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The Student.


SQUIRE'S lat ta-neet," said Sam Speck, turning the palms of his hands to the Clog Shop fire and looking towards the window with a vain assumption of indifference; "bud he allis is when yo' wanten him."

    "'Specially upo' th' plan neet," added Lige the road-mender.  "Aw've noaticed it naa fur mony a ye'r."

    "He does it o' pupuss," snapped Sam irritably; and then, after a pause, he added, "He keeps a horse as is a disgrace to th' village.  As owd as Mathusalam an' as booany as a herrin'."

    Now, Squire Taylor, the unlucky object of this abuse, was the village greengrocer, who on Fridays became the village carrier, and brought from Duxbury the various consignments of goods sent out to Beckside.  He was the usual medium of communication between Beckside Methodism and its ecclesiastical chief, bringing the book parcel once a month, and the new plans every quarter.  These plans were of course objects of great interest to the frequenters of the Clog Shop, and so the night on which they arrived was always one of great importance; and to sit waiting for Squire's arrival, and to unite in denouncing his dilatory ways, became a regular part of the quarterly programme.

    On this occasion, however, the interest was greater than usual, for it was the first plan after the reopening of the chapel, and several times lately the "super" had dropped mysterious but eagerly accepted hints about the new importance of Beckside, and his intention to improve its pulpit supply.

    Hitherto the position of the village amongst the other places in the circuit had been a somewhat lowly one.  It ranked amongst the smallest, was supplied chiefly by the less distinguished of the local preachers, and had for years been a sort of starting-place for young aspirants to pulpit fame.  In fact, the "exhorters" so inevitably opened their commissions' at Beckside, and received their first heckling in the Clog Shop parlour afterwards, that the village had acquired amongst the preachers the title of the "College," and many a luckless wight remembered it as the scene of his first and last appearance in the pulpit.

    Our Beckside friends were quite aware of their dubious distinction, and whilst grimly satisfied to be "a terror to evil doers," or those who couldn't do at all, they had long protested against being practised upon by "ivvery Jack-i'-th'-box as thinks he can preich."  But now, of course, in the enlarged chapel, things would be different, and the expected new plan would show them in their true position.

    "Plans," cried a stentorian voice outside, and the door was burst hastily open.  A small roll of papers came flying into the shop, striking Isaac, the apprentice, on the head, and rebounding, extinguished his candle, whilst a volley of more or less uncomplimentary expletives was fired at the invisible and retreating carrier by those around the Clog Shop fire.

    "If Aw thowt he'd done that o' pupuss"―began the injured Isaac, as he rose from his seat and commenced to relight his candle.  But Sam Speck had stepped across the shop, and, pushing the apprentice on one side, he grabbed at the roll of plans, and returned hastily to his seat.

    Sam appeared to be about to open the roll himself, and, in fact, had already commenced to do so, knowing only too well that if it passed into Jabe's hands they would be some time before they got any information, as the Clogger always held the parcel tight, and would neither distribute the plans nor even read out the appointments until he had carefully examined things for himself.  But as Sam hesitated, the Clogger reached out his hand with a significant gesture.

    "When thaa gets my shop [appointment] tha'st dew my wark," he said sternly, and Sam was constrained to surrender the parcel, whilst the rest resigned themselves to wait as patiently as possible until Jabe should have got through his characteristically deliberate preliminaries and be ready to give them information.

    A minute or two elapsed, during which Jabe was untying the string round the plans, refilling his pipe, and searching for and carefully cleaning his best spectacles.  Then, adjusting the glasses upon his nose with extraordinary care, he slowly opened the crackling paper, and with a grossly overdone appearance of indifference glanced all round the floral-border of the plan, ran his eye leisurely down the column of the preachers' names, scanned the notices, and even scrutinised the printer's name, just as if the word Beckside did not appear on the sheet at all, and just as if five intensely curious men were not waiting "on tenter-books" to have the Beckside appointments read out to them.

    At length the Clogger's eye wandered to that place low down on the plan where he knew by long experience he would find the most important of all place-names.  And as he struck Beckside and began to run his eye along the plan, he suddenly started to his feet, crying, in tones of intensest amazement―

    "Well, Aw'll be bothert!"

    "Whey?  Whey?  Wot's up, Jabe?" cried one or two, whilst Sam Speck tried to dodge round behind the Clogger, and look over his shoulder.  But the wiser ones sat still and said nothing.

    "Wot's up?" shouted Jabe, swinging round out of Sam's reach, and holding the plans high up.  "Didn't Aw tell yo' as Beckside wur summat naa?  We'en getten a sthudent planned fuss Sunday."

    Every man in the company seemed suddenly to become taller, their faces assumed expressions of grave dignity, and every man became clamorous for his own copy of the plan.  Then Jabe fetched Isaac's candle, and, curtly bidding that worthy to "Ger off whoam," he brought it and fixed it in an old mill bobbin, to afford extra light for the important business in hand.  Returning to their seats, and using, those in the chimney-nook the fire, and the rest the lamp and candle, they were soon eagerly and silently scrutinising the all-absorbing sheet.

    "Ther's noabry else hez a sthudent bur uz and Duxbury," said Long Ben, with his shaggy black beard nearly singeing in the fire.

    "Neaw, that's it," replied Jabe; "they'n ne'er been planned noawheer bud Duxbury afoor."

    The rest lifted their heads and looked steadily at each other to assist themselves in comprehending the full significance of this great fact, and then Lige added emphatically―

    "Wee'st ha' noa mooar hupstart exhausters here, yo'll see."

    Then the other appointments were examined, and a somewhat lengthy discussion arose as to whether Billy Fatcake, who had been certainly quite welcome in former days, and Hallelujah Tommy, who had the fatal misfortune to be a Clough Ender, were quite up to the newly-acquired importance of Beckside.  But the debate lost much of its heat and asperity from the fact that the first appointment had given a satisfaction which no ordinary matter could disturb.

    Next day was Saturday, and by Sunday the Clog Shop magnates had schooled themselves into a becoming modesty on the subject of the new plan.  The preacher for the day was a brother from an adjoining circuit, a great crony of Jabe's, and consequently a person of interest and influence to all the rest of the village.

    "Dun yo' iver hev' ony sthudents at yore chapil?" asked Jabe, as the pipes were being lighted after supper.

    "Neaw; an' we dooan't want," was the answer, in sharp, raspy tones, as if the question had touched a sore place.

    All the Becksiders exchanged glances of surprise and concern.

    "Whey not?" asked Jabe, in a slightly resentful tone.

    "Whey not?  When we goon ta th' chapil i' Sharpley we goon fur t' yer th' gospil, and no' Greek and grammar and shirt-neck."

    There was a long pause, during which every man present stared at the speaker with wide-opened eyes, and Sam and Lige turned and nodded at each other in a manner expressive of unutterable things.  But the preacher broke in again―

    "Them colleges 'ull be th' ruin o' Methodism, yo'll see.  They goon theer dacent, modest lads, an' afoor they'n bin theer mony wik they're aw cooat and collar and white neck-clout.  Thank goodness! noabry ne'er shoved a grammar daan my throttle."

    Now, it would have been impossible for the speaker to have found better soil into which to drop his seeds of prejudice than that provided in the minds of those to whom he was talking.  For if there was one thing upon which they were more completely agreed than another, it was that pride was the blackest of all sins, and especially so when it appeared in the pulpit, and they shared to the full the common suspicion of their class against all unsanctified learning.  The speaker's words, therefore, came like a heavy wet blanket upon the hopes and self-gratulations they had indulged concerning the coming student, and when the preacher departed he left behind him six depressed and sulky men.

    When he had gone, and a gloomy quiet had settled on the company, Long Ben broke silence for the first time that night by staring hard at the oatcake-rack over his head and reciting as if he had been saying a lesson―

    "'Wrath is cruel and anger is outrageous, but who shall stand before envy?"'

Nobody seemed to understand what Ben's quotation had reference to, but, as he was much given to such mysterious allusiveness, nobody was greatly disturbed. Jabe, indeed, looked for a moment as though he were going to ask a question, but repenting suddenly, he also lapsed into despondent silence.

    Several times that evening, and in the early days of the week following, Ben tried to raise discussion on the subject of the coming representative of the "Hinstitewshon," but without success.  Towards the end of the week certain mysterious hints began to be dropped as to what would happen if the student turned out to be of the character hinted at by last Sunday's preacher, and when it was found that in consequence of an interesting domestic event at the Fold Farm, and the absence of the doctor in London, the student would have to be entertained somehow at the Clog Shop, every man who was present when the arrangement was concluded looked at Jabe with such expressive commiseration in his eyes that the old Clogger began to feel something of the hallowed delights of minor martyrdom.

    All day on Saturday Aunt Judy was busy "fettlin' up" at the Cloggery in preparation for the advent of the stranger.  Jabe was manifestly depressed.  He was also strangely uneasy.  He kept coming out of the shop into the parlour where Judy was busy, without any visible reason for so doing; and at last, when his sister began to tell him where he would find various eatables she had provided for the week-end, he turned round as he was leaving the parlour and snapped out with quite unaccountable temper―

    "Dust think Aw'm gooin' to molly-coddle fur yond' chap fur tew days?  Aw'll ler him clem fust!  Tha mun come an' feed him thisel', if tha wants him feedin'."

    Now Judy quite understood what was the matter with her irascible brother, had been, in fact, expecting some such demand, and had come prepared to stay.  She knew that Jabe was secretly in great fear of being left alone with the student.  So she hung her shawl behind the parlour door, and settled down as the temporary mistress of the Clog Shop.

    Meanwhile Jabe, though evidently relieved, was still very uneasy.  The statement of his friend from Sharpley as to students in general had grievously disappointed him, but it was so entirely in harmony with his own suspicions as to the ungodly character of learning and its disastrous effects on religious life, and so fully confirmed his opinions as to the "forradness" and "pompiousness" of the rising generation, that he greatly feared it would turn out to be only too true.  If it did turn out so, he was morally certain he would not be able to restrain himself all the time from Saturday to Monday, but would be sure to explode upon the student. And if he kept down his own chagrin, he would not be able to restrain his friends, for they were already charged to the full with anticipatory resentment, and were so well primed as to require very little indeed to set them off.

    But then the student was to be his guest, and a Lancashire villager's ideas of hospitality are as high as those of the Arabs, and it would be a most shocking thing to be entertaining a man and "basting" him at the same time.  The dilemma worried him, and the whole thing created in his mind an impression distinctly unfavourable to the coming visitor.

    A little later, Sam Speck arrived, and was ordered, in tones he knew better than to resist, to meet the coach and bring the student home.

    As the time of arrival drew near, Jabe seated himself in an arm-chair, and in his shirt-sleeves and his best clothes waited the great arrival, pulling nervously the while at a clean churchwarden.

    "Aw reacon it 'ull be a mee-mawin' donned-up, grammarified young sprig o' some sooart!" he said to Judy in tones of depreciation, but before she could express her evidently different opinion the front door opened and Sam Speck stepped over the sanded floor, ushering in the student.

    Jabe's fears were abundantly confirmed.

    A tall, smart, well-dressed young cleric, with kid gloves, a silk hat, irreproachable linen, and—saddest sign of ministerial worldliness—a hair watch-chain with gold mountings, and a gold locket that dangled itself aggressively before jabe's very eyes.

    Jewellery in the pulpit was the most unendurable of all things in Beckside, as more than one preacher had found to his cost, and Jabe was telling himself that it was no use resisting the inevitable, and that, guest or no guest, he would have to deliver his soul, when the stranger stepped up to him with easy confidence and shook him heartily by the hand, which still further confirmed Jabe's conviction that he would have to do some painful taking down.

    Then the student greeted Aunt Judy as Mrs. Longworth, and thereby discovered Jabe's peculiar opinion of women, on which he took Mrs. Judy's part, and became quite animated in his defence of the gentler sex.  Jabe had the utmost difficulty in preventing himself from reminding this assured young man of his age, and by way of avoiding it, pointed to the table, and invited his guest to "Reich tew an' get yore baggin'."

    Whilst the student ate, talking chiefly to Aunt Judy, and getting thereby on most excellent terms with her, Jabe was quietly taking stock of him—examining him slowly from head to foot a dozen times, and coming back after each scrutiny to that ungodly gold locket.  Sam Speck, too, seemed in a meditative frame of mind, and sat looking into the fire with a company smirk on his small face.

    Then Long Ben came in, followed by Jethro and Lige, each man nodding with a stiff "How do?" to the stranger, and then sidling off into a chair, which was gradually turned round to an angle from which the visitor could be furtively examined.

