Clog Shop Chronicles I.
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An Atonement.


WHEN "Barbary" Royle returned to Beckside to live, it was generally understood that she had had a misfortune, but that as it was something for which she was more to be pitied than blamed no person with any "dacency " would ever think of making inquiries about it.  Besides, everybody knew everything about everybody else in Beckside, and if they only waited Barbara would "tell" of herself.

    But she never did.  And nothing could be gathered from the little girl she brought back with her, who reminded the old people so much of the Barbara of long ago.

    She had lived in a big place a long way off, she said.  Her mother had told her that she had a "daddy," but she had never seen him, and she was called Royle like her mother—and that was all that could be elicited.

    "When a child's cawd after its muther," drawled Long Ben, picking a chip out of the Clog Shop fire and lighting his pipe with it, "there's summat wrong wi' its fayther and"—

    "If all t' childer i' Beckside as had faythers wi' summat wrung abaat 'em had to be renamed after their mothers," interrupted old Jabe the clogger, lifting a very red face from over a disabled clog, "there'd be a bonny christenin' at your haase."

    "An' I tell thee summat else," he continued, rising to his feet and brandishing a well-worn knife; "if t' mon as talked abaat puncing a chap when he wor daan 'ad cum to Beckside he'd find them as 'ud do it to a woman."

    Jabe's rejoinder being unusually fierce, even for him, it was clear that he disapproved of curiosity in this direction, and that the subject had better be dropped.

    Dropped at the Clog Shop, it was soon dropped everywhere else, for that establishment and its proprietor were the centres of public opinion in the village.

    Beckside scarcely was a village; it was just two or three clusters of cottages, dotted here and there with bigger buildings stationed on the left slope of the clough, having a little Methodist chapel at one end of it and a mill at the other.  There was no street in the village, the road that ran slantwise down to the Beck-bridge at the bottom of the clough and up again towards Knob Top, as the farm on the opposite side of the clough was called, being the only provision of the nature of streetage which Beckside possessed.

    The Clog Shop stood on the left, just past the chapel, at the point where the road turned down towards the Beck, so that it commanded a full view of the road right down to the bridge, and it was the main object in sight when you came up the road from the bridge.  The Clog Shop itself was merely a lean-to standing against the end of Jabe's cottage, and having a big window facing the road, and a little one looking into the garden behind.  The fireplace stood with its back to the cottage.  Though of comparatively modern construction it was very ancient in style, and was as nearly like an oldtime ingle-nook as the imagination of Jabe and the ingenuity of the local builder could produce.  The remains of two or three clog-benches and two long, low stools provided the furniture of this primitive, cosy corner, which was all the year round, and almost all the day long, occupied either by customers who waited for clogs that were being "spetched," or by old Becksiders, to whom it served as club-room and hotel.

    Jabe himself was a bachelor and a confirmed woman-hater.  His apprentice for the time being was usually both cook and housemaid, except when Aunt Judy came in to "fettle up."  "Independent o' boath men and women," Jabe used to say, with a tremendous emphasis on the "and."

    Jabe had a short leg and a long one, the shorter one being used as a sort of indicator of feeling, much in the same way as a dog uses his tail, and the sudden jerking out of the abbreviated member and its being flung violently over the other was taken as an unfailing sign that something was coming.

    Barbara Royle had been one of Jab's special trials in days gone by.  A laughing, teasing, black-eyed beauty who, even after her conversion, was suspected of "carrying on" with the lads, she would come into the Clog Shop to have her clog mended as demurely as she went to class, except that she was usually humming some popular Sunday School tune.

    "I want to be an angel," she was murmuring on one of these occasions whilst Jabe put on her clog iron.

    "Ay, but ther'll ha' to be a vast change if iver th'art an angel, wench," said Jabe.

    And there had been a change.  Barbara had gone away from Beckside, and was supposed to be doing well in a distant town.  Suddenly, however, she had returned—a sad-eyed, shrinking woman, whose every action proclaimed that she wanted to be let alone.

