By Roaring Loom II.

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AN EYE FOR AN EYE


WE were in the weaving shed — old Harry and myself — he doing his best to initiate me into the make and method of the looms filling the vast square devoted to the claims of commerce; while I, ignorant and dull, vainly endeavoured to master those lessons in mechanics which my mentor had acquired, not in the schools, but by rule of thumb.  As I looked at the network of belting, the horizontal lines of shafting, and the multitudinous array of wheels, I was dazed; nor did the naming of the various parts of the machinery help me.  What did I know of ‘tappet-shafts,’ ‘crank-arms,’ ‘breast-beams,’ ‘heald-rods,’ ‘monkey-tails,’ and the like?  It was as though I were listening to one who spoke in an unknown tongue.  What did rouse my attention, however, was the warp and weft and shuttle, those old-world preachers as to the fate and brevity of man’s life.

    Perhaps it was the shuttle that played most suggestively upon my imagination; for I had read of it so often, poet and philosopher alike weaving it into the web of their song and soliloquy; the world’s first great dramatist, even in a patriarchal age, when the span of life was long, speaking of his sojourn as being swifter in flight than its leap along the parted threads; so taking up one in my hand and showing it to Harry, I quoted to him the ever memorable lines.

    His imagination, however, had been cultured in a school other than mine, for with a smile of sarcasm, and a gesture of impatience, he looked up into my face and said :—

    ‘Them as weyves has no time for poetry.  I’ these days th’ shuttle preyches th’ race of steam, an’ th’ clock yon th’ flight of time, an’ you’ve to keep up wi’ both.  Nowe,’ he continued, ‘there’s noan mich poetry for them as works i’ th’ factory; an’ as for shuttles — if them as works wi’ ’em durnd look aat they ged one i’ their ee ’at makes ’em see stars.’

    This was indeed a step from the dramatist to the mechanic, and threw into striking contrast the ancient and cultured philosophy of the East, with the rude and commonsense utilitarianism of a commercial age.

    Once more I turned to the shuttle, still eloquent to me despite the prosaic criticism of my friend.  Turning it over, I mused as I looked at its long and smooth and arrowy form, tapering off at the ends, and tipped with steel.  Then I too became prosaic, for as I drew my fingers along its glossy surface, and let them glide over its shining metal point that swept so deftly through the warp, I thought of the sweat it wrung from the toiler, as with nimble fingers she sought to keep pace with its flight, and I tried to calculate what a blow from it would mean when propelled by the power of steam.  Then, turning to the old man who stood by my side, I asked him if accidents from the flying shuttle were common, or their consequences disastrous.

    ‘Yi, common enough,’ he said.  ‘Th’ shuttle doesn’t tell yo’ when it’s baan to fly, nor where it’s baan to leet.  As often as not it mak’s for yor dayleets, an’ then, as aw tell yo’, yo’ see starleet, an’ happen after that no leet at all.  Aw never had one i’ my ee, bud aw’ve had one near enough to mak’ the sparks fly;’ and the old man pointed to a scar on his cheek which, though long years healed, still told its tale.

    ‘Yo’ll ha’ noticed,’ he said, ‘that aboon a few of th’ lasses oather skens, or are baat one e’e.’

    I told him I had noticed the defect, and often wondered as to its cause.

    ‘Well,’ he continued, ‘them’s ’em ’at’s been hit wi’ th’ shuttle; th’ skenners wearin’ a glass e’e i’ th’ place of th’ one ’at’s lost, t’others bein’ content wi’ th’ one ’at’s left.’

    ‘And what is the cause?’ I asked, — ‘carelessness on the part of the workpeople?’

    ‘Nay, not awlus; happen th’ loom’s slack set up, or th’ warp bad; it doesn’t awlus foller.’  And the old man led me in and out amid the narrow alleys and between the close-set looms, philosophising or explaining as became his mood.

    Suddenly he stopped, and putting his lips to my ear that I might the better catch his words, he said:—

    ‘Talkin’ of flyin’ shuttles an’ blind een, aw con tell yo’ th’ queerest tale aat — a tale as true as th’ sunleet ’at’s pourin’ in through th’ topleets yon.  It’s abaat a lass as used to weyve at these very looms agen which we’re stonnin’.  Bud come i’ th’ boiler haase — there’s too mich din here for talkin’ to th’ likes of yo’.’  So we adjourned to the spot in which the old man was always eloquent, and where in times past he had recounted to me so many of the strange stories of his life.

    ‘Yo’ never knew Blind Bess?  Nowe!  Well aw durnd know as it matters mich; bud aw knew her both lass an’ woman for thirty year.  Hoo were a quiet sort, one as noabry had aught to say agen, an’ abaat th’ best weyver i’ th’ shade.  There were more nor one as wanted to wed her, bud like as hoo took on wi’ Neddy Brown, one of the carters for th’ mill.  Ned had nobbud one fault — he were terrible havin’ (mean), an this were awlus geddin’ him into lumber.  He used to talk aboon a bit abaat marryin’ a four-loom weyver, and what brass hoo were addlin’, an’ haa mich they were baan to save when they were wed, an’ all th’ rest on’t, until folk fair cried shame on him, for th’ lad were noan baat brass hissel’, let alone marryin’ a lass as were to wark to help to keep him.

    ‘Bud he were noan to have it all his own way, as yo’ll yer; for one mornin’ Bessy’s shuttle flew aat, an’ tumbled her o’er into th’ alley; an’ when they piked her up they fun’ her ee were mashed, an’ her face covered wi’ blood.  It were a seet, so them said as see’d it; an’ when they geet her home th’ doctor shook his yed, an’ said he were afeeard t’other ee would go an’ o’; an’ so it did, for the lass never see’d agen.

    ‘At first Ned made a great to-do, an’ were awlus hangin’ raand the lass i’ his spare haars.  It weren’t long, haaever, before he took to stoppin’ away for a week at a time, an’ began to ged uneasy like when he were by th’ lass’s side.  Then i’ a bit he wrote a letter to her mother sayin’ as blind folk were no use to him, an that he mut be like to wed a woman ’at could see.

    ‘Th’ news of th’ letter soon spread through th’ village, an’ Betty Pillin’, an owd Methody, an’ a class-leader wi’ whom Bessy used to meet, set off to settle the job wi’ Ned.

    ‘“Ned,” hoo said, when hoo geet to his haase, “when arto baan to marry Bess?”

    ‘He were fair takken to, an’ towd some sort of a lame tale as roused th’ owd woman’s temper.

    ‘“Thaa doesn’t meean to say as thaa’rt baan to sack her, doesta?”’

    ‘But Ned nobbud told her that blind folk were no use to them ’at had their livin’ to ged.

    ‘“For shame o’ thysel’!” th’ owd woman shaated.  “If thaa sacks yon lass, th’ Almeety’ll punish thee as sure as thaa’s a mon.  Bud come, aw think better on thee, Ned;” an’ hoo talked i’ her coaxin’ tones.  “Thaa’ll marry her, willn’t ta?”

    ‘Ned were noan to be moved, haaever, an’ he axed Betty who’d cook his meeat, an’ wesh his bits of linen, an’ mend his clooas, if he wed a woman ’at were baat een.

    ‘“Do thy duty, lad,” said Betty, “and the Lord’ll look after thee, an’ bless thee, an’ cause His face to shine on thee.”

    ‘“If th’ Lord had meant me to marry Bess, He wouldn’t ha’ takken her seet,” replied Ned.  “There’s no stonnin’ agen Providence, thaa knows.”

    ‘“Providence?” cried the owd woman; “Providence, didta say?  Arto one of those foo’s as saddles Providence wi’ th’ sins of th’ world?  It were noan Providence, lad; it were a bad warp.”

‘Bud it were all no use; an’ Ned telled her as th’ Almeety manifested Hissel’ i’ o’ mak’s of things, fro’ a jackass to Balaam to a shuttle to hissel’.

    ‘Bud if Bess were baan to be baat her seet, Ned were noan baan to be baat a wife; for afore th year were aat he paired wi’ Rachel Ratcliffe, a shy sort of a lass, an’ as timid as hoo were shy.

    ‘Hoo weren’t at first for keepin’ company wi’ him; bud there were a big family on ’em at home, an’ her mother said at hoo munnot throw away her chonce.  So they were wed; but somehaa or other Rachel never seemed to thrive after.

    ‘What it were noabry could tell.  Ned were noan a bad husband, an’ th’ lass had a daycent home.  But still hoo were awlus frettin’, an’ hoo lost her colour an’ looked drawn under th’ een.  It were soon th’ talk of th’ village; an’ there were as said as Rachel were carryin’ summat on her mind.

    ‘One day Betty Pillin’, th’ same as went to see Ned, took on hersel’ to go an’ see Rachel an’ o’, for hoo were a sort of mother i’ Israel to all th’ lasses, an’ Rachel, like Bessy, had met i’ th’ owd woman’s class.  “What is it thaa’rt carryin’ on thy mind?” hoo axed th’ lass.  Bud Rachel said nowt.  Then Betty talked to her kindly like, an’ said as hoo’d known her, an’ prayed for her, sin’ hoo were a little un; bud hoo nobbud cried an’ said nowt.  Then Betty told her to think of th’ childt ’at th’ Lord were sendin’ her, an’ to try an’ keep up for its sake.  Bud when hoo spoke abaat th’ childt Rachel brast into tears, an’ threw her arms raand Betty’s neck an’ telled her it were that ’at were troublin’ her.

    ‘“It ought to bring thee joy, lass,” said Betty, “an’ not trouble.  Childer’s a heritage fro’ the Lord, thaa knows; they come to mak’ us younger as we grow owder, an’ it’s th’ fulfilment of th’ Covenant an’ o’; thaa’rt one of th’ highly favoured among women, thaa mun look up.”  Bud it were no use; Rachel kept sobbin’ as though hoo were burdened wi’ some sin.

    ‘“Thaa’s done nowt wrong, hasto?” asked Betty.

    ‘“Not as thaa meeans,” said Rachel; “bud aw’m feeard aw’ve done wrong i’ marryin’ Ned, after he’d sacked poor Bess an’ o’.  Aw welly awlus see her wi’ her blind een; neet an’ day hoo follers me like a boggart; aw cornd ged her aat of my seet.”  An’ then hoo telled Betty haa hoo prayed abaat it till her knees were sore, bud Blind Bess were awlus afore her.

    ‘Betty were an owd woman, an’ knew what were what i’ family life, so yo’ may be sure hoo were upset abaat what Rachel towd her; but hoo put a good face on’t, an’ said hoo munnot be foolish, an’ tried to talk her aat of her consait; an’ when hoo left th’ haase th’ lass were a bit more lively like.

    ‘Haa things would ha’ gone on aw cornd say; happen Rachel would ha’ getten o’er her trouble o’ reet if it hadn’t been for a sermon hoo yerd preyched th’ Sundo’ neet after fro’ Joel Ramsbottom.’

    ‘It isn’t often that aw trouble parsons, or chapels oather, bud aw thought for once i’ a while aw’d turn in an’ yer owd Joel, as he’d a gradely name for preychin’.  Them as once see’d him ne’er forgeet what he were like, an’ them as once yerd him ne’er forgeet what he said.  He were a chap as carried no sunleet i’ his een — it were leet o’ th’ other sort — o’ Siniai an’ hell.  There was noan as didn’t fear him, bud th’ fear were like th’ candle to th’ moth — it drew folk fro’ th’ whole countryside.

    ‘That neet th’ chapel were craaded, an’ Ned an’ his wife sat i’ th’ gallery o’er th’ clock, where there were no geddin’ aat for noabry.  Aw were just at th’ side on ’em where aw could see their faces baat any trouble.  Ned were as cool as when he were whistlin’ by th’ side of his horses — yo’ never knew a meean un yet as weren’t brimstone proof; an’ as yo’ may suppose th’ chap as could sack a lass becose hoo were blind were noan ahaid of th’ likes of Joel Ramsbottom.

    ‘Well, there were a great brast off wi’ th’ singin’, an’ then come a prayer ’at roused th’ congregation to shaatin’s an’ clerkin’s till yo’ couldn’t tell who were th’ loudest, th’ parson or th’ people — it were like a row i’ a fair.  Then he gave aat his text.  It were i’ th’ Old Testament somewhere, abaat th’ sins of th’ faithers bein’ visited on to th’ childer to th’ third an’ fourth generation.

    ‘Like as aw looked straight at Rachel.  Aw couldn’t help mysel’, aw couldn’t for sure; an’ there were a good many i’ th’ congregation as did th’ same.  Aw see’d her change colour as soon as th’ owd chap started, an’ if ever there were a soul i’ purgatory it were hers that neet while Joel were preychin’.

    ‘He towd us ’at th’ Almeety were a mon as never broke His word, and that His threatenin’s were “Yea” an’ “Amen” as well as His promises.  There were nowt, he said, ’at God said He’d do ’at He wouldn’t do, whether it were i’ th’ way of clamnin’ folks or savin’ ’em.  “It’s not what yo’ ax for,” he shaated; “Esau axed for repentance, bud did he get it, an’ did his childer?  Wasn’t it over Edom ’at th’ Almeety cast His shoe?”  Then he went on to tell ’em as sin were a long debt, an’ when it were forgiven it weren’t forgetten, an’ ’at th’ third an’ fourth generation come in for th’ first generations marlocks.  He said there were little uns i’ th’ graveyard naa becose of their parents’ misdoin’s, an’ folks i’ ’sylums an’ hospitals becose they were born o’ corruption.  Then he poo’ed hissel’ together, an’ fixed his een on Ned, an’ says, “Yi, an’ there’s other sins an’ o’ — sins of unkindness an’ cruelty as are paid back wi’ compaand interest to them ’at’s guilty on ’em, an’ to their childer after ’em.”

‘“Yi!” he said, stretchin’ aat a finger like a pickin’-rod, while th’ fire glinted fro’ his een, “yi, to th’ third an’ fourth generation.”  Then he went on to tell abaat families he’d known as had sinned agen God an’ their felley-men, an’ had getten dominoe (an expression illustrative of a sad end); guzzlin’ folk has had left a terrible thirst i’ their children’s throttle; rich folk who’d made their brass by cheatin’, whose kin had died i’ th’ work-haase; lyin’ folk who passed on their repitation as a legacy to them as came of th’ same breed after ’em.  “Th’ third an’ fourth generation,” he shaated, “caant it up for yorsel’s.  Yo’ eyt sour grapes an’ yore childer’s teeth ’ll be set on edge; an’ there’ll be no cure for it noather.  Th’ third an’ fourth generation — that’s them as is unborn, an’ them as ’ll be born when yo’re deead.  Yi, though hond join in hond, th’ wicked an’ their seed ’ll be punished for ever.”’

    During the description of the sermon the old man so worked himself into a dramatic mood that I too was lost in the scene and in the subject, realising for the moment the spell of this modern prophet Joel.  I felt the hot breath of the excitement, the strained silence of the crowd, the terror roused in those hundreds of hearts that hung upon the preacher’s words, and above all the agony of that poor girl so soon to be a mother, and haunted with the terrible anticipation that her husband’s sin, and her own for marrying him, would be wreaked by an avenging deity in the blindness of her child; and as the strain wrought by the old man’s story was relaxed, I was thankful that a milder religion than Joel Ramsbottom’s was the one in which I had been nursed.

    As the engineer paused in his narration, wiping the sweat from his brow with his wad of cotton waste, he was called away by the manager to another part of the works, leaving me in uncertainty as to the fate of her whom he had so eloquently described; and as he did not return I journeyed to my lodgings, curious as to the sequel.

    Circumstances, however, sometimes play the part of interpreters; and it was to be so in this case.  On the following day, as I was walking across the meadows, I met a number of children at play, among whom was a fair-haired little girl joyous as her companions, and fully sharing in their glee, yet with a movement about her I could not understand.  The longer I watched her the more I was perplexed, until at last curiosity prompted me to approach and speak with her.  Judge my dismay when I found the little one was blind, yet gifted the while with that added keenness of the other senses which is one of Nature’s kindly laws of compensation.

    I spoke with her, as well as with her companions, and told them about the flowers among which they sported, and whose varied colours gladdened all eyes but one; and I daresay the incident might have been forgotten had not one of the children said, ‘Tell Rachel Brown haa bonnie th’ buttercups are.’

    When I next saw old Harry he remembered the sudden interruption which his story had received at the hands of the manager, and would have recommenced it, and carried it to its finish.  I laid my hand on him, however, and said, ‘I know all.’