    Somehow it was difficult to get a conversation started; and though the student, having finished tea and declined an invitation to "smook," drew briskly up to the fire and plunged at once into the most popular Methodist topics of the hour, he was unable to get on, his companions sitting there in impenetrable silence, and answering—when they answered at all—in freezing monosyllables.

    At length, after a depressing pause, Long Ben asked a question which set the student off describing the "institution" and its ways.  He waxed eloquent on the learning and ability of the tutors, told stories of the college prayer-meeting, and gave several instances of success achieved by his fellow-students on their preaching excursions.

    Every man in the company was listening intently, expecting every next word to contain some allusion to the student's own oratorical triumphs.  But though they waited with studiously stolid faces, the expected reference never came, and they were not able to detect the note of conceit they were all confidently anticipating.

    "An' dun yo' ne'er ha' noa convarsions?" asked Long Ben at last.

    "Y-e-s," said the student, suddenly very sober; "but not so many as I should like."  And he flushed slightly and coughed apologetically, whilst every man in the company seemed lost in far-off contemplation.  But the student had scored his first point.

    "Tell uz abaat some of yore good toimes," said Aunt Judy, coming forth from the scullery, where it was not supposed she had been listening.

    "Well, I haven't had many conversions, I'm sorry to say," was the answer, with a shadow on the speaker's face, and a little sigh, "but I had one little bit of encouragement about two months ago.  I was out from college, and had to walk in the afternoon to a place across some fields.  As I went along with a friend we overtook a poor woman who looked very wretched.  I got into conversation with her about good things, and when we parted I invited her to come to the evening service.  She did so, to my surprise, and, ah—well, she was converted that night, and then she told me she had been a bad woman, and was on her way to drown herself when I spoke to her,"

    The tale was rather lamely told, but to those listening to it, its halting style greatly enhanced its value.

    "Han yo' yerd owt o' th' woman sin'?" asked Ben, with shining eyes.

    "Yes," said the student hesitatingly; "she sent me a chain made out of her own hair, and with a locket on it containing a little copy of my text on that evening."

    "An' is that it yo' han on?" asked Jabe.

    "Yes," said the student; and the Clogger began to vow vengeance on his friend from Sharpley.

    When they left that night every man in the company shook hands with the stranger, and the good man did not know how great a compliment they were paying him by so doing.  His appearance certainly had prejudiced them to begin with, but his frank, hearty, unassuming manner had severely shaken those prejudices.

    Jabe had already thawed considerably, and before they retired he had waxed quite confidential, as the young preacher listened with evident appreciation to all the details of the rebuilding of their beloved sanctuary.

    Next morning, however, the Clogger's hopes were somewhat dashed when he found his guest carefully conning a manuscript as he waited for breakfast.  A more disturbing sign could not well have appeared, for Beckside could not away with "parrotty papper" in the pulpit.  The consequence was, therefore, that Jabe drew into his shell again, and the student was chilled.

    And the morning's sermon, though it was far from the least suspicion of paraded learning, deepened the Clogger's discontent.  It was far too pat and glib for so young a man.  Hesitancy and confusion would have been more becoming, and Lige expressed the opinions of most of the recognised sermon testers when he shook the preacher by the hand at the bottom of the pulpit stairs, and said, loud enough for all to hear―

    "If tha'll put a bit mooar ginger into that sarmon, it 'ull be a fizzer."

    But, then, as he saw Long Ben nodding emphatic endorsement from the side pew, and Nathan and Sam grinning approvingly from behind the choir curtains, Lige lost his head and added the reckless and dangerously compromising statement―

    "Tha'll be fit fur t' preich aar Sarmons some day if tha goes on."

    That was the worst of Lige, he never knew when to stop.  What was the use of putting such an utterly unlikely idea into the young man's head.  Only very great men indeed preached the Sermons, and even they felt it to be a great honour.  Besides, wasn't pride the one deadly danger of the class to which the student belonged, and wasn't it the sacred duty of all experienced Christians to do their very utmost to keep it out of the hearts of those so tempted?

    So Lige was in disgrace all day, and Jabe felt it to be his bounden duty to remove any vain hope which might have sprung up in the young man's heart by telling him of all the illustrious stars who had officiated at those memorable annual celebrations.

    The evening sermon tasted better.  It was freer, warmer, simpler,—a plain gospel appeal in fact; and when the preacher in the after-meeting told, in husky tones, the story of his own conversion, the character of students had been redeemed in Beckside, and the anxious responsibles who gathered in Jabe's parlour felt as nearly contented as it was possible to do under the circumstances.

    Just as they were drawing up to the table for supper, a timid knock was heard at the front door, and Judy hastened to open it.  After a minute or two's earnest whispering, she came hurrying back, crying, "Howd on a minute," and turning to the student, she continued―

    "Ther's a wench here wants her babby kessening.  Yo'd better dew it afoor yo' begin."

    "Oh, but I can't!  I daren't!" cried the student in alarm.  "I'm not ordained, you know; I really cannot."

    "Of course he conna," said Jabe oracularly, and rising from his seat, he limped to the door to inspect the applicant.  Aunt Judy tried to intercept him, but he dodged her, and was soon heard speaking in stern, hard words to the invisible mother.

    "Whether yo' con kessen gradely childer or not, yo' conna kessen yond'," he said to the student as he resumed his seat a moment later at the table, flashing at the same time a look of peculiar significance at Long Ben, who hung his head.

    The student blushed as the meaning of the Clogger's words dawned upon him, and a very awkward pause ensued.

    Anxious to find a topic on which conversation could be safely started again, the young preacher glanced up towards the joists, and noticing an odd-shaped green baize bag hanging there, he asked―

    "That isn't a bass viol, is it?"

    "If yo' guessen ageean yo'll guess wrung," answered Jabe, following the direction of the student's eyes.

    "Then I suppose you play it, do you, Mr. Longworth? "

    Every mouth stopped eating, and every eye was turned upon Jabe as he answered with an elaborate affectation of indifference―

    "Ther's noabry else played on't for this last thurty ye'r, at ony rate."

    The student expressed his delight, acknowledged he could fiddle a bit himself, and Jethro, Nathan, and Sam Speck hastily finished their supper, and went off to fetch their instruments, so that in a few moments the preacher had his choice of three.

    The student certainly could fiddle, and he knew all the good tunes,—i.e. the old tunes, "tunes as wur tunes," as Jethro, the greatest of the Beckside musical authorities, declared.  Then he played one or two new tunes, which were received with carefully-guarded approval.  And then Jethro and Sam Speck gave their visitor a sample of Beckside "Sarmons" music, and then another and another, until the evening seemed gone in no time, and it became unmistakably evident, by the way she poked at the fire, and ostentatiously brought clog-chips from the workshop and piled them on the parlour hob, that Aunt Judy thought it was time for them to be gone.

    But again that timid knock came at the front door, and Judy, with a startled exclamation, hurried, as fast as her bulky form would allow her, to open it.  Then an excited but whispered conversation was heard going on outside, and presently Judy came back with desperate resolution written on her face.  She hastened across the parlour into the scullery, and in a moment came out with a white china basin filled with water, which she placed on a table before the student.

    "Mestur" she cried in agitated tones, "that poor wench at th' dur has a babby as hoo shouldn't have.  Bud hoo were browt up i' aar schoo', and her muther lies i' th' chapil yard.  Hoo knows hoo's dun wrung, bud hoo doesn't want fur t' dew wrung to her babby.  An' hoo's bin to th' Brogden vicar, and he winna kessen it; and hoo's tramped aw th' way to th' Hawpenny Gate, an' he winna; bud, Mestur, Aw think Him as yo' bin preichin' abaat ta-neet 'ud dew it if He wur here, an' wot He could dew yo' con dew, and chonce it."

    There was a sob and a rustle at the door, and a pale, shamefaced factory girl stepped forward, unwrapping as she did so a bundle containing a five-weeks-old baby, and sobbing audibly the while.

    "Look at it, Mestur," she cried, holding out her little one.  "It's as bonny as ony o' them 'at Jesus tewk in His arms," and then, pressing closer and almost forcing the baby upon him, she pleaded―

    "Tak' it, Mestur, tak' it.  Aw know Aw'm aat o' th' kingdom o' God, but Aw dunnot want mi babby to be."

    In a moment the student, with face all awork, had snatched the wee thing from its pleading mother, and was offering a simple prayer for it as he held it in his arms.  Then he sprinkled it in the "Blessed Names," and, still holding it, prayed again,—prayed for babe and mother too,—and then, as he handed the infant back, his eyes wet with tears, he stooped down and tenderly kissed it.

    "God bless yo' fur that" cried the agitated mother; "an' ha'iver lung yo' live, an' wheriver yo' goa, yo' con remember as there's wun poor woman as 'ull allis be prayin' for yo', if hoo is nowt but a nowty factory wench an' a woman as is a sinner."

    And then she hugged her little one to her breast, and again blessing the student, departed; and Jabe, with face struggling between embarrassment and joy, and tears that wouldn't keep back, seized the student by the hand, and, wringing it until he winced again, he cried―

    "If we liven till next Wis-sunday, yo'st preich th' Sarmons!"


――――♦――――
 
Leah's Lover.

I.

The Black Sheep.


SUNDAY SCHOOL was being held in the new schoolroom one hot Sunday afternoon some months after the reopening of the chapel.

    The superintendent was temporarily absent, and Lige, who was taking his place, though he frowned dreadfully in rather grotesque imitation of his great model, had none of the terrors for juvenile minds with which Jabe inspired them, and so the order of the school was scarcely what it ought to have been.

    The boys in the Testament classes were pitching their voices high, and fiercely competing as to who should read loudest, the work being done with a peculiar intonation supposed to be the correct thing by all Beckside juveniles.

    In the mixed and rather crowded infant class, whilst a few were giving the teacher languid attention and some were fast asleep, two were standing behind the teacher and helping each other to drink out of a small bottle containing that best wine of Beckside childhood—Spanish juice water.  Three more were trying to get sound out of a wicken whistle they had made by a peculiar method of treating the bark of a certain soft wood, and started guiltily when the desired sound unexpectedly came.

    The top classes of youths and maidens, though removed from each other by the width of the school, were contriving to hold such communications as only the mystic telegraphy of youth admits, and the little girls were making pocket-handkerchief rabbits, retrimming each other's hats, and glancing longingly every now and again towards the desk, impatient for the moment of release.

    Presently a little door leading out of the chapel vestry opened, and in walked Jabe, Ben, and Nathan the smith.  None of these gentlemen could ever be charged with lack of seriousness in facial expression, but now, as they appeared, their countenances were positively alarming in owlish portentousness.  Jabe limped to the desk, with slow, impressive manner; and after heaving a deep sigh and glancing nervously towards the young men's class, he rang the bell and cried―

    "Silence, childer!  Put th' beuks away;" and the sad sternness of his tone caused several of the teachers and most of the elder scholars to glance up inquiringly at him.

    When the box-seats had all been filled with books, and two small boys had been "seaused" on the ears for banging the lids, Jabe rang the bell again.  He really seemed very uncomfortable, and mopped his face and nearly bald head with a great red cotton handkerchief, whilst Ben and Nathan, seated behind him, held down their heads with a fidgety, apprehensive look.

    "Aw ne'er thowt Aw should iver see this day," began the Clogger, shaking his head and looking round on the upturned faces; and Ben and Nathan groaned sympathetically.

    "Aw've bin th' shuper o' this schoo' for welly thirty ye'r, bud Aw ne'er thowt we should come to this."

    By this time every eye in the school was upon him; even the infants, who understood little of what was being said, realised that there was a new and significant tone in Jabe's voice, and stopped their pranks to listen.

    After another pause and another laborious employment of his handkerchief,—for heat and excitement were both telling upon him,—he seemed to get the better of his feelings, and changing his voice to sudden sternness, he demanded—

    "Whoa wur it as blacked his face an' went a pace-eggin' [mumming] last Yester [Easter], and welly feart owd Nanny aat of her wits?"

    Some dozen small boys immediately answered, "Luke Yates"; and there were signs of unwonted excitement in the young men's class.

    "An' whoa wur it as went riding th' Stang up Slakey Broo just afoor last Wis-Sunday?"

    Again came the answer from at least twice as many juveniles as before—

    "Luke Yates."

    Then Jabe, raising his voice, and almost shouting in angry sternness, continued—

    "An' whoa wur it as ran a race fur brass yesterday amung bettors an' gamblers an' pidgin-flyers?"

