BILLY STIFF AWAKENS
THE sultry summer
evening upon which she went to fetch Thomasina Twigg proved to be
one of the most important in Dolly Wenyon's life; not for any one
outstanding circumstance that distinguished it, but from a
succession of small events and impressions all pointing one way, and
all giving shape and distinctness to one idea. Billy Stiff,
though only a poor, drunken tramp, had piqued her curiosity and
excited all the interest of her fresh, rustic young nature by his
fantastic manners and his absurd air of exaggerated gallantry;
whilst his impulsive and beautiful heroism in saving her life at the
risk of his own, and with such painful consequences to himself, had
suddenly made him a hero indeed in her eyes, his bravery being all
the more beautiful by contrast with his almost imbecile
wretchedness. What she had seen and heard at the tollhouse had
deepened these feelings, and, following the pure impulses of her own
tender womanhood, she had suddenly become as enthusiastic for his
reclamation as either Jeff or his wife. All these feelings
were heightened more than she was aware by the mystery surrounding
the poor fellow's personality.
Dolly despised a drunkard, but what had happened made it for
ever impossible for her to despise Billy; and if he should turn out
to be some noble nature ruined by this one dreadful besetment,
nothing could be more delightful than to assist in any way, however
small, in his rescue. She was young and hopeful, and the
experiences of the day seemed to have all been sent to deepen her
interest and intensify her concern for the suffering invalid.
Noticing, as she entered the inn, that the parlour door was
half open, she glanced in with the intention of speaking with her
father, and almost instantly drew back with a little cry and hurried
on; for there, sitting close to her father and engaged in earnest,
low-voiced conversation, sat Simpson Crouch. Her first impulse
was to burst in upon them and let her parent know what manner of man
this was in whom he was thus confiding, and what insulting language
he had used about him. Checking herself, however, she hurried
upstairs to take off her things and collect her thoughts. As
she stood thus, touching up her hair before the glass, her mother
came into the room, carefully closing the door after her. She
looked a little red and flurried, but there was the same air of
resolution and confidence about her as she had worn ever since she
took charge of her patient.
"Thank goodness he's gone, and good riddance to him."
"Gone? Who? Not the poor—"
"Him? No! He won't go, bless thee. I'll
"But, mother, what is Simpson doing—"
"T' doctor looked at his body—bless thee, girl, it was as
white as a baby's, and that pitiful thin—then he ups an' he glares
at me fit to sting me, an' he shouts, 'This is no tramp! This
is a gentleman,' he says. 'Send for his friends,' he says."
"'We don't know nothin' about him,' I says."
"'Find out, then,' he says, 'an' sharp,' he says.
'Somebody knows. Find his friends, an' send for 'em at once'
he says; an' off he bounces, muttering all t' way downstairs."
Mrs Wenyon, breathless with her headlong recital, and still boiling
over with outraged indignation, paused a moment to recover herself;
and Dolly was just commencing, "But, mother—" when the old lady
burst out again—
"We knew 'at Jeff and 'Siná knew nothin', and so your father
bethinks him of Simpson, an' sends for him. But that's nearly an
hour sin'. Haven't they done their gabbling—Eh? Yes, I'm here,
Miriam," and away hurried the important old lady to her charge.
Dolly stood thinking: the condition of the patient was infinitely
more interesting than Simpson and his doings, and so, in a moment or
two, she was lost in profound reflection. Why, now that she
remembered, 'Siná had referred on their way from the tollhouse to
Billy's ridiculous fastidiousness in matters of personal
cleanliness, and his curious habit of going for days without washing
whilst in drink, and then slopping all over the scullery floor in
his constant tubbings when sober. And all at once the maiden's
romantic fancy took fire. This was no fallen tradesman or clerk; he
was a disguised nobleman, such as the stories all told about—an
aristocrat who had been robbed of his rights by unprincipled
relatives and driven to drink by his many misfortunes. Dolly
thrilled—but there was someone coming; she could hear a hand
groping for the latch—the King's Arms was too old-fashioned to have
Then the door opened slyly, and Miriam, with face of portentous
secrecy, stepped on tiptoes into the room, drawing something out of
her pocket as she did so.
"I took it out of his breast myself when I was a undressing of him. It was lying close next to his poor heart," and slipping a little
crumpled bit of paper into Dolly's hands, the maid puckered up her
face into inscrutable signals of gave a series of warning nods,
and then, with a subdued "Yes! Coming!" in response to a soft call
from outside, carefully closed the door and vanished. Dolly held the
packet in her hand, looked hard at it, and sighed. Then she slowly
changed it from one palm to the other and stared at it with
hypnotised intensity. She was about to open it, and then stopped. No, no! this crumpled thing, dingy and worthless though it looked,
contained this stranger's secret; who was she to pry into it? She
heaved another great long sigh, looked longingly at the paper,
essayed again to know its contents. No! It was his secret, and even
if he died—if he died? Why, nobody knew who he was; this might give
the information. But the very strength of her desire alarmed and
ashamed her; she would keep it carefully, and if he recovered—but
the doctor had said he would not recover, and that his friends were
to be communicated with. And so gently, and with wavering slowness,
she turned back the cover of the little parcel and beheld—a little
piece of her own best frock.
For a moment or two astonishment was the predominant feeling within
her; then perplexity as to how the little fragment could have got
into such hands; and then a slow, timid blush, growing deeper and
hotter every moment, stole up her neck and into her face, until
every line of her countenance was rose-red with embarrassment, half
painful, half pleasant.
This, then, was why Miriam had been so very mysterious; she had
opened the scrap and guessed its queer little secret. The odd little
sentences which 'Siná had quoted to her in which Billy had babbled
of a garden queen came back into her mind; every detail of her one
interview with him, the passing glimpse of his face as she hurried
out of Simpson's office, returned vividly to her, and all these,
appealing as they did to her susceptible heart, moved her very soul,
and coloured with loveliest tints that made it for ever beautiful
his one little momentary heroism. Dolly had all a woman's delight of
love, all a woman's delight in being singled out as the object of
supreme affection even by the most abject and impossible of mortals;
and at that moment every other thought was suffused with the glow of
a great sweet wonder, that this crazy, drink-sodden wretch was
capable even yet of a pure human love. It was so beautiful, so
infinitely touching and pitiful, that in that melting moment poor
drink-cursed Billy seemed a hero, and his love all the more rare and
divine when found in so utterly ruined a heart. A long, quivering
sigh escaped her lips, her eyes shone with tender holy light that
was quenched instantly in tears. This simple maid knew nothing of
introspection, she never paused to ask herself how much of her
delight arose from the fact that the love she was glorying in was
love to her; it was there, a thing to rejoice in for its own sweet
sake; there was suggestion in it, promise in it, and wonderful
possibility in it; and as every real woman is a born reclaimer and
saviour, there came out of that struggle the hope that Stiff would
not die, that body and soul alike might be recovered, and that
Billy, reclaimed and restored, would be a man once more. Thus in
that moment the maid became a woman and gave her soul to love's
sweetest saddest illusion, and embarked upon love's dearest and most
disappointing experiment, the salvation of a man by love.
