The Coming of the Preachers (I)
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CHAPTER I.

A DANGEROUS FLIRTATION


"OH, plague on't!  I never shall o'er-master it—never!"  And the fiddle slipped from under her dimpled chin and dropped to her side, whilst she sank into an elbow-chair, raised her black brows, and puckered her forehead, a picture of pretty, half-earnest despair.

    And her teacher, standing at her side with a piece of resin between his fingers, looked down upon her with hungry eyes.  Alas! that was all he could ever do when, as now, he was able to watch her unnoticed; for though he was a very wise and sober young man, who prided himself much upon his self-control, he lost nerve and sense and everything else in the presence of this tantalising young beauty.

    And she knew it, and played upon it, and did as she liked with him, and then sent him from her presence to grind his teeth and teach himself to hate her; for though he was only her uncles' apprentice, just out of his time, and she was an heiress in her own right and the next owner of the business, and had been to London and even to the Bath Wells, he felt himself as good as she was and far cleverer; but at the same time he knew only too well that she would scorn a mere journeyman, and was as ambitious in her way as he was in his.  Oh for a peep into that incomprehensible little heart!

    They had grown up together.  From the first week of his apprenticeship he had been her slave; he had made and repaired her "babies" (dolls), and smuggled gingerbread animals for her from the, to her, forbidden fair.  When she was quite big he had carried her home from local routs, lest she should wet her dainty slippers in the rutty, muddy lanes, and had compromised his own conscience by surreptitiously purchasing for her contraband literature from the travelling chapmen.  Later still he had bought, out of his scanty earnings, that wonderful new story book about a certain Mr. Robinson Crusoe, and in the long winter evenings, when her uncles were at the Hanover Arms, he had sat in the tall-backed chair in the parlour and read to her.

    Even after that ever-memorable visit to the capital she had, after a while, returned to the old intimacy, though now, alas! it was often interrupted by temporary, though very irritating, assumptions of superiority, with quite as sudden and embarrassing lapses into the old affectionateness.  But for the last two years they had been drifting further and further apart, for she was more frequently "my lady," and he, warned by repeated snubs, was learning to know his place.

    Recently, however, after an unusually lengthy fit of loftiness, occasioned, he suspected, by the attentions of a certain young lieutenant home for a visit, she had become suddenly very complacent, and had finally cajoled him into teaching her to play on the fiddle, and this was her fourth lesson.

    Hitherto the practices had been to Mark Rawson periods of delicious misery, for, for the first time in his life, he had found "young mistress" a dull scholar.  She was clever, that he knew, and could learn anything she gave her mind to, having acquired quite a local reputation for her skill upon the harpsichord.  But upon his beloved violin she either could not or would not make any progress, and so he was tortured with the suspicion that she was only using the instrument as a means of bringing them together.  But if so, why?

    Was she changing her mind about him now that he was free of his apprenticeship and a full journeyman? or was she only consoling herself with him because of the defection of the officer?  He would be no man's stopgap!  Even this bewitching creature should not make him forget what was due to himself.  He was not her equal quite, but he was a man, and free and ambitious, and she should not play with him though she were ten times as enslaving as she was.

    These and many like thoughts were racing through his brain as he stood looking down upon his fair pupil.

    "Nay, mistress, try again.  'Twas but that the fingering was wrong," he said at length, keeping the utmost restraint upon himself as he spoke.

    "Fingers!  My fingers are cobbler's thumbs, methinks"; and, passing her fiddle-bow into the left hand, she held out the other with a gesture of mock disgust, and displayed a dainty little thumb and four pink fingers, a little too short for correct shape, but soft and tender as a babe's.

    Mark gazed at the gleaming digits and the slim wrist and round little arm, bare to the elbows, and felt the teacher in him giving way to the man.

    "Naught's amiss wi' the fingers," he said a little constrainedly.  "Look at mine," and he stretched out a strong, sinewy palm and held it within a few inches of hers.

    "Oh, la! what a monster!" and with a gay little laugh she rose to her feet and put her hand close to his to compare them; in the comparison she touched his thumb with hers, and it thrilled him to the toes.  Then she dropped her fiddle-bow and held up her other hand, to show that it would take both hers to equal his, and as she touched him again Mark had to fight with a mighty impulse to take the two pink-and-white morsels in his grasp.  In his struggle the tortured teacher sighed, which brought a quick glance from the fair tormentor, and, letting her hands fall to her side, she said in meek, almost apologetic tones:

    "Let me try but once again," and turned and picked up her instrument.  For several bars he heard the lesson faithfully reproduced, and then, just as he was glancing round the room, still intent upon the music, there came a rasping discord and a petulant cry of despair from the pupil.

    "The wrong finger again! the wrong finger, mistress!" he cried, raising his hands in deprecation.

    "Well, well, I did as I was told.  Look there!" and she came close to him and showed him her finger still pressed on the string.

    "Ah, but t'other finger, mistress."

    "How?  That?"

    "Nay, nay! the other, the third.  Ah! but not there!"

    Two or three times she changed her fingers, but still they were not satisfactory.

    "Why, do it thyself; put the fingers on the place thyself—put them on.  Thou art not afeared to touch them!"

    And Mark bent over and took the fingers in his and adjusted them to their places, whilst his own tingled, and he felt he was blushing like a girl.  It took a long time to arrange so small a matter, for the lady either could not or would not understand, and at length he put his hand under hers, as it clasped the neck of the instrument, and, bending his finger over the strings, showed her exactly how each finger was to be placed.  The instruction was carefully given, and the fair pupil showed such innocent intelligence and apparent desire to learn that all Mark's doubts of her melted away, and as she began gently to draw her hands from under his, prudence and pride, and all things else, vanished; and, grasping the little fingers in his, he raised them hastily to his lips and kissed them passionately.

    The fiddle slipped down upon a lambskin rug at her feet, and Mark, glad to hide for a moment his burning face, stooped down and picked it up.  He dare not look in his mistress's face, and if he had done he would have been no wiser, for her own feelings were so divided at the moment that her only safety lay in keeping expression out of it.  But now he was raising his eyes to hers, and so, to cover her thoughts, she burst out mockingly:

    "So, so! our new journeyman is amorous!  But I had forgot, he is free now."

    Mark winced at the cutting double meaning she put into her "free," and, with dropped head and sullen Dutch courage, he muttered:

    "I am not free, mistress."

    "Not?  How?  Why this finger bussing, then?  Am I a cook-maid or a sewing-woman?"

    Under this cruel cut Mark's great frame quivered in every limb, but the long-pent-up feelings of his heart were now too near his lips to be checked even by this, and so, with a painful effort at self-control, he clenched his hands together, and said:

    "Mistress, for my great liberty I humbly crave your pardon.  I could have worshipped you and loved you, and held my peace, but you have not let me!  You have encouraged me, and then flouted me.  You have been betimes kindly cruel and cruelly kind.  You have deceived me, you have tempted me; but now, by the great God, you shall hear me!  I love you, and I hate myself for loving you.  You have unmanned me; you have humbled and enslaved me; you have bewitched me; but were I to become your equal to-day, were you the only woman left in Britain, I would never, never ask you to wed me!"

    She was below the medium height, but as she drew herself up and lifted her great brown eyes to his she looked a very empress.  She brushed back an unruly lock of hair with imperious gesture, her lip curled haughtily, her bosom heaved under her lace tucker, and she was just about to fling at him an annihilating retort, when a sudden change swept over her, tears rushed into her eyes, her whole body collapsed, and she would have sunk helplessly to the floor if he had not caught her in his arms.

    "Oh, what have I done? what have I done?" he cried distractedly.  But the limp little figure on his left arm sobbed on.  "Forgive me, dear mistress! oh, forgive me, I—I— Oh, heavens! the master!"

    In the side of the room there was a door leading into the shop, in the upper panel of this door was a small window, and as Mark lifted his head he caught sight of a round snub nose and two chubby cheeks, surmounted by a pair of rolling grey eyes, flattened against the glass.

    The hitherto limp and sobbing maiden recovered herself with startling suddenness, and with a sharp, scared cry rushed into the extreme corner of the room, and darted off upstairs.  Mark drew himself together and turned toward the door.  The jolly face had disappeared from the window and the latch of the door rattled a little significantly.  Then there came a series of hardly forced little coughs, followed by another movement of the "sneck," the door opened slowly, and in came the junior member of the firm with whom Mark had just finished his apprenticeship.

    He was a broad-set, middle-sized, comfortable-looking sort of man, who only wanted a little more colour to suggest the old English country squire.  His brown wig was rather carelessly put on, and showed some tags of red hair under its edges.  He wore a long-waisted, ample-skirted blue coat without the heavy collar that was then "the mode," an equally large waistcoat plentifully sprinkled with snuff, blue breeches and stockings, and buckled shoes.  He sauntered with slow, shy, apologetic manner into the parlour, blowing the air of an old roundel through his still well-preserved teeth, and ostentatiously ignoring the prostrate violin and the disarranged furniture.  Once or twice he pursed out his lips and gazed up at the dark oak joists above his head, and finally pulled out an enormous brass box of snuff, and helped himself.

