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Sally's Redemption.

I.

Unreciprocated Advances.


"SAM."

    "Wot."

    "Yo' men's noa feelin's."

    The speaker was Lottie Speck, Sam's long, angular, yellow-haired sister.  She stood between the cupboard door and the edge of the table, and had been for some moments looking abstractedly through the front window.

    "Wot's up wi' thi naa? " demanded Sam, who was busy mending a fiddle.

    "Ther's poor Sniggy yond', goin' abaat loike sumbry dateliss sin' his muther deed, an' tha's niver bin th' mon az hes axed him ta hev' a sooap o' tay wi' thi'.  Neaw, nor even of a Sunday.  It wodna cap me if his trubbel druv him ta th' drink ageean; an' if it dooas, he'll be wur nor iver."

    Sam lifted his head from his fiddle with a look of dull astonishment.  This was never his hard, unsympathetic shrew of a sister!  Ask anybody to tea!  Why he hadn't dared to do such a thing for he couldn't tell how long.  And the memory of the last occasion on which he did so was even yet a vision of terror to him.  Whatever was coming over Lottie?

    "Aw'll ax him ta-morn if thaa wants him," he said at length, gazing at his sister in puzzled surprise.

    "Me?  Aw dunna want him!" and Lottie tossed her head in lofty disdain.  "Aw want noa felleys slotching abaat me, Aw con tell thi."  And Lottie began to examine herself critically in the little looking-glass on the wall.

    Sam said no more, but he resolved that if he had really caught his sister in an unusually amiable mood he would make the most of it whilst it lasted, and Sniggy should be invited on the very next day.

    But whatever could it mean?  Was this nipping, harsh sister of his, who ruled him with a rod of iron, and ordered him about as if he had been a slave, relenting?  Had he been mistaken?  Was there a soft place in that thin, bony body after all?  Well, he would hope so; and in better spirits than he had felt for many a day, Sam hung his fiddle up and sauntered off to the Clog Shop.

    But even in the short distance between that great establishment and his own cottage, Sam's surprise overcame him again, and he whistled a long, low whistle of wonderment, and stopped in the middle of the road to marvel.

    Well, wonders never cease certainly, but this was the greatest surprise of all, and Sam jerked his head in amazement and resumed his journey.

    But, somehow, he couldn't help having misgivings.  He was anxious enough to believe that this was the sign of a change in Lottie, but it was really so entirely contradictory to her ordinary manner and spirit that he couldn't believe in it, do what he would.  And as for lasting!  Well, if Lottie held out for a week in her present state of mind he would give women up as insoluble riddles, as his great mentor declared they were.

    Sam soon made it right with Sniggy.  That worthy having lost Old Molly, his mother, a few weeks before, felt very "looansome" in his little cottage in the Brickcroft, and gratefully accepted any offers of hospitality that were made to him.

    Sniggy regarded the Specks as somewhat above him in the social scale, and felt flattered by the invitation, but at the same time he knew enough of Lottie to be greatly surprised at it, and strolled down from the school on Sunday afternoon by Sam's side with somewhat apprehensive feelings lest he should find she was not of the same mind as her brother.

    But Sam's sister received them with a manner as near to graciousness as Sniggy had ever known her to show, and set before them a tea which was in itself an additional welcome.

    There was buttered toast and "pikelets," "pig-seause" (brawn), pickled onions, and a currant fatcake, to say nothing of such ordinary provisions as oatcake, white bread and butter, and tea-cakes, and Sam, as he glanced at the overcrowded little table, made up his mind that if Sniggy didn't come to tea pretty often in the future it shouldn't be his fault.

    And Lottie was so amiable with it all.  A thrill of horror went through Sam as Sniggy in his nervousness poured the tea over the saucer edge and stained their best tablecloth, but to his amazement Lottie treated it as of no moment whatever, and even pretended to blame the shape of the old-fashioned cups for the disaster.

    Sniggy had a good healthy appetite, and Sam feared he might get into trouble about that, but his sister urged and better urged their guest to eat, declaring, with much apparent concern, that he must be badly, "peckin' at his meit loike a brid."

    Sam was simply bewildered.  What could it all mean?  But just at this moment, as he was hastily and somewhat fearfully cramming the half of a pikelet into his mouth, his amazement was intensified by his sister saying—

    "Thaa mun cum ageean, Sniggy lad.  If Aw'da brother as wur woth owt, he'd a axed thi afoor naa, lung sin'."

    Sniggy thanked her blunderingly, and seemed to think that a feast like this was not a thing he could expect every day.  At last the tea was over, and they drew near to the fire.

    Sniggy pulled out a short wood pipe and a steel tobacco-box, and was proceeding to charge.

    "Sam, wot arta dooin'?  Tha'rt no' lettin' Sniggy use his oan 'bacca, arta?" cried Lottie, as if that was a practice that might obtain with common people, but was not to be thought of at all in their house.

    And Sam, wondering whether he were not dreaming, rose to get his tobacco-box, only to discover that someone had already filled it with a popular mixture just then coming into fashion.

    But this was too much!  Sam gave it up now, and simply sat and smoked, trying to resolve that after this nothing in the world should surprise him.

    Presently he began to realise that he had never really heard Sniggy talk before.  Under Lottie's dexterous manipulation the ex-pigeon-flyer was becoming quite a brilliant conversationalist, and supplied his lady listener with more details of his mother's last illness than had ever been given to the world before; and by the time they had to go to chapel, Lottie and Sniggy were quite "thick."

    As for Sniggy himself, he was quite uplifted, and went to the chapel marvelling at the number of undiscovered saints there were in the world, and the blindness and prejudice of those who had so long and so persistently maligned Sam's sister.

    And next Sunday the whole thing was repeated, only on an, if possible, ampler scale.  And even in the week between, Lottie had been so unusually considerate, and spoken so often and so kindly of Sniggy, that Sam was simply dazed as he thought of it.

    But on that second Sunday night, as Sam lay pondering these things in bed, a horrible idea all at once took possession of him.  That was it!  He saw it all at once now.  Why had he been so "numb"?  His sister was setting her cap at poor Sniggy!  Of course she was!  What a "cawf-yed" he'd been not to see that before.  And as Sam tossed about in bed, and looked at this great matter, his astonishment gave way to shame and anxiety.  What a terrible position it was for him!

    No man who knew anything of Lottie would ever marry her.  And though she was his sister, he could not allow his friend Sniggy to run his head into a noose without knowing what he was doing.  If Lottie married him she would, by her naggling ways, drive the poor fellow to drink in no time, and in that case he would be, in at least some measure, responsible.

    On the other hand, had he not for years been hoping against hope that his sister would marry, and thus set him free to do the same?  He had not dared to think of it seriously whilst he had her to deal with, except on the solitary occasion when he had desperately risked everything and proposed to "Nancy o' th' Fowt," only to be rejected; and even though his former experience of married life had not been exactly encouraging, yet he would have experimented again long ago but for his sister, and indeed, in some sense, because of his sister, and in order to be rid of her.

    It was a matter about which he could not very well consult his friends, and yet if he did not, and Lottie actually accomplished her purpose, they would never forgive him, especially if they discovered that he had known it, and, in a sense, aided and abetted it.

    All night long poor Sam tossed about, wrestling with his great problem.  Morning came, but no relief.  For two or three days Sam dogged Sniggy's footsteps, and hovered about him in a most peculiar way, but could never make up his mind to speak.

    On Friday night, however, as he returned from a little journey, and called at home for his fiddle on his way to the Clog Shop practice, he was surprised as he opened the door to find Sniggy and Lottie sitting on the long settle very close together, and evidently engaged in a very interesting confab.  Sam uttered a sudden and astonished "Hello!"

    Lottie hastily left the long settle, and began to lecture Sam in the old style about "comin' tumblin' inta th' haase loike a mad bull," and Sniggy, looking somewhat relieved, rose to his feet and announced that he must be going.

    Sam was glad to go along with his friend, and when they were approaching the Clog Shop door, he took a sudden and daring resolution.  Stepping into the Cloggery, and hastily putting his fiddle down upon the counter, he hurriedly rejoined his companion in the road, and took him into the fields, ostensibly for a walk, but really to unburden his mind to him.

    "It's varry gooid on thi, Sam lad!" said Sniggy, when the great secret had been revealed, "bud tha's bin meytherin' thisel' fur nowt."

    "Haa's that?"

    "Ther's noa weddin' fur me, lad;" and Sniggy slowly and sorrowfully shook his head.

    "Noa weddin'?  Nowt o' t' sooart, mon.  Thaa gets good wages, an' tha's a haase aw ready.  Aw'd be wed in a jiffy if Aw wur i' thy place."

    "Nay, thaa wodna."

    "Haa's that?"

    "Sam, afoor Aw was convarted Aw did wrung."

    "Well?"

    "Aw uset marlock wi' Sally Shaw thaa knows."

    "Well?"

    "Aw'm feart Aw helped ta mak' her wot hoo is."

    "Wot bi that?"

    "Aw loike her yet, Sam," and Sniggy nearly broke down.

    "Bud thaa conna merry her, hoo's a—a—a bad un!"

    "Sam," and poor Sniggy set his teeth, and choked back a sob, "if iver Aw wed Aw'st wed Sally.  Aw'd nowt ta dew wi'th' lumber hoo geet inta, bud it wur me as coaxed her away fro' th' schoo', an' it aw started theer.  An' if hoo comes back Aw'st merry her, an' if hoo ne'er comes back Aw'st stop as Aw am."

    Sam went away from that interview with a deeper and tenderer attachment to the reclaimed pigeon-flyer than he had ever had before, and it was as well he did, for the reception he met with at home tried his loyalty to his friend to its utmost; and when on the following Sunday he absolutely refused to bring Sniggy to tea any more, and then, in his fear and flurry, blurted out that Sniggy wouldn't come if he were asked, he was glad to get out of the house, and at any rate postpone the consequences of this unexpected rebellion.

    Not to be baulked, however, of her purpose, on the following morning Lottie made one of her infrequent attendances at morning service, and managed to get hold of Sniggy as they were coming out of chapel.

    But Sniggy almost curtly declined her very warm invitation to tea, and when Lottie, affecting great surprise, demanded to know the reason, he became even more taciturn.

    "Ay! tha's getten bet-ter feesh ta fry, Aw reacon.  Soa thaa con dew baat uz," she said with some asperity, as she stopped opposite her own door.

    Sniggy shyly hung his head in shame, but more for her than for himself.  So she misunderstood the action, and went on—

    "Tha's na need ta leuk loike that; Aw know wot's i' th' rooad.  Tha's gettin' thick wi' them Horrocks wenches, Aw've yerd abaat it."

    Sniggy stood with his face looking back towards the chapel.  At last he turned, and looking steadily at Lottie, said, with a significance that even a much duller person than Sam's sister could not have misunderstood―

    "Lottie, Aw'm no' meytherin' efther ony women, noather Horrockses nor awmbry else.  Aw'll ler them alooan if they'll ler me alooan."