    "Goa when th'art axed," Jabe said to those who "thowt o' cawin' on her," but as Barbara never asked anybody they had to be content as they were.  Jabe himself was strongly suspected of having been to see Barbary, for Peter Twist, bending his head down as he sat in the nook and speaking under his breath whilst Jabe served a customer, communicated to two or three of the "chaps" that owd Jabe had been to him to speak for a "couple o' looms " for Barbara, and that when he came he looked as if he'd been skriking."

    So Barbara was allowed to settle down quietly among her own.  She had no near relatives.  The more distant ones had known little about her whilst she was away, and kept carefully aloof when she returned, and so she and her child were allowed to follow their own devices and settle in a small cottage down by the Beck-bridge.

    Except to gratify their curiosity, the Beck-side women had taken no interest in Barbara, and only showed their nature by a characteristic hardness to one who had seen misfortune.  Some of them, indeed, owed her a grudge of long standing for her flirting triumphs of other days, and affected to be astonished when Jabe received her as a full member of his "class."

    "Barbary Ryle's Barbary Ryle," said Aunt Judy, who, in virtue of her relationship to Jabe, was a sort of a leader of opinion amongst the women; "Barbary Ryle's Barbary Ryle, an' if hoo isna settin' her cap a sumbry afore hoo's bin here mony wik my name's not Judy Jabe."

    As a matter of fact this was not Mrs. Judy's name at all.  She had been married for a few months only, and as her late husband had been nobody in particular, people had never got into the habit of calling her by his name.  Surnames were always somewhat of a difficulty in Beck-side.  In most cases they were superfluous, and were also considered to be pretentious, and so in the nature of things it came about that Aunt Judy became known as Judy Jabe—the Judy of Jabe.

    Whether Barbara ever heard of Judy's prediction or not, she seemed to take particular pains to avoid the society of men, and when Ned Royle, the new overlooker, came to the mill, and Aunt Judy and her gossips were "sartin sure" she'd try to catch him, they were perplexed to find that Barbara avoided Ned even more carefully than she did other men.

    Ned turned out to be a Methodist, and one Monday night went to the prayer-meeting.  He must have been a little early, for the room was empty.  Presently the door opened, and Barbara entered.  But she stopped suddenly, turned deadly pale, and, wheeling round, nearly flew down the chapel flags.

    Long Ben met her rushing away, and declared over the Clog Shop fire that night that it was a "regular queer do."  "Aw seed her go in, and Aw seed her come aat, and hoo' looked as if hoo'd seen a boggart; and when Aw geet inta th' vestry, theer wor Ned lookin' moar like a boggart nor even Barbary did."

    Ned Royle was something of a mystery.  The fact that he bore the same surname as Barbara attracted no attention, for Royle was the commonest surname in the district.  Nobody seemed to know where the new overlooker came from, although a slight difference in his "twang" made it clear that he was not of Beckside origin.  The "super" had told Jabe that he had received a note of removal for Ned, and that he had been a Sunday School teacher.  At the mill he was regarded somewhat suspiciously, as he had introduced several useful but very unpopular changes.  The fact that he was a teetotaler was against him, and his neglect of the flagrant weed disfranchised him as far as the Clog Shop Club was concerned.

    He had joined the Sunday School, of which Jabe was perpetual superintendent.  Ned showed, however, a most decided preference for teaching girls, but as such a thing was only allowed in cases of emergency, his opportunities did not occur very often.  However, he was soon immensely popular with the "little wenches," and at tea-parties foraged for them in the provision room, and waited upon them with untiring zeal.  His special favourite was little Emmie Royle, Barbara's daughter.  The women said he was simply kind to the child to get at the mother—an opinion openly denied, but privately accepted by Jabe.

    When, however, one dark Sunday afternoon as school was "loosing," and Jabe was limping home a little behind the rest, he saw little Emmie in front of him, and was just noticing how she walked "straight" like her mother, when he saw a man start out of a "ginnell," snatch Emmie up in his arms, kiss and hug her passionately, and then, putting her tenderly down again, hurry away in Jabe's direction.  Jabe was excited, and had just prepared a hot blast for this offender when, meeting him face to face, he discovered it was Ned Royle, and that tears were in the man's eyes, and he was visibly agitated.

