; there was tragedy, as well as comedy, in the life of this village.  Netty Swire was as surely ruined as though it had already been accomplished, and when she thought of what her saintly old father and his upright sons would suffer, her heart sank within her.  She had been brooding thus for some time and was lost in pensive thought when suddenly a harsh voice proclaimed close to her:

    "Higher critikism's all boshment!"

    Carrie would have been glad just then to let the higher critics take care of themselves, but there was her old antagonist bristling all over with challenges to combat.  She leaned her head wearily back in her chair, put her hands together, and drew them over her eyes, and then answered:

    "And the lower critics are not always impartial judges."

    Lot, waiting like a terrier on the pounce, sprang forward at once.

    "Higher critikism says that 'Korah, Dathan and Abiram's all a fable.'"

    "A parable, rather."

    "Parable!  I say it's truth, solid gospel truth, that's what I say."

    "True to human life, and the Divine government of the world certainly, but not a literal historical fact, perhaps."

    "Fac'?  Is human nature a fac'?  Is sacrilege a fac'?  Is George Stone a fac'?  Tell me that, now."

    Oh, that everlasting George Stone!

    "What has he been doing again?"

    "Doing?  He's been Korah, Dathan, an' Abiram-ing, that's what he's been doing!  In Mollins! in the nineteenth century; that's what he's been doing!"  And the Old man glared at her as though she were responsible for the turpitude of Stone.

    Fragment by fragment, flung at her as conclusive answers to arguments she had never advanced, Lot told his tale.  Revival services were being held at the Methodist place of worship, and a novelty had been introduced in the shape of written requests for prayer.  The persons for whom supplication was asked were usually described by some more or less transparent piece of literary circumlocution, and the interest of this new exercise consisted in identifying the nominees.  As soon as it was understood, the practice became popular, and three old women, shy, lowly saints, had conspired together to pray for and ask general intercession for George Stone, and night after night the following announcement had been night made amongst others:

    "Three sisters ask for the prayers of this congregation on behalf of an erring young man who runs with the giddy multitude to do evil."

    Everybody knew both the three sisters and the "erring Young man," but on the fifth night the request was followed by one which the preacher had evidently not previously examined.  It read as follows:

    "'An erring young man' asks the prayers of this congregation for three timid sisters, that they may 'clap their glad wings and soar away, and mingle with the blaze of day.'"

    As the subjects of this request were known to use this particular quotation whenever they spoke in public, they were easily recognised, and as the sender was also easily identified, the irreverent had, according to Lot, laughed right out in the sanctuary, whilst the serious had dropped their heads, and the old ladies concerned gazed at each other with woebegone faces.  Carrie, to whom the scene described and its ticklesome quid pro quo appealed at once, laughed out, and this in some degree restored her spirits, all the more so perhaps as the outraged Lot stood there glaring at her in intensest disgust.  She wasn't "playing game," she wasn't even pretending to argue!  "Laughter is the last argument of defeat," he announced at last, and retired in high dudgeon to the kitchen.  Left to herself again, Carrie had soon returned to her absorbing meditations, but, in spite of herself, Lot's story returned to her, and she soon discovered that there was a certain element of malicious satisfaction mingling itself with her thoughts.  Revival services had been her special dread when she worshipped with her mother amongst the Wesleyans.  Her high-strung nature shrank from the possibility of intense excitement, and she was always haunted with a dread of what she might do if ever she became hypnotised by religious, or, as she preferred to think it, mere sensuous emotion; and she had a sort of unholy delight in the reflection that George Stone's prank had thrown discredit on a religious practice against which she had so long revolted.  It pleased her also to think that if George had had any particular respect for the services he would not have acted as he had done, and she liked him the better for his contempt of mere emotionalism.  Alas! three days later she was informed that the said George had been up the night before to the Methodist penitent form, and had, after long and terrible struggles, "found liberty," about eleven o'clock at night.

    She was strangely disappointed.  He was no better, no finer-natured than the rest of them, and now she expected he would be hawked about in the old Methodist fashion as a brand plucked from the burning.  She liked her mother's faith at that moment less than she had ever done in her life, and felt a sort of regretful contempt both for the Methodist leaders and George Stone.

    About this time, however, the attentions of Mr. Tom Bradshaw became so very unmistakable that it was no longer possible to doubt their meaning, and as this was a personal matter it began to occupy her thoughts to the exclusion of all other subjects.