    Grand unanimous chorus of small boys "Luke Yates."

    And then Jabe raised his eyes from the scholars and looked round at the windows and walls, and apostrophising them, cried, with a break in his voice—

    "An' his fayther wur a local preicher!"

    A young fellow in the first class, with short red hair, brown laughing eyes, and a mischievous mouth, suddenly dropped his head, and all his classmates glanced at him with painful interest.

    After another pause of most uncomfortable stillness, Jabe went on—

    "We'en done aw as we con fur him.  We'en talked to him, an' we'en prayed wi' him.  Bud we conna goa on no longer o' thisunce.  Aw ne'er thowt Aw should live to see a scholar o' this schoo' turnt aat.  Bud Aw have.  An' Aw feel that ill abaat it Aw could start o' skriking."

    Jabe's quivering chin fell on his breast for a moment, and then raising his head and looking at the red-haired youth, he said in a husky, tremulous voice—

    "Tak' thi cap, an' away wi' thi."

    Luke sat perfectly still, and his generally merry, impudent face became suddenly white and drawn.

    "Dust yer me?  Away wi' thi," shouted Jabe more sternly, stretching out his hand and pointing towards the door.

    Long Ben, from behind, gasped, "Lord, help him," and Nathan was rubbing one side of his head, as he generally did under unusual mental disturbance.

    Jabe's own face was a struggle between stern resolution and something very close to tears, whilst the youth addressed, after hesitating a moment, slowly rose to his feet, and, with a sickly attempt at a laugh, reached his cap from the peg over his head and strode towards the door.

    As he was turning round the corner of the last form, however, an irresistible fit of his old mischievousness seemed to seize him suddenly, and turning defiantly round, and facing the whole school, he made a grotesquely elaborate bow and cried, "Gooid-day, and gooid shuttance," and then shooting a quick, stealthy glance at the teacher of the lowest girls' class, who was, perhaps, the only person in the school who was not watching his departure, and whose fine little head was bowed, whilst two round spots of flaming feeling glowed on cheeks of marble, he hastily opened the door and disappeared.

    Now, nobody noticed Luke's quick glance, neither did anybody notice the white flame-spotted cheeks of the young person towards whom he threw it.  And if they had noticed it, nobody, in Beckside at any rate, would have been surprised; for Leah Barber, Ben's eldest daughter, was the one person in the school who would be certain to endorse the superintendent's action.

    Leah was a quiet, staid little Puritan, almost prudish in her manner, but with an intense attachment to the chapel, and a whole-hearted interest in its affairs.  She had little in common with the girls of her age, and her name was generally omitted from the flirtation gossip so popular with her sex.

    When Billy Botch began to "shape" for the ministry, one or two had suggested the suitability of a match between Leah and the young preacher; but Billy went away without giving any sign, and everybody knew without being told that, whatever she felt, nobody was ever likely to get anything out of Leah.  The Beckside youths stood in awe of her; the one or two rash spirits who had ventured to approach her with amatory intentions suddenly repented of their attempts; and Jack Westhead, the latest of her wouldbe lovers, declared, after the second experiment, "Hoo isna a flesh an' blooid wench at aw, hoo's a lump o' icet."

    Besides, she was so mature and serious in all her deportment, and seemed so entirely given up to chapel and school affairs, that she appeared to have neither time nor inclination for the ordinary interests of maidenhood.

    The peculiar expression on her face, therefore, as the disgraced Luke disappeared through the school door, was just such as everyone would expect; and those who retained any lingering sympathy for the banished scholar, knew perfectly well that it was useless to go to her for support.

    It was a pity she was so cold, and that her standard of conduct was so exacting, for outwardly she was very attractive.  The smooth roundness of youth softened a face that would otherwise have been almost severe.  She had features of faultless regularity, was a trifle above medium height, and had limbs that were nearly perfect in their modelling.  Every movement was graceful, and would have been more so but for that restrainedness which ruled the spirit that governed them.  Her skin was marble white, and her full, dark eyes, screened by long eyelashes, would have been dangerous gifts indeed to a girl of a different spirit.  She dressed with almost Quaker-like plainness, but had her full share of that air of superiority which such plainness sometimes gives to those who practise it.  Nobody could have passed her as she walked home from school that hot afternoon without noticing her, but he who looked twice would also think twice before needlessly accosting her.

    In Long Ben's parlour, where tea was always laid on Sundays in honour of the day, nothing was talked about but the event which had taken place at school.  Ben himself, divided between a judgment which endorsed Jabe's action and a tender heart which regretted it, said little.  Mrs. Ben held forth very earnestly on the subject, holding up the abandoned Luke as a terrible warning to Ben, junior, and his twin-brother Andrew; whilst the two younger girls raked their memories for bygone transgressions of the wretched Luke, which they retailed with unconscious but impressive embellishments.

    But Leah said not a word, although, as she never said much, nobody noticed the omission.

    Ben's workshop stood end on to Sally's Entry, a short cut to the mill, and faced the road.  Next to the shop came the woodyard, which was separated from the house and garden by a flag fence, backed up by a row of shrubs.  The house stood back from the workshop, having a small garden in front and a larger one behind.

    The front garden was given up to flowers, and as Leah was chief gardener, and had a weakness for old-fashioned flowers, the whole patch was on this particular Sunday one mass of bloom.

    Just after sunset, and whilst long red rays were contending for mastery with the encroaching twilight, Leah sauntered aimlessly out of the front door, and began to pick here and there a faded leaf, and now an over-spent bloom, from her beloved flowers.  Presently she got down to within a yard or so of the gate, and stood in the soft twilight with her back to the woodyard, looking pensively down on a bed of snapdragon.  She was just stooping down to examine them more closely, when there came from somewhere behind her a loud, but slightly hesitant, whisper―

    "Leah!"

    But she did not move, and, but for the sudden setting of her face, it might have been concluded that she had not heard.  She stooped a little lower, until her face nearly touched the taller of the flowers, and seemed to be absorbed in studying them.

    "Leah! "—clearer this time, and yet it had a penitent, coaxing sound in it.

    Still she kept her face over the flowers, and only a slight quiver in her lissom fingers showed that she knew she was being called.

    "L-e-a-h!"—this time drawn out with most plaintive anxiety.

    Leah paused a moment, raised herself, glanced cautiously at the house windows, hesitated for a while, and then stooped down again over the flowers as though she had heard nothing.  Again came the thick loud whisper

    "Leah! come i' the' yard!  If thaa doesn't, Aw'll come ta thee."

    The stooping maiden's face flushed a little.  Then she raised herself, turned round, and, moving slightly nearer to a sweetbriar bush against the flag fence, said, in cold, severe tones, looking across the woodyard, and speaking apparently into vacancy―

    "Tha's dun me a gooid turn fur wunce, Luke."

    A red head and a pair of roguish brown eyes shot up from behind the flags, and Luke Yates asked dubiously—

    "Wot wi?"

    "Aw've bin forgettin' mysel', an' desavin' my payrunts, an' hurtin' my sowl, an' tha's cur't me."

    "Well, bud come i' the' yard a minute.  Aw want t' tell thin summat."

    "Thaa towd me aw as Aw want ta know when thaa went aat o' th' schoo' ta-day."

    "Well, it's thy fawt."

    Leah frowned, but avoiding the eyes gleaming so eagerly at her from behind the briar bush branches, she asked, with both surprise and resentment in her tone―

    "My fawt?  Wot dust meean?"

    "Aw meean Aw could be a saint if tha'd ha' me, bud Aw'st goa ta Owd Harry if thaa winna."

    "If thaa winna be a Christian ta get me, tha winna be wun when thaa hes getten me."

    "Thaa wants me ta be a hypocryte then?"

    But Leah had already repented of going so far.  She had meant to be both cold and brief with Luke, and he was already getting the better of her, as he always did in argument.  She felt also that he had caught her, and placed her at a disadvantage, and so, drawing herself up and making an effort, which even her self-restraint could not conceal, she said―

    "Luke, tha's disgraced thisel'; tha's disgraced th' schoo', but tha shall never disgrace me."

    And then, after a moment's pause—"Aw wuish thi weel"—and here her voice became just the least bit unsteady—"an' Aw've tried ta think weel on thi, bud they mun be noa mooar on it.  Gooid-neet, an'—an' God save thi soul."

    And as tears were rushing into her eyes she turned hurriedly away, and in a moment more was indoors.

    Half an hour later Leah stood in the darkness, looking out through the bedroom window with a far-off wistful look.  Presently she lighted a candle, took a little key from her pocket, and opening a small rosewood box which she reached down from the drawer top, took out a little paper parcel containing a small box made of sea-shells, such as can now be bought at any watering-place for a few coppers, but then somewhat of a rarity in a place like Beckside.

    It was only a cheap little toy which a rough lad had bought some four years before on his first and only trip to the "sayside," and which he had kept until it was sadly tarnished before he mustered courage to give it to her.  She was in short frocks then, and very shy, but she had kept it all this time as her one earthly treasure, and had lately had many "fightings within" about the possible sinfulness of keeping it, especially as story after story of Luke's pranks came to her.

    But now she stood looking at it with unwonted softness in her beautiful eyes.  Suddenly she made a sort of grab at it as if intending to destroy it, but she only took it in her hands and turned it over and over.  Then with a quick start she threw it on the bed, and stood back as if it had suddenly become a venomous reptile seeking to wound her.

    After standing there and looking at it, half in fear and half in covetous desire, she took it up again, kissed it hastily, as if afraid of being caught in the act, hurriedly dropped it into their rosewood case, and then turned abruptly to the window and stood looking long and silently out, heaving many long soft sighs as she did so.

    Then she backed away from the window, and sat down on the bed; and presently sliding softly to her knees, and burying her beautiful face in her hands, she cried―

    "O Lord, Aw darr na loike him, but it conna be wrung to pray fur him.  If Tha'll save his soul Thaa can give him to onybody Thaa loikes.  O Lord, save him."

    Meanwhile the event of the day was being discussed in all its bearings at the Clog Shop, or, rather, in the Clog Shop garden, for the heat was so stifling that the chairs had been taken to the back door, where, in the long Sabbath evening, Luke and his transgressions were comprehensively considered.

    Sam Speck, in his shirt-sleeves, emphatically approved of Jabe's action in the matter.  Nathan and Jonas talked more mildly, but, nevertheless, heartily supported him.  Long Ben said little.  He never could be relied upon where firmness was required; but as he was not quite so mysterious and circuitous in his conversation as he generally became when in reluctant dissent, it was concluded that he agreed as much as he could be expected to do.

    Jabe, so far from being elated by the commendations he received, accepted them somewhat restively, and it was clear that he was far from being at ease with himself. He was constantly bringing the conversation back to the subject of Luke, and though nobody questioned what he had done, his every word had a defensive and almost apologetic tone about it.

    All this time Lige the road-mender had been sitting with his back against the rain-tub, puffing out volumes of smoke at express rate, whilst he was evidently giving more than usual attention to the conversation.

    The fact that he had never spoken was not noticed, especially as his opinions, loudly and frequently repeated though they were, were not generally regarded as of much importance, being almost always feeble reflections of Sam Speck's or Jabe's.

    Great, therefore, was the amazement of all when, just at the close of one of Jabe's most successful efforts at self-justification, Lige suddenly rose to his feet.  Standing before the Clogger, and stretching forth his hand in emphatic gesticulation, whilst his face looked fierce and excited, he cried, glaring almost savagely at Jabe―

    "It's th' biggest blunder tha's iver made."

    The whole thing was so sudden, and the source from whence it came was so unusual, that all eyes were suddenly turned on Lige in astonishment, and Jabe's jaw dropped with significant bewilderment.

    "Naa, Aw meean it," shouted the excited Lige.  "If some o' yo' owd bachelors hed a lad or tew o' yur own, yo' wouldna be sa keen at bullocking other foakses."

    Then everybody suddenly remembered that Lige's only child was a long-absent prodigal, wandering nobody knew where, and there was a rapid softening of scowling faces and a nervous clearing of throats.

    But Jabe, with much more inward agitation than he cared to show, and most unusually sensitive to criticism, replied―

    "Whey, he wur feightin' nobbut last neet; feightin' wi' Bob Tommy as is big eneugh ta eight [eat] him."

    This seemed to incense Lige more than ever, and, almost flying at Jabe, he cried―

    "An' dost know wot he wur feightin' abaat?"

    "Neaw."

    "He wur feightin' th' biggest bully i' Brogden Clough 'cause he caw'd thee a limping Methody."