    ‘Have yo’ yerd, then?’ he asked,

    ‘No,’ I said; ‘I have seen.’


――――♦――――

 
HEPHZlBAH’S VICTORY


JACKASSES an’ women weren’t in it.’

    We were walking along the lodge banks, the setting sun gilding its sluggish waters, and lighting up with flashing fires the windows of the many-storied mill.  Around us sported the rising generation, of whom old Harry knew and cared but little; while on the moorland side lengthening shadows were thrown from the grey headstones that marked the sleeping-place of the generation over which he was so fond of musing.

    It was a reminiscence of one of this generation that called forth the quaint soliloquy with which I begin this story — a reminiscence of one of the original founders of the firm, Jonas by name, and already mentioned in a previous sketch.  Few remembered him, but many of his sayings and doings were still current among the people who dwelt in that valley, and of him it might be said that though dead he was not forgotten.  When living, he was of an original type — hard, shrewd, persistent.  Permitting no nay, he was never known to withdraw his word, hating idleness, and being the sworn foe of drink.  It was his boast that he never re-engaged a discharged hand; when once notice was given, no matter whether by operative or master, the consequence was irrevocable; the door was shut, and bolted with a bar of steel.  It was in recalling this feature of the old master’s character that my companion declared that ‘jackasses an’ women weren’t in it.’

    ‘Why jackasses and women?’ I asked.

    ‘Well, it’s i’ this road, yo’ see.  Yo’ con leather a jackass, an’ yo’ con please a woman; but th’ owd gaffer yo’ could neither drive nor lead.  He’d nobbud go one gate, an’ that were his own.  Aw’ve heard men curse him, an’ aw’ve seen women wi’ tear i’ their een, go on their knees to him; but neither t’one nor t’other moved him — he were as firm as th’ engine bed yonder, an’ as hard an’ all.  They used to co’ him “Owd Gibraltar,” becose he were like a rock.  But he were once licked, an’ it were by a woman an’ all.’

    ‘By his wife?’ I asked.

    ‘Partly what an’ partly not,’ said old Harry.  ‘His missus were i’ th’ job, but there were another woman wi’ her; an’ th’ two o’ them were more nor he could face.  It were nobbud once, aw tell yo’; but it were enough; an’ ever sin’ aw’ve awlus said aw’d back woman’s wit agen th’ world.’

    There now followed one of those tantalising pauses which it was always fatal to interrupt.  The sun was dying behind the moors, and the tints on the factory windows paling before the approaching gloom.  The children were scampering to their homes, and the voices of the day retreating before the silence of the nightfall.  The waters at our feet took a more sullen hue, and a chill air sweeping from the hills, drove our steps towards the old man’s shrine of labour.  We climbed the stone stairway that led into the engine-house, and seated ourselves once more before that ponderous mass of steel, now silent, and shadowy beneath the twinkling gaslight that dimly illumined the room.

    I often wondered how it was that Harry was more voluble in the presence of his engine.  It seemed to me that it was his inspiration — a recaller of forgotten incidents and restorer of bygone memories.  What the grove was to the Academician, and what the laboratory to the scientist, such this engine-house was to the old son of toil, whose life, even to its pulse-beat, was incorporated with the engine’s movement and work.  Its very motion gave momentum to his mind, while the roar was music, and the pause provocative of the past.

    ‘Aw were sayin’ that th’ owd maister were nobbud o’erfaced bud once, an’ then it were by a woman.  Hoo were a woman an’ no mistak’, a woman wi’ a will an’ a way o’ her own; and hoo were th’ wife o’ a chap as we co’ed Sossin’ Simon.  Yo’ know what sossin’ means?  It means a chap ’at laps drink as a cat laps milk.  An’ Simon were a lapper an’ all; he’d a tongue as dry as a new-brunt brick, an’ a throttle like a sough.  Nowt come amiss to him, fro’ traycle-beer to owd four-penny, though he stuck to the latter when it come i’ his gate.  He spent so mich time i’ th’ ale-haase that once o’er he were welly sold for one o’ th’ fixtures, an’ he lost so mich time o’er his wark that if he hadn’t been th’ best weyver i’ th’ shade, he’d ha’ got th’ sack long afore he did.

    ‘One mornin’ th’ owd maister come into th’ shade an’ axed th’ overlooker where Simon were; an’ when he telled him he were at th’ “Sheaf an’ Sickle,” he went straight across th’ road an’ took th’ bull by th’ horns, for all he were i’ th’ tap-room wi’ his cronies raand him.  “This is noan weyvin’, Simon,” he said.  “Nowe, maister, aw were nobbud wambly (weakly or unsteady) this mornin’, an’ as aw didn’t want to spoil yore warps aw thought aw’d just fortify mysel’ wi’ a pint.”  “That tale willn’t do, lad,” said th’ gaffer; “if thaa’s ill thaa mun bring a doctor’s certihcate, an’ then thaa con play till thaa’rt better.”  An’ he marched him off towards th’ shade.

    ‘On th’ road he talked to him like for his good, an’ telled him there were no sense i’ bein’ a berm-yed (ale drinker), an’ haa, if he didn’t mend, he’d sack him; “an’ thaa knows,” said he, “if thaa’rt once sacked thaa’s sacked for good.”  Then Simon telled him as haa he suffered fro’ th’ dithers, a complaint ’at nowt but a stimulant would cure.  “All reet,” says th’ gaffer; “next time thaa ails aught thaa’s nowt to do but bring a doctor’s certificate, an’ aw’ll see that nowt happens thee.”

    ‘Well, Simon were a daycent lad for welly six months; but when Kesmas come he went on th’ spree, an’ kept on’t for aboon three week.  All th’ time he were off his wark th’ owd gaffer kept quiet; but th’ mornin’ he turned up he sent for Si’, as we used to co’ him, into th’ office, an’ axed him to give an acaant o’ hissel’.  “Aw’ve none been so well, maister,” said Simon.  “Hasto brought thy certificate,” he axed; “for if thaa hasn’t thaa works no more for me.”  “Yi, aw’ve brought th’ certificate; it’s here, sithee,” an’ he poo’ed th’ doctor’s paper aat o’ his pocket, an’ handed it with a regular baance to th’ maister.

    ‘As yo’ may suppose th’ gaffer were takken aback.  At first he thought it were a lark, but he soon seed it were jannock.  To mak’ sure on’t, haaever, he put on his glasses, an’ then he brast aat laughin’, for what he read were:—

    ‘“This is to certify that Simon — is suffering from chronic alcoholism.”

    ‘“Thaa’s done me one this time, Simon,” said the gaffer; “go an’ get on wi’ thy wark, thy looms are waitin’ for thee.”’

    ‘But where did the woman come in?’ I asked; somewhat surprised at what I took to be the climax of the story, yet none the less relishing the joke.

    ‘Howd on a bit,’ said Harry, ‘we hav’n’t getten to her yet.  Afore many weeks were over Simon were at his drinkin’ again, but th’ owd gaffer were true to his word, an’ everybody knew as haa he would keep it.

    ‘It were a long, hard spring that year, th’ yest wind were never tired o’ blowin’, an’ snow fell at Whissuntide.  Coiles were scarce, an’ flaar were dear, for th’ times were bad, an’ them as hadn’t mich were hard put to’t.  Trade were bad wi’ everybody but publicans.  Aw durnd know haa it is, but folk con awlus find brass for drink; onyroad Simon did, an’ poor Hephzibah were terribly ooined (punished) o’er it an’ all.  Fro’ th’ first thing i’ th’ mornin’ till th’ last thing at neet he were stretchin’ his feet under th’ tap-room table, while th’ haase were left to go to rack and ruin.  Bit by bit th’ furniture went to th’ pawn shop, an’ that ’at didn’t were takken for th’ rent.  Not but what Hephzibah were a gradely weyver hersel’, an’ able to earn a good wage, but hoo were expectin’ her first child an’ were past warkin’; an’ if hoo had worked he’d nobbud ha’ swallowed her brass.  One neet, haaever, when he come home, he fun her on th’ floor i’ a deead faint, an’ like as that sobered him.  He raised her yed, but he’d nowt to put it on, for th’ haase were as bare as th’ palm o’ yore hand.  He looked raand to give her summat to sup, but there weren’t a glass or pot he could lay howd on.  There hoo were, poor lass, her bonny een closed, an her face all marred wi’ want, an’ noabry at hand to help her, but Simon who were just gettin’ sober wi’ his fright.  It were a neet an’ no mistak’.  Th’ wind whistled under th’ threshold, an’ th’ only leet were fro’ th’ moon which were at full.  But there’s awlus summat turns up, an’ while he were tryin’ to lift her yed a naybor come in, an’ they carried Hephzibah next door where there were a fire an’ summat warm.

    ‘Some women’s like cats,’ continued Harry, after a pause,‘they’ve nine lives; an’ Hephzibah were one o’ that breed, for aw met her i’ th’ mornin’ goin’ to th’ factory to see if hoo could persuade th’ owd gaffer to give her husband another try.

    ‘Thaa’s on a fool’s errand,’ aw said, ‘thaa’d best save thy legs an’ thy breath, thaa’s none fit i’ thy state to go an’ upset thysel’ wi’ a row wi’ owd Jonas abaat a waistrel like yore Si’.

    ‘Then she telled me haa he’d getten th’ owd family Bible ’at were his mother’s, an’ oppened it, an’ kissed it on his knees, an’ towd th’ Almeety as haa he would be damned if he’d ever touch another drop o’ drink.  “An’ he meeans it,” hoo said, “an’ aw’m baan to ax th’ gaffer to give him another trial.”  “Save thy breath an’ save thy legs,” aw says, “for he willn’t listen to thee.”  But it were no use, hoo’d have her way.

    ‘Aw were i’ th’ factory yard when hoo met him.  “Well, Hephzibah,” he says, “what doesta want?  Is there owt aw con do for yo’,” for hoo were a woman he awlus respected.  “Yi,” hoo says, “aw want yo’ to give aar Simon another try.”

    ‘“Aw thought yo’ hadn’t known me twenty years for nowt, Hephzibah,” he says.

    ‘“Nowe, maister,” hoo says, “aw havn’t; an’ its becose aw know there’s so mich good abaat yo’ aw’ve come to yo’.”

    ‘“Hephzibah,” he says, “my word’s my bond.”

    ‘“But supposin’ thaa does more good by breakin’ thy bond nor keepin’ it.”

    ‘“Aw’ll tak’ th’ consequences of that, Hephzibah.”

    ‘Then hoo towd him as haa Simon had sworn on his mother’s Bible never to touch another drop o’ drink, an’ haa he meant to turn o’er a new leaf an’ be a daycent husband an’ a better workman.  But it were all no use, an’ th’ gaffer waved his hand an says, “Aw con do nowt for thee, nor for him noather, for that matter.”

    ‘Then hoo touched him on th’ shoulder an’ says, “There’s sombry else thaa con do summat for.  Thaa knows aw’m near my trouble, an’ a week’s wage’ll happen save another life besides mine.”

    ‘Hoo telled me at after haa hoo shamed as hoo spoke i’ this fashion.  “But thaa knows, Harry,” hoo said, “th’ mother geet th’ better part o’ th’ woman an’ th’ wife.  It were noather my felley no mysel’ aw were pleadin’ for, but th’ little un ’at were on th’ road.”’

    I was struck with the deep pathos of the story, and felt that while there might be a coarseness about it unknown in the more conventional circles of life, yet after all it was rich with the plea of nature, a true note, perhaps rudely struck, in the poetry of life.

    ‘The master granted the woman’s request, I suppose!’ I said, anticipating, as I thought, the end of the old man’s story.

    ‘Nay, he were noan of that sort.  For all that he put his hand i’ his pocket an’ fotched aat a couple o’ suvverins, an’ telled her that would see her o’er her trouble.  But hoo wouldn’t have ’em, an’ telled him as no brass should go into their haase ’at wernd worked for.  Then he telled her he’d done all as he could for her but break his word, an’ that he said he’d do noather for her nor any other woman.

    ‘Then like as Hephzibah broke daan, an’ wipin’ th’ corner o’ her een wi’ her apron, hoo turned aat o’ th’ factory yard a brokken-hearted lass.

    ‘As hoo were comin’ away hoo met owd Betty Pickup.  “What ails thee, lass?” hoo said.  An’ when Hephzibah telled her tale th’ owd woman said, “Thaa mun see his wife.”

    ‘At first Hephzibah wouldn’t hear on’t, but th’ owd woman kept at her, an’ hoo had her reasons, for th’ gaffer’s wife were what Hephzibah co’ed “near her trouble” an’ all.  When Betty whispered this i’ th’ lass’s ear, an’ telled her ’at there were times when th’ rich an’ poor were noan so different fro’ one another, an’ had a sort o’ felley-feeling, Hephzibah made up her mind hoo’d go to th’ Hall an’ see if th’ gaffer’s missus could do owt i’ gettin’ Simon back to wark.

    ‘Naa th’ gaffer had nobbud been wed abaat twelve months, an’ his wife, who were a lady born, were only weakly.  Hoo were th’ very sunleet o’ his life; an’ there were as said he gathered th’ daisies i’th’ meadows as hoo trod on.  Th’ servants used to tell as haa he couldn’t say her nay.  Onyroad, hoo were th’ gaffer up at th’ Hall whoever might be at th’ factory.  Yo’ con understand haa he were anxious abaat her, an’ did all he could to please her, never lettin’ any trouble light i’ her road if he could help it; an’ yo’ may be sure ’at if he’d known Hephzibah were baan to’ th’ Hall, he would ha’ stopped her, even if he’d fotched th’ perlice to her.  But then yo’ see he didn’t know — an’ there hangs my tale.

    ‘Aw heard Hephzibah tell haa hoo donned hersel’ up i’ th’ bits o’ things ’at hadn’t gone to th’ pawnshop, an’ went wi’ a lump i’ her throat an’ lead at her heels up th’ road to th’ Hall.  Aw’ve heard her tell haa hoo went to th’ back door, an’ rung at th’ big bell, an’ telled th’ servants haa hoo wanted to speak to th’ missus.  But it were th’ servants theirsel’s who telled haa they met each other, an’ what they said to each other, for there’s naught tak’s place i’ a rich man’s haase but th’ servants know.’

    Here the old man fell into one of his musing fits, removing his cap and wiping his brow with his wad of cotton waste, his pipe for the time being laid on the chest whereon we sat.  Suddenly taking his eye from the silent engine on which he had been looking, he turned towards me and said:—

    ‘Aw’ll tell yo’ what, though women’s terribly jealous o’ one another, there’s times i’ their lives when they remember nowt but each other’s troubles.

    ‘They say at first ’at th’ gaffer’s wife would hear nowt abaat oather th’ factory or Simon gettin’ sacked, tellin’ Hephzibah all th’ time that hoo’d nowt to do wi’ what her maister did at th’ mill, an’ that hoo never meant to.  But when Hephzibah began to fiddle on th’ string ’at touched th’ tender place i’ her heart, an’ telled her as haa th’ little heir they were expectin’ at th’ Hall would find its head pillowed i’ down, while that i’ th’ cottage would find no restin’ place but a half-clemmed bowsom, they say th’ gaffer’s wife fair broke daan, an’ said as haa hoo’d see as noather th’ mother nor th’ child wanted for nowt.

    ‘Then it were as Hephzibah stretched hersel’ up, her rags showin’ her breast as hoo hadn’t clooathes to cover.  “Yo’re very kind,” hoo says, “but it’s noan charity aw’m axin’ for, an’ it’s noan charity aw’ll tak.’  Yo’ con get my maister set agate if yo’ve a mind to.  Yo’ve nobbud to raise yore finger an’ it’s done.  It’ll nobbud be a day or two, an’ yo’ an’ me’ll have to go through th’ mill together, an’ we shall happen both get dusted; but yo’ll be all th’ easier i’ yore pain when yo’ remember yo’ve done summat to lessen mine.”

    ‘But th’ little woman were firm, an’ said as haa her maister knew his business best, an’ hoo were noan baan to meddle wi’ it.  Then Hephzibah towd her there’s some things ’at women understand better nor men.  But th’ gaffer’s wife never spoke.