    Old Mr. Bradshaw made no secret whatever of his desire that the match should be made, and the young ladies in their way were quite as eager.  She was not in love with the young man, but she did not dislike him, and his family greatly interested and charmed her.  There seemed to be no reason as far as she could see at present why she should discourage him, but, of course, she would have to know her mind much more certainly before she could think of anything definite.


 
CHAPTER V.

THE BRADSHAWS.


HIGHFIELD House stood with its back against a shoulder of Butteridge Hill, and faced the stiff slope over against Mollins.  A comfortable, roomy mansion, it commanded a view of the picturesque valley running down as far as Chowderly on one side; whilst the windows of the opposite side overlooked the village.  James Bradshaw, its owner, was a short, thick-set, wide-awake man, a little past the prime of life.  He was the very model of a typical Lancashire business man, shrewd, brusque, and roughly kind.  He knew his own mind, and was not easily turned from his purposes.  He seldom attended any place of worship, was by no means a teetotaler, swore a little when excited, and dearly loved a smart deal in trade.  At the same time he was scrupulously honest, particular about his word, generous to religious and philanthropic institutions, and never allowed his employees to work on Sunday, even for machinery repairs.  He was fond of a jibe at piety, but preferred religious people for his work-folk.  He called himself a good Churchman, but when he was ill, invariably sent for Lot Crumblehulme or Abram Swire to pray with him.  A magistrate and a county alderman, his work-people spoke of him and the older ones to him as "James," whilst his son, the manager, was always "Mestur Tom."

    Tom was very like his father, with just such differences as youth and superior education might be expected to produce.  He was more feared and less respected than his father, softer in manner but harder in spirit, with the advantage of more self-command and fewer whims.  So far he had generally managed to get his own way in the world, but had never yet ventured a serious fall with his father.  Somewhat taller than his parent, he was a good-looking, carefully-groomed young fellow, and a welcome guest at any villa or mansion in the neighbourhood.

    His father had insisted on him learning the business from the bottom, and as this brought him into contact with the work-people before he was old enough to understand things, rumour had more than once associated his name with some pretty mill-girl, but as these young women had eventually married men of their own class, and were respectably settled in the neighbourhood, his family concluded that the rumours were only such as invariably arose when a young fellow of his position was thrown much into contact with factory people.

    The two Misses Bradshaw—aged respectively twenty-seven and nineteen—were bonny-looking, wholesome-minded girls, somewhat larger perhaps than the average of their sex and a little inclined to plumpness, but good-tempered and merry in proportion.

    Jessie, the elder, had taken her dead mother's place somewhat early, and was on that side of her character a shrewd, practical, motherly young person.  All the same, she nursed in some deep corner of her heart a most unworldly little romance, just real enough to entertain her in dull moments and just hopeless enough to prevent anything anything serious.  Lena was more impulsive and aggressive; she loved a joke dearly, and scandalised her sister and delighted her father and brother by occasionally outrageous, mal-appropriate speeches.

    The house was furnished with more regard to comfort than elegance, and there was in all the arrangements that tendency to over-sized appointments so characteristic of Lancashire middle-class homes.

    The two young ladies were seated in the breakfast room—which boasted a recently-added French window—one wild spring afternoon, and Lena was relating to her sister the story of George Stone's recent escapade, as described in the last chapter.

    "Isn't he a treat, Jess?  Shouldn't I like to have seen the faces of Lot and Abram and the old ladies when the preacher read the notice out!"

    Jessie, who was darning a small hole in a white tablecloth, did not at once reply.  Presently, however, she raised her head, propped her rosy cheek on her hand, gazed musingly into the fire, and then remarked, "He's a funny mixture, isn't he?"

    "Funny! he's just sweet!  What would the village be without him?"

    Jessie reflected again, and then in a low and carefully guarded tone she remarked, "And yet they say he's a splendid head for figures—and business.  Dad thinks there's nobody like him."

    "Oh, I dare say!  Those wicked rogues often are, you know."

    Another pause, and Lena was just commencing to hum a Sankey's hymn when Jessie ventured, "Lena, do you—do you think George will make anything out?"

