Old Wenyon's Will (II).
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CHAPTER V

UNDER HEAVY FIRE


IT is an odd thing about good and trustful thing women that they are often unaccountably nervous about the moral resources of their husbands and sons, and get seriously alarmed when their beloved ones are unexpectedly exposed to even ordinary temptations.  And it was so with good Mrs Wenyon.  She knew that her husband was a sincere Christian, though in her view somewhat worldly; she knew that he was proud—sinfully proud, she feared—of his position as deacon of Salem.  During all the years of their married life his temperance principles had never been once shaken, in spite of many and serious temptations, arising from the fact that his business brought him into contact with, and in fact made him largely dependent upon, brewers.  She knew that in her mild way she had great influence over him, and that he valued her opinion on important matters, however much he might scoff in trifling things.  And yet, as soon as she understood the full significance of the temptation to which he was now exposed, her heart sank within her, and she became the prey of most painful apprehensions.  She was one of those gentle, pensive creatures who always take their pleasures a little fearfully, see remote possibilities of evil in the happiest occurrences, and are never really hopeful except when all their friends are in despair.  She loved and trusted her husband, but she had small faith in poor human nature, especially when it took the masculine form, and knew, and knew exactly, how strong and trying this great temptation would be to her husband.

    And Dolly secretly shared her mother's fears; only, as she played a peculiar part in the relationships of the family, and was compelled to say and do things sadly at variance something with her real feelings, she met her mother's apprehensions with light banter and inextinguishable optimism, and always "stood up" for her father.  To her father, however, she was generally, as he phrased it, "a little parson in petticoats."

    But this grave crisis now upon them, touching as it did the deepest and dearest things in life, threw them all back upon themselves, and the two women were afraid to confide in each other, lest each should find in the mind of the other the very fears she was fighting in her own.  Before her parents, therefore, Dolly affected to treat the thing as a huge joke, not to be seriously considered for a moment; but it scared her to discover that her father, after appearing for days to enjoy her banter, began to show restiveness under it, whilst her mother grew more pensive and silent every hour, finding her only consolation in the quotation of her favourite proverbs.

    The two women did not know of Simpson's visit, and for his own reasons Phineas said not a word about it; but next morning the cooper showed signs of broken rest, was surly and absent-minded, and presently slipped out a word that brought stricken cries from both of them.

    "Drat it, woman," and he turned snappishly towards his wife, but avoided her eyes, "you talk as if t' job were settled; can't you wait a bit and give me time to think?"

    They both understood what he meant by "the job," and poor Mrs Wenyon dropped her eyes and moaned, "Where there's smoke there's fire."

    "Mother, I'm surprised at you!  It's only one of his tricks!  He's as much likely to become a publican as I am to become a—a—a stuffed turkey."

    The incongruous comparison tickled and mollified the cooper, and as he departed to the workshop he chucked his wife under her white double chin, and cried—

    "There! there, woman! it isn't a hanging job, anyway."

    From that moment, however, they both watched him with an ever-growing anxiety, and both felt that even his hesitation was discreditable.  They noted that he had a feverish fit of industry upon him, and stuck to the shop from early morn to late at night.  They knew that he had been to Benderton to see his uncle's lawyer; he had been seen twice in consultation with the agent of the brewer who usually supplied the King's Arms, and finally they learned that he had been shown round the inn.  Lady visitors, chapel officers, temperance workers called upon them and besought them to use their influence with the cooper; and Miss Agatha Jacques, a particularly strong-minded lady, informed poor tearful Mrs Wenyon that God and conscience were before even husband, and that they were all looking to her to make a stand, if even she had to separate from the "deserter."

    The last word stung Dolly, who was present.

    "Miss Agatha," she cried impetuously, "we hate the very thought of that nasty place; we would die rather than go; but father is father, and a dear good man, and—and where he goes we go."

    Then they found that a few of the Salem faithfuls, lifelong friends of the cooper's, had been holding prayer meetings that their "poor weak brother" might be saved from the snare of the tempter.  Most unfortunately the minister was away on his summer holidays, but two long letters came from him, the second of which Phineas did not show them.  The cooper, meanwhile, was growing, moodier and sulkier every day; he was losing his appetite also, forgetting the day of his most important chapel meetings, and carefully avoiding his teetotal friends.  "Mother" was growing visibly thinner under Dolly's eyes, and the poor girl wished that she had even her banished lover to comfort her.

    "Blake tells me that 'The Arms' is worth four thousand pound if it is worth a penny."

    This was Phineas's first direct reference to the anxious subject for days, and was made at the breakfast-table.  Both women dropped their heads, and the cooper had to try again.

    "There's many a better man nor me been a landlord."

    It seemed as if there was to be no reply, but at last Mrs Wenyon answered almost under her breath—

    "Two blacks don't make a white, Phiny."

    "Old Swidge of the Griffin at Spattleshaw is a better saint nor many a big professor."

    "One swallow doesn't make a summer, Phiny."

    "Well, woman, are fortunes picked up in t' street?  It's flyin' i' th' face o' Providence!"

    "'Ill got will soon rot.'  'Better is a little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.'"

    The cooper, worsted in his word battle, gave a grunt and a resentful jerk of the head; and as Dolly got up at that moment to attend to a caller, husband and wife were alone.  Phineas sat stiffly in his chair, and as the silence became more and more uncomfortable he stole a glance at his wife.  Presently he felt a soft touch on his hand; it seemed to burn him, and he turned his head away.  The gentle hand stole up his sleeve, over his shoulder, round his neck.

    "Phineas, have we allus been—been cumfortable?"

    "Ay, what else?" and the cooper's voice had suddenly become husky.

    "And wouldn't I give me life to—to serve thee?"

    Phineas was staring before him, obstinately trying to pull his neck away, and choke back his rising emotion.

    "If thou loves me, Phineas, if thou loves me nobbut a bit, oh, my lad, my lad! spare me this."

    And Phineas rose up suddenly, pushed her almost rudely away from him, and tore out to his work.  He returned though, twice that morning, without any particular reason, and talked heedlessly to Dolly, whilst he slyly watched his wife from out of the corner of his eye; and when he came in to dinner Dolly perceived a puzzling change in him.  He seemed to have recovered his spirits, and was quite himself again.  No, not quite, for though jaunty bunglingly witty, as his wont was, he was obviously not at his ease; his laugh was more than a little forced, and his hilarity was broken by curious little fits of absent-mindedness.  The mood lasted all that day and the next.  Dolly augured all good things from it, but her mother was very mistrustful and steadily refused to be comforted.  He was hardening himself, she feared, trying to carry the thing off with a jest.  Towards evening, however, he changed again, and—oh, worse than ever!—became affectionate and propitiatory.  How utterly staggered therefore was Dolly, and how amply justified her mother's fears, when late that night he announced that he had decided to take the public-house; and how amazed and scandalised were they when he supplemented the announcement with a rough, coarse guffaw.


 
CHAPTER VI

A COMICAL CUPID


NOW Simpson Crouch though taller, was not as heavy as Dolly's father, and of course he was much younger; but when he staggered into the dark and silent street on the night of his interview with the cooper, all thought of resistance, all indignation and anger, were swallowed up in paralysing, stupefying amazement.  The action of the cooper was so utterly inexplicable, and so entirely different from all his expectations, that poor Simpson had been ignominiously ejected and was alone in the street before he could realise what was happening.  What could he have said or done?  He was succeeding so well, Phineas had seemed so thoroughly interested, that victory seemed certain; and all at once, like the transformation scene of a play, this had occurred.  He pulled himself together and glanced sheepishly up and down the road to see if his degradation had been observed; he clenched his fist and shook it at the closed door of the cooperage with muttered curses, and then, standing there in the stillness, be looked round and tried to realise what had happened, and why.