    There was a hasty dropping of heads, partly in startled self-consciousness, and partly in sympathy with the badly hit Clogger.

    Lige glared round upon the company, as if challenging the next to come on, and as nobody responded, he cried―

    "Which o' yo' wur browt up wi' a druffen [drunken] step-fayther?  Which o' yo' hed ta feight his fayther ta save his muther fro' brokken boanes afore he wur fifteen ye'r owd?  Aw'd ha' sum sense if Aw wur yo'!"

    And then, exhausted by his very unusual effort, and alarmed all at once at his own temerity, Lige sank back against the rain-tub, with a look in which defiance and apology were curiously blended.

    It was some time before the conversation flowed freely again.  Lige's outburst not only let loose feelings which had been resolutely held back in Jabe's mind ever since Luke's expulsion, but it greatly disturbed the rest, and Jabe noticed with a pang that Long Ben seemed to want to get away, and, in fact, did depart as soon as he could.  When he had gone the Clogger became morose and raspy, and though Lige made several overtures for reconciliation, Jabe maintained an air of injured dignity towards him.  This sent poor Lige home also; and very soon the party melted away, and Jabe was left alone to torment himself with reproaches.

    On his way home Long Ben was full of commiseration for the disgraced Luke, and began to accuse himself of helping to drive him to the bad.

    There was no half-way house in the Beckside system of ethics, and the boys of the school who showed no inclination to profit by their religious privileges were all described as being on their way "ta th' gallus"; and so by the time Ben reached home he could already see the unhappy Luke sitting in a condemned cell, and accusing him of driving him to his doom.  It was a relief, therefore, to get indoors, for his wife, though given to gentle raillery, was clearheaded and safe in her judgments, and would be almost certain to give him her opinion before she retired to rest.

    But he found Mrs. Ben in a brown study, from which she awoke and glanced at him with a discontented and troubled look as he spoke to her.

    Without replying to an unimportant remark, she arose, and going into the cellar, drew him a pot of foaming dandelion beer.  After taking a long swig at it, Ben held the half-empty pot at arm's-length, and making circles with it in the air to rouse its life, he remarked―

    "Aw wunder wot yond' wastril thinks of hissel' ta-neet?"

    There was no answer, but Mrs. Ben's round face, although almost invisible in the shade, was puckered into ominous frowns.

    Ben waited a while, but as his wife did not respond, he continued―

    "Aw'm feart he'll come ta sum lumber afoor lung."

    "It'll be woss fur thee if he does," jerked out Mrs. Ben sourly.

    Ben caught his breath.  He had expected that his wife would relieve the pressure of the anxiety he was beginning to feel, and lo! here she was adding heavily to it.

    But surely she was only trying to frighten him; and so, with an awkward attempt at indignation, to conceal his uneasiness, he asked―

    "Wot'll it be woss fur me fur?  Wot have Aw ta dew wi' it?"

    Mrs. Ben bent forward and looked dreely at the long-cased clock against the opposite wall, and said very quietly―

    "'Cause aar Leah loikes him."


――――♦――――
 
Leah's Lover.

II.

The Course of True Love.


NOW the word "loike" has undergone a curious reversal or intensification of meaning in its use amongst Lancashire villagers, especially compared with the stronger word "love."

    The natural reticence of the North-countryman leads him to avoid the use of "love" whenever possible; and in Lancashire, "loike," the weaker word, has come to be most commonly used about amatory matters, and expresses the strongest possible affection.

    When, therefore, Mrs. Barber employed this term about her daughter's sentiments towards Luke Yates, there was no room for doubt as to what she meant by it.  And if there had been, Mrs. Ben's manner as she made the statement with which the last chapter closed removed any such possibility.

    Poor Ben was simply overwhelmed.  Amazement, alarm, and profound perplexity took possession of him, and he sat upright in his chair and stared blankly before him in the uttermost consternation.

    It was the last thing in the world he would have expected—so wildly improbable, in fact, that if even his wife had stated it to him under any other circumstances he would have laughed at its utter absurdity.

    He reflected also, when he recovered a little from his first amazement, on what he knew of the quiet intensity underlying the surface stillness of his eldest daughter's nature, and did not need to be told that, if such an affection had really taken possession of her, neither her own judgment nor any other influences in the world whatsoever would upset it.

    But a union between Leah and Luke was an utter impossibility.  They had not a single thing in common,—were, in fact, at extreme opposites in almost all their tastes and sympathies; and how Leah had ever brought herself to give a second thought to such a wild scapegrace he could not imagine.

    Besides, what would people think?  The utter incongruity of the thing would only make it the more exciting and interesting as a subject of gossip; and Ben already heard the rasping voice of Jabe uttering choice pieces of crabbed, sententious philosophy on his favourite subject—the ways and wiles of women.

    These and many other like thoughts rushed through the slow-moving mind of the carpenter with most unwonted rapidity, and the more he thought the more entangled and terrible did the dilemma appear; and at length he turned his eyes back upon his wife and gazed at her with helpless stupidity.

    But Mrs. Ben was almost as dumbfounded as her husband, and returned his stare with her round face longer than Ben had ever seen it, and a look of appealing helplessness in her eyes that went to his very heart.

    At length, to break a silence which was fast becoming unbearable, he stammered out "Tha'rt dreamin', woman."

    "Aw wish to God Aw wur," was the reply, in a wailing tone that drove the iron deeper into Ben's soul.

    "Haa hast fun it aat?"

    "Aw wur gooin' past her chamber dur an' Aw yerd her prayin'.  An', oh! if thaa 'ad yerd her, Ben"—and the distressed mother broke into sobs that nearly drove Ben wild.

    The parents sat up long that night, talking in fitful snatches of their trouble, and at length Ben took off his Sunday coat, and dropping down in front of his arm-chair, began the usual evening prayer.  Like many other such petitions, it had become of late years almost entirely an intercession for the children, who were named to God in turn, but to-night, when Ben came to his firstborn and had stammered out, "An', Heavenly Fayther, bless Le――," he broke down, and the two knelt sobbing together on the hearthstone with their newest sorrow weighing heavily on their hearts.

    It goes without saying that neither the carpenter nor his wife slept much that night, for added to all the other difficulties of the case was the fact that they were both somewhat afraid of their quiet daughter, and neither could see how they were going to approach her on the subject.

    "Well, ther's wun consolation," said Mrs. Ben, as they were dressing in the morning.

    "Wot's that?"

    "Hoo may breik her hert abaat it, bud hoo'll ne'er merry him if he isn't religious."

    But Ben, though not so quick and observant as his wife, had a deeper knowledge of his daughter's nature, and remarked―

    "Aar Leah's th' sooart as 'ull merry a chap to save him—ay, if hoo deed fur it."

    The sigh with which Mrs. Ben responded spoke more eloquently than words could do of her entire endorsement of Ben's opinion now that it had been placed before her, and the two left their bedroom to face the battle of life encumbered by a very heavy anxiety.

    They struggled hard to keep up appearances, especially before Leah, and she, going about her duties as usual, though they watched her with love's keen closeness, gave not the slightest sign that anything was the matter.

    But the shock of the discovery and the suspense together were telling very heavily on both the carpenter and his wife, so much so that Ben's looks and manner awakened the curiosity and concern of the Clogger, and placed Ben in an awkward dilemma.  If he went to the Clog Shop he was in momentary dread of a straight question which he could not evade, and if he stayed away it was absolutely certain that Jabe would come in search of him and institute rigorous inquisition.  The Clogger was already in a state of most restless curiosity, though there was no evidence that he had any suspicion of the cause.  Any hour, however, he might take it into his knotty old head to put Ben through a searching cross-examination, or to sound Mrs. Ben on the cause of her husband's depressed and sickly look.  To add to Ben's distress, his wife began to press him to speak to Leah about the matter; and though at first he nearly lost his temper, and utterly refused to do anything of the kind, yet the growing restlessness of the mother and his own anxieties compelled him to admit that the thing must be done somehow.

    Then he delayed and postponed the terrible task on the ground of lack of proper opportunity, every time being the wrong time; and once, when a chance of unusual favourableness presented itself, he got so very flurried and hastened from Leah's presence so abruptly as to make the quiet maiden open her eyes in momentary surprise.

    But Leah was too much occupied with her own affairs to give much thought to her father.  Her heart was fighting a severe battle with her principles, and giving her an altogether uncomfortable time.  Ever since that sad Sunday she had been reproaching herself, not for dismissing her clandestine lover, but for not giving him his congé [Ed.―Formal or authoritative permission to depart] more kindly.

    She could never admit in her most secret heart that there was any excuse for Luke's conduct, but she began to remind herself that he had had a harsh stepfather, and a sickly mother, who had now been dead for some two years, and that since then he had lived in lodgings.  It had only been by a doggèd pertinacity which would not be rebuffed that her lover had got on even speaking terms with her since they had been grown up.  And then Luke, though disreputable, was very popular somehow with the young women of the village, and might have had many a girl whom she knew.  Besides, there must be some good somewhere in a lad who gave such a decided preference to a quiet, religious girl like herself.

    Altogether Leah's mind was greatly disturbed, and to make matters worse, Luke, the irrepressible, who could not be snubbed or shaken off either by coldness or ill-treatment, had taken her at her word for the first time and was keeping carefully out of the way.  And worst of all, he had never been to chapel since the day he was expelled from the school.  Twice indeed she had seen him pass the house, but he never even turned his head that way.

    One evening, about this time, she was sitting in the parlour skinning rhubarb for rhubarb wine, and meditating abstractedly on her peculiar situation, when the front door opened and in stepped her father.

    Now, Ben had told himself twenty times that all he needed was a proper opportunity of speaking with his daughter, and that the fates were most strangely against him; nevertheless, when he thus came suddenly upon a chance that was unexceptionable, his heart dropped into his clogs, and he would doubtless have retreated but for the fact that it seemed difficult to do so without appearing remarkable, and so, after a guilty start and a moment of hesitation, he sauntered awkwardly into his chair and took refuge in his pipe.

    It was Providence.  There was nothing for it but to have it out with Leah; but when—whilst he was still meditating how to begin—Sally Meadows, one of Leah's fellow Sunday-school teachers, opened the front door and asked Leah to go for a walk, Ben became quite earnest in urging her to accept.  Leah quietly excused herself, however; and Ben sank back into his chair with a faint look of disappointment and even irritation on his face.

    A minute or two later Leah opened the front door to relieve the air of the room; and Ben got up a little debate with himself as to whether it would be proper to discuss such delicate matters as were in his mind with an open door, but he could not quite convince himself that the interview ought to be postponed, and so, after fidgeting in his chair and furtively eyeing Leah over until he had taken a complete inventory of her garments, he finally coughed, cleared his throat, turned his head round and glanced uneasily through the window, and then commenced—

    "Thaa leuks badly, wench.  Artna weel?"

    "Yi, Aw'm reet enuff," answered Leah, composedly, but with an alert little glance at her father out of the corner of her eye.

    "Then thaa must be i' luv.  Hast started o' cooartin'?"

    Ben said this with an attempt at jocularity, but a slight choking sound in his throat betrayed him to Leah's anxious ears, and in a moment her white face had become a rich crimson.  She felt she was blushing, and betraying herself, which only made the colour deepen on her face and neck, and she made a feeble little effort to save herself.

    "Eh, fayther, haa yo' talk.  Yo' mak' me goa red."

    "Wheer ther's smook ther's feire," said Ben, still keeping up a show of fun, but with strange nippings about the heart.

    Leah started to her feet with confusion and fear.  Another moment and she would have to choose between an impossible falsehood and an equally impossible confession.  The picture she had conjured up in her mind of her father's horror, if ever he discovered to whom she had given her heart, filled her with dismay.  There was nothing for it but to flee.  In another moment she would have been safe in her bedroom, but Ben suddenly crossed the floor, dropped heavily into the mother's chair by her side, and faltered out—

    "Leah, my hert tells me as ther's summat wrung.  Naa, wot is it, wench, wot is it?"

    Leah worshipped her father, and this unwonted tenderness in his tone moved her profoundly.  She went white to the lips, gasped a little for breath, her head fell on her heaving bosom, she began to pick nervously at the hem of her apron, but never a word could she get out.

    Ben, with shaking hand, laid down his pipe, drew his chair nearer to hers, and Leah trembled to feel her father's arm slowly stealing round her slim waist.  Lancashire folk are always very sparing of caresses and tender words, and Leah never remembered her father treating her like this before.  She struggled feebly to escape, but he held her tight, drew her still closer to him, and then murmured—

    "Aw dunna want to meddle, thaa knows, bud tha'rt t' leet o' my een, wench.  Wot's up wi' thee?"

