Doxie Dent IV.
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CHAPTER XIV.

A GREAT DISCOVERY.


NOW Friday night had recently been made pay night at night at the mill, and consequently it had become the busiest one of the week at the clog-shop.  People came to order new clogs or to pay for repairs, and so there was an intermittent stream of customers coming and going all the evening.  Everybody who came on this particular night received the news about "The Lamplighter," and either strolled to the fire in order to discuss, at becoming length, all the bearings of such an extraordinary case, or else they hurried away to impart their news where they were sure of a sufficiently wondering reception.  Consequently, as talk became more general, a great many new and interesting facts were gathered about this now all-popular young man.  Everybody knew, now that they were reminded of it, that he always had been "skew-whift," and went "colly-west" to everybody else.  Johnty Harrop made a rather transparent bid for distinction by informing the company that Andrew had been his big-piecer, and was reminded by another minder present that he was "allis maulin' abaat wi' bewks."  This recalled the fact which nobody had thought of though now, that Andrew was scarcely ever seen abroad without a volume of some sort in his hand; and Luke Yates, his brother-in-law, imparted the additional information that you could hardly get into Andrew's "chamber durhoil fur bewks."  Then the conversation drifted back to the meeting at the schoolhouse, and from that to the wonderful articles they had all relished so keenly in the Gazette.

    "Mon!" cried Sam, glaring with intense conviction at Ben, "tha'll hev a son 'ith parlyment if tha lives lung enough."  But Ben closed his eyes and turned his head away, for he was not enjoying the discussion.

    At this point there strolled into the shop a person who very seldom resorted thither.  It was little Eli, the village herb doctor.  He was not only herbalist, but barber and blacking-maker as well.  He kept ferrets and canaries and all kinds of singing birds; whilst the village constable was only too well aware that his house was the rendezvous of poachers.  Every boy in Beckside could tell you that Eli had an infallible remedy for warts, and every old crone about the place consulted him about the charming of erysipelas and rheumatism.  He was much more feared than liked in the village, and the clog-shop worthies held him in abhorrence.  He had been nicknamed little because of his enormous length, and nobody looking at his yellow wrinkled face and small deep-set eyes would be surprised that he was regarded as something uncanny.  Disappointed at not finding Jabe behind the counter, Eli turned towards the large circle round the fire, and cried, with a wicked leer that puckered his whole face, "Aw thowt as aw th' cliver lads i' Beckside coom aat o' th' Sunday schoo'!"

    The only response was freezing silence, and Eli, never comfortable in the clog-shop, but now intent on his little triumph, waited for a moment, and then went on, "It seems owd Eli con teich as well as M-e-s-t-e-r L-u-n-g-w-o-r-t-h"; and he drew out Jabe's name with vicious, grating sarcasm.

    Still nobody replied; and so, after waiting a moment or two, Eli threw his clogs down upon the counter, and, turning again towards the fire, cried, "Aw say, Jabe!"

    "Well, wot is it?" came in gruffest tones from the Ingle-nook.

    "If yo'n onny mooar lads yo' Gonna manidge i' yore schoo', send 'em o'er to me"; and with this last vindictive shot the herbalist disappeared.

    The calculated bitterness of Eli's words was only too effectual; every face at the fire became overcast, and the older men looked crestfallen and dismayed.  Eli was a dangerous freethinker, who had never been seen inside any place of worship within the memory of the oldest person present.  It was known that he received an infidel newspaper every week through the post, and was an enthusiastic admirer of Joe Barker, the atheistic ex-Methodist preacher, and "Iconoclast" (Bradlaugh).  The older men remembered only too well that he had been in early life a chartist, and was suspected of having a hand in some of the most disgraceful machinery riots of other days.  It was characteristic of him that he never appeared in person in any disturbances; but his was said to have been the secret hand that manipulated and guided things in the background.  He had a way of acquiring influence over other people's minds, and was believed in most enthusiastically by those whom he patronised; the influence, however, was of a most sinister character, and his tools sooner or later got into trouble.

    After a few minutes of almost complete silence Ben, greatly to the relief of all present, got up and went home, and so the tongues were wagging again.  Sam and the younger men called Eli a "lyin' slotch"; Jabe and the elders looked dubious, and said nothing; and whilst Luke Yates told how quiet and "dacent" Andrew was at home, Nathan the smith recalled some of the startling and scandalous questions he used to ask before he left the school.  And so poor Andrew's character was tossed about amongst them, one moment promising to triumph over all slander and prejudice, and the next sinking under the weight of condemnatory evidence.

    "He's th' grandest lad az Becksoide's turnt aat sin' Billy Botch's toime," asseverated Sam vehemently, but quite as much to sustain his own fading confidence as to convince any one else; and Lige, in the opposite corner of the Ingle-nook to the strangely silent Jabe, shook his head with dubious solemnity, and murmured, "His mother allis said az he'd breik her hert."

    Jethro the knocker-up was never of very much account, and so his silence on this occasion attracted no particular attention, until in one of the pauses Lige, after eyeing him over meditatively for some time, suddenly leaned forward, and, tapping him on the knee, asked, "Whot does thaa think abaat it aw, owd lad?"

    This seemed to bring Jethro back from a reverie, for he started slightly on being appealed to; and after looking musingly into the fire, he got up with the evident intention of departing, and then said sadly, "If owt bad does cum on him, ther's sum on uz here az 'ull ha' to answer fur it."

    "Here? here?  Wot dust meean bi that?" demanded Jabe, as the others made way for Jethro to go; and the old knocker-up turned back for a moment, gazed into the fire, and then answered sadly, "Aw thank goodniss az it wurna me az turnt him aat o' th' class"; and with another heavy sigh he made for the door.

    Meanwhile the carpenter, with a weight of misery settling slowly on his soul, was making his way home.  Arrived there, he was treated to a very full and particular though partly imaginative account of Andrew's recent doings by his wife.  And the worst that Ben had heard at the clog-shop was as nothing to what he now had to listen to.

    Andrew was an "out-and-out atheist, and a member of secret clubs, and a ringleader among strikers, and a big man amongst all the lazy wastrils o' Duxbury"; and Mrs. Ben broke down in the middle of her story, and lapsed into tears.  Ben, smarting under a sense of humiliation, was surly and morose, and told her to "howd her racket"; whereupon the distressed mother got him his porridge supper, and then sat down gloomily by the fire.


Ben . . . . was surly and morose, and told her to "howd her racket."

    Ben tried to eat, but could not; and so, after struggling with his food for a minute or two, he pushed it impatiently away, and drew up to the fire.  His wife, watching him narrowly, noticed with a pang that he did not light his pipe; and so, after fidgeting in her chair for a little while, she got up and silently handed him the family Bible for prayers.  Ben kicked the book from his knee, and sprang to his feet as if he had been struck.  "Aw conna, woman!" he cried in wild grief, "Aw winna!  Aw'll niver pray agean well Aw'm wik;" and then he suddenly broke down, and staggering back into his chair he groaned, "Lord, ha massy on me!  Wot am Aw sayin'?"

    Ellen was too stunned to be able to reply; so, after sitting and watching him furtively for some time, she fetched a candle from the kitchen and went off to bed.  Ben sat staring at the fire and trembling as he thought of the wickedness of his last words; then his lips moved in silent prayer, and he rose as if to retire.  Changing his mind, however, he sat down again, and went moodily on with his own terrible internal conflict until the striking of the long-cased clock aroused him, and he slipped off his clogs and hastened upstairs.

    To his surprise he found his wife sitting up in bed and sobbing as if her heart would break.

    "Ben," she cried, lifting an agonised face, "it's me, Ben! it's aw me!  Aw've fun it aat, an' it's me aw az has browt this on thi lad."

    And Ben, who had now quite recovered control of himself, bent over the bedside, and with unwonted and awkward tenderness stroked her hair, and said soothingly, "If thaa browt it, it'ull turn aat blessin', wench.  Thaa near browt me nowt else, an' tha niver will; bur wot is it?"

    "Bur it is, Ben; it's me.  Dust na remember Aw couldna give him up?"

    "Huish! woman, tha'rt wandering."

    "When he wor a babby, Ben, he had th' faivor tha knows, an' tha said as we mud give him up an' submit to th' Awmighty; bud when tha went daansturs, Ben, Aw snapped him aat o' bed an' clipped him an' cuddled him to my breast and went daan o' my knees, and Aw said, 'Aw winna, Lord!  Aw winna give him up!'  An' naa it's cum back on uz.  O Lord, forgiveme!"  And again the agitated woman sobbed out her sorrow.

    Ben waited until the paroxysm subsided, and then he said in low, coaxing tones, "Ellen! thee and me's bin jogging along naa fur thirty yer togather, hanna we?"

    "Wot bi that?"

    "An' fur thirty yer we'en carried are trubbles togather, hanna we?"

    "Wot bi that?"

    "Well, wench, we'll carry 'em togather to th' end, God bless thi."  And he put her back with her head on the pillow, and stroked her face until she grew calm.