    Mark, meanwhile, was trying to recover himself.  He had picked up the fiddle and hung it upon a nail between the window and the cupboard, pushed away the elbow-chair so recently occupied by his mistress, and was stooping down to poke the wood and turf fire when Mr. Ebenezer turned to him, and, with an air of sudden confidence, put his hand on his shoulder; and whilst Mark was wincing in anticipation of some mild request for an explanation of the recent scene, he said in low, serious tones:

    "Mark boy, I've bottomed the Muggletonians."

    Mark, on whose face relief and amusement were struggling together, replied with an overdone simulation of interest

    "Ah! truly! that is good hearing, sir."

    Mr. Ebenezer took another pinch of snuff, stared hard and musingly at his employee, and then, as the puckers of a stern conviction gathered on his brow, he said:

    "Mark, Muggletonianism is balderdash!"

    "Worse than the Aminadabs, sir?"

    "Aminadabs!"  And here Mr. Ebenezer's thoughts seemed suddenly to take a wider range.  "Mark boy, the Aminadabs are sly and slow, but, rabbit them! they are mighty sure.  Brag is a good dog, but Holdfast is better.  'Fast bind, fast find,' that's the Dabs, boy!—that's the Dabs!"

    "'Tis you for nosing out heresy, sir," murmured Mark admiringly.

    "Heresy!  Ah, that minds me," and putting down his snuff-box on the table near him, he dived into the capacious left-hand pocket of his coat, and produced two or three tracts evidently fresh from the printer's, and in a few moments he and Mark were deeply engrossed in discussing the titles; for in 1744 theological pamphlet literature was very abundant, and, of course, very popular.

    The tracts, with their long, involved, and bellicose titles, proved very interesting to one, at least, of the men who were examining them; but just as Mr. Ebenezer had got engrossed in a description of the bearings of a very fierce controversy with which one of them was connected, the door leading from the shop opened again, and in stepped Mr. Josephus, the senior partner of the firm, and Mark was glad of an excuse to retire.

    With a respectful salutation to the newcomer, he slipped away, and was soon standing in the little back office with an account-book opened before him.  Once and again he dipped his quill into the ink-pot, but on each occasion he paused, pen in air, and stood staring hard and absently over the screen into the shop.

    He was not exactly handsome, though his face was square and clean-cut, and had an air of strength about it, but there was a restlessness in his eyes and a tightness about the lips that suggested constant internal conflict, and made those who watched him uncomfortable.  His masters were hatters, and had a slow, old-fashioned business in the equally slow and steady-going market town of Helsham, in the north Midlands.  They were comfortably off and lived simply, and had both reached that period of life when men want to carry things easily.

    Consequently, when, about two years before the time of which we now speak, they had ascertained by actual testing that their apprentice was a smart, trustworthy lad, they had brought him out of the cellar workshop, and had placed him in the office, and, in course of time, he had come to have the whole of the business of the firm in his hands, and had, with the assistance of a salesman, set his masters at liberty to pursue their own hobbies.  For these two old gentlemen were both faddists in their way.  Ebenezer, as we have seen, was a theologian, though of a somewhat eccentric order, and Josephus was a politician and a town councillor.

    Their niece was also their ward, and though she had been an alarming addition to the bachelor family when first she arrived, she not only easily established herself, but very soon became a wilful tyrant, whose whims they would never cross themselves nor allow any one else to cross if they could prevent them.  She was, in a small way, an heiress, and as she grew to womanhood had developed a somewhat striking beauty.

    That she must marry well the two old fogies had long since settled, though they lived in painful uneasiness under the consciousness that when it came to matrimony she would not be likely to consult their wishes, except they should happen to coincide with her own.  But they had a duty to perform to their brother's child, and in a dull sort of way they intended to do it.

    And all this was known full well by their decently enfranchised apprentice, and provided matter for meditation to him as he stood reflecting in the little back office.  He was not likely to forget that he had become indispensable to his masters, and that they could not carry on without him, neither did he overlook the fact that tradesmen's daughters had sometimes been known to marry their father's apprentices.

    Overlook it?  That was one of the things that complicated the situation.  It was one of the stalest of stale jokes amongst apprentices and young journeymen, and the subject of chaff in every pothouse frequented by their class in the country.  Hadn't he himself been teased about it times without count?  Was it not the most popular theme of the chapbooks and ballads hawked and sung at country fairs?  The thing had become a sort of scandal, and a very sore point with all self-respecting tradesmen; so much so that he knew it would make one of his greatest difficulties, and he smiled bitterly as he imagined the scorn with which the proud young beauty, before whom he had just bemoaned himself, would receive any such idea.

    In any case he would have had a difficult task, requiring infinite care and long patience, and now, behold! he had spoilt his chance for ever by losing control of himself and estranging his mistress, perhaps permanently.  But the bitterest thought of all to this proud, sensitive fellow was that he had abased himself in his own eyes.  He had allowed passion and pride to carry him away, and stood condemned at the bar of his own conscience.

    Why was it that she had such power to unman him and make him do what both self-interest and self-respect forbade?  He had acted like a baby, like an undisciplined cur; and as he thought of it he jammed the feather end of his quill into his mouth, and gnawed at it in bitterest self-reproach.


 
CHAPTER II.

FEMININE DIPLOMACY


WHILST young Mark was grinding his teeth and inwardly cursing his own impetuous folly and pride in the shop-office, his two masters were fidgeting about in the parlour, looking for signs of the evening meal.  Mr. Josephus, who was tall and thin, was dressed like his brother, except that he wore a somewhat imposing bag-wig, and the three-cornered hat he took off as he entered was more severely cocked, as became a man of his public pretensions.  The room they occupied was a long, narrow apartment with a mullioned window of exceptional width opposite the shop door.  It was wainscoted all round, and at one end was a wide fireplace with a florid Queen Anne grate, whilst at the opposite one was a shelf-rack containing pots of delph-ware and a few articles in china, and on the lowest shelf a row of pewter plates.

    Besides the door into the shop there was one near the window that led down into the cellar kitchen, and another at the end of the pot-rack that led to the upstairs rooms.  The furniture was for the most part heavy and ugly, and included several stiff, high-backed chairs and an uninviting settee.

    Mr. Josephus grew impatient, and stamped on the oak floor under his feet as a signal to the maid to bring up the food.  Mr. Ebenezer was evidently uneasy also, but for a different reason.  He lifted his wig and scratched underneath it, took out his snuff-box, and commenced to polish it on the knee of his breeches, and glanced restlessly every moment or two in the direction of the door through which his niece had so recently disappeared.

    Presently Kerry, the maid, a stout, middle-aged woman, deeply pock-marked and covered with perspiration, came in with an aggrieved air and began to place the pewter plates on the table, and at the same instant a step was heard overhead, and a moment later the young mistress appeared.  She looked none the worse for her fit of crying, and though she shot a quick, inquiring glance at Uncle Ebenezer, she put on a bright look and an easy manner, and drew up to the table.

    "Kerry, you draggletail! your hair's all a tousle.  How oft shall I tell you not to come before your masters i' that way?  Will you never be aught but a slut?"

    "Slut I — fatkins!" and poor Kerry was almost crying in her indignation.  "Is't not the brew-day an' the fair-week? and hesn't the racketing Peter been wi' the small coal, an' me wi' me pore head lifting and lurchin' wi' the megrims?"

    Mr. Ebenezer lifted his head with sudden interest.

    "What, woman! again?  Hast lost the hemlock out of thy shoe?  Plague take thee!  I'll ha' thee blistered!  But here, wench, here, I've a new remedy."  And, fumbling in his capacious waistcoat pocket, he pulled out a bit of dried horseradish, carefully screwed up in the page of an old tract.  "Go, powder that, woman!  Powder it fine, mark thee; and then snuff it up thy nose, and—here, here,"—for the overpowered domestic had eagerly accepted the strange prescription, and was making off to try it at once,—"when the pain passes, come and tell me.  Dost hear me?"

    Kerry, mollified by her master's sympathy, and eager to commence experiments, vanished down the stairs; and Uncle Ebenezer drew up to the table and took a long pull from his pewter pot of home-brewed ale.

    The food, which consisted of wholemeal bread, barley cake, and salt pork, was consumed for some moments in silence; and then the young mistress, who had evidently been preparing the question she now asked, raised her eyes, and, glancing at her portly uncle, inquired:

    "Well, uncle, has Peggy Dimmock's dream come true?"

    "True!  Ay, has it?  She was brought to bed this very morning at six o' the clock, an' it's twins that's what the double primrose meant!"

    "Bless us!"  And then, after momentary hesitation: "But the parson says dreams are all rubbish, Uncle Tebby."

    "Parson!" and the old man's face expressed the loftiest possible contempt.  "What do parsons know about such great matters?—dreams!  What was't Mayor Astbury dreamed the night Queen Anne died?  What was the signification of Holam, beholding lambs in harvest, when he slept in the stage waggon?  Didn't the Jacobites come forthwith?  Not give heed to dreams!  Why, girl, what does Providence send 'em for?"

    Young mistress appeared to be only half convinced, and, after another moment or two of musing, she asked:

    "What does it signify to dream of a funeral?"

    And here for the first time Mr. Josephus joined in the conversation, and both brothers answered promptly:

    "A wedding."

    The elders were now watching her with quickened interest, and waiting for the information they feared might be given.

    "I dreamed of a funeral last night."