    Jabe's gruff "'Ow do" in return to Ned's salutation was evidently intended to be addressed to the pole-star, judging by the direction in which he looked as he uttered it.  And the following evening over the Clog Shop fire, Jabe, whilst not making the slightest reference to what he had seen, expressed a very decided opinion that "Yon mon 'as had childer of his own some time."

    About this time the mill began to run short-time, and eventually stopped altogether.  Trade was bad, and hard times were come again.  Considerable surprise was expressed in Beckside that Barbara Royle, one of the newest of the weavers, should be almost the last to be stopped, and the women folk took it as another sign that Ned was "after" Barbara.

    Jabe suppressed all murmurings in his presence by quoting the text about the widow and the fatherless.

    "Widow, indeed," sniffed Mary Meadows, an angular, hard-faced old weaver of grasping habits.  "Hoo's as mitch a widow as"—

    But Jabe had jumped to his feet, and was kicking aside a small heap of clog tops which had accumulated around his bench as if he wanted to get at the speaker, and the look on his face was so threatening that Mary forgot to pay for her new heel irons in her haste to depart.

    It was noticed also by the members of the Clog Shop Club, and by several quite ordinary people as well, that Ned Royle, who had nobody to keep but himself, was one of the first to feel the pinch of the stoppage.  What made it more perplexing was that Ned was commonly supposed to have declined at least two offers of work since the mill stopped, either of which was better than his present situation.  The widow with whom he lodged told Sam Speck, who, of course, told all the Clog Shop cronies that Ned Royle was "fair clemmin' hissel'," which reminded Long Ben that the "super" had lately dropped into the habit of calling Ned Mister Edward,—Jabe being the only person in the Methodist Society at Beckside who was considered entitled to be called Mister, even by the superintendent minister.

    The Leaders' Meeting at Beckside was also mystified by the fact that the minister always prevented them sending any help during these bad times to Barbara Royle, assuring them with a confidence which greatly excited curiosity that she was amply provided for.  And indeed it seemed so, for Barbara was in fact a liberal contributor to the needs of the poor, and might often be seen coming from cottages where poverty was known to exist.

    Then the dreaded smallpox came to Beckside, and in a few days poverty was lost sight of in the presence of this more terrifying foe.  In a short time half the houses in the hamlet had patients in them.  Then, although the welcome news came that the mill was to be restarted, nothing could be done for lack of hands, and strangers would not come near.

    The doctor's assistant from Brogden came to live in the place until the plague was over, and the Methodist superintendent was to be seen in Beckside every day.  Beyond these no stranger was to be met with.  The postman had caught the disease and died, and no one could be got to regularly take his place.  Vehicles, instead of driving through Beckside, made a détour of nearly two miles round by Stanger Bottom.

    A heavy, oppressive silence hung over the place, broken only by the sound of Long Ben's hammer as he worked almost night and day making coffins.  The Clog Shop became a sort of relief committee-room, where the self-appointed committee-men sat all day long discussing the situation, and fumigating themselves with tobacco.

    A peculiarity of the epidemic was that in Beckside, at anyrate, it was commonest amongst the women, and so many other women were needed to nurse them that a petticoat was scarcely ever seen out of doors during the visitation.

    "Has ta yerd as Barbary's little wench has getten it?" asked Long Ben, opening the Clog Shop door one morning, and standing with one hand on the latch, whilst the other held a piece of the now too familiar oak.

    "Nay sure!" exclaimed Jabe, and putting on his big spectacles he came to the shop-door, and stared down the street towards Barbara's cottage, as if a sight of that building would help him to realise what he had just heard.

    As Jabe and Long Ben stood gazing down the road the minister came round the corner.

    "Moor trubbel, moor trubbel, sir," said Jabe, giving the minister's hand a grip which made him wince.

    "Who now?" asked the minister, with a jaded look.

    "Little Emmie; Barbary's Emmie, you know," said Jabe.

    "Ay, and her mother too," said Aunt Judy, as she passed into Jabe's house, on one of her occasional "fettlin' up doos."

    "Booath on 'em?" exclaimed Jabe and Ben together.

    "Ay, booath on 'em.  An', O Lord, who's to noss 'em," and poor, hard old Judy actually uttered something which would pass for a sob.