    ‘Aw believe it were a feyght wi’ th’ maister’s wife, for they say as haa hoo poo’ed aat her handkercher an’ wiped her een.  Aw could like to ha’ seen ’em, rags an’ riches, both waitin’ for their haar o’ sorrow to strike.  They say ’at a fat sorrow’s better nor a lean un, an’ happen it is; but there’s some doors ’at both rich an’ poor have to go through, an’ they’re very narrow ones an’ all.  An’ this were a narrow one ’at these women had getten to, an’ noabry knew it better nor theirsel’s.

    ‘Haa it would ha’ ended, aw durnd know; but th’ servants as were spyin’ telled as haa Hephzibah went daan on her knees, an’ said: —

    ‘“For th’ sake o’ th’ child yo’re bearin’, tak’ pity on mine.”’

    It was not often that old Harry betrayed feeling, and seldom had I seen a tremor cross his lean, firm-set face.  But the narration of this story, and especially its climax, had touched the nether springs hidden away in the deeps of this rough product of manufacturing life.  His voice grew thick, and with a rude excuse, he left me to look after some trilling detail belonging to his engine.

    On his return the spasm of sympathy was passed; he was old Harry once more, hard and cold as the steely monster he tended; and when I asked him as to the fate of Simon and Hephzibah, he told me how that on the morning following the pleadings of the weaver’s wife, Simon was running his looms, and that he continued so to do until the day of his death, keeping faithfully to the vow which he had breathed over the old Bible, wherein, as the engineer said, the name of a little Hephzibah had been inscribed, the silent pleadings of whose unconscious life bent the will, and gainsayed the word of one who, in Harry’s words, was ‘as firm as th’ engine bed an’ as hard an’ all.’


――――♦――――

 
NO PLACE FOR REPENTANCE


AW welly think hoo’s th’ most unhappy woman i’ th’ parish, an’ that’s sayin’ a deal, for there’s some weary (sad) uns, aw con tell yo’.’

    ‘She looks it,’ was my reply; ‘yet why she should, I can’t imagine, for she seems to have all that heart can wish.’

    ‘Nay, noabry has that — not them as has th’ most.  There’s awlus a float or a mash i’ yor piece, or summat,’ said the old engineer, falling back for illustration on factory phraseology and figure.  ‘Th’ richest have a hoile i’ their purse, an’ them as drinks th’ sweetest cup find it smacks o’ gall.  Aw know there’s aboon a few looks at yon wi’ envious een; bud they durnd know what hoo carries; it’s th’ owd sayin’ o’er agen, an’ it seems fresher every time yo’ say it, “Th’ heart knows its own bitterness,” — an’ there’s some bitterness in hers an’ no mistak’.’

    She of whom we were speaking was one of the steadiest and most skilful of the old weavers in the factory’s employ, and one of the most thrifty too.  She was far past middle-age and unmarried, and, to all appearance, well-to-do, and living in a cottage of her own.  Silent and self-contained, she seemed to follow her work without either the love or hate of friend or foe, a dull and settled sorrow clouding her eyes, and a dispirited air clothing her like the desolation of an autumn day.  Soon after my sojourn in the village I had singled her out from among the operatives as they hurried to and from their work, she, the while, neither pairing nor hurrying with the crowd, but walking slowly and alone.  I often wondered what unkindly fate had crossed her path, and what, and from where, fell the perpetual shadow beneath which she seemed to dwell.  Indeed, I vexed myself as to her fate, and as to the history of despair that was writ so large on every feature of her face.

    My chance of inquiry without undue curiosity soon came; for one afternoon, as I stood talking with old Harry in the factory yard, she passed us on her way to the warehouse, and it was in reply to my question that the old man declared his belief that she was ‘th’ unhappiest woman i’ th’ parish.’

    ‘Another story, Harry, I suppose?’ I said.

    ‘Yi, an’ a sad one an’ o’ — as sad as ony aw’ve told yo’.  There is some nuts as is hard to crack; an’ when aw think of yon woman aw’m in a quandary.  Aw sometimes wonder if the law of God will let her off as easy as th’ law of th’ land!  Hoo carries a curse abaat wi’ her, does yon.  An’ yet, aw durnd know!  It’s every one for hissel’ an’ hersel’, isn’t it?  An’ yet, it’s nobbud reyt ’at first come should be first sarved.  Bud if th’ strong push th’ weak ’at’s afore ’em aat o’ th’ gate, an’ ged their share, what do yo’ co’ ’em?’

    ‘Thieves and robbers,’ I replied.

    ‘An’ what do yo’ do wi’ em?’

    ‘Give them what they ask for, or let them take it,’ I laughed.

    ‘Yi, that’s it.  Yo’ know it’s robbery, bud then yo’ treat ’em like honest folk.’

    I was lost to know what the old man meant, and failed to construe his reasoning so as to interpret the character of the woman that had so perplexed me, and about which I was anxious for further light.  However, I was to be perplexed still more, for with his next breath he continued:— ‘If it had nobbud been a case of robbery, it would ha’ been different; bud them as is aboon sees blood on yon lass’s heart, if they see noan on her honds!’

    ‘Then she’s shadowed by a tragedy?’ I said.

    ‘That’s givin’ it one of yore fine names ’at comes of bein’ larned,’ he replied.  ‘Aw co’ it summat else, shuzhaa’ (right or wrong).

    ‘You don’t mean to say the woman has been guilty of taking the life of one of her kind?’ I exclaimed.

    ‘Aw meean to say if hoo’d done reyt hoo’d ha’ been deead long sin’; an’ them as is deead would ha’ been alive an’ weel naa, plez God.  Bud, as aw towd yo’, th’ nut’s hard to crack.  Happen aw should ha’ done th’ same as hoo did; bud that doesn’t mak’ ony difference to her.  We’ve all to carry aar dirty honds afore Him as is clean an’ just;’ and for once the old man fell into religious mood.

    It was with anxiety I awaited the clue to this perplexing epilogue, which I knew would come in the form of story; and it was with fear I anticipated one of those interruptions which, when they came, so disastrously destroyed the spell of the narrator.  Fortune was favourable, however; for, turning towards me, old Harry said:—

    ‘Aw mun tell yo’ th’ tale, for aw see yo’ con mak’ nowt of an old man’s maunderin’s.  Come along i’ th’ boiler-haase, an’ when aw’ve shut off th’ steam yo’ shall yer all.’

    In a little while, when the machinery was at rest and the sound of clogs had died away on the pavement, Harry came out of the engine-house, and sat beside me on the rough improvised bench whereon I had heard so many of his stories both grave and gay.

    Lighting his pipe, and musing amid the blue wreaths of smoke that ascended therefrom, he slowly and in subdued voice said:—

    ‘There’s nowt oather i’ earth or hell to match a jealous woman, for hoo’s noather conscience nor heart.  Hoo’ll say aught, an’ hoo’ll do aught — hoo will, for sure.  It’s bad enoof when hoo’s jealous of a felley; bud when hoo’s jealous of her own kind it’s war to th’ knife, an’ knife to th’ hilt, an’ th’ hilt i’ th’ part ’at tak’s longest to heal.  Th’ bitterest things aw’ve ever yerd aw’ve yerd fro’ a jealous woman; an’ they con be as cruel as Turks.  As th’ Methodys say i’ their prayers — there’s noather “hope nor mercy” abaat ’em.  Nay, aw welly think as haive th’ mischief i’ the world comes fro’ jealous women.’

    The old man’s sudden and unexpected tirade was not lost on me, for it lifted the cloud that hid the secret of the life of the woman whose lot had been a problem beyond my solution; and in her I now began to see a wreck wrought by jealousy, and became all the more expectant.

    ‘When two lasses love th’ same lad,’ the old man continued, ‘they hate each other as mich as they love him they’ve set their hearts on; for, as yo’ know, love an’ hate is noan far apart — they light their kindlin’ at th’ same fire.  Durnd yo’ think so?’

    I nodded my assent, and in my own mind silently complimented Harry on his shrewd observance and wisdom.

    ‘Well,’ he continued, ‘yon lass an’ Clara Robison both set theirsel’s to marry Jimmy Rothwell, an’ at first he were noan pertickler which on ’em it were, so he left ’em to settle it between theirsel’s.  Naa, this were fool’s wark, for he might ha’ known ’at‘ he could ha’ settled th’ job wi’ th’ least trouble; bud he were one of th’ yessy sort, leavin’ things to tak’ their chonce.

    ‘As yo’ may suppose, it weren’t long before there were bad blood between ’em; an’ it showed itsel’ an’ o’; yon lass as we’ve just passed i’ th’ factory yard sayin’ all as hoo could agen Clara, an’ Clara bein’ noan slow to say all as hoo could agen her.  Th’ worst on’t were, they wove at th’ side of one another, an’ Jimmy were th’ tackler.  There were some marlocks, aw con tell yo’, for both th’ lasses were of th’ feightin’ breed.  Them as looked on had th’ best on’t, as they awlus have, for that matter; and there were aboon a few laid their money as to which would be th’ winner.

    ‘Sometimes Jimmy walked wi’ t’one an’ sometimes wi’ t’other; bud whichever he walked wi’ he were forced to yer all that were bad abaat her as were left awhom.  There were some folk ’at said it were a wonder he didn’t sack ’em both wi’ yerin’ so mich that were bad abaat both; bud like as he believed noather on ’em, for he kept on keepin’ company wi’ ’em like a chap ’at didn’t know his mind.

    ‘One afternoon they geet to poo’in’ one another’s yure i’ th’ weyvin’-shade, yon lass tellin’ him to his face that he favoured Clara, an’ Clara co’in’ her names ’at were noan perlite.  Aw pitied th’ lasses, bud aw pitied noan o’ him; for a chap as cornd mak’ up his mind where lasses is consarned desarves none; an’ if th’ punishment that follered had come on noabry else bud hissel’ aw shouldn’d ha’ minded; bud, as yo’ll yer, it come on ’em all three.

    ‘Have yo’ never noticed,’ asked the old man, ‘that like as Providence, or summat, has a way of sattlin’ th’ jobes ’at we oather cannot or willn’t sattle for aarsel’s?  Onyroad, it were so wi’ Jimmy, for what he ought to ha’ done hissel’ were done for him; an’ he soon fun’ aat which on ’em it were he wanted; bud he fun’ it aat when it were too lat’.

    ‘Th’ owd mill were stonnin’ i’ those days, an’ th’ weyvin’-shade where the lasses worked were on th’ basement floor, abaat six feet below th’ level of th’ roadway.  There were an area raand it fenced off wi’ iron rails agen which th’ childer used to lean an’ look at th’ looms, and felleys short of wit coome an’ gloor through the winders at th’ weyvers.  It were a cold damp hoile, an’ welly sent as mony as worked i’ it to th’ doctor’s as it sent pieces to Manchester.’

    I was amused with the old man’s exaggeration, and ventured to correct him by asking how they managed to carry on any work at all with such a loss of time and labour.

    ‘Aw could like yo’ to ha’ seen th’ owd shop,’ said he, ‘then yo’d ha’ some idea of th’ places folk worked in forty year sin’.  They were smithies, an’ no mistak’ — reyt enoof for them as run ’em, bud murder for them as worked i’ ’em.  Brass were turned aat i’ barrowloads for th’ maisters i’ those days, bud nobbud i’ spoonfuls for th’ honds, an’ th’ spoons never ran o’er.  Th’ owd mill as used to ston’ here were five storys hee, an’ full of little winders filled in wi’ iron frames as yo’ couldn’t open, th’ bays between ’em bellyin’ aat like th’ calves of a chap i’ knee-breeches.  There weren’t a room i’ it as yo’ couldn’t touch th’ ceilin’ wi’ yore lingers when yo’ stood on th’ floor wi’ yore toes — that is, if yo’re ony height.  An’ what were more, yo’ were oather sweat aat or frozen aat, an’ yo’ couldn’t draw yore breath for “fly” (refuse of the cotton).  Bud like as th’ owd folk took to’t, an’ there were some warchin’ hearts when it fell to th’ graand.’

    ‘It was not destroyed by fire, then?’ I asked.

    ‘Nay, it tumbled in of itsel’.  It were like a mony poor folk — they worked it to deeath, an’ there were aboon a two-thre died wi’ it.

    ‘It were i’ this road,’ said the old man, drawing steadily at his pipe—‘they took to fillin’ it wi’ new machinery.  There were some as said th’ walls would never ston’ th’ strain, nor th’ floors noather, for that matter; bud there were them as said they would; so as th’ doctors differed they sent for a chap fro’ Manchester as put his nose into every nook, an’ did a deal of examinin’ abaat th’ beams an’ walls, an’ then pronaanced it safe.  Bud, as yo’ll yer, it were a case of puttin’ new wine into owd bottles, an’ them as did it ne’er forgave theirsel’s.

    ‘Aw used to help th’ mechanics to ged th’ machinery up i’ my spare time, an’ th’ more aw knew of th’ strength an’ power on’t, th’ more aw blamed th’ folly o’ fixin’ it i’ such a ramshackle hoile; an’ aboon once aw telled th’ manager my mind; but he nobbud laughed, an’ telled me my mind were to mind my own bisness.  “It’s all reyt,” aw says, “bud yo’ll find that oather yo’, or th’ gaffer, or sombry else, will have more on yore honds than yo’ con ged off wi’ swop an’ watter.”  But he said aw were a foo’, and telled me to go to th’ shop ’at were hotter than th’ one i’ which aw worked.

    ‘Well, th’ fixin’ of th’ machinery were a slow job, for there were a deal of manoevourin’ to ged all th’ frames in, an’ very little room were left for th’ honds to work in.  Th’ mornin’ afore we were ready for startin,’ one of th’ maisters said to me, “Harry, it’s a mistak’; there aught to ha’ been a new factory for th’ new tackle.”

    ‘Aw were fair on a thremble when aw started th’ engine i’ th’ mornin’, for like as aw knew summat were baan to happen.  Not as aw believe i’ what yo’ co’ presentiments — aw ne’er had no time to do that; but aw couldn’t ged it off my mind as there were mischief abaat.  Aw remember haa aw kept my een on th’ swaybeam, an’ watched th’ fly-spur as th’ speed geet on’t, an’ haa aw hearkened to th’ machinery through th’ wall, expectin’ all th’ while a catastrophe.  But all went on reyt, an’ as my nerve come back aw knocked abaat my wark as aw were used to.

    ‘Just afore th’ dinner-haar, as aw were crossin’ th’ factory yard, aw yerd a smashin’ o’ glass, as though sombry were breakin’ th’ winders.  “What’s yon?” aw says, as aw looked i’ th’ direction o’ th’ saand.  Bud aw soon seed, for one o’ th’ bays were swayin’ aat, an’ it took me all my time to keep mysel’ fro’ geddin’ buried under it as it fell to th’ graand.

    ‘Aw’d seen th’ inside of a factory mony a time, but aw’d never seen it fro’ th’ aatside afore.  There were th’ ends of th’ floorin’ just on th’ totter where th’ walls had left ’em, wi’ shaftin’ still runnin’.  Then come th’ smash, th’ machinery fallin’ an’ crushin’ th’ felleys an’ lasses, while th’ gearin’ an’ beltin’ geet howd on ’em an’ fair rove ’em like rags.  When th’ dust had cleared off a bit, an’ th’ buildin’ had sattled itsel’, an’ yo’ could tak’ in th’ measure of th’ mischief, yo’ seed a seet ’at would ha’ sickened th’ een of one o’ th’ carrion ’at gathers where th’ carcase is.  A bit aboon where aw stood were an arm as seemed to be feightin’ fro’ under a beam, bud nowt were seen of her as moved it.  Then aw geet a glint of a clog at th’ end of a leg ’at were smashed by a length o’ shaftin’.  Then aw clapped my een on a lot o’ long red yure tangled wi’ some weft, but th’ face weren’t i’ seet, an’ when it were, them as seed it were quick to cover it o’er.  One poor lass were spiked wi’ a rod — pinned daan wi’ th’ iron through her like a bagonet.  Mony as weren’t hurt, an’ were buried i’ th’ ruins, made th’ air ring wi’ their cries to be takken aat; th’ felleys facin’ th’ Almeety wi’ curses, while th’ lasses were co’in’ on th’ Saviour to have mercy on their souls.  There were one little un, abaat six year owd, wedged i’ one o’ th’ frames, cryin’ for it mother, while hoo, poor thing, all th’ while were lyin’ wi’ her neck brokken under a beam as had fallen fro’ th’ floor aboon.  It were th’ first time aw’d seen a gradely feight between flesh an’ blood an’ stones an’ iron; bud stones an’ iron were th’ maisters, for th’ poor crayters had no chance at all;’ and the old man held his hand before his eyes, as though he would fain dim the sight of that awful morning.