    The more he reflected, the more confusing and hopeless seemed the puzzle, and when, at last, he began to move away, the double indignity he had just suffered was awaking raging fires within him.  And Simpson let them burn: burn themselves out if they would; for whatever else he was or was not, nobody could accuse him of ever allowing his dignity to interfere with his practical interests.  Something had offended the fool of a cooper, that was evident, and he would have given much to find out what it was.  At the same time, there was a great deal at stake in this matter, and if there was anything to gain by swallowing his humiliation it must be done, dignity or no dignity; but if there was nothing to gain—well, then, revenge and just resentment might have their fling.  And by this it will be seen that Simpson was a philosopher—of a sort.  But if he could not decide why the all but convinced cooper had so suddenly changed his mind, neither could he find in what had taken place any reliable hint of what his prospective father-in-law intended with regard to the King's Arms.

    Once embarked on this aspect of the case, personal considerations were, for the moment, forgotten; he never dreamed of the possibility of there being an end to his courtship, and, having now in prospect two strings to his bow, the bobbin factory and the King's Arms, he clung to these with relentless tenacity and made them the means of forgetting the humiliations he had suffered.  The financial value of Dolly's charms, and the numbers of amorous customers who might be attracted to the inn by so dainty a landlady, were far more practical considerations than any amount of mere vulgar revenge, and no one could put his pride in his pocket more easily than he upon sufficient inducement.  All the same, when be had carried his point and got himself securely installed in the hostel, Phineas Wenyon might look out, and his independent daughter too, for that matter.

    His sister had retired when he reached home, for he took a long detour to get himself cooled down; but over his frugal supper he took the matter up again.  Yes, having failed with the father—what on earth had riled the old fool?—he must turn his attention once more to the daughter; and the alternative was unexpectedly distasteful to him.  All his attempts to get on terms with her again had so far failed; his letters had not even been acknowledged, and though he usually met her often enough in going about the town, some perverse fate had lately kept them apart.  After what had occurred—and the remembrance of his ignominious ejection certainly was hard to forget—he could not simply go to the house and ask Dolly's parents to intercede for him; still Dolly, impulsive and even proud maybe, had always been easy to manage before, and this was only a passing freak, and now that he had so much at stake it would be a simple thing to take all the blame and plead for her unqualified forgiveness.  It was a new thing certainly to have to consider his ways with her; but knowing what he knew, no foolish scruples must stop him.  He got very little sleep, for that humiliating ejection would insist on coming back again, and consequently he was not in the very best of humours when he sat down to breakfast, and it was nearly nine o'clock when he turned into the yard of the little bobbin-mill.

    His office was a little tumble-down one-story structure, just inside the gate, with a narrow high-countered room as you entered, and an inner office where all the work was done.  A wooden partition divided the two, and as Simpson quietly opened the outer door, as his manner was, he pricked up his ears at the sound of voices, or, to be exact, a high-pitched voice, declaiming in sternest tones some literary extract.  Simpson frowned contemptuously, and, pulling up, bent his head to listen.  The tones were harsh and grating, and there was marked indistinctness of articulation, but the speaker was evidently in great earnest.

    "Yes, William, Immortal, Encyclopedic William, thou hast said it—


''Tis true, 'tis pity; and pity 'tis 'tis true.'


    "'Oh, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal away their brains; that we should with joy, pleasance, revel and applause, transform ourselves into beasts.'  Beasts, William?  Swine, sir! crawling, guzzling, grovelling beasts!  Here they are, sir, large as life.  Beasts, sir! the guzzling—"

 

"'Oh, that men should put an enemy in their mouth
to steal away their brains'"


    But here there was an abrupt stop, for Simpson had opened the door and was looking in with undisguised contempt.  And there was something to look at certainly.  Prosaic little Snelsby had not had in it for many a day a more fantastic object than that upon which the bobbin-maker now gazed.

    The figure was that of a man, tall, painfully thin, yet very well proportioned; but the garments were those of a scarecrow. A dingy white, battered top-hat, stuck on the head at a perilous angle; a weather-faded green-black frock-coat, much too small for the wearer; a dirty red sporting waistcoat, with the nap for the most part rubbed away, and a great clumsily made tuck under the lapel of the coat to reduce the vest to wearable dimensions.  There were also a pair of faded grey trousers turned up at the bottom, and boots so down at heel that the toes tilted up like the nose of an empty river-steamer.  The collar round the neck was frayed and dirty, and the scarf which held it together was blue silk in the exposed part and grey cotton garter under the collar-folds.  The face, in spite of its absurd puckers of tragic expression, was refined and intellectual, but the nose was red, the skin blotchy, and the striking brown eyes weak-looking and watery.  This was Billy Stiff, the bobbin-maker's recently engaged half-price clerk, who had been in this employ for about-three days.  He was not modern enough to drop the ruler with which he was assisting his elocutionary efforts, but stood there overtaken and abashed—a ridiculous serio-comic figure.

    Simpson unfortunately was somewhat devoid of humour at any time, but this morning everything irritated him, and so, eyeing his servant with surly disgust, he cried—

    "You were drinking again last night?"

    "Drink, sir?  No, sir!  I was drunk—drunk as a fool, drunk as an ass!  Ass?—I beg pardon, my long-eared friend"—this with a grandiose, apologetic gesture—"I was drunk as a pig!" and, pulling up suddenly, be banged the ruler on the desk, stared hard at his scowling master for a moment, and then whisking round and presenting his rear, he waved his ragged coattails and cried, "Your look says, kick, sir!  By all means, the very thing, sir!  Oblige me with a kick, sir!"

    Simpson turned away with a weary sneer, and then, as he began to open his correspondence, he remarked icily—

    "Drink, you fool, if you like; but once come drunk to work and you'll have a kick out."

    Billy, for that was the clerk's name, took off his absurd hat, bowed obsequiously almost to the ground, stuck the shapeless head-covering on a peg, took up a pen and opened a ledger, and in a few moments was working at express rate, muttering as the shaky pen travelled over the paper a medley of Shakesperian quotations which Simpson neither recognised nor heeded.

    Proceeding with his correspondence, Simpson for once seemed disappointed with its purely business nature; then he sat down and stared vacantly through the dirty window, went out into the works, but, returning almost immediately, sat down to his letters again, and in a short time he was propping his chin on his hands and peering through the dirty panes.

    Usually Simpson could not work fast enough, and was incessantly and not too civilly stimulating to the excitable Billy; but today the poor clerk had peace, and his employer was up and down and in and out every few minutes.  Towards the middle of the afternoon, however, he seemed to revive, and gave some attention to his affairs; but just as Billy was going out, for what he superfluously called "tea," Simpson called him back.

    "Billy, would you like to earn—er—a—a— sixpence?"

    Billy removed his hat with a grand flourish, as though the sum named had been in banknotes, and protested that even the modest threepenny-piece was not beneath his consideration.  But just as he was plunging into quotation, Simpson asked—

    "Do you know Sticky Lane?"

    Billy was of the opinion that all Snelsby lanes were sticky, except when they were dusty; but Simpson, who was obviously impatient, interrupted—

    "It's the lane that runs down the back of High Street, on the further side from here.  Do you know Miss Dolly Wenyon?"

    "Woman! lovely woman!


"'They are the ground, the books, the academies
   From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.
   They—"


    "Oh, shut up!  She's the cooper's daughter; their house is the third from the bottom, and you'll know it by the fancy pigeon-cote near the back door."

    Billy was looking prodigies of comprehensive acuteness, but did not speak.

    "I want you to go there and watch for her; she's young—about twenty—and will, I daresay, have a light frock on."

    The clerk was nodding and his lips were moving, as he muttered to himself some choice quotation he dare not utter.

    "I'll take you and show you where you can stand and be out o' sight.  You are to watch till she comes into the garden; there is a summer-house facing the lane, and if you are smart you will be able to see right into it.  If she goes in there and sits down or begins pottering and gardening, whip round to me instanter; I want speech with her badly.  But if she seems to be likely to go indoors, stop her at once and give her this note."

    Billy was scowling and twisting his face to impress these details upon his mind, and as he took the note and was about to speak, his master added—

    "And look you, Billy, let me get speech with her, or only get this note safely into her hands, and I'll make it a shilling, and you can get as drunk as you like."

    An odd spasm, as though some sore spot had been touched in the poor wreck's soul, passed over his features, but Simpson, absorbed in his own affairs, noted nothing.

    "I can't skulk about there looking like a fool, so just look slippy, man—and, mind you! let the drink alone until you've done your job, and you may drink your fill."