    Uncle Ebenezer darted a quick glance at his brother, and that worthy seemed to find difficulty in swallowing the food he had in his mouth.  But Mr. Josephus was not to be easily frightened, and so, with a look that belied his light words, he said:

    "Tut, tut! 'tis but a fond girl's whimsies."

    Mr. Ebenezer put his hand up hastily, as if to check him.  "Was it a mean funeral or a fine 'un?" he demanded seriously.

    "A fine one, an' there was a white pall on the coffin."

    "It is a wedding," and Mr. Ebenezer looked at his brother with graphic significance.  Was there aught on the pall, flowers or the like?"

    "There were nests, uncle."

    Ebenezer's jaw dropped, a long soft sigh escaped him, and after looking solemnly at his niece a moment or two he shook his head, and said sadly:

    "Thou'll be married, girl," but he did not add, as the omen might have justified him in doing, "unfortunately" married.

    Christiana, as she was called in honour of Bunyan's heroine, laughed at her uncle's lugubrious tones, and then, lifting her hands, cried in mock indignation:

    "La! Uncle Tebby, you wouldn't have me an old maid, would you?"

    Ebenezer felt in his heart of hearts that was just what he would have liked, and then, realising all at once what a selfish old curmudgeon he was to desire such a thing, he blinked his eyes very rapidly, nipped them tightly together, rubbed the end of his snub nose, and stammered huskily whilst he gazed hard at his niece:

    "Kinty love, thou must never leave thy poor old uncles"; and then, with a sudden flash of illumination, he opened his eyes as wide as he could, and, looking significantly into the laughing brown orbs opposite to him, he added: "The young spark that wins thee must take us too; he must live here, Kinty—here!"

    The real inwardness of this communication was of course lost upon the silent Josephus; but Kinty understood that it was her uncle's way of signifying to her that if the scene of which he had been the unintentional witness a little while before meant anything, he for one would not oppose.  And so, with a light blush and a covering little laugh, she rose from the table and made for the kitchen; whilst Uncle Ebenezer turned round and drew the three-cornered elbow-chair up to the fire.

    Mr. Josephus was already smoking, with his back to the shop door, and as Ebenezer settled in the opposite corner and prepared to follow his brother's example, he shot stealthy glances now and again towards the senior member of the firm.  Having lighted his pipe, he took off his wig, and put it in the little recess where he usually kept his tobacco and snuff; and then, settling down in his chair, he sat watching his brother, and following out his own confused reflections.  What was the meaning of the scene he had witnessed?  It did not in the least surprise him that Mark Rawson should aspire to the hand of his mistress, for though he knew him to be perfectly trustworthy, he knew also that he was bold and terribly ambitious.

    It would solve many awkward questions if Mark could succeed to the business, but what a come-down it would be for their little queen, and how all their friends would jeer about it!  And what about his niece?  If she he was going to tamely give herself away to a penniless apprentice, why then he was, and always had been, entirely at sea in his estimate of her character?  And her act would be in absolute contradiction to the whole spirit of her life and aspirations hitherto.  In the many playful little bantering he and she had had together on this always interesting subject, it had been taken for granted that she would marry somebody distinguished and be a great lady.  And certainly it would be a huge mistake if she did not, for she was in every way fitted, in his poor judgment, for any position in life, however exalted, and would, if he understood her, make herself and everybody about her miserable if she had to be bound down for ever to the drudgery of a common tradesman's wife.

    He felt his head beginning to ache; the working out of problems was not at all in his way.  Oh that he could tell Josephus about it!  And that brought up a further complication.  Would it be right to betray his niece and tell his brother?  On the other hand, would it be right to conceal so very important a matter from him?  If ever the matter was properly adjusted he knew full well that his strong, silent brother would have to do it, and, on the other hand, he knew that Josephus had very definite ideas as to Kinty's future, and very ambitious ones too.  He was not accustomed to abstract reflection, his brother generally did it for both of them; he feared to open his mouth lest he should make matters worse, and yet he was too uneasy to be silent, and so he finally took the weak man's policy and began to drift and talk.

    "Bad dream, bad dream!" he muttered, looking hard into the fire and solemnly shaking his head.

    But Mr. Josephus did not take the bait; he simply looked lazily at his brother through the tobacco smoke and puffed on.

    Ebenezer glowered for a moment at the andirons on the grate, then scowled, and looked round at his wig, brought his eyes back uneasily to his brother, and then ventured:

    "After sweet meat comes sour sauce, brother."

    Josephus seemed to be still immovable, but after a moment's pause he leaned as far back as the very straight back of his chair would allow, and replied:

    "As to common dreams, brother, pish! but this one is fair and true; she has been bidded for this very day, no other."

    "A-h!" and the clouds began to lift from Ebenezer's mind; Mark had been speaking to Josephus earlier in the day, and the scene of which he had been the accidental witness was the natural sequence.  Very right and proper.  And he blew a long wreath of smoke from his pipe, and sat meditating complacently.  "Well, brother," he said at last, with a sort of half-reluctant contentment, "'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,' after all; but I reckon 'every man thinks his own geese swans.'"

    Josephus scowled, and turned to his brother a look of perplexed inquiry.  But Ebenezer had already returned to his favourite topic, and presently drawled out musingly:


"A Friday's dream on Saturday told
 Will sure to come true e'er the day be old."


    Josephus curiosity was allayed, and the two sat in silence for some time.  At last Ebenezer, with another small sigh of resignation, remarked:

    "Well, he hath served us punctually and truly, and hath earned the reward.  Faith, 'tis like to Jacob and Rachel," and then as his memory made a sudden effort he laughed, and added: "Gad, but I nearly spoilt their bussing and clipping though, hang me!"

    But Josephus had risen to his feet, wonder, perplexity, and indignation expressed on his countenance.  "Service? reward?  What has thy addle pate got in it now?  Who was bussing and clipping?"

    Ebenezer began to fear he had made a terrible mistake, but was now too curious to try to recover himself, and so he blurted out:

    "Who? who but our man, Mark."

    Josephus face was past all describing; he opened his tight little mouth and gasped.

    "Mark!" he shouted at length, "the beggarly apprentice!  Tch, thou art crazed, man.  Mark!" and he looked round the room in utter amazement and disgust.

    And just at this point the door from the kitchen opened, and in stepped one of the subjects of this tangled discussion.

    "Niece, Niece Christiana, what's this billing and clipping with a beggarly apprentice?  Hast forgotten thyself, woman?"

    Now Kinty made it a point always to stand up to Uncle Josephus when he "hectored" her, and guessing at once that Ebenezer had betrayed her, but done it unwittingly, she set herself at once to defend him and herself as well.

    "Why shout that fashion, uncle?  I am not deaf, and I am not a child."

    "'Shout!' it would make the dumb shout.  Hast no pride, wench—no self-regard?  Marry a dirty apprentice out of Tan-pit Lane!  Why, woman, I've been solicited for thee to-day by the Mayor for his son."

    The piece of information contained in the last outburst had its effect at once on Kinty.  It touched her vanity, though it embarrassed her decision; and so to gain time and conciliate her uncle, at any rate for the moment, she said:

    "Uncle Josy, whether maltster, or hatter, or pedlar, the precise choice rests with the woman, does not it?"

    This clever reminder that the grand suitor he had got for her was after all only a tradesman, like Mark, was the nearest to a retort she dare venture upon just then; but it angered her uncle as she, in the thirteen years she had lived with him, had never seen him angered.  He drew himself up, clenched his fists as if he had difficulty in preventing himself laying hands upon her, called her a baggage, an impertinent hussy, an ungrateful madam, and then, with a sudden flash of resolution, darted forward toward the door with the evident intention of bringing the offending apprentice to book.

    "Uncle, let alone!" and stepping between him and the door, she drew up herself to her utmost height, and flashing upon him a look of proud defiance, she cried: "I can take care of myself, I hope; but if you interfere, by Heaven, I will marry him!"

    "Kinty woman, Kinty!" cried Uncle Ebenezer, with coaxing expostulation.

    "Well, uncle," and there slipped into her voice a little tremor she knew but too well how to use, "I would not disoblige my dear foster-fathers, but I am not a baby or a goose of a kitchen wench."

    Josephus, beginning to feel rather ridiculous, muttered several vague threats of which his niece diplomatically took no notice, but allowed him to slink back into his chair.  Then she drew nearer to him, and with a soft word or two tried to mollify his wrath, and spoke in such a light, patronising way of Mark that he was effectually hoodwinked.  Presently she put her hand on the arm of his chair, and after indirectly providing an opening for him to speak of the offer he had had for her hand, she began to adjust the bow of his wig with her fingers, dropping every now and again some little word which encouraged him to discover all there was to tell.  And when he had given her all particulars, Josephus began to inquire what she thought about the matter; but that did not suit her cue at all just then, for she wanted time to think, and so she fell to accusing them of wanting to get rid of her, made them laugh by hinting that Uncle Ebenezer must be wanting to get married himself, and then, having brought them into the most pliable humour possible, she suddenly became pensive, was sure she was a great trouble to them, vowed they were the dearest of dear uncles, and that she loved them so much that he would have to be an "exquisite pretty fellow" who would tempt her to leave them.

    By this time Mr. Ebenezer's eyes were swimming, and his chubby cheeks quivering with emotion, and even Josephus, who was more vulnerable on the point of affection for his niece than any other, began to clear his throat and rub his bare chin in a most uneasy manner.