    And without waiting for a reply he moved off quickly towards home.

    The sufferings of poor Sam for the next few days are better imagined than described.


―――――♦―――――
 
Sally's Redemption.

II.

The Old Love.


IT was Duxbury Wakes week, and of late years this great festival had come to be regarded as, more or less, a holiday for the whole surrounding district; and in spite of many and portentous harangues from the Sunday-school desk against it, every year found an increasing number of Becksiders making it an excuse for recreation and jaunting.

    The old 'bus ran from Beckside twice every day during that week, to say nothing of the Clough End waggonette, which came through the village and picked up passengers.

    Of course the magnates of the Clog Shop couldn't have been induced to go to Duxbury that week on any account whatever.  Not for worlds would they expose themselves to the suspicion of hankering after the flesh-pots of Egypt.

    About the middle of the particular Wakes week we are speaking of, Sam Speck suddenly missed his now almost inseparable friend Sniggy, and grew, in consequence, somewhat uneasy.

    He knew the kind of time Sniggy used to have in former days at these wicked Wakes.  And he had heard him say that, since his conversion, he was always glad when the fair was over.  But this year Sniggy had lost his mother, and was "daan i' th' maath" in consequence.  People in his condition often took to drink for the sake of relief and company, and Sam was afraid lest, in his sorrow and loneliness, Sniggy had yielded to temptation.

    He determined, therefore, to look him tip. He called at Sniggy's house, and tried the door. It was fast, and Sam's heart sank a little.

    "Hast seen owt o' Sniggy lattly?" he asked one of his friend's former companions, who stood in a dirty-looking doorway watching him.

    "Ay!  Aw seed him on th' Wakes graand at Duxb'ry yesterd'y, bud Aw fancy he didna coom back last neet;" and there was a gleam of unholy satisfaction in the man's bleary eye.

    Sam walked back into the road, and up the "broo" to the Clog Shop, in a very miserable state of mind; and Jabe, when he heard the tidings, was scarcely less affected.

    After a lengthy conversation, Sam offered to go to Duxbury in search of Sniggy, but Jabe was by no means sure that this might not be a sly dodge on Sam's part to get an excuse for a peep at Vanity Fair, and so peremptorily dismissed the idea.

    Just then Sam caught sight of Long Ben going past, and hurrying to the door, he called him in.

    Ben proved "awkert."  He had more faith in Sniggy than that, and didn't think it necessary to "meyther."  That was always the way with Ben—he always went "collywest" to everybody else, and would "sit an' grin woll his haase wur brunnin'."

    Next morning Sam arrived at the Clog Shop with the tidings that Sniggy had been home, but had gone off again, presumably to Duxbury, before daylight.

    Jabe felt very ill at ease, and the holiday feeling which seemed to be in the air affected him with a strange restlessness.  So, later in the day, he was standing at his shop door when the 'bus from Duxbury pulled up in the triangle.  He watched the passengers alight, in the hope that Sniggy would be amongst them.

    But only three persons got out, and they were all women; and Jabe had turned his eyes in another direction, and was watching a slater at work on the Fold Farm roof, when a voice he knew said, close at his side—

    "Jabe, Aw want ta speik ta thi."

    It was Lottie Speck, one of the passengers who had just alighted.  Jabe eyed her over slowly and sourly, but did not offer to move or speak.

    "Jabe, Aw've summat ta say ta thi."

    "Well, wot is it?"

    "Aw conna talk ta thi here; goa i' th' shop an' Aw'll tell thi."

    Slowly, and with evident reluctance, Jabe led the way to the inglenook, but neither sat down himself nor invited his visitor to do so.

    Lottie Speck never brought good tidings, and he had enough to think about that was troublesome without anything more.

    "Jabe, Aw've bin ta Duxb'ry."

    "Ay!  Owder an' madder."

    Lottie closed her eyes in expression of her willingness to endure even worse abuse than this if the Clogger was cruel enough to inflict it upon her.  After a pause, she went on―

    "Aw seed summat as thaa owt ta yer abaat at wunce."

    Jabe looked impatiently out of the window, as if he neither wanted Lottie nor her communication.

    "It made me fair whacker when Aw seed it."

    Still the Clogger would not speak.

    "Hay, dear! this is a wicked wold," and Lottie heaved a pious sigh.

    "Well, wot is it, woman?  Aat wi' it," snapped the Clogger petulantly.

    "Jabe, Aw seed Sniggy Parkin talkie' tew a bad woman."

    Jabe's heart sank within him, and he felt like crying, but he would not show it to this creature, and so, glancing at her with annihilating fierceness, he demanded―

    "Well, wot's that ta dew wi' thi."

    Lottie was staggered.

    "Me?  Nowt.  Bud he's a member, isn't he?" she cried, at a loss for the moment what to say.

    Jabe's anger was fast getting the better of him.  If Lottie did not go, he would be saying something he should be sorry for.

    "Lottie," he cried, "if tha'll give o'er melling [meddling] wi' other foak, an' leuk a bit bet-ter efther thisel', it 'ull leuk a foine seet bet-ter on thi."  And after another pause he turned his back on his visitor, and, stepping over towards the other side of the shop, added gruffly—

    "Tha'd bet-ter be piking."

    Lottie, staggered and nonplussed by the Clogger's unusually surly manner, and yet resolved to brave it out, drew herself up to her full height, and began—

    "Foaks as winks at other foaks' nowtiness"—But she got no further, for Jabe made a rush at her, and what he really intended to have done it would be impossible to say, for Lottie nimbly slipped to the door, and, giving it a spiteful bang after her, disappeared, and the Clogger stood breathless and angry in the middle of his shop floor.

    Later on, in the same day, Jabe and Sam had another consultation.  Lottie, defeated in her purpose with Jabe, had had her revenge on her hapless brother, and Sam, though in no way abating his concern about Sniggy, had a chastened and pensive look.

    Eventually it was decided that Sam should go in the evening to Lige the road-mender's, who lived on the edge of the Brickcroft, and from this vantage point watch for the fallen Sniggy's return.

    About ten o'clock he came hurrying into the Clog Shop with a pale and woebegone look.  He was evidently full of some sorrowful tidings, but seeing that one or two of the cronies were still there, he suddenly checked himself, and tried to look easy.

    But the Clogger was not deceived.  Neither was he content to wait.  The strain he had borne that day made him excessively irritable, and so, recklessly ignoring all considerations of caution, he demanded—

    "Well! wot is it?"

    Sam was terrified; he dodged behind Long Ben and began to motion to Jabe not to speak.  But the Clogger was beyond all possibility of care now.

    "Wor art pace-eggin' theer at?  Aat wi' it, if tha's owt to say."

    Long Ben and Jethro, who were the two present, turned round and looked at Sam, and though he did his best to appear unconcerned it was an utter failure, and a minute later they had brought him into the little circle and were demanding to know what was the matter.

    Sam was bursting to tell the news, but he was also very much afraid of complicating matters.  However, as everybody seemed to be waiting for him, and Jabe showed ominous signs of impatience, he blurted out―

    "Sniggy's cum whoam."

    "Well, wot bi that?" asked Jethro, who, of course, knew nothing of what had previously occurred, but could see that something more than common was involved.

    "An' he's browt a woman wi' him—an' a chilt."

    A sharp cry escaped the Clogger, and even Ben looked startled.

    "Art thaa sewer?"

    "Aw seed em' cum, an' goa i' th' haase; aw three on 'em."

    The friends gazed at each other with shocked and sorrowful looks, but for a time nobody spoke.

    At last Long Ben rose to his feet, and as it was evident where he was going, Jabe cried—

    "Howd on.  Aw'll goa wi' thi."

    Ben hesitated, and evidently thought that he had better go alone, but the Clogger looked so very anxious that he hadn't the heart to object, although Jabe himself admitted afterwards that it was an unwise thing to do.

    A few minutes later the two approached Sniggy's cottage.

    They could see the flicker of the firelight on the window-blind, but there was no other sign of illumination.

    Ben knocked, and immediately opened the door.

    As he did so a woman, sitting before the fire, and evidently rocking a little child to sleep, turned her head towards them hastily, and then as hastily turned it away again.

    "Wheer's Sniggy?" asked Ben, holding the door in his hand.

    "He's nor in," replied the woman, still concealing her face.

    "Haa lung will he be afoor he's back?"

    "He's noa comin' back here ta-neet," was the reply.

    The two visitors breathed sighs of relief, and began to feel a little like intruders, and so, with an awkward "Gooid-neet," they retired.

    As they ascended the "broo," Sam Speck met them, all hurried and out of breath.

    "He's yond'," he cried, suddenly discovering them in the darkness.

    "Wheer?"

    "At th' shop."

    The three walked quickly up the little hill, and checking themselves as they drew near the Cloggery, they entered as unconcernedly as was possible under the circumstances.

    "Hello, Snig!" said Sam, who was first, evidently with a desire to make the ex-pigeon-flyer feel at his ease.

    But Jabe was too anxious for any subterfuge.  Walking up to the fire, and fixing Sniggy with his eye, he demanded—

    "Wheer's thaw bin aw wik?"

    Sniggy looked up quietly, glanced round to see who the others were, and then, pointing with the stem of his pipe to the empty stools, he said―

    "If yo'll sit yo' daan Aw'll tell yo' aw abaat it."

    The three men sank into seats, and after waiting until they were seated and smoking, he commenced―

    "Yo' known, chaps, as Aw uset be thick wi' Sally Shaw?"

    "Well?" (from Jabe).

    "Well, when Aw geet convarted Aw wanted her to jine tew, an' hoo wodna."

    "Well?"

    "Well, Aw gan o'er gooin' wi' her."

    "Well?"

    "An' Aw started o' pruyin' fur her—fur, hay, chaps, Aw did loike her."

    "Christians conna merry wi'"—Jabe was commencing, but Ben stopped him, and Sniggy proceeded.

    "Well, mooar Aw prayed th' wur hoo went, an' at th' lung last hoo geet i' trubbel, an' went away."

    And then Sniggy's voice quavered, and he paused, and shaking his head earnestly, he cried―

    "Hay, bud Aw did loike her."

    "Well, an' wot then?"

    "Well, Aw wur that ill off abaat her Aw could hardly 'bide.  Aw kept on pruyin' yo' known, bud Aw ne'er yerd nowt on her.  An' then my owd muther deed, an' Aw felt mooar looansomer nor iver.  Well, o' Tuesday, as we wur hevin' aar breakfast i' th' shop, Aw yerd Alice Varlet' tellin' Peggy Bobby as hoo seed Sally upo' Duxb'ry Wakes graand, an' hoo wur wi' a minadgerie chap, an' leuked badly an' ill off.  Hay, chaps! it went through me loike a shot.  Aw couldna rest, Aw couldna sleep when neet coom.  An' soa th' fost thing i' th' mornin' Aw went off fur t' seek her.  Aw wur seekin' her tew days, an' this efthernoon, just when Aw wur thinkin' o' givin' it up, Aw yerd a woman shaat aat 'Snig!  Snig!' an' Aw turnt me raand an' it wur her."