    About six o'clock, therefore, Billy might have been seen dodging under the hedge on one side of narrow Sticky Lane some yards behind his master, who had strictly forbidden him to come nearer.  A minute later he was securely hidden in the deep hedge of the cooper's garden at the point indicated by Simpson, who was now strolling idly down the lane, trying hard to look as though he had no interest in anything near him.

    Unfortunately the little recess in which Billy found himself did not give him the advantage he required; the hedge was higher and thicker just there, and a clothes-post stood right in his line of vision for the summer-house.  He had not dared to point this out to his master, so he spent some time in seeking a more favourable point and thinning out the twigs thereabouts, so that presently he had a fairly convenient outlook.  Then he stepped hurriedly into the middle of the lane, glanced hastily up and down to make sure his master was not secretly watching him, took another somewhat absent-minded survey of the garden, and then, stooping so that his head was not visible over the hedge-top, scurried up the lane, darted into the back-yard of the Red Lion, and returned almost immediately, surreptitiously wiping his lips.  It was dull work standing there and peering through a hedge at the time of year when its foliage is thickest, and Billy was not of a patient nature.  Presently his muddled brain began to work in its favourite direction, and, smiting his chest with stagey vehemence, he cried under his breath—


"'Oh, what a fall was there, my countrymen!'


    A go-between!  Troilus become a Pandarus!  Adonis a messenger and fetch-and-carry for Hodge and Molly!"

    Scowling fiercely in tragic self-contempt, he shook his fist at the aperture he had made in the fence, wiped his mouth, glanced longingly towards the Red Lion, and was just subsiding into indistinct quotation, when his manner changed and a sudden admonitory "Ah!" escaped him.  In a moment his red nose was buried in the thick hedge and he was staring with raised brows and bulging eyes at some object in the garden.  Then he drew back, gave a soft prolonged "P–h–e-w," and jammed his face into the foliage again.

    "William," he gasped, "great William, she's a beauty!"—and then, after another amazed exclamation—


"'Oh, sweet Juliet, thy beauty hath made me
effeminate '"—


Billy took another long, wondering look around, as though calling all nature to behold this entrancing vision; then he thrust his face into the hedge again, and springing back in sudden horrified revulsion, he dropped into a melodramatic whisper and cried incredulously, "He!—and a goddess?  Pluto and Proserpina?  Beauty and the beast?" and with a face the picture of sudden loathing he dug his heel-less boots into the soft soil and took another peep.

    Dolly, clad in simple summer drapery, had come out into the garden, more by force of habit than anything else, and was now wandering aimlessly about the moss-grown paths with a cloudy, brooding face.  She was evidently avoiding the summer-house, and keeping herself from the more exposed places, but her manner was pensive and absent, a fact which the absorbed watcher did not fail to note.


"'The lily tincture of her face!'"


and poor Billy sighed prodigiously.  Dolly wandered a little nearer, and the excited watcher was feasting his eyes and marvelling more and more.


                                              "'Ah! ah!
She something stained with grief, that's beauty's canker"';


and Billy scowled until his face looked hideous, and fiercely shook his fist in the direction in which his master had left him.

    Dolly, unconscious of the eyes that were devouring her, stood there with drooping head just long enough for Billy to take his fill of her fresh and simple beauty, and then, turning her back to him, wandered toward the garden-house.  Billy dragged his fantastic hat from his head, squeezed it recklessly between his knees, pushed his head deeper into the thorny fence, heedless of scratches, and followed her keenly with his eyes.  Her beautiful hair, her soft willowy figure, and the neat little hands she clasped behind her, appealed powerfully to Billy's susceptible soul, and he sighed heavily as she moved away.  Suddenly he remembered his instructions and fixed his watery eyes on the summer-house.  But his thoughts were evidently otherwhere, and in a vain endeavour to fix his muddled mind on the amazing, confounding fact before it, he whispered to the hedges—

    "He, the soulless, money-grubbing bobbin-man!  He—


                                    'may seize
On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand,
And steal immortal blessings from her lips!'"


    Then he took another, a long indignant look, at the unconscious maiden.  She was leaning absently against the pillar that supported the roof of the summer-house, and gazing with cloudy face at a clump of snap-dragons.  As he watched her the thought grew great within him that he was playing an unworthy part; he was a spy, a spy for pay, for mere drink!  Of Simpson Crouch he was evidently prepared to believe the worst; of the pretty Dolly it were treason to think ill; and in a few moments the mercurial clerk had gone over heart and soul to the maiden's side.  Here was Beauty in distress; here was a lonely maid being dragged by a scheming villain, and perhaps by stern, greedy parents, into hateful marriage; or here was a tyrannical and jealous lover taking cruel advantage of his position and privileges; and the soft-hearted, muddle-brained watcher ground his teeth and spitefully thrust his red nose against the thorns.  "Ah!  Billy felt a cold chill run down his back, and his heart grew suddenly hot: the girl he was watching had lifted her hand and brushed something from her cheek.

    "A tear!  Oh, not a tear!" and a moment later, Billy, forgetful of his errand and even Shakespere, was staring with swimming eyes through the branches and weeping in copious sympathy with the sorrowful maiden, his mouth all a-work with feeling, and his frail body shaking with vicarious emotion, whilst great beads of tears were rolling down his cheeks and standing in blebs on his nose and chin.

    He gnawed at his lips, clenched his hands, thrust his heels deeper into the earth, and looked again.  She had sunk back into the shelter, and dropped disconsolately into a seat, her face covered with her hands, and soft sobs shaking her frame.

    "William! William!" and the agitated, sobbing drunkard shook his fist vehemently in the direction of the bobbin-shop.

    But his outstretched arm stopped suddenly in mid-air, a scowl of almost demoniac craftiness wrinkled his grotesque face, he patted his moist and ruddy nose with his forefinger, and bestowed a wink of prodigious cunning upon the nearest tree.  Then he dropped on his hands and knees, crawled along the hedge-bottom until he found a likely place, and then, with a final peep to make sure the distressed damsel was still there, he began crawling upon his stomach and insinuating himself through the fence into the garden.

    Dolly, whose thoughts, sad though they were, were miles away from Simpson Crouch, still sat in the shelter, allowing the soft tears to drop through her small fingers.  Her father's announced intention of taking the King's Arms had so amazed and distressed her, and her mother's pitiable sorrow was so harrowing to behold, that hope and comfort seemed suddenly to have left her life, and a sense of humiliation and horror at the thought of standing in a bar had taken entire possession of her.  To whatsoever point she turned, there was the same dreary, hopeless blackness, and though she had thought until her brain ached, she could think of neither likely way out nor friend to fall back upon.

    "Ah—hem!"

    Dolly raised her head with a startled exclamation.


    "'Weep not, sweet Queen, for trickling tears are vain.'"


    With a terrified little scream the amazed Dolly sprang to her feet and then fell back, gasping with fright, whilst the preposterous Billy, looking seedier and more ridiculous than ever, stood there with bared head and hand on heart, genuflecting like a French shopwalker.

    His outrageous sartorial get-up, his blooming nose, the tears not yet dried on his cheeks, and the fatuously reassuring smirk with which he beamed upon her, would, but for the startling suddenness of his appearance, have tickled Dolly's fancy, but as it was she shrank away in genuine fright, and cried, "Oh—oh!  Go away!  What do you want?" and she pushed her hands outward and averted her scared face.

    Billy majestically swept the floor with the crown of his hat, fell with a drunken lurch upon his knees, clasped his hands together, and cried,—

    "Afraid?  A garden goddess, a queen of flowers afraid!  'Tis Billy! thy slave Billy, love's meekest messenger!"

    "Go away!  Oh, I shall scream!"

    "Scream?  Am I a monster? a frightful goblin of the night?


    'The Russian bear, the Hyrcan tiger?'


    Ah, lady,


'I'm like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Which wears a precious jewel in his—er—a—hand,''


and with another dramatic flourish he pulled the letter out of his pocket, gallantly kissed it back and front, and with many an overdone bow presented it to the shrinking girl.

    Dolly was not a nervous person, and so, in spite of natural alarm at the advent of so suspicious and grotesque a stranger, amusement and curiosity were getting the better of her fears, and, reassured by the sight of Simpson's well-known yellowish envelope, she asked more confidently—

    "Who are you?  What do you want?"