    Whilst she had been talking Kinty had also been listening for certain well-known sounds in the shop, and as she heard the shutters put up one by one, and the great heavy bar placed across them, and a few minutes later the front door banged, she knew that Mark had gone home for the night, and was therefore out of her uncles' reach.  That point secured, she began to hum a little tune, and drew a low stool near the fire and commenced work upon a sampler-frame, at which sign her uncles rose and made off for the tavern, and she was left alone.

    The premises stood some few steps above the street, and there was a side entrance in a passage.  As soon as she heard the footsteps of her uncles die away down the entry, she paused; the sampler gradually slipped from her knee to the floor, and she sat musing over the events of the day.

    Presently she rose from her seat and put the sampler away, peered through the leaded window for a moment, drew the curtain, stood wavering near the staircase leading down into the cellar kitchen, and then, with sudden decision, turned and ran upstairs, and in a few minutes reappeared with a large horn lantern in her hand and covered from head to foot with a long, dark cloak.


 
CHAPTER III.

THE WISE-WOMAN


IT was quite dark when Kinty stepped gingerly out of the passage and down the steps into the street, and she paused for a moment to get accustomed to the change.  Then it came over her that she was exposing herself to serious risk, for though the night was young, and her uncles' shop stood in the main street of the town, it was none too safe for a young female to be out.  She glanced back hesitatingly at the outer or street door she had just closed, and then turned to gaze through the darkness at the few dim sputtering oil lamps that lighted that part of the town.  Then she looked musingly at her own lantern, and at last, with an impatient shrug of her shoulders, she set off down the badly paved street.

    Before she had gone many steps she uttered a startled little cry as the lamplighter, darting from an entry down which he had evidently come for a short cut, nearly ran against her.  A little farther on she had to pass the noisy Hanover Arms, in the big back-parlour of which her uncles usually spent their evenings; and there was a big round lantern stuck on a post standing before the hostelry, and she had to cross to the other side of the road to avoid being seen by any one who might inform her relatives.  Safely past this danger, she began to grow more nervous, for the lights in the street grew fewer, and, except for an occasional gleam from the lantern of some wanderer like herself, she seemed to be going towards total darkness.

    At the bottom of the street she took a quick turn to the left, and entered a lane that seemed to lead out into the country.  There were still houses on each side of the road, and a feeble light came from some of the windows; but the sounds of life that had assured her in the High Street now grew fainter and fewer, and except for the dull whirr of some spinning-wheel, or the click of the shuttle of some belated weaver, she could hear nothing.

    Still hastening on, she presently came to a number of low-lying gardens, and here her heart began to beat more quickly, and, holding up her lantern until it was nearly level with her eyes, she broke into a run.  A hundred yards or so farther on she came to a cottage, a low, thatched building, standing some few yards back from the road.  She knew there was a puddle somewhere in front of the cottage that sometimes assumed the proportions of a pond, and so, lowering her lantern, she carefully picked her way to the door.

    There was no latch visible, but Kinty slipped her hand up the inner edge of the jamb and took hold of a knotted string, which she pulled, gently pressing forward with her elbow at the same time.  But the door did not open, and after giving the string another tug, she rapped smartly, and held her breath to listen.  She could hear, away in the distance, the creaking and groaning of the heavy baggage waggon due in the town that night, and which was now evidently struggling down the steep hill into Helsham, but not a sound of any kind came from the cottage within.

    "Goody!  Goody Wagstaffe, open!  'Tis a friend.  Open quickly!"

    At first there was no response, but just when Kinty was getting out of all patience—for she new that the occupant of the cottage must be at home—there was a slow shuffling tread on the inside of the house, a very deliberate sliding back of heavy wooden bars, and then the door opened a little, and the visitor was bidden to enter.

    "Bless me, Goody, how cautious you are!  The footpads would never trouble you."

    "Five times, young mistress—five times in eighteen years have they visited this little cot.  But step in—step in and sit."  So saying, Goody Wagstaffe led the way into the cottage.

    She was a very tall woman, with large, sharp features, a long, skinny neck, greenish eyes, and a sullen expression.  She wore a coarse linsey-woolsey dress, with faded damask bodice which evidently had not been made for her, and her abundant grey hair was almost hidden under a large white cap adorned by a rusty black ribbon.  Save that her attire looked threadbare she had an air of gentility about her, and her person and her house were scrupulously clean.  The room into which Kinty was now ushered was small and low; the walls, where they could be seen, were whitewashed, but they were covered for the most part with oddly arranged shelves, or hidden behind pieces of furniture which looked—like their owner —somewhat out of their element.  Over the open fireplace were shelves containing dried herbs, some in paper and some without.  There were similar packages on shelves nearly all round the room, for Goody Wagstaffe was a somewhat noted herbalist.

    At the side of the disproportionately large fireplace stood a spinning-wheel with hanks of wool and empty bobbins, and against the wall behind them hung a large woman's hat, such as is now called "Welsh," but which was a not uncommon head-covering amongst women of the lower classes at the time of which I write.

    There was no light in the room save what came from the fire, but even that made Kinty's eyes blink as she accepted the dame's invitation and came towards the centre of the room.  The chair that was brought out for her was evidently kept for such purposes, for it was a specimen of the stiffest high-backed chairs of the period, and was altogether out of keeping with the rest of the furniture.  As Kinty settled herself in this seat, her hostess turned her back to her and became absorbed in the contents of a large iron pot on the fire, from which were escaping a mixture of strange odours, none of which could be said to be inviting.

    "'Twas mighty dark as I came hither, Goody," began Kinty, putting back her velvet hood.

    "Too dark for a maid to be abroad," replied Goody gruffly, and still keeping her back to her visitor, whilst she glowered freely into the pot on the fire.

    Kinty's face fell; this was not at all the reception she had expected.

    "Why, good dame," she cried, "what ails ye?  I could but come; I have something to ask thee, something great."

    The dame gave another surly grunt, but did not turn round.  There was an awkward pause, during which Kinty's buckled shoe was tapping uneasily upon the sanded flags.  In a moment, however, the dame turned half round, and, glancing suspiciously at her visitor, she said:

    "Ye never come in the daylight, mistress."

    "The day!  I cannot; I dare not!"

    The dame looked Kinty over as she made this last assertion, and then, suddenly turning to her bubbling pot once more, she muttered up the chimney:

    "What cannot be asked in the daylight shad' na be answered i' th' dark."

    Kinty was amazed; she had never found her friend in this mood before.  What did it all mean?

    "Goody," she cried, "what's amiss?  There's naught to be frightened at—nothing."

    "Nothing!" and here the wise-woman turned round upon her visitor.  "Nothing!  Is the ducking-stool nothing? and the stocks, and the town's lock-up, nothing? is the name of evil-eye and witch nothing?"

    "Tut, tut!" began Kinty, thinking to relieve the dame's mind by making light of her apprehensions.  But the old woman was evidently in great distress.

    "Tut!" she cried indignantly; "but when ye've been twice in the goose-green pond, ye'll not say Tut!'  When ye've been thrice afore the bench for casting the evil-eye, ye'll not say 'Tut.'  When the constable watches your door like a cat at a mouse hole, ye'll not say 'Tut.'  Ah, no, pretty mistress, what's play to you may be death to me."

    Kinty was aghast at this totally unlooked-for outburst from one who had always been so tractable, and raised her brows at the aspect of the case thus forcibly presented to her.  She could not question the fact that the wise-woman's reputation had of late made her an object of suspicion, and, to do her justice, she was shocked to think that any action of hers should bring her friend into trouble.

    But she was a very resolute little woman, and had no idea of giving up the object of her visit; and so she dropped into a sympathetic, soothing tone, listened attentively to the long and tedious details the old woman entered into, and, when she judged that the proper moment had arrived, she raised the skirt of her dress, revealing a yellow-quilted, silk petticoat, and from a hanging-pocket attached thereto she pulled out a small parcel of real Bohea tea, and a little snuff-box well filled with the then all-popular dust, and pressed them upon the dame.

    Then she asked a number of politic questions about Mother Wagstaffe's medicines, and at last came round to the real object of her visit, and declared, with apparently adamantine resolution, that, after what the dame had told her, she would never think of pressing her or troubling her in any way.  At this, as the clever little schemer anticipated, the dame relented, and offered to gratify her curiosity for this one last occasion.  But no, Kinty would not hear of it, and rose to go, and of course her hostess could not reconcile herself to sending so generous a friend away unsatisfied, and so made her sit down and say what she had come to say.  And so, though with a very pretty pretence of reluctance, she told her dream, and affected the utmost astonishment when the dame interpreted it much in the same way as her uncles had done.

    Having now got the dame interested, she ventured to ask her if there was any means of ascertaining whom she was to marry, and when the wise-woman hesitated, she appeared not to care to have the question answered.  Next her hand was examined, and her eyes, and a certain little mole on the lobe of her left car, and then she was told that she had two lovers, both of whom were devoted to her, and both of them exceedingly jealous in disposition, but that she could not make up her mind which of them to take.

    "But, Goody, I know all that; I want to know which of them I shall take," she said, when the dame stopped.

    "One is tall and strong and proud and—and poor, and the other is short and slow and rich."

    "Yes, yes," cried Kinty, following the old woman's description with hasty nods of the head; "but which of them shall I take?"