Nobody went to bed that night at the King's Arms; the very
atmosphere, sultry and heavy, seemed to have a portent in it;
everybody went about with soft steps and spoke in subdued tones. The
interview between Phineas and Simpson lasted a long time; and when
at last it was over, the ex-cooper, after inquiring about the
condition of the patient, moved about the house with a strange
restlessness, unable to settle down anywhere, and yet gruffly
refusing to go to bed. Dolly, excluded by her age and sex from the
sick-room, haunted the staircase like a shadow, and cross-questioned
with almost jealous exactitude every one who came out from the
presence of the sick one. About midnight the sufferer was said to
be showing signs of returning consciousness, but an hour later the
only answer Dolly could get to her inquiries was a solemn shake of
the head. At about two o'clock 'Siná, emerging from the sick-room,
drew her favourite girl into a room where there was a clock and
grimly announced, "It 'ull be sattl'd one road or t' other afore
that strikes three." Dolly tried to question her old friend, but
'Siná had all the importance of mystery upon her, and retired again
to the nursing chamber. Dolly, resolved to be resigned, had a little
cry and said she was resigned; all the same she was ever on the
staircase, moving quietly about in the passage, or listening with
restrained breath at the bedroom door. Again and again she went to
look at the clock. Twenty past, half-past, ten to three, but all was
still in the sick-chamber. The clock struck. Phineas, who was with
her at the moment, consulted his heavy fob-watch; Dolly looked first
at one drowsy-eyed maid and then at another, and presently, unable
to rest longer, began to creep towards the fatal chamber. There was
not a sound, not a breath to be heard. A soul was perhaps at that
moment passing, all unready, to its great account, but passing by a
deed that had served—
"Beware of Bobbins!"
The voice was deep, sepulchral, or at least in the silent midnight
Dolly shivered. Was it some last warning, some message which the
light of another world suggested—
There was a sound of stealthy moving, a chorus of soft whispers, a
creaking of the bed, and then a loud, eager craving, "Drink!—a drop!
a drop!—Bobbins, beware of Bobbins!" and the terrified girl fled to
her room and buried her shuddering form under the bedclothes.
A WALK TO THE TOLLHOUSE
DOLLY'S bedroom adjoined
the spare-room in which poor Billy Stiff was lying, and the
momentary sounds which came from the latter apartment gradually died
away and all was still again. The hours wore slowly by, and
the laggard dawn was long a-coming. By daylight, the household
was made aware that the patient was at anyrate no worse, and Mrs
Wenyon when she appeared looked placid and confident. That day
passed, and the next, and though the doctor was persistent in his
forebodings, the patient still lingered; and by this time, little
though there was to justify it, confidence began to return to the
household, and Dolly had contrived to get some small share in the
nursing arrangements. Phineas spent much of his time with the
unusually obliging and sympathetic bobbin-maker, who, though he was
not able to say who Billy was, gave the cooper to understand that he
knew something and might be able to ascertain more. He had so
many plausible arguments to prove that Phineas was wrong in blaming
himself for the accident, and was so humble and obliging, that the
new landlord began to reproach himself for having so harshly
misjudged so sympathetic and right-thinking a young man; and as
Simpson's business had always been supposed to require incessant and
close attention, and must therefore be suffering from its master's
devotion to the cooper's affairs, Phineas could not but be sensible
of obligation, and relaxed and tried to forget the prejudice he had
so strongly conceived.
Simpson had pointed out that even if the patient recovered it
would still be better to find out all that was possible about his
friends—supposing that he had any; and so he spent his days making
inquiries, and his evenings in reporting progress to the cooper.
Two more days, and even the doctor admitted that if the patient's
strength held out, and he could be induced to take sufficient
nutriment, and if no relapse occurred, and above all if no drink
were given him, he might at anyrate last a little while longer.
This was a great deal to get from him, and the new inhabitants of
the King's Arms were relieved and encouraged; even Phineas allowing
himself now and again to think of worldly things—that is, of prize
Simpson, it seemed, was touched with the "fancy," and knew
where a certain incomparable variety of Black Hamburghs were to be
But the bobbin-maker was getting impatient: time was passing,
the value of the King's Arms was melting away day by day; his
venturesome hint that it was dangerous to defy the law and cease to
sell liquor whilst the legal objection raised by the opposition was
still undecided had been so frostily received that he had dropped it
hastily and changed the subject. The contemplated sale of the
coopering business had from Simpson's standpoint such a close
balance of advantage and disadvantage that he hesitated what to
advise, and so nothing was being done. Meanwhile, Clara
Crouch, triumphant over the little bit of astute work she had done
herself, and bitterly sarcastic about the slow pace at which he was
moving, was getting past living with.
The bobbin-maker was not either very imaginative or very
patient, and so, as Dolly had infected her parents with the fanciful
notion that their patient was a disguised aristocrat, Simpson was
badgered every time he went abroad to bring back all copies of
London papers he could get possession of; so that when he was
anxious to improve the time by inflaming Phineas's zeal for
fowl-fancying, he found that worthy profoundly interested in the
"agony columns," and eager to discuss every advertisement that might
by any stretch of imagination be supposed to refer to Billy Stiff.
The sick clerk's name was, Phineas argued, plainly artificial and
assumed---who had ever heard of "Stiff" as a surname before?—and
therefore any of the mysterious letters or names with cryptic
asterisks attached to them might refer to the man upstairs, and
provide a clue for his identification. Phineas had a new
theory, and a new and most probable clue, every time they met, and
Simpson, restive and impatient, wished Billy at the bottom of the
sea. The thought of how much the King's Arms was deteriorating
by every day's delay, prodded at his brain like a goad; whilst the
whimsical innkeeper became a mocking, tantalising demon who knew and
took fiendish delight in the torture he was inflicting. It was
really a relief, therefore, to turn his attention once more to
Dolly. The difficulties which had dismayed him before seemed
light and frivolous in comparison with those he encountered when
dealing with the impracticable cooper, and so he began to cast about
for an opportunity.
Three days passed: his impatience prodded his mind like
pricks at an already angry wound, but no Dolly came in his way, and
no means of reaching her presented themselves. His sister was
insisting that Dolly was a negligible quantity and could be secured
at any time when the way was once cleared; and she saw and pressed
upon him incessantly the fact that whilst the women-folk of the
King's Arms were occupied with their ridiculously interesting
patient, and Phineas was therefore left a good deal to himself, this
was the great opportunity of securing the cooper, and that was the
important consideration for the moment. But Simpson was
utterly sick of Phineas and his fads, and weary to death of fancy
hens and mysterious advertisements; Dolly at anyrate was
understandable and straightforward, and to her he would go.
And fortune favoured him, for as he approached the inn one
evening he saw Dolly, dressed as for a walk, emerging from the front
door. He pulled up hastily and watched her; he knew all about
her close friendship with the bill-sticker and his wife, and easily
guessed by the direction she took that she was paying a visit to the
tollhouse. He followed her at a discreet distance; he could
not, as things were, accost her in the street, and so he waited
until she had passed the last house and there was nothing between
her and her destination but a long stretch of dusty road. Now
was his chance! He could never have a better opportunity; but
Simpson did not overtake her. The task so easy and hopeful as
he mused upon it in the office, seemed full of difficulty now it was
close at hand. The easy, pliable Dolly suddenly became
exceedingly formidable, and fifty strong reasons for at least
postponing the interview suddenly crowded into his mind.
Innocence, often the tempter, is always the terror of the guilty.
And so Dolly passed on to her destination, and Simpson,
deciding to wait her return, sank down into the full hedge-bottom.
There had been recent rain, and, though the roads were dry enough,
to Dolly everything smelt fresh and sweet; and her heart being full
of hope concerning their patient, she lifted her bright face to the
sunlight and caught, as she walked, some of Mother Nature's mood.
She was going for the walk more than anything else, for there was no
news to tell, as Jeff came several times a day to the King's Arms.
But somehow a common interest in the poor maimed fellow who lay in
the guest-chamber of the inn had drawn her of late closer and closer
to the simple couple who shared her sentiments, and it did her good
to hear Jeff talk with such radiant confidence of the poor
Jeff's theology was very topsy-turvy and amusing, but somehow
there was always that in it which infected her with hope and
sweetness. Jeff had been at the inn with his bill-sticking
apparatus not much more than an hour ago, and having watched his
departure she was tolerably sure he was at home. She had
thought also that the old man was not looking quite as well as
usual, and attributed his condition to his anxiety and loneliness.
The door was wide open as usual, for as a matter of fact the cottage
was a somewhat dark place with the door closed; and a moment or two
later she had caught sight of her old friend sitting in his chair by
the chimney corner. The cloud on his face vanished at the
sight of her, and he sprang up, evidently full of some most
important matter, and advanced eagerly to meet her.