    "Who am I?"—and Dolly noted that, fantastic and tramp-like though be was, his accent was refined—"I am love's poor pilgrim.  I am—ah, verily!"—this with sudden inspiration—"I am Mercury the messenger; I am Cupid himself!"

    Bowing, ogling, covering his dingy red waistcoat with expanded palm, and scraping his right foot at every word, the doubly intoxicated Billy was superb; and glints of fun shot up into Dolly's still wondering eyes; whilst a half-fearful smile began to play about her little mouth.  She had forgotten the letter; this grotesque and ridiculous figure was vastly more interesting, even though he did smell of beer.

    "Are you?—did you—did Simpson send you?"

    Another long series of obsequious bows.

    "Who?—where?—do you—do you work for him?"

    "Your servant's servant is your servant, madam," and the messenger made another unsteady attempt at posturing, and smote heavily on his chest.

    In our complicated natures there is a consciousness underneath our consciousness, and Dolly's prevailing mood at this time was pensive.  Something, therefore, in his last gestures struck her oddly and touched a tender chord.  She glanced at him again: his emaciated look, his worn, sunken eyes, the poverty-stricken details of his costume, all heightened in some odd way by the ridiculousness of his manner and appearance, moved her unexpectedly; she looked until her eyes grew misty, and, hastily feeling in her Pocket, she held out a little silver coin and murmured softly—

    "My poor, poor fellow!"

    And Billy returned her look with sudden stupidity, his whole frame gave a quiver of emotion, he reached out for the coin, and then sprang hastily back, whilst his face was all a-work with agitation, and the next instant he had cleared the summer-house and was staggering down the garden-path.

    Before she could collect her thoughts, however, he was back again.

    "Goddess divine!  Angel of pity sweet!" and his face was wet with maudlin tears.  "Command me! enslave me! b–b–b–ind me in chains, for I am thine," and then, as she rose and gently laid her band on his threadbare sleeve, he stepped back, eyed the place she had touched with glowing looks, and then, raising his hand in dramatic warning, he cried, "Beware of bobbins!  Beware of the heart of wood!" and with a snort, a snuffle, a hasty whisk round, and a flying sob, he was gone.

    And as Dolly sank wonderingly back into the shed, the anxious self-pity with which she had first entered it melted into soft, womanly sympathy, and the feelings that went out so tenderly to the poor muddled drunkard brought gentle relief to her own breast, and she lingered there in the fading light, forgetting utterly the letter in curiosity and pity for the messenger, and sad wondering at this strange, queer world.


 
CHAPTER VII

PHINEAS AT HIS WORST


MEANWHILE the cooper's little household was divided and distracted about the terrible impending, removal to the King's Arms.  Mother and daughter were filled with dumb, helpless incredulity that paralysed thought.  That a family of teetotalers should belie their convictions and the professions of a lifetime and become sellers of liquor was simply unthinkable, and Dolly at any-rate refused to believe that the thing would ever come about.  Mrs Wenyon was the prey of most painful misgivings; without ever having heard that "every man has his price," she had such mistrust in human nature, that she feared almost any human being could be overcome if only the temptation were strong enough.  She believed her husband to be sincere both in his religion and his teetotalism, but she knew that he did not like coopering, that he had strong business instincts which would paint to him the financial advantages of this tempting affair in rosiest colours, and that he was very susceptible to temptation on the side of his pet hobbies.  To her, therefore, it seemed only too possible that the inducement might be too strong for him.  It was hard to think so ill of him, but masculine human nature was very, very weak.

    And the cooper's own conduct strengthened her apprehensions.  He either was or pretended to be most unusually busy; he systematically avoided her, never gave her the opportunity of coming to close quarters with him; and if they were accidentally thrown together, he made all the haste possible, "couldn't be bothered just now," and got away as quickly as he could.  At meal-times and on other occasions when they must meet he put on a jaunty, rollicking air, seemed in most uncommonly good spirits, and indulged in rough witticisms and boisterous but plainly forced laughter.  Every now and again, as his eye caught hers, he would burst into unexpected and altogether inexplicable guffaws, as though the sight of her suggested some secret but irresistible bit of fun; and the more she sighed and moaned, the more flippant and demonstrative did he become.  That there was desperate defiance in his ill-timed jocularity, defiance of her, of public opinion, of the voice of the church and of his own conscience, she did not doubt for a moment; and knowing his natural obstinacy, she was praying that somebody would reason with him one moment, and dreading the provocative effects of "badgering" the next.  If Dolly refused to despair and spoke hopefully, she chided her as young and thoughtless; and if she gave the slightest indication of fear and was inclined to censure her father, the dear, distracted soul valiantly took up cudgels for her lord, and was fruitful of excuses and even justifications.

    The two anxious women noted that the deputations from the chapel and the Temperance Society ceased, that the cooper was being left severely to himself, and that they were all looked coldly upon by old friends wherever they went.  But when at last it was realised that Phineas was spending much of his time going to and from the hated public-house, and that preparations for the actual removal were already commenced, desolation came down upon them, and they gave themselves up to weary, useless lamentation.

    "But, mother, are we nothing?  Are we nobody?  Are we to be dragged into this shame without a word?"  And Dolly, though exceedingly indignant, was also very miserable.

    "'Honour an' obey,' lassie, 'for better or for worse,' 'till death us do part,"' moaned the sobbing wife.

    "But I'm not married to him!  I'm not—"

    "'Honour thy father an' thy mother,'" came struggling out of the crumpled apron.

    "But he does not honour us!  He degrades us, defiles us; he would drag us—oh, mother, fancy Dolly Wenyon serving beer to ogling, leering boobies in a tap-room!  I would die first!"

    Mrs Wenyon was gazing at her daughter with weary, pain-strained eyes that slowly filled with tears again.  Then she dropped her head, and with drooping, pathetic mouth she sighed—

    "Dying?  Wot's dyin'!  I'd die and be glad if I could save him, b–b–bless him!"

    It was only thus and now that Dolly realised how little hope of effective resistance there was in her mother; but just as she was preparing some fresh argument, Mrs Wenyon raised her eyes, and, clapping her hands, cried in tearful exultation—

    "Oh, thank the Lord!  That's it!  Oh, bless the Lord above!"

    "Mother, whatever is the matter?"

    "Oh, Dolly, my dearie, dearie, you are saved!"

    "Saved?"

    "Yes, saved!  Oh, blessed God—yes, saved!  Why, girlie, you can get married!" and in her eager delight with her own idea the poor soul put out her arms to catch at her daughter's gown.

    "But, mother, he—he's not asked me, and—and we've quarrelled."

    "Quarrelled?  Tut, tut, girl, what's a lovers' tiff!  'Lovers' quarrels quicken love.'  Make it up forthwith, woman; it's thy salvation!"

    Dolly, feeling inwardly the stabs of prudential self-reproach, gravely shook her head.

    "Yes, girl, it's the very thing!  It's Providence's gate of gold, a blessed way of escape.  'Lovers' quarrels are love redoubled.'  Why, bless us, thy father got me out of a quarrel!"

    Dolly's head was still shaking.

    "Tut, woman!  Leave it to me.  I've twenty pound upstairs, and I'll give him a hint to hurry—"

    "Mother!"

    "Tut!  Will you spoil your life for a tiff?  It's Providence!—a blessed, blessed Providence!"

    Dolly was wavering; she knew by this time that she had no great love for Simpson Crouch, but she had a sensitive woman's proneness to self-accusation.  Their courtship had given her lover certain rights, and it might be she was injuring him.  She had also much of her mother's simple, unlimited faith in the Divine Providence, and it really did look as though this was not merely a possible way out, but the one provided by the higher powers.  She had not an overweening faith in her mother's judgment, but she had unbounded confidence in her religious instincts, and the certainty with which Mrs Wenyon expressed herself greatly impressed her.  That she could bring her lover to her feet again by a word or even by a look she did not doubt; that she could get on fairly well with him when she must she also believed; and that the experiment would please her mother and bring hope to a shame-stricken, breaking heart seemed clear; but all the time something within her was almost choking her with protestations.  She was a woman, with perhaps more than her share of a woman's delight in self-sacrifice; it was something great to do, something beautiful, one little sacrifice as an acknowledgment of her mother's uncounted self-surrenders, and surely that was easy to do—and right.