    After a lengthened pause he continued: ‘As yo’ may suppose, it were aboon a bit afore us ’at were aatside poo’ed aarsel’s together; bud once we geet agate we made up for lost time, an’ there were soon plenty of willin’ honds to help i’ fotchin’ aat th’ deead an’ th’ dyin’.  Aw’d been at wark skiftin’ an’ liftin’ an’ carryin’ for over an haar, when Jimmy come up an’ axed me if aw’d seen aught of th’ lasses — meaning them as he kept company wi’.  “Nay,” aw says, “aw’ve been o’ this side all th’ time; if thaa wants them, thaa’lt ha’ to ged in among the looms fro’ th’ back.”  An’ to th’ back we both on us started.

    ‘When we geet there th’ passage were craaded wi’ folk lookin’ for their own; but Jim an’ me pushed aar way among th’ ruins till we come to a beam as had part fallen, wi’ a length of floorin’ hangin’ o’er it, an’ blockin’ th’ way.  “Aw’m for geddin’ o’er,” he turned raand an’ shaated.  “An’ aw’m for ‘follerin’,” aw said; an’ i’ less time nor it tak’s to tell we were on t’other side.

    ‘As soon as aw leeted an’ looked raand aw wished aw were back agen.  Th’ whole o’ th’ factory seemed to be jammed into th’ basement where th’ looms were.  Yo’ never seed such a ruck i’ yore life, an’ noabry else, for that matter noather.  Th’ pillars were knocked o’er like ninepins, an’ th’ beams smashed like carrots, an’ all maks thrown topsy-turvy — brokken wheels, twisted shaftin’, knotted belts, an’ riven warps, mixed up ony road an’ every road, while some o’ th’ weyvers, poor lasses, were underneath it all.  “First come, first sarved?” aw axed Jim.  “Yi,” he said, “it’ll be like to be, though aw fain could save Clara;” an’ we both on us set to wark wi’ a will.


“Hoo’s comin’ aat,’ he said, ‘or aw’m stoppin’ in.’”


    ‘I’ a bit we geet aat two of th’ lasses ’at were nobbud badly scratched, then we poo’ed aat one ’at were deead; an’ we should ha’ managed two-thre more if it hadn’t been for th’ ruins takkin’ fire, through th’ gas ’at had been left lighted i’ th’ under-manager’s office.  It were just like spark an’ paader, touch an’ go; first yo’ smelt it, then yo’ seed it, and afore yo’ could turn raand yo’ felt it on yore flesh.

    ‘“Sithee, Harry,” shaated Jimmy, just as we were baan to turn an’ run, “yon’s Clara.”  And there hoo were, lyin’ flat under a loom, an’ doin’ all hoo could to poo’ hersel’ aat.  “Is there time, think yo’?” aw axed, for the fire were leapin’ like th’ wind.  “Hoo’s comin’ aat,” he said, “or aw’m stoppin’ in;” an’ he set off, an’ me after him, to save th’ girl.

    ‘Bud there were two on ’em, — Clara an’ her rival — an’ when we’d poo’ed her aat as we thought were Clara, th’ three on us blind wi’ smoke an’ scorched wi’ flame, we fun’ aat it were Clara we’d left behind.  Then it were as Jimmy lost his yed, an’ would ha rushed back into th’ flame if folk would ha’ let him.’

    ‘And how was it,’ I asked, ‘that you missed Clara?’

    ‘Nay,’ said the old man, ‘there’s nobbud one can tell yo’ that, an’ hoo’s th’ woman we’re talkin’ abaat.  When Jimmy come raand he crossed th’ seas an’ left her, as hoo desarved.  There is as puts two an’ two together an’ adds up th’ total, an’ it’s not a creditable one oather.  All aw know is as yon woman’s never smiled sin’; an’ though hoo says her prayers, an’ goes to th’ chapel, an’ gie’s her brass to th’ heathens, hoo’d ha’ better ha’ perished i’ th’ flames nor carry abaat wi’ her a sin, which, if it’s forgiven, hoo con none forget.’


――――♦――――

 
THE BATTLE ON THE SIZE-HOUSE FLOOR


This story, which has neither point nor pathos, preserves a type of Lancashire life which is now fortunately altogether a thing of the past.  I give it as it was told to me somewhere about twenty-five years ago, and by one who as devoutly believed in its truth as he believed in his own consciousness.  The artistic value is nil, but to those who care to know what Lancashire was before the days of School Boards, it is a relic worthy of preservation.


IT was a heap of crumbling walls and rotting rafters, damp with ooze and stained with streaks of repulsive slime.  From the paneless windows the spider spun his web; and the battered door, hanging from its rusted hinge, flapped like the wing of ill-omened bird.  The floor was littered with the refuse of bygone labours — broken troughs and frames, with remnants of mouldy warps, lying in forgotten confusion, and telling of long abandonment and disuse.

    It stood at the farther end of the factory yard where no sunlight fell, and where the air was chill on the warmest hours of summer noon.  Around it the wind seemed never weary — it was as though the burden of the village sorrow found there a shrine of desolation whereat to plaintively outpour its tale of woe.  Never saw I a sparrow settle on the sagging eaves, nor cat clamber over the ruined walls.  Children, too, shunned it in their hours of play; and few of the operatives cared to pass it when the fall of night gave to it more gruesome shade.  There it stood, sombre and forbidding, as though each stone were imbrued with the stain of some past sin — a heap of desolation, a monument of shame.

    The first time I ventured to survey its domains I selected an hour when my curiosity would be unobserved by the eye of the operatives.  The engines had stopped, and the hum of labour ceased.  The last clink of the iron clogs was dying away on the distant pavements; and a faint cloud of steam, issuing from the boiler-house, drew a thin curtain of light across the gathering gloom.  Twice or thrice I looked round to see if my steps were noticed; for I feared the prying eye more than the ghostly ruin I was about in secret to explore.  But shadow or footfall there was none.  I was alone.  Once within its portal I pushed aside the door, the timbers striking an uncanny chill to my touch.  Then my foot slipped on the refuse which lay thick over the threshold; and a sudden resolve seized me to retrace my steps.  Curiosity, however, got the better of my superstition, and with renewed courage I determinately walked within.

    Looking round, I saw little else than four ruined walls ridged with rafters, now bare save where roofed by patches of slates and rags of plaster.  The paneless windows glowered in the gathering gloom; and the fragments of warps on the floor lay like reptiles in their slime.  Old instruments of labour were scattered around as though mocking the dead hands of those who once had been their masters; while the silence seemed to tell of long years past since the sound of labour had echoed there.  As I surveyed the scene a raindrop fell through the open roof and the overhanging trees moved as if in disquiet at my intrusion on the sad spot over which they cast their protective gloom.

    Lost as I was in brooding thoughts, it was with a startled sense I heard a voice break in upon the stillness: ‘Naa, thaa’rt speirin’, aw see.’  And looking round I discovered the presence of old Harry within the ruined door.

    Continuing, he said: ‘Thaa’rt on forbidden graand, thaa knows.  There’s not mony on ’em would care to be rootin’ where thaa’rt — not after neetfo’ onyroad.’

    ‘I am doing no harm,’ I replied; — ‘up to no “marlocks,” as you would say.  It would take a cleverer man than either of us to do much mischief here.’  And I tapped the crumbling walls and the accumulated rubbish with my stick, and laughed.

    ‘It’s been th’ playgraand for mischief long enough,’ said he; ‘an’ th’ tale it con tell is as dark as itsel’.  Aw wonder th’ gaffers let it stand as long as they do!  But then it would cost brass to poo’ it daan; an’ it’s given o’er botherin’ folk sin’ they’ve built another size-haase — that is, if they keep aat o’ its gate.’

    ‘And if they get into its gate,’ I said; ‘what then?’

    ‘If they’re wise they’ll get aat on’t as fast as they con, as yo’ an’ me’s baan to.’  And so saying he laid his hand upon my shoulder, and led me into the factory yard.

    We walked towards the engine-house where, on entering, the old man struck a match, and lighted a jet of gas, bidding me be seated, and composing himself in oracular fashion for what I felt was to be a weird story.

    Jerking his thumb across his shoulder in the direction of the old size-house we had just left, he said, ‘It’s aboon twenty year sin’ him ’at worked yonder poo’d his last warp.  But like as he connot sattle, an’ he still haunts th’ owd shop, cursin’ th’ Almeety as he used to when he had breeath.  Everybody were freetened on him when he were alive; but they’re a deeal more freetened on him naa he’s deead, yo’ bet.’  And the old man threw a glance over his shoulder, as though in fear of being heard by some avenging eavesdroppers from another world.

    ‘Come, Harry,’ I laughed, ‘you are not of the stuff out of which they manufacture superstitious minds.’  But he took little heed of my remark, and continued:—

    ‘There’s things i’ this world that’s close akin to things i’ t’ other — things that ’ill plague a wise mon like yoresel’ if yo’ mak’ up yore mind to maister ’em.’  Then, once more jerking his thumb over his shoulder, he wound up this bit of philosophy by saying — ‘an’ that’s one, yonder.’

    He paused, and I was silent.  I thought the great engine took a gloomier form, and cast more gruesome shadows.  The spell of an unbroken stillness rested upon us, and I looked on the grim profile of this hard-headed, yet none the less superstitious, son of toil, as his face was thrown into relief by the feeble glare of the luminous jet.

    Lowering his voice to a hoarse whisper, he said, ‘There were as telled as haa he’d a quarrel wi’ th’ Almeety; an’ aw welly think it were so, for he were nobbud reet but when he were cursin’ Him.  Aw’ve heard them as could swear, an’ aw con do a bit mysel’ when aw’m i’ th’ mind; but th’ owd sizer were th’ most terrible tongued chap aw ever knew.  He were awlus shappin’ new oaths, an’ he awlus shapped ’em for th’ benefit o’ Him ’at’s aboon.  There were one oath ’at were awlus on his lips;’ and once more the old man looked fearsomely over his shoulder.  Seeing nothing, however, he put his mouth close to my ear and whispered, ‘it were this — “Th’ Lord stiffen me.”’

    I confess old Harry’s manner, as well as the spirit of his story, somewhat unstrung my nerves, and I began to wish I had allowed my curiosity to lie dormant.  It was not, however, for me now to take the backward step, but to follow him through the maze and mystery into which he had led me; or, to be more correct, into which I had led myself.

    ‘There were some things,’ continued Harry, ‘th’ owd sizer couldn’t ston’.  One were th’ singin’ o’ hymns.  One mornin’ as a weyver lass passed th’ size-haase dur wi’ a bit o’ a song on her lips abaat “th’ nearer waters rollin’,” he run aat an’ cursed her, an’ telled her he’d have no, — Methody melody sung abaat his shop.  It were th’ same wi’ childer.  He couldn’t bear th’ seet on ’em; an’ aw welly think if he’d had his own way he’d ha’ been like owd Herod an’ ha’ had ’em all killed.

    ‘One neet, when he had a leet burnin’, one o’ th’ chaps as had had a sup o’ drink crept up to th’ owd size-haase, aat o’ curiosity like, to see what were goin’ on.  As he come back aw met him, his knees wobblin’ an’ his teeth chatterin’; an’ when aw axed him what were up, he telled me to go arf look for mysel.’

    ‘And did you go?’ I inquired.

    ‘Forsure aw did,’ said the old man, with tremulous voice and perspiring brow.

    ‘And what did you see?’

    ‘Aw seed two pieces o’ wood shapped like a cross, set up i’ th’ corner o’ th’ hoile, an’ him cursin’ it, an’ slatterin’ it wi’ size.’  Then looking up at me with awed glance he said: ‘A chap cornd do wur nor that, con he?’

    ‘The man was a maniac,’ was my comment.

    ‘Nowe,’ said old Harry; ‘he were possessed.’

    ‘Did he drink?’

    ‘Nay, he were teetotal — as daycent a chap as ever walked as far as keepin’ hissel’ steady an doin’ his work were concarned; but awlus feigh’tin’ th’ Almeety.

    ‘One day owd Enos, th’ Methody, stopped him, an’ telled him it were ill-luck for a chap as strove wi’ his Maker.  “It’s ill-luck for him as strives wi’ me,” he shaated; an’ seizin’ th’ owd chap by th’ scruff o’ his neck, he flung him aat o’ his gate.  They gave o’er tryin’ to get him convarted after that, an’ yo’ll not wonder.’

    ‘And what was his history?’ I asked.

    ‘Nay, yo’ ax me what aw connot tell yo’.  There were as said ’at afore he come i’ these parts he’d buried both his wife an’ child, an’ lost his bit o’ brass i’ speculation like mony a fool afore him.  Happen it were this as set him agen th’ Almeety; aw’ve heard on’t doin’ so afore.  But like i’ a bit folk geet used to him, an’ left him alone; an’ th’ maisters axed no questions, for he sarved their purpose, an’ th’ weyvers had naught to say agen their warps.  But he were feightin’ a loisin’ game; an’ one neet i’ th’ “Sheaf an’ Sickle,” when they were talkin’ abaat him, owd Jerry, who were a bit o’ a sportsman, said he’d lay his money he were baan to be licked.  An’ he were reet.  As th’ months passed o’er, his yure began a-turnin’ grey, an’ his chops took th’ colour o’ ith’ size he worked in.  Then he started a bein’ slamp an’ wambly (thin and shaky).  But he were gam’ for all that.

    ‘One neet th’ watchman seed a leet i’ the size-haase.  At first he took no heed to’t, for there were times when the sizer stopped lat’; an’, what were more, he were none particular abaat botherin’ wi’ him.  But as he went his raands the leet kept burnin’ till at last he fell unyessy like, an’ wondered if aught were wrang.  Not likin’ to go by hissel’ he fotched a bobby, an’ th’ two on ’em together crept up to see what th’ marlock were.

    ‘Afore they geet to th’ dur they heard th’ sizer cursin’ an’ swearin’ as though he were vomitin’ aat hell.  This poo’ed ’em up, t’one wantin’ t’other to go first, th’ bobby sayin’ he could face a drunken felley an’ midneet burglar, but haa his truncheon an’ bracelets were no use i’ th’ case o’ sperrits.

    ‘Onyroad, i’ a bit they managed it atween ’em, th’ watchman peepin’ through th’ key-hoile, an’ th’ bobby dodgin’ raand th’ windows to where he could get a sken.  They telled after haa th’ sizer were feightin’ summat they couldn’t see.  He seed it, haaever, an’ no mistak’, an’ struck aat straight fro’ th’ shoulder, gettin’ badly punished hissel’.  Haa long th’ feight continued they could never tell, for they were too taken up wi’ it to keep caant o’ th’ minutes.  Onyroad, it were give an’ tak’, an’ fought i’ one raand, for there were no stoppin’ for breath.  When th’ sizer fun’ aat he were gettin’ th’ worst on’t he seemed to loise his head an’ let drive harder nor ever, an’ wi’ his tung an’ all, till th’ watchman’s an’ th’ bobby’s marrer fair froze wi’ th’ oaths they heard.  It fair capped ’em, they said at after, to know what schoo’ he’d been to to get such larnin’.  Aat they come, hot an’ fast, like coils when yo’re drawin’ yore fires, an’ all agen Him as is aboon.  Then drawin’ hissel’ up, they telled haa he hissed out th’ owd oath; an’ it welly seemed as if th’ Lord took him at his word, for he threw up his arms an’ fell amang th’ size, an’ never spoke at after.

    ‘As yo’ may suppose, there were an inquest, an’ th’ crowner were inclined to be awkward o’er th’ tale th’ two felleys told.  But they were no shakin’ ’em, they both stuck to their text, so they browt it in as a case o’ temporary insanity — an’ infusion, or summut on th’ brain.

    ‘When they come to layin’ him away there were a deeal o’ talk abaat his past doin’s; an’ there were as said as th’ curse o’ th’ Almeety had been on him.  Happen it were so, an’ happen it weren’t; it’s none for th’ likes o’ me to say.  Onyroad, when th’ time come for th’ screwin’ daan o’ th’ cofhn there were none as would do it, thinkin’ as th’ further they were off th’ safer it were for ’em.