"Come in, come in wi' thee! Four chalk angils an' one i'
petticoats! wee'st win! wee'st win yet!"
"Angels! Win? Good gracious, Jeffrey, what's to
do?" and as he stood aside and majestically waved his long arm
towards the black mantelpiece, her eyes following his motions fell
upon four long white marks on the dark ground something like these:
"To do?" he cried, evidently bursting with his great secret.
"There's feightin' to do, an' wrastlin' and conquerin' to do.
Do you see them there?"
"Yes, but what are they? and what will 'Siná say to your
"Say! She'll say Hip, hip! She'll say Hurrah!
She'll slap me, she'll thump me on the back, she'll give me a
walloping kiss. Why, she's wanted me to do it for years!
And then, turning round and delightedly counting the strokes he
cried gleefully, "One, Two, Three, Four! Why, there'll be
twenty by the time she comes home—ay, an' more!"
"But what is it about? Why will she be so glad?"
"Why?" But Jeff had to fortify himself with another
ruminative glance at the strokes. "Hasn't she allus been down
on it? an' grumled an' carried on about it? Why, woman, she
read off about it every day as comes, an' you've heard her!"
"But what—what about?"
"Snuff! Nasty, dirty, stinkin' snuff!" And
snatching at her soft little hand, he drew her close to him and
thrust it where it had often been in other days, right down into the
depths of his vest pocket.
"Feel for it! Bring it out! Bring it out i'
handfuls!" he cried.
But Dolly could feel nothing. And when she drew them
out her fingers were not even browned. She glanced at her
hands, glanced at his big wistful face, and then her countenance
softened, and there was both suspicion and regret in her eyes.
"Jeffrey," she cried, looking him squarely between the eyes
and compelling honesty, "you are not giving up your only little
luxury for—for want of money?"
"Money? No! F or victory, for castin' out devils an'
gettin' hangils," and, turning towards the chalk-marks, he counted
them out again with tender pride. "One, Two, Three, Four, an'
tomorrow there'll be five or six." And he stood aside that she
might look at the magic strokes, with a face beaming with the pride
of a mighty victory.
"But, Jeff, I really do not see; I don't under—er—what do
Jeff's face took on a grave, pedagogue-like severity; he
turned his back on the mantelpiece, raised his arms, and beating out
his words one by one with a finger on the opposite palm, he
"Now, to look you here, are we all possessed o' devils or are
Dolly might have demurred to this sweeping generality, only
she knew her man, and so she only nodded.
"An' my devil's snuff, isn't it?"
"Well, four days sin' I casted him out!' And then, as
his announcement did not produce the dramatic effect he had
evidently anticipated, he added the severe expostulatory demand,
"How can I cast his devil out if I haven't thrown me own?"
"His? Whose?" And Dolly looked more bewildered
"Whose? Why, Billy's! He's gotten a leguned o'
devils in his poor inside, an' how can he cast 'em out by hissel?"
"No, but God can."
"Ay, an' we can! Why, woman, where's you' theology?
Our preacher o' Sunday said, nobody can cast out other folkses
devils till they've cast their own out."
"Well, when I've cast my own out I can help him wi' his,
"How! Hay, woman, you should come to Frog Lane Chapil,
they know nowt about theology at t' Parish Church. Did you
never read about that poor chap, that cripple that was lowered down
into t' midst o' Jesus?"
"Well, didn't He say, Your faith hath made him whole?"
Dolly could not trust her memory for the details, but she
shook her head in dubious misgiving.
Jeff, quite impatient at her obstinacy, glared at her
indignantly and cried—
"If them chaps could help their mate, I can help mine, can't
"Y–e–s, but no—"
"Not!" and Jeff was growing quite angry at her density.
He glowered at her in puzzled helplessness for a moment or two,
turned and took a reassuring glance at the chalk-marks, and then
"There's four marks there, isn't there?"
"And four marks for me is four for Billy, isn't it?"
Dolly couldn't quite follow.
"If I conquer four devils, won't poor Billy get four angels
instead? Ho, ha! Oh, bless us, woman—!"
But the poor bill-sticker was being almost smothered; for, as
the meaning of his topsy-turvy doctrine at last broke upon Dolly,
she had blushed with the pleasure of an exquisite surprise, and with
burning cheeks and shining eyes had flung her soft arms round the
big man's neck and was smothering him with kisses. There was
one for himself and one for that dear old snuffy nose, one for each
of the chalk-marks and one for each of the angels.
"Why, Jeff, you're the theologian for me! You ought to
be an archbishop, and, bless your dear old face, you will be when we
get to heaven. Oh, Jeff, dear dear Jeff, what a saint you
Jeff laughed, and rubbed his big hands in soft, silent
contentment; and then, falling into personal talk, they chatted
gaily together until Dolly was compelled to hasten away, and was
seen going down the long road again with dewy eyes and a heart
strangely soft and tender; all unconscious of the waiting Simpson.
The bobbin-maker had been raising his courage by running down his
manhood, stimulating himself to bravery by calling himself a coward;
but the moment he caught sight of her returning, his new fear of her
came back, and if he had followed his first impulse he would have
fled incontinently. What had come to him to cause this curious
change he could not tell; but she was now drawing near far too
swiftly, and was upon him before he could settle his own course of
action. Yes, she had seen him, and had already left the middle
of the road and was inclining to the grassy side where he sat.
A stupid helplessness came over him, and, left to himself, he would
have allowed her to pass, but she was approaching, standing before
him, actually speaking.
"Ah, Simpson, I'm glad—I wanted to speak to you. Is
there room?" and—it took his very breath away—she actually dropped
on the bank by his side. Why, the girl was pretty! He
had never taken much notice of her looks, and now she seemed to be
going to drop into his very hands! What a fool he had been to—
"Simpson, you were not yourself when I came to your office."
"Dolly, I'm a fool—a mad, staring fool!"
She was looking at him very quietly. Why, she hadn't
the spirit of a fly.
"Never mind, Simmy; father doesn't know, and—and never will
Her tones were actually coaxing; perhaps if he held out a
"I don't think I behaved very well to you then"—(yes, she was
positively asking to be reconciled)—"but I am very sorry; I was
foolish and wicked; and—and will you forgive me, Simpson?"
There was a long silence, and Simpson was thinking rapidly
"You see, Dolly, girls like you don't understand business,
and the many things men have to worry about."
"No, of course—then you do—you will be friends, Simpson?"
Simpson, dull as he was, had a misgiving, and looked at her
narrowly. All he saw, however, was a pair of kind, soft eyes
looking steadily into his, and he had not the glimmer of an idea of
the noble thing she was trying to do under the stimulus of her
recent interview with Jeff.
"I was trying to please you, and—and hurry up with the
"Yes, but it is all for the best, isn't it?"
"The best?" and a heavy struggling surprise clouded his
"Yes, God is good; He just stepped in in time, didn't He?"
With dropped jaw Simpson stared stupidly at her, and
repeated, "In time?"
"Yes, we might have married—oh, isn't it a mercy!"
"Mercy? What on earth—oh, hang it, are you laughing at
"I could laugh, Simpson, I could go down on my knees!
What a blessing we found it out in time!"
"Found out? Found what out? Are you mad?
Are you mocking me?"
"Are you mad? Are you mocking me?"
"No, Simpson, no, but our eyes are opened; you never loved me
and I never loved you."
Now amazement, cupidity, and anger were all swallowed up in
one great sudden fear.
"Oh, don't, Dolly! Have pity! We do, we do love
"No, no, Simpson; you know and I know we never did and never
can, and a gracious Providence has intervened to save us from
But the bobbin-maker was thoroughly roused at last; every
sordid vision and every greedy motive of his life came clamouring
back, and for ten minutes he poured out his pleas to her. He
reasoned, he protested, he besought her, and stormed at her; but
Dolly, sitting quietly by his side on the bank and patiently waiting
for him to finish, showed in every feature and movement and word the
same pensive but immovable decision.