    Now, whilst Beckside was excitedly discussing its great discovery of the identity of "The Lamplighter," the subject of these debates was sitting quietly by his sister's fireside at Beckbottom, with a book on the table before him, and one foot tucked up under his chair, whilst the other was stretched out to the cradle-rocker which he kept quietly moving.  Leah, his sister, with her dress tucked neatly up about her waist, was moving softly about the house for fear of waking the baby, restoring the newly polished fender and mantelpiece ornaments to their places and putting the finishing touches to her week-end "fettlin'."  Every now and again she glanced cautiously at the cradle, and presently bending over it she drew the coverlet a little farther over the baby's face, and whispered, "It'll dew naa, lad: he's fast asleep, bless him!"


Putting the finishing touches to her week-end "fettlin'."

    Andrew withdrew his foot from the rocker, and went on with his reading, every now and again, however, lifting his head and glancing curiously at his sister as she went on with her duties.  After a while she put her dress down, smoothed her hair, washed her hands in the little scullery, and came and sat down to her work-basket.

    She was holding a needle up to the lamp to thread it, when Andrew raised his head and watched her.  When she had finished, and was just picking up her sewing, he said, "Leah, wench, Aw'm gooin' t' leeav thi."

    And Leah, whose thoughts just then were far away, so that she had not quite caught what he said, asked, "Wot dust say?"

    "Aw'm gooin' t' leeav thi; Aw've getten a fresh shop."

    A shadow came over Leah's mild face, and she said, with just the slightest ring of resentment in her tones, "Well, Aw whop it's a bet-ter."

    "Naa then, Aw dunna meean that; Aw mean a fresh workin'-shop.  Aw've bin app'inted Secretary o' the Minders' Association, an' Awst ha to live i' Duxbury."

    Leah did not reply for a time; but at last she said regretfully, "Well, tha mun gooa thi oan rooad; tha allis hez dun an' Aw feart tha allis will."

    "Why, Leah, wot's wrung wi' me?"

    "Wrung! whey doesn't tha goo to th' chappil?  Whey dustna read thi Bible atsteead o' them nasty bad bewks o' thoine?  Whey dustna mix wi' gradely dacent folk?  Secretaary!"  And here Leah's quiet face flushed with sudden indignation.  "Tha'rt goin' t' be a makker o' strikes an' lock-aats an' riots, an' a robber o' poor wimin an' childer—that's wot tha'rt gooin' ta be."

    Andrew was not in the least disturbed by this quite unusual outburst from his gentle, silent sister; he smiled quietly, waited a moment until her anger subsided, and then he asked, "Leah, yo' chappil folk believers i' calls, dunna yo'?"

    "Calls?"

    "Ay, calls ta be preichers an' leaders an' sitch-loike, dunna yo'?"

    "Well, wot bi that?"

    "Well, Aw've getten a call—a call to help mi daantrodden an' foolish fellow workmen, a call ta resist oppression an' robbery, a call ta feight fur liberty an' fair play, Aw hev.  I knoze, Aw hev, Aw feel it, wench."  And then with a sudden burst of intense earnestness which startled and greatly impressed his sister, "Yes, an' moine's as mitch the call o' God as a parson's is."

    Leah relapsed into a discouraged and pensive silence; and Andrew, after a vain attempt to resume his reading, picked up his book, reached a bottle of ink and a pen from the shelf by the side of the fireplace, lighted a small paraffin lamp, and retired to his bedroom study.

    Left alone, Leah pursued the painful drift of her thoughts, and became graver and more perplexed as she mused.  What was there in this strange brother of hers that made him so different from other young fellows?

    For years now he had scarcely had a companion or friend, and spent nearly all his spare time in the house over his books.  As a member of their little family he was almost faultless; he never stayed out at night; and though she suspected by the amount of lamp-oil he bought that he often sat up late, he did it in his own room, and never resented her remonstrances.  It was absolutely certain that as far back as she could remember he had always been surprisingly fond of her, and the affection only seemed to increase with the lapse of time.  Her little girl Charlotte doted on her uncle, and even the baby wakened up and put on his very "piertest" look when Andrew came near him.  Her husband, although ten years his senior, deferred to Andrew's superior knowledge on all the larger questions of life, and seemed in a quiet, unadmitted sort of way to have great respect for his judgment.  Luke, whenever he did speak of him, always said he was "ter'ble cliver"; but if so, he seemed entirely unconscious of it himself, for she had never perceived anything approaching to self-conceit in him as that characteristic was usually understood.  And yet, with all these things, she was compelled to admit that she was more than uneasy about him.  It was her nature to have misgivings about anything she loved very much, and she certainly loved this queer brother of hers next only to her husband; and perhaps the memory of her own courting days, and the terrible risks which her love for the unpopular Luke made her run to marry him, were unconsciously blinding her to faults in Andrew which other folk could see.  Well, he was her favourite brother, and, popular or unpopular, she would stick to him; only, why was he now going away where she could not watch over him? and why was he embarking on a course of life which the principles in which they had both been brought up so emphatically condemned?  The Beckside Methodists regarded all politics as anathema, and were strong sticklers for the duty of non-intervention, as far as professors were concerned at any rate.  But with all their dislike of "bullyraggin' politicians," her father and those who thought with him had a still deeper detestation of those who went about stirring up strife and breeding discontent between masters and servants; and she herself could not only remember two or three persons of that kind who had turned out utter "wastrils," but could also recall the misery and starvation which had been brought into Beckside itself by their dangerous interferences.  What could there be under the quiet exterior of Andrew to give him any taste for work like this?  As for his talk about having a call to it, that seemed to her only to prove that he was already under the worst possible influences.


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CHAPTER XV.

PLOTS AND PLANS.


NOW, when Leah had reached the stage of her meditations at which we left her in the last chapter, the door opened, and Luke came in.  She got up to reach his supper out of the oven, and was turning round to tell him the news she had just heard from Andrew, when a look on his face stopped her, and the next moment he was telling her all about the discovery that had been made respecting "The Lamplighter," and all the other things which had been said and done that night at the clog-shop.  Luke had been in the habit of reading "The Lamplighter" articles to her on a Saturday afternoon, and they both now recalled how that Andrew when he had been present seemed very indifferent and even contemptuous about them, and once or twice had even gone so far as to offer criticism.  Well, Leah did not know what to think now.  She was alarmed to discover that a feeling of wicked pride rose within her as she remembered that the writer whose words had seemed so illuminating to both her husband and herself was her own brother, and she liked him all the better because he had so cleverly concealed from everybody what he was doing.  But when her husband went on to tell her all that had taken place at the clog-shop, with the confident assertions that Andrew was an atheist, confirmed as they were so significantly by the visit and words of the universally disliked Eli, her heart sank within her, and all the more so as she observed that her husband, who had so often before laughed at her apprehensions about Andrew, seemed almost as concerned as she was herself.  They talked together for quite an hour; and when at last they retired, Leah did not get to sleep for hours for thinking what she must do to help and save her misguided and misunderstood brother.  When she rose next morning, she was conscious that her burden seemed lighter, and upon careful self-examination she discovered a subtle thought blending with her musings, which was somehow diffusing its sweetness over all the sadness of the moment.  It seemed to be her work in life to have to do with peculiar and incomprehensible characters.  Luke, her husband, had probably been saved by her persistent love for him and by her daring marriage with him, in spite of popular opinion.  Well, perhaps it was to be something like it once more, and perhaps God had given to her the task of saving this strange brother of hers; and so, though she as yet saw no way out of the difficulty, she was so very cheerful, that her husband noticed it, and seemed curious about the cause.  But she could not tell him; only she felt an assurance within her that all would be right, and was pleased to see that Luke looked relieved and hopeful at her words.

    Later on in the day Leah recalled to her mind the incident of Andrew's surprise to find that Doxie Dent was a woman.  To her as a woman it had a significance which it would not have to others, and she soon saw in that idea a possible solution of her difficulties.  At any rate she would work the thing for all it was worth; and if she did not succeed, it should not be for want of trying.

    That same Sunday afternoon Doxie called at Beckbottom, as she sometimes did after school.  She looked very fresh and bonny, and so Leah determined to commence her little operations at once.

    "Yo'n yeard abaat aar Andrew, Aw reacon?" she commenced, as Doxie turned away from the cradle, where she had been admiring the baby.

    "Yes," said Doxie shortly; and glanced up with a look of enquiry on her frank face.

    "Well, wot dun yo' think abaat it?"

    Doxie tried to look as indifferent as possible, and said, "Nay, what do you think?"

    Leah, who was a little disappointed with Doxie's manner, sighed softly, and answered "Hay dear!  Aw durn't know wot to think."

    And then the conversation seemed to get stranded, and glancing meditatively into the fire Doxie seemed lost in pensive thought.

    Presently, however, she recovered herself, and, turning suddenly to Leah, said confidently, "Leah, I want to tell you a great secret: I've had an offer of marriage."

    "Whoa fro'?—Andrew?"  And in a moment she perceived she had given herself away, for Doxie looked up with a startled, shrinking glance, and answered sharply, "Andrew! no!"