    ‘Aw’se never forget it.  We all sat as gawmless as nicked geese raand th’ kitchen table, none on us carin’ to go up to th’ chamber where he were laid aat.  Aw never seed such a regiment o’ bleached faces afore i’ my life.  Th’ pipestems fair chattered atween aar teeth, an’ we supped aboon aar share o’ drink.  As for talkin’, there weren’t a word said, an’ th’ haase were as still as a churchyard at midneet when th’ wind’s gone to sleep.

    ‘Th’ time crept on, but there were none as shifted.  “Th’ berrin’s at three,” said one on ’em, “an’ it nobbud wants ten minutes to th’ haar;” but noabry said naught, an’ everybody looked on th’ floor.  “Wilta go an’ screw him daan, Harry?” axed Jerry.  “Nay,” aw said, “aw’d rather be excused; aw’m not mysel’ this afternoon?”  “Wilta, Jerry?” said th’ watchman ’at had seen th’ sizer die.  But he nobbud shook his yed, an’ said he were nobbud slack set up; an’ he took a long poo at th’ ale jug.  “Fotch in th’ landlord,” suggested one o’ th’ mourners, “he’s a nerve for aught; like as he con hondle deead folk, whatever sort they be.”  So they fotched him.

    ‘He come in wipin’ his maath wi’ his apron, for, as he telled us at after, he fun’ it necessary to fortify hissel’ for th’ job.

    ‘“Naa then, lads,” he said, “aw’m ready if yo’ are.  Yo’ munnot keep th’ parson waitin’, yo’ know.  Who’s baan to go i’ th’ chamber wi’ me?”  But there were none on us responded to his invitation; an’ we sat smokin’ on, an’ lookin’ at th’ floor.  “Dun yo’ think aw’m goin’ upstairs by mysel’?” he shaated, layin’ the screwdriver on th’ table.  An’ it welly seemed as if he’d have to, for aar feet were as quiet as aar tongues.  “Surely yo’ religious folk are none feeared,” he said; “yo’ sing loud enough up at th’ chapel yon, abaat ‘devils fleein’ an’ flyin’.’  Come naa, back up yore faith by works.”

    ‘Then two on ’em ’at were “leaders” up at th’ Chapel, plucked up an’ said, “Go on, landlord, we’ll follow thee;” an’ th’ three went up th’ staircase like chaps as were steppin’ to th’ Deead March i’ Saul.

    ‘They seemed a terrible time o’er th’ job; an’ all th’ while they were screwin’ him daan we could yer th’ prayers o’ th’ leaders an’ th’ cursin’s o’ th’ landlord feightin’ t’one agen t’other.  But like a deeal o’ other things, both better an’ wurr, it were o’er wi’ at last, an’ when they geet th’ corpse to th’ bottom o’ th’ stairs all three on ’em looked as though gowd wouldn’t fotch ’em to do th’ job a second time.

    ‘So that was the end of the sizer, was it?’ I said, somewhat shocked with the old man’s blunt realism; though he told his story with an unconscious reverence and awesome superstition, which redeemed it from what a stranger would have deemed vulgarity.

    ‘Nay,’ replied the old man, ‘it were noan his end.  He’ll never be laid, th’ sizer willn’t, till they poo daan yon hoile i’ th’ yard.’  And once more he jerked his thumb in the direction of the ruin where the man accursed had been wont to labour.

    ‘Then there’s a story of the sizer dead, as well as the sizer living?’

    Harry shook his head. ‘Nowe,’ said he, ‘yo’re off it.  Th’ sizer’s more gradely wick naa nor ever he were.  Folk gave him elbow room when he were i’ th’ flesh; but they’re a vast sight more feeard o’ him naa nor they were then.  Yo’re laughin’, aw see.  Weel, aw’ve heard ’em say ’at eddication mak’s wise men o’ fools; but aw’se like to be content wi’ th’ owd school.  Aw’m nobbud tellin’ yo’ what aw know, an’ what folk abaat here believe; an’ yo’ve axed me for’t.’

    ‘Never mind what they believe; let me hear what you know, for one witness is worth much hearsay.’

    ‘Nay, aw’m noan baan to tell th’ likes o’ yo’ what aw know; aw’m noan forgetful what th’ owd Book says abaat pearls an’ pigs, an’ it’s a case o’ pearls an pigs when yo’ start tellin’ a chap what he willn’t believe.’  And the old man relapsed into a sullen mood of silence in which I joined.

    In a little while, however, he found his speech and continued:—

    ‘Like as he couldn’t let them as followed him on th’ job alone; he were oather awlus spillin’ their size or marrin’ their warps; onyroad, they said it were him.  One thing were certain, it were noan th’ sizers, for we geet some o’ th’ best i’ th’ caanty.  But like as there were summat agen all on ’em, an’ some were sacked, an’ them as wirnd gave in their notice.

    ‘One afternoon, just as th’ dark were fallin’, him as were sizin’ come across to th’ engine-haase an’ says, “Harry, owd lad, yo’re noan a white-plucked un.”  “Nay, aw durnd know as aw am,” aw says.  “Then come wi’ me to th’ size-hoile, an’ thaa’ll see summat.”

    ‘As we were baan he telled me haa he’d left th’ shop abaat an haar ago all reet an’ tidy, an’ haa when he come back he fun’ there’d been th’ ferrups to play.  “’Sithee for thysel’,” said he, throwin’ oppen th’ dur; an’ as th’ Lord’s aboon, th’ place were topsy-turvy.  Th’ size were spilt, an’ th’ warps were twisted, an’ th’ frames banged abaat as though they’d been th’ playthings o’ a giant.’

    ‘“Naa then, what doesta think o’ that?” he axed.  “Nay, Bill,” aw says, “it’s aboon my wit.”  “Thy wit or onybody else’s wit,” he shaated; “th’ dule’s i’ th’ shop, an’ ’aw’m off.”  And slipping on his coat he showed his heels, an’ aw followed.

    ‘Weel, it were th’ same wi’ th’ chap as come after him.  He hadn’t been there so long afore he towd th’ same tale; an’ when he gave in his notice he telled th’ maisters he mun ha’ a bigger wage if he were to feight th’ dule as weel as poo warps.

    ‘One mornin’, a bit at after, th’ young maister come to me: “Harry,” he says, “what’s this aw yer abaat th’ size-haase.”  “Nay,” aw says, “durnd ax me; the size-house is noan my shop.  Yo’ mun ax them as works there.”  “That’s what aw have done,” he says, “an’ they talk like foo’s.  We used to have th’ best warps i’ th’ valley, an’ naa we cornd get one as weyves reet.  Th’ owd hoile seems cursed.“  “Yo’ have it naa,” aw says.  “Have what?” he axed.  “Th’ secret o’ th’ whole marlock.  Yo’ con seck flesh an’ blood, but there’s no seckin’ a speerit; an’ him ’at used to work there for yo’ works there agen yo’, naa.  Th’ only way to lay him is to poo th’ shop daan abaat his yers.”  “E’ Harry,” he says, “aw thought thaa’d more sense.”

    ‘Onyroad, i’ a bit he come raand to my way o’ thinkin’; an’ when they built a new size-haase th’ work began agoin’ on as usual.  Like as th’ owd felley sattled when they left him to hissel’.  Naa then, yo’ve heard my tale, what dun yo’ think on it?’

    ‘That a generation of School Boards will remove all such beliefs;’ and as I said this I saw a shadow fall across the old man’s face.

    ‘Yi,’ he said, ‘pigs an’ pearls, as aw told yo’, aw were a foo’ for ever startin’ o’ my tale.  Yo’re a chap as is larned up, an’ aw’m a chap as they say knows naught; but aw know what aw knows for all that, an’ it’ll tak’ a better mon nor yo’ to mak’ me believe it’s a lie.’

    That night as the moon, filling the factory yard, threw the many-storied shrine of labour into relief, and lit up with pale reflection the long rows of serried windows, I walked once more across to where, in unrelieved shadow, the ruins of the old size-house stood.  The sagging roof, rent and gappy, the bulging walls half-rased to the ground, the flapping door moving to and fro as though releasing the haunting spirits of the past — these wore a weird complexion, the more so for the strange associations of the old man’s tale.  As I looked and listened, the faint moan of the burdened wind fell upon my ear, while the rustle of the overhanging trees seemed to whisper of the secrets of the past, the drip of the water from the adjoining lodge the while falling as the tear of some unspoken woe.  Was it to be wondered that I felt the sense of that other world of which we know so little, and yet of which we cannot break the spell, and that as I walked home my thoughts were with the rude operative who felt the touch of a mystery which it were wiser to confess than deny.


――――♦――――

 
AGAINST THE DAY OF MY BURIAL


IF yo’ do aught that’s gradely, durnd yo’ think it caants wi’ th’ Almeety?’

    It was Harry who put the question to me as we sat together in the factory yard one Sunday afternoon in June.  Around lay the hush of almost universal quiet, for the ponderous engine slept, and the myriad iron-tongued machinery stood motionless and mute.  The air, too, was clear, for from the tall chimneys no smoke came, and the sky was bright with the reflected smile of a valley at rest.  On distant hills scattered groups of loiterers told of welcome respite from sore labour’s hours, while a dreamy hum seemed to echo the quiet of the day.

    Within a stone’s throw from where we sat was a knot of Salvationists, their voices alternating between song and speech, distance toning the one into sweetness and the other into utterance broken and indistinct.  There was, despite the ‘tow-row’ of the tambourine, a plaintive tone in the deep bass of the men and the sweet treble of the girls, each burdened with its sad notes of earnestness.  I saw the old man was a listener, for, with head bent forward and ear on the strain, the rigid muscles of his face relaxed as some sound or sentiment was swept towards him on the wind.  Not that he held anything in common with either the speakers or their theme — his religion was of another order.  But, as he used to say, ‘There were good among all sorts, an’ he were noan pertickler who it were ’at gave him aught as long as it were worth aught.’  And he was true to his creed; for where others found only chaff he would often find grain, grinding it to profit in his own rough mill in his own rough fashion.  Indeed, it was a stray sentence spoken in fevered mood by one of the Salvationists that led him to ply me with the question, ‘If yo’ do aught that’s gradely, durnd yo’ think it caants wi’ th’ Almeety?’

    At first I remained silent, not caring to attempt a solution of the problem that was vexing his mind; but, as I might have expected, my silence was the more provocative, and he clamoured the louder for reply.

    ‘What does th’ Almeety ax for?’ he cried.  ‘Yon lass says as a mon’s righteousness is rags, an’ that Him as is aboon tak’s nowt fro’ us bud faith.  Aw cornd square that teachin’ nohaa; it’s too mich a path of posies for me.  Nowe — it willn’t do.’  And the old head wagged with a negative vehemence both pronounced and intolerant.

    ‘Aw’ll tell yo’ what it is,’ he resumed, after a pause.  ‘Daycent folk never forget onythin’ kindly as yo’ do for ’em, an’ aw think th’ Almeety’s as daycent as most on us, an’ mebbe a bit more an’ o’.  Naa, there’s mony as is bad that’s done aboon one good turn i’ their time.  What aw want to know is, if th’ good turn ston’s to their credit up aboon yon when they geet there!’

    I was foolish enough to try and play the theologian, but Harry tossed my texts to the winds.  Against my reasoning he plied his experience; and whereas I gave him chapter and verse, he gave me man and woman from his fifty years’ knowledge of life, telling me that he believed in what he ‘seed,’ and not in what he ‘yerd.’  And, after all, who shall say that his was not the more conclusive method of argument?

    ‘Did aw ever tell yo’ abaat Maria o’ Tommy’s o’ th’ Thrutch?’ he asked.

    I shook my head, for the name of the heroine was too remarkable to have been forgotten.

    ‘Well, then, aw’ll tell yo’,’ said he, ‘an’ then yo’ con shap’ my tale to th’ leet of yore theology;’ and producing his pipe, he plugged it with his strong-smelling twist, and settled down in dead earnest to his story.

    ‘Ria, as we used to co’ her, were abaat as rough an angel as here and there yo’ come across.  Hoo were th’ terror of th’ neighbourhood, an’ noather man nor woman for twenty mile raand dare ston’ up to her when hoo were i’ her tantrums.  Hoo’d a tung like a saw, an’ a neyve (fist) like a hommer, an’ a throttle like a soof (sewer), an’ there were as said hoo were no better nor hoo should be; bud it’s not for me to tak’ ony poor crayter’s character baat proof.  Both parsons an’ perlice tried their hond at shappin’ her, but hoo freetened t’one an’ dodged t’other.  The owd maister’s wife once promised her a bonnet if hoo’d go to th’ revival, bud hoo said nowt bud haive a gallon of ale would fotch her, an’ sent word ’at that were th’ price of her “bloomin’ soul.”  Noan of us could tell haa hoo lived, for after hoo’d addled a bit of brass by weyvin’ for th’ sick, hoo were never reet till hoo’d swallowed it.  Bud there were one thing hoo were pertickler abaat, and that were a daycent Christian burial.  “When aw die,” hoo used to say to them as were friendly wi’ her, “put me in a yearst (hearse) an’ tak’ me up to th’ Chapel Hill, an’ get the parson to mak’ a prayer o’er me afore yo’ screw me daan.”  Hoo were a character, aw con tell yo’; but hoo weren’t all waste, for all that.’

    The sketch which old Harry had so vigorously drawn seemed too grotesque for truthfuless, and I ventured to ask him if he had limned to life.

    ‘Nowe,’ he said, ‘it would tak’ a better mon nor me to do that.  Hoo were one as exaggeration couldn’t mak’ worse than hoo were.’

    ‘But about this decent Christian burial?’ I continued.  ‘How do you reconcile that with her life?’

    ‘There were nowt abaat her yo’ could reconcile,’ said the old man; ‘an’ they were th’ wisest ’at took her as hoo were.  Onyroad, th’ burial were her one soft place, an’ bad as hoo were it were never long away fro’ her mind.  “Harry,” hoo said to me one day, after hoo’d been on th’ spree, “Harry, aw’ve a favour to ax of yo’.”  “Thee?” aw says.  “Thaa’rt a bonnie un to ax a favour of onybody.  What is’t?”  “Bury me daycent,” hoo says.  “Thaa should try an’ live daycent, my lass; it’s the livin’, not the berrin’, thaa knows, ’at we’ve to trouble abaat.”  Bud the owd lass brast aat cryin’, an’ said, “Aw’m noan axin’ yo’ to find th’ brass for th’ berrin’, Harry; yo’ll find that i’ th’ nook.  All as aw ax is ’at yo’ll’ see me laid by, an get th’ parson to mak’ a prayer o’er me afore yo’ carry me through th’ dur-hoile.”’

    ‘And did you carry out her request? I asked.

    ‘Howd on a bit,’ said my narrator.  ‘It’s noan abaat her berrin’ aw’m baan to tell yo’.  What aw want yo’ to remember is hoo’d set her mind on havin’ a grave of her own, an a yearst to tak’ her up to th’ Chapel Hill, an’ hoo’d saved for it an’ o’.’

    ‘But did she never spend her burial savings in drink?’

    ‘Nowe! noabry never knew ’Ria touch her berrin’ brass for aught.  It noather went for bread nor beer; an’ when hoo were clemmin’ hoo wouldn’t lay a finger on’t.  Aw’ve known her i’ th’ depths of winter, wi’ snow on the graand an’ frost on th’ pane, when hoo’d noather coal i’ th’ grate nor food i’ th’ cupboard, sit an’ starve afore hoo’d touch th’ brass hoo’d put away for her funeral.’

    ‘A case of lunacy,’ I suggested.

    ‘Lunacy?’ cried the old man, with an oath.  ‘Wait till yo’ve yerd my tale, an’ then happen yo’ll mix a bit of grace wi’ what yo’ co’ lunacy;’ and he began to draw vigorously at his pipe to soothe the temper which I had so inadvertently ruffled.  In a little while he continued:—

    ‘Abaat fifteen year sin’ there were a lad ’at used to book-keep i’ th’ office co’ed Augustus Lord.  There are some folk ’at ne’er get o’er their kessenin’, an’ he were one on ’em ― like as his name were too mich for him, he couldn’t ston’ it.’

    ‘In what way do you mean?’ I asked, for the sudden turn in my old friend’s philosophising was somewhat hard to follow.

    ‘In what way do aw mean?’ he cried.  ‘Why, i’ this way, that plain folk should keep to plain names, an’ not ape th’ quality.  A lad as has Augustus tied on to him wants brass tyin’ on to him an’ o’.  Not as aw know who Augustus were, nobbud he were sombry grand.  Onyroad, th’ Augustus aw’m talkin’ abaat thought hissel’ as big as th’ chap he were co’ed after.  Nowt would do bud he mun walk like Augustus; an’ shap’ his tung like him an’ o’.  Bud that weren’t o’: he mun needs spend brass like Augustus, bud seein’ he hadn’t Augustus’s bank he were soon i’ trouble.