Then he lost himself: sneered at her, mocked, threatened, and
defied her; but save for the fading of the smile on her lips and a
slight elevation of her dimpled chin, she kept the same quiet front
and the same easy manner. Soft and low were her answers, and
her words were sympathetic, but firm and unalterable. They
were not suited to each other, and ought never to have come
together. They had both of them foolishly trifled with God's
holiest gift of love, and done grievous wrong. But the
Almighty had been merciful and stopped them in time, and in deepest
gratitude to God she forgave Simpson and asked him to forgive her.
She hoped they might be friends; she was sorry if she was grieving
him, but she was sure she was doing the right thing, and they would
both be thankful for it some day.
Simpson tried again, pleading, coaxing, confessing, storming,
cursing; but at last she turned away from him with a sigh, and as
the baffled and amazed lover stood there in the deep wayside grass
and watched her go down the white road, there came, by processes too
deep to describe and transformations too subtle for any thing but
our inconsistent human nature—there came into that selfish, sordid,
narrow breast the real, deep, fatal love which, had it come earlier,
might have redeemed and glorified his life, but which was now to
haunt and dwell in him as the baleful instrument of his destruction.
Yes, Simpson Crouch was in love: it seems an appalling
degradation of that holy thing to apply it to such a person, but
there was the fact. Such a passion in such a soul was much
nearer to hate, perhaps; but by whatsoever name it might be called,
it was a deep, overmastering, ungovernable lust of possession, so
imperious, domineering, and unscrupulous, that like a sinister rod
of Moses it swallowed up every other magician's wand of life, and
turned every other motive of existence into fuel for the feeding of
its own devouring into flame.
That mean greed, so often the driving power of narrow
natures, and which had hitherto governed Simpson's life, now became
the mere servitor of the overbearing monster which had set up its
kingdom within him; for possession of Dolly Wenyon he henceforth
lived, and to that end even money, which he had loved most, would
now be subordinated. Standing there, and watching her as she
tripped lightly down the road, he did not altogether realise the
nature of the change which was taking place within him—he was not
given much to self-analysis; the new passion welled up quietly
within him, a deep, strong, unreasoning, but utterly irresistible
passion, a passion that grew hotter and hotter as he realised more
and more that he had lost her. Hitherto he had held her
lightly, and chiefly perhaps as a means to an end; but now that he
knew she could never be his, the dull bull-dog tenacity of his
nature awoke, as belatedly as it generally does in such characters,
and all things else in life became mere means of securing her.
Never had the scheme his sister had suggested, and he was trying to
work, seemed so utterly, so ridiculously hopeless as it did at that
moment, and at the same time the motives which had hitherto urged
him on seemed as nothing to the ruthless, overmastering desire that
now possessed him.
Long after the last flutter of her light dress had
disappeared round High Street corner he stood staring down the road,
until his eyes burned and he turned his glance to the dust at his
feet. Then he began absently to toy with the powdered
road-metal, scraping it into little heaps and then rubbing his boots
into it, until, forgetting the mystic spell which the King's Arms
had cast upon his imagination, forgetting the comfortable competency
which of late had bulked out so large in his mind, he could see
nothing but the face and figure of a dainty little woman with blue
eyes, brown hair, and a complexion only made the more piquant by a
saucy little freckle here and there. The more firmly these
feelings were forced back the faster they came. His was not
the love that softens and purifies, that refines and elevates; it
was the besetment that bemuses, that enthralls, that blinds the eye
and blunts the conscience and confuses the judgment. Every
higher impulse within him was for the moment smothered under the
overwhelming presence of a tyrannical pre-possession that was now
absolutely his master.
PHINEAS IN HIS GLORY
reached his home that night Clara had news for him. She had
been in charge of the office all that day, and reported that a
strange man had called thrice, evidently very anxious to see the
proprietor. On his last visit Clara had drawn him into
conversation and had gradually and very deftly ascertained his
business. He was the confidential agent of the Packington
brewery; and having ascertained that Simpson stood in a certain
interesting relationship to the Wenyons, he had called to see if he
could not use his influence with Phineas to induce that worthy to
sell the inn; and he had intimated not too obscurely that to anyone
who could do this the brewery firm was prepared to pay—say £500.
He had also hinted that it would be well worth Simpson's while to
persuade the ex-cooper to continue the sale of liquor pending the
decision of the lawsuit threatened pending by old Joshua's
Simpson listened with sullen eagerness, and when the mocking
helplessness of their situation unfolded itself before him he sprang
to his feet uttering a curse and heartily wished the cooper as dead
as a herring.
Clara, concealing her surprise at this new spirit in him,
turned a leering face upon him and asked—
"Dead? Dost know what there is in old Joshua's will?"
With an ugly scowl and an overbearing manner quite unusual in
him, Simpson demanded gruffly—
"What's thou know about t' will?"
"I know"—and Clara leered again.
For a long intense moment they looked each other in the face;
but to her own surprise and alarm, Clara was the first to flinch,
and a feeling of uneasy fear of her fool of a brother arose for the
first time within her.
"That will provides that the King's Arms shall be his as long
as he lives in it, and that if he is living in it when he dies it is
to go without any conditions or restraints to his daughter."
Simpson had stopped in his fretful pacing across the
hearth-rug, and was frowning down upon her; their eyes met with a
long, stealthy look. Those two were not exactly the stuff of
which great criminals are made, and no definite idea was for the
moment in either of their minds; but as one of them was now filled
with a passion that was fast becoming ungovernable, and the other
held the notion that Dolly did not count in the affair, they were
both looking slyly in at the entrance-gate of that sinuous,
treacherous road whose beginning is a vague wish, whose windings
pass through suggestion to possibility, from possibility to longing,
and from longing to necessity, and whose end is a deed in the dark.
That night the two sat long together, and came closer to each
other than they had been for some time; Simpson, with a new
boldness, taking a savage delight in enumerating their difficulties,
and his sister half perplexed and half encouraged by the change in
him. Though less under control, he was more pliable; and
though she missed something of his old fear of her, she was
conscious of closer sympathy. The sleepless night that
followed would have been even more restless than it was had he told
her all he knew.
Next morning Simpson had a long interview with the brewer's
agent, but when he went down to the the King's Arms in the evening
he found Phineas even less amenable than usual. The fact was,
the patient upstairs had had a turn for the better—even the doctor
had admitted he was "a tough 'un"; and when this was reported to the
new landlord, that mercurial old hobbyist had gone from one extreme
to the other, and plunged eagerly into the many new interests which
his change of residence had provided. So far the business of
the hostel had not declined in the least; for though nothing
stronger than coffee was purveyed, the inhabitants of the town,
easily excited to curiosity, had visited the place in such numbers
as to keep all the available servants fully employed; and now that
Phineas had come out of his doldrums and was available, every caller
wanted to see and speak with the man who had all at once become so
The fact was, the thing had got into the papers, which
contained long descriptions of the King's Arms and the absurd old
man who bad been "bested" in his spiteful will-making by the
high-spirited and astute Snelsby cooper. This brought
strangers into the town, and caused those visiting Snelsby for other
purposes to make calls at the now famous inn; and Phineas, realising
the situation, sat in the bar-parlour smoking uncountable pipes of
tobacco, receiving endless flattering compliments, and beaming all
over with innocent self-consciousness as one and another joked him
about his amazing cleverness or read out to interested listeners
tit-bits of the newspaper reports.