    Then Sniggy paused, and looked round on the company, as if expecting them to look as delighted as he had evidently been himself.

    Nobody spoke, however, and so presently he resumed his story.

    "Hoo coom up lowfing, shy-loike, yo' known, bud when hoo geet cluse tew me, hay, chaps, hoo did leuk miserable!"

    The listeners looked as if that was about the only becoming thing they had heard of her, and disappointed again in his bid for sympathy, Sniggy proceeded—

    "Hoo axed me if Aw wur na gooin' fur t' pay fur a drink fur her.  An' Aw leuks at her, an' Aw says, 'Neaw, wench, neaw!'

    "An' then hoo leuked at me, solemn-loike, an' hoo says, 'Arta religious yet, Snig?'

    "'Ay,' Aw says.  An' wot dust think hoo did, Sam?"

    "Aw dunno."

    "Hoo tewk howd o' booath my honds, o' thisunce, an' hoo says, reglar wild-loike, 'Thank God! thank God!'" and Sniggy looked about on his friends with shining, tearful face.

    Presently he resumed—

    "An' then Aw tewk her tew a cook-shop, and as we wur goin' hoo stops an' hoo leuks at me solemn-loike, for a great while, an' then hoo brasts aat o' skriking, an' hoo says, 'Snig,' hoo says, 'Aw wuish Aw wur religious!'

    "Aw wur i' th' street, men, bud Aw couldna help it, soa Aw just bells aat, 'Hallelujah!' an' th' foak aw turnt raand an' starred at me as if Aw'd gooan off it."

    Sniggy was so absorbed in recalling to his mind the scene he was describing, that he forgot to proceed, until presently Sam said―

    "Well, an' wot then?"

    "Wot then?" cried Sniggy, astonished at the question; and then recollecting himself, he proceeded—

    "Whey, Aw browt her whoam wi' me, an' hoo's i' th' haase naa.  An' Aw'm goin' t' lodge wi' Bob Turner till we getter marrit."

    There was no more to be said.  Jabe and his friends were more proud of their recruit than they had ever been, and were profoundly touched by his simple story.

    "Bud, dust think hoo's gradely repented, lad?" said the Clogger with gentle dubiousness.

    "Repented?  Ay, wot else?  Isn't that wot Aw prayed fur?"

    "An' thaa thinks as hoo's come back i' answer ta prayer, does ta?"

    "Aw dew that!  Doan't yo'?"

    And Jabe, with a great tear on each cheek, put his hand gently on Sniggy's shoulder, and said―

    "Aw dew, lad!  Aw dew!"

                     .                              .                              .                              .

    And a month later Sniggy and Sally were married at the chapel, and a little while after they applied for the post of chapel-keepers on the understanding that there was to be no pay —"Just ta' mak' up fur th' past," said Sally.


――――♦――――
 
Lige's Legacy.

I.

A Lawyer's Letter.


LIGE, the road-mender, was in the "doldrums."  His open-air occupation exposed him to the exigencies of climate, and so, driven indoors by stress of weather, he had as usual spent most of a certain very wet afternoon at the Clog Shop.

    For a man of his volatile temperament he had had very little to say all afternoon, and even when Isaac brought "baggin'" for Jabe and him, and arranged it on one of the old clog benches which served as inglenook stools, Lige only seemed faintly interested.

    As nobody else was about, Jabe had departed so far from his usual custom as to make remarks once or twice about Lige's unusual flatness, but they evoked no response.  These old cronies had long ago got past the stage when persons feel it necessary to maintain conversation whilst together, and so there were several long silences whilst tea was being consumed.

    Presently, as Jabe was crowding into his mouth an enormous piece of toast, Lige suddenly leaned forward, and scowling with a look of relentless resolution, tapped the Clogger's knee with his teacup by way of punctuating every word he was uttering, and said—

    "If hoo awses [offers] ageean, Aw'll—Aw'll leeave th' village."

    Jabe, with butter-smeared lips, slowly consumed his toast without deigning even to look at Lige, who still remained in the attitude he had assumed when speaking, and continued to glare fiercely at his friend.

    Then the Clogger tucked into his mouth-corner the last bit of toast, took a gulp at his tea, reached out for another slice of toast, and leaning back and thoughtfully examining it, as if doubtful about the way it had been buttered, remarked, with a jerk of his short leg—

    "Th' clug's upo' th' t'other fooat if Aw know owt abaat it."

    "Ay, theer thaa gooas," cried Lige impatiently; "a chap met as weel try to get warm ale aat of a alicker [vinegar] barril as get a bit o' comfort aat o' thee."

    Jabe took a long pull at his teacup, and then holding it from him, and looking intently into the cup-bottom, said—

    "It's no' comfort as thaa wants; it's a cleawt o' th' soide o' th' yed.  If tha'd let th' woman alooan hoo'd let thi alooan."

    "Well of aw th' aggravatin' haands"— cried Lige; but his feelings were too much for him, and he sat up and stared at the tantalising Jabe with amazement, indignant protest, reproachful expostulation, and a shade of guilty self-consciousness chasing each other on his face.

    Jabe went on munching at his toast in calculated unconcern, and carefully avoided the road-mender's eye, whilst Lige, continuing his amazed and indignant look, at length gasped out—

    "Tha'll threeap me daan as Aw want th' woman next."

    And Jabe, with a look of most provoking placidity, went on slowly eating and drinking, and saying by his whole manner more plainly than words would have expressed it that that was exactly what he did think—which, of course, only made Lige the more uneasy and angry.

    The fact was that the poor road-mender was not as consistent and steadfast a supporter of his great chief on the vexed question of women as that worthy could have desired, and this was therefore one of his modes of inflicting punishment.  As a general thing Lige out-Heroded Herod in his scorn of the sex, but there were certain more or less frequent and regular backslidings, during which he was absent for days together from the Clog Shop, and was heard of in the direction of "th' Hawpenny Gate," where a certain lady leech-keeper resided, and after some four or five days he would suddenly turn up again, having a ruffled and irritable air about him, but with a new and quite suggestive readiness to abuse and scoff at the slavery of married life.

    On these occasions, too, he would drop darkly mysterious hints about the "fawseniss" of women and their "invayglin'" ways, with oblique references to the fable of the spider and the fly, and it was easy to see that he wished it to be inferred that he "could a tale unfold," if he chose, from the standpoint of the fly, and that he was himself an unwilling victim of female beguilement, and only preserved his liberty by constant heroic efforts and by marvels of diplomatic checkmating.

    But, like many other innocent martyrs, Lige found that his friends were unsympathetic and unbelieving, and even—such is the perverseness of human nature—undertook to defend the female he professed to be afraid of from his insinuations.

    Now, these occasional lapses into amatory weakness had been going on intermittently for some eighteen months, Lige's sentiments running the whole gamut of feeling from uncompromising misogamy to ardent love-sickness every two or three months.  And the Clog Shop cronies took a sort of unhallowed delight in watching the mental and conversational contortions of their friend in his laborious efforts to convince them that he was a victim to be pitied rather than a backslider to be blamed.

    Now, it was perfectly well known to all the chief spirits of the Clog Shop that Lige's only reason for remaining unmarried was that the lady of his second choice objected on the very unromantic ground that the road-mender couldn't afford to keep her.  In fact, she had stated as much in the plainest possible Beckside English to her ardent suitor, and the verdict of the Clog Shop was: "Hoo's a sensible body—for a woman."

    But Lige scorned to attribute so sordid a motive to the lady of his heart, and, moreover, was known to be exceedingly sensitive on the question of his poverty.  No one would ever have guessed from his manner that he was not as well off as any of his chums.  He talked sometimes of projects involving what would be to him impossible sums of money, and always included himself in any scheme which might be under discussion as at least equal to the rest in worldly resources; and they, although grimly, almost savagely, intolerant of everything savouring of hypocrisy, actually became his accomplices in this work of self-deception, and would have lost confidence in themselves for ever if by even the slightest and most indirect reference they had shown that they were aware of any difference between him and them.

    At the same time it is not to be supposed that they let him alone on this question of his weak leaning towards possible matrimony; but they confined themselves to charging him with desertion of his friends, and hypocrisy in his attitude towards the other sex, and persistently refused to believe that the lady had made any overtures to him on her own initiative, or in fact any overtures at all.  And though scrupulously avoiding the least hint as to the real reason, they did not spare him on others, such, for instance, as his personal appearance and idiosyncrasies, Sam Speck being specially severe on him for his lack of manners.

    The conversation with which this chapter opens is but a sample of many such between Lige and his friends.  On this occasion, however, a diversion occurred which for a time put Lige's matrimonial leanings out of everybody's mind.  Whilst Jabe and the road-mender were sitting thus over tea, Lige restive and indignant, and the Clogger doggèd and aggressively sarcastic, the shop door opened, and Peter the postman sauntered slowly up to the fire and began to fill his short black pipe.  He had finished his long morning round some time before, and was now on his way to commence the night collection.

    "Does oather o' yo' chaps know awmbry caw'd E. Howarth?" he asked, as he stooped to get a light at the fire.

    "Thaa meeans Harry Howarth o' th' Brickcroft," said Jabe, looking up.

    "Nay, Aw dunno; that's 'Haitch' than knows, an' this is 'Hee.'  Besides, it's a lawyer's letter, an' Harry ne'er gets inta ony lumber.  He's as quiet as an owd sheep."

    "A lawyer's letter?" cried Jabe; "less lewk at it."

    Peter produced the letter—a long, blue packet, with a terribly legal look about it, and embossed on the back, Briggs, Barber, and Briggs, Solicitors, Whipham."

    On the other side it was directed to Mr. E. Howarth, Beckside, Brogden, near Duxbury.

    Jabe read the name on the back of the envelope several times over, and then turned the packet over and scrutinised the directions.  Then he limped across the shop for his spectacles, carefully rubbed them on his red cotton handkerchief, put them on, and once more examined the missive back and front.  Then he held it at arm's-length, and looking thoughtfully at it, murmured ponderingly—

    "Hee Howarth!  Hee Howarth!  Whoaiver is it fur?"

    "It meeans trubbel fur sumbry, that's sartin," said Lige. "Less leuk at it."

    He knew it was useless to hope to obtain possession of the packet, and so he contented himself with stepping upon a stool and looking over the Clogger's shoulder.

    "Th' felley con wroite at ony rate," he commented, scanning the directions with knitted brows.