    ‘The devil’s never far off th’ chap’s elbow ’at’s begun to live aboon his means; an’ it were so wi’ Augustus, for fro’ keepin’ th’ maister’s books he took to makkin’ books of his own.’

    I threw an inquiring glance at the old man, not knowing the exact meaning of his antithesis.

    ‘Yo’ know what aw meean, durnd yo’?  Aw meean as Augustus took to bettin’.  Bud luck were agen him, an’ he geet more an’ more into debt.  Then he started borrowin’; bud he soon geet to th’ length of that band, an’ he could noather find interest nor security.

    ‘Abaat that time there were a tackler on th’ job as used to lend aat to ony of th’ hands as were a bit short of brass; Cent per Cent they co’ed him, an’ they co’ed him noan amiss; for if yo’ wanted haive a craan till th’ wage-day he charged yo’ sixpence for th’ loan on’t, an’ yo’ paid him back three bob.

    ‘Compound interest that, wasn’t it?’ I asked.

    ‘Yi! an’ compound ruin an’ o’, as yo’ll hear, for owd Cent per Cent spared noabry as he once geet i’ his clutches.  Talk abaat drawin’ teeth-why, he could find ’em an’ fotch ’em afore they were through th’ gooms.  There were as said he’d never lost a brass button, an’ aw believe it.  Aw’ve yerd him say mysel’ as he’d smell brimstone ony day afore he’d lose what were his due-meanin’, as yo’ know, that he’d go to hell after them as owed him aught; an’ for aught aw know he did, for borrowers an’ lenders are mich of th’ same breed.

    ‘Well, Augustus tried his hond wi’ Cent per Cent, bud it were no go; he knew th’ lad’s game too well, an’ when th’ young fool axed him for twenty-five paands for three month at ony rate of interest he chose to clap on, he said he’d see him at a warmer shop nor th’ boiler-hoile.  Bud Augustus were like th’ “impertinent” widow i’ th’ Gospels ’at th’ parsons talk abaat; he kept on axin’, till at last owd Cent per Cent said he’d lend th’ brass to his sister if hoo’d give him a bill of sale on th’ goods an’ chattels ’at were i’ th’ haase i’ her name.’

    ‘Then Augustus had a sister?’ I queried, for I saw a new character was coming into the old man’s story, and I was wishful to keep well hold of the threads.

    ‘E’ dear, haa gawmless aw’m geddin’ to forget to tell yo’ abaat th’ lass!  Hoo’s wed naa, an’ lives across the moors yon; bud hoo were welly ruined both body and soul by th’ money-lender an’ Augustus between ’em.  Hoo were among th’ better sort were Mary, both i’ looks an’ manners; an’ though hoo were nobbud a weyver, hoo’d th’ ways of a lady born.  There were aboon a few as wanted to wed her; bud hoo used to say hoo were wed to Augustus, for both th’ faither an’ mother were lying i’ th’ Chapel Hill.

    ‘Yo’ mun know ’at Cent per Cent were nobbud shaky i’ his morals.  Not bud what he were wed; but that goes for nowt i’ these parts naa-a-days, an’ aw’ve lived long enough to find aat as th’ wed uns are th’ worst uns.  There was scarce a lass i’ th’ parish he hadn’t follered, an’ he’d been thrashed aboon once by their faithers an’ sweethearts.  Bud like as nowt cured him; it were i’ th’ breed, an’ that’s sayin’ a deal.  He’d mony a time made up to Mary, for hoo weyved under him; bud it were o’ no use; hoo could fence him off wi’ her wit, an’ howd her own wi’ him ony day.  Bud when hoo gave her name for th’ brass, an’ went bond for Augustus, th’ game were in another field, as yo’ll hear.

    ‘It weren’t long afore th’ lad made ducks an’ drakes wi’ his twenty-five paands, an’ then he did a slope, an’ nowt no more were yerd on him, Mary bein’ left to fight th’ battle wi’ a single hond; an’ it were a battle an’ o’.  Talk abaat, the spider an’ the fly — it were a babby game to’t, for there never were a spider like Cent per Cent.  It were like as he’d woven an invisible web raand Mary, an’ when hoo woke to’t hoo fun’ hoo couldn’t move.’  Here the old man fell into one of his silences, once more seeking succour from the weed.  In a little while he recommenced:—

    ‘When a chap sets hissel’ to ruin a lass th’ odds are agen th’ weaker vessel — aw’ve watched th’ game too mony times not to know that.  Cent per Cent had getten a good start on her as he meant to run daan.  As aw towd yo’, he were her tackler, an’ could mak’ it hot for her i’ th’ factory.  Then he were an owd hond, an’ knew the weakness of womankind; bud th’ worst of o’ were he held th’ bill of sale.  First he started wi’ her i’ th’ factory, makkin’ them as were no better nor they should be giggle an’ scream wi’ laughter.  Then he took to callin’ at her haase of a neet, for naa Augustus were gone hoo lived by hersel’, sayin’ as he’d called on bisness, bud awlus endin’ by turnin’ his bisness into nastiness.  Bud it were o’ no use; th’ lass had made up her mind to die game, an’ hoo stood up to him like a good un.

    ‘One neet, as hoo were comin’ home fro’ a friend’s haase, an’ crossin’ th’ edge of th’ moor, he come up to her an’ set hissel’ by her side.  When th’ lass seed who it were hoo sprinted (quickened her pace), for hoo were flayed, an’ no wonder.  But he were as nimble on his legs as hoo were, an’ kept step wi’ her, howdin’ on by her arm.

    ‘“Mary,” he says, “th’ little game’s up.  If aw’m not good enough for thee, then aw’ll tak’ good care my brass isn’t.  Thaa knows thaa’s thy choice ― t’one or t’other.”

    ‘Aw’ve yerd her say ’at th’ first thing hoo thought on were to throw hersel’ into a lodge of water ’at they were passin’; bud for once woman’s after wit were th’ best, an’ hoo poo’d hersel’ together an’ turned on him.

    ‘“Thaa ought to be ashamed of thysel’,” hoo said, “wi’ a wife an’ lasses of thy own an’ o’.  Do as thaa’d be done by.  Thaa knows aw’ve noather faither nor mother to ston’ by me, an’ that ought to shame thee if nowt else will.”  Bud he nobbud tried to put his arm raand her, an’ said as “ragged uns an’ bonnie uns were made to be poo’d at, an’ ’at hoo were one of th’ bonnie uns.”

    ‘Then hoo flung him off into th’ hedgeside, an’ telled him when hoo were poo’d at it wouldn’t be by th’ likes of him.

    ‘“Then give me my brass!” he shaated, pikin’ hissel’ together.

    ‘“Then give me time to work for’t,” hoo said.  “Thaa knows aw’m an’ honest lass, an’ ’ll pay thee back every farthin’.”  Bud he said he’d have it to-morn, or else sell her up, stick an’ stump, by Setterdo’.

    ‘Naa, yo’ know, Mary were an affectionate sort of a lass, an’ set a deal of store on th’ furniture becose it had been her mother’s, for th’ owd woman had takken a pride in’t, an’ when hoo were dyin’ had axed her daughter to do th’ same.  There were an owd eight-day clock as had belonged to th’ grondfaither, an’ a chest of mahogany drawers ’at alwus smelt sweet wi’ lavender, an’ a couple of picters of Moses crossin’ th’ Red Sea an’ th’ Wilderness, an’ a harmolium ’at her faither used to play when th’ class-meetin’s were held at th’ haase, an’ a Bible wi’ th’ names of th’ family for generations; an’ when Cent per Cent said he were baan to sell her up, hoo thought of these an’ began to feel ’at all were lost.  Aw’ve yerd her say hoo were never so near th’ pit as hoo were at that minute; an’ if hoo’d tumbled in aw durnd know as hoo’d ’a been singed — not a yure on her.’

    ‘And was Cent per Cent as good as his word?’ I asked.

    ‘Were he as bad as his word, yo’ mean?  Yi! he were; an’ on th’ Setterdo’ afternoon a sight of folk coome, to see th’ last of th’ poor lass’s home.  There were Billy Brown, th’ auctioneer, sat on th’ table wi’ a quart mug afore him filled wi’ summat stronger nor cold tea; an’ owd Dugdale, th’ bumbaily, wi’ a sken wur than a foomart (a crossbreed), an’ a hond as could draw blood aat of a flint.  There were a two-thre brokers an’ o’; bud for th’ most part th’ folk were made up of th’ rag-tag as awlus hangs on to th’ skirts of a sale.  Just afore th’ auctioneer started wi’ his wark, who should come upon the job bud ’Ria o’ Tommy’s o’ th’ Thrutch, an’ for once i’ her life hoo were sober — as sober as thee an’ me as we sit talkin’ naa.  Well, hoo forced her way to th’ front, for when hoo geet her square shoulders among th’ craad there were no stonnin’ agen ’em — hoo were one as could mak’ her way onywhere.


“‘Thee preych to folks ’at’s i’ grace, an’ save thy breath for the likes of me.’”


    ‘As Cent per Cent nobbud wanted th’ twenty-five paands an’ th’ interest on’t, he made up his mind to mak’ short wark on’t, an’ put up them articles of furniture as would fotch most brass.  First come th’ clock, an’ everybody looked gloppened when it were knocked daan to ’Ria.  Next come the harmolium, an’ when hoo bought that an’ o’, an’ planted daan th’ brass into th’ receiver’s basin, there were as axed her if hoo were baan i’ th’ music line; bud it nobbud needed one glint fro’ her een to shut ’em up.  Then hoo bid agen Jack o’ th’ Heights for th’ mahogany drawers, an’ licked him for o’ he reckoned hissel’ a rich mon; an’ last of o’ hoo ended by buyin’ th’ Family Bible.

    ‘When th’ owd Book were handed to her, Daniel Grime, a local preycher, turned on her an’ said he hoped it were th’ beginnin’ of better days; but he rued he’d ever spokken, for hoo brought th’ Bible daan on his yed, an’ says, “Thee preych to folk ’at’s i’ grace, an’ save thy breeath for th’ likes of me.”

    ‘Then Cent per Cent coome up to her an’ says, “Thaa looks as though thaa were baan to furnish, ’Ria;” bud hoo fired up at him, an’ axed him if he’d gotten his brass.  An’ when he said th’ brass were o’ reet, hoo towd him to tak’ his speirin’ (inquisitiveness) somewhere else.

    ‘Next to try his hond at her were Limpin’ Johnny, a chap as used to tak’ th’ furniture abaat fro’ place to place for them as bought an’ sold.  He’d better ha’ held his din, for hoo towd him if he weren’t off hoo’d mak’ him limp wi’ t’other leg.

    ‘Then hoo turned raand on th’ craad an’ axed ’em what they wanted.  “Thaa’s getten thy brass,” hoo said to Cent per Cent; “an’ thaa’s supped thy ale an’ done thy work,” hoo said to Billy; “an’ as for thee, Dugdale, thaa’s no more writs to sarve i’ this haase, so thaa con go, or else aw’ll tak’ meeans of movin’ thee.”

    ‘When th’ craad had slunk off, ’Ria went into th’ haase, where Mary were sittin’ sobbin’ like a childt.  “Dry thy een, lass,” hoo said; “thaa’s on th’ safe side agen, an’ mind thaa keeps there.”

    ‘“What doesto mean?” axed Mary.

    ‘“Aw meean this, that aw’ve bought thy furniture back for thee, an’ thaa’rt welcome to’t.  Aw’ve fought th’ same battle as thaa’s fought when aw were a lass, an’ aw were th’ loiser for want of a friend.  If aw’d had a helpin’ hond then, happen aw’d ha’ been different naa.  Not as it matters mich, for aw’ve poo’ed thee aat of th’ hoile.  Good-neet.  God bless thee,” an’ hoo were gone.

    ‘Three week after hoo were fun’ deead on th’ moors.  But hoo’d no buryin’ brass left; hoo’d worn that i’ buyin’ back Mary’s bits of things.’

    ‘And did the parson pray over her before she was screwed down?’ I asked.

    ‘Nay, it were a parish berrin’; bud aw think as th’ angels carried her to Abraham’s bosom.  Durnd yo’?’


――――♦――――

 
THE TENOR


I FOUND factory life to be provocative of song; and that a strong and appreciative love of music was rife among the people of this manufacturing valley.  Snatches of melody might be heard above the rattle of the machinery; plaintive airs dreamily travelled down the streets as they came from the voice of nursing mothers in cottage homes; in the winter season oratorios were performed by provincial talent; while crowds seized upon the special trains run by the company to the famous concerts in the city of the north.  On summer evenings bevies of factory girls would climb some distant knoll on the moorlands, and sing amid the gloaming many a sweet and sad old English strain, now and again falling into some hymn tune, or sudden change into some popular operatic air.  On one such summer evening, as the light was dying, and a warm mist crept along the hills, the distant sound of girl voices reached me.  It was of ‘The March of the Men of Harlech’ they sang; and far away though they were, the fine spirit of that Welsh air came fresh as from the famous battle-fields of old.  Harry and I were standing, as we often did, upon the banks of the lodge.  ‘Here yo’,’ said he, ‘owd mon as aw am, aw could do a bit o’ feyghtin’ to music such as yon.’  Then he continued, ‘We’ve raised some gradely voices an’ o’ i’ this valley, an’ sent one or two on ’em to th’ Academy, an’ they’ve made a name an’ all.  Did aw ever tell yo’ abaat that weyver lad o’ aars?  Leastways, aw say aars, though he worked o’er th’ hills yon.’

    ‘What weaver lad was that?’ I asked.

    ‘Why, Jim o’ Sam’s o’ th’ Fells.’

    ‘No,’ I replied; ‘does he sing by that name now?’

    ‘Nay, they’ve baptised him o’er again, an’ he carries a name naa as long as my arm.  But it’s noan changed his natur’.  He’s as grond a lad as ever he were, an’ he’s noan forgetten them he’s bred off.  Come along i’ th’ engine haase, an’ aw’ll tell yo’ abaat him, for aw’m in for a bit o’ talk to-neet.’

    Once more I followed him into the shelter of that giant, so fascinating to me, and so inspiring to the old man.  Although years have passed, I have never been able to disentangle my imagination from that inextricable maze of rods and cranks, aglow as though with the fires which they daily consumed.  For long afterwards, the roar of its revolutions resounded in my ear, while the dreamy silence surrounding it in its moments of pause, continued to assert over me their spell.

    Bidding me be seated on the old chest, and kindling the communicative pipe, he fell into his usual colloquial prelude: ‘So yo’ say yo’ never heard o’ Jim o’ Sam’s o’ th’ Fells?  Han yo’ ever heard o’ —,’ and here the old man blundered helplessly over the name of a singer well known to the lovers of that art.

    When I at last succeeded in translating his barbarous Italian, I admit that I betrayed my astonishment.

    ‘Was he reared in this valley?’ I exclaimed.

    ‘Th’ next to it,’ was his reply, ‘an’ that’s near enough to call him our own.  He were awlus a merry bird, a reg’lar layrock (lark).  When he were nobbud seven year owd they used to geet him to stond and sing for ’em, an’ he led th’ trebles i’ th’ choir.  Aw once heard him sing — “Aw know that my Redeemer liveth” — that were afore his voice broke, yo’ know, an’ there weren’t a dry ee i’ the chapel.  It licked aught aw ever heard, an’ th’ parson had to sing small hissel’ that mornin’, aw con tell yo’.’

    Here the old man fell into one of his pauses, keeping his eye the while on the engine, which to me seemed to look down in solemn approval.  Then, as though returning to himself he said: —

    ‘Aw’ll tell yo’ what, there’s summat abaat music as finds its way everywhere; there’s naught it connot touch.  It con welly pick ony lock, an’ when it cornd, it steals through th’ key-hoile.  Aw never knowed onybody yet as could ston’ agen it.  It’ll convart more folk ony time nor preychin’.  A song on th’ lips’ll send a babby to sleep ony day, or ony neet oather, an’ when a mother burys her little un aw’ve seen when a bit o’ soft music would fotch tears that hoo were breakin’ her heart to shed.  They say as sojers con feyght better when the band plays; an’ though yo’ know aw noan reckon to be religious aw sometimes ston near the chapel windows yon, on a summer’s Sundo’ neet, not to hear th’ parson, but to hear th’ choir.’  It was these soliloquys, peculiar to the old man, that so perplexed me.  Here he was, the most hardened of all exteriors, and yet responsive to a magic rod that could touch the flinty rock and make the waters flow.