    The wise-woman took her visitor's hand again and examined it carefully; then, still bending over it, she crooned out in tones that made her visitor thrill:


"What you would, that you will not;
 What you would not, that you will."


    The enigmatical nature of this preposterous and evasive prediction was exactly to the mind of the maiden who received it.  It was paradoxical and mysterious, and would provide much food for speculation; and so, after repeating it over two or three times to make sure she had got it correctly, she turned to go.

    "'Tis lonely for you living thus, Goody," she said sympathetically, as she picked up her lantern.

    "Ah, mistress, mistress, I'm the most solitary woman alive, and what have I done—what have I done to merit it?"

    The poor old Goody seemed strangely moved by the light words of her friend, and her tones were so pathetic that Kinty turned to look at her, and then, with an impulsive little movement, suddenly put her arm round the lonely woman's neck and kissed her.

    "Bless thee, pretty mistress!  Heaven bless thee for that," cried Goody, the tears suddenly springing into her eyes; and, with a quick change of manner, she drew her visitor back into the little cot, and, taking her two hands in hers, she said solemnly: "Pretty maid, the heart that spoke in that kiss is a sure heart; in the storm that is coming follow that; with lovers and friends and enemies alike, follow that; thy heart is thy fortune, thy heart is thy safety.  Oh, pretty maid, follow that, follow that!"

    And still murmuring "Follow that, follow that," she gently pushed her visitor to the door, and then, slipping back, snatched her tall hat from its peg, and, catching up Kinty at the edge of the pond, she drew her down a back lane, and conducted her by a shorter cut home.

    Meanwhile Mark Rawson had gone home with a sore heart and an aching brain.  The events of the day had tried even his strong nerves, and he felt dejected and irritable.  Nothing would have relieved him so much just then as a hearty, satisfying quarrel with some one.  But it was an additional grievance to him that there was no chance for that in the home to which he was hastening.

    His sister, though as spirited and proud as himself to all the world, was sweetness and docility to him.  She worshipped him, in fact, and though young enough to have ambitions of her own, forgot everything personal in her intense devotion to the interests of her only brother; and it was the ideas instilled and sedulously nurtured by herself which had begotten the ambitions that now so powerfully influenced his life and thoughts.

    But of late she had become afraid of her own success.  Mark was too proud to be very communicative, but she had not studied his every whim and change of mind all these years for nothing, and what she saw of her brother gave her very serious misgivings lest he should be led to overreach himself.

    She was a sewing-woman, and during Mark's apprenticeship had acquired a fairly good connection amongst the tradesfolk of the town.  Since he had become "free," however, she had somewhat curtailed her labours, and as her brother now came home every day, instead of as beforetime on Sunday afternoons only, she devoted all her spare time to his comfort.  For some days now she had been very uneasy about him; she had divined his affection for Mistress Kinty, and, whilst she had no selfish wish to keep him to herself, she was frightened at the idea of his casting his eyes so much above himself.  She had told him, when he was but very young the wonderful story of Dick Whittington the London apprentice, who became Lord Mayor, and since then she had purchased every chapbook offered to her which told a similar tale.  Her efforts had been only too successful, and she began to tremble for the results.

    As Mark entered the cottage and took off his small, three-cornered hat, she saw at once that he was unusually depressed, and forgetting everything else set to work to comfort him.  She was "turning" a bright-coloured waistcoat for him, and as he strode past her and threw himself disconsolately upon the settle in the open fireplace, she lifted her head from her work, and smiled.

    "Tired, laddie?" she asked with gentle sympathy.  And when he did not respond she went on: "Take heart; there's heavier troubles than tired bones."

    Mark gave an impatient twist; even sympathy was irritating just then.

    "Boneache is easier than heartache, an' sooner cured also."

    Mark sighed heavily, and wondered to himself what she would say about those who were afflicted with both these calamities.

    "'Tis not poor workers only who suffer; their masters smart sometimes.  There are heavy hearts under silk garments in this very town to-night."

    A gleam of interest shot into the listener's eyes, and he raised his head from his breast and looked inquiringly at his sister.

    "I've been to a great house to-day, an' talked to a proud woman, an' I came away thanking God I wasna her."

    Mark seemed determined not to be interested, but common decency seemed to demand that he should say something, and so he asked curtly:

    "Where hast been?"

    "To Widow Gatts, the currier's, an' both the young masters were drunk in the house, and that before noon.  She was that distraught she couldna direct me, and when she spoke of 'them young masters,' an' 'them young masters,' with a tear in her voice, I thanked God for a good brother, though only a journeyman as yet."

    There, the little compliment she had worked up to was out at last, and though she blushed as she uttered it she glanced up wistfully into Mark's face, and was disappointed to note how little effect it had upon him.  He caught, however, at her last word.

    "Yet," he cried, "yet!  Oh, Nance, drop that!  'Tis a dream, woman, a will-o'-the-wisp.  What I am that I shall be—a journeyman!"  And then, turning his head away with something very like a sob, he groaned: "A common journeyman."

    Nancy was now seriously alarmed; there was evidently something more than common the matter with her brother.

    "Nay, nay," she cried.  "Take hope, laddie.  Rome was not built in a day."  And she stepped up to the side of the settle and put her hand on his forehead.  But her touch seemed like a sting to the tortured lad.  He flung away her hand and jumped to his feet with something very like a curse, and then, as he looked at his sister's pained and flushing face, a gush of tender penitence came into his heart.  He dropped down on the bench again, and, burying his head in his hands, groaned out a sob that shook his whole frame.

    Relieved by the outburst, and keenly ashamed of his manner towards the sister who doted upon him he felt constrained to explain himself.  Vaguely and hesitantly at first, but presently little by little the whole of his recent experiences were told, and in a few moments Nancy knew all there was to know.  And the telling relieved them both.  Henceforth there would be no need of concealments and evasions, and each could speak openly to the other upon any aspect of their struggle that might present itself.  Nancy was not only comforted, but encouraged; she had feared something worse, and there were incidents in the story just narrated which to her were of the most promising character.  At any rate, there was no reason to give up the project so dear to them both.  Mark must rise; and though the way they had chosen was beset with difficulties, they were young and accustomed to sacrifices, and she saw no reason why they should not succeed.

    "Young mistress is thy quarry, lad; to it with her, and let naught stop thee," she said, as a sort of summing up of the whole case.

    Mark sat for a moment musing, whilst the light of the little candle shone dimly upon his face.  Presently he replied with a regretful shake of the head:

    "'Twas my runagate tongued that did my business.  She'll hate me for't—she can but hate me."

    "Tut, man! care not for that; women love a masterly man.  To her, and good luck to thee."

    Mark sighed again, and stooped down to unfasten his shoes, and Nancy turned away to prepare the supper.


 
CHAPTER IV.

A METHODIST


WHILST Mistress Kinty was paying her clandestine visit to the wise-woman, and Mark was discussing his difficulties with his sister, Mr. Ebenezer was enjoying his invariable pipe and glass at the Hanover Arms.  This ancient hostel, which stood about a hundred yards lower down the High Street than the hatter's shop, was a sort of local posting-house which had fallen on evil times.  The stage-coaches to and from the north used to pass through Helsham; but some few years before the time of which I write the route had been changed, to avoid the great hill on the side of which the town stood, and so the tavern had lost much of its importance.

    In those good old times, also, it had been known as the Bull's Head; but though there still remained some dim outline of a fabulous bovine monster on the creaking signboard that swung on a bracket over the door, the title had been changed in honour of the reigning house.  The front of the inn was paved with cobble stones, and the tavern itself stood one step below the level of the road.

    The first room to your right as you entered was called the parlour; and it was here that Mr. Ebenezer and his cronies, and, in fact, many of the notables of the town, usually foregathered.  It was a dark and low apartment, the walls of which were plentifully adorned with out-of-date notices of "cocking," stage-coach bills, lotteries, and the like, relieved here and there by badly drawn and clumsily framed pictures of famous long-distance coaches.

    As it was still winter, the latter end of February, in fact, there was a bright log fire burning at the far end of the room, and at the side nearest the window a long table occupied nearly the whole length of the apartment.  Mr. Ebenezer, being a leisurely sort of person, was generally one of the first to arrive; and when he entered on the night in question the only persons present were the vicar of the parish, who occupied the three-cornered chair at the end of the table, and a stranger, who sat meditatively consuming a meal of havercake, cheese, and small ale.

    "Ha, parson, you've beat me again," cried Ebenezer cheerily, and, dropping into a seat near the fire, he took a long, careful scrutiny of the stranger.  The parson at the other side of the fire deigned no answer; his head was thrown back and his chin projected, and he was evidently lost in thought.  Three others entered now, one of whom was Mr. Josephus.  Each man, as he looked round for a seat, saluted the minister; but that individual might have been a statue for any apparent impression the greetings made upon him; and Mr. Ebenezer, as he made room for his brother at the fire, leaned forward, and, jerking his fat thumb parsonwards, solemnly winked.

    Mr. Josephus raised his brow at this signal, and a quiet smile played round his mouth, for there was sure to be entertainment when the parson was in this mood.  The other newcomers glanced at the cleric and then at each other, took huge pinches of snuff to conceal their grins, and then began to call loudly for the drawer (potboy).