    The minister took refuge in his pocket-handkerchief.  Long Ben undisguisedly wept, and Jabe, looking down at Barbara's pest-smitten cottage, blinked his eager eyes with a most suspicious rapidity.

    "Well, something must be done," said the minister, with a sort of gasp in his voice.  "I'll go and see."

    "The Lord goa wi' you," said Jabe, "but there isn't a woman i' t' place as can noss 'em."

    "The minister started on his errand, and Jabe went back to his clog-bench.

    "Jabe! Jabe! does to see this?"  It was Long Ben again, and his face had a scared look as he held open the door.

    Jabe was at his side as fast as a long leg and a short one could carry him, and, following the direction of Ben's eyes, he saw Ned Royle standing at Barbara's door.

    "He met th' minister goin' daan," said Ben, "an' as soon as he spok' to him Ned set off towart Barbary's.  Then he stopt as if he wor feart, and then he started again, and theer he is."

    "Why doesn't he goa in?" asked Jabe.

    "Hew con he goa in, an' 'imp a single mon? —see thee! see thee!  He is goin' in."  And, to the utter amazement of both, Ned, after hesitating some time and knocking repeatedly, gently put his hand on the latch, opened the door, and passed inside.

    Ned's hand trembled, and his face was white and set as he went in.  The room he entered was neatly furnished and spotlessly clean, but the fire was out and the room uninhabited.  Ned saw nothing.  His head was down and his breath was coming short and fast.

    "Barbary, mun I cum in?" he asked, without looking up, but there was no answer.  Ned tried again, but without success.  Then he raised his head, looked about him, and finally glancing round at a narrow, much bescrubbed and uncarpeted staircase in the corner behind the door, he stepped towards it and timidly ascended.  He knocked again when he reached the bedroom door.

    "Come in," said a faint voice, and Ned with a trembling hand pushed open the door.  He did not move, however, but looked wistfully towards the pink and white bed curtains behind which Barbara and little Emmie lay, he said in a humble pleading voice―

    "It's me, Barbary, mun I cum in?"

    No answer; only the occupants of the bed seemed to have suddenly stopped breathing.

    "Barbary!  Barbary! let me cum in, will to?"

    Still no answer, and at last Ned stepped into the middle of the room.

    "Barbary!" he said, "I dunnot ask thee to forgive me, but let me noss thee an' Emmie till you're better, and then I'll goa away if tha wants me."

    There was a sudden movement in the bed, and one of the occupants turned her face toward the wall and began to sob.

    Ned moved gently nearer.  Then he tenderly pushed aside the curtains, and the next moment he had taken the plague-stricken woman in his arms and was covering her fevered face with kisses.

    "Does ta forgive me?  Does ta, Barbary?" gasped Ned.

    "Ay, lad!" was the reply slowly and faintly spoken, and then the stricken woman laid her head on Ned's shoulder, and broke out into long sobs of relief.

    "Goa away, Ned; yo' shouldn't do that.  Yo'll catch it," said little Emmie from the other side of the bed.

    "Come here, Emmie," said Barbara from her pillow on the man's broad breast.  "Come here, wench; this is thi fayther."
                          .                             .                             .                             .

    When the minister returned to the Clog Shop, he found Jabe and Long Ben in rather heated discussion.

    "Haa does ta know as theayre worn't sumbry [somebody] else theer?" Jabe was saying, " an' if tha objects why doesn't tha goa thisell?"

    "Haa con Aw goa wi' yon childer i' t' haase? retorted Ben.

    "Brethren," said the minister, drawing the remains of a disused clog-bench near the fire, "I should like to explain this matter to you.  Ned Royle is where he has the best right to be, for he is Barbara's husband."

    Jabe and his chum looked at each other in amazement.

    "They were married at Duxbury," the minister went on, "and were very happy until Ned took to drinking.  He is of a very excitable nature, though you wouldn't think it from the quietness of his conduct since he came here.  One night, after having endured much provocation, Barbara spoke sharply to him.  A quarrel followed, and eventually Ned, losing all control of himself, made a most violent assault upon his wife, and even in his frenzy threw cradle and baby into the street.  The magistrates took a serious view of the case, and sent Ned to prison for some months.