    ‘When Jim o’ Sam’s o’ th’ Fells’ voice broke,’ he continued, ‘it shapped to th’ fullest, richest tenor aw ever heard.  One Sundo’ neet at th’ Charity, when they’d a great preycher daan fro’ London, th’ lad sang “Seek ye th’ Lord.”  Bless yo’, mon! it were, as th’ owd Methodys say, like “glory.”  There were th’ silence o’ deeath.  Every eye were fixed on him, an’ every ear on th’ strain.  After th’ parson had annaanced him, he sat daan an’ began to turn o’er th’ papper his sarmon were written on; but he soon dropped it, an’ afore th’ lad had gone through a bar or two his een were set on him an’ o’, an’ it weren’t long afore he had to wipe ’em.  An’ there were mony another full heart beside his that neet.  For once i’ my life aw were serious; an’ if aw’d felt th’ same when aw geet aatside as aw did when he were singin’, aw think aw should ha’ done a bit o’ seekin’ for mysel’.

    ‘Weel, as yo’ mun know, one o’ th’ maisters an’ his missus were there that neet; an’ th’ missus said, when hoo geet whom, as th’ lad mun have lessons given him by a perfessional, an’ naught would do but they mun send for him to th’ Hall, an’ talk it o’er wi’ him.  “Thaa’ll happen lift him aboon his station,” says th’ maister.  “There’s no station yon lad isn’t fit for,” says th’ wife; an’ as hoo were a woman that would tak’ no nay, th’ lad were sent for.

    ‘Jim telled me after all ’at were talked up at th’ Hall — haa th’ maister’s wife said hoo’d find him th’ brass he needed, an’ make a mon on him.  But yo’ see there’s a deal o’ independence i’ these parts; like as we ax naught fro’ noabry, an’ Jim were off th’ owd stock.  When th’ missus faand as Jim didn’t tak’ to’t kindly, hoo were a bit put aat, an’ hoo said, “All reet, my lad, aw nobbud wanted to mak’ a mon on yo’.”  “Thankin’ yo’ all th’ same,” said he, “aw’d rather mak’ a mon o’ mysel.”

    ‘Is that Lancashire, Harry?’ I asked the old man.

    ‘Yi!’ said he; ‘that’s gradely Lancashire.’

    ‘And did he make a man of himself or was he after all helped by others?’

    ‘Yo’ll hear.  I’ a bit th’ lad took to cooartin’; an’ then it were music an’ luv.  Hoo were a bonny lass, nobbud weakly, an’ hoo used to weyve next to him i’th’ shade.  There were as said he were throwin’ his chonces away, for a chap as had a wife teed to him were awlus handicapped if he wanted to mak’ his way i’ th’ world.  But, “Harry,” he used to say, “aw con work all th’ harder naa aw’ve sombry to work for, thaa knows;” an’ th’ lass said hersel’ haa hoo would work for him an’ all.  An’ hoo’ did.  An’ after they geet wed they saved off th’ wages o’ eight looms for his musical eddication.  To my thinkin’ he wouldn’t ha’ done as weel if he’d been baat her, for hoo were awlus at his side to give him pluck; an’ he needed it, for he were a very narvous sort o’ felley, an’ awlus daating his powers.

    ‘Two winters at after he were wed, they gave th’ “Elijah” at th’ Dipper’s Chapel yon, o’er th’ hills; an’ they persuaded Jim to tak’ th’ tenor solos, th’ gaffer’s missus, her ’at had been at him afore, takkin’ a deal o’ trouble wi’ him i’ workin’ up his parts.  There were as said he were a foo’ for tryin’; but his wife kept him up to th’ scratch, an’ he went through wi’ ’em.’

    ‘Th’ lass, as aw tell yo’, were nobbud weakly; an’ there were as said hoo were i’ a consumption.  Onyroad, as th’ neet were wet an’ cowd hoo couldn’t get wi’ him to th’ Oratoria.  But hoo donned him up i’ his best, an’ combed his yure, an’ fastened his necktie for him, an’ telled him he looked gradely, an’ that he mun sing as gradely as he looked.  But he dropped daan i’ th’ chair, an’ went all i’ a cowd sweeat, an’ telled her he couldn’t go.  Then hoo said, “Aw’ll dress mysel’ an’ go wi’ thee;” an’ hoo ran upstairs to put on her best clooathes.

    ‘While hoo were donnin’ hersel’ th’ rain lashed th’ winders, an’ th’ wind howled raand th’ haase.  “Aw’se kill her, if aw tak’ her aat wi’ me to-neet,” said Jim to hissel’; “an’ if aw funk it aw know hoo’ll go.”  So he up an’ on wi’ his coit, an’ went to th’ bottom o’ th’ stairs, an’ shaated, “Aw’m off, lass, good-neet.”  “Aw thought thaa’d go,” hoo said, comin’ daan, an’ flingin’ her arms raand him.  “Tak’ this kiss, an’ do well for thy wife’s sake, an’ remember aw shall be at whom prayin’ for thee.”’

    ‘Weel, th’ Dipper’s Chapel were crommed to th’ cellin’, some o’ th’ ’cello players sittin’ o’er th’ gallery front.  Folk were there fro’ all raand, th’ quality an’ all, an’ th’ maister had a crack musicianer wi’ him fro’ London.

    ‘At first Jim were a bit o’er-faced, an’ nobbud shaky, slipping a time or two, and catchin’ his breath.  But th’ richness o’ th’ voice were there, tho’ them as knew him thought he were baan to fail; but it were noan so firm as usual.  When he come to th’ crack solo, “If wi’ all yore hearts,” he seemed to poo’ hissel’ together, an’ he were never heard i’ better form.  But folk noticed ’at he sung it wi’ his een shut; but it fotched daan th’ haase.

    ‘“Jim,” aw said th’ next day; “they say as yo’ sang wi’ yore een shut last neet; what didta do that for?”  “Aw were lookin’ at her who were prayin’ at whom,” he said, an’ aw heard at after haa th’ little woman kep’ her word, an’ spent all th’ time on her knees, axin’ th’ Almeety to give him strength i’ his time o’ trial.’

    ‘Th’ musicianer who were wi’ th’ maister pronaanced Jim a genius, an’ naught would do but he mun see th’ lad for hissel’, an’ geet him to London.  But Jim wouldn’t hear on’t.  He said he were noan baan to leave his missus; an’ that he could pike up nearer whom what were enough for him.  But they kep’ at him, an’ his wife kep’ at him an’ all, tellin’ him he mun mak’ th’ best o’ hissel’ for th’ sake o’ both on ’em.  Jim telled me haa they sattled it one Sundo’ neet after th’ service.  Th’ sarmon had been on th’ talents, an’ th’ lad had to give his yea or nay i’ th’ mornin’ baat fail.  “Weel, Jim,” hoo axed, “what arto baand to do?”  “Stop awhom wi’ thee,” he said.  “What, an’ bury thy talent i’ th’ earth?”   “Nay, lass, breeten it by thy side.”  “But it’s noan reet for me to keep what’s th’ Lord’s, thaa knows, Jim.  We mun noan rob Him; thaa’s th’ gift, an’ thaa mun use it.  Aw know aw cornd go i’ th’ world wi’ thee, but aw con keep thy nest warm at whom for thee.”  An’ then lookin’ up i’ his face, hoo went on, “An’ aw con pray for thee if thaa does thy duty; but thaa knows thaa mun do it, an’ thy duty is to go.”

    ‘And Jim went?’ I said.

    ‘Yi!  Jim went, an’ he did weel an’ all.  He used to come daan at th’ holidays; an’ mony a time atween, as weel as writin’ to th’ wife welly every post, an tellin’ her all abaat his doin’s, where he’d been, an’ who he’d seen, an’ sich like.  It were a seet to see ’em together on th’ offchances when he come daan.  They walked abaat th’ moors like two cooarters, him wi’ his arm raand her, an’ her wi’ loveleet i’ her een lookin’ up into his face.  He were beginnin’ to shap’ into a gentleman, dressin’ weel an’ talkin’ weel; but like as it never changed his heart; he were th’ same owd Jim as he awlus were, for all he lived i’ London.  Mony’s th’ time as he’s walked into th’ engine-haase here, an’ axed me haa aw were gettin’ on.  I’ a bit th’ pappers began a-mentionin’ his name; an’ one day a great mon wrote abaat him, an’ said ’at haa he were a star.  But it made no difference to him, an’ when we telled him he were gettin’ famous like, he’d nobbud laugh, an’ say there were no place like whom.

    ‘Weel, as th’ time went on, it were said as haa Jim were to come aat at a great concert somewhere i’ London, an’ everybody were fair anxious to know haa he’d shap’, for as one o’ th’ maisters said to me, “Thaa knows, Harry, he’s oather made or marred.”  As yo’ may suppose, th’ little wife were all on th’ strain, for hoo knew, poor thing, haa mich depended on th’ way Jim shapped hissel’.  There were as said hoo prayed o’er her looms for him; an’ her ’at lived wi’ her telled as haa hoo used to be up all neet on her knees.  An’ aw welly think it were true, for hoo managed to catch a fearful hoast (cough).  ‘It were th’ beginnin’ o’ th’ spring, an’ th’ winds blew keen.  Aw noaticed haa hoo’d getten’ thin, an’ haa her cheeks began aflamin’ like; but aw put it daan to th’ excitement o’er Jim’s first appearance afore th’ quality.  Two mornin’s afore th’ concert when Jim had to sing, an’ while hoo were weyvin’, they say as haa hoo put her handkercher to her maath an’ fun’ it marked wi’ red.  Hoo said naught at first, an’ went on wi’ her work.  But i’ a bit hoo coughed, an’ this time hoo whipped her handkercher aat sharper nor before; but hoo were just too late, for th’ blood come daan o’er her brat, an’ she, poor lass, fell to th’ floor.

    ‘They carried her into th’ manager’s office, an’ then they geet a cab an’ took her home; but when th’ doctor come he shook his head, an’ said summat under his breath as noabry could hear.  Then he telled ’em to get her to bed an’ keep her quiet.  He come again th’ neet o’ th’ same day, an’ poo’ed a longer face, an’ when he geet daanstairs he said they mun telegrapht for Jim.  “Hoo’ll noan hear on’t,” said owd Mary, who were nursin’ her; “hoo knows th’ lad’s future rests upo’ to-morn neet, an’ hoo’ll see he has his chonce, shuzhaa.”  “Very weel,” says th’ doctor, “aw’ve towd yo’; hoo’ll lie a corpse while he’s singin’, an’ aw shall leave it wi’ yo’ to sattle th’ job wi’ him when he geets to know.”

    ‘But dyin’ folk, as yo’ know, has quick ears, an’ though they nobbud talked i’ whispers i’ th’ room below, Jim’s wife heard all they said.

    ‘“Mary,” says hoo, when th’ owd woman geet up into the bedroom to her, “what’s th’ doctor towd thee?”  “Naught mich,” hoo said.  Then hoo reared hersel’ up i’ bed, an’ tell’d her not to lie to a dyin’ woman.  Owd Mary fair trembled; an’, as hoo said, noan carein’ to be haunted wi’ th’ lass’s spirit, hoo towd her as haa th’ doctor said they mun telegrapht for Jim, as hoo weren’t long for this world.

    ‘“Mary,” hoo says, “if thaa telegraphts for Jim, or lets onybody else telegrapht for him, aw’ll foller thee as long as thaa lives, an’ i’ thy deeath aw’ll plague thee.  Jim’s nobbud comin’, an’ aw’m goin’; an’ aw’m noan baan to spoil his chonce.”’

    ‘Then owd Mary begun cryin’, an’ axed “Whatever mun aw do?”  “Do as aw tell thee,” said th’ dyin’ lass.  “Yo’ con send for him as soon as th’ concert’s o’er; an’ as aw hope for mercy i’ th’ next world, aw promise yo’ aw willn’t dee till he comes.  Wilta promise?”  An’ owd Mary said hoo would.

    ‘All that neet, an’ th’ next day, Jim’s wife geet weaker an’ weaker, an’ they thought as every breeath hoo drew would be th’ last.  As th’ hours wore on hoo made owd Mary fotch Jim’s likeness — not th’ one he’d just had ta’en i’ London, but that ’at were ta’en at th’ fair aboon three year afore; an’ when hoo couldn’t howd it no longer hersel’, hoo made th’ owd woman howd it for her.  It seemed as though there were life in’t, an’ did her a seet more good nor th’ doctor’s medicine.  “Bless thee, Jim,” hoo kep’ sayin’, “thaa mun do weel, thaa knows.  Remember aw’m prayin’ for thee awhom, an’ aw willn’t dee till aw dee i’ thy arms.”

    ‘Just abaat haive past eight o’clock hoo axed Mary what th’ haar were.  An’ when hoo towd her, hoo clasped her hands an’ closed her een, an’ th’ owd woman said as haa her lips kep’ movin’ as though hoo were talkin’ to th’ Almeety; but hoo heard naught.  Then hoo leaned back i’ th’ bed an’ slept.

    ‘That neet one o’ th’ young maisters drove o’er to th’ city an’ telegraphted to London, so as Jim could get th’ news as soon as th’ concert were o’er.

    It were abaat twelve o’clock i’ th’ mornin’ when th’ lad arrived, travellin’, as they said he did, by th’ train as brought th’ newspappers, which were all makkin’ a bonny cry abaat him an’ his success at th’ concert th’ neet afore.  It didn’t tak’ him long to stretch th’ distance between th’ station an’ th’ haase where th’ wife were deein’.  But afore he landed hoo knew he were on th’ road, an’ telled owd Mary so.

    ‘When hoo heard his footfall on th’ garden path, an’ his hond on th’ sneck, hoo seemed to be hersel’ agen, an’ turnin’ to owd Mary hoo said, “Thaa sees aw’ve kept my promise — aw’ve lived till my lad’s come.”  Then hoo sent her daanstairs an’ telled her as haa Jim an’ her mun meet an’ part alone.

    ‘It were years after ’at Jim telled me abaat what hoo said to him — haa hoo axed him if he’d brought th’ papper wi’ him as telled o’er th’ concert, an’ haa hoo axed him to read to her what it said abaat hissel’.  Th’ lad weren’t for doin’ it at first, but hoo wouldn’t tak’ nay; an’ th’ poor felley sobbed through th’ part as said he’d done gradely weel, an’ were baan to be one o’ th’ first tenors o’ th’ day.  Then hoo axed him to howd her up as hoo’d summat to say.  “Jim,” hoo says, “aw’m baan to leave yo’, an’ happen it’s as weel.  Aw’m not a lady born, as yo’ know, an’ aw couldn’t ha’ piked up larnin’ as yo’ have.  Thaa knows aw should ha’ had to stop awhom, an’ whom baat thee is nobbud ’onely.  My work’s finished; it’s been to weyve pieces an’ help thee.  Thy work’s to come, an’ th’ Almeety sees as thaa con do it best baat me.  But aw’se love thee all th’ same up yon, an’ pray for thee all th’ same.”  An’ then they kissed one another.  But it were too mich for her.  Th’ red stream come again, an’ all were o’er.’

    ‘And what of Jim?’ I asked.

    ‘Jim’s still wed to her i’ heaven.  He’s made his hundreds by now; but he gives th’ most on’t away, for, as he telled me th’ last time aw seed him, noather brass nor fame con bring back her as were faithful to deeath.  “But, Harry,” he said, “hoo’s never far fro’ me for all that, an’ aw nevers put my foot on th’ oratoria boards baat rememberin’ that though hoo prays for me no more on earth, hoo prays for me aboon.’”

    ‘Yo’ con see her grave yon.  It ston’s i’ th’ chapel yard; an’ they’ve put on it i’ letters th’ piece as aw first heard him sing, an’ th’ piece as hoo first heard him sing an’ all:—


“Aw know that my Redeemer liveth.”’