    "Not if the chapel people are to be believed, and they know him best.  But who knows?  He's just one of those odd fellows who might do anything, and dad is not often wrong, you know."

    Jessie mused dreely.  "Do you think he's clever?"

    "Oh, I dare say; clever in mischief and roguery; at any rate, I like him."

    Jessie looked steadily at her cloth, stole a shy glance at her sister, and then, dropping her voice, she said, rather more timidly than she supposed, "They say he drinks."

    "H'm!"

    "But Tom and father are not quite teetotalers, for that matter."

    "No, but that's different.  When a young fellow of his class begins to drink at his age it is U P, Jessie."

    There was something in this remark that clouded Jessie's face: she hesitated a little, raised her head and gazed out of the window, and then she said, "I wonder why it is that Tom has turned against him so?"

    "Oh! that's pure envy; he's cleverer than Tom; and he must be cock of the walk, you know!"

    "For shame, Lena!"—but the protest was not very vigorous.  "Jealousy is a feeling between equals; there is no comparison between them."

    The younger lady was not really much interested, but she liked to have a fling at her domineering brother; and so she persisted, "I don't see it; I'd rather have George any day."

    Jessie smiled and then tried to conceal it.

    "George is only a workman.  Tom has education and position."

    "Fiddlesticks!  Brains are more important than either, and George has brains."

    "So has Tom."

    "George could beat his head off, if he liked."

    "But Tom's a gentleman."

    "And so is George, or could be;" and then, with the flash of a new thought, Lena went on, "Gracious, Jess!  Wouldn't he look a duck in evening dress?"

    Jessie laughed, but rather to conceal than express her pleasure.

    "Why, Lena, you might be in love with him!"

    "Love?  Give him a decent position, and I'll set my cap at him to-morrow."

    Jessie knew quite well that this was mere madcap fun, but she carried her tablecloth away with shining eyes and burst into song as she went upstairs.

    "Speaking of love," resumed Lena, as Jessie returned with another piece of mending, "how goes the diverting romance of Sir Thomas and the Lady Caroline?"

    "Badly, I'm afraid; there seems to be a hitch somewhere."

    "Her?"

    "Undoubtedly! not him certainly."

    Lena blew a long though not very ladylike whistle.

    "De-li-cious!  The irresistible Tom!  Why, he thought he could have anybody."

    "She's teaching him that it is not so, then?"

    "And she's just the one who could.  Oh, heavenly!"

    "I'm very sorry."

    "I'm not—why?"

    "She's just the one for him—and us all; and I want him married."

    "Why?"

    Jessie gave a deprecatory shrug of the shoulders.

    "You know the talk of the village."

    Lena, now on her feet, looked musingly down at the fire with a frown of annoyance.  Then her face cleared and she said, "She's only holding him off a bit, I suppose?"

    "Let us hope so!"

    "Well, I do hope so; but I'm delighted she's plaguing him.  I should love her for a sister.  I hope she won't go too far though!"

    "She's safe enough; he means it this time, dear."

    "There'll be architects and plans, and house-building and furnishing.  Oh, won't it be fine!"

    "Yes, if—"

    "If?  She'll never really refuse him!"

    "She may; she's just the sort that would do it.  She'll please herself and not consider advantages."

    Dropping her voice a little until it became very serious for her, Lena continued, "Do you think she's heard about—about Swire's girl?"

    "I don't know; but if she has—"

    "Do you think she would—"

    "Yes, I do."

    "Heigh-ho! that would spoil everything!  Why, I shall have to turn his advocate."

    "Well, there's need enough; dad and he haven't got on together lately—but that would please him immensely."

    "Dad's awfully gone on her, isn't he—and she hasn't a farthing!"

    The conversation continued for some time, and when Tom came home to tea he was treated to much roundabout banter on the subject of his future wife.  This was a favourite meal-time topic at Highfield; and as "father" enjoyed it, the reckless Lena "ran the rigs" on her victim without let or hindrance.  But for once Tom, who had been so often and so industriously angled for in the marriage market that he had concluded he could have any woman, was taciturn and even surly, escaping to his own room as soon as he decently could.