    But at that moment in walked Sam Speck.  Peter the postman, when in difficulties about the ownership of a letter, often resorted to that fountain of local knowledge, the Clog Shop, for help, and so Sam was not greatly surprised to find his comrades thus engaged.  Lige's elevated position, however, struck him as irregular, and as indicative of something interesting, and so, as the road-mender held the point of vantage over the Clogger's shoulder, Sam, when the situation had been explained to him, bent down upon his haunches, and whilst Jabe and Lige were scrutinising the directions he was examining the embossed stamp on the under side.  A look of alarm came into his eyes, and he gave vent to a prolonged whistle, as he discovered that the letter emanated from a lawyer.

    "By gum, lads, there's sumbry in for it!  Hee Howarth.  Hee Howarth," he went on, scratching his head and knitting his brows, "Hee How— Whey, Lige, thaa bermyed, it's thee."

    Lige started with a short cry.  The letter slipped from Jabe's suddenly nerveless fingers and fluttered to the ground, and both the Clogger and the postman turned quickly round and stared at Lige in fear and sorrow.

    Lige dropped from the stool and sat down with a sudden flop, and, shrinking back as if he were afraid of the letter making for him, cried out—

    "It isna me!  It isna me!  Aw've done nowt.  Aw hav'na!  Aw hav'na!!"

    There was a moment of awful stillness, and then Sam Speck stooped and picked up the now terrifying letter, and carefully read the directions once more.

    "Ay! " he said, with a great sigh; "it's reet!"

    "Hee, that's 'Elijah,' an' 'Howarth'—it's thee, lad," and the tone of the remark conveyed the idea that Sam felt that some awful mysterious trouble had overtaken his old friend.

    With another heavy sigh, Sam held out the letter to Lige, but the road-mender shrank back on his stool as if afraid of being burned, and wildly waving his hands, he cried—

    "It isna me!  It isna"—And then with a pathetic break in his voice—"Haa con to say soa, Sam?"

    Just then Long Ben entered, and having been made acquainted with the trouble in hand, he stood and looked at Lige with the same pitiful commiseration in his eyes that showed in the faces of the others.

    Then he took the letter and examined it carefully.

    "Briggs, Barber, and Briggs," he cogitated, and then he stopped and his jaw dropped.  The look of pity in his eyes deepened into alarm, and he suddenly checked himself of an intention to speak, for he had just remembered that Mr. Barber, the senior living partner of the firm from which the letter had come, was the clerk to the magistrates at Whipham.  A deep sigh escaped him, and he held out the letter to the frightened Lige.

    But the poor road-mender shrank away from it, and burying his head in his hands, groaned out a sort of smothered sob.  The rest stood looking at Lige with disturbed and anxious faces, and at last Jabe burst out—

    "Liger, hast bin foomart huntin'?"

    "Neaw! neaw! " cried Lige intensely; "Aw've bin noawheer, an' Aw've done nowt to noabry."

    Jabe paused a minute, eyeing the road-mender meditatively the while, and then remembering one of Lige's youthful besetments, he asked—

    "Hast bin pooachin' then?"

    "Neaw; Aw've bin noawheer, Aw tell thi," and Lige gave vent to another dismal groan.

    "Give o'er wi' thi, Lige," cried Jabe, now nearly as agitated as his friend. "Sithi, lad.  Wheer thaa goas, Aw goa; an' aw th' lyin' lawyers i' Lancashire shanna hurt thi."

    "Haa yo' meyther," broke in Peter the postman; "it's happen nubbut a jury summons or a subpeeny."

    "Nay," said Jabe, with a perplexed sigh, "th' bobbies [police] brings them, thaa knows."

    But the suggestion of other causes for lawyers' letters than transgression of the law opened a new field of speculation, and so Sam Speck brightened up suddenly and cried—

    "It's happen a fortin as sumbry's left thi, Lige."

    But Lige only shook his head wearily, and groaned again.

    Then Long Ben drew Jabe aside and whispered—

    "Dust think he's paid his rates?"

    But Ben was a poor whisperer, and before Jabe could reply Lige groaned out from between his fingers—

    "Aw pay 'em i' th' rent."

    This state of things was fast becoming unbearable.  Jabe especially seemed scarcely able to control himself, and so he cried, though not without secret misgivings—

    "Lige, ger up wi' thi an' oppen this letter.  If thaa doesn't Aw'st oppen it mysel'."

    "Tak' it aat o' my seet!" cried Lige, with a fresh gesture of fear.

    Jabe took hold of the letter.

    "It's nowt," he cried, with an affectation of contempt which he did not quite feel; but he lingered a long time with the packet, handling it with great care and turning it over and over again, and it would have been difficult to say whether fear or curiosity was stronger in him.

    Then he examined the flap of the envelope, and remarked that if it had had "owt woth owt" in it, it would have been sealed.  After toying with it a moment or two longer, he stepped across the shop floor and lighted a candle, and then selecting very deliberately one of his knives, and carefully cleaning it, he picked up the candle, brought it near the fire, gave it to the postman to hold, and making a sudden dash, cut open the letter.

    Now it is quite certain that the Clogger did not really comprehend one word of the document the first time he read it.  His business seems to have been to discover not what it was, but what it was not, and this he managed so successfully that he turned round to his woebegone friend, and cried with a sudden accession of confidence—

    "Ger up, thaa ninny hommer, ther's nowt to be feart on here."

    Lige did not move, but only emitted a slightly lighter groan, but Long Ben and Sam drew nearer, and looking over the Clogger's shoulder, prompted and corrected as he read out as follows, much as if he were a town crier:—


"To MR. ELIJAH HOWARTH, BECKSIDE.

(Another groan from the poor road-mender.)

"S
IR,—Our late client, Mr. Abram Howarth, who died recently in this town, left a will in which you are named sole executor and legatee.  If you will call at our office on Saturday morning between ten and one, we shall be pleased to explain the will and take your esteemed commands thereupon.

                    "We are, dear Sir, your obedient servants,

                                                    "B
RIGGS, BARBER, AND BRIGGS."


    It is beyond the power of the present reporter to describe the faces of the little company when Jabe finished reading.  He took off his glasses and blinked his grey eyes at Ben in speechless wonder, and Ben returned the look with a dull, uncomprehending stare.  The postman burst into a loud laugh, and Sam Speck, after looking from one to the other of his friends to make sure that they had heard, suddenly pushed Ben aside, and standing over the still bent form of Lige, smote him heavily between the shoulders, and shouted—

    "Speik, mon!  Didn't Aw tell thi it wur a fortin?"

    It was some time before the road-mender could realise the meaning of the letter, and when he did, he stood up and gazed abstractedly into the fire, apparently oblivious both of the congratulations that were offered to him, and the wild guesses in which his comrades indulged as to the amount of the legacy.

    After the excitement had abated somewhat, they found their accustomed places round the fire, and the pipes having been lighted, the situation was discussed in all its bearings.  Lige said very little for the first hour or so, but he amply atoned for his silence afterwards by monopolising nearly all the conversation.

    Then the talk turned upon the old man who had died, and whom most of the company remembered with recollections the reverse of pleasant.  Lige confessed that he had only seen his deceased relative some half a dozen times, and had not exchanged twenty words with him in his life.  Nobody knew anything good of him, saving always this last most commendable act of his.  Then guesses were made as to the probable amount of the bequest, and memories were raked to recall the various small properties which it was known the old man had purchased during his lifetime.

    Sam Speck, who seemed to be touched with a little envious jealousy of Lige's newly-acquired importance, opined that most of the property had "summat on it," and might not realise much after all; but Jabe, after a cold, withering look at the evil-minded detractor, turned to Lige, and said―

    "It's a lung loan [lane] as niver hes a turn, lad; if tha'rt woth a penny tha'rt woth a paand a wik," and had the sum been a million a week Jabe could not have made a more impressive mouthful of it.  Then the conversation took a practical turn, and as Lige did not seem to have quite recovered his fear of the lawyers, it was arranged that two of his friends should accompany him next morning to Whipham; and retribution now overtook the envious Sam, for he was omitted from this important deputation, though he was admittedly Lige's very closest friend.

    Lige lived on the edge of the Brickcroft, and, of course, went home the same way as Ben.

    When they had parted at the carpenter's gate, and Ben had reached his own front door, he heard Lige, who had suddenly turned back, calling him.  When they met at the garden gate Lige seemed to have forgotten what he wanted to say.  He stood back a moment, looked round on the dim outlines of the buildings about him, and then said, though not as indifferently as he intended—

    "Ben, when my owd woman deed and hoo worn't i' th' club, an' Aw'd nowt ta bury her wi', an' when Aw went raand after th' buryin' ta ax them foak ta gi' me toime an' Aw'd pay 'em, they aw said as a chap 'ud bin afoor me, an' paid 'em aw.  Dust know whoa that chap wur?"

    Ben seemed suddenly to have become intensely interested in a little dim far-away star, the only one visible that cloudy night, and so he answered, with a fair pretence of preoccupation—

    "Nay!  Haa dew Aw know?"

    Then Lige took another look round at the shadowy building, and went on—

    "An' when Aw wur aat o' wark for eighteen wik, an' wur feart o' my loife o' being turnt aat o' th' haase fur rent, an' when Aw started o' rooad-mendin' fur th' parish, an' began a shapin' fur t' pay my back rent up, Owd Croppy towd me as it 'ud bin paid ivery wik.  Thaa doesn't know whoa did that, Aw reacon?"

    "Nay, Liger; dunno!  Thi brass is makkin' thee suspeecious.  Howd thi bother, mon!"

    "Bother!  Ay, ther'll be some bother, Aw con tell thi, if this comes aat reet.  Ben Barber 'ull ha' to build a new haase fur Mestur Hee.  An' ov a Setterday mornin', when Ben Barber has na getten paid fur his wark an' conna foind wages fur his men, th' fat 'ull be i' th' feire if he doesna ger it off Mestur Hee.  Naa, moind thi, fro' this day henceforth an' for iver—a-a—partly wot, Ben Barber's banker's Mestur Hee—Mestur Hee."

    And with a glow of triumph at his own brilliant effort, Lige plunged into the darkness and disappeared.

    Next morning three solemn-looking figures, dressed in funereal black, and with long grave faces to match, stood by the Clog Shop door waiting for the Duxbury coach.  Their three hats all belonged to the same bygone period of fashion, and Lige's had a most suggestive and transient shininess about it.  His best coat also was distinguished from the others by a more pronounced greenness of colour, and this was made the more noticeable by the fact that Jonas Tatlock's trousers, which had been lent to the new man of property for this great occasion, were nearly new and of a glossy black.

    As the coach came into sight, Sam Speck joined the company.  He seemed to have got over his pique, and was inclined to chaff.

    He called Lige "Mestur Howarth," and then on sudden recollection tried "Mestur Hee," but neither this, nor his warning that it was Duxbury Wakes, and they were not to "chuck th' fortin away at ghooast shows and hot pey staws" before they came home, raised a smile, and the coach moved off presently carrying three men with faces of owlish solemnity.