    A convulsive shudder went through Leah's frame; she made a supreme effort, turned her face, white but resolute, to her father, and looking him full in the face, said—

    "Fayther, Aw'm niver goin' fur t' merry.  Niver! soa dunna fret abaat me," and then with a sudden wrench she tore herself from her father's grasp and fled to her own little bedroom.

    Ben heaved a great sigh, fell back into his chair, and groaning, "Lord, help us," closed his eyes in troubled reflection.

    He had got more out of his daughter than he expected, and what he had learnt confirmed his worst apprehensions.

    Just at that moment he heard the garden gate click and a limping footstep come up the garden.  Then the door opened, and Jabe, looking very resolute and aggressive, stepped across the threshold.

    "Oh, tha'rt theer arta?  Wot art mopesin' i' th' haase fur?" he demanded, glaring fiercely at his friend, but Ben only handed the tobacco-box and sat staring before him.

    Jabe suspected that Ben's continued depression had a financial origin, and he glanced round the room and through the door into the kitchen in search of Mrs. Ben, who was always his chief supporter in his periodical attacks upon the carpenter for allowing people to get into his debt.  But his ally was nowhere to be seen, and Jabe was constrained to go to the battle alone.  After puffing away in grim silence for a few moments, staring hard the while at a fancy shoehorn hanging at the side of the mantelpiece, he demanded, without deigning to turn his head—

    "Haa lung is it sin' Jerry Mopper paid thee owt?"

    "Setterday," was all the response Ben gave.

    "Haa mitch does that leave?"

    "Nowt."

    Jabe turned his head half round for a moment, and an expression of surprise escaped him, and then he relapsed once more into an earnest contemplation of the shoe-horn.  If Jerry Mopper had at last paid off his long-standing account, Ben could not be troubled about finances.  But Ben had never before even attempted to conceal any other of his troubles from him.  His curiosity increased, and with it came a feeling of resentment softened by a vague apprehension of some unknown calamity impending over the Barbers.  And so the two sat in silence, each apparently oblivious of the other's presence, Ben longing to unbosom himself, and yet terrified at the thought of such a thing, and Jabe piqued, puzzled, and increasingly uneasy at his friend's most unusual manner.

    The silence continued, and the shoe-horn would have blushed if it could under the fierce, annihilating stare of the Clogger.  At last, however, Jabe could hold no longer, and rising to his feet, still glaring at the shoe-horn, he cried, with scornful sarcasm—

    "Ther's ta mitch neyse here fur me.  Aw'll goa wheer it's quieter," and with his nose very high in the air he stalked stiffly out of the house.

    Left to himself, Ben was more miserable than ever.  And though he followed the Clogger after awhile to the shop, and tried to atone for his conduct by taking some interest in the conversation, yet being compelled to leave early lest Jabe should reopen the inquisition, he went away, feeling that for the first time for nearly thirty years a shadow had come between him and his old friend.

    Several weeks passed after this, and still there was no change in the situation, except that Luke, the cause of all the trouble, had removed to Clough End to lodge, although he still worked at the mill.  Meanwhile Leah went about her work just as usual, but although Ben noticed it, and took it as a hopeful sign, Mrs. Ben's sharper eyes showed her that her daughter was still feeling her trouble.

    She grew paler still, and very nervous.  Her mother would come upon her gazing out of the window with a painfully abstracted look, and once she caught her hurriedly wiping her eyes.  Anxious for her daughter's health, Mrs. Barber now began to invent errands for Leah which would take her into the open air, and comforted herself with the thought that it seemed like doing Leah good.

    One evening later in the summer Leah had been sent to Lamb Fold with a basket of fruit and eggs for her grandmother.  Lamb Fold was on the hill on the other side of the Beck, and the road to it ran along Shaving Lane, and over a plank bridge a quarter of a mile higher up the Clough than the village.

    The evening was soft and calm, and Leah, as she returned, was beginning to forget herself in the sweet stillness about her.  Just as she had reached the home side of the plank a stick snapped just before her, and lifting her head quickly, she found herself face to face with Luke, who had evidently been crouched behind a gate-post and perhaps waiting for her.

    Leah started with a bitter cry, and looked hastily about for a way of escape, but Luke was too quick for her, and stepping between her and the little bridge, effectually barred the passage in that direction.

    A flash of haughtiness came into the girl's eyes, and she lifted them to Luke's face as if to annihilate him.

    But Luke's face was such a roguish, laughing, irresistible one, and withal had at any an rate such an appearance of open frankness, that the moment her eyes and his met, her anger began to fade, and a helpless, almost foolish feeling took possession of her.

    "Wot dust want?" she asked faintly, as if out of breath.

    "Want, wench?  Aw want thee," and then suddenly seeming to see more in his own words than he had intended, he went on.  "Ay, that's just wot Aw dew want, ta mak' me a gradely mon.  If Aw hed thee, Aw could be a dacent chap.  Aw could be a Methody; ay, if tha'd a moind thaa could mak' me into a, a—cherubim," and Luke laughed at the unexpected brilliance of his own fancy.

    There was a momentary pause, and then Leah said—

    "Aw yer tha's started o' drinkin'."

    Luke seemed to be about to deny this, but a second thought striking him, he said—

    "An' wot if Aw hev?  Aw've nowt else ta dew wi' my brass.  Aw've noa whoam ta goa tew an' noa muther and noa sister nor noabry."

    Quick stabs of pity and self-reproach pricked at Leah's tender heart.  She paused a moment to obtain control of herself, and then she said as calmly as she was able—

    "If thaa wants me, whey dust keep gettin' i' sich lumber?"

    "Lumber? it's nowt but marlockin'.  Thaa talks as if it wur lyin' or thievin', or summat,"and Luke put on an excellent imitation of injured innocence.  Leah felt herself giving way, and taking alarm thereat, she said—

    "Aw've towd thi mony a toime as Aw shanna merry onybody as isn't a Christian.  Aw darna if Aw wanted."

    And now Luke seemed to be really annoyed.

    "Ay," he cried, "if Aw'd start o' sniggering, an' pooin' a fiddle face, an' gooin' up to th' penitent form, tha'd ha' me.  Bud, Leah," he cried, flaming up and looking really handsome, Leah thought, in his indignation,—"Aw'd dew fur thee wot Aw wouldna dew fur aw th' wold beside.  Aw'd work fur thee, Aw'd slave fur thee, Aw'd dee fur thee, bud Aw winna be a hypocryte even fur thee.  If Aw'm iver convarted it ull be a gradely convarsion, wun as Aw should be satisfied wi' mysel', an' not a woman-catching dodge."

    But Leah scarcely heard the last sentences.  Her woman's pride was touched, and so, drawing herself up with a look of proud disdain, she asked in cold surprise―

    "Wot art botherin' abaat, then?"

    But Luke's excitement had vanished as quickly as it came, and dropping once more into his old wheedling tones,—the most dangerous of all his moods to Leah,—he said earnestly—

    "Leah! Aw loike thi that weel, Aw'm feart o' mysel'.  When Aw see thi Aw want ta goa reet off to th' penitent form to get thi.  An' that ud be wuss nor aw.  Leah, little, bonny, breet-eed Leah, tak' me as Aw am."

    As Luke spoke, and his passion increased, he drew gradually nearer to her, and as he finished he suddenly raised his arms, and in another moment would have had her in his embrace, but just then a couple of strollers came round the top corner of the lane, and Leah, seeing them, stepped back just in time, as she thought, to save appearances, whilst Luke, suddenly checking himself, and realising that he must not compromise his sweetheart in the eyes of the villagers, jumped the hedge, scudded off into the fields behind, and was gone.


――――♦――――
 
Leah's Lover.

III.

A New Finger in the Pie.


NOW the couple whose sudden appearance round the corner of Shaving Lane had brought Luke and Leah's interview to such an abrupt termination, happened to be Johnty Harrop and his wide-awake little wife, whom our readers have met before in these chronicles.  Johnty, of course, saw nothing, and was not even aware of Leah's presence in the lane until they actually met her on the way home, when the unsuspecting "Minder" glanced at her and remarked, when she had passed, that Leah was losing her good looks.

    But Mrs. Johnty had seen, trust her for that, and was so absorbed in what she had observed, that she did not seem to hear what her husband was saying.  She was amazed.  The little scene was a revelation to her.  As the next-door neighbour of the Barbers, she saw a good deal of them, and, being a kind little soul, had got of late somewhat deep into Mrs. Ben's confidence.  They had talked over the flag fence of the front garden, and over the low wall at the back, and once or twice of late Mrs. Ben had dropped hints about being worried about Leah; and Susy, whilst very sympathetic, had felt that her friend's anxiety was oddly out of proportion to any change she could perceive in Leah.  And the thing, though she had not dwelt much upon it, had puzzled her.

    Now it was clear as noonday.  She only knew Luke by sight, but she was well aware of his reputation, and realised what an inappropriate match it would be, and what scandal would be caused in the village if it ever came to anything.

    And with Susy to think was to act.  Her sympathies went out strongly towards Mrs. Ben and her husband, though she was young enough to feel very tenderly towards Leah.  She wondered how much Mrs. Ben knew.  Had she any idea that her daughter was thus entangled?  And especially did she know to whom Leah had given her heart?  Or was she only uneasy about Leah's manner and sickly looks?  She must be careful if she tried to help them lest she did more harm than good; and having not so very long since had secrets of her own, she felt she must be as kind and helpful as possible to such a "noice quiet wench" as Leah.  At anyrate she would keep the secret, unless she found she could use it to good purpose, and in the meantime she would get all the information she could.

    It seemed difficult to do anything with the Barbers at present, so she would begin on the easier task of getting to know something definite about Luke.  Her unsuspicious husband was, of course, easily drawn, and before she got home from their little stroll she had ascertained his view of the case as far as Luke was concerned.

    Johnty commenced by calling Luke a "gallus young wastril," at which, of course, Susy was not surprised, though she affected to be.  On being deftly led out into particulars, however, the Minder became very hazy, and, after contradicting himself several times, he explained—

    "He's nor a gradely bad un, thaa knows; nowt o' th' sooart.  Bud he's that mischeevious."

    "Wot's he dew at th' shop [mill]? " asked Susy.

    "He's a mechanic."

    "Then he'll mak' good wages, winnot he?"

    "Oh ay, an' he owt dew.  He's nobbut twenty-one, but he's th' best mechanic abaat th' place."

    "It's a pity he wur turnt aat o' th' schoo'; he'll happen goa wrung."

    "Nay, nor him.  He's plenty o' sense, Luke has, on'y he's so gammy wi' it.  As for them owd jockeys at th' Clog Shop, they durn't know ivverything by a foine soight.  But," he went on, suddenly remembering himself, "what dust want to know fur?"

    But Susy very easily put Johnty off, and went to bed to make plans for extending the range of her inquiries.

    During the next few days she gathered a great deal of information.  By assuming tentatively a censorious tone towards Luke, and commending the action of the Sunday-school authorities, she drew out of her unsuspecting neighbours many interesting particulars.  Luke was, a "wik un if iver ther' war wun,"  "a marlockin', pace-eggin' young imp," and so on.  Some of the victims of Luke's mischievous pranks used language that ought not to have been employed to a lady, and which of course cannot be written down here.  It was clear that Luke was the ringleader of all the mischief and practical joking in the neighbourhood, and a very sad character altogether.  When questioned, however, on the more strictly moral aspects of Luke's character, her informants showed considerable hesitation and difference of opinion, and most agreed that the expulsion from the school was an extreme step.

    Now Mrs. Johnty had more than her share of woman's secret admiration for a young fellow who was "lively," and had herself suffered much by misrepresentation.  She really could get at nothing very wicked in Luke's character, and so before long she had conceived quite a prejudice in his favour, and was beginning to range herself on his side.

    At last she found herself in conversation with old Mary Jane, with whom Luke had lodged previous to his recent removal to Clough End.  She overtook the old woman coming from the mangle, and carried her basket for her.  As they approached Susy's house she invited her in to rest and have "a sooap o' tay," which invitation Mary Jane promptly accepted.

    "Yo'll ha' some peace naa yond' wild good-fur-nowt's left, Aw reacon, Murry Jane," Susy began, watching her visitor as she did so.

    "Peace! wot dust meean?  Whoa art talkin' abaat?"