    There, before a comfortable fire and surrounded with novels, trade books, machinery catalogues, golf and cricket implements, and the general litter of a bachelor's sanctum, he sat down to the evening paper which he had brought with him from Manchester.  It was soon clear, however, that he was not reading.  His eyes wandered, he frowned heavily at the little marble clock, pulled hungrily at his cigar, and finally caught himself sighing.  He thought of certain betting debts which were fast passing from inconvenience to danger, and his face lowered.  He thought of Netty Swire and fidgeted in his capacious wicker chair until it creaked sympathetically, but when the image of the little schoolmistress rose before him his face became darker than ever.  He had never liked her, at least, not in the sense he liked twenty other girls.  The fact was that from the first, though she had fascinated him, the attraction was uncanny and she actually disturbed him.  Not that there had been anything objectionable in her manner towards him; that was the oddest part of it.  She was freer and franker than most women, and showed, without hesitation or concealment, honest pleasure in his attentions.  But he always came away from her presence feeling depressed and out of love with himself.  She was not the least bit lofty; in fact, if she had a fault, it was that she was too approachable.  She was a mere teacher and penniless, and he the much-sought, only son of a successful manufacturer, and yet he thought of her as a factory lad might think of a duchess—a person immeasurably out of his reach.  Her singularity had piqued him at first, but now his dislike and even fear of her were growing stronger every day, and yet he was madly in love with her.  It was ridiculous, contradictory, impossible; but there it was, and now she had begun to snub him—him!

    Yes, there was not the shadow of a doubt about it, she snubbed him! and he drove his teeth into the end of his cigar, and rapped out a coarse oath.  He didn't want her, he wouldn't have her if he could; but the thought that he could not was maddening.  He would have her! no! he would make her that he could have her, and then—

    But here the mood changed.  What a life he might live with a woman like that.  She was bigger than he was, cleverer, finer-natured, and stronger.  She had ideals, pure healthy ambitions, and a nature that accorded with, and responded to, them.  His father dreamed that he might become a Lancashire M.P., and she was the very woman to make him one.  He had only to be a man, to make a clean sweep of his old and secret bad habits and the—

    But there was Netty Swire.  Ah! that was the reason.  She had heard of that.  He lighted a fresh cigar, and sat down to face this new phase of the situation.  Now, what was it?  Was she merely jealous of little Netty, or was it pious prudery?  He would like to have thought the former the reason; but he knew in his heart of hearts it was not.  No, if ever he got on terms with Carrie Hambridge it would have to be by rising out of the ashes of his real self into a new and nobler manhood.  Beside, though Netty did amuse him with her pretty boldness and her quaint slang, he was getting a little tired of her; and—but there was a knock at the door, and the maid ushered in—George Stone.

    These two had been playmates as boys, and the fastest of friends, and though of late they had drifted apart, the old affection remained—on one side at least.  Upon George's appearance Tom put on an easy phlegmatic pose, and an icy, superior air.  Once he would have greeted his visitor with a shout; now he did not even ask him to sit.

    "Hello, George! something wrong at the shop? (mill)."

    "No."

    "What's brought you out on a night like this, then?  Got into a scrape again?"

    George, though standing, had that easy imperturbability about him which Tom so greatly admired, and tried to imitate.  He had one hand in his pocket, and leaned idly against the mantelpiece.

    "No."

    "Well, what is it, then?"

    "Mr. Tom, do you ever read the Bible?"

    "No; I leave that to you Methodys.  What for?"

    George glanced round the room and down into the fire, and then proceeded.

    "Did you ever read anything i' th' Bible about a little ewe lamb?"

    "Not I.  What are you driving at?  Out with it, man!"

    But 'Tom's manner betrayed him, and he looked decidedly uneasy.

    George changed from one leg to the other, very deliberately, stared musingly at the clock, cleared his throat, and then said seriously, "Old Abe Swire is a grand old saint."

    Tom seemed to shrink down into the depths of his big chair, and licked his lips impatiently.

    "Well?"

    "He fair worships their Netty."

    "Well! what's that to me?"

    "If owt bad happened to her it 'ud kill t'owd fellow."

    "Well?"

    Tom was going white about the lips, and gnawing at his moustache.

    There was a much longer pause, something seemed to be disturbing George, and at last he raised his head, measured his companion deliberately, and then with husky hesitation he said pleadingly—

    "You an' me were great pals one time, Mr. Tom."

    "We are master and servant now.  Go on!"