    Arrived at Whipham, an argument arose as to who should lead the way into the office.  Lige seemed astonished that the question should be raised at all, and looking at the Clogger with an injured, reproachful look, he demanded—

    "Wot hast come fur if tha winna leead up?"

    "It's no' my fortin," protested Jabe indignantly.  "It's thee they wanton, nor uz."  And he might have been disavowing a great crime to judge by the earnestness of his protestation.

    Lige took a long, hesitant look: from one to the other of his friends, then turned and gazed earnestly at the green baize inner door of the office; then glanced apprehensively up and down the street, and finally cried, with desperate resolution—

    "Aw'st no' goa in fost for noather on yo'.  Aw'll lose th' fortin fost."

    After a few minutes more of wrangling, during which Lige became more and more terrified at the thought of facing the lawyer, and more and more reckless as to what became of the fortune, Jabe suddenly broke away from the other two, and began limping up the steps so earnestly that they only caught him as he was pushing open the dingy green door.

    "Is th' mestur in?" he demanded, glaring fiercely at the clerks.

    "Yes, sir," said a fussy penman, whom Lige immediately began to regard with strong suspicion.  "Have you an appointment?"

    "Neaw; we wanten t' see th' mestur."  And then, turning half round to Lige, he demanded, "Where's th' letter, Liger?"

    The clerk glanced at the packet.  "Oh, come this way, gentlemen."

    "Mr. Howarth, of Beckside, sir," he called out, raising his voice a little, and addressing some invisible personage.

    It took a little time to get the three villagers piloted round desk ends, through counter flaps, and behind dirty red curtains, and when it was successfully accomplished, and they stood before the great Mr. Barber, Lige, at any rate, looked as if he were come to make confession of some awful crime, whilst Jabe took off his hat and rubbed his perspiring face and head with his red handkerchief.

    The lawyer began by addressing Jabe as Mr. Howarth, and when that error had been corrected, and Lige had been dragged to the front like a reluctant culprit, the business began.  It was soon made clear that there was no doubt about the reality of Lige's good fortune.  He actually was sole heir of the late Abram Howarth, his uncle.  The estate consisted chiefly of small properties, mostly in or about Brogden Clough, and would bring in about twenty-five shillings per week.  There would be certain formalities to be gone through, probate, etc., would have to be paid, and then Mr. Barber told Lige he would be able to enter into formal possession of a nice little inheritance.  Mr. Barber was also happy to tell Mr. Howarth that there was a good round sum of hard cash in the Duxbury Bank, which would pay all expenses and leave a comfortable margin.

    By this time Lige began to feel his new importance, and talked with most surprising freedom to the solicitor.  The lawyer congratulated Lige again, and cracked a little joke, at which Jabe and Long Ben smiled with dignified condescension, and Lige laughed uproariously.

    As they were leaving, Mr. Barber called them back.

    "If you want a little cash for immediate use, you know, Mr. Howarth," he began; but Lige received a sharp kick on the right foot from Jabe, and a gentle nudge on the left elbow from Ben, and so, without giving the least sign that he understood, he answered, as if cash were the very last thing in the world he either needed or cared for―

    "Neaw, neaw! toime enuff ta bother wi' that when Aw've getten it gradely."

    And then Lige had a sudden sense of having outwitted a man of law, and was so elated thereat, that, as he was going through the outer office, he turned, and, surveying the clerks with a glance of magnificent condescension, he asked—

    "Which o' yo' chaps wor it as wrate that letter ta me?"

    "I, sir," said the fussy clerk who had introduced them to the lawyer, and who evidently saw signs of a tip.

    "Thee, wor it!  Well, th' next toime as tha sends me a letter, send it ta 'Liger Howarth,' an' nooan o' thi 'Mestur Hee's';" and with a glance of mingled scorn and warning, Lige followed his friends into the street.


――――♦――――
 
Lige's Legacy.

II.

A Question of Conscience.


THERE was no help for it.  Sam Speck was being driven into cynicism in spite of himself.  It was his duty, he knew, to fight against the tendency, and he did so, but sometimes circumstances seemed altogether too strong for him.  Here was a case in point.  He thought he knew his old friend Lige.  He boasted, in fact, that he could read him like a book.  Nothing, he thought, would ever change Lige much; and here, as soon as ever there was a prospect of an improvement in his financial position, he was becoming sly and mysterious, and was changing from the most open-hearted and least worldly of spirits, to a calculating, reticent, and money-loving soul.

    Lige's sudden enrichment was, of course, the chief topic of conversation round the Clog Shop fire, but Sam marked with concern that whilst the road-mender was ready enough to hear others discuss his prospects, he said very little about them himself, and it was not until about nine o'clock in the evening, when the company was largest and discussion most stimulating, that Lige opened his mind about his future intentions at all.  When thus temporarily elated by congratulations and encouragements, Lige would assert vociferously what he intended to do, but Sam observed with misgivings that he not only made no allusions to his intentions next morning, but could not be drawn to speak about them at all.

    For instance, Lige had been apprehensive for some time that his "rheumatiz " would before long prevent him working, and compel him to relinquish his situation; and now, when he had ample means to keep him without work, he seemed to have become suddenly very much in love with it.  Two or three times Sam had turned the conversation so as to bring this question to the front, and under the influence of popular opinion Lige had resolved to give up his employment.  On one or two occasions he had got excited about the matter, and had openly declared, "Aw'll niver breik another stooan woll Aw'm wik."  But next morning Sam had discovered him hammering away as usual on a heap of stones, or digging clumps of weeds out of the gutters.

    And now Lige had actually come into possession of his fortune, and Sam had been with him to make the final call upon the lawyer at Whipham, and to bring his cash and deposit it in the Duxbury Bank.

    It was long past noon by the time they had finished their business, and Sam was hungry.  Two or three times he had dropped palpable hints about his condition, but Lige only seemed to understand when the hints became plain unvarnished avowals of hunger; and, even then, instead of taking him to a decent inn, Lige led him off to an old-fashioned cookshop, and ordered, as if he had been calling for turtle soup, "Tew plates o' tatey pie—big uns."  And Sam noticed, as a painful confirmation of his fears, that though the road-mender had twenty pounds to his certain knowledge in a little bag in his left-hand pocket, yet he paid for the repast out of the few spare pence he carried in the other pocket.

    After dinner, as they had to wait a couple of hours for the coach, they walked about the town and inspected the shops.  Sam pulled up before every clothier's shop he came to, but neither broad hints nor excessive commendation of certain patterns of cloth and suits of clothes had the least effect on Lige; and when Sam, exercised in his mind about the rapid deterioration and threatened spiritual destruction of a man who had grown miserly on the very first day of his affluence, pointedly admired a certain stylish overcoat and recommended its prompt purchase, Lige seemed to become suddenly suspicious and sly, and wriggled out of making the purchase on some most trivial pretext.  And, of course, Sam could not tell his friend plain out that his best clothes had been green and shabby for years.

    All these things were very depressing to our mercurial friend; but when he discovered that Lige was going back to Beckside on the day when he had come into formal possession of his inheritance, and with twenty pounds sterling in his pocket, without taking even so much as half a pound of tobacco back to his friends at the Clog Shop wherewith to celebrate the occasion, he came dangerously near to wishing that his old friend had remained poor, and was almost thankful that the fortune had not come to himself to tempt him.  Two or three times, as they travelled home on the coach, he glanced thoughtfully at the road-mender's face, and was almost certain that he perceived signs there that the hardening process had already begun.

    Sitting at the Clog Shop fire that night, Sam kept a careful watch on Lige, making as he did so many pessimistic notes on the weakness of human nature.

    Lige received the congratulations of his friends with a becoming show of meekness, took all chaff in good part, and even joked himself about his good luck; but, for all that, Sam could see that he was a changed man, and was fast becoming grasping and worldly.

    As the evening went on, Sam resolved that he would remain behind and inform Jabe of his suspicions.  But the rest would not go.  Lige—an early riser, and therefore one of the first to depart of an evening—would not go, and Long Ben, who was supposed to live in wholesome fear of his wife, seemed also reluctant to leave; and when Sam remarked, as a kind of suggestive hint, that it was "toime to be piking," he was provoked and perplexed to see both Lige and the carpenter deliberately commence recharging their pipes.

    To make it worse, as he had himself started the movement for home, he found himself obliged in common consistency to follow it up, and so, after standing about for a little time, and going to the door and then coming back again some two or three times, he was reluctantly compelled to depart, leaving Lige sitting in most aggravating contentment by the fire.

    When he reached his own door, which was on the other side of the road going to the mill, he still felt uneasy, and most unaccountably, curious, and when he saw Long Ben leave the Clog Shop a minute or two later, and realised that now Lige and Jabe would be alone, it was all he could do to restrain himself from going back and bursting in upon them, excuse or no excuse,

    Meanwhile Jabe and Lige sat quietly smoking in the inglenook, Lige having a very abstracted look on his face.  The Clogger eyed him over with quiet interest, two or three times, as if speculating as to what was going on in his mind; but neither spoke.  Presently, however, Lige leaned back in the nook, and putting his feet on the bench on which he sat, he asked, taking his pipe out of his mouth, and putting his head slightly on one side in an argumentative attitude―

    "Naa, has mitch a wik dust think a chap loike me owt ta give away, Jabe?"

    "Wot!" cried the Clogger, with a curl of his lip, "is thi brass brunnin' thi pockets aat awready?"

    "Aw'd rayther it ud brun my pocket nor freeze my soul," was the reply.

    After a moment's silence, Jabe said―

    "Th' Jews uset give a tenth."

    "Haa mitch is a tenth o' twenty-five shillin'?" was the next question.

    "Hawf a craan." [Half a crown]

    And now it was time for Lige's lip to curl, and it did so until he looked positively fierce with scorn.

    "Aw allis thowt them Jews wur skinny uns —but that cops aw—the greedy wastrils."

    "Whey, wot does thaa think foak owt ta give?" asked Jabe, in lazy curiosity.

    "T'oan hawf bi' th' t'other, fur sure" (a fair half), was the reply.

    Jabe burst into a great laugh—a laugh which somehow had to be very loud in order to prevent it becoming something quite different.  In the midst of it, however, a thought seemed to strike him, and, bending forward, he asked very seriously―

    "Thaa's browt sum brass whoam wi' thi taday, hast na?"

    "Ay," said Lige; "twenty paand," and he hit the outside of his trousers-pocket to indicate that he had it with him.

    "Thaa'd better leeave it wi' me ta tak' cur on fur thi."

    Now, though he made this proposal very seriously, the Clogger did not really expect that Lige would comply; and so he was a little taken aback when the road-mender drew a greasy bag out of his pocket and handed it to him.