    Mercifully the baby awoke just then, and the two women were both glad to interest themselves in the infant until they could recover; and what with the baby and her own embarrassment, Leah forgot to ask who Doxie's lover was, or even how he had fared in his venture, and of course Doxie was not going to return to the subject now.  Presently, however, Leah remembered, and was a little taken aback when Doxie answered shortly, "Ben."

    The manner in which the reply was given told Leah all she needed to know as to the result of the proposal; and so, partly to relieve her own mind and partly to disabuse Doxie's, she set to work and told her friend the story of her own courtship as it is known to the readers of Beckside Lights.

    But Doxie was not to be drawn out of her shell; and when the hospitable housewife, in pursuance of her little plan, invited Doxie to stay to tea in the hope that Andrew would come in to the meal, that young lady got hastily up and prepared to depart.  However, Leah was now very much in earnest, so she walked by Doxie's side up the garden and along the footpath, pouring into her apparently indifferent ears a great many particulars of Andrew's character, which were meant to rehabilitate him in Doxie's esteem.

    Leah and her husband took turns in staying at home to mind the children on Sunday nights, and this week it was hers.  She hoped that Andrew as usual would stay with her, and she was not disappointed.  When the children had been got to sleep, and Andrew was deep in a book by the fireside, Leah drew her own chair up opposite to him, and said, "Doxie wur here this efthernoon.  Hay, hoo is gettin' a bonny wench."


Leah drew her own chair up opposite to him.

    Andrew never spoke; but she was sharp enough to see that he had heard her.

    "Hoo's yerd abaat thee goin' t' Duxbury.  Hay, hoo is ill off abaat it."

    Andrew lifted his eyes to look at his sister but she affected not to notice.  He did not speak, however; and so, as he dropped his eyes upon the book again, she went on, " Hur an' thee uset be varry thick when yo were childer."

    Andrew's eyes wandered to her face, and then to the fire, into which he gazed with an absent, musing stare.

    "Owd Jabe 'll lose his haasekeeper afoor lung; there's hawf a duzzen chaps efther her awready."

    Would the stolid Andrew never speak?

    "Wun felley axed her t'other day."

    And Andrew startled his sister by asking sharply, "Haa does thaa know?"

    Leah was flurried for the moment, now that she had accomplished her purpose but after a momentary hesitation she said, "Oh, Aw know; but it's noa common felly as 'll get hur."

    Andrew, still staring, with his head down, at the fire, answered slowly, "Neaw, it 'ull be some pious chappil-goin' chap, Aw reacon—aar Ben, fur instance."

    "Andy, Doxie Dent 'ull tak' th' chap hoo loikes an' noabry else, an' noather Owd Jabe nor onybody else 'ull stop her.  Whey doesn't thaa――" But here it struck Leah that she had gone far enough for once, and so she hastened into the scullery on some invented errand.

    But when she came back her brother was waiting for her.  Sitting straight up in his chair, and looking at her with almost fierce resolution, he said: "Leah, Aw've a burden laid on me.  Aw've a work ta dew, an' till that's dun noather Doxie Dent nor onybody else 'ull be owt ta me."

    And Leah, more than satisfied with the result of the conversation, dropped her head to hide a smile, and answered, "Well, them az lives lungest 'ull see th' mooast."

    Whatever else she had done, Leah had effectually robbed Andrew of all interest in his book.  He sat looking at it dreely for some minutes, without even turning over the page, and then his eyes wandered back to the fire, and presently he got up and began to move uneasily about the house.  Once he stopped before the cradle, and stood looking down on the unconscious baby; then he went to the window, and looked out into the darkness; after that he came back to the fire; and at last he said, "Let's see, Doxie's a member naa, isn't hoo?"

    "Ay, an' a leeader tew."

    "A leeader?"  And there was anger as well as surprise in Andrew's tones.

    "Ay, a childer's class, tha' knows—a Katty—Katty—Aw donna know wot they caw'n it."

    "When does hoo have it?"

    "Ova Tuesday neet, Aw think."

    And in spite of the strong words he had used to his sister, Andrew watched Doxie away from her meeting next time it was held, and followed her down to the shop, dark though it was; and all the way home to Beckbottom he was telling himself again and again that he had put his hand to the plough, and must not draw back.  A week later he went to live at Duxbury.

    About a fortnight after the departure of Andrew from Beckside, and when the excitement concerning him had somewhat subsided, Jabe and Sam Speck were seated enjoying their after-dinner pipes at the clog-shop fire.  It was a sharp, wintry day, and Doxie, dressed to go out, and looking as bright as ever, passed through the shop in order to assure her uncle that she would be back in time for tea.  Neither of the two cronies seemed to be in the humour to talk; but presently, after musingly recharging his pipe, Sam leaned back in his seat, crossed his legs, and sighed, "A—y, hoo'll mak' sumbry a bonny woife sum day, hoo will."

    The clogger's face had a comfortable, even drowsy look; but as Sam slowly drawled out his words, it changed suddenly to one of indignant astonishment.  "A woife!" he demanded excitedly; and glared at Sam as though he would annihilate him.

    "Ay, a woife.  Whey not?  Hoo's owd enuff, sureli."

    Jabe was fairly roused now.  Even a hint of the possibility of losing his idol was sufficient to alarm him.  "Whey, mon!" he bawled, "thar't maddlet!  Dust think az aar Doxie meythers hersel' wi' chapping an' jinderin' an' sitch-loike wark?"

    But Sam was on his mettle too; and so, snatching his pipe from his mouth, he demanded with a fierceness almost equal to the clogger's, "Does thaa meean t' say az hoo's ony differunt ta ony other wench?  Hez thaa tew een i' thi yed an' ne'er seen nowt?"

    "Seen!  Aw've seen aw az ther' is ta see, an' that's nowt."

    And Sam, realising that with such blindness it was utterly useless to try to argue, all at once collapsed into the chimney corner, and grunted resignedly, "Aw reet then," and smoked moodily, silently on.

    But Jabe was moved.  The thought of Doxie being carried off by some gay young fellow, or by anybody for that matter, was simply unbearable.  Two or three times he gave vent to inarticulate grunts; but as Sam did not respond, he became sarcastic, and at length snarled with a rough laugh, "Seen!  Oh, ay! tha's seen, tha' hez!  Tha's een at th' back o' thi yed an' aat o' thi clog-bottoms, tha' hez!"  And then, as curiosity overpowered anger, he broke off and demanded gruffly, "Wot hast seen?"

    And the tantalising Sam put on a look of perfectly maddening superiority, and said, "Nay, nowt, nowt!  Aw ne'er sees nowt."

    But Sam was really going too far, and the clogger lapsed into a fit of dignified sulks, sitting at the opposite side of the fire, and puffing away at his pipe as though his life depended on getting through it.

    Sam, with his head averted, watched his old friend for a minute or two, and then, suddenly relenting, he leaned forward, and demanded, "Dust meeant t' say az tha's ne'er seen noabry snuffing an' squintin' afther that wench?"

    Jabe, whose head was held very high, did not intend to answer; but presently, with the air of a man who was making a compromising concession, he said shortly, "Well, whoar?"

    And Sam, as if appealing to a man of acknowledged penetration whose momentary aberration greatly astonished him, replied, "Whey, yung Ben, mon, yung Ben."

    For the moment Jabe was relieved; for young Ben Barber was high in his favour, and was generally acknowledged to be a sort of model young man, steady, industrious, and religious.  But the pain at his heart did not disappear; for even the knowledge that she was making a good match would be little consolation to him if he was to lose her.

    It was some time before either of them spoke again; but at length Jabe got up with the evident intention of returning to work, and as he did so he knocked the ashes out of his pipe, and, looking scowlingly at Sam, said, "That mon 'ull feel th' length o' my clug if Aw catch him henky-penkying abaat here, soa Aw'll tell thi."

    All the afternoon, however, the clogger brooded sorrowfully over what had been told him, and every moment grew more certain that he could not stand being parted from his niece.  Over the tea-table he was unusually pensive and quiet, and Doxie more than once rallied him on his unwonted silence.  What increased her curiosity was the fact that every time she looked towards him she caught him eyeing her over with a sad, preoccupied look, which he turned hastily away as soon as he found he was observed.  She had thoughts of her own, however, that were very absorbing, and so she gave less attention to these things than otherwise she might have done.

    When she had put away the tea-things, and was kneeling upon the fender poking the fire, and gazing into it thoughtfully, she suddenly felt a hand placed upon her hair, and as she turned with a bright but rather surprised look to find out the reason for this very unusual caress, she found that her uncle was bending over her with a longing, hungry look in his eyes, and before she could speak he said huskily, yet somewhat enigmatically, "Aw war yang misel' wunce."


She suddenly felt a hand placed upon her hair.


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CHAPTER XVI.

AN ALARMING LETTER.


BUT the clogger's fit of resignation proved very temporary.  Before he had been back in the shop an hour he was talking in the old pugnacious way to Sam, and threatening all sorts of pains and penalties to any young "scoperil" he might happen to catch "sniffing abaat here"; whilst later on in the evening, when Long Ben came to the shop, he commenced a running fire of vague and oblique references to the "forradniss of yung felleys," and the wonderful ways in which the peculiar infirmities of fathers reappeared in the children.