    "Whey, that Luke.  He led yo' a bonny life Aw reacon."

    Mary Jane's mouth had opened in astonishment and perplexity at Susy's words, but it suddenly closed like a trap, her lips tightened, and pausing with the teacup in one hand and the saucer in the other, she said slowly—

    "If them as runs him daan and turns him aat wur hawf as gooid, they'd be a foine soight better 'an they are."

    "Hay, Murry Jane, has yo' talken.  Whey, they aw say as he's a hard-herted young wastril."

    "Hard-herted!  Sithee, wench, his hert's as sawft as a woman's.  When Aw wur badly with pains Aw've seen him stop' o'er me, an' skrike loike a chilt.  He's bowt me mony an' mony a bottle o' Eli's drops."

    "Aw reacon he paid yo' weel," said Mrs. Johnty, suspecting a possible mercenary motive for the old woman's praises and regrets.

    "Paid me!  Ay, he did that!  Bud Aw'd ha' kept him fur nowt if he'd ha' stopped.  He wur a foine soight better tew me nor me own, Aw con tell thi."

    "Bud wot did he leeave th' village fur?" asked Susy.

    Mary Jane paused a moment, dropped into a low, confidential tone, and proceeded―

    "Aw'll tell thi, wench.  He ne'er thowt they'd a turnt him aat o' th' schoo'.  An' when they did, he wur that takken to, he wur fair shawmed of hissel'.  He wur that ill off abaat it, he couldn't abide.  It mak's me badly to think has he leuked when he thowt Aw wurn't watching him."

    "It's a wunder he's ne'er started o' cooartin'—bud whoa'd hev him?" remarked Susy.

    "Hev him?  Bless thi, they wur niver off th' dur-step, if they thowt he wur abaat.  An' Aw' durn't wonder, if they know'd him as weel as Aw dew, they'd ha' bin feightin' fur him."

    Much more to the same purpose was said, and when Mary Jane resumed her journey home, with two of Susy's hot tea-cakes in her clothes-basket, she left behind her a little woman who was almost as stout a supporter of Luke as she was herself.  Still, in such a case, in which there was so pronounced a difference of opinion in the village, it was necessary to be very careful, and to get all the light possible, and so she decided that she must get acquainted somehow with Luke himself, and make a personal study of him.  But how?  She did not see her way at all at first, and it was a day or two before she could decide what to do.

    One evening, however, when Johnty came home from his work, he found his little wife in a state of impatience and distress.  Her sewing machine had broken down.  Such implements were comparatively rare at that time, and there was no person in Beckside or the neighbourhood who could be called in to do repairs.  Hitherto Johnty, who, as a minder, had considerable knowledge of machinery, had served his wife's purpose, and of course, as soon as he had had his "baggin'," he had to set to work on the broken sewing machine.  In a few minutes all was apparently right again, and Susy set to work afresh.  Most provokingly the machine went wrong again, and as often as Johnty repaired it, so often did it break down again after a minute or two's working.

    "Is they' noabry else abaat as understands sewing machines?" asked Susy at last in a well-dissembled tone of despair.  Johnty could think of nobody, and laughed when Susy suggested Nathan the smith.

    "Is ther' noabry at th' shop [mill] as is handy an' cliver?" she asked, with a show of great impatience.

    "Neaw," answered her husband,—considering slowly as he spoke,—"noabry bud Luke Yates."

    "Him!" cried Susy, with apparently most genuine scorn.  But presently, after suggesting two or three improbable persons, she said, with a clever simulation of reluctance—

    "Well, Aw mun hev it done, chuse haa.  Bring him tew his baggin' ta-morra neet.  He winna eight [eat] us, Aw reacon."

    Johnty promised to do so.  Next night Luke was brought, and though shy and awkward at first, the beguiling chatter of the Minder's wife soon set him at his ease, and he laughed and joked and told stories until the disabled machine seemed in danger of being entirely forgotten.

    Presently, however, Johnty suggested an examination, and Luke brought all his mechanical resources to bear on the matter.  Now, Johnty could not for the life of him see that the young mechanic had done anything to the machine but what he had already done himself.  But, strange to say, it worked without the slightest inclination to relapse, and the audacious Susy actually chaffed her husband on his deplorable lack of skill.  This, of course, had its effect on Luke, who stayed on and chatted, and still stayed, until Susy really couldn't send him away without supper.  And as the meal was a very tasty one and very much to Johnty's tooth, he ate it and joked about it, and then actually went and saw Luke part of the way home to Clough End without even the glimmer of an idea that his wife had been, as he would have termed it, "bamboozling" him.

    Susy's mind was now made up.  She had taken her measure of Luke, and honestly liked him.  If possible, he should have his rights in popular esteem at any rate.  The Barbers should know what he was like.

    "My machine's aw reet naa," she said to Leah's mother over the flag fence the following night.  "Aar Johnty browt Luke Yates tew it, an' he put it reet in a jiffy,—hay, but he's a cliver lad wi' his fingers."

    Mrs. Ben gave a slight start, and glanced suspiciously at Susy, whose face at that moment would have disarmed a detective.

    "He's cliver at aw mak' o' mischief, Aw know that," was the sharp answer.

    "Ay!  Aw reacon soa," sighed Mrs. Johnty in affected sympathy with her neighbour.  "Bud yo'd ne'er think soa.  A dacenter behaved lad Aw wouldna wish to see i' my haase."

    Mrs. Ben was listening with an almost painful interest, and the crafty Susy continued with studious deliberateness—

    "Ther's wun thing abaat him; he burs na malice.  He spak' weel o' booath Jabe an' yore Ben last neet.  Them's foine dahlias o' yo'rs, Ellen."

    "Ay," sighed Mrs. Ben, glancing indifferently at the flowers; "bud they say as he's a weary bad un."

    "He's nobbut a bit gallus, full o' gam an' sich loike," replied Susy, tossing her head with careless impatience.  "Aw wouldna give a bodle fur a young felley as hadn't a bit in him; but Aw mun be goin' i' th' haase."

    "Aw'm feart he'll turn aat badly," replied Mrs. Barber anxiously, and stepping nearer to the fence, as if by that means to detain her neighbour.

    "Well, Aw dur tak' him; so theer," rejoined Susy with sudden energy.  "He's gooid wages, an' aar Johnty says as he'll be th' yed mechanic afoor lung, and owd Murry Jane says as he's better tew her nor her own.  An' that's gooid enuff fur me.  Gooid-neet, wench," and, with this last heavy shot, Susan retreated indoors, with a conviction that she had not entirely laboured in vain.

    And she was right, for Mrs. Ben, ready to do anything to relieve the tension of anxiety, soon instituted inquiries on her own account, and told all she discovered to her husband, only to find out, from a slip in Ben's speech, that he had been at the same employment, and was well up in all the details of Luke's character and career.

    As the carpenter sat thinking by the fireside, just before retiring to rest one night, Mrs. Ben came and sat opposite to him, and, whilst darning away at a heap of stockings, began to collect her thoughts, with a view of coming to some understanding, if possible.

    "Ben, dust think aar Leah's getten th' decline?" she said, looking up at him anxiously.

    Ben winced, for this was the very question he was trying to settle for himself at the moment his wife spoke.  But now he belied his own apprehensions by answering shortly―

    "Neaw."

    "Hoo will be afoor lung if things doesn't awter;" and there was a moan in Mrs. Ben's usually cheery tones.

    But Ben saw no way out of the difficulty, so he sat in silence and stared sadly before him.

    They sat in the candle-light for a long time without speaking, and then Ben said―

    "If hoo has him wee'st lose her, and if hoo doesn't have him wee'st lose her.  Hay, dear, my hert's welly brokken!"

    The mother began to sob quietly, and Ben looked at her with a strong inclination to do the same.

    The difficulty to them was very real.  They could have brought themselves, and in fact had brought themselves, to accept Luke as a member of their own family, but when all personal likes and dislikes had been got over there remained still the religious aspect of the case.  The command was to them clear and unalterable that neither they nor theirs were to be unequally joked together with unbelievers.  How could they fly in the face of a plain Divine precept, and how could they expect to prosper if they did?  They could retire from the case, of course, and leave Leah to bear the onus of it herself, but that would be exposing her to a great temptation, and laying upon her a grave responsibility.  As it was, they did share her burden, and were resolved to do so to the end.  Ben, indeed, thought desperately more than once of breaking away from all religious scruples and commanding his daughter to marry Luke, thus taking the whole responsibility on himself, and saving Leah's soul at the expense of his own.  But this mood passed also, and after another long silence Mrs. Ben said―

    "Young wenches allis feels as they wanten ta dew wot they're towd they manna dew.  It's happen o' thatunce wi' aar Leah.  When hoo knows hoo can pleease hersel' hoo'll happen nor be so keen on it."

    "Ellen," replied Ben, "tha knows aar Leah better tin that.  If hoo geet wed an' lost her soul, Aw should feel as if Aw'd scrambled inta heaven o'er her distruction.  Tha can pleease thisel', but moind thi, if owt comes on it, Aw want th' blame ta faw on uz an' nor on her."

    And so the conversation ended, but next day, as Leah seemed rather paler than usual, her mother resolved that she should know their minds on the subject whatever the consequences.  But humble people have often to resort to strange awkward ways of expressing themselves when the matter is one on which they feel deeply, and so as she was sending Leah out on a few errands, she said

    "An' caw at Jabe's an' see if aar Simeon's clogs is done; an', fur goodness sake, wench, donna leuk sa mitch loike a lump o' stoan!  Thaa mak's me fair miserable.  If thaa wants Luke, tak' him, and ha' done wi' it," and before the startled girl could answer she had pushed her out of the door into the front garden that she might not see her mother's painful breakdown.

    Now, this was perhaps the most important communication that Ellen Barber had ever made to her daughter, and it may seem that she did it in a very clumsy way.  But it was her way.  Awkward and bungling it may have been, but its awkwardness was the measure of its eloquence, and to Leah it spoke of a great effort, and a great sacrifice, which were the expressions of a wonderful love.

    Leah was profoundly moved, and had to linger in the garden with her head down among the flowers for some time before she dared to go forth on her business.  She put a severe restraint upon herself as she went about the village, and it was quite necessary, for rumours that she was "in decline" had been commonly circulated, and gave her acquaintances a painful sort of interest in looking at her.

    When her errands were done and she was approaching home, she turned in at the end of Shaving Lane nearly opposite her father's workshop, and in a few minutes was standing near the autumn-tinted hedge, on the very spot where she had had her last interview with Luke.  With her back to the lane, and her face looking up the Clough, she gave full play to her thoughts.

    The law as to marriage with unbelievers, which, according to Beckside canons of interpretation, meant all non-church members, was clear and uncompromising, and the more she thought of it the clearer and more inexorable it became, and never in the whole of the terrible struggle through which she was now passing did she allow that to be obscured for so much as a moment.  That by accepting Luke she would be breaking this law, was distinctly recognised.

    On the other hand, her heart was as full as ever of a deep and quenchless love for Luke.  How it came there she could not imagine.  It had been a constant amazement to herself, and more than once she had tried to convince herself that it was Providence.  Then she realised that the thought was a snare of the devil, and resolutely repressed it and cast it out of her heart.  For some time after their last interview she did not admit to herself even the possibility of renewing the intercourse.  Her remembrance of how soon she might have yielded to the impassioned Luke frightened her.

    But she had scarcely seen Luke since that last struggle.  Oh, where was he!  And then she was startled to discover that the suggestion that he did not care a great deal for her gave her much strange pain.  And then, though she had not seen much of her lover, she had heard, and what she had heard deepened her distress.  She could not forget the rumour about Luke beginning to drink, and she recalled with fresh pain the remembrance that when she charged him with it he had not denied it.  More recently she had been told that there had been an atheist lecturer at Clough End, and that conspicuous amongst the little handful who went to hear him was Luke.  He had several times, in pleading with her, threatened to "run th' country," and only yesterday she had heard that he was preparing to emigrate to America.  What if she had driven him to this?  And what if he went away from Beckside and got amongst wild, lawless people at the ends of the earth?

    Oh, if only they had never turned him out of the school!  Surely, with all his associations and attachments to the chapel and chapel folk, it might not have been difficult to draw him in.  But she knew by this time that Luke, under all his frolicsomeness, had a proud heart, and a strong, masterful will, and that he would probably never come back to the chapel unless she took him.  She was perfectly certain he had a good heart, and good principles, as far as mere morality went, though morality apart from grace was of little account in Beckside theology.  In fact it was generally regarded as a dangerous form of worldly pride and hypocrisy.