    George stiffened a little, something hot was coming, but it passed, and in a tone humbler and more pathetic even than before he said—

    "Let t'lass alone, Mr. Tom, will you, fur—fur my sake?"

    "Yes; and leave her for a lowt like you, I reckon!"

    There seemed no change in the visitor for the moment, but presently he raised his head, ran his eyes along the reclining figure of his young master until they reached his face.  Tom blinked and tried to look away, but those eyes held him until they cowed and frightened him.

    "Mr. Tom, you must let her alone!"

    The first dawn of a sneer rose about Tom's lips, but those eyes still held him, and he could not speak.

    "I'm sorry to speak disrespectful, but if there's anybody in this world knows me it's you, and you must let Netty Swire alone."

    Tom was quailing and growing smaller in his chair, but suddenly he jumped to his feet with an oath.  But once more that steady gaze conquered him, and they stood face to face and eye to eye.

    But the weaker man failed first, and shrank away.

    "Mr. Tom, I was your slave for many a year, and I'd be proud to be your slave again; but this thing you shall not do."

    Tom was panting; once, twice, he tried to look his man down, but it was no use.  George never appeared so big and strong and terrible as he did at that moment; it was difficult to realise that he was the frivolous, irresponsible rake the village deemed him; but Tom Bradshaw knew he had met his master, dropped his head, and sidled away to his chair.

    Not another word was spoken by either of them, but a minute later George was going down the stairs humming a tune, whilst Tom lay back: in his chair, white, perspiring, and wrathful.


 
CHAPTER VI.

A CRICKET MATCH AND A PROPOSAL.


THE schoolmistress was getting annoyed with herself; her studies in the science of human nature were fast degenerating into absent-minded musings about Tom Bradshaw.  The young man had taken his snubbing very mildly, and she was disappointed.  If that meant anything it meant too much.  She was an idealist; love was a great, beautiful, holy passion that utterly absorbed you, and she certainly felt no such emotion for the young manager.  And yet she was constantly thinking about him.

    She had resolved several times not to go to the opening match of the village cricket club, and yet here she was.  She had been fetched from her lodgings and almost carried here by two delightful girls in the Highfield phaeton; and yet she was telling herself that she would not have been there but for the fact that Tom was the captain of the team.  How ridiculous to pretend to be a student of human nature when she actually did not understand herself!

    The ladies were received with eager delight, a garden seat was placed for them under the shadow of a big tree, and the cricketers stood in little knots "showing off" for the entertainment of their guests.  Tom Bradshaw came out of the tent to do the honours; his bow to Carrie was respectfulness itself, and she was compelled to admit that he certainly did look well in flannels.  Presently he was called away to toss up; the visiting team decided to go in, the game commenced, and the spectators became absorbed in the play.  The field was pleasantly situated, with the Mollins Clough below it and the partly-wooded rising ground beyond, and as Carrie looked at the tall white figures with the light green grass under their feet, and the background of dark foliage, she thought the scene very pretty.  The game had been in progress some minutes, and her eyes were fixed on the distant hill-top in dreamy thought, when she was brought back to her surroundings by a sharp "Catch it!  Splendid!" and her companions began to clap their hands.

    "Isn't he a splendid fellow?" cried Lena Bradshaw, leaning forward and looking past her sister to the mistress.

    Carrie glanced absently at the retiring batsman, and replied, "Yes, who is he?"

    "He?" cried Lena, following her glance, "It is not he at all; it is George.  Didn't you see that grand catch? not one in fifty could have made it!"

    Carrie looked across at Stone, and Jessie chimed in, "They say he's the best slip in the county."

    "Yes; even Tom admits that."

    They watched the next man in, and then Jessie leaned a little towards the schoolmistress, and said under her breath, "I shall make Tom take us to Old Trafford to see him make his debut."

    "You think he will go then?" asked Lena?

    "Oh, certainly!  It's such a chance for him, and it is just what he will like."

    "But he refused the other offer," said Carrie.

    "Oh, but that is different! he'll just glory in it, and all Mollins will go to see him play."

    "He's such an odd fish, you never know what he will do," remarked the younger sister.

    The elder looked across at the big fellow, sighed just the least bit, and then said, "He's not a bad sort though—and isn't he handsome!"

    Carrie scarcely heard; she was watching another cricketer on the field, and comparing him with Stone, not altogether to his advantage.