    Large quart tankards of ale having been served, Mr. Ebenezer, without speaking, pushed his towards the minister; but that official did not condescend to notice the friendly offer, and still kept his head in the air.  He was a short, spare man, with red, bibulous face and twinkling grey eyes.  He wore a grey wig, slightly powdered, neat bands, and neat, but somewhat threadbare, clothes.

    "All Papists ordered to leave London, gentlemen; traveller upstairs just brought the tidings!" cried the landlord, opening the door and closing it again after he had delivered his announcement.

    For the next ten minutes this choice and exciting piece of intelligence was discussed in all its bearings, and more than one present cast a suspicious glance at the stranger still quietly consuming his supper.

    "Did not I tell you that would come next?" demanded the black-wigged haberdasher, who sat with his back to the stranger.  "I could see what was coming by that last packet of tracts my merchant sent me."

    "T-r-a-c-t-s!" sneered a rusty voice on the other side, and as the company turned round the parson was seen with his nose buried in Mr. Ebenezer's pewter.

    They waited for the minister to continue, but he only wiped his lips with the back of his hand, and throwing back his head laughed sarcastically:

    "Tracts!"

    "Those printers print nothing but tracts these times," said Mr. Josephus; and his stout brother, seeing an opportunity for a quotation, chimed in:

    "'Of making of books there is no end.'"

    The tankard, which was again being raised to the minister's lips, stopped on its way, a wrathful frown appeared on the parson's face, and, rising to his feet pot in hand, he stepped into the middle of the room, crying indignantly:

    "Books, Mr. Tebby!  You don't call tracts books, surely?  Tracts are to books what black dogs [false coin] are to honest shillings.  Tracts sir! tracts are the scum of literature.  Fiery darts of the wicked!  Grub Street fleas come out into the country to take the air."

    Here the irate parson strode the length of the room, shaking his wig in righteous indignation and still holding the pot in his hand.

    "They hit the Church cruel hard sometimes, truly, sir," observed Swigge, a mild little tailor, with a melancholy eye and a drooping, pensive nose.

    This remark was intended to be sympathetic and to have a mollifying effect; unfortunately, it had the very opposite, for the clergyman, who had just reached the door in one of his perambulations, suddenly whisked round, and, glaring fiercely at the tailor, cried:

    "Church, sir! hit the Church, sir!  And why not? they are only following the country.  Any stick is good enough to beat a dog with.  They are in the mode, sir, in the very pink o' the fashion.  Hit her, sir!  The Government hits her, and the nobility hit her, and the common people hit her, and why shouldn't the lousy Grub Street ink-flingers hit her, too?  She's down, sir, and every dirty scullion may give her a kick."

    The little tailor looked as though he were about to demur to this very violent condemnation, but thinking better of it he simply helped himself to a pinch of snuff and solemnly shook his head; in which non-committal sort of response he was joined by Mr. Ebenezer.

    By this time the vicar, for such he was, had finished his ale, and holding up the pewter to the candle, he carefully scrutinised the empty vessel, and then put it down on the table with a significant bang.  Accepting the hint, two or three of his companions called for the "drawer" and had the pot refilled, upon which the minister, with a grunt of acknowledgment, took the vessel in his hand, and, pulling out a chair that stood against the table, he turned it round and drew up to the fire between Mr. Josephus and the haberdasher.  Then he pulled out a little black pipe, upon which he was offered tobacco by both the haberdasher and Mr. Ebenezer, and, having carefully charged and lighted, he stretched out his black-stockinged legs to the fire, and fixed an injured, protesting gaze upon the picture of a main of fighting cocks over the mantelpiece.

    "Gentlemen," he said, puffing out great clouds of smoke and wagging his head with half-drunken solemnity, "the country's doomed, the Church is doomed, and we shall all go to the Pope and the devil."

    "Nay, master vicar," remonstrated the tailor diffidently, "not so bad as that; there are some true Christians left yet."  And then, glancing round the company to invite corroboration, he continued: "We are all good churchmen here."

    The vicar burst into a scornful, sardonic laugh.  "Churchmen, ha! ha! yea, verily"; and then, bending forward, with a fierce scowl, he demanded: "Friend Swigge, when was you last at church?"

    The little tailor's face suddenly fell, and he glanced somewhat uneasily at his friends; but they, being in no better case than himself with respect to their parson's accusation, turned their eyes away and smoked on in stubborn silence.

    "Churchmen!" laughed the vicar again.  "Ha, yes; we are all churchmen, true loyal churchmen, but we never go to church!  The country is full of Protestants, loyal Protestants; but the tithes are not paid, and the churches are empty, and the people are become jackasses and—and pagans!"

    "There's the meeting-houses, sir—"

    But the tailor was not allowed to proceed.  The vicar jumped to his feet, and his red face became almost purple.

    "What!" he shouted, "flout you me with meeting-houses!  Pest-houses, sir! puritanical sink-pots, sir! papistical Guy Fawkes conspiracy-holes, sir!  Meeting-houses!" he went on with growing indignation.  "The country's got a plague of 'em, sir; they are blotches on the face of the country, they are pock-marks on the social body.  Pockmarks," he continued, as the full fitness of his simile opened out to his excited mind, "that's what it is to a nicety; the country's got the meeting-house pox, i' Gad, an' by the Lord it's got it bad."

    As the parson finished this tirade, which was furious even for him, Mr. Ebenezer shook his head at the tailor to warn him not to pursue the dangerous topic, and the rest, taking the hint, held their peace, whilst the cleric settled himself in his chair and continued his complaint in somewhat milder tones.  The subject of meeting-houses was evidently a sore one with him, and in a moment or two he was denouncing the two "conventicles" existing in the town in his sternest tones.  The buildings themselves were anathematised as "rat holes," "heresy shops," "soul traps," and the people who frequented them dubbed "Schismatics," Windbags, Fanatical Enthusiasts, and Creeping Jesse.

    Mr. Ebenezer, who was a sort of religious connoisseur, and amused himself by patronising every new belief that came under his notice, seemed a little uneasy under the parson's sweeping abuse; but presently the angry man passed on to other grievances, and became more serious and depressed as he proceeded.  At this point, however, the landlord sauntered into the room; but, perceiving that his spiritual adviser was on his high horse, he quietly slipped into a seat by his side and commenced to twiddle his thumbs, every now and again turning over a huge quid of tobacco in his mouth, as the minister's words stimulated his thoughts.

    The vicar scarcely deigned to notice the newcomer, but went on to enlarge upon his own hardships and the awful degeneracy of the times.  People couldn't come to church, and when they did come they fell asleep and snored like grampuses, or got up and went out when the sermon was reached.  As for Holy Communion, it was a dead letter.

    "Cockings, sir!" he cried, turning hastily upon the landlord, who had been whispering something to Mr. Josephus—"Cockings, sir!  Oh, yes, we can go to cockings any hour of any day, or bull-baits either, or spring fairs; and as to hearing, we can stand by the hour to listen to some pickle-herring of a quack in the market-place; but when it cometh to worshipping, we are employed—we are detained.  Ah, yes; surely, surely."

    Then it came out that all this moralising had originated in a discovery the good man had made that very day, which was that at Nat Bagshaw's, the Blue Lion in Rosemary Lane, they had on the preceding Sabbath held a cock-fight.

    "What are we coming to, neighbours?" he demanded.  "A Sunday cocking!  A gathering of dirty, swearing tinkers and gamblers and pimps and blacklegs in Helsham on the Sabbath day!  Why not hold the fair on Sabbath, an' be done?"

    But again the vicar caught some of the landlord's whispered words to Mr. Josephus, and, leaning sideways over the arm of his chair, seemed anxious to hear more; and, in fact, he was so intent upon listening that he forgot the subject upon which he was holding forth, until a sudden hiatus in his language, and glances of surprise from his hearers, brought him back to himself, and he plunged off once more, though not now with the same vigour as previously.  As he mourned over the gambling, the immorality, the drunkenness of the times, the poaching and smuggling and illicit dealings in spirits so prevalent just then in the country, his voice grew solemn and then pathetic, and the company began to watch him in the expectation that this sermon would end as others delivered under similar circumstances had ended, in a maudlin burst of tears.  But as they watched him they observed that he was once more listening eagerly to the conversation going on in an undertone between Mr. Josephus and the landlord, and as he listened and leaned further and further over his chair-arm his words grew more and more disjointed, and all at once he jumped to his feet.

   "What, man!" he shouted, glaring at the landlord; "the scurvy, bandy-legged cocks of Harewood beat ours!  Let them come on!  Bring them up, I say; we'll show them what the genuine old Helsham Shakebag can go!  Two guineas on the old shakebag! and no villainous foreign spurs, neither."

    With an indulgent smile at the suddenness with which the sportsman had overcome the divine in their vicar, the rest of the company, rather thankful for the diversion, turned their attention to the business in hand, and were soon engaged in a discussion about a challenge which had been sent to the landlord to fight a main of cocks with the men of Harewood.  For the Hanover Arms possessed the largest cock-pit in the town, and the gentlemen present, the parson included, were chief patrons thereof.

    In the midst of a discussion which soon became very animated, the stranger, who all this time had been sitting unnoticed in the far corner, rose to his feet, and after looking for a moment at the scene before him, and then ostentatiously clearing his throat, he stepped up to the fireplace, put his hand on the vicar's arm, and asked seriously:

    "Sir, are not you the vicar of this parish?"