This was all very trying to Simpson, for the new landlord,
who in his recent conscience-smitten depression had shrunk from
contact with his fellows, now courted publicity, and was only too
glad to receive congratulations or listen to stories about the
sensation be was making, and reports of conversations of which he
had been the subject. Three days passed away, and Phineas,
still left much to himself, in consequence of the absorption of his
women-folk in the delightful anxieties of nursing, was being
constantly flattered and courted by his customers, and becoming more
and more self-confident and less and less amenable to the promptings
of the Crouches. The business too was flourishing; in a
slow-going place like Snelsby people did not easily change their
habits or get out of ruts, and still many of the old callers from a
distance still "put up" at the place. The curiosity-seekers
also showed no sign of diminishing in numbers, and money rolled into
the King's Arms coffers in such amounts that Phineas, unaccustomed
to the handling of such sums, began to feel rich, to see visions of
untold wealth, and to build wonderful castles in the air in which
roomfuls of silver cups and prize cards for champion poultry figured
The ex-cooper had never had a banking account, and in fact
trade was conducted on such conservative lines in Snelsby that very
few of the trades people had as yet adopted the modern practice.
The little branch concern opened only three days of the week, and
that for a couple of hours each day, being used chiefly by the local
gentry. But the bank agent called on Phineas, and affected
both surprise and distress when the new landlord seemed uncertain
about the continuance of the King's Arms account. The bank had
held the account for many years, he assured the landlord; and
discovering that part of Phineas's reluctance arose from ignorance
of procedure, he contrived to hint at the things necessary without
allowing his customer to think he was being instructed. The
cooper had the air of one conversant with all such matters, but
willing to allow explanations; and, swelling with a new and
flattering sense of importance, he condescended to open an account,
and began to carry about with him a cheque-book, the outer corner of
which peeped out accidentally over the edge of the landlord's
breast-pocket. But the proudest moment of Phineas's life was
that on which he was photographed for a London paper. He was
seated one morning in the bar-parlour, a pot of herb beer before him
and a long churchwarden in his mouth, and was retailing for the
twentieth time the story of how he had "bamboozled" his wife and
daughter in the matter of his grand coup, when Cuffy the new ostler
flung the door open and cried—
"Wanted, sir! Gent from Lunnon wants to take your
Phineas broke into a gentle smile, but suddenly recollecting
himself, artfully pretended not to have heard, in order that the
announcement might be more loudly repeated. Every eye in the
room was turned upon him with admiring wonder, and he lolled back in
his chair with his brain floating in bliss complete, and put on an
excellent pretence of weary protest against the embarrassing
popularity of which he was the unwilling victim.
The stranger from London was waiting outside, but Phineas was
anxious that the interview should be as public as possible, and so
he announced that he could not and would not stand this sort of
thing, and that he was not going to budge from where he was, even if
the Queen herself and all London were to come to ask him. Amid
murmurs of admiration Cuffy was negligently ordered to introduce the
stranger; and when that was done and the new-comer had tasted and
highly commended the teetotal beer, the business was introduced.
The new landlord's portrait and that of his public house were
required for that important public journal of world-wide repute,
The Teetotaler's Record.
With the air of a man who could stand a great deal but really
must draw the line somewhere, Phineas shook his head and offered
sundry objections, all of which were immediately and triumphantly
overruled either by the stranger or the assembled company; and at
length the indulgent hero of the hour allowed himself to be
persuaded, and operations commenced. Phineas, though he wore a
face of ponderous gravity, was in the seventh heaven of secret
delight; and as he stood there in the inn doorway with a mysterious
machine and a more mysterious man pointing at him a few yards away,
male and female servants flattening their noses against the windows
or squinting round corners, whilst little admiring crowds of
spectators were looking on from the pavement, the ex-cooper was
supremely happy man.
At the crucial moment, however, when Phineas Was pulling and
screwing his face about in vain attempts to get the requisite
"natural" expression, Dolly came out with a hurried message from her
mother that he must on no account be photographed in his workaday
clothes, but must go indoors instantly and put on his Sunday
"blacks" and his "gold guard." In magnificent scorn of women,
the landlord utterly refused to make the slightest change; and it
was only when Dolly was reinforced by the photographer and the
assembled company that he so far yielded as to put on the gold guard
with its big hanging seals. The business was then proceeded
with, and the buildings, the signboard, and the landlord himself
were all duly "taken"; and when the artist, as he packed away his
camera, asked who was the author of the "poem" on the board, Phineas
received the compliments due to the author in the manner of one to
whom the production of such works of genius was the veriest trifle.
Simpson Crouch therefore found, when he came carefully primed
by his sister, that he had somehow lost ground, and was fain, though
with much inward uneasiness and disgust, to spend his evening amid a
crowd of lemonade, coffee, and "herbal champagne" drinkers, and
pretend to be interested in the marvels of photography and the
widespread power of the London press. The bobbin-maker was
getting worse than desperate; the inn was of course declining in
value every day, and so far he had accomplished little or nothing
with the fantastic and obstinate cooper. He had hoped that at
least the lawyer's message announcing the legal objections of old
Joshua's heiress, and advising that, at anyrate until the questions
thus raised were decided, it would be safest to let all things,
especially the sale of drink, continue, would have made some
impression, considering that be had done his utmost in support of
it, and even hinted at the danger of imprisonment for contempt of
court. But Phineas was not only obstinate, he was pugnacious,
and had gone so far as to threaten that he would remove his case out
of the hands of the "muddlin' owd slow-coach" who had made the
suggestion. One small success Simpson however had made: he had
induced the ex-cooper to postpone his loudly announced intention of
having the beer, porter, spirits, and wine found on the King's Arms
premises poured down the gutter in the presence of wondering
Presently, however, Simpson took to his sister's plan of
encouraging rather than opposing the innkeeper's fads, and,
returning to Phineas's notion of changing lawyers, waxed eloquent on
the abilities and persistence of a somewhat notorious man of briefs
in Packington. The man was known to the ex-cooper by name at
least, and so he was rather taken with the idea; but on the night of
the photographing, when the bobbin-maker had expected to get his man
persuaded on this point, Phineas would talk of nothing serious, and
for some reason or other could not be induced even by the plainest
hints to forego the society of his friends.
Baffled with the father, he slunk out of the room and began
to haunt the passages in the hope of seeing the daughter.
Hitherto, he told himself, he had held her too cheaply, but now, to
his embarrassment, every flutter of skirts he heard sent a thrill
through him; and when at last he caught sight of her, she was making
her way directly towards him. His heart came into his mouth;
his very hair began to rise. He responded to her kindly
greeting in muffled, confused tones. She did not seem in the
least disturbed; she stood there and chatted to him evidently
unconscious of what he was suffering, and conducted herself as
though there had never been anything between them. Presently
she began to talk about their patient Billy Stiff, and Simpson, with
pangs of jealousy fiercely stinging him, was fain to seem at least a
little interested. But as she talked she opened the front
parlour door and smilingly beckoned him inside. Now was his
chance! But she was still dwelling on the drunken clerk
upstairs, and asked question after question until he had told her
all he knew. Then to his chagrin she made as though she would
leave him. The tantalised lover sprang between her and the
door and broke out into impassioned piteous appeals and all a
lover's desperate threats. She listened; she made no attempt
to withdraw herself, and at last, telling him once more that he
ought to be thankful that the divine Providence had intervened to
prevent a fatal mistake, she rang the bell, asked the maid who
responded to bring Simpson a cup of coffee, and then quietly
That night Simpson told his sister about his final dismissal
by Dolly. She did not fail to notice that this had occurred
three days ago; but when he came to describe the interview he had
just had with his late sweetheart, she followed his recital with
quickened interest and anticipated his conclusion with one of her
mocking, mysterious laughs.
"What is the crazy fool grinning at?" and his tone was
Another and more tantalising titter.
"D'ye hear! What is there to laugh at— besom?"
"Nay, nothing," and she turned her head away to hide another
With a curse and a bound he was at her side, and, raising a
clenched fist, stood threateningly over her.
This was a new style, but Clara, though startled for the
moment, was not by any means dismayed.