    The visiting team scored eighty-seven, and then they all came back to the pavilion.  Tom joined the ladies for a minute or two, and laughed at their not very sincere eagerness to know which side had won.

    "Fancy, George invited to play for the County!" said Jessie.  "Of course he'll take it?"

    "I'm afraid so," was the captain's reply.

    "Afraid! oh, yes, the club would miss him."

    "It is not that."

    "What, then? it is a great honour."

    "Yes, if he can stand it;" and Tom's tone said more certainly than any words, that in his opinion he could not.

    "Stand it, how?"

    "He 'cannot carry corn'; he'll lose his head and take to drink."

    "Tom!"

    "He will; two years in the team, and two years to drink himself to death, that's how I reckon it."

    Jessie coloured with indignation, and Carrie stole a long look at Tom's face and turned her head away in hardening thought.

    But Tom had to go in first and was called away to take his place at the wicket.  As he went, however, he glanced round at the little mistress and saw that in her eyes which made him angry with himself and all the world. A perceptible chill had fallen upon the ladies, and talk was scarce.  Tom was now batting, and they all eagerly watched him.  George Stone, who was to go in first wicket down, lounged out of the tent in leggings and gloves, and stood with his back to the spectators watching the game.  His "whites" showed off his grand frame, and Carrie was running her eyes over him in silent admiration, when Jessie called, "George! come here; I want you."

    She drew aside her light drapery as she spoke and made room for him between herself and Carrie.

    His round smooth face beaming with grins, and his bat under his arm, George dropped into the proffered seat.  There was not a trace of the clown about him, and his manner was so easy that Carrie went off into speculations as to how it was that this class of person always looked well in anything—except their best clothes.

    "Well, George, I suppose you feel quite conceited today," said Jessie, eyeing him with manifest admiration.

    "Me, miss?  Why?"

    "Why, you're a County man now—quite a swell!"

    "Ho, ho!  Ha, ha!  Not me, miss, not me!"

    "But you're going, aren't you?  Of course you are!"

    "Ho, ho! not if I know it!"

    "Not going!  Why?"

    "I'm not 'class,' miss.  It's right enough here, you know, but a County match is up another street."

    "Well, you can go and try!" and Jessie sounded disappointed and a little angry.

    "I couldn't, miss; besides, I'm not class, and then—"

    "Then what?" and the gentle Jessie was strangely impatient.

    The prospective County man dropped his voice, turned his head about to see if there was any one near, and then replied with strange soberness—

    "You see, Miss Jessie—I don't mind telling you—there's a lot of temptation in a life like that!"

    "But what of that? you're not a noodle, George; and there's temptation everywhere."

    His head was down now, and he was pushing the end of his bat into the toe of his white shoe.

    "Hay, miss, you don't know me; I'm as weak as water!"

    "Nonsense! others keep right and so could you."

    "Ay! but they are not like me."

    There was a sharp little exclamation to his left, and, glancing round, George noticed that the schoolmistress had turned her shoulder from him and was staring hard across the field with a flash of angry disdain in her eyes.

    Then came a shout amongst the players, and a clapping of hands, and George rose to go to the wicket.  They followed him with their eyes as he strode across the shining greensward, and then Jessie turned to Carrie and observed—

    "What a giant he is! but, goodness, isn't he humble!"

    The teacher whisked round pettishly, her face stern and her eyes flashing.

    "Humble!  No, he's not!  He's a canting, miserable coward—huh!  I could scarcely bear to listen!  If ever I felt contempt for any human being, I feel if this moment for George Stone!"

    "Carrie!"

    "I do! it is simply base.  Manly! he's the body of a giant and the spirit of a snail."

    "Hush, dear! they'll hear you; but you know everybody says the same about him," and Miss Bradshaw sighed again.

    "That is it!  He's heard it and heard it until he believes it himself; if we were all to act like that, the race would die of sheer cowardice!"

    But the game was waking up, George was driving the ball to almost every corner of the field, and the spectators were cheering delightedly.

    Old Mr. Bradshaw, who now appeared on the scene, became instantly enthusiastic, and for an hour and a half everything but the game was forgotten.

    At last the visitors were beaten, and the triumphant mill-owner invited the players to afternoon tea on Highfield lawn, and the ladies hurried away to receive the party.