    "Jabe, owd lad," he said softly, "Aw hevna spent a penny o' my fortin yet, an' Aw'm no' goin' ta dew till th' Lord's hed the fost pick.  Ther's twenty paand i' that bag, an' Aw want th' trustees ta bey a new coffee-pot fur th' Communion table—solid goold if it 'ull reich tew it!"

    Jabe stared at his friend in amazement; but Lige was proceeding―

    "When Aw wur th' poor steward twenty ye'r sin', an' th' plate box wur kept at aar haase, aar Jane uset say, when hoo wur cleanin' th' vessils, as if hoo had th' brass hoo'd tak' cur as they shouldna put 'th' best wine o' th' kingdom' into a pewter pot as if it were sixpenny ale.  An' iver sin' hoo deed Aw've bin livin' i' hoapes o' seeing her ageean; an' up yond' wheer hoo is they known abaat this fortin o' moine, an' aar Jane's tellin' 'em aw 'He'll be gettin' summat gradely ta put th' wine in, yo'll see.'  An' if Aw donna, Jabe, Aw darna face her up, an' that's God's trewth, lad."

    The Clogger had no answer to an argument like this.  He stared before him, and sniffed and cleared his throat, and in the end had to get up and turn his back on his companion.

    When he recovered himself, he said―

    "Aw ne'er yerd o' noa goold Communion sarvices.  They allis user silver.  Bud thaa con bey a woll set, thaa knows."

    And so it was settled; and as Lige left the Cloggery he was astonished at the Clogger, who actually took him by the hand and gave it a limp, timid sort of shake, as if he were unable to resist doing so, and yet felt ashamed of it, murmuring huskily, as he did so—

    "God bless thi, lad!  Aw dunno think thi brass 'ull spile thi."

    When Sam Speck heard of Lige's proposal his feelings were very much divided.  He was inclined to feel injured that Lige had not taken him into his confidence about the matter, and yet he felt so ashamed of himself for having harboured suspicions of his friend that he refused himself the pleasure of rating Lige about it as a sort of penance.  Still, there was one thing that greatly exercised his mind.  Why did not Lige give up his employment?  He talked of doing so, vowed again and again he would do it, fixed the time for so doing more than once, and yet every morning found him going forth, as usual, with pick and shovel and long-shafted hammer, to his work.

    A week or two passed, and still no signs of Lige's retirement, and at last, unable longer to endure, Sam opened out upon his friend as they sat by the Clog Shop fire―

    "Tha'rt a bonny mon to be takkin' th' meit aat o' foak's maaths."

    Lige looked up in wonder.  He had a feeling that somehow the relations between him and his friend were not so cordial as they used to be, but he could think of no cause for it, and so he answered rather curtly―

    "Naa wot's up wi' thi?"

    Sam cocked his elbow on his knee and steadied his pipe in his mouth, and then, removing it for a moment, went on—

    "A chap as hez twenty-five shillin' a wik comin' in, an' a hunderd paand i' th' bank, leuks well breiking stooans an' fillip' cart-ruts, and takkin' wage as other foaks are starvin' fur."

    Lige winced, but he wasn't going to be taught his duty by so comparatively juvenile a person as Sam, and so he replied―

    "Aw reacon thaa wants th' job thisel'!  Thaa leuks loike a felley as is starvin', sureli."

    "Aw tell thi," persisted Sam, "as there's three on 'em as Aw know on as is waitin' fur th' shop [situation], an' it's nowt bud robbery."

    Sam spoke with warmth, and the situation was getting somewhat strained, and so Long Ben, from the inside corner of the nook, chimed in, to create a diversion—

    "Hast bin to th' Hawpenny Gate lately, Liger?"

    But this subject seemed to be quite as troublesome to Lige as the one Sam had started, and so, to escape further banterings, he remembered "a bit of a arrand," and disappeared, leaving Sam receiving a mild reproof from the carpenter.

    But Lige could not quite get rid of the question Sam had thus pointedly raised, and as he stood next day on the top of a heap of stones, a little higher up the road than the chapel, he mused thoughtfully on the previous night's conversation.

    The fact was, now that he had the chance of giving up work altogether, he discovered an interest in it which he had never realised before, and found himself strangely reluctant to change.  And then he was more jealous of any tendency to get vain because of his riches than ever Sam could be for him, and suspected himself of all sorts of grasping propensities, and was rather glad therefore to continue his work as a means of keeping the natural man in subjection.

    The point raised by Sam had never occurred to him, and he at once began to feel very guilty about it.  Then the remembrance of Ben's interjected question came back to him.  Away from the curious eyes of his associates he could afford to think as long and as freely as he liked on the matter, and a smirk of satisfaction came upon his face as he realised that his change of fortune had immensely improved his matrimonial prospects.

    But all at once the smile vanished from his lips.  A look of perplexity came into his plain old face, as if he were trying to recall something that eluded his pursuit.  Then his face became portentously long, a deep sigh escaped him, and, limply dropping his hammer, he got down from the stone heap and propped himself against the wall to think.  But the more he thought the worse he became.  He passed his hands over his brow, rubbed uneasily at his stubbly chin, scratched both sides of his head at once, and wriggled and twisted as if in the grip of someone who was torturing him.  Then he stepped into the middle of the road, looked dazedly round at the horizon with a helpless, appealing sort of look, and a moment later he plunged off down the "broo" in a walk which only just escaped being a trot.

    He was making, of course, for the Clog Shop, and as he reached it, he burst open the door, and, ignoring the fact that Jabe was serving a customer, cried excitedly―

    "Whey, Jabe, the fortin isna moine."

    Now the customer was a new-comer in the village, and was rashly attempting to banter the Clogger about the price charged for clogging—a thing which every Becksider knew better than do—and she had consequently stirred up the old Adam in him.  And so he replied in his crustiest tones―

    "Whoas else is it, thaa lumpyed?"

    But seeing that Lige was very much excited, lie added more mildly-

    "Goa an' sit daan wi' thi."

    But Lige was too distressed to sit, and so, staring wildly at Jabe, he cried out, almost in tears—

    "Hey, mon, it's hers."

    Jabe now realised that the matter was serious; and so, entirely ignoring the astounded customer, he put on his spectacles, and, carefully surveying the road-mender, demanded―

    "Whoas?"

    "Hers, Aw tell thi," shouted Lige, almost beside himself.  "Jane Ann's, thaa knows.  Hast forgotten as hoo wur his chance-chilt.  It's hers, mon.  It's no' moine at aw."

    Jabe carefully counted out the change for the customer, and then actually came round the corner of the counter to open the door for her.  Then he carefully closed it, walked back to his place again, and turning round, looked Lige steadily in the face.

    The fact was that, for once, speech had entirely forsaken the old Clogger.  The Jane Ann alluded to was the very leech-keeping woman whom Lige had been so unsuccessfully wooing, and whose origin had been almost forgotten at the end of her forty odd years of life; and when Jabe really grasped the whole situation as it spread itself before his mind, it simply took away both breath and speech.

    Presently, more to relieve the tension than with any idea that he was helping matters, he said―

    "Haa can it be hers when it wur left ta thee?"

    And Lige replied as Jabe knew he would, when he said―

    "Hers!  It is hers.  Hoo's his dowter, mon!"

    Jabe's perplexity was so sore that it galled and vexed him, and so he replied hotly―

    "Wot's left ta thee's thine, isn't it, thaa numskull?"

    But Lige was indignant with an indignation curiously blended with reluctance, and so he replied, as if there was some sort of melancholy gratification to be got out of making the facts look as inexorable as possible―

    "Her fayther robbed her, an' naa Aw mun rob her—is that what thaa meeans?"

    With a gesture of despairing anger, Jabe turned his back on his friend, and limping heavily to the fire, dropped down upon a stool, looking the very picture of helpless distress, and in a moment or so Lige joined him, looking if possible more miserable still.

    After sitting staring into the fire for a long time, Jabe in surly tones ordered Isaac to fetch Long Ben.  This was no time for half-measures.  Jabe was on the rack, and if he felt like that, what must Lige be enduring.

    It seemed as though Ben would never come, although he had started the moment he was summoned.  But when he did arrive, and had been put in possession of the facts of the case, the look on his face banished from Jabe's heart any hope that his more resourceful friend would be able to find a way out.

    There the three sat.  Each man knew how easy and natural it would be to take the way of the world and its legal sanctions, and be satisfied, or at most make some little allowance to the neglected and overlooked daughter.  But each man saw also the inexorable requirements of righteousness, and to say that they quailed before it is but to say that they were men.

    "He happen hed some reeason fur no' leeavin' it to her," said Jabe at length, more to start discussion than from any faith in his own argument.

    "Hoo ne'er did nowt to hurt him in her loife," said Lige sternly, "nobbut keepin' on livin'."

    "Well, thaa con give her summat—soa mitch a wik, or summat."

    "Ay, or else mak' a will an' leeave it aw tew her," added Ben.

    Lige lifted up a haggard face and asked quietly―

    "Wod yo'?"

    The countenances of the two friends dropped again, and there was a long silence.  At last Lige lifted his head and asked, with an effort—

    "Which on yo's goin' to the lawyer's wi' me i' th' morn?"

    A startled look came into Jabe's eyes.  He jumped to his feet―

    "Liger," he cried, with intense earnestness, "promise me tew things.  Fost, as tha'll wait a wik afoor thaa does owt; an' second, as tha'll no' mention it to a soul till th' wik's up.  Naa, promise."

    A week's respite seemed a little heaven to Long Ben, and so he earnestly supported Jabe's request; and truth to tell, poor Lige was not unwilling to postpone so momentous a decision.  Then Ben said he must go back to work, and Lige decided to do the same, and as he passed the shop window with strained and heavy look, Jabe, gazing sorrowfully after him, murmured―

    "God help thi, Liger!  Tha'rt poor an' owd an' simple, bud if thaa comes aat o' this o' th' reet soide, tha'll be th' best mon amung uz."


――――♦――――
 
Lige's Legacy.

III.

How the New Plate was Bought.


THERE was no more work for poor Lige that day.  He tried; but he found himself pausing every few moments, and in his still bent position staring at the stones under his feet, in set, absorbed preoccupation.

    Before he had been at work half an hour, he stopped and started for the Clog Shop once more, and was soon laying before Jabe some new aspect of the case.  After a while he returned to his employment, but in a few minutes he was again in consultation with his friend.  This sort of thing was repeated three or four times as the day went on.

    On one of these interviews, just as Lige was returning to his work again, he suddenly turned back, and leaning his body over the counter until his mouth nearly touched the Clogger's ear, he charged him in a thick dramatic whisper to keep the whole thing from "th' chaps," and especially from Sam Speck.

    As evening drew near, Lige's excitement became almost uncontrollable.  He was afraid to stay at the Clog Shop lest he should be compelled to confess his trouble to someone, and yet he was afraid to be alone and have to fight his mental conflicts by himself.  And somehow, though he felt sure his friends would all advise him to let things alone, he was more confident of his power to resist temptation when in company than when alone.