――――♦――――

 
MARY O’ MALLEYS O’ TH’ HEIGHTS


A LITTLE beyond the factory, and on a rising slope of meadow, stood an ivy-covered cottage in its zone of flowers.  At one time it was the home of the old masters — a home in the days when the more pretentious mansions, now so common to the valley, were unknown.  For years, however, it had been occupied by the family of an old servant, and at the time of which I write its sole residents were the servant’s widow and her son.  It was a spot rich in the poetry of common life.  The twin mysteries of birth and death had overshadowed it, with their attendant ministrants of joy and sadness.  Youth had crossed its threshold to face the world, and weary age returned to lay down its burden and rest.  Forty years were passed since the masters ceased to inhabit it.  But there it stood, a monument of the yesterdays, its ingle nook still yielding kindly warmth, and its roof protective shelter.  A haven and a shrine, a home of peace, a temple of love.

    Mary o’ Malleys o’ th’ Heights, the widow of the old servant, was proud of the associations of her dwelling, for she had come here a newly-married wife, and here her children had been born to her.  To have left the old place would have broken her heart, for the long years of her wedded life were entwined like the ivy around the gables, and every stone was sacred.  Vanished forms peopled the low dark rooms, and hushed voices echoed from passage and from chamber.  To Mary, its past was a present; and she sometimes found herself talking with those who had been, but now were no more.  All her treasures, too, were here — mementoes, relics, keepsakes.  There were marks on the wall, of rudely scrawled date and initial, telling of the time when growing boys had had their stature recorded.  There were mugs out of which little lips had sipped their sweetened milk, and highly-coloured picture-books from which little minds had been taught their earliest tasks.  On the walls hung faded photographs and hideous daguerreotypes, telling of village fairs and youthful vanity, but precious in the sight of a mother’s eye.  While hidden away in drawers were coins that had closed the eyes of the dead, and bands that had swathed the newly-born.  Such was Mary’s home — the home where I saw her, and in which I heard her recount parts of the pageant of her humble life.

    It was old Harry who introduced me to this matron of the past.  He had often spoken of her to me, and told me stories of her life, rousing a curiosity to see and hear her for myself.  So it came to pass that one Saturday afternoon we walked across the meadows to her home, and found her not only in a mood of welcome, but in a mood for talk.

    It was the first time I had seen her, and I was struck with her appearance.  She was sitting in a high-back chair, erect and brightsome, her mild blue eyes somewhat paled with age, but a russet glow lingering on her cheeks.  Her hair, which was as wool, was hidden away beneath a stiffly-starched cap, and in her hands she held a churchwarden pipe, which from time to time she carried to her lips with the air of one who relished the indulgence.

    No sooner had Harry introduced me in that rough provincial manner common to his stock, than the old woman gave me welcome, and pointing with her pipe to a chair, bade me ‘sit daan, an’ mak’ mysel’ awhom.’

    ‘Yo’ see,’ she said, ‘aw awlus sit where aw con see through th’ winder, an’ look aat a bit on th’ factory.  It does my een some good to see yon chimbleys; they’re moniments o’ industry, an’ their smoke’s the breeath o’ life to th’ valley.  Plenty o’ wark yon, meeans plenty o’ bread for th’ childer; an’ th’ saand o’ the looms fair mak’s me leetsome.  Aw’ve had nine — seven lads an two lasses: an’ eight aat o’ th’ nine have worked yon; so yo’ see th’ factory’s been a good friend to me.  An’ so have th’ maisters for that matter.  They haven’t everybody’s good word, but aw speak on ’em as aw find ’em.’

    ‘Nine children,’ I exclaimed; ‘that is a large family to rear.’

    ‘Yi! an’ th’ six lads were six foot apiece; an’ six times six is thirty-six, isn’t it?  Thirty-six foot o’ lads goin’ in an’ aat o’ th’ haase three an’ four times a day; an’ all to fill at baggin-times (meal times), an’ to find i’ clooathes, week days an’ Sundo’s an’ all.  Why, mon, if they laid theirsel’s aat straight, heels to head, they’d ha’ reached welly fro’ here to th’ factory.  Aw were some praad on ’em, aw con tell yo’.  A woman’s done aboon her share o’ work as gives th’ world six lads like mine.’

    There was no presumption whatever in Mary’s well-won pride.  It was the instinctive language of a mother’s heart, the speech of one who was a queen amongst women.

    ‘Harry,’ said the old woman, ‘reach daan that likeness o’ aar Joe.’  And the old man removed from among a crowd of photographs on the mantelpiece the one representative of the son in question.

    ‘Naa then,’ said she, handing it to me, ‘look at that face, an’ tell me what yo’ think on’t.’  And as I took it to the window, she continued, ‘That’s reet, tak’ it to th’ leet, it’ll bear it.’

    ‘This is your first-born, I suppose,’ I said, as I looked into the somewhat faded outlines of the fine intelligent face.

    A tear stole into the old woman’s eye, and a catch for the moment stayed her breath.

    ‘Nay, he were noan th’ first-born, though he’s noan forgetten, though he were deead when th’ Lord sent him.  ‘That’s aar Joe, an’ he’s a preycher.  He were awlus a thoughtful lad, an’ gave hissel’ to books; an’ th’ faither an’ me pinched aarsel’s to give him larnin’.  Aw often wish my maister could ha’ lived to hear him preych; but it weren’t to be.  But aw’ve heard him, bless him; they took me daan to Manchester when he were there two year sin’ last Whissuntide; an’ like as when aw see him come up th’ pulpit stairs, an’ heard him give aat th’ hymn, aw said wi’ owd Simeon, “Mine eyes have seen thy salvation; naa, Lord, lettest Thaa thy servant depart i’ peace.”’  Then pausing for a moment while she drew her apron across her tear-dimmed eyes, she said in a tone which betrayed that little trace of worldly pride which never wholly dies in a mother’s heart, ‘An’ he’s married weel an’ all, an’ his missus has brass.’

    ‘Reach him aar Dick, Harry,’ she said, after I had laid down the photograph of Joe.  ‘He manages for th’ firm i’ Manchester, an’ a good shop he has on it an’ all.  He knows haa to shap’ his words, an’ he con set his clooathes off better nor most lads.  He were music mad, were Dick, when he were a lad, an’ used to skrike on th’ fiddle haive through th’ neet, an’ set his faither off swearin’.  So one time i’ th’ middle o’ th’ winter he took his music fro’ him, an’ when his work were o’er, th’ poor lad had naught to do; so he went daan to th’ “Sheafan’ Sickle” where they kep’ a pianner, an’ started playin’ for ’em there.  When aw geet to hear on it aw towd his faither as th’ lad must have his music; an’ when he said “Nay,” aw towd him as th’ mon weren’t born yet as had ever said “nay” to me.  “Thaa’ll see,” he said; “some women’s long i’ larnin’ their lessons.”  “An’ so are some men,” aw says, “but thaa’ll larn thine.”  An’ then aw stood up to him, an’ aw says, “Thaa’ll give me that music or else aw’ll give thee thy last good-neet.”  An’ when he sat daan an’ laughed, aw ups wi’ my shawl an’ aat o’ th’ haase i’ a tick-tack.  But he were aat as quick as aw were an’ caught me up i’ th’ garden path.  “Mary,” he says, “durnd mak’ a foo’ o’ thysel’.”  “Thaa’rt th’ foo’,” aw says, an’ whipped mysel’ aat o’ his reach.  “Mary,” he says, “doesta meean it?”  “Didta ever know me say ought aw didn’t meean,” aw axed.  “Nowe, lass, aw never did, thaa’ll find Dick’s music under th’ floor-board o’ th’ attic.”  That were th’ only time aw ever had a do wi’ my maister.’

    ‘Yi! Mary, there’s aboon a few o’ yore breed i’ th’ valley.  A chap never knows what it is to have a maister till he’s wed.  Yo’ see, aw’ve been my own maister,’ said Harry.

    ‘An’ it would ha’ been as weel for thee if thaa hadn’t.  Thaa’rt a good mon spoilt; if thaa’d wed a daycent lass thaa’d ha’ weshed thy face a bit oftener, an’ dressed a bit better, an’ supped less ale, an’ had more abaat thee than thaa has.  A mon’s nobbud haive a mon till he’s wed, t’other haive’s knockin’ abaat i’ th’ shap’ o’ a woman somewhere, an’ aw’m sorry for th’ likes o’ thee as never finds it.  But it’s no use cryin’ o’er spilt milk, is it, lad?  But thaa doesn’t know what thaa’s lost.  A bonny lass, an’ a breet hearthstone, an’ a two-thre hungry maaths, an’ laughin’ faces — aw pity them as hasn’t getten ’em;, it’s a grond thing as th’ owd Book says, for th solitary to be set i’ families.’

    ‘Here’s yore Tummis,’ said the old man, interrupting Mary in her somewhat personal monologue, as he handed a third photograph down from the mantelpiece.

    ‘Yi! poor lad, he’s nobbud blunt,’ said she, as the likeness was passed into my hand; ‘but then he’s a gradely reciter.  Yo’ should hear him give My Grandfeyther’s Days.  He nobbud runs three looms, an’ aw durnd think he’ll ever be mon enough to run ony more.  When a chap’s getten five-an’-twenty, an’ tak’s his clogs off and puts ’em by mistak’ into th’ pump-trough for th’ fireside, there’s not mich chonce o’ his ever bein’ a four-loom weyver.  Aw sent him daan i’ th’ village t’other neet for some nutmeg; an’ th’ felley come back wi’ a paand.  “Mother,” he says, when he geet in, “aw shornd buy in for thee at Lord’s shop ony more.”  “Haa’s that?” aw says.  “Why,” he says, “them as were waitin’ behind th’ caanter, an’ th’ customers an’ all, did naught but laugh at me when aw axed for th’ nutmegs.”  “Laugh at thee,” aw says, “what mun they laugh at thee for?  Thaa paid for ’em, didn’t thaa?  Aw gave thee th’ brass.”  “Yo’ didn’t give me enough, mother,” he said.  “Three-hawpence were no use,” an’ wi’ that he threw th’ paand o’ nutmegs on th’ table an’ brast into tears.  “E’ dear, Tummis,” aw cried, “whatever hasto been an’ done?”  “Aw’ve nobbud bought a paand o’ nutmegs, mother,” he sobbed.  “A paand!” aw shaated.  “Yi,” he said; “yo buy paands o’ tea, an’ paands o’ butter, an’ paands o’ sugar, an’ aw thought nutmegs went by weight an’ all.”  ‘Nowe, Harry, aar Tummis’ll never mak’ a four-loom weyver; but for all that aw wish he could meet wi’ a daycent lass as would breeten him up a bit.  But then we connot have everything i’ this world, an’ he’s a gradely reciter.’

    While the old woman was talking my eyes wandered to a photograph hanging somewhat in the shadow, and taking it down, and holding it to the light, I traced the features of a smartly-dressed youth scarcely out of his teens.  At this moment a cloud chanced to pass the sun, and the kitchen was hid in a momentary gloom, while a still darker cloud rested upon the patient face of the garrulous mother.  Unconscious of the change, I inadvertently asked whose photograph it was, but silence was the only reply.  Surprised, I looked up to find that I had touched the spring of the door of that cupboard in which the skeleton was housed.  The pause was painful, the more painful because no one dared to break it.  At last Mary said:—

    ‘That’s aar Charley.  He were th’ youngest, an’ like as aw loved him aboon his share.  Love’s a maister; leastways it is wi’ a mother, an’ yo’ connot help takkin’ to one more nor t’other.  Aw were praad o’ th’ owdest, but never soft o’er him; but like as th’ youngest somehaa geet his own road wi’ me.’

    ‘But aw thought as yo’ said, Mary, as no mon ever gave yo’ nay,’ interrupted old Harry.

    ‘No mon ever did,’ she said; ‘it were a childt, an’ my youngest an’ all.  Not as aw’m baand to excuse mysel’.  Nowe! aw made my own whip an’ aw axed noabry to share th’ smart wi’ me.  But there were summat abaat his een as awlus geet o’er me, an’ his voice touched th’ tenderest springs i’ my heart.  Aw felt when aw were nursin’ him aw were baand to be his evil angel; an’ aw were, for sure.  Aw started o’ buying him aught he axed for, an’ givin’ him brass aboon his share, an’ dressin’ him like th’ quality, an’ shuttin’ my een to his faults, an’ pridin’ mysel’ o’er his good looks; an’ when aar Joe telled me on’t, aw towd him aw were th’ maister o’ this haase, an’ th’ mother an’ all.’

    ‘Let’s see,’ said Harry; ‘thaa doesn’t know whether he’s alive or deead — doesto?’

    ‘Durnd, lad, durnd.  Give th’ wound a chonce o’ healin’.’

    ‘It’ll never heal, lass, while thaa thinks so much abaat him, for, as thaa says, he’s awlus i’ thy mind.’

    ‘Awlus, awlus,’ wept the old woman.  ‘Like as aw think more o’ him as has done ill by me than by them as has done weel by me.  But then it’s th’ ways o’ a mother’s heart.  E’, Charley, Charley!’

    ‘Thaa sees, thaa played wi’ him too long,’ said old Harry, replying to the old woman whose tears were now falling fast upon the photograph which lay on her knee.

    ‘Happen aw did,’ she sobbed, ‘but aw prayed as weel as played.  Mony’s th’ time aw’ve wrostled wi’ th’ Almeety all th’ neet for th’ lad, but it were, “Nay, nay,” an’ noan “Yea, yea,” according to th’ promise.  But sometimes th’ Lord answers His children by terrible things i’ righteousness — so th’ owd Book says,’ and again the old woman moistened the photograph with her tears.

    ‘Yi! thaa were soft, Mary.  If he’d been my lad aw should ha’ turned him aat o’ th’ door an’ left him to hissel’.’

    ‘An’ aw should ha’ done if it had been thy lad, Harry, but thaa sees he were mine; an’ that mak’s th’ difference;’ and the old woman looked at him with a pathos second only to the pathos of her words.  ‘But aw keep hopin’,’ she said; ‘an’ if he comes back th’ door’s open, an’ th’ fireside’s warm.  Aw’ve never shot yon lock sin’ he left, an’ that’s three years ago come Candlemas.  Aw waken i’ th’ neet an’ find mysel’ listenin’ for his step, an’ aw stand i’ th’ door i’ th’ daytime lookin’ for his form.  Aw con remember haa he used to spring up th’ brow yon as he come fro’ th’ office, swingin’ his shoulders an’ whistlin’ bits o’ tunes he’d picked up at th’ theatres.  He were awlus a merry un.  It were Joe aw used to lean on, but Charley were th’ apple o’ my een.’

    ‘Weel,’ said the prosaic engineer, ‘aw’ve never had no childer; but it’s a shame when them as yo’ve done yore best for does their worst for yo’ i’ exchange.’

    ‘E’, Harry lad, them as has childer durnd think after that fashion.  Th’ more love they sheed (spill) th’ more love th’ heart pours aat on ’em — leastways it’s so wi’ a mother.  But we’ll hope for th’ best.’

    The conversation was becoming too personal — at least I felt it so; and I thought old Harry’s philosophy anything but soothing to the heart of the wounded woman.  So with the best of intentions I sought to divert it, and asked her concerning her daughters, whose photographs I took to be those of the women’s on the mantelshelf before me.

    ‘Two girls?’ I said.

    ‘Yi!’ replied Mary, ‘two lasses, an’ both on ’em married an’ doin’ weel; but like as yo’ durnd think so mich after them as con fend for theirsel’s, as yo’ do abaat them as cornd.  Th’ owd mon i’ th’ Bible thought a deal more abaat th’ lad as had naught nor abaat him as had enough an’ to spare.  Aw sometimes think as th’ Almeety telled that tale abaat th’ Prodigal for th’ likes o’ me.  He were th’ youngest lad an’ all, weren’t he?’ she asked, looking up into my face.

    ‘Yes,’ I said, ‘he was the younger son.’

    ‘An’ he were th’ worst, were’nt he?’

    I nodded, for my heart was too full for speech.

    ‘An’ he went a long away fro’ his home an’ all?’

    I assented.

    ‘An’ he were away a long time as weel, an’ lived a weary (regrettable) life, an’ spent his brass, till he’d naught left but his owd faither, who’d never forgetten him or shut the door on him, or crossed his name off th’ family register.’

    It was too much even for old Harry, who began to draw the back of his hand across his eye, and shuffle his feet, and gaze out of the window into the light of the setting sun.

    ‘Reach me that Bible, Harry,’ she said, after some moments of silence, and the old man obediently lifted the leather-bound volume from the shelf and placed it on the table by her side.


――――♦――――


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