    For the next few days also Jabe kept a sharp look-out for possible "poochers," and even in a roundabout, non-committal way tried to enlist the services of Sam in the same pursuit.  Nothing occurred, however, until the following Sunday, which happened to be wet.  Jabe had dismissed the school, and was returning home with Lige and Nathan, when, just as he came out of the chapel gate, he pulled up with a start, and then, without a word to his friends, set off as fast as his unequal legs could carry him down the "broo."  The two friends could see no possible reason for his sudden departure; but Sam Speck was a little on in front of them, and when the clogger passed him he pulled up to watch him, and then, turning round, jerked his thumb in the direction Jabe was going, and seemed inwardly convulsed with something that was tickling him immensely.  Then Lige and Nathan saw what was the matter.  The clogger was rapidly approaching a couple of teachers who were going down the "broo" under one umbrella, and it only required a second glance to discover that the two were Doxie and young Ben.  Meanwhile, just as the clogger got up to them, they stopped opposite the clog-shop, and after exchanging a few words, parted, Doxie nodding and smiling as she left her cavalier.  With a womanly dread of water on her clothes, Jabe's niece made a dart for the house, and did not notice her uncle; and Ben had got several yards farther down the hill, when he heard a gruff voice exclaiming, "Heigh, yung felley!  Aw want thee!"

    The young carpenter pulled up and faced about; and when he caught sight of Jabe's red, aggressive face, he blushed.

    "Aw want ta know," demanded the clogger, pulling suddenly up, and balancing himself on the toe-point of his best leg,—"Aw want ta know what this sooart o' gallivantin' wark meeans?" and he jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction in which Doxie had disappeared.


"Aw want ta know what this sooart o' gallivantin' wark meeans?"

    Ben did not comprehend all at once but as it dawned upon him, he stammered: "That?  Nowt.  Aw wur nobbut keepin' th' rain off her."

    "Oh! tha' wur keepin' th' rain off her, wur ta?" cried Jabe, with a sardonic laugh; and then, with his very fiercest scowl, he shook his pudgy finger, and went on: "Naa, lewk here, young chap, Aw'll keep th' rain off that wench, an' th' sun tew, an' thee tew, an' aw sitch-loike spewnified diddle-dadlers!  Thee goo an' grow thi wisdom teeth, an' leeav that wench ta me!"  And with a final flirt of his finger at the blushing and terrified youth, Jabe turned haughtily round and limped off home.

    When he got indoors, however, his pride had a sudden fall; for Doxie, having hurried upstairs to remove her damp clothes, came to the front bedroom window just as her uncle was delivering the last part of his philippic to Ben, and, comprehending the situation at a glance, she came down upon her defender somewhat severely.  The argument waxed hot for a moment or two; but when Jabe discovered how openly and frankly sympathetic Doxie was towards Ben, he naturally concluded that she would not have shown it so much if her affections had been in any way involved, and so he took his scolding meekly, and comforted himself with the reflection that he had effectually scotched the affair.

    But it never rains but it pours, and almost before our old friend had got over one trouble he was plunged into another and even more serious one.  On the following Thursday morning the post brought Doxie a letter with a now familiar foreign postmark, and almost before Dan had returned from delivering it to her in the parlour, she came flying into the shop in a state of the wildest excitement.  "O uncle! uncle, we are going! we are going!  Father has sent word we are to go to Australia.  Oh, isn't it grand! isn't――" and then she stopped abruptly, for the poor old clogger's face had all at once gone as white as a sheet.  The look of delight on Doxie's countenance changed instantly to one of almost terror, to be succeeded by a shower of warm tears, and like the girl she still was, in spite of her twenty summers, she burst into a little cry, caught her uncle round the head, and, kissing the bald top of it again and again, cried, "And you must go too, uncle! you must go too!"

    Before the clogger could answer, however, she had remembered herself, and bursting away she flew off down to the cottage and brought back her mother and her aunt, and they all adjourned to the parlour to read the letter at length and hold a family council.

    Yes, there the summons was in all its bare reality.  Doxie's father sent word that he had recently bought from a man who had made his pile a store and all its contents in the mining village where he was located, and that, as they could now be of much service to him and he was dying for a sight of them, they must prepare to go out at once, and he would send the money by the next mail.  The place was a very rough one; but he hoped they would soon make their fortune, and in the meantime he would be able to take care of them.  Again and again the letter was read; and when at last its full significance had been realised, those to whom it meant so much received it with very different feelings.  Doxie's mother was in the seventh heaven of delight; Aunt Judy looked sad, and presently began to cry; and though Jabe frowned upon her sternly once or twice, and demanded what she was "meytherin'" at, he hovered very near to tears himself, and eyed Doxie over again and again with a hungry, almost savage look.  As to Doxie, her feelings were evidently of a mixed kind, and fluctuated and veered round with every little turn of the conversation.  When they talked about Australia and her father, she was full of eagerness and joy; but the moment any one touched ever so distantly upon the thought of parting, her lip quivered, and she glanced uneasily at her uncle and then looked with swimming eyes through the window.  That was a dark day for the clogger; he could neither work nor eat, nor even think connectedly.  His old friends and comforters did not come to the cloggery as soon or as fast as he wanted them, and so he wandered about from one place to another seeking sympathy and advice.  That night at the fire he was the centre of a silent and moody group, for the average Lancashire man has no means of uttering his deepest emotions, and feels as if to speak of them were to minimise them; but the clogger's feelings may be guessed by the fact that, as he went upstairs to bed that night, he, stopped for a moment at his niece's bedroom door, and after gazing at it in the dim candlelight he turned sadly away and muttered in a quivering, choking voice, "Thar't reet, wench, bless thi!  Aw believe Aw shall ha' to goo, owd as Aw am."

    Whilst her uncle was thus expressing himself on the outside of that little black bedroom door, Doxie lay tossing about, vainly endeavouring to get to sleep.  With the keen interest of young life she pictured to herself the scenes through which she would pass on her way to the distant land that was soon to be her home, and sleep went farther and farther away.  Then she tried to imagine to herself what her life would be in the new and wonderful country where she was to dwell.  Then suddenly there would come back to her the old clog-shop and her lonely housekeeperless uncle; and that was so sad a thing to think of that she tried to shut it out of her mind, but without success.  Again and again she wandered in her thoughts from one aspect of the case to the other, until presently she began to realise that, alluring and delightful though the prospect of travel was, there was something within her that clung to the old haunts of her life, and that something was not, or at least was not entirely, her love for her uncle.  She would not allow the thing to take definite shape in her mind; the moment it seemed to grow clear before her she felt herself blushing, and resolutely turned away from it.  And yet it came again and again, and she could only bury her face in the pillows and try to think of something else.  She was not an introspective young lady, and this shadowy shape seemed quite a stranger to her; nevertheless it was there, and all her efforts to ignore it only seemed to bring it more definitely to her mind.  She escaped it at last by trying to think of all the things she would say to her uncle to induce him to go with her, until suddenly she became aware of the fact that her hope that he would join the party was not very honest, and in fact that her wish to go was rapidly becoming a question of duty rather than of desire.  Presently, however, she dozed off into fitful slumbers, and dreamed of a wonderful wedding, in which somebody not herself was being married to a strange man with her uncle's stooping body and expressive limp, but with Andrew Barber's face.

    Somehow the prospect did not look quite so woeful to the clogger when he got up next morning.  The money had not been actually sent yet, and many things might happen before the day of actual parting came.  Besides, Doxie's father had always been sanguine and whimsical; the message was possibly only a characteristic bit of his usual "baance"; and even though he had intended it when he wrote, there was time for a man of his captious and impetuous temperament to change, especially when it came to having to send over so large a sum for the double passage.  He would stick there if nowhere else, Jabe argued, as he always had done; for Thomas was always behind when it came to questions of cash.

    Another day, therefore, he spent debating the matter with his friends, and they were all so very sorry for him that they strove chiefly to find out what he would like them to say in order that they might say it and so bring comfort to the old man's heart.  Sam Speck, however, was possessed of an idea.  It only came to him slowly, and required much meditation and the consumption of reckless quantities of tobacco; but it did actually grow as he turned it over, and by the forenoon of the next day it had taken definite and final shape.  He was immensely pleased with it, for he had worked it out entirely unassisted, and if carried out it would not only bring relief to the mind of his much tried friend, but lift Sam himself to a very pinnacle of glory and give him an inexhaustible claim on the clogger's gratitude.

    "Well, thaa con dew as tha's a moind, an' say wot tha's a moind; bud if hoo wur owt ta me, hoo shouldna goo a yard."