    By this time her agitation became so uncontrollable that she feared to be suddenly discovered by a passer-by, and so, yielding to her own restlessness, she crossed the plank bridge, and walked slowly up the field walk to Lamb Fold.  There she turned back, and as the body turned the mind did the same, and she went once more over all the arguments for and against accepting Luke.

    As she returned to the place she had left half an hour before, she began to recall stories of female self-sacrifice of which she had read in the books of the Sunday-school library, but could not remember a case in the least like her own.  Once more Luke's spiritual condition came before her, and the terrible risk of sending him adrift on the world in his present reckless and unregenerate mood.

    Then the thought of self-sacrifice for a beloved one, the sweetest thought that ever touches the deep heart of woman, came once more into her mind, and seemed sweeter and more beautiful than ever.  And at last, leaning heavily against the stone gate-post near her, and, dropping her head on the crossbar of the gate, she cried―

    "Is it my soul fur his, Lord?  Then let it be his.  If Tha'll let me bring him safe to heaven, Thaa can shut th' dur ageean me—if—if—if Thaa con."

    And then the passion subsided.  A calm almost more terrifying to Leah than her former agitation took possession of her, and she went home convinced that she was going to commit the unpardonable sin, but that she was going to save Luke.

    Two days later she had consented to marry him.


――――♦――――
 
Leah's Lover.

IV.

Better Than Her Fears.


BUT Leah's battle was not over when she had given her consent to marry.  The stony calm which existed within her from the time she decided to accept Luke until the moment when she told him so, or, perhaps, more exactly, the moment she was alone after she had told him so, vanished as quickly as it came, and for the next day or two she would have given worlds to recall her consent.

    But Luke evidently knew with whom he had to deal, and for a lovesick swain showed a most singular reluctance to see his sweetheart.  He was "ter'ble busy," he explained hurriedly, when Leah, four or five days after her consent, sought him out.  He had been "puttin' th' axins in" for the marriage, and would be compelled to be absent a good deal just now in order to conform to the law with regard to the question of residence.  It was only years later that Leah learned that they had been married by special licence.

    Besides, Luke urged, he was "up to th' een i' furnishing, an' hadn't toime for nowt."

    Then he took to sending little notes to her, using Johnty Harrop the "minder" as his messenger, and Leah, remembering his schoolboy handwriting, was astonished at the bold, dashing caligraphy of the missives, and half suspected him of employing an amanuensis.  And yet she didn't see how he could.

    The marriage was, of course, a profound secret, and Luke seemed to take a most characteristic pleasure in the fact that the affair was to be, in appearance at any rate, an elopement.  On the few occasions when they did get conversation together, Leah was so preoccupied with desire to draw back from her promise that she never thought of inquiring what arrangements Luke was making as to house, furniture, etc., and Luke, as she pressed him for release, generally sought safety in flight, and brought the interview to an abrupt termination.

    Consequently, when they got into the week on the Saturday of which the wedding was to take place, Leah literally knew nothing of what would be done when the ceremony was over, and was still so preoccupied with her own internal conflict that scarcely a thought of the future passed through her mind.

    The Friday came, the last day of Leah's maidenhood.  She was to meet her lover that night at the end of her father's woodshed, and all day long she was collecting her little personal possessions together one minute, and rehearsing the last passionate appeal she intended to make to Luke for release the next; and as evening drew near her agitation became almost painful, and the hour of tryst seemed as though it would never come.

    Presently, however, she stole out of the back door, trying to nerve herself for what she knew would be a severe struggle, and was just stepping softly towards the yard through the darkness when she heard herself called.  She stopped.  It was not Luke's voice; it was a woman's.  Before she could speak she heard a light footfall near her, and an instant later Mrs. Johnty Harrop's plump little arms were thrown around her, a letter was thrust into her hand, a hot little face, wet with sympathetic tears, was pressed against hers, and a caressing voice murmured, "God bless thi, wench! tha's nowt to fear," then the arms unentwined themselves, there was a flutter of receding skirts, and in a moment Leah was alone again.

    A minute or two later she was up in her own little bedroom, reading Luke's letter with the aid of a candle.

    The epistle was rather longer than usual.  It stated that Luke found that it would be impossible to carry out their arrangements, except by going himself to Whipham on Thursday afternoon.  He had therefore done so.  She was to follow by Saturday morning's coach to Duxbury, and then by train to Whipham, where he would meet her.  Some other directions were given, and then the letter concluded—

    "Keep your heart up, my bonny wench.  In a week's time you shall be prouder of being Leah Yates than ever you were of being Leah Barber."

    Leah read this communication over and over again, and dwelt with a wistful, clinging feeling upon the closing sentences.  She discovered now, for the first time, that she had never really believed that Luke would give her up, or even consent to a postponement, and she was alarmed to find also that there was something in her which would have made her feel disappointed if he had consented.

    She felt, also, as if there was a sort of fate—she dared not call it Providence—in the affair, and that she was being swept on with the current of things in spite of herself, and it somehow relieved and comforted her to think so.

    But why did she dwell so lovingly on the latter part of the letter?  Somehow during all her struggles she had felt a strange faith in Luke in spite of all, and those last words of his seemed to promise that he was going to give her a sweet surprise.  "God grant it might be so!"

    And then she began to wonder where she was going to live.  Probably not in Beckside, and under all the circumstances she felt it was better so, though it was an additional pang to be separated from her beloved ones.

    This was her last night in the old home, the only home she had ever had, and she began to look round with a strange, softly sorrowful look.  She stole into her father's bedroom, and stood long before an old daguerreotype portrait of him hanging over the drawers.  Then she stole downstairs, and as the front room was empty, she took refuge in it, whilst her feelings rose and fell with the different articles that she looked so wistfully at.  She found an old leather-bound Bible, familiar to her from earliest infancy, and kissed it again and again with choking sobs.  Then she fell on her knees on the spot where her father always knelt at family prayer, and laying her cheek on the well-worn cushion of the arm-chair, she began to sob again with a violence that was almost hysterical.  How long she knelt there, in the dim candle-light, she never knew, but presently a voice cried in tones of alarm

    "Leah, what's to dew?"

    And the portly form of her mother stood over her in distressful surprise.

    Leah still hugged the cushion for a moment, and then, with a last impassioned kiss, she rose to her feet and faced her parent.

    "Muther," she said, with grave, sad face, "Aw'm goin' t' leeave yo' aw i' th' morning.  Aw'm goin' to save Luke, if Aw'm lost mysel' fur it.  Aw conna help it, muther."

    Mrs. Ben took her daughter quietly in her arms and held her there in a long, clinging embrace, and at length she murmured―

    "Goa wheer thaa will, wench, an' dew wet thaa will, tha'll allis be aar Leah to uz, an' ther'll allis be a whoam fur thi here woll [whilst] thi fayther an' me lives."

    And then Ben came in and had to be told.  He dropped into his chair, and then down upon his knees, and—  But there are some scenes even in Beckside history too sacred for strange eyes to look upon.

    Next morning, Leah, dressed in her ordinary Sunday clothes, took her seat in the Duxbury coach.  By her own choice she went alone, and sat as deep in the coach as she could get, trembling and quietly weeping, though her heart felt cold and hard as stone.

    The train from Duxbury to Whipham was late that day, and it was half-past eleven before it pulled up at the station.  Luke was there, dressed with a quiet, good taste, which even Leah, in her agitation, could not help noticing with a momentary pride.  Then they hurried into a cab.  Luke seemed sadly extravagant, she thought.  This was the first cab she had ever ridden in, and as the parish church was close at hand, they could have walked in five minutes easily.

    As she walked up the aisle, Leah thought she caught a glimpse of a bonnet she knew, but she had other things to think of.

    The service was commencing.  Dear! dear! was this the garrulous, graceless Luke.  Even in the cab he had not been able to repress his overflowing fun, but here before this silver-haired old vicar he was sobriety itself.  Yes, sober and something more, for if ever a man went with all his heart into the solemn covenant of matrimony that man was Luke Yates.  Leah was puzzled, yet deeply gratified.

    And then it was over, and almost before the minister had said "Amen!" this dreadful Luke threw his arm round her and actually broke out into a great sob; and whilst the first tears she had ever seen there stood brimming in his eyes, he cried, to the amazement of both Leah and the vicar, and the intense amusement of the old sexton—

    "Aw've getten thi.  Aw've getten thi.  Thank God!  Aw've getten thi!"

    Then they adjourned to the vestry, and were preparing to sign the register when the door opened, and the best little bonnet in Beckside, surmounting the merry face of Mrs. Johnty Harrop, appeared in the aperture.  The lively little woman seized Leah and kissed her as though she would never cease.  Behind Susy came the "Minder" himself—sheepish and bashful.  He was just beginning to wish Leah many happy re――" when Susy cried, "Johnty!" and the poor Minder broke down and stammered a sort of apology, but was afraid to attempt any further compliment.

    The register got signed, the Minder and his wife witnessing, and then they went out, and that reckless Luke put them into a cab again, Johnty mounting the box-seat, and they were driven off to a quiet hotel, and there, behold! was a small but frighteningly elegant wedding-breakfast, which Leah felt almost afraid to taste as she thought of its probable cost.

    Breakfast over, Johnty and his wife must go, and, of course, the bridal pair would see them off.  Just as the train moved out, Susy leaned out of the window and cried to Leah―

    "Aw winna say 'Gooid-day,' wench, Aw'st happen see thi ageean afoor lung."

    And she looked so very arch and mysterious as she said it, that Leah was compelled to think that it was welcome news, and felt better after it.

    Now all these things had been done so rapidly and in such a whirl of excitement that Leah had caught some of the infection of it, and felt somehow a most unusual elation, so much so, that when she began to rebuke Luke for his extravagance in cabs, etc., and that triumphant young man pulled a crooked penny out of his pocket, and wickedly declared that it was all he had in the world, Leah had a sudden rush of pride and trust in her new husband, snatched the penny from his hand, and threw it as far as ever she could over the railings, never even stopping to see it flop into the river.

    Then they walked about the town viewing the places of interest, Leah trying to look as little like a bride as she could, and Luke doing his best to make everybody see that he was a happy bridegroom.

    As the afternoon wore on and the excitement subsided somewhat, Leah's anxiety returned, and all the things that she wanted to know began to clamour in her mind.

    "Luke," she said, stopping suddenly in a quiet walk on the edge of the public park and looking gravely at her husband, "tha's towd me nowt abaat nowt yet.  Isn't it toime thaa oppened thi maath?"

    "Hay!  Aw'll tell thi owt as iver thaa wants to know.  Naa, start off.  Wot's th' fust thing?"

    "Wheer are we going fur t' live?"

    "Live?  Whey, i' Beckside; wheer else?"

    Leah was startled a little.  In thinking of her future, so far as she had thought at all, she had somehow imagined herself living away from her native village, and thus escaping some of the consequences of her daring act.  But to think she was going back to face it all out amongst those who knew her took her breath away, and so she faltered faintly—

    "I' Beckside!  Wheerabaats?"

    "I' th' bonniest little haase i' th' Clough."

    Luke spoke these words as though they were a quotation from somebody else, and Leah suddenly remembered that in the only lover's walk she had ever taken with Luke they had passed the cottage of Jimmy Juddy, then just emptied, and which had stood empty ever since, and so she said—

    "No' Jimmy Juddy's owd haase, at th' Beckbottom?"

    "Yi."

    A rush of sweet feeling came upon Leah.  Her face softened; gratification at discovering that a carelessly dropped word of hers had been treasured up by her lover, and woman's pride in the dear little house and garden, which everybody admired, struggled through the veil of her natural reserve, and the light in her eyes was abundant reward to the keenly observant man by her side.

    By this time the early November day was closing in, and the bridal pair made their way to the station en route for Beckside.  As they went along it began to rain and blow, and when they arrived at Duxbury it was as wild and dark a night as Leah had ever been out in.

    However were they going to get home?  The walk at any time would have been quite as much as she could manage, but after such a day, and in such a drenching rain, it seemed madness to attempt it.

    Luke, however, seemed very cheerful about the matter, and laughed at her fears, and when the train stopped, he led the way to a side gate of the station, and before she had time to think, she was safe inside a covered conveyance, and bowling away through wind and rain towards Beckside.

    How reckless Luke was with his money!  He might have come into a fortune by the way he threw it about.  This would be an additional task to the heavy one she had already undertaken, for unless she economised she could see they would soon be ruined.  The wind still swirled and whistled about the coach, and the rain beat against the little window, but Luke and Leah sat in darkness and silence except for occasional laconic remarks about the storm.