    Slowly she raised her brooding eyes and looked waveringly into the other's painfully anxious face, and all at once a rush of uncontrollable emotion swept over her; prudence, self-interest, everything else was borne away before the impetuous rush of her feelings; she flung her soft arms round her mother, pressed a hot, wet cheek to another hot, wet cheek, and cried in broken accents

    "No! no! no!  There's plenty of lovers, but only one mother.  'Where thou goest I will go; where thou lodgest I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.'"

    Mrs Wenyon, as much overcome as her daughter, sat still and allowed the outburst to spend itself, and before Dolly had recovered she had concocted a guileless little plan of her own, and presently proceeded to carry it out.  She would soothe her daughter, put her off the scent by a little talk, and then contrive an interview with Simpson, which she felt confident would put everything right.

    But the questions she presently asked were not very encouragingly answered.  Dolly was very decided, saw no chance, and seemed to have no desire for reconciliation, and the poor mother got the suspicion that perhaps the separation had been of Simpson's own seeking, and that therefore Dolly could not re-open the subject.  The good soul thought very slowly, hugged to her heart as one of life's most precious remembrances the sweet words her daughter had uttered, and only came back by intermittent efforts to the plan she had decided upon.  Yes, she would act at once; Simpson would be only too glad.  Dolly could have almost any young fellow of their rank in the town.  She was too innocent, too good-natured to have made a quarrel without a cause.  Simpson might require a little management, but he could not have really changed his mind.  He was rather too worldly, perhaps—all men were, to her—but he knew how to look after his own interests, and the legacy, hateful though it was—Oh, no! no!  That is it! that is it—and the simple schemer, sitting alone and musing over her little plan, stared before her with wide, wondering eyes.  Of course!  Of course!  Oh, why had she not thought of that before!  Simpson was ashamed of them, and had broken the courtship off purposely!

    But just as the distressed soul reached this point, she heard her husband calling her, and hastened downstairs with a fast-fluttering heart.  Phineas was seated stiffly in his chair, and Dolly, white-faced and tremulous, leaned against an open cupboard door.  In a few moments the two were informed that two days hence they would take formal possession of the ale-house.

    Phineas spoke with quiet firmness, as though anticipating and rejecting beforehand all remonstrances; but their opportunity had come, and there was too much at stake to neglect it.  They objected, they protested, they appealed to his self-respect, his temperance, his religion; they offered to work with their own hands and keep him if he wished, to find him money for his hobbies, to suffer any privation, any sorrow, rather than be dragged down to this.  Observing that he listened with most unwonted patience, they took courage, and first hinted and then roundly declared that they would never, never darken the doors of the King's Arms; and at this the utterly abandoned wretch simply laughed.  They talked of his kindness, his indulgence as father and husband; they reminded him of the sweet, quiet days of the past and the shadowless sunshine of their hitherto happy lives; and Phineas shuffled uneasily in his chair and presently hung his head.  They appealed to his pride in his home, his delight in his only child, the money he had spent on her education, and the respect in which they were held in the town.  They recalled his ancestry and connections, his brother the missionary and his sainted father; and when, with a low grunt, he hastily brushed away a tear, they literally fell upon him, old arms and young being twined round his neck, old lips and young pressed to his burning cheek, and then—and then, oh! miracle of hardness!—he suddenly flung them both from him, sprang to his feet, and rushed away, crying as he banged the door—

    "I've said I'd take it, an' I'll take it."

    There was neither hope nor love in the faces of those two when, an hour afterwards, he came back; and, oddly enough, this time it was Phineas who had to expostulate.

    Were they to throw three thousand pounds into the gutter?  Weren't there good publicans as well as bad?  Did they think that the old skinflint who had gone was going to best him?  Weren't hotels absolute necessities in business and social life, and wasn't it a grand opportunity to show people how such places should be conducted?  Why, it was a call, it was a mission!  He could purify and reform a dishonoured but necessary calling, and thus do more good than his teetotal advocacy had ever done.  But the women had exhausted themselves, and though every word he uttered cut like a knife into them, there was no reply; and so finally, with an aggrieved air, he went off to bed without taking his invariable evening pipe.

    The awful day came at last.  Phineas was up by break of day, and he seemed to have so successfully hardened himself that he appeared to be positively enjoying himself.  When Dolly and her mother came upon the scene, he plunged at them in a clumsy, shamefaced fashion, and insisted on kissing them, and then, standing away and surveying them, though with averted eyes, he burst into a great roar and bustled off to hurry up the men.  Over the breakfast, with a brutality that utterly amazed them, he called Mrs Wenyon "landlady" and Dolly "barmaid" he declared the former was born for the job, and that Dolly would make the fortune of any decent bar.  He showed them a letter from a brewery firm offering £3250 for the inn, and requesting that he would receive their representative, who was empowered to make extraordinary terms if he would consent to "tie" the house.  All morning he bustled in and out, full of quips and cranks; and whenever he came upon either of them, he looked keenly into the leaden face, burst into a loud, coarse guffaw, and hastened away.

    Mrs Wenyon became more than distressed, and very soon even the bitter thought of where they would sleep that night was forgotten in more serious concern for her husband.  He was another man, an infinitely harder and coarser man.  Was he already in drink?  Had be broken his almost lifelong pledge so soon?  If it was not drink, he was certainly going mad, and her dull, heavy grief and gathering shame were lost sight of in alarmed anxiety.

    The inn was not many yards away, but one of the first things they learned that morning was that one of the King's Arms carriages was coming to take them to their new abode.  They both protested; they both wept.  They insisted that if they were to go, they would go the back way as quietly as possible, and after dark.

    But Phineas did not even listen to them, and when the time came he burst in upon them in a violent hurry, hustled them out of the dear old home and up to the carriage door.  When they drew back at the sight of the gaudy equipage, he almost tumbled them inside, and, skipping in after them, with a jaunty flourish he defiantly waved his hand to a little knot of scandalised chapel-folk who were looking sadly on.  Holding down their heads for very shame, the two humiliated and heart-broken women were borne rowdily away; but as they drew up in front of the hostel a fit of reckless bravery came upon Dolly, and, stung by the ridiculousness of the spectacle they were making, she tossed up her head and boldly looked round.  The painters were engaged upon the outside of the building, but Dolly noted that they had a surly, resentful look about them.  A man with a cart was driving away as they drew up, and loudly denouncing the new landlord for something she could not catch.  Two loafers were coming out of the inn door as they approached, and both looked indignant and disgusted.  Why, everybody, even the degraded drinkers themselves, were crying shame upon them.  "Lord help us!" groaned Mrs Wenyon, with a sigh that went to her daughter's soul.

    "Now then, come on!  Isn't it grand?  Shan't we be comfortable?  You'll live for ever here, old lady, and Doll 'ull get more blooming—What?  What did you say?"  The last sentence was addressed to a man who had entered the porch behind them.

    "A four o' whisky—warm."

    "Jane, gi' this man some whisky," and Phineas roared out the order as though there was some secret and delightful honour in it.

    Jane stood and grinned.  "Now then, mestur!—we'll give him a pie!"

    "Pie?" cried the customer in supreme contempt.

    "Ay, pie!  There's more good in it nor i' whisky, and thou'll get no whisky here," cried Jane with the same placid grin.

 

"Thou'll get no whisky here," cried Jane with the
same placid grin."


    "No, neither now nor never; they'll be nothin' intoxicatin' sold here," cried the cooper.

    The two women had only faintly attended to the altercation thus far, but the last words aroused them, and as the man turned away with a curse, Dolly, in wide-eyed wonder, turned to her father and demanded amazedly—

    "Father, what does it all mean?"

    "Mean?  Old skinflint left me this public, didn't he?"

    "Well?"

    "On condition that I lived in it, didn't he?"

    "Well?"

    "But there wur no condition about selling drink, was there?"