    Sam delivered himself of this defiant sentence with the air of a man who was talking more to sustain conversation than with any definite purpose in view, and his face wore a look of studious but much overdone indifference.  Jabe raised his head to rap out one of his most stinging retorts, for, as a matter of fact, he had said nothing for nearly an hour on the subject mentioned by his friend, so that his assumption of this particular form of remark was more than usually irritating.  But a drowning man catches at straws, and the clogger was so anxious to hear any suggestion which might be helpful that he checked himself, and merely demanded, "Haa con Aw help it, mon?  Hoo mun dew az her fayther tells her, munnat hoo?"

    And Sam settled himself more comfortably in the Ingle-nook corner, and answered lazily, "Sum women doesna."

    Jabe looked at his companion in amazed perplexity.  It was quite evident there was something behind Sam's words, but he could not for the life of him see what.  "Wot dun they dew then?" he demanded, eyeing him over expectantly.

    And Sam, still hugging his great idea, replied in his most exasperating manner, "Oh, lots o' things."

    Jabe was on tenter-hooks.  What could this provoking man whom he must not offend at this moment mean?  He stared at him with rapidly blinking eyes for quite a long time, during which Sam smoked blandly on.  At last, however, he could bear it no longer.  "Naa, then, tha's getten summat i' that bermyed o' thoine.  Aat wi' it."

    Sam seemed to take a most aggravating time to collect his thoughts; but at length, staring right before him, and speaking with tantalising slowness, he said, "Well, if that wench hed a husband i' England hoo'd ne'er think a' goin' ta Australy"; and then, after another pause, "An' hoo met 'a' hed wun afoor naa bud fur thee."


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XVII.

DELICATE NEGOTIATIONS.


NOW, so direct and undisguised a censure as that involved in Sam's last words would ordinarily have aroused Jabe's resentment.  However, he was too much in earnest just now to stand upon trifles; so, after sitting and staring at his companion with puckered brow and pursed out lips for several moments, he got up and stepped into the parlour to make sure that Doxie was out.  Having satisfied himself on that point, he came back, and, holding the door in his hand, beckoned Sam to follow him into the next room.  Then he fetched out some wonderful tobacco which had been given to him by his leather-merchant; and compelling his friend to empty his pipe and fill it with the nonsuch weed, he leaned back in his chair, and said with unwonted geniality, "Naa, lad, tha' hez sum glints o' sense in thi sumtoimes; goo on wi' thi nomminny."

    Basking in the warmth of a most unusual and strictly temporary popularity, Sam expounded his great idea at full length, Jabe ticking off the salient points; and the upshot of it all was that Sam was to persuade young Ben to make another and more serious attempt on Doxie's affections, and Jabe undertook to pave the way for him as best he could with the girl herself.  For the next few days the clogger and his lieutenant were almost inseparable.  Never within the memory of the oldest frequenter of the clog-shop had the two been so long and so suspiciously "thick."

    At the end of a week's time Sam reported that young Ben was quite ready to make a second attack upon Doxie, but that he stood in wholesome fear of the clogger; Sam therefore insisted that it was time for Jabe to step in himself and encourage the timid lover.  The clogger was some time before he would consent to this; but upon Sam asking him for the fourth time if he had said anything to Doxie, he became suddenly very confused, and hastily agreed to "sattle" Ben at once.  But Sam was not content.  The clogger was not doing his share of the work, and so his zealous assistant had to fall back on his most effective weapon, and point out once more how much easier the whole thing might have been if only Jabe had consented to this courtship before the arrival of the Australian letter.  But Jabe had not neglected to sound Doxie on the question of the hour out of mere cowardice; the fact was, he had discovered that she was very pensive and depressed, and as he knew of only one thing which was likely to have produced such a condition, he felt that this sorrow was of a sacred nature, and to disturb it by introducing so frivolous a subject as courting seemed to him a sort of sacrilege.  Consequently, in spite of his repeated promises to Sam, he had neglected his part of the business, and even now was no more willing to discharge it than he had ever been.  He determined, therefore, to follow his own devices, and try his hand first of all with Ben.

    It was some days before Jabe found an opportunity that suited him, and Sam was getting out of all patience.  On the third Sunday after the arrival of the Australian letter, however, he stayed at home from Sunday school; and knowing that Ben as librarian would be going late, he lay in wait for him, and as soon as he saw him coming up the "broo" stepped to the front door and beckoned the young fellow into the house.  Ben came somewhat sheepishly; and as the clogger looked sternness itself, the youth stopped on the doormat, and asked somewhat sulkily what he wanted.

    "Shut that dur an' Aw'll tell thi."

    Ben did as he was told, and as he came forward Jabe pointed without speaking to a chair.  The clogger puffed out two or three great clouds of smoke, and then, removing the pipe from his mouth and looking sternly at Ben, he said in tones of serious but not angry expostulation, "Doesn't thaa know az it's wrung to goa flirting an' sniffing efther young wenches?"

    "Wrung?  Whey is it wrung?"  And Ben began to look defiant.

    "Whey?  'Cause it fills ther yeds wi' aw mak o' rubbitch an' breiks ther herts, that's whey."  And then, after a short pause, he went on, "'Specially when yur nobbut gammonin'."

    "Gammonin'?  Bur Aw'm no gammonin'!  Aw meean it gradely."

    And Jabe leaned indolently back in his chair, and murmured, "Ay, Aw've yerd that tale afoor."

    "Bur Aw am, Aw tell yo'.  Aw meean it gradely."

    A long pause followed, during which the clogger had the air of a man who would like to believe what he had heard, but his knowledge of the wiles of human nature made it impossible.  Meanwhile, young Ben was feeling his courage rise, and getting prepared for a serious tussle.

    At length Jabe looked round, and eyed Ben over very curiously, and presently he asked, "Does tha' meean t' say az tha' wants t' wed aar Doxie?"


"Does tha' meean t' say az tha' wants t' wed aar Doxie?"

    And Ben, flinging prudence to the winds, answered promptly, "Well, yo' gi' me th' chonce, an' you'll see."

    Jabe shook his head slowly, as if to say that he had heard too many declarations of that kind to be deceived by them; but presently, after another long pause, he said musingly, "Well, tha' wur allis a dacent lad, Ben, that's reet enuff"; and then he hesitated in most artistic pretence of wavering.

    But the young lover had another remembrance just then, and so, with a wry face and a sulky tone, he said, "Wot's th' use a-talkin'?  Hoo winna ha' me."

    Jabe appeared to be so utterly lost in his own meditations that he did not seem to have heard this depressing announcement; and he went on slowly, "Aw dunna want part wi' that wench; bud if hoo hez to goa, tha' happen met as weel have hur as onnyboddy else, for owt Aw know."

    "But hoo winna ha' me, Aw tell yo'; Aw've axed hur."

    Now this was news to Jabe, and for the moment he was tempted to break out on the audacious young wooer; but remembering his cue, he turned with a look of mild surprise, and demanded, "Well, bud tha' hesna been stopped wi' a wench's 'neaw' sureli?  If a young felley wants a wench, and doesna get hur, it's his fawt, not hers."

    "Ay, it's yesey talkin'."  But though his tone was sulky enough, his manner showed that Ben was encouraged.

    The clogger smoked on for a while, and then, dropping his deliberate tone, he leaned forward, and, looking at Ben with a scowl of conviction, cried, "Si thi, Ben, ther's a hunderd paand an' a four-roomed haase for th' chap az weds that wench."

    Ben looked as though he scarcely knew what to either say or do, so presently he lifted his head, and asked, "Well, will yo' put a word in fur me?"

    And Jabe, with a majestic wave of his hand intended as a dismissal, answered, "Naa, Aw'st promise nowt abaat it.  Away wi' thi, an' get thi wark dun."

    That same night Doxie had to listen to a second proposal from the young carpenter.  It was couched in much the same terms as the former one, and consisted mainly of a description of his prospects present and future, with certain obscure hints about other more or less contingent advantages, the results, of course, of his conversation with the clogger.  Doxie listened with most misleading patience; for the fact was, she was so distraught and preoccupied that even an offer of marriage did not greatly interest her.  She was very kind to Ben, yet very decided, refusing even to give him any hope for the future; and he left her feeling much discouraged, and somewhat puzzled, for his doting mother had always taught him to believe that no female at all likely for him would think of refusing him.

    Whilst Ben was struggling with his unpropitious courtship in Beckside, his twin brother Andrew was being exercised in his mind about the same fair girl.  He too had heard of the projected emigration, and was astonished and alarmed to discover how much it disturbed him.  He was exceedingly busy, just then, for the relations between masters and men in the spinning trade were in a somewhat anxious state, and kept him incessantly on the strain.  But day in and day out his thoughts constantly reverted to Doxie, and do what he might he could not escape them.  He had never been in this condition before; he had a strong will, and the instincts and habits of a strong nature; and so far in his life he had found out what he wanted to do, and had done it.  After years of dreaming and working he had obtained what he desired, and was doing the work he most liked; but just when this in itself was more than commonly difficult, he was paralysed in his efforts by most distracting opposition of interests, his heart pulling him one way and his ambition and will the other.