    The clergyman, who was deeply interested in the sporting question under discussion, turned round somewhat impatiently, and when he saw that his questioner was a stranger he made a low bow, and answered:

    "The same, sir, and at your commands."

    "You have been speaking, sir, of the prevailings in and wickedness of the nation and of this parish."

    The vicar paled a little; he did not at all relish the stranger's manner.

    "Well, sir, and what of it?" and he put on a defiant air.

    The stranger paused a moment, looked the cleric up and down deliberately, and then, fixing him with his eyes, he said in slow, weighty tones:

    "Well, sir, if God is the Heavenly Father of all this nation and all the people in this parish, and if Jesus Christ did wrestle and agonise and die for us all, and if He be our daysman and advocate, then, sir, He must at this moment be raging against you like a lioness robbed of her cubs."

    Every eye in the room was now fixed upon the speaker.  He was a tallish man, with a long, large-featured face and soft, pleading eyes.  He was dressed in a respectable dark-brown suit in the fashion of the period, with grey stockings, plain shoes, and a bob-wig; and as he stood, still looking at the parson, that worthy went red in the face, and began to bridle with indignation.

    "And who might you be, sir, that speaks thus to your betters?" he demanded angrily.  "Some babbling conventicler just out o' Bedlam, I'll warrant me."

    "Sir, I am a poor sinner, a brand plucked from the burning.  I have no learning, sir, and no gifts; but if I had your position, sir, and your talents and your influence, it should go hard with me but I would stop some poor sinner going down to the pit, and win some little trophy or other for my great Redeemer's crown."

    Mr. Josephus had drawn himself up, and with his back to the fire was looking at the speaker with veiled contempt, whilst his brother had pushed his way to the front of the little group, and was gazing at the stranger with wondering, even admiring, eyes.  The rest of the company were looking at the vicar as if they were sorry for him; and as if he understood their feeling and resented it, the parson threw up his sharp chin, and, surveying his questioner loftily, replied:

    "I am an English clergyman and an honest man, sir, and when I want instruction or assistance from such as thee I'll ask for it, and until I do stick thou to thy conventicle and thy whining."

    The stranger seemed to have difficulty in finding his voice; he never took his eyes off the vicar, however, and at length, speaking in low, restrained tones, he said:

    "Good sir, if I have spoke unadvisedly with my lips, I pray your pardon; but you have spoke of the sin that abounds in your town, of the Sabbath-breaking, and the gambling, and the godlessness.  For two days now I have walked about here myself, and have seen the ignorance and deadness and sin and misery, and my heart hath burned within me.  I have yearned over these lost souls with the spirit of the travailing Redeemer, and as I hearkened to your words just now I thought I saw the Saviour of the world stretching out His hands over this good town and crying 'Woe is Me for My hurt!  My wound is grievous.  My tabernacle is spoiled, and all My cords are broken: My children are gone forth of Me, and they are not.  For the pastors are become brutish, and have not sought the Lord,'" and taking off a low-crowned, broad-brimmed hat, he made a stiff bow and left the room.

    The vicar stood staring at the closed door for some time after the departure of the stranger, and presently, with an awkward laugh but a much soberer expression of countenance, he turned to the landlord and demanded to know what the "impertinent Jack-pudding " meant.  The host could only state that he had stayed in the house since the day before, and declared himself as much perplexed as his reverence as to what was the man's business in Helsham.  Mr. Ebenezer was confident that the fellow was a Muggletonian, and the little tailor was sure that he belonged to some of the schismatical sects.  The landlord thought that he was more probably an Anabaptist, but as the company were familiar with people of that creed the suggestion was not very helpful and lacked the element of novelty, and just when speculation was getting exhausted the vicar sprang to his feet, and cried:

    "What a muddlehead am I!  Why, certainly, certainly!"

    As this exclamation was not particularly informing the company waited until the parson should become more explicit, and so, after looking from one to the other of them, as though inviting confirmation for a statement he had not yet made, but was sure they would endorse, he finally stepped over to Mr. Ebenezer as the one most likely to be interested in the announcement, and said:

    "Why, Mr. Tebby, he is a Methodist!"  And before any one could ask who and what a Methodist was, they heard a ringing voice crying in the street outside:

    "God willing, John Snaith will preach the Gospel in the market-place to-morrow morn at eight of the clock."


 
CHAPTER V.

AN OLD-TIME FAIR


"P-A-R-S-T nine and a clear night," broke on Mistress Kinty's ears as she hurried down the backyard towards the kitchen door.  A soft little cry of alarm escaped her, for she realised that her uncles might just be returning home, and would be scandalised to discover that a young female had been abroad alone at that late hour, and so she hastened indoors, and ran upstairs into the parlour, and thence to her own bedroom.

    But even then she must have been caught but for the fact that the watch had detained her uncles at the end of the side-passage, and was giving them the details of a recent capture of a footpad, who was now in safe custody at the watch-house.  The candle she had left lighted when she went out had burnt itself away, and was now filling the room with its characteristically evil odours as she entered, and she had to make haste and light a second one, which she had provided, lest the maid, who would follow her, she knew, in a moment, should discover that she had been guilty of the wastefulness of leaving a burning candle for two hours.

    She had got all this put right, however, and was just settling down into a chair when Kerry came up with the warming-pan, which she industriously rubbed between the sheets of the great bed to the accompaniment of a tune which she hissed, ostler-like, through her teeth.  Kinty grew impatient, for she wanted to be alone; but it was only after the third bidding that the servant took herself and her sulphur-flavoured pan away.

    But even then Kinty found it very difficult to collect her thoughts.  This had been a very eventful day, far away the most momentous in her life hitherto, and now that she came to the end of it, she was perplexed to know what was likely to be the outcome of it all.  She knew the mayor's son well enough, and liked him, and was not greatly surprised at the offer which had been made, for he had shown her very particular attention at occasional routs at which they had met during the winter.

    He was rather above her in station, and very well-to-do, and it would be a match such as she might be proud of.  And she was proud of it; and her eyes sparkled again as she thought of the envy of certain young lady friends of hers when her engagement became known.  She would of course have a grand wedding, and that pleased her too, and in a few minutes she was absorbed in a vision of a pretty house on the outskirts of the town, with at least two domestics, and perhaps even a page-boy.  Yes, it was in every way a most desirable match, and she could see no reason whatever why she should not be very happy.

    "Thy heart is thy fortune; follow that, follow that."

    "Oh, gracious! what was that?"

    Kinty was no more superstitious than any other girl of her age and class at that time, but she started, shrank back into the low chair she was occupying, glanced nervously around the room, and then smiled as she remembered those were the words the wise-woman had spoken with such strange earnestness a little while before, and that it was but an odd trick of her memory that brought them back so strikingly at that moment.  But why had they come back just then, and with such alarming distinctness?  And she drew her elbows closer to her side and checked a tendency to shiver.

    In a few moments her thoughts had carried her away again, but this time she was thinking about her visit to Goody Wagstaffe.  Why, if her acceptance of the mayor's son was so easy and satisfactory a thing, had she ever gone to see Goody at all?  And then she thought of Mark, and a smile played about her little mouth.

    He was really a "very pretty fellow," only so terribly real and earnest about everything.  She greatly enjoyed their dallyings and little flirtations together, and she had no greater pleasure in life than to work Mark up to making one of those rash and terribly vain speeches of his, and then bring him to her feet in abject repentance again.

    But the smile died away as she realised all at once that these delightful little entertainments would now have to cease if she accepted the young maltster.  She could see Mark's face, with his stern brow and flashing eyes, when he learnt that she was engaged, and there crept into her heart something as near to fear as she had ever felt in her life.  And the more she thought of this aspect of the case the less she liked it, and at this moment the wise-woman's words came back to her with most troublesome persistence:

    "Follow thy heart, pretty maid; follow that, follow that."

    Kinty twisted impatiently in her chair and petulantly shrugged her shoulders.  It really was very disturbing, and, after all, she could not, no, she could not give up her intercourse with her journeyman lover.  Questions of right and wrong began to arise very awkwardly in her mind, but she put them back and returned to what had hitherto been the chief rule of her life, her likes and dislikes.

    Of course she could not think seriously of marrying Mark; but she liked him, or, at any rate, she liked his attentions, and it was a real hardship to have even to think of giving them up.  She wouldn't give them up, and she rose with a pettish jerk and began to undress.  It was a real hardship to be interfered with in this manner.  Why hadn't the young maltster waited a little?  Why was her Uncle Josephus so very anxious to get her married?  Of course, she would not do anything really bad or foolish, but it would be much better to let her go her own way; and with that she slipped into bed and buried her head in the big feather pillows, still protesting against her unpleasant situation.

    Well, neither her uncle nor the young maltster should have it all their own way; she would lead them a dance yet, though of course she would have to yield eventually, but for the present she would enjoy herself—but then she heard once more with a distinctness that made her start up and draw the bed-hangings:

    "Follow thy heart, pretty maid; follow that, follow that."

    As she was dosing off to sleep, Kinty remembered that next day was the fair, and that suggested to her an idea for another delightfully risky after-dark excursion, which, whilst it would gratify her own dear whim, would also provide her an opportunity of pleasing Mark, and with these comforting reflections she fell asleep.

    In the morning she was awakened by the sounds of voices engaged in angry altercation.  Listening a moment, she became aware that Uncle Josephus was scolding Mark in the shop, and so, with all possible haste, she dressed quickly and made her way down into the parlour.