Slowly she brought her dark eyes round to his and looked
steadily at him. She was disappointed and alarmed: the days of
her ascendancy were over, the eyes that glared down into hers were
those of a goaded creature; there was cruelty, brutality, even worse
But Clara was not of the stuff that admits easily of defeat,
and so with a supreme effort she withdrew her eyes, drew herself up
to her utmost height, pointed haughtily to a chair, and coolly
informed him that if he would sit down she had something to say.
Simpson dropped the threatening arm, glared at her for a
moment, and then with another scowling glance slunk back into his
seat, growling as he did so, "Out with it."
"She talked about Billy, did she?"
"Ay, and Billy to it; what of that?"
"And worked the pump-handle till thou were dry?"
"Ay, what by it?"
Clara rippled off another tantalising laugh, and then,
frightened though she was—she could not have helped it for the
"Why, Simmy, Beau Simmy, thy pipe's put out!"
"She's in love, she's thrown over the master to take the man.
Man?—thou'rt beaten by a guzzlin' tramp."
Simpson, gnawing at his lips and driving the nails into his
clenched hands, cried fiercely—
"Confound you, woman, talk sense!"
"Sense? Why, it's as simple as simple. She's a
brainless, spooney little flirt, and this is her romance, her
three-volume novel. He's saved her life, she's helping to
nurse her hero, and is in love with him."
Next day Clara visited the King's Arms, and seemed not the
least put out that she could not see the landlord, who was said to
be too busy. She lingered longer than usual, however, and
seemed to have some particular interest in the domestics. And
later that day Cuffy told Phebe and Phebe told Miriam and Miriam
told Mrs Wenyon that the man they were all so devotedly nursing was
a "ticket-o'-leave man" [ex-convict on probation].
But the slander, if such it was, overreached itself.
Mrs Wenyon became more enthusiastic in the invalid's favour than
ever, Phineas put it aside with easy indifference, and Dolly was
first of all highly indignant and then most strangely confused.
The report was producing an effect upon her she could not quite
understand, and a strange but deep shyness, as though the dishonour
were in some odd way her own, came over her. Next day, with
the self-consciousness of a criminal, she was down at the tollhouse
again, craftily sounding the temporarily wifeless bill-sticker about
the report that had disturbed her so much. She found Jeff
seated before the mantelpiece proudly surveying the chalk-strokes
with delight and serene satisfaction in his face.
"Them's 'em," he cried with a triumphant wave of his
arm—"nine on 'em! Nine champion wins for me! Nine
knocks-down for Billy's blue-devils and then breaking off, bending
towards her and patting her arm, he cried victoriously, I care no
more for snuff, see you—I care no more for snuff"—and Jeff had
difficulty in finding an adequate figure of speech—"nor my old woman
cares for theology."
As this was evidently Jeff's highest possible conception of
supreme indifference, Dolly had to smile.
"But, Jeffrey, they're saying most dreadful things about
"Like enough," and Jeff seemed to take a sort of pride in the
"But they say he's a culprit, a—a—ticket-of-leave man."
"Like enough, woman." And Jeff seemed actually
disappointed that it was not something more dreadful.
"But it is shocking! It is dreadful! I don't
believe a word of it, so there!"
Jeff took a reassuring glance at the chalk-marks and smiled
with generous toleration. After all, it was perhaps too much
to expect a young female to understand so abstruse a point of
"But, Jeffrey, you seem to be glad he's a felon—which he
"'The more guilt the more glory,'" quoted Jeff with a
sententious wag of the head. Dolly stared at him with a frown
of perplexed inquiry, and at last, condescending to her youthful
limitations, he pointed to a little jug hanging on the pot shelf and
"That there jug has got one little piece out of it, hasn't
"And anybody—you or me—could mend it wi' a bit o' shallac and
a pinch of commonsense."
"But what if it wur broke into a million'd pieces and most o'
them wur lost?"
"Well, nobody could—"
"The chap that mended that 'ud be a top-sawyer, wouldn't he?
A regler stunner, wouldn't he?"
"Well, there you are, aren't you?"
"I don't, I can't—"
"Why, bless the woman, it's as plain as the wart on Tommy's
nose," and then, rising and standing back with a face that was one
prodigious frown of concentrated wisdom, he cried—
"Now suppose the Lord was to save a parcel o' folk like me
an' you—that's nothin'; anybody could do that! But if the Lord
takes hold of a regler out-an'-outer like Billy an' makes a job of
him, that's summat like, isn't it?"
But Dolly had no particular interest in the point he was so
laboriously making her anxieties ran in another direction, and so
she said with a little expostulatory smile—
"But, Jeffrey, you always said he was so gentle and humble
"And who says he isn't? Who says a word again' him?"
And then, as the momentary indignation faded in the presence of
another thought, he shook his head solemnly and sighed. "Hay!
we shall have a terrible time when he gets about again."
"Yes, but he's had no drink since the accident, and—"
"No, nor for two days afore. Hay, didn't we wrastle,
him an' me!"
"God bless you, Jeff; we must all help him."
"Help him? Yes, you'll help him, an' Tommy 'ull help
him, an' I'll help him. But, Dolly—"
"We shall have to have a lot of patience."
"And if at first you don't succeed—"
"And we mun forgive seventeen times seven."
"We will, Jeffrey and if only—"
"An' you mun love him hard an' patient with all your might."
Dolly dropped her eyes with a sudden shameful blush.
"An' I'll keep on wi' me chalks, and God an' us all 'ull pull
And Dolly dropped a soft kiss on the earnest rugged face, and
"Yes, Jeffrey, yes, we will."
When she got home that night, Dolly found that 'Siná had
contrived her an opportunity of a momentary glimpse of the patient;
but the sight so shocked her that it haunted her day and night; and
though now she had occasional chances of seeing him, she felt that
he watched her so hungrily as she went about doing 'Siná, or her
mother's bidding in the bedroom, that it was always a relief to get
away. The contrast between this ghastly, hopeless-looking, and
still noble invalid and the merry-andrew drunkard who first visited
her in the old summer-house was of the most startling kind; and so
when she was there she was anxious to get away, and when she was
away she was anxious to return.
But now she remembered that her mother had shown that very
day a very marked tendency towards returning to her natural
pessimism, after more than a week of defiant hopefulness. She
hinted of the matter to Thomasina, and the sour snarl with which the
bill-sticker's wife responded was a stronger confirmation than any
words could have been of her fear that the patient was not doing
well. Seeing her distress, however, 'Siná became conciliatory,
and presently in a gush of penitence confided that the patient
himself did not want to recover, and had begged them again and again
to let him die. Unconscious of the degree in which she was
allowing herself to be absorbed in the condition of the sufferer,
Dolly now took to assisting in the preparation of his food and to
haunting the passage outside his bedroom, and by the end of another
week she had established a precarious and tentative footing in the
sick-room. During these days her favourite occupation was the
construction of simple little speeches of thanks for her timely
rescue; the very first thing she must do when he became conscious
was to make it clear how much his heroism was appreciated; but when
she stood by Thomasina's side and the opportunity presented itself,
the laggard words would not come, and she felt dull and dumb.
Then the patient's manner began to disturb her. He would not
look at her. Whenever she glanced at him she found he was
watching her, but the moment he found he was observed he turned his
head away and closed his eyes. His gratitude was most
touching; he would now and again turn his head towards her mother or
Thomasina, and snatching at their hands imprint a wistful kiss upon
them. But to her he never even spoke, and seemed to close up
and shrink into himself the moment she appeared. One day the
sight of him wincing as Thomasina moved him touched her, and before
she knew what she was doing she had blurted out, "Poor fellow!
God bless you! You saved my life."
Still as death he lay: she might just as well have spoken to
Presently, however, still keeping his eyes closed, but with a
tear of touching gratitude, he said, intones that spoke the
gentleman and sank deep into her soul, "God save you from pitying
me!" and then, as she commenced a distressful protest, he added, his
face going ashen grey and sudden perspiration standing on his brow,
"It is death! It is death!"