    Andrew's removal to Beckbottom some four and a half years ago had been unexpectedly the turning-point in his life, and his rejection by Jabe when he desired to reunite himself with the Church had assisted the same end.  Beckbottom was a mile or more from the village, and Andrew was always fond of reading; he had therefore dropped into the way of spending his nights at his sister's fireside in the companionship of books, and all the rest had sprung out of that.  As he read anything that interested him and had nobody to guide him, he somehow drifted into the reading of works of history, and from these passed on to modern politics and subjects pertaining to the well-being of the masses of his fellow men.  Coming into contact with several free thinkers, he was led to read somewhat dangerous books; but as the habit of argument had grown with his reading tastes, he soon began to select his authors, and more by luck than anything else drifted into wholesome literary paths.  Then he began to form his own life plans; he taught himself shorthand, and cultivated the art of composition; and though he had by this time entirely lost the habit of going to chapel, he took comparatively long journeys on foot to hear famous public men, and attended nearly every serious lecture he could hear of.  He joined a debating and political club at the Halfpenny Gate; and it was here that he first came into contact with the uncanny Eli.

    Slowly, as the time wore on, Andrew grew up a lonely, thoughtful, and somewhat opinionated young fellow, using every moment of his spare time in careful self-improvement.  About twelve months before the time of which we write, he had joined the Minders' Association, and his abilities, especially of speech, had obtained for him a very prominent position amongst local men; and it was only in the natural order of things that when a vacancy arose he should be appointed to the secretaryship.  Andrew wanted to be a public man, and to be able to influence and lead his fellow-men.  The pursuits in which his fellows sought their happiness had no attractions for him, and he had all the fine scorn of noble but unsophisticated youth for mere money-making.  He was too clear-headed to embrace extreme views, however, and was so cool and self-reliant that he easily commanded attention.  The ardour with which he had pursued his purposes had fortunately left him very little time for getting into mischief, and he came to manhood as free from taint of a serious kind as most young men with far happier surroundings.

    Andrew's attitude towards his relatives perhaps showed his character and strength of mind as much as anything he had yet done.  He did not in the least blame them, but took their suspicions of him as matters of course, and seemed content to wait for the day coming when they would find out what he really was.  Of late his plans had succeeded beyond his best hopes.  He was on the high-road to what he at any rate regarded as success, and, lo! the whole situation was suddenly complicated by the distressing discovery, that against his will in spite of his efforts he was in love with Doxie Dent.  He scoffed at himself, argued with himself, tried to trick himself, but all in vain; and he soon became perfectly well aware that the first opportunity would take him to Beckside to try his luck.

    At last he made up his mind that he would end the matter by a little experiment.  He would go to Beckside the very first opportunity, and perhaps when he actually saw Doxie the longing he felt would be relieved, and he would not want to propose to her; but if even he did, he had such a dreadful character in his native village that she would not accept him, and so the thing would settle itself that way.  He saw clearly enough the miserable weakness of the argument; but what could he do?  And as luck would have it, that very post brought him a letter from Leah inviting him to come and spend the week-end at his old lodgings.  Andrew did not believe in Providence, at any rate not in this particular kind of Providence; but still he allowed himself to think that it was odd that the letter should come just at that juncture, and in a few moments he had settled that he would go down on the Saturday afternoon and see.

    Now Leah, when she heard of Doxie's probable emigration, had at once abandoned all her little plans for bringing her brother and her fair young friend together, and had given herself up to mournful little wonderings as to what she would do when the only female confidante she had was gone.  As the days wore by, however, she was compelled to notice the growing pensiveness of Doxie; and as it continued she could not help suspecting that there must be some reason for her unusual and continued depression.  It did not take long for her to guess that at least it might be an affair of the heart; but she had never seen anything, and Doxie was the soul of openness, so that she was utterly perplexed, and in all her musings and speculations it never occurred to her to connect her brother with the matter.  Then it struck her that Doxie might in reality be regretting going abroad for general reasons; and if so, and she could get Andrew to propose, that might alter everything, and be welcome to Doxie as a means of escape from something she did not care for.  Leah was glad, therefore, when Andrew wrote to say that he would accept her invitation, and her next anxiety was how she could bring the two young folk together.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XVIII.

ANDREW'S PROPOSAL.


ANDREW would probably arrive by the afternoon coach, and so Leah asked her husband to call at the clog-shop and invite Doxie down to tea.  Luke looked a little astonished for the moment; but remembering that the girl would shortly be gone, he consented, and discharged his commission.  But Andrew came in the forenoon, and Leah was afraid that Doxie might have seen him alight in the triangle opposite her home; and if so, she might not come.

    Andrew seemed much the same, only he was restless; and after he had told her the news, he began to be so fidgety that she was afraid he would be going out before Doxie arrived.  Just then, however, Luke came in, and almost immediately started his brother-in-law off, explaining the circumstances connected with what they feared was an impending strike amongst the spinners.  The subject had just been exhausted, and Luke had gone upstairs to dress whilst Andrew sat gazing out of the window in a brown study, when to Leah's delight the door opened, and in came Doxie.  She was dressed in a bright blue frock, and what was known locally as a "pork-pie" hat; and as the day was sharp, she looked very fresh and bonny.  She did not attempt to disguise her pleasure at seeing Andrew, and in a few moments they were deep in an animated discussion about Australia.  Doxie could not conceal her surprise when she found out how much this odd young man knew about the country; and her eagerness was so great that it seemed to infect her informant, and he soon told her very much more about the Southern Continent than everybody else with whom she had talked on the subject.  Presently, however, Doxie remarked that the weather had seemed very threatening as she came along, and she thought that it would be wisest to get home whilst it was fair.  To this, of course, the hospitable Leah could not consent for a moment; and though Andrew did not join in the invitation, Leah observed that he most emphatically looked it, and as Luke came in just then and supported his wife there was nothing for it.  So Doxie took off her hat, thereby awakening in the excited Andrew a fresh gush of secret admiration.

    Over the tea Luke resumed the question of the impending strike; and Doxie listened to Andrew's statements and arguments, until she began to sympathise with the down-trodden workpeople, and presently caught herself wonderingly admiring the zeal with which Andrew had taken up their cause and the ability with which he defended it.
 

Over the tea Luke resumed the question of the impending strike.

    In this way the time passed rapidly; and when at length Doxie discovered that it was nearly seven, she declared she really must go, and got up to put on her hat.

    "I'll go with you, if I may, Miss Doxie, and see you home."  And as Leah ducked her head to conceal a look of gratified surprise, Doxie made a little exclamation of astonishment and deprecation; for of all the times she had visited Beckbottom he had never made such an offer before.

    Surely there never was so long a mile as the one between Beckbottom and the village proved to be on that ever memorable Saturday night, and when Doxie at length did reach home she was in a perfect whirl of bewildering excitement.  The clog-shop council was holding high conclave in the Ingle-nook, and so she had the parlour to herself.  Her hands shook as she lighted the lamp, and she had to turn away from the tell-tale looking-glass lest she should blush at the sight of her face.  She was happy, very happy.  Andrew's proposal had both amazed and frightened her.  And yet, why was she so happy?  She was glad that she had so promptly and firmly refused him; glad that she had been brave enough to remind him that she was a Christian and he was an atheist, and an alien to his own family and a breeder of strife amongst masters and men; glad to remember that even his boldest words had never made her hesitate for a moment.  But, oh! after all, these were but drops; underneath them all was a perfect ocean of thrilling ecstatic delight.  He loved her.  The blissful thought seemed to diffuse itself over her whole body like one great blush.  It would never come to anything, of course; but that was a mere detail.  For a brief ten minutes she had had her fill of life's greatest earthly bliss; and though henceforth it would be only a memory, it would be life's richest memory, and the little scene at Peggy's stile would be the last to fade out of her mind.  She realised that she could go to Australia now contentedly; she could even part from her beloved uncle; she could go anywhere and bear anything, so long as she had the sweet companionship of this most cherished recollection.

    What a frank, sturdy, whole-hearted proposal Andrew's had been, and how different from the petty, prudential arguments of his brother!  He had spoken only of his love, strong, sweet, manly love, all blended and beautified with delicately hinted but subtle and intoxicating flattery of herself.  Oh! she would never hear anything half so sweet again, and she did not want to.  And then a soft light stole into her eyes and a smile played round her mobile mouth as she recalled Andrew's bold, masterful, almost haughty defiance of her, and her refusal.  He would have her, he would have her, and nothing should stop him!

    Whilst Doxie was musing thus by the parlour fire, Andrew was returning to Beckbottom with very different feelings.  He was not surprised that he had been refused, neither was he troubled by the reasons she had given.  He had not noticed her manner sufficiently to discover what effect his avowal had had upon her; he simply took her words as she had uttered them, and accepted them as quite natural, and in fact inevitable.  One change, however, he soon perceived within himself.  Hitherto he had been conscious of very divided feelings, and had sought reasons for not attempting the task he had just performed; now he was aware that all hesitation and conflict had ceased, and that there was nothing to think of or live for but to get Doxie Dent.  When he got to the cottage, Leah did not know what to think about him.  He was certainly easier and more natural; but if he had been successful he took his conquest very tamely, and if he had failed he was most aggravatingly complacent.  During the evening and next day she made all sorts of little openings; but he never so much as mentioned Doxie's name, and it was only when he stayed in on Sunday evening that she concluded it had not been settled in the way she wished it.