    She arrived on the scene just as her uncle was coming into the room, with his small, thin face still red with anger and the lips of his little mouth pursed out indignantly.  His countenance changed as he saw his niece, and as it was not his cue just then to quarrel with her he gave her a pleasant greeting and drew up to the table.  And just then Mr. Ebenezer entered, full of the preaching which he had just attended, and of the wonderful sermon he had heard from the mysterious stranger of the night before.

    His mind was greatly exercised also, because the preacher had shown signs of hoarseness, and he commenced an animated discussion with Kinty as to whether rubbing the soles of the feet before the fire with garlic and lard, or the taking of powdered nettle-roots, was the best specific for this particular disorder.

    As the fair day meant a busy time in the shop, the two brothers knew that their services were required at home, at least for a time; and so, though Mr. Josephus mentioned twice over that the "cocking" between their town and Harewood would commence at eleven, Mr. Ebenezer did not take the hint, but gave every indication of his intention of attending to business.  Mr. Josephus wanted him out of the way, the farther the better, that he might have his niece to himself whilst they discussed the important subject of the offer for her hand; but Ebenezer either could not or would not take the hint, and though he went into the shop again and again, he returned in a moment or two, so that his brother could not get his business opened.

    Kinty, however, understood it all, and knew that Uncle Ebenezer was lingering about of set purpose to protect her, and felt grateful to him.

    A few minutes later Mark came into the parlour to call first one and then the other of his masters to the shop to assist in serving an unusual rush of customers, but they were soon back again, and Mr. Josephus, as the hour stole round towards eleven, went again and again to the far end of the room and scrutinised the hanging clock.  Both brothers were as fidgety as they could well be, and at last, with a grunt and an impatient gesture, the elder one snatched his cocked hat from the peg near the shop door, and darted off to the popular sport.

    Mr. Ebenezer, who was in the shop as his brother passed through, returned to the parlour almost immediately, and after pacing about the floor and chuckling to himself as if he had accomplished something, he nodded his head significantly at Kinty and made off to the cock-pit.

    When Mark came in about noon to snatch a hasty meal, Kinty found him exceedingly sulky and taciturn.  She plied him with all the special dainties which Kerry had provided for the fair—raised pork-pie, salt beef, white bread, and preserved gooseberry tart, with watered sack to wash them down.  But he ate on in surly silence and answered her questions in laconic monosyllables.  One thing, however, she discovered, that the scolding she had heard him receiving from his master had no reference to herself, and that Mark knew nothing of what was impending.

    Later in the day, as the business slackened, the young hatter came into the parlour with excuses for so doing that were not too serious, and so Kinty ventured to open her attack upon him.  She inquired into the causes of his morning's disgrace, and expressed, both in word and manner, a quite unusual resentment towards her uncle for his unfairness.  And this opened the way for a few delicately hinted, but very effective compliments upon Mark's business abilities.

    Then, as she watched him thawing under the process, she put her elbows upon the table and, propping her chin with her hands, she hinted to him that she would very much like to see the fair, but that she was like nobody else, she had no one to take her about, and her uncles would, as she well knew, not return home till late.

    When he comprehended what she really meant, Mark's brows went up and he shook his head very seriously.  Then he shot at her a glance of wondering surprise, and though she felt the implied reproach, she was only the more determined on that account to carry her point, and so she talked steadily on.  Her voice grew softer and lower as she spoke, and there presently crept into it a coaxing cadence which Mark found it very difficult to resist.

    A helpless sense of drifting came over him; he was under a spell and could not help himself.  One or two stock objections about her uncles and their anger if they ever found her out, as they easily might, and about the questionableness of her presence in such a scene as they both knew they would witness, were advanced by him; but the irresistible force of her almost humble pleadings and her bewitching personality bore down all before them, and when he returned to the shop he had consented to be her escort on this risky and compromising excursion.

    It was none too safe to have the windows exposed after dark on the fair night, and so Mark had to put the shutters up an hour earlier than usual, and by the time it was quite dusk he was waiting in the passage next to the shop for his fair companion, who, however, exercised the privilege of her sex and kept him there for some time.  Presently she appeared, covered from head to foot, as on the previous night, with a dark cloak and hood, so that Mark breathed a little sigh of relief as he saw that she would not be easily recognised.

    It was a strange scene into which the two now plunged.  The narrow main street of the town was ablaze with light from a long row of gay stalls which stood along one side, and the upstairs rooms of the business houses were also illuminated, so that it was fairly easy to see one's way.  But even then Kinty stumbled into a great hole in the cobble-stone pavement, and before she had recovered from the shock a country clown, with a drunken female on his arm, came staggering out of a byway and sent her reeling into the arms of her companion.

    Uttering a little cry of dismay, Kinty paused, and then, with a coquettish little gesture, put her arm into Mark's, and he, with his blood all at once coursing madly through his veins at her confiding little action, hugged the trembling limb close to his side and moved briskly and boldly along.

    The street seemed full of drunken people, and the taverns as they passed them sent forth streams of blasphemy which made Mark shudder, pagan though he was, and he glanced apprehensively down at the little hooded figure at his side.

    The street opened out below the Hanover Arms and formed an irregular square.  On one side of the square was the court-house and market-hall, now in darkness, and on the other was the fair-ground, crowded by a struggling, screaming, swearing mass of humanity.  And here Mark pulled up, hoping that the whimsical little beauty at his side would be intimidated by the spectacle and wish to return.  But, with an imperious "Go on! art frightened?" she pushed him forward, and the next instant they were in a ring of evil-smelling country joskins, who were listening to, and evidently hugely enjoying, the singing of some ballads.  The few words Mark caught were so obscene and filthy that he jerked his companion away, whether she would or no; and she, in resentment, stopped before a man who in raucous tones was trying to sell chapbooks whose very titles were sufficient to make Mark blush.

    In trying to escape from this scene they found themselves blocked by a couple of men who were pushing their way recklessly through the crowd with raree-shows slung round their necks, and a moment later they arrived, breathless and sore, before a booth, on the outside stage of which a man, holding a lighted link in his hand, was inviting the public to see a real "Blackamoor" walk the tight-rope.

    Thinking this was as innocent an entertainment as they were likely to find, and anxious to get his companion into a quieter place, Mark suggested that they should go and see the rope-walker; but Kinty curled her lip and glanced across to where some performers in tawdry finery were announcing that the most diverting play at the fair was to be performed.

    On their way thither, however, they found their path blocked by a couple of quacks who were evidently in fierce competition, each worthy being assisted by a bawling "pickle-herring" (clown) who was out-shouting his master.  One was extolling the virtues of a wonderful cure brought from the West Indies by an old mariner, and the other was offering a magic face-wash that was warranted to remove every trace of pockmark; and before they could get through the crowd of half-drunken rustics who were listening open-mouthed to these men, there was a bustle behind them, and they were thrust back, as the constable came along, assisted by two or three men carrying long halberts, and who were dragging a woman to the watch-house who had been discovered surreptitiously selling short scraps of lace and remnants of velvet upon which no duty had been paid.

    This episode, however, drove them into a corner, where the tide of struggling, reckless life rolled past them, and they could stand and look on.

    Mark would probably have spent his evening amongst this roistering crowd if he had not been attending upon his mistress, and would have thought nothing of it; but somehow her presence gave him a new delicacy, and he glanced down upon her in the hope of finding some sign in her face which would have encouraged him to propose a return.

    But though the woman in Kinty was asserting itself very vigorously just then, she turned away her face, and he saw nothing but the overhanging flap of her hood.

    And so the two stood there and looked round on it all.

    The noise was deafening, drums beating, fiddles and Lancashire bagpipes screaming, and voices of every tone and character blending with the other sounds, making a perfect Bedlam.

    "Let us go," said Mark, at last; and as his companion made no reply, he began to force his way through the crowd.  Before they had gone many steps, however, Kinty stopped again before a puppet-show, on the outside stage of which a fantastically dressed posture-master was going through some startling acrobatic feats.  Kinty was evidently interested; but a querulous little cry escaped her, as two great rough countrymen in smock-frocks came along and blocked her view, and Mark felt a strange impulse to snatch her up in his arms, and lift her high enough to see.  But at that moment the acrobat stopped his antics, and turned a scared face up towards the sky.  The eyes of the company around followed him, the music at some of the other booths ceased, a great, awful hush fell on that cursing crowd, and all eyes were turned upwards.

    For a moment Mark could not make out what it all meant; but just as a series of shrieks burst from the rough women near him, he caught sight of a light in the heavens, and there, careering majestically across the darkened sky, was a great blazing four-tailed comet.

    For a moment or two Mark scarcely realised what was taking place; but as the silence spread over all that multitude, and he glanced round at the sea of white, upturned faces, an icy chill crept down his spine, and his heart rose into his throat as if it would choke him.  The fiery messenger in the heavens seemed to be casting on him a fearful spell, and he stood riveted to the spot.

    The crowd about him was affected even more than he was; the only sounds that could be heard were low, smothered moans; and, just when the tension of horror was highest, a man pushed hastily past him, and a moment later the awful silence was broken by a deep, ringing voice crying in tones that seemed to pierce every heart:

    "Behold! the Bridegroom comet.  Behold the Bridegroom cometh."



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