It was the longest speech he had made except when delirious,
and 'Siná, seeing that it had shaken his very soul, hurried Dolly
away; and as the patient was restless and exhausted all that night,
Mrs Wenyon peremptorily forbade her to go near him again.
Meanwhile the patient was slowly but very uncertainly coming
back to life, and such a coming back it was as sufferer scarce ever
had before. For months before the accident he had lived a life
of drivelling, loquacious imbecility; when he was most drunk he
appeared sober, and when he was soberest he was most drunk. A
babbling, helpless wreck of a man, body and brain and soul steeped
in chronic intoxication, he had lived a surface life of bubbling,
effervescent jauntiness, gay, reckless, incessantly talkative, and
yet curiously harmless; whilst the real man in him had lain as dead
and dumb as though it had never been. But when he came to
himself in the King's Arms bedroom after many days of half-conscious
suffering, the Billy Stiff known to Snelsby had become a mocking,
jeering shadow, whilst the real man, the free, handsome, brilliant,
dangerously successful man he had once been, had come back with all
those marks of degradation and ruin upon him which his late history
had produced. Never, surely, was there a more terrible
awakening; and never did poor soul, appalled by a countless array of
mocking self-injuries, ever more desperately desire to die.
Too weak and helpless to endure the constant contemplation of
his own irretrievable life-wreck, he found escape and momentary
relief in a form of introspection only possible perhaps to an
educated man. What precisely had happened to him? That
enforced abstinence from drink did bring the torturing misery he was
enduring he knew but too well, and knew also the taunting,
maddening, but cowardly refuge from it. But there was some
change, and change not wholly explainable either by his great
weakness or his injuries. There were new elements in his
consciousness, new vague shapes that evaded arrest and frustrated
all his attempts at identification—shapes that scarcely were shapes,
but dissolved and formed and dissolved again before he could
recognise them. Anything that gave him temporary relief from
the realities of his position was welcome, and he dwelt position on
these things curiously and constantly. What were they?
Whence came they? There was a new tenderness within him, soft,
warm, and comforting. And not the weak, chronically lachrymose
softness which had been one of the characteristics of his
degradation, but something purer and truer.
He thought of the old tollhouse and its simple, gullible, and
fantastically minded occupants, with their ridiculously Utopian
scheme for his reformation; but the cold light of reason with which
for the moment he looked on those two old simpletons was suddenly
drowned in a burst of tender, glowing affection, and in the unique
experience of a new emotion he dwelt with clinging eagerness on the
very delusions he despised; whilst every absurdity, every narrow
ignorant limitation of the old couple, seemed to cover them with a
new beauty and make them nearer and dearer to him. Yes,
nearer—that was the amazing thing. Until now they had been
outside his life; but now—oh, the pain, the delight of it!
They had come into him, were part of him, sharers of his life,
fighters of his battles, feelers of his pain; and as he lay-there
musing thus in the still watches of the night, there welled up
within him emotions strangely blended of almost every extreme the
human consciousness ever experiences; and with expanding, melting
heart and soft, silent tears he murmured, as the rugged faces of old
Jeff and his wife seemed to float before him—
"Oh, God!—If God there be—Thou hast chosen the weak things of
the world to confound the mighty."
On other occasions, under the actual necessity of almost any
escape from cold, cruel reality, he explored his mind in other
directions, with results always surprising and sometimes strangely
sweet. The ridiculously exaggerated gratitude of the Wenyons
for what he himself regarded as a purely impulsive act distressed
him; but the deed itself had some strange charm about it which was
infinitely comforting, and be turned it about in his mind like a
delicious sweetmeat in the mouth. But the thought clung to
him, fascinated him, enticed him, and that not for itself, but for
some dreamy but consoling associations. The memory of that one
heroic moment in his later life seemed, like the painting of a
mediæval master, to be rimmed in faces—dream faces; not such as he
had seen in the drawing-rooms of his former life, but simple,
homely, kindly. Ever and again there came a sweet, frank,
fresh face, pure as the lily and as fresh as the wild rose.
Absorbed, entranced, he lay in rigid stillness contemplating these
bewitching visions of his fancy; and then waking with a great start,
the horror of a great fear on his face, and perspiration bursting
out of every pore, he would groan—
"God! Jeff's God! Thomasina's God! Her
God—save her from a man who drinks!"
But these were fleeting, momentary experiences; for the most
part the eyes of his soul were fixed as by some hypnotic power on
the endless march of bygone scenes as they tramped through his
brain. The one thing that dulled the scorching vision being
now beyond his reach, he was left to stare on the bare realities
with no power to do anything but stare.
A dogged spirit of endurance, and a grim sense of the justice
of his treatment, helped to resign him to his tortures, but he was
tantalised and perplexed by a consciousness of something strange in
it all. The dreary winter landscape of his mind now had light
on it, flitting, changing, evasive light. Was as hope the arch
mocker not dead yet? Did he think it possible to delude him
even yet? He laughed, deep in his soul he laughed; but the
light still lingered, and even grew. It was light: every
mistake, every mad folly, every reckless sin of his life stood out
vividly in it, and new aspects of weakness, and new depths of folly,
became visible every moment. But he clung to them, dwelt upon
them, had a sort of morbid liking for their very tortures. He
thought of his many struggles, of his falls and re-falls, his fresh
starts and deeper declines; but though each poignant detail stood
out now more strikingly than ever, he did not want to shun them, and
dwelt and dwelt upon them like one spell-bound. Then he would
awake, awake with a shudder and a gasp that was almost a scream, and
with sudden horrified recoil, as though sonic awful abyss suddenly
yawned beneath him, he cried—
"Oh, God, give me death, but do not mock me with hope!"
A TERRIBLE CATASTROPHE
IF ever there was
a tantalising, aggravating old humbug in this world, surely it was
Phineas Wenyon. Simpson's projects were not progressing, not
advancing a single point; and this perfectly maddening old man would
sit there in the bar-parlour, spreading himself and swelling with
vanity, basking in the relaxing rays of popularity, and cultivating
a pharisaic meekness, whilst extracts from newspaper reports, all of
a highly flattering character, and spicy tit-bits of conversation,
were purveyed to him by admiring customers. The "old stupid"
could not see, as he, Simpson, could, that he was being spunged upon
and laughed at; inflated with vanity, growing fatter, redder, and
more important-looking every day, he gave no heed to anything but
his recent brilliant achievement and the excitement and confusion it
had caused in "the trade." To Simpson it was sheer
insanity, reckless, ruinous insanity. Every day that passed
took at least fifty pounds off the value of the hostel, and there
was that acrid old lady, old Joshua's heiress, whose threatened writ
might be served any day. There were twenty little schemes for
circumventing her, and that without excessive expenditure, if only
the old blockhead could be got to attend to them.
But day in and day out he would sit in the bar, distending
himself with self-importance and discussing teetotalism, model
public-houses, and fancy poultry, whilst the value of the property
was melting away to nothing! Simpson had talked teetotalism
and hens until his very heart was sick; he had spent hours in
exploring the numerous outbuildings of the King's Arms, and
discussing the most approved methods of adapting them to poultry
pens; he had drawn sheets and sheets of suggested plans, and had
even been mad enough in one supremely weak moment to put himself
down as a subscriber to a new Poultry Encyclopaedia to please
Phineas—only realising when too late that he had made himself liable
for 2s. per month for about three years, and that on a thing his
Never a day passed but he made one or more attempts to reason
with the new landlord on the situation of affairs; but however
patiently he waited, however deftly he introduced the subject, and
under however much disguise he hid it, the moment his real aim
became apparent, Phineas, talkative, plastic, voluble till then,
closed up like an oyster, and had not a word to say. If they
ever happened to be alone and Simpson avoided the subject, the "old
hypocrite" would hover about it and indirectly refer to it until
Simpson was inwardly raging; but the moment he took the apparent
bait, Phineas was off like a shot and was shyer of the topic than
The fact was that much of this malicious obstinacy existed
only in Simpson's over-heated imagination; the King's Arms had not
merely got on his brain, it had taken a masterful and exclusive
possession of him—it was meat, drink, sleep, and life to him.