    Then he was afraid, too, that "th' chaps" would by some means get the secret out of Jabe, or even out of Long Ben, though he had much more confidence in the latter than in the former.  And so he wanted to be near at hand, that his presence might be a restraint on the Clogger.

    Altogether Lige was in a most restless state of mind, and throughout the early part of the evening was passing in and out of the Clog Shop every few minutes, one moment raising some new point with the Clogger, and the next charging him by most solemn warnings not to let anybody even suspect what was the matter.  Then he would be seen posting off in haste for home, which he never reached, and a few minutes later he would come hurrying up the hill with the inspiration of some totally new phase of the case within him.

    Strange to say, the peppery Clogger bore it all with a patience that was quite remarkable.  But the fact was, the problem so entirely absorbed his own thoughts, that he answered Lige's questions and instructions in a dazed mechanical sort of way.

    As the road-mender was stretching over the counter, and warning Jabe, for at least the fifth time, of the danger of letting Sam know anything about it, a sharp voice suddenly broke on his ear, and Lige, hastily straightening himself, turned round to face the very person he was speaking of.

    Lige made his face as straight as he could, and tried to look easy and unconcerned; but it was a complete failure.  Sam saw instantly that something of very unusual interest was affecting his friend, and also that Lige was very anxious to conceal it from him.

    Sam promptly suggested a "smook," and Lige was so afraid of crossing him that he agreed, and sat down to the first pipe he had tried that day.  He perched himself for a few moments on a stool, where he could keep his eye on both Sam and the Clogger, and thus prevent any secret signalling between them.

    Presently, however, Sam drew him into conversation, and the two got gradually farther and farther into the inglenook, until the Clogger could not hear what they were saying.  Then they dropped their voices still lower, and Jabe was tantalised by the feeling that the lowering of their voices meant the deepening of their interest in the subject under discussion, of which he could not hear a word.

    All at once, however, there was an amazed cry from out of the nook, and Sam could be seen standing up, and looking excitedly from Lige to Jabe, and from Jabe back to Lige, as though he could not decide which of them was the more demented.  Then he began to laugh—an ironical unbelieving sort of snigger.

    "Give it up, hay!" he cried.  "Aw'm loike as if Aw seed thi."

    And then, taking his breath for a moment, and eyeing the road-mender slyly over, he shook his head in a waggish sort of way, saying, as he did so―

    "Hay, Liger, tha'rt an owd brid tew!"

    "Aw see nowt else fur it," sighed Lige, ignoring Sam's chaffing tone, and evidently very miserable.

    Sam whisked round in a manner expressive at once of impatience and intolerance of contradiction.

    "Dunna meyther, mon.  Wot's thine's thine, isna it?"

    "Aw tell thi it isna moine: it's hers; an' Aw'm robbin' th' woman, an' nowt else."

    There was an exclamation from Jabe at his bench, and petulantly flinging down his tools, he came and joined the others at the fire, and for the next hour the whole question was threshed out again.

    Sam was incredulous, then angry and abusive, and finally he settled down into doggèd, unconvincible opposition, declaring again and again that Lige's proposed surrender of his "fortin" was "fair flyin' i' th' face o' Providence."

    Jabe said comparatively little.  The crisis was beyond him.  He longed with all his heart to find some way of dealing with the matter less drastic than the extreme step of surrendering the whole property.  But all his efforts so far had been vain, and so he listened to Sam much more carefully than usual, in the hope that he might be able to suggest something that would relieve the situation.

    And Sam, when once he had become convinced that Lige was serious, certainly was ingenious in his suggestions, though Jabe was shocked to find how little scruple he seemed to have about the spirit of the moral law.

    To every one of Sam's ideas, however, Lige opposed the same relentless answer, and Jabe never acknowledged truth more reluctantly than he did on this occasion, when his conscience pulled one way and his interest in his friend the other.

    Presently the company began to assemble for the evening, and it turned out to be, perhaps, the longest night ever spent round the Clog Shop fire.  Everything was dull and flat; so much so, in fact, that the more casual of the attendees moved homewards very early, and by nine o'clock Jabe and Lige, Long Ben and Sam, had the inglenook to themselves.

    To Jabe the situation was fast becoming unbearable.  He marvelled at and secretly gloried in Lige's uncompromising attitude; but he felt somehow that the actual performance of this act of sacrifice was intolerable to him.  He was distressed, also, at the effect the struggle was having upon his old friend.  He looked aged and haggard.  The old wrinkles on his face seemed suddenly to have been reinforced by a number of new ones, whilst the veins on his forehead stood out in alarming prominence.

    Under these circumstances he felt that Lige ought to be taken care of by somebody.  He had not been really home all the day, although he had started half a dozen times.  He had eaten nothing, and if he went home to a cold house, and then supperless to bed, the consequences might be serious.

    Jabe waited, therefore, until Ben had drawn the old road-mender into conversation, and then, taking Sam aside, he instructed him to go and spend the night with "th' owd lad," and any other nights possible whilst Lige remained in this disturbed condition.

    When Sam, who fell into the scheme somewhat reluctantly, had coaxed Lige to go, Jabe and Ben leaned forward on their seats, with elbows on knees and arm-propped chins, discussing with an earnestness that was almost grim the crisis that had just arisen.  When Jabe described the doggedness of Lige's adherence to his own view of the case, and the immovability of his purpose to carry out what he felt to be right, the two looked at each other with shining eyes which expressed a sort of holy delight in their old friend that no possible circumstance would have compelled them to acknowledge in words.

    "Aw wuish we'd ne'er yerd of his plaguey fortin," said Jabe at length, with a perplexed sigh.

    "Ay," was Ben's response.  "If he'd ne'er a hed it he'd ne'er a missed it.  But it's hard wark givin' up aw his little plans an' schames."

    "Ay; an' he'll ha' to keep on workin' tew," sighed Jabe.

    There was a long silence.  The fire fell together, and they both turned abstractedly to look at it.  Some internal commotion seemed to be going on in Ben, and at last, standing up and shaking his fist at Jabe as if he were Lige's cruel oppressor, he cried, with a sudden fierce gush of tears―

    "He'll no' wark noa mooar, fortin or noa fortin."

    Jabe sat glowering into the red fire with a look which was an emphatic endorsement of Ben's declaration.  Ben stooped for a clog-chip and relighted his pipe, and then he said―

    "It'll be hard wark givin' up his new haase an' aw th' things he wur goin' ta dew."

    "Hay, mon," answered the Clogger, "it's no' that he's botherin' abaat.  It's th' Communion plate.  He thinks mooar o' that nor aw th' t'other put together."

    "Aw believe thi, lad," murmured Ben, after musing on the information for a minute.

    Another long silence ensued, and after a while Jabe, who was unusually subdued for him, knitted his brows, and looking up at his friend, asked―

    "Well, is ther' nowt we con dew?"

    "We met get th' lawyer's opinion abaat it," said Ben tentatively.

    "Neaw! neaw! yo' known wheer yo' begin wi' them chaps, but yo' niver known wheer yo' stop."

    "Well," sighed Ben presently, "Aw con think o' nowt else."

    "Neaw," said Jabe disappointedly, "that's loike thee.  Thaa con think fast enough if it's ony lumber tha'rt up tew.  Bud thaa con think o' nowt when tha'rt wanted."

    Ben as a rule took no heed to his friend's railings, but to-night, chafing under a sense of powerlessness, he answered somewhat sharply―

    "Well, thee think o' summat then?"

    "Ay," snarled the Clogger, "me ageean.  A bonny lot o' numyeds yo'd be baat me."

    Ben sighed again, slowly knocked the ash out of his pipe, and said, as he rose to go―

    "Theer's nobbut wun thing left as Aw con see."

    "Wot's that?" asked Jabe, subdued again by Ben's grave tone.

    "Th' owd Beuk says as 'Unto the righteous there ariseth light in the darkness,' an' we'en getten ta wait till it does," and with another sigh Ben sauntered off home.

    The clogging business suffered during the next three days.  Jabe found it simply impossible to give his mind to his work.  To make matters worse, Lige, after two or three attempts, had given up the idea of working until some settlement was arrived at, and wandered in and out of the Clog Shop all day long, alternately anathematising a fate that compelled him to make so momentous a decision, and praying under his breath for Divine guidance.

    Sam Speck, in his character as Lige's keeper, scarcely ever left him, and kept up also a persistent assault on the position Lige had taken up on the question of his inheritance.  To Sam that position was simply ridiculous.  If the money was properly and legally left to him, what right had he to bother any further about it?  And as for Lige's notion that Jane Ann, the leech-woman, was the rightful owner, Sam simply laughed at it.

    "Whey, mon! t'oan hawf th' brass i' th' country 'ud ha' to swop hons if thot wor th' way o' doin' it.  Ha' some sense, mon!  Tha'rt goin' dateliss."

    As for Lige, it was simply pitiable to see him.  He forgot his half-weekly shave.  His face wore a worried, almost haunted look, and his eyes were faded and watery in the morning, and bright and restless in the evening.  Every few hours the arguments pro and con were rehearsed again by himself and some one or other of those in the secret, but always with the same result, and the Clogger grew peevish under the continued strain.

    Every night since the discovery of Lige's dilemma, the four who knew of it remained behind after the others had gone, and went over the whole question again from beginning to end, but with a disheartening lack of definite result.

    "Aw'll tell thi wot it is," cried Sam Speck, at the close of one of his many attacks upon Lige's position, "it's nowt else but a judgment on her.  Hoo turned up her nooase at thi, an' wo'dn't ha' thi at ony price.  Well, hoo's cut her oan throttle—an' sarve her reet."

    This certainly was a new idea, and Jabe and Ben were inclined to see something in it; but Lige only shook his head and groaned―

    "Hoo's his dowter, an' wotiver hoo does conna mak' her onybody else's dowter."  And with a face of deepening gloom he bent over the fire as if he were cold.

    But the idea had set Long Ben thinking, and after a more or less sleepless night he was at the Clog Shop before Jabe had finished his breakfast, with at any rate a gleam of light in his mind.

    Now Jabe had felt from the beginning that if ever a solution of the difficulty was reached it would have to come from Ben, and so he sat up in his arm-chair in the parlour and set his loose leg a-going in eager anticipation the moment he set his eyes on the carpenter.

    "Aw think wee'st ha' rain," began Ben, trying to look easy, and glancing carelessly through the parlour window.

    "Ler it rain!" exclaimed Jabe impatiently.  "Wot dust want?"

    "Naa, Aw wur nobbut wondering whether we met square this thing"—and Ben put his hands behind him and turned his back to the fire.

    "Goa on!" rasped out Jabe, scarcely able to contain himself.  "Lige 'ull be here in a jiffy."