    When Luke had gone to chapel, Andrew asked for the loan of a pen and some writing-paper, and was soon engaged on what appeared to be a long and important letter.  When at last he had finished, he raised his head, and, glancing at his sister, he said, "Leah, dust know wot?"

    "Wot?"

    "Aw'm puttin' up ta Doxie."

    "Andrew!"

    "Aw am!  Whey not?"

    "Hey, lad, hast furgetten az hoo's gooin' t' Australy?"

    "Well, Aw can goo ta Australy an' fotch her; Aw con live theer tew, if hoo winna cum back."

    Leah dropped into a chair, and cried in a tone of serious surprise, "Hey, lad, hoo'll niver have thee."

    "Then Aw'll have her; but whey winna hoo?"

    Leah looked at her brother, and slowly shook her head in sorrowful deprecation; but before she could answer, Andrew burst out again, "Aw'll have her!  Aw'll fotch her fro' Australy or onywhere else, an' nobody shall stop me!"

    "Bud, Andy lad, think wot tha' art an' wot tha' does; hoo'll niver think o' weddin' wi' a chap loike thee—hoo darna."

    "Dew!  Wot dew Aw dew?  Si thi, Leah, that wench hez a warm heart an' plenty o' pluck; an' when Aw tell her haa workin' folk's sufferin' an' wot they han ta put up wi', an' haa the'r' trodden on, hoo'll be wur nor me, that's wot hoo'll be."

    Leah could not help acknowledging this; but there was another and more serious difficulty to face, and so after a few moments' reflection she said, "Bud, Andy, tha'r't a athe—a—a no religious."

    Now for the first time the taunt of atheist seemed to sting Andrew.  He sprang to his feet, his lip curled scornfully, and his square bold chin stood out almost impudently.  "That's it!" he cried; and true to his odd habit of dropping his dialect when excited, he went on, "Because I don't think as they think, and talk as they talk, and worship as they worship, I'm an atheist; because I have enquired for myself, and read and thought and acted for myself, I'm an atheist.  Well, let me be an atheist; I'm glad she thinks I am one.  I've all the more to do and all the harder to fight; but I'll have her, Leah, I'll have her, in spite of them all."


"Leah, I'll have her, in spite of them all."


    Poor Leah was simply overpowered by this torrent.  She sat looking at her excited brother with wondering sadness; then, as she recalled the stormy days of her own courtship, she felt inclined to think that Andrew actually would carry his point, but how was altogether beyond her.  At last, after watching him sideways for a moment, she said with pondering, hesitant manner, "If tha'd cum back to thi wheels an' goo to th' chappil, Aw, believe tha could get her."

    A smile played for a moment round the corners of Andrew's mouth, and with a wise shake of the head he answered, "That 'ud be tew yessay a way, wench; Aw mun try summat harder."  He added, after a momentary hesitation, "An' streighter"; and then he went out to post his letter.

    The letter was of course intended for Doxie but as Andrew had forgotten that there was no Sunday post at the village, it was Tuesday morning before she received it.  Her uncle brought it to her as she was washing up the breakfast pots, and there were curiosity and surprise in his eyes.  He handed it to her, however, without a word, and Doxie flushed guiltily as she took it.  She put the missive down on the little scullery window-sill, and in a tumult of varied emotions finished her work; then she hurriedly dried her hands, snatched up the letter, and ran breathlessly upstairs into her own bedroom.  What a fine, bold, characteristic hand it was! and how glad she felt that there were no silly dead flowers or verses of poetry in it!  She looked it over two or three times before she began to read; and when she did commence her heart beat so, and her eyes went so dim, that it seemed as if she never would master the first page.  Then she quieted herself, and read, read every word, and commenced at the beginning and read again; and at last, after a third eager perusal, she heaved a soft, long sigh.

    It was closely and yet clearly written, and was a long, earnest plea for a reconsideration of her former decision.  There was not a weak or fulsome word in it, except it might be a few burning sentences about herself.  Certainly she now saw that she was not going to get rid of this strange lover easily, and she was shocked to find how greatly that reflection pleased her.  Even now he did not deal with the objections she had so frankly named to him; it was simply a full, outspoken enlargement of his former proposal, and a plea for at least a trial.  Well, that was the sort of offer no girl need be ashamed to receive; and the man who made it was no common lover.  The letter closed with a request that she would at any rate give him one more chance of speaking for himself, and suggested that they should meet on the following suggested Saturday evening at seven at the old spot.

    It was a considerable time before Doxie could think clearly; and when she tried, it seemed so very difficult to decide which of the many perplexing points raised in the letter she should consider first.  What was she to do?  Was it not her duty, whatever her private feelings might be, to stop the thing at once and for ever?  What would her uncle think of her if he ever knew? and how could she deceive him by concealment?  Would it not be wicked to entertain even for a moment the possibility of accepting Andrew? and therefore was she not already wicked for feeling as she did?  Would it be right to answer the letter at all? and if she did so, would it be right to meet him when she knew she could only say one thing, to him?  It was a long, hard struggle; but at last she was resolved.  Yes, she would answer the letter, and she would give Andrew one more chance; but only on the understanding with herself that she was to use the opportunity to end the matter once and for all.  By this means she would not have to reproach herself that she had been unkind to her wooer or seemed to undervalue the beautiful love he offered her.

    It was a dangerous course she was taking but Doxie had as much self-reliance in her way as her lover, and she did not doubt that she would do what she had decided she ought to do.

    So the days wore slowly by, and on the following Saturday evening Doxie set out to meet Andrew.  There was a young moon, and as soon as she got into the field where the trysting place was she observed that Andrew was already there, and upon seeing her had started to meet her.  Her heart came into her mouth, and the hand she gave to her lover shook.

    Andrew, though white about the lips, was outwardly quite calm, and he opened the conversation by suggesting that as the ground was damp they should not stand but walk along the cross-footpath which led towards Wardle Hill.


――――♦――――

 
CHAPTER XIX.

DOXIE'S SECRET.


DOXIE acquiesced in Andrew's proposal in silence, and was just about to commence the little speech she had so carefully prepared when he surprised her by launching forth upon a long description of the work in which he was engaged and which was then making him very anxious.  At any other time Doxie would have made a good listener, but to-night she was so absorbed that his lengthy explanations almost wearied her.  Presently, however, he came to the matter that had brought them together, and pleaded his cause with only too much effect.  He was aware that they could not in any case be married for a long, long time; yet he was willing to wait.  He made very light indeed of the Australian aspect of the case, and assured her that he would come out to her whenever they might decide to marry; and if, on the other hand, she remained in England, he would never ask her to leave her uncle so long as he lived, or at any rate until she herself desired it.  He was wonderfully persuasive, and if Doxie had allowed herself to listen and to think he might have carried his point; but when at last he paused, she told him with gentle frankness that what he proposed was utterly impossible, and he must not think of it again.  But he was not to be shaken off; he plunged, as if stimulated and encouraged by what she had said, into a passionate declaration of his consuming love for her, and appealed, in tones that became at times tremulous in their emotional intensity, that she would at least give him time.  For the second time, though her lips quivered and her voice shook, she repeated her former resolution; and, to her surprise and alarm, he stood there looking at her with hungry, desperate eyes, yet never spoke.  Then he moved a little towards her, and she became afraid that in another moment he would clasp her in his arms; but he remained where he was until the silence grew very embarrassing.  "I am so sorry," stammered Doxie.  "I always liked you, Andrew; and if I had had any idea you thought of me like this, I would have stopped you."  And Andrew stood there, with the moon on his white face, and never answered a word.


"I am so sorry," stammered Doxie.

    Doxie was alarmed, and took a step nearer to him.  "Don't look like that, Andy.  It is best so.  I am sure I shall always―― Andrew, are you ill?" and as this exclamation escaped her she swayed forward until she had almost touched him; and the next moment he had flung his arms around her, clasped her to his beating heart, and was pressing his lips upon her burning cheeks.  It was only for an instant, however, for the next moment he had thrust her away, and with a cry that rang in Doxie's ears for days he turned and fled, leaving her standing alone.

    When Andrew came to himself, and was able to look upon what he had done with steady eyes, he was more satisfied with himself than at first he felt inclined to be.  In that passionate moment during which he had held Doxie in his arms he had felt that she was his: her heart was his whatever her judgment might be; but he had put her away so suddenly out of pride.  He was more resolved than ever to have her, yet he would not have her swept into his arms by the rush of a great emotion which she might easily some day regret; when she came to him it should be deliberately, or at any rate of her own free will: so, although the kiss still tingled in his blood and stirred his very soul, he was disposed to commend himself that in that supreme moment he had not pressed her into a premature decision.  No; his victory should be complete and unalloyed, however long he had to wait for it.