    Carrie walked up the hill in moody pre-occupation, and before she had reached the house she had decided, first, that Tom was jealous of George's cricketing prowess; and second, that it was her duty to read the pusillanimous Stone a lesson.  Some of the visiting team were gentlemen friends of the Bradshaws, and so the ladies of the house were soon engrossed in their duties as hostesses; but as Tom began to show signs of abandoning his recent distance, Carrie managed to get the mighty athlete to herself.

    "George, I want to talk to you very seriously."

    She was a little older than he, and a lady and a teacher; but in his face there was nothing but fun and glowing, embarrassing admiration.

    "Yes, miss."

    She felt she was already weakening.  Why would he not take his greedy eyes off her person and attend?

    "I suppose you thought you were very humble in what you said before you went in?"

    "No, miss."

    "No?  Well, I'm glad to hear it.  I thought it simply base to talk like that."

    He wasn't listening; the stupid boor was feasting his wicked eyes on her hair, her face, and her great grey orbs.  What was the use of talking?

    "Wherever have you got such notions about yourself?  It is those Methodists; I know them.  Why, that sort of thing will ruin you, if nothing else does."

    "Yes, miss."

    He was studying her hands now.

    "Self-respect is the very basis of character, you know."

    "Yes, miss."

    Oh, why would he not look somewhere else?

    "A great, strong fellow like you could do anything and be anything you liked."

    "Yes, miss."

    "'Yes!'  Oh, don't talk like that; rouse up and be a man!  I should like to see you do something great and good."

    "I could—then."

    "How, then?"

    "If you were seeing me do it."

    Oh, patience! he was simply laughing at her and paying her clumsy compliments.

    "George, I'm out of all patience with you!  Will nothing rouse you and make you serious?"

    "Yes, miss, something could."

    "What?"

    "You."

    Carrie sprang to her feet and deliberately walked away; the clown had no more manners than to laugh at and tease his superiors!  It served her right for troubling about him.  But when, under the safe shelter of a laburnum, she glanced back, he was standing, teacup in hand, and gazing at the seat she had just left with a serious, even anxious look, that made him appear for the moment almost intellectual.  Three young fellows now came forward to serve her with refreshments; but, in spite of their fuss and chatter, she was furtively watching the man she had left.  As a "subject" he grew more interesting every day.  Animal?  Yes, but that was not all.  At that moment there was mind—aye! and will too—in his face.  If there was an ounce of truth in physiognomy, he had the will of a Napoleon.  She would—it should go hard with her, but she would—rouse the man in that lump of magnificent humanity!  To put spirit and ambition into a man like that, to disprove all the superstitious prognostications of the Mollins Methodists, was a work exactly to her mind.  Yes, she would do it, and let those laugh who won.  There was one possibility, however, which never occurred to her; but if she could have seen what was going on in his soul just then, she would have dropped him as a "subject" for ever.

    At this moment, however, she felt her fingers touched; her cup was taken away, and almost instantly returned full.

    "Thanks, Mr. Tom.  No, thank you, I'd rather stand."

    "How did you enjoy the match?"

    "Immensely.  Isn't George a fine player?" and she flashed at him from under her long lashes.

    "He's a fine fool, if you like.  If he does go into the County he'll disgrace us all."

    "What, another!  Why do you all run him down so?"

    "We know him, Miss Hambridge.  Why, the fellow can't say no to anybody.  He's no backbone at all, you know."

    "Excuse me, you are wrong.  In ten years' time your present opinions will look ridiculous; I'm sure they will."

    Tom laughed, rather angrily, "Ha, ha! you ladies all admire a scapegrace; a decent chap has no chance with you."

    This was one of the everyday sophistries which the schoolmistress particularly disliked, and it came at a moment when she was already half angry.  The veiled hint at the end of the sentence irritated her especially; and so she blurted out, "The difference between the scapegrace and what you call the decent fellow is often only that one takes care to conceal his transgressions, and the other does not."

    She was sorry the moment the words were out, and Tom flushed to the roots of his hair.  He turned and looked right into her eyes, but though ashamed to have shown temper, she did not waver, and he dropped his gaze and shrugged his shoulders.  There was an awkward pause; Carrie sipped at her cooling tea, whilst Tom stared across the clough and gnawed at his moustache.

    "I now and then made use of George when we were lads together.  I sometimes think I will look after him again."