    Two breathlessly overwhelmed women gazed at the grinning cooper for a moment, and then the impetuous Dolly flung her arms round his neck, and, in spite of grinning lookers-on, began kissing and blessing him as though she would never cease.  Mrs Wenyon stood there looking dumfoundedly around; but in the first pause that came to Dolly's hysterical salutations, there was a soft, reverent, trembling sentence from the new "landlady"—


"'The b—b—bud may have a bitter taste,
   But sweet will be the flower,'"


 
CHAPTER VIII

SIMPSON SHOWS HIS HORNS


NEVER in the whole course of her short life had Dolly Wenyon been so inexpressibly, so overpoweringly happy as she was when the full significance of her father's grand coup dawned upon her; it was so sudden, so utterly unexpected, and yet so funny, and to her innocent mind so wonderfully clever, that her whole nature exulted in it, and the rebound from extreme depression to proud, exultant triumph was so great as to be almost painful.

    But her healthy young nature soon came to her relief, and in a few moments she was dispelling her long-pent and shameful anxieties in the wildest possible way.  With a sobbing laugh she sprang at and hysterically hugged her father, smothered her mother's inevitable proverbs about not whistling until you are out of the wood under a shower of kisses, caught that solid dame round the waist, as though to make her dance, and, finding the task beyond her powers, spun round the substantial form in a whirl.  She dragged her mother from room to room with incessant exclamations of delighted surprise at the many contrivances and conveniences to be found therein.

    Whenever she encountered her father in any of the many narrow passages, she fell upon him with a hug, till that good man, with rumpled hair and necktie all awry, rescued his cap from the sanded floor and declared with beaming face beaming that she had gone "clean daft."  She raced upstairs, whirled through the rooms, skipped down again, to drag the protesting new landlady after her to inspect the sleeping accommodation.  She called her father "Landlord," "Boldface," "Mine host," and even "Mr Bung."  She scrambled madly up to the attics and plunged into the cellars.  She patted the two astonished maids on the shoulder, and looked as though she could have eaten them.  She gave a grumbling and disappointed farm-labourer a whole shilling as compensation for the absence of "fourpenny," and terrified poor Jake the ostler by pouncing upon him from behind, and, mistaking him for her father, drawing his head back for a kiss, and then flinging him away with a little scream of embarrassment and shame.  At the tea-table—another of the cooper's crafty surprises—she gaily usurped her mother's position, gravely apologised for the absence of "brown" cream, badgered her father about the difference between "noggins" and "halfquarterns," pressed the unwonted dainties upon her parents with excited volubility, absently helped herself to this and that tasty bit, until her plate was a bewildering mixture of viands, of which after all she scarcely tasted; and when at length poor "mother" gently remonstrated, she rushed off into another string of delighted exclamations, and, finally breaking down with a treacherous catch in her voice, she burst into a flood of happy, grateful tears.

    She was quiet for some little time after this relieving breakdown, but even then her feelings found vent in caressing little strokes of her father's sleeve and affectionate little pats on her mother's soft hand; whilst the smiles she bestowed on the maids made them blush with pleasure, and the poor ostler received what he described privately as "another floorer" by being addressed as "dear."  The meal, though she took so little of it, did Dolly good; and though she was calmer and more self-possessed after it, the joy within seemed to grow deeper every moment.

    Dolly was happy—happier than she ever remembered to have been in her life; her cup was full to overflowing, and she must do something, and something adequate to the occasion.  She was making herself ridiculous, she told herself, but there was no help for it.  Her heart was swelling; she could not contain herself for gratitude to God, her father, and the whole smiling, friendly world.  Yes, she must do something!—something kind, something generous, something really great and handsome; she was happy, and others—ah! poor, poor Simpson!  The bobbin-maker would have had a perfectly new sensation if he could have peeped into that little back sitting-room and seen right down into the swelling heart of his hitherto obdurate and irreconcilable sweetheart.  Dolly was crying—crying for the pure joy of her last happy thought.  Yes, that was the very thing; that only would properly represent what she felt.  She would forgive Simpson; she would love him as of old, only more, much more.  Forgive him?  She would ask him to forgive her!

    The sunshine broke again through the pitiful tears; yes, Simpson should be forgiven and reinstated.  There was something deep down in her heart which was protesting strangely —well, let it!  She was glad of it!  It would make the effort greater and the sacrifice more real.

    Simpson should be restored, handsomely restored, and that very night.  She would go further even than that.  He often visited them as her father's friend at the old cooperage, but she had never brought him formally into the house as her future husband—perhaps the poor fellow had felt that.  Well, she would make ample amends; he should come that very night, should have the daintiest supper the King's Arms could provide, and should be as happy as she was herself.

    Too excited to sit, she paced about the room, clasping her hands together, and laughing and crying and crying and laughing at the fairy pictures in her mind.  They seemed so beautiful, so appropriate to her state of mind, that she could not resist them, could not reason about them, could not even wait until Simpson should be at liberty.

    Stealing out of the inn the back way, she scurried up the lane, in at the old cooperage garden door, and up to her own old bedroom to dress—for even in this delighted ecstasy she could not forget her clothes.  Any dress had been good enough for that reluctant and shameful expedition to the King's Arms, but now she must look her very, very best.  Her Sunday clothes?  No, but a judicious selection.  There was a hat that did justice to her hair, and a blouse that was a little less prophetic than the others of embonpoint, a gown that helped her complexion, and—oh, yes—a sweet little brooch that Simpson had helped her to select.  (That prudent young man had never bought her anything more expensive than chocolates.)  She began her toilet in nervous, fluttering haste, but the finishing touches were added with absentminded, dubious deliberation.  At first she could not dress fast enough; at last she was ready too soon.

    She lingered at the glass a strange long time for a person in a hurry; her complexion had never been so bad, or her hat so unmanageable.  She thought more and more about sending a little note, but she had previously decided that that would not do; she must go to the mill, go even to his very home and encounter that terrible sister of his, if need be, to make adequate amends.  She was impatient to be off, and yet she lingered.  She smiled to think of Simpson's surprise and joy, and yet she had to put her hand upon her heart to quell its turbulent beatings.  Oh, yes, God had been good!  So good!  It must be done, and done handsomely.  And so at last she started on her journey with a plunge, pulled up at the shop door with a palpitating heart that nearly choked her, turned half round in frightened postponement, and then rushed into the street with sudden, desperate decision, her heart thumping into her ears, her face changing colour every moment, and her limbs trembling under her.

    It was a mad thing, a bold, most improper thing, Dolly told herself as she hastened on, to visit a young man at his place of business; but whilst her mind went back to the security of her little room and the handy notepaper she might have used, her feet went forward, and in a few moments she stood at the bobbin-maker's office door.  She did not expect to find it ajar, and when she did so she cast a startled glance around and started to flee.  Her leaden feet, however, refused to move, and lifting a hasty little sigh she knocked timidly on the panel.  The silence that followed was providential, and there was still time to escape, but she could not move, and presently mustered courage to tap again.  Could anything more clearly indicate the will of the higher powers than this?  But still she lingered, and at last, with a shaking hand, she ventured to touch the door and gently push it inward.  Still nothing happened.  Why, the outer office was empty, there was nobody about!  Ah, yes!  Peeping shyly in, she could just see the elbow of a sleeve and part of an arm and shoulder; it was Simpson himself, but he had not heard.

    Then an idea struck her; another timid glance around, and she pushed the door softly before her and stepped on tiptoes into the outer apartment.  Pausing to balance herself and get her breath, she could hear nothing but the scratch, scratch of Simpson's pen.  A nervous teasing fit, the refuge of fear rather than the prompting of fun, was upon her; she peeped round the corner of the inner door, paused a moment, drew a long breath, and then whispered—quite loudly she thought—"Simmy!"

    Scratch, scratch went the heedless pen.  Simpson had not heard.

    "Simmy!"

    But still the relentless writing tool scraped on its way.

    "Simmy!  Oh, Simmy!" and dropping her painful play she stepped into the doorway, every limb of her body trembling, and her face red with hot, desperate blushes.