It was undermining self-control, mesmerising judgment, deflecting
even the infallible magnetic needle of self-interest, and slowly
hypnotising the whole man. Hitherto Simpson had lived for the
bobbin business, and just now it was unusually prosperous.
Billy Stiff was no longer available, and the whole of his affairs
rested upon himself. But he sometimes did not go near the mill
for half a day and then, when in alarm and self disgust he
determined to work all night, he found himself long before midnight
sitting staring into the dirty, scrap-filled fire-grate, with his
work unfinished and his thoughts at the King's Arms. He hated
the new landlord with an intensity that frightened him, and yet he
could not bear to be out of his sight; he vowed again and again that
he would never name poultry in conversation as long as he lived, but
in an hour or two he would be deep in the mysterious differences and
comparative excellences of Wyandottes, Plymouth Rocks, and Houdans.
The public-house was still in the heyday of its temporary and
precarious prosperity, and Phineas was handling such unusual sums of
money that he became less and less tractable. The inn was
known to be stocked with liquors, wines, spirits, etc., and Simpson
was on tenter-hooks of anxiety lest the new owner should carry out
any of his fantastic notions with regard to them and thus waste good
money. He had threatened more than once to pour them into the
gutter, but the accident to Billy Stiff had postponed that idea, and
now the objections raised by old Joshua Wenyon's heiress had put it
off again; and all that Simpson could gather was that the ex-cooper
had a notion of selling the more expensive intoxicants as soon as
the lawyer could assure him that it was safe to do so.
Simpson's earnest recommendation of a change of legal adviser was
the only one that Phineas had taken notice of, but even that was
dallied with, discussed fitfully at odd moments, and left.
What added to the bobbin-maker's torment was the curious uncertainty
of his position with the innkeeper in regard to his courtship.
How much did Phineas know, and what was his attitude towards the
In a way the new innkeeper was friendly enough, and seemed to
have forgotten the episode of Simpson's ejection as told in the
earlier chapters. On the other hand, he never let a word drop
which could be regarded as a clue to the state of his mind, and
there was nothing to indicate whether Dolly had told her parents
about her decision or not. It was highly probable that she
had, of course, but there was no evidence of it, and she certainly
had not said anything to them on the occasion of their first "tiff."
As to Dolly herself, he could not make out in the least where
she was in the matter. She still called him "Simmy," and
readily enough gave him details of Billy's progress, but he was made
to feel in many ways that they were simply acquaintances, and that
any attempt to get closer would put them further apart. And
the more be realised that, the more infatuated and helpless he
became. Every male be saw speaking to her became at once a
hated rival. As for Billy Stiff, upon whom every petticoated
soul in the inn seemed to be dancing attendance, Simpson felt he
could have gone upstairs and, hand on windpipe, have squeezed the
very life out of him.
Simpson could not bear to talk to Phineas; his very voice
with its new vain-glorious tones rasped him; but the sight of anyone
else in conversation with him awakened mad jealousy, and made him
feel that he could not endure his tormentor out of his sight.
And the more confused, distraught, and wretched he became, the more
entirely did his infatuation dominate him. He was losing
sleep, appetite, spirits, and self-control; his business just then,
better worth looking after than it had been for some time, was
neglected; he resented by brutal gestures his sister's biting and
somewhat inconsistent reminders, that "a bird in the hand is worth
two in the bush"; and all the while his brain was revolving round
and round the dreary succession of possible schemes, none of which
were in the least new and none of which promised any success.
Never man saw more clearly that he had reached a cul de sac,
but the more he saw it the less power had he to turn away. In
his own house he had become an overbearing brute, at the mill a
testy, explosive, intolerably exacting master, and at the King's
Arms a touchy, quarrelsome irreconcilable, whose gusts of
unjustifiable fierceness were the amazement and perplexity of all he
encountered. One morning about this time, when Simpson had
torn himself away from his unfinished correspondence at the office
and had arrived at the King's Arms, he ran against Jeff Twigg coming
out, and stubbornly invited collision.
Jeff, who had never liked him, made a surly protest.
Simpson flared up, and Jeff began to look glum. At that
moment, however, Phineas appeared on the scene, and, with the
order-keeping instinct of the landlord, interposed his authority.
He told Jeff, who was not speaking, to "'owd his racket," and
elbowed Simpson across the passage into the parlour.
"Simmy," he cried, "there's summat not right wi' thee, thou
gets as sour as a crabapple."
"I'm right enough, there's nowt wrong wi' me."
But Phineas prided himself particularly on his discernment of
character, and so with a portentous wag of the head he replied—
"Come, come! Out wi' it. I've seen it comin' on
for many a day."
They were seated in the little snuggery behind the bar, and
Simpson threw up his bead with a laugh of contemptuous rejection;
but another thought striking him, he blurted out—
"Well, it's you then, an' you're drivin' me mad."
The landlord's little red eyes opened in amazement.
"Ay, you and yours—it's fair sickenin'."
"Simpson Crouch!" and Phineas's red neck began to swell with
"It is; it's nasty, dirty pride, that's what it is."
Phineas, red as a turkey, cried, "Out wi' it, man!
Let's be knowin'—or take thy hook!"
"Haven't you squelched me, chucked me over, and all because
you've come into a bit o' property? I should ha' been married
now but for that."
Phineas now understood the situation, but seeing his way for
the airing of a favourite bit of his philosophy, he said—
"Simpson, when thou's lived as long as me thou'll know 'at
women's women, an natteral contrarey. Women," he went on, as
the subject unfolded itself before his mind—"women is like hens, the
more patent layin'-boxes and pot eggs you put for hens the more they
keep on scrouging therselves into awkerd corners and layin' there;
an' it's just like that wi' women, the more you want 'em to be
sensible the more they won't."
"Hez she chucked me over or hez she not?"
"Happen she hez, but then women—"
"Wo'd she ha' chucked me over but for this fortune?
Why, man, we've been walkin' out three year."
Phineas designedly or otherwise was absorbed in the side
issue, and so he drawled—
"It's not money, Sim, it's nater—women nater, an' hen nater.
Now, them there silver Hamburgh pullets—"
With a rough oath Simpson sprang to his feet and banned all
poultry to the nether regions. "It's a dodge! A mean
selfish get-out: but, mind you, the day she marries anybody else
I'll have her up for breach o' promise!"
The discussion thus fairly launched proceeded along crooked
lines for some time, and at last the landlord, exasperated almost
beyond endurance, demanded—
"Simpson, thou'rt mortal bothered about our affairs.
What's it got to do wi' thee." (Simpson had raised the question of
"Me! Haven't I courted her for years? Haven't I
put up wi' her when I could have had—"
The cooper, purple with indignation, had risen to his feet,
and the two men, both angry in different ways, stood glaring at each
With a sullen hang-dog scowl and a feeling that be had once
more muffed his chance Simpson shrunk away whilst the raging
landlord demanded fiercely—
"Go on! What's she done to thee? She's a woman,
Simpson muttered some slander under his breath; and Phineas
replied with a sentence that stung Simpson to the quick. More
epithets, more cutting answers, the gradual raising of voices and
reddening of necks, and when at last the ex-cooper defied his man
ever to obtain possession of Dolly, the infuriated bobbin-maker with
the yell of a mad beast sprang at Phineas. There was a cry
that began in a laugh and ended in a terrific shriek; the burly
cooper suddenly became limp and helpless in his opponent's arms,
with blood bursting from mouth and ears; and when the inhabitants of
the King's Arms rushed into the little room they found the owner
lying on the ground in a confused blood-stained heap, and Simpson
standing helplessly at his side with blanched face and shaking in
He looked wildly at the terrified attendants as they uttered
their lamentations, and then with a cry and a bound he sprang out of
the inn and vanished.