    He expected her to look at any rate mollified; instead of that, resentment and something like alarm shot into her eyes.

    "I wouldn't if I were you; he might corrupt you!"

    The jade!  Was he to stand this sort of thing from a penniless schoolmistress?  He waited to choke down his wrath, and then, very humbly, he went on, "Miss Hambridge, I've offended you?  Are you really interested in George?"

    "I'm interested in justice and fair play—that is all."

    "Oh, well, I'm his 'gaffer,' you know; you've only to say the word—;" but she had turned her back upon him, and was walking away.

    Insolent!  She hadn't even common decency.  Tom had the delusion so common, and perhaps so natural, in his class, that anything could be done by a little judicious patronage.  It never entered his head that he had insulted her.  Was he not heir to a wealthy manufacturer, and she a mere employee?  All the same, she affected him as no other woman had ever done.  What right had she to be so different from the rest of her sex?  She should not be different—to him at least; he would make her as tame and as pliable as the rest, or know the reason why.  As he walked back towards the house, however, his mood changed, and he laughed.  It was only her artfulness; a quarrel always ends to the advantage of the woman, and she was only a little deeper than other women—that was all.  All this coy sauciness would disappear when he really showed his hand.  Yes, that was it; she was playing for a high stake, and wanted to be sure before she dealt.

    She wanted a certainty, and was keeping him off until she got one.  Well, he would see.

    It was some time before Carrie could get away from Highfield.  Old Mr. Bradshaw had so many things to show her in the garden, and the girls so many friends to introduce to her, that she found it difficult to escape, and dreaded above all things just then that Tom should insist upon seeing her home.  She accepted finally the company of a young fellow and his sister, who were going to the station; but when she left them at the bottom of Stump Cross Lane, she dropped into an easy saunter, dusk though it was.  The air was full of the balm of spring, and a soothing stillness prevailed that was very welcome.  Away from Tom Bradshaw, she could always see the good things about him, and blame herself.  She knew nothing against him, except a vague rumour that he was the gay young spark with whom Netty Swire was carrying on her clandestine courtship, and that she did not believe for a moment.  The position he had to offer was more than pleasing to her, and nothing would suit her better than to play Lady Bountiful in this dear old Mollins.  The other members of the Bradshaw family were already deep in her affections, but when it came to Tom himself, she always paused.  His manner was respectfulness itself towards her, but she was never sure about him, and suspected that he was—well, common.

    "Miss Hambridge!"

    She had not heard the approaching footsteps, but the sound of his voice went through her.  He had come out of the lane through which she first entered Stump Cross with George Stone for porter.  He sounded a little out of breath, and as he overtook her and turned, he burst out—

    "Oh! Miss Hambridge, do forgive me!  I'm an awful ass sometimes!"

    "No, no!  It was only a difference of opinion, and I was not too civil to you."

    "Oh, how good of you!  You forgive me?  Shall we be friends again?"

    "Certainly!  And you must forgive me," and she put out her hand with a cordiality she meant to be real, but which she felt was not.

    "Thanks, oh, thanks!  Miss Hambridge, may I say something to you?"

    She drew her hand away with difficulty, but there was no mistaking his meaning, and so she asked coldly, "Here?  Now?"

    "I cannot help it; I'm miserable, I'm mad!  Miss Hambridge, can't you see?  Have you no pity?"

    "Mr. Bradshaw, it is dark, and we are alone.  Will you kindly leave me?"

    "I cannot, I will not!  Miss Hambridge, I love you!  I love your very shadow, and the ground on which you walk.  Oh, do not look like that! give me one word, one little syllable of hope!"

    It was her first real proposal, and he was in most evident earnestness.  Her flattered womanhood was finding fifty excuses for the indiscretion of time and place, but something within her she could not stop to analyse hardened her in spite of herself, and so she answered—

    "At a proper time and place I will hear you, or, if you choose, you may write to me—No, no, Mr. Bradshaw!  Good night!" and she turned and fled towards her lodgings.

    He stood staring after her and into the darkness that concealed her, and presently he muttered—

    "Write to you, eh?  Evidence for breach of promise—like one of your predecessors!  Indeed!  'Gad, and she's just the little besom that would do it!  I'll have her, and have her on my own terms, too!  I'll have her, whatever it costs!"



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