    Ben glanced out of the window again, looked demurely round the room, and then said―

    "Thaa knows Jane Ann, dust na?"

    "Ay! wot bi that?" and the Clogger looked as though he would have liked to drag the slowly flowing words out of Ben's hesitating mouth.

    "Is hoo a dacent woman, dust think?" was Ben's next venture.

    "Ay! hoo's reet enuff.  Goa on, mon.  Wot art dreivin' at?" and Jabe's short leg was riding up and down with frantic excitement.

    Ben looked round the house again, rolled his carpenter's apron round his waist, and proceeded―

    "He's promised no' ta speik abaat it fur a wik, hasna he?"

    "Well, well!" and Jabe had to seize hold of the chair-arms to keep down his irritation at Ben's deliberateness.

    "If hoo could be getten ta hev him afoor th' wik's aat"―

    Jabe jumped to his feet with a shout, and giving Ben a push which nearly caused him to sit down on the parlour fire, he cried―

    "By gum, tha's getten it, lad!"

    Then he stood back, and was evidently thinking rapidly.

    "Howd on!" he cried suddenly, raising his hand as if he were signalling. "Hoo'd happen throw him o'er when hoo geet howd o' th' brass."

    "Wot!  When hoo knowed wot he'd done fur her?  Beside, we met happen guard ageean that."

    "Haa?"

    "By axin' her if hoo'd owt ageean him but his pawverty."

    "An' wot then?"

    "Well, if hoo hadna, we met tell her as he's better off nor he uset be."

    The Clogger eyed Ben over with an eager, gloating sort of look, and then, slapping him on the shoulder, he broke through the principles of a lifetime by giving expression to feelings of unfeigned and proud admiration of his friend―

    "Ben thaa licks Owd Scratch fur schamin'—thaa does, for sure."

    But, though this was Ben's plan in outline, there were details wherein he saw possible difficulties, and so, sitting down, he and Jabe went over them one by one, enlarging and perfecting the scheme.

    "When mun we start?" asked Ben at last.

    "The sewner the better," was the emphatic reply.

    "Then tha'd better pike off ta-day."

    "Me! me goa!  Wot th' ferrups art talkin' abaat, Ben?"

    "Well, thaa knows her, an' Aw dunno."

    "Bud Aw'm an owd bachelor.  Aw know nowt abaat women, an' Aw dunno want t' dew nother.  Tha'rt maddlet, mon."

    But Ben stuck to his point, and it soon began to be clear that there was no other way out of the difficulty.  Jabe at first refused peremptorily.  He stormed.  He called Ben all the usual names of opprobrium, and invented several new ones for the occasion.  Lige's fortune might go to Hanover for him.  And he got angrier and angrier as the inevitableness of Ben's suggestion became clearer to him.

    Ben, relying on his old friend's strong attachment to Lige, and his general willingness to help anyone in need, held quietly to his point, and at last, after the longest and toughest struggle these two old gladiators ever had together, Ben departed, leaving Jabe vowing more vociferously than ever that he would not go a yard, but feeling certain all the same that he would go.

    And sure enough early in the afternoon of that same day the trees and hedges along the lanes to the Halfpenny Gate beheld the fierce woman-hating old Clogger limping doggedly along on an errand of love, and he who never courted fair woman for himself was actually going a-wooing for another.

    The details of that memorable interview have never been fully divulged by either of the parties who shared it, but sufficient is known for the purposes of this story.

    Jane Ann received Jabe quite effusively, and, though they were but slightly acquainted, insisted on his having tea with her.  Jabe persistently declared his inability to stay, as was the proper thing to do in the Clough, and several times tried to bring round the conversation to the subject of his visit.  But Lige seemed so unimportant a person to the leech-woman in comparison with her present guest that she could not be induced to talk about him, and was demonstrative enough in her attentions to make the Clogger feel uneasy and suspicious.  When tea-time came Jabe had not even mentioned his real business, and so was compelled, in spite of himself, to accept Jane Ann's most pressing invitation, and he sat at the table in a state of nervous apprehension lest someone should suddenly open the door and find him in this most compromising position.

    Towards the end of the meal he managed to introduce Abram Howarth's name, and discovered that his hostess knew all about the matter.  She seemed strangely unconcerned about it, Jabe thought, and even then he could obtain no clue as to her feelings about poor Lige.

    What the Clogger suffered in the interest of his friend that day will never be known, but presently, excited and afraid for himself, and anxious to get the interview over, but dodged and eluded by Jane Ann at every turn, he eventually grew desperate and blurted out the whole truth, and threw himself and his friend on the lady's mercy.

    The leech-keeper suddenly became very quiet and hurried into the back-yard—to feed the hens, she said; but really to conceal very genuine emotion and to collect her thoughts.

    When she came back her manner towards the Clogger had undergone a decided change, and she raised no objection to his proposed departure.

    Jabe was not quite satisfied, for though the lady now seemed willing, and almost eager, to see Lige, she would give no promise as to how she would treat him, and absolutely refused to bind herself in any way.  At the same time, as Jabe seemed so anxious, she allowed him to conclude that the road-mender would not suffer by being left in her hands.

    The expedition was not wholly satisfactory, Jabe mused as he went home.  And Long Ben's mode of receiving his account of it tended to confirm this impression.  But there was nothing for it now but to go on with the scheme, and the next question was how they were to deal with Lige.

    This proved by no means an easy problem, but at last they decided that, whilst concealing Jabe's visit from him, they would persuade him to go and see Jane Ann first instead of the lawyer, and they would for his own sake encourage him to act as soon as the week's grace was up.

    Lige was surprised and suspicious when that very evening they put on an air of reluctant resignation as if already accepting the inevitable, and he began to feel very lonely as he found them disposed to push him on in his resolution instead of trying to dissuade him as heretofore.  For some time he held out resolutely against going to see Jane Ann at all, and declared he would hand everything over to the lawyer, and "ha' dun wi' it."  But eventually the dexterously managed pressure of his friends prevailed, and the course they recommended was decided upon.

    Two days yet remained of the terrible week, and the way Lige seemed to be suffering as the time drew nearer made Jabe and Ben feel very guilty, whilst at the same time it gave encouragement to Sam to think that his arguments were prevailing.  Of course, Sam knew nothing of Jabe's visit to the Halfpenny Gate, and Jabe and the carpenter found his ignorance very useful to their scheme.

    All morning on the day after the expiration of the week, Lige sat groaning and sighing over the Clog Shop fire, wishing he had never been born, and denouncing the departed Abram as if he had done him some deadly injury.

    He seemed to grow more settled towards noon, and having dined at the Clog Shop, he hurriedly started off home, and half an hour afterwards, carefully dressed, and wearing once more Jonas's "blacks," he made his way on his fateful errand.

    He went very slowly, and stopped and talked to himself and prayed in the quiet lanes, but at length he dragged his reluctant legs to the cottage of his lady-love, and knocked and entered without waiting for permission―

    "Well, haa arta, wench?" he asked in a low sad voice that failed to conceal his agitation.

    Jane Ann was ironing, and glancing carelessly up, she answered―

    "Aw'm reet enuff."

    Lige was trembling now, but Jane Ann didn't appear to notice.  Neither did she ask him to sit down, and so from sheer weakness he moved towards a chair, and dropping into it, faltered faintly―

    "Aw want ta speik ta thi, Jane Ann."

    "Then donna!  Aw've towd thi afoor, an' Aw meean it."

    Lige's pale face became ashy as he answered―

    "It's no' that, wench, this toime.  Aw've cum ta speik abaat thi fayther."

    "Tha's no need; tha con tell me nowt good abaat him."

    "Thaa knows as he's deead, Aw reacon?"

    "Ay!" and the tone of the admission sounded as if she were reluctant to admit even so much.

    "Dust know whoa he left his brass tew?"

    "Ay," and Jane Ann went to change her flatiron at the fire, showing by her whole manner that she wished him to understand that the subject was distasteful to her.

    But Lige was in it now, and intended to make an end.

    "Well, it's no' moine, thaa knows; it's thoine," he said, leaning forward on his stick.

    "It isna moine, an' Aw shanna hev it."

    "Bud thaa mun hev it; thaa'll ha' ta hev it," and Lige became momentarily quite aggressive.

    "Shall Aw?"  And Jane Ann tossed her head defiantly, and began to rub her flat-iron on the smoothing blanket.

    There was silence for a moment, for Lige was quite nonplussed.  At last he said coaxingly―

    "Jane Ann, it isna my fawt as he left it ta me.  Aw knew nowt abaat it till efther he wor deead."

    "Whoa said it wur?"

    "Well, tak' it then, will ta?

    Then Jane Ann wheeled round, and, looking Lige steadily in the face, said, holding the iron away from her―

    "Liger Howarth, Aw'st never tak' a hawpenny on it if thaa talks till t' Judgment Day.  Soa theer!"

    Lige was amazed and distressed, and all the more so as he felt the old Adam in him rejoicing over Jane Ann's obstinacy.  He sat looking at the flat-irons in the bars of the fire for some time, and then he asked, hesitantly, as if ashamed of the suggestion

    "Well, wilt tak' th' hawf on it!"

    "Aw tell thi, Aw winna tak' a fardin."

    There was another uncomfortable pause, and then Lige ventured―

    "Wilt tak' them tew haases at th' bottom o' th' gate yond'?"

    Then Jane Ann seemed really angry, and replied―

    "Aw've towd thi wunce fer aw, Aw'st ha' nowt, an' if thaa conna be said tha'd better be shuntin'."

    Lige was abashed.  He sat for a long time trying to think of something else to propose, but as nothing came, he rose reluctantly to leave, saying, as he did so―

    "Well, Aw'll be goin'.  But Aw'll gi' thi a fortnit to think abaat it, and then Aw'll come ageean."

    "If thaa gi'es me twenty ye'r, it 'ull mak' noa difference," and Jane Ann rubbed resolutely at her ironing-cloth.

    Lige moved slowly to the door, unwilling to go, but afraid to stay.  He was just raising the latch and clearing his throat for a last word, when Jane Ann, with a face hot with ironing, and perhaps also with something else, bent low over her work, and said more softly than she had yet spoken―

    "Liger."

    "Wot?"

    "Ther's wun thing Aw'll hev, if tha'll ax me."

    Lige brightened up and turned back into the house again, and asked eagerly―

    "Wot's that?"

    "Thee."
                  .                          .                          .                          .                          .

    There is really no more to be told.  Lige the road-mender had never had any attractions for Jane Ann, and Lige, her father's heir and her supplanter, had become an object of aversion.  But the Lige whose simple honesty and rare conscientiousness had prompted him to make so great a sacrifice for justice and righteousness' sake became suddenly very noble in her eyes, and the road-mender went back to Beckside an accepted suitor and a very happy man.  And the first business of Jane Ann after she came to Beckside to live was to order the new Communion plate for the chapel.



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