    With a nervous jump and a startled cry, Simpson sprang round and faced her, his chair tilting over and falling with a noisy bump and his pen dropping from his limp fingers.  And there they stood for a moment; but Dolly, looking up at him with a smile through which the tears were rising, saw his face change rapidly, and all for the worse.  There was alarm, as though he had been caught in some nefarious act, then surprise and dawning pleasure, and then the sudden gathering of black, fierce, wrathful indignation, and before she could muster strength to speak he had hissed out in blazing resentment—

    "Your father's a confounded ass."

    As though the stinging lash of some terrible whip had struck her, Dolly quivered from head to foot; and as they stood there confronting each other, neither of them heard the step and the slightly shuffling movement in the outer office.

    But there were undreamed-of depths in Dolly's innocent nature, and the troubles through which she had recently passed, and from which she had been so wonderfully delivered, had made her sympathetic and generous.  Her soul was burning with a sense of insult, but Simpson had a real grievance; she had commenced this hard task and must go through with it; and so presently she raised her head and said in quiet, measured tones—


"Her soul was burning with a sense of insult."


    "Don't blame father, Simpson; it is I, only I."

    "Then the bigger fool you, that's all!"

    Another pause, another long suffocating struggle in Dolly's soul, and then came the harsh, grating demand—

    "What do silly women want wi' business?"

    "Business?', stammered the bewildered and outraged girl.  "It isn't business.  I came to—to—to make it up."

    "Did you?"

    This in a tone of cold scorn that struck like a whip-lash; but she still persisted.

    "Yes, oh, yes!  I've been silly, but, oh, Simpson, God has been so good, and father so brave and strong—"

    "Brave?  Strong?" and, raging with a sense of irreparable injury, he glared at her with fierce indignation and cried impetuously, "He's an ass a blockhead! a conceited, whining, humbugging hypocrite!"

    "Simpson!"

    "A swindling ranter! a canting, mouthing, fanatical idiot! that throws three thousand pounds away and brags about it!"

    "Simpson, I came to—"

    "You came to cant, and whine, and lie like your father.  You are bragging about a deed that is the act of a drivelling lunatic!"

    But Dolly had come back to herself at last, and standing up to her utmost inch, she was eyeing him with a glance that made even this raging madman quail.  Then after another long pause she moved haughtily back, surveyed him witheringly from head to foot, and said slowly—

    "Simpson Crouch, God has been very good to me; He has saved me from lifelong shame and made my dear father dearer than ever.  I thought I loved you once, but now I know I never—"  But all at once she stopped, struggled to speak and could not, choked back her swelling sobs, and finally burst out, "Oh, Simpson, Simpson, forgive me!"

    There were more strange, snuffling sounds in the outer office, but neither of them heeded.

    The bobbin-man, as she took a half step towards him, and pleadingly held out her hand, stepped sullingly, scornfully back.

    "Will forgiveness bring back your fortune?  Will forgiveness save that three thousand pounds?  Bring back the property and I'll talk to you; but I'm not going to marry a fool!"

    Stricken and utterly broken under the double shame of that cruel moment, Dolly cast one last piteous glance at the raging man before her, and then, with another burst of weeping at the thought of her fruitless self-abasement, she turned to leave.  Her head was bowed, and her eyes half blinded with tears, but as the inner door closed behind her she became dimly aware of the figure of a man in the outer room, who, utterly oblivious of her presence, and with face drawn into puckers of melodramatic rage, was wildly gesticulating, ruler in hand, at the aperture through which she had just come.  She paused and raised her head, but he did not heed.  First the ruler, then the ink-pot, then the coal-shovel were brandished and shaken at the door, and thick-voiced threats of most murderous intent were hurled at it, until, in spite of herself, Dolly was compelled to notice.  All at once the performance stopped, the extemporary weapons were thrown aside, and, springing to the outer door, the ridiculous Billy held it open and commenced a series of posture-master genuflexions which at any other time would have greatly amused her.  As she emerged into the yard, still stifling her sobs, Billy snatched at the loose door-nob, swung himself forward, hanging on the latch with one hand, and shouted in deep, tragic tones—


"'Arise, black vengeance, from thy hollow cell.
   He hath out-villained villainy so far
   That the rarity redeems him."'


    In her crushing, bewildering disillusionment, overwhelmed at once with shame and indignant resentment, Dolly gave but a passing glance to the grotesque figure as she passed on her way, but Billy stood blinking after her and muttering quotations for a full minute after she had disappeared.  A more miserable, helpless wreck of humanity than he looked, as he stood staring helplessly down the yard, it would have been impossible to find, but the scene he had witnessed through the half-opened office door had awakened a long dead something in the poor outcast's breast, and this, blending with all the other emotions of the moment, made him look and act like one distracted with conflicting and mutually exclusive emotions.  In that brief space of time he wept, he laughed, he grinned like an angry cat, he cursed; and finally he drew himself up, as though for one pathetic moment his ruined nature had been touched with a gleam of long-lost dignity, and with a heavy sigh and a seriousness quite new to him lie sauntered absently back to his desk.

    At this instant, however, he heard Simpson's chair move, and all his recent excitement came rushing back.  It looked for a moment as though he were about to spring at the door and burst it in, but his upraised arms were suddenly arrested and then flung higher than ever, in the tragedian's most approved style of manifesting sudden and startling surprise.  His eye had fallen on the knob of a drawer which had been left half open, and he was staring with hypnotic intentness on a bit of light-coloured dress material.  It was obviously a fragment of the dress of the lady who had just departed, and Billy, transfixed with mingled delight and reverence, stared at it like one bewitched.  Then he took a long, comprehensive glance round on the silent fixtures, evidently inviting their attention to this most marvellous bit of luck, rubbing his hands together as he did so, and laughing in low, delighted chuckles.  He straightened out his face, strode towards the little knob, sprang suddenly backward with alarm, quickly relapsed into giggling, and, appropriating the small blue morsel of material, he hugged it in his hands, into sniggering, gleeful grimaces, and burst out—


"'The very train of her worst wearing gown
   Was better worth than all my father's land.'"


    If the little bit of dress-edging had been singing to him, Billy could not have been more fascinated.  He held it at arm's-length and grinned at it; he dodged first to one corner of the room and then to the other, still glowering at his treasure; he scowled and glanced with sudden suspicion at the inner office door, and then, after two or three foolish plunges this way and that, laid the scrap of material cautiously on the desk and began to gloat over it.  At the stirring of his master's chair he swept it under his flattened palm and hid it under the whole breadth of his forward-bending chest.  Then, as his alarm passed, he took it out, and, reverently kissing it, talked to it in incoherent Shakesperian snatches.  Simpson came out of the office, but Billy was too quick for him.  He answered his gruff command to close the building with an obsequious but silent bow, and then, as the bobbin-man went his way, he took out the little shred once more and bent over it in maudlin, doating ecstasy.  Presently he found a piece of soft tissue paper, and carefully folded his precious prize within it.  Then, as he stood in the middle of the floor, still patting the place where his treasure lay, next his bare skin, he suddenly remembered something, and his jaw dropped, whilst his face turned a bilious yellow-green.

    He had been so absorbed in his wonderful find that he had forgotten to ask his master for the invariable "sub," and it was more than his place worth to follow him home.  Drink was food, shelter, friends, life, to Billy Stiff, and in a few moments the prospect of a night without it had reduced him to a most pitiable condition.  He stared despairingly through the window, searched and researched his pockets for at least one remaining coin, inspected his clothes in the vain hope that there might be some garment with which he could dispense, though that stage had been passed long ago; and at last, in sheer desperation, he took a stealthy glance around in search of something not his own, which he yet might turn into cash.  Billy had had an unusually trying day, and had all the excuses of this additional strain to reinforce the already almost irresistible longings within him; and for the first time in his long stagger to ruin he would have taken what did not belong to him.  Power to resist his besetment had long since left him, but he had never yet found dishonesty any temptation.  To-night, supported by maddening desires and the clamour of exhausted nerves, the desire had gripped him remorselessly, and was driving his last trace of manhood before it.