    As for Doxie, she fled home at the top of her speed, after being so ungallantly left in the moonlight, and hastening to her own room flung herself upon her bed in a passion of tears.  Every other feeling of her heart had for the time melted into one great flood of pity for Andrew, and she felt that nothing would meet the awful emergency, and nothing would adequately relieve the pressure on her own heart, but just for one brief blissful moment to tell herself that she loved him.  But she dare not, and the longer she thought of it the more sure she was that she dare not.  She must not; at any cost the longing must be stifled within her, and she must at once commence the weary work of schooling herself to endurance.  She grew quieter after a while, and felt peevish and fretful.  She was indignant that Andrew should be so misunderstood and maligned, and was angry with everybody, herself included, for thinking so ill of him.  He was an injured, persecuted young man, and henceforth the least she could do would be to try to make others understand him and admire him as she did.  And yet how could she do this without revealing her secret?  Secret?  Yes, it was a secret; and she, who hated everything disingenuous with all her heart, now had something she must hide.

    During the next three weeks Doxie's anxieties seemed to increase rather than otherwise.  She had, of course, to maintain her ordinary brightness of manner in order to avert suspicion, and the effort irritated her and made her feel mean; and then, though she told herself she hoped he would not write to her again, she was disappointed when no letter came for several days from Andrew.  When one did arrive, however, she was alarmed at the joy it gave her, and wondered again and again how it was that a particular bit of information it contained gave her so much satisfaction.  Andrew informed her that he had received an offer of a place on the staff of a new reform journal just started in Manchester, the rate of remuneration being much in excess of what he was at present receiving; and he explained that though he should prefer very much a literary life, yet he could not think of leaving his fellow-workmen at so serious a crisis as that which they had now reached.  Doxie did not answer the letter; but she was very proud of it, and thought much of the factory-lad who was now so much sought after.  Then she remembered that she had never seen any of Andrew's writings; and so, by a number of innocent little manoeuvres, she got Sam Speck to obtain the present and then the back numbers of the paper containing "The Lamplighter's" contributions.  By the time she had read them all she had become almost a more enthusiastic sympathiser with the working classes than Andrew was himself, and her heart glowed with pride to think that he was engaged in trying to help and uplift them.  Then she received a written offer of marriage from the pertinacious Ben junior, containing an enlarged summary of the many worldly advantages he had to offer her, and concluding with a few vague words about a possible rival, which made Doxie very uneasy.  And when she had nothing else to disturb her, she was fighting over and over again the terrible battle between her religion and her affections.  Although her conversion had been, according to local standards, somewhat irregular, Doxie was a whole-hearted and earnest young Christian, and the conflict between love and duty assumed very acute forms to her; but when she could settle the point no other way, she invariably fell back on her oft repeated decision that, however long she lived and however many offers she had, she could never, never entertain any other.

    On the third week, however, a diversion occurred in the shape of the expected and fateful letter from Australia, and its earliest effect was to give Doxie her first glimpse of her father's real character.  As usual, the epistle was long and diffuse, and it was only in the closing lines that the question they were all so anxiously waiting the settlement of was touched upon.  As if it had been a minor subject which had been crowded out of his mind in writing about more important things, Thomas Dent said that he was doing exceptionally well just then, and that, instead of sending money out for them to join him, he thought he would return himself very soon.  "But more next time."

    The news was somewhat of a shock to her; and when she perceived that her mother was not surprised at the easy way her father had treated what was to them a very anxious matter, she seemed to feel as if she had lost something, and that one of her idols had been stolen.  Before she had got far in her meditations, however, it struck her that she was in danger of disloyalty and even injustice to her distant parent; and she checked herself all the more promptly because she could only admit that the change his letter wrought in her prospects was a very acceptable one.  Glad!  She was more than glad, because, though it would make no difference to her relations with Andrew, it would enable her to watch his career, and see the issue of the hazardous course of life upon which he had entered.

    Doxie, went about her occupations in these melancholy days in a very listless and pensive condition, except that she was always careful to appear as lively as possible before her uncle, who was quick to notice the slightest change in her.  In spite of herself, however, she became conscious in a dim sort of way that some matter of more than ordinary interest was occupying the thoughts and exciting the tongues of her uncle and his friends; and one night upon her return from Beckbottom she discovered that the rain, which had been very heavy in the early part of that day, had forced its way through the clog-shop roof, and that Jabe and his cronies had taken refuge in the parlour.  Three churchwardens and two or three ordinary pipes were filling the room with smoke, and the clogger, with his small-print spectacles on, was holding a newspaper in his hand and alternately reading from it, and breaking off to make comments.  Pursing out his lips and knitting his brows, and accompanying his reading with jerky movements of the right hand, he read: "'Possessed of a dangerous facility of speech, a perverted and riotous imagination, and a confidence born of densest ignorance――'" But here the clogger broke off, and, turning to the company, he cried, "By gow, lads! that's a hot 'un!" and then he proceeded: "'densest ignorance, this person, not yet twenty-two years of age, is to be allowed to permanently embitter the hitherto cordial relationships existing between masters and workpeople, and paralyse the trade of the whole district, thus bringing suffering and poverty into hundreds of homes and sending our trade into foreign markets.'"

    As Jabe finished this extract he laid the paper deliberately down on his knee, and looked round on the company with fierce sternness, as though he would demand who could answer such terrible charges.  Some of them dropped their eyes and gazed solemnly into the fire, whilst the rest slowly wagged their heads.  After a pregnant silence, the clogger leaned forward, and, smiting the table with grimmest emphasis, glared at Nathan and demanded, "Dust know wot Aw'd dew wi' wastrils loike that?"  Nathan shook his head in a slow, wondering way, as if he wished to convey the idea that he doubted whether even Jabe could devise a punishment sufficiently severe.

    But Jabe was not to have it all his own way; for Sam Speck, staring hard at the fire, shook his head in a deprecating, pondering way, and said slowly, "He's ter'ble cliver tew."

    "Cliver!  Ay, an' soa is owd Scratch cliver!"

    Jethro the knocker-up here gave some signs of uneasiness, and as two or three turned to look at him he said thoughtfully, "He byets aw az iver Aw yerd for talkin'."

    But Sam was evidently getting steam up again, and in a moment he burst out indignantly, "Well, wot mun poor fowk dew?  Sumbri mun speik up fur 'em, surcli!"

    Just as Jabe was taking the pipe out of his mouth to hurl at the daring Sam an annihilating reply, Jonas Tatlock, usually a silent member of the circle, broke in.  Giving the paper which had suggested this discussion, and which now lay at the clogger's feet, a vicious little kick, he said impressively, "That papper's ne'er spokken a word fur workin' men sin' Aw know'd it, an' Aw've ta'n it in iver sin' it wur started"; and before the now irritated Jabe could get in a word Jethro rose to his feet, and, shaking his fist at the clogger, cried, "Th' lad's reet! an' God bless him!  He's th' cliverest bit o' stuff az Becksoide's iver turnt aat, that's wot he is."

    Doxie could have hugged the knocker-up for that speech, for she was certain by this time that they were discussing her lover; but there was a general movement homewards, and when all had departed except Sam Speck Doxie picked up the paper, and, glancing at it, discovered it was the old Duxbury Adveritiser, a slow, wealthy old country journal, which had long been her uncle's chief literary oracle, but which, as she was well aware, always took the side of the employers.

    "Was it Andrew Barber you were talkin' about, uncle?" she asked, keeping a tight rein upon herself and putting on the kettle for supper.

    Jabe gave his head an impatient and disgusted jerk, and answered, "Ay, wot else?"

    Doxie balanced the kettle more firmly on the coals, and then said, "What has he been doing now?"

    "Doing!  He's left honest wark, an' goos abaat stirrin' up bad blood between poor folk an' ther betters, that's wot he's doin', the wastril! ' "

    This last epithet stung Doxie, and she felt she was losing self-control; but after a little pause she said, "That's what the Advertiser says about Mr. Bright and Mr. Cobden, isn't it?"

    Jabe had not given any particular heed to his niece's remarks up to this point; but her last words hit him hard, for the men she named were her uncle's political idols.  So, roused at length by this severe home-thrust, he cried gruffly, "Aw tell yo' he's a wastril, a lazy, lyin', scow-bankin' young jackanapes, that's wot he is!" and then, as if to dismiss the subject, he jerked his head, and said with a fine contempt for women's knowledge of such matters, "Wot dun yo' know abaat it?"

    "Know!" and Doxie's prudence suddenly took to itself wings, and she went on indignantly, "I know that poor people are suffering, that working men are not getting their due, and that Andrew is trying to help them to better things.  I think it's noble, it's grand, and I'd be the proudest girl in Lancashire if he were my—brother."

    Now, the hesitation which suddenly came upon Doxie at the most impassioned part of her brave little speech had two causes: first, she became suddenly very much afraid of using the wrong word; and, secondly, she all at once discovered that Sam, whom she had forgotten in her excitement, was eying her over with a curious, enquiring stare.  Luckily, however, Jabe had perceived nothing suspicious in her impulsive little outbreak, and so, as she deftly covered her retreat by asking Sam to stay to supper, she escaped further trial, and was glad to allow the conversation to drift into other channels.



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