    They seemed to be going very slowly, and though they must be getting near their journey's end, and had already passed one or two lighted houses, even the reckless Luke dared not venture to look out.

    A sudden drop made Leah aware that she was going down into Beckside and getting near her new home.

    What sort of place would it be?  She nearly smiled as she imagined her lively husband selecting and arranging furniture, and prepared herself for almost anything that might present itself in the way of ridiculous and even outrageous contrivances.  But she would bear it all.  Luke should see what religion could do for those who had it, and with a temperament such as his she was sure that submissive gentleness would be best.  She was resolved that she would make the very best of what he had provided, and try to use this as one of the means of bringing him to God.

    Just then the coach stopped, and in a moment the door was opened, and she was nearly lifted out by her excited and eager husband.  The rain was still pouring down, and the cottage door, standing open a few yards down the garden, sent forth a most welcome and alluring light.

    "Run, wench, run!" cried Luke. and Leah, in dread of the rain, made all the haste she could.  As she stepped into the doorway, who should rush forward to meet her but Mrs. Johnty Harrop.

    "Here thaa art, wench, at last!  Come in wi' thi," she cried, with face abeam with gladness.

    Leah stepped across the threshold, took a hasty glance round, and then stood stock-still in amazement and alarm,

    Coming in thus from the rain and the inky darkness, with a mind prepared for almost anything except finery, the sight that met Leah's eyes quite overpowered her.

    She took in the situation in a moment.  Luke had evidently got acquainted somehow with the Harrops, and had taken Mrs. Johnty into his confidence, and the result was one of the bonniest and most cosy-looking little houses that Leah had ever seen.

    Such a fire this wild night, and such resplendent fire-irons!  And what armchairs and rockers and fancy cushions!  And, oh, what drawers!  And what a hearthrug!  And of all the fancy clocks— But poor Leah could only stand and look round dumbfounded.

    But at that moment Luke came in behind her, and drawing her forward and down into the rocking-chair, he cried, "Theer!" and stood back to watch her.

    Leah glanced wonderingly round again, and was just about to speak, when she caught sight of a picture hanging over the mantelpiece.  Something familiar about it arrested her eyes, and she rose out of her seat to examine it.  What was it but a picture of the old Beckside Chapel before the alterations!  It was framed in rosewood, and looked as if it had been drawn and coloured by someone whose heart was in his work.  An artist would have seen many faults, doubtless, but to Leah it was just perfect, and great tears welled up into her eyes as she gazed at it.

    Suddenly she wheeled round to speak to Luke, who was deep in whispered converse with Mrs. Johnty at the door going into the back kitchen, but as she did so, her eyes caught another picture on the wall opposite, and, stepping across to it, she discovered a representation in oil of her father's house and premises.  It was a rude attempt, shockingly out of perspective, —the brickwork was very red, and the mortar lines were very white, whilst the garden was a most startling green,—but Leah saw no fault in it at all; and after gazing fondly up at it for a time, she sat quietly down again with a melting heart and pale but smiling lips.

    Then Mrs. Johnty invited Leah upstairs, to take her things off, she said, but really that she might exhibit to her all the grandeur of her little home.  Leah was quietly delighted, and grew softer and tenderer as she looked about.  She had never seen anything like it; and when she had finished her tour of inspection, concluding with another loving look at the pictures, she turned to Luke, who had just come in from the back kitchen, and said, in her grave way—

    "Luke, tha's capped me mony a toime, bud this beeats aw.  Hast paid fur it?"

    Luke's face lighted up with that roguish look, so frightening and still so fascinating to Leah, and he answered, reaching out his arm to snatch hold of her as he did so—

    "Paid for it?  Neaw.  Aw've getten it aw on th' strap."

    In another moment he would have had her in his arms, but she glided away, and Mrs. Johnty coming in, cried—

    "Naa then!  Noa clippin' afoor foak.  Aw'm 'shawmed fur thee, Leah."

    "It wurna me," cried Leah, and the rest laughed derisively; and then Johnty came in from the back kitchen hot and red with making toast, and they sat down to tea.

    During the meal Mrs. Johnty gave Leah a full and particular account of the whole scheme of house furnishing, and wickedly pretended to be afraid to tell what it had cost.  And when Leah in growing alarm pressed her, she presented the bills all duly and regularly receipted.

    They sat for some time after that, until Johnty became quite sentimental, and told about his own wedding-day, and would have enlarged still more upon his domestic experiences, but that Susy, with the air of a woman of sixty, told her husband, "We'd better be piking off whoam; young foak are best by thersel's."

    When the Harrops had gone, Luke and Leah went all over the house again, and Luke explained everything, and exhibited his various purchases, with all their marvels of contrivance and convenience, until Leah was quite overpowered, and her heart was full of the sweet music of the thought that this was Luke's mode of telling her how he loved her.

    When they had gone through everything again, and were just about to sit down, she turned to Luke with a sweetly sad and yet earnest smile, and, touching him on his arm,—the first sign of a caress she had ever given him,—said, as she did so―

    "Hay, lad!  Aw should be th' praadest wench i' Lancashire toneet if on'y tha wur convarted."

    Luke laughed an odd catchy sort of a laugh, and if Leah had been a little more observant she might have noticed a strange light in his brown eyes, but she did not, for the answer he made gave her room she thought for far more serious reflection.

    "Convarted!" he cried.  "Hay!  Aw'st happen convart thee afoor Aw've done."

    And Leah sent up a little prayer that she might be strengthened and saved from so great a fall.

    Presently they began preparing for retiring, and Leah, after another proud yet somewhat pensive look round her little domestic palace, was making for the staircase, when Luke, who was looking very much at home in the easy-chair, called out—

    "Leah!"

    "Wot?"

    "Aw thowt tha caw'd thisel' religious."

    "Weel, Aw am, Aw whop" (hope), and she turned to look at him with a glance of inquiry.

    "Religious foak han family prayers, hanna they?"

    "A-y," said Leah faintly and with sudden loss of breath, and as she sank down on a chair wondering what was coming next, Luke got up and opened a drawer, brought out a new Family Bible, and handing it to her, said―

    "Here!  Tha'd ha' made a rare parson if tha'd bin a mon."

    Leah took the book in a dazed sort of manner, and sat still with it on her lap with feelings too deep for utterance.

    After a few moments' silence, however, she opened the book and began to read a psalm.  Then she slid to her knees.  Luke followed, and she began to pray.

    Hesitantly, blunderingly, at first she spoke, but soon, as the thought of her husband's condition, and the responsibilities she had undertaken, filled her mind, she expressed her desires more freely; and if she had not been so fully occupied she might have observed that her young husband breathed out more than once sounds that were strangely like "Amens!"

    Next morning, as she went about her new domestic duties, constantly discovering fresh evidences of the lavish manner in which Luke had provided for her, her mind was distracted by wondering how they would spend Sunday.  She ought to go to chapel, but she dared not face it.  She could go with Luke, but she had no hope that he would care to meet the people.

    What was her duty?  Ought she to take up her cross and go alone, whatever the consequences, and thus give her husband to see that she was beginning as she intended to go on; or ought she to stay at home with him, and try to restrain him from going off into bad company, as she felt sure she could do if she chose?  Then she might gradually wean him from his dangerous associations, and some day, perhaps, she might coax him back to chapel.

    A little before chapel time Luke came downstairs dressed in his Sunday best.

    "Come, wench, artna gettin' ready?" he cried in mild surprise.

    "Ready?  Wot fur?  Wheer are we goin'?"

    "Goin'?  Whey to th' chapil, arna we?"

    And Leah sat down and cried, a soft sweet little cry it was in which her heart overflowed in thankful surprise and relief.  She could face the chapel folk easily now; and in a few minutes they were crossing the fields in the shy November sunlight, Leah feeling as proud of her husband as he evidently was of her.

    There was a buzz of sensation as they entered the little sanctuary, followed by much whispering, and when Long Ben, looking depressed and nervous, opened the vestry door for the preacher to pass into the pulpit, and caught sight of them, he stood for a moment transfixed, and then hastily closed the door, and it was far on in the service before he mustered courage to come into his own pew.

    When the service was over, Ben came down the chapel and mutely shook hands with them; the juvenile Barbers somewhat shyly followed him, and gathering round Leah, asked all sorts of embarrassing questions, while Luke stood by with growing delight as he listened to his young wife's brave answers.

    At the evening service Luke and Leah turned up again, and to everybody's astonishment, and most of all to Leah's, Luke insisted on staying to the prayer-meeting.

    As the meeting proceeded there was a mysterious pantomimic display going on over the heads olf the kneeling worshippers.  Jonas Tatlock and Sam Speck were standing up and nodding their heads to Lige the road-mender, who sat near the young couple, pointing significantly at them as they did so.  But Lige shook his head and jerked his thumb behind him towards Jabe in the back pew.  Presently Sam left his seat, and going on tiptoe to the Clogger's pew, he leaned over and whispered―

    "Artna goin' ta speik ta yond' lad?"

    "Goa thisel'," was the somewhat sulky rejoinder, for Jabe was suffering inward torment.  "It 'ud leuk better if thaa went; thaa turnt him aat, thaa knows."

    "Weel, Aw shanna;" and considering that they were in a prayer-meeting, the Clogger's tone was simply shocking.

    After another unsuccessful attempt, Sam went back to his seat, and the meeting closed somewhat prematurely.

    Meanwhile Long Ben, sitting in his pew, had made up his mind to a great deed.  As soon as Leah had gone on Saturday morning, he went up to the Clog Shop and told his old friend what was taking place that day, and it was some time before he could make Jabe believe what he said.  When he did realise it, however, all the stiffness which had come between them of late melted away in an instant, and though the fact was shown by neither word nor act, Ben knew that he had, if possible, a deeper place than ever in his old friend's love and care.

    Ben, therefore, secure in the support of Jabe, hastened out of the chapel the back way as the meeting was dispersing, and stopping the young couple as they came out, he said—

    "Yo' tew mun come daan ta aar haase."

    To Leah's surprise, Luke seemed glad of the invitation, and his face did not change in its happy look even when Jabe and Sam Speck were invited.

    Beyond a long careful look at her daughter as she shyly entered, Mrs. Ben gave no signs of any unusual feeling, and in a few minutes they were all seated comfortably round the supper-table.  Comfortably, that is, as far as mere accommodation was concerned, for in every other respect the gathering was a failure, and everybody seemed awkward and taciturn.

    The food was eaten almost in silence.  A few words were said about the sermon and the weather, but nobody made even the faintest allusion to the great event that was uppermost in everybody's thoughts.

    Luke, however, seemed to be eating rapidly, but it was more as a stimulating accompaniment to his own very active thoughts than because of any particular relish for the food.

    Just as they were about to return thanks, Luke lifted his head, and looking towards the Clogger, said—

    "Jabe, Aw want ta thank thi fur turnin' me aat o' th' schoo'."

    Everybody looked up in astonishment, but as nobody spoke, Luke went on―

    "Aw ne'er know'd haa mitch Aw loiked it till then, bud that made me think, Aw con tell yo'!  Ay, an' feel tew!  That schoo' and this wench"— laying his hand gently on Leah's shoulder—"has saved my soul."

    Leah started up, with a glad, eager cry.

    "Ay, wench!" Luke went on, looking down upon her with a burning glance, "tha's saved mi soul.  Aw allis loiked thi, and the moor religious thaa wur, the moor Aw loiked thi.  Aw dunno say as thaa did reet i' th' sight o' God wi' takkin' me, bud thaa did it.  An' when Aw seed thi riskin' thi soul ta save me, it fairly knocked me o'er.  Bud, wench, Aw'm convarted.  Aw've bin convarted welly a fortnit, an' if God helps me, tha'st ha' the best husband i' Beckside.  Bless thi!  Bless thi!"

    The scene that followed baffles description.  Whether poor Ben, or his wife, or the still Leah, or Luke himself, was most excited, it would be difficult to say, but for the next two hours tongues were going and joys were being reciprocated until everybody felt young and bright again.

    When at last the company began to break up, Jabe, who had been strangely silent all evening, drew Luke aside into a corner, and said in a subdued voice―

    "Dost smook, lad?"

    "Ay!  A bit."

    "Ther's a seeat fur thi at th' Clog Shop feire ony toime tha's a moind ta come."

    And that being as near to an acknowledgment of mistake as Jabe could ever be expected to come, no more was ever said between them about Luke's expulsion.



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