    Unaccustomed now to resistance, he was frightened at the very thought of internal conflict; but in spite of himself, and the mental trickiness he had developed in his long downward course, he now found himself in the very throes of a most terrible struggle.  He was weakly protesting, crying, glancing furtively round on the tempting articles of furniture and groaning in helpless self-pity, and in a few more moments would have been a thief.  But as he stood there helpless and craven, distressed more at the fact than the nature of the conflict, there came floating across his muddled brain a dim and struggling picture.  Fading, freshening, clouding, brightening, dissolving and reappearing, he saw betimes a little hut-like, wayside cottage, a spotless fireside, a patched arm-chair, and an old man with snuffy nose and eyes nipped tightly together, kneeling on a red bundle handkerchief together in prayer, whilst a chubby, comfortable old woman moaned responses at the edge of the table.  "Our erring brother," "Thy poor prodigal," "This Poor lost sheep as Thou art seeking," seemed to sound again in his ears; and as the poor drunkard stood stiff and still, as though listening to sweetest music, the maudlin tear began to dry on his pallid cheek, the chest ceased its convulsive liftings, the weak, frightened look faded, and some faint suggestion of manliness, almost of dignity, appeared on the feeble face.  And as the vision always moving began to pass, there came just for one moment one fleeting glimpse of an old summer-house and a soft girlish face set therein, and Billy lifted a long, tremulous sigh.  But the next moment a rush of relaxing, traitorous self-pity swept everything away, and he was fast subsiding into the one emotional luxury left to him, helpless, lachrymose self-commiseration.  Billy was experiencing the wholly unexpected and emotionally intolerable resurrection of his long-lost manhood; and every jaded nerve of his body, and every flabby, tyrannous passion within him, was savagely protesting.  Was not his manhood dead and buried?  Had not appetite and emotion established the right to rule by long, unquestioned possession?  Why then these useless, these terrifying pangs, added to the already more than sufficient miseries of his life?

    There was a soft knock at the door, and Billy turned with a caught-in-the-act guiltiness, and faced Jeff Twigg, the bill-sticker.  Billy could have sprung upon him and worried him like a mad dog.  To his own surprise, however, he stood perfectly still and waited for the visitor to speak.  Ever since the night when Jeff and his wife had picked Billy half unconscious out of the hedge-bottom and given him a home, the bill-sticker, thankful that at last God had sent him a burden and a cross, had been doing his very utmost to wean his protégée from his besetment, but without success.  He had provided tracts on every conceivable aspect of the drink question, and had listened with hopes all too unreliable as Billy himself had read them out in the quiet summer evenings at the tollhouse door.  He had found him the garments he wore, and taken him again and again to the little Bethel from which he drew his own spiritual inspiration.  He had obtained for him the shamefully paid and precarious employment he now enjoyed, and had watched him early and late to keep him out of temptation.  Discovering that Billy kept himself right during the day, but called at the first public-house he could reach when he left the office, Jeff had taken the precaution to lie in wait for him and conduct him home.  After the first two nights, however, Billy had always dodged him, leaving the works by some irregular way, once, in fact, creeping underneath the waterwheel and wading across the river to escape capture.  But the poor wreck had things about him that had laid strong hold on the bill-sticker's simple affections, and Jeff, in spite of many disappointments, was more intent than ever on his almost hopeless mission.

    The man of paste eyed his charge uneasily.  The bubbling, loquacious Billy, the blubbering, tearful Billy were familiar to him, but Billy the grumpy was a novelty.

    "She's made us some oven-bottom cakes for us tea," he remarked; and as the appetising dainty did not produce the effect desired, he added in unctuous, coaxing tone, "Buttered."

    Billy gave his shoulders a contemptuous shrug.  What were cakes, however buttered, to a man whose whole soul was on fire for drink?

    "She's bought t' County Times about that there murder, and she's just dyin' to hear about it."

    Gallant and loyal to the other sex, Billy was exceedingly fond of old Thomasina Twigg, but at this moment he was measuring distances with his eye, and calculating the possibilities of a spring and a bolt.  Jeff, observing nothing, went on hesitatingly—

    "She—she—we both like your readin', an'— an company."

    But there was the crash of a stool against a desk, a spring, and in another instant Billy would have escaped.  As it was, the big bill-sticker, more alert than he appeared, made a sudden sideway dart, caught the flying clerk round the waist, and, lifting him clean off his feet, folded him, with an involuntary exclamation at his lack of weight, to his breast, as a mother might take a rebellious child, and as he did so, he cried in choking tones—

    "Oh, my lad, my lad, we'll save thee!  We'll save thee yet!"

    Quivering all over with baffled rage, Billy struggled to his feet, and retreating to the further corner of the room, he glared and grinned like a wolf at bay.

    "Curse your saving!  Curse your snivelling prayers!  Give me drink, drink!"

    "Oh, man, man!—"

    "Drink, I say!  Drink is my god; drink is my heaven, my all!"—and then, breaking suddenly down; he dropped upon his knees, and snatching at poor Jeff's hand he cried in piteous, pleading tones: "One drop!  One little, little drop!"

    The bill-sticker stood there looking down on the poor grovelling wretch, with a heart that would have given him the last thing he had on earth; every other feeling was forgotten in tender fellow-feeling.  The resolute lines about his mouth were relaxing, his hand was already moving waveringly towards his pocket, and in another moment the suppliant would have carried his point.  But, in this, the least likely of all moments, there was a change in the drunkard himself; he had sprung to his feet and snatched at Jeff's arm.  There was fear, anxiety, desperation in his haggard face; the frenzied fingers with which he gripped the other's arm drove into the flesh as though they had been iron tools.  "Now, now, this instant!  Take me home!  The nearest way, the safest way.  Oh, for God's sake, take me whilst it lasts!"

    It took nearly an hour, and more than one weary chase, to get the drink-ridden man to the tollhouse, and once there the quiet little home became a sort of pandemonium.  Billy snatched at the wonderful cakes like a ravenous beast, and then spat the food out and yelled for drink.  Twice he had to be dragged from the door by main force, and twice he collapsed in hopeless tears.  He cursed the drink in language that made his keepers shudder, and then cursed them for keeping it from him.  He coaxed, and pleaded, and promised, and then laughed, and mocked, and swore.  He called Jeff all the tragedy names he could remember, and made slobbering, demented appeals to his wife as the "angel of the bower."  He grew suspiciously quiet, and decided to go to bed; but when he realised that Jeff proposed to accompany him to the little sleeping-room across the way, he decided to sit up and make a night of it.  When Jeff got him across the room and the door locked, he pleaded and coaxed with such plaintive earnestness that Jeff quaked for himself, and was intensely thankful when the fit passed.  A little after midnight he grew still, and Jeffrey, lying by his side, felt his own eyes drooping.  But then, without the slightest warning, the madman sprang out of bed, mounted a chair, and there, with the moonlight streaming upon his pallid face through the little window, went through the whole of Mark Antony's oration on the death of Caesar.

    "Words? Words? Let us have music! A song, sirs, a jolly song!" cried the crazy fellow, and, jumping down from his elevation, he began to drag Jeff out of bed to sing.  The bill-sticker was at the end of his patience; but, reminding himself that this was his cross, he quietly got out of bed and prepared to do as he was bidden.  He groaned, rubbed his eyes, picked his bare-footed way to the corner of the room selected by the imperious and crazy stage-master, and stood there, trying vainly to remember some song of other days, his tormentor spreading himself on a chair and trying hard to play the audience in most approved gallery style.  Jeff's memory worked slowly, and an overpowering sense of the ridiculousness of the scene did not help him.  He started again and again, in the vain hope that the words would come with the tune; and presently, standing there the picture of weary misery, he had a sudden inspiration, a new and, he always afterwards asserted, divinely suggested notion took possession of him, and, clearing his voice, and silently lifting his simple heart in prayer, he began:


"Oh, have you not beard of that beautiful stream
     That flows from the river of life?
 Its waters so free are flowing for thee
     Oh, seek that beautiful stream!"


    The "audience" stared, frowned, gasped, and suddenly became still as death.  The singer was old, his voice unmusical, and his notes harsh; but the hearer, as a rule fastidious enough where music was concerned, listened spellbound; and a moment later Jeff experienced the greatest amazement of that amazing day, for he found a man clinging to his bare legs and sobbing, not with the whining, drunken bathos of other occasions, but in deep, solemnest earnestness, sobbing as only a man can sob.



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