    "He came out of prison a changed man, and went right away home to ask Barbara's forgiveness.  But she had gone, and no one knew where.  Ned guessing that she had gone to her native village, and feeling with increasing remorse the blackness of his own conduct, gave up the idea of finding his wife and went away to a distance and got work.  Then he got converted at one of our Missions, and engaged himself in good Christian work.

    "But his heart was aching for his wife and child, and so hearing of the vacancy at the mill here, he applied for the situation, feeling that though he had forfeited all right to the love of wife and child he would still watch over their welfare, and perhaps some day win back their affection.  He has never spoken to Barbara until to-day—except in connection with the work at the mill, and then in the fewest possible words; but just before the bad times he bought the house in which Barbara lives, and Barbara has been very much puzzled because old Croppy, the Brogden rent-collector, refused to take any more rent, and told her she must wait until the landlord asked for it.

    "During the bad times Ned kept Barbara well supplied with money, and has in many ways secretly furthered her interests.  As soon as the smallpox appeared, he came to me with a proposal for getting his wife and child out of the place, but Barbara refused to move, and now he has broken the ice and gone home to nurse them."

    When the minister finished there was a long silence in the Clog Shop, broken only by a sudden falling together of the chips in the fire.

    "That's wot I calls Ned's Atonement," said Jabe at last, looking hard into the fire.

    "Yes, and his At-one-ment too," said the minister.


――――♦――――

 
Billy Botch.


WINDOW dressing was at a discount in the Beckside shops.  The largest window was that of the Clog Shop, a short low casement, which made up for lack of height by a quite abnormal width.  No partition or curtain separated the window from the shop, except a strong board cocked slantwise at the inside edge of the window bottom which just enabled old Jabe to see over it, and keep an eye on the doings of the world outside.

    The window bottom was generally strewn with wax ends, clog irons, small tins of dubbin, bundles of white leather whip-lashes for children's tops, and clog soles in various stages of preparation.  Of ready-made boots or clogs there was not a single specimen.

    And yet there was, for in the very middle of the window, standing on a little platform a few inches high, stood a pair of handsome specimens of the clogger's craft.  Except that there was generally a pretty thick coat of recent dust upon them, these clogs were always in a high state of polish.  The soles had been varnished, the clasps glittered in a state of quite arrogant brassiness, and the tops were resplendent with innumerable coats of blacking.  Woe to the hapless apprentice who smeared those varnished soles with blacking, or left a speck of dimness on the shining clasps.

    Now, the casual visitor who came to Beckside doubtless concluded that these resplendent clogs were trade emblems, insignia of the craft.

    He was mistaken.  To have made a pair of clogs on stock or for mere show would have been to make a concession to new-fangled ways of which the old Clogger was incapable.  No, these clogs had a history which I am now about to relate.

    Jabe once had an apprentice called Billy—an undersized, sickly-looking little fellow with unmanageable dark hair, black twinkly eyes, and a low, broad forehead.

    Now, all Jabe's apprentices were supposed to have done well after they left his training—in fact there was a feeling in the minds of the Clog Shop Club that the art of clog-making depended for its maintenance, as far as Lancashire was concerned, on the accomplished exponents of it who were turned out from Beckside.  Yet whilst they sat at his bench, Jabe's "lads" were always "leather-yeds," "numskulls," and the like.  And the last one was always the worst.

    But Billy seems to have been exceptionally "num," and was emphatically informed about a score times per day—

    "Tha'll never mak' a clogger as lung as tha'rt wik."

    One evening, owing to some mental abstraction on Jabe's part, the usual terms of raillery were wanting, and once or twice he spoke quite civilly to his apprentice.

    This produced a marked effect on Billy, who grew quite light-hearted and had commenced to sing, when Sam Speck from the chimney corner recommended him to "goo i' th' next street."  Nothing abashed, Billy continued his tune, and at last, forgetting altogether the presence of Sam in the corner, he turned round upon his bench under the back window, and called across the shop—

    "Aw say, mestur, do yo' think Aw'st [I shall] ever be able to mak' a pair?"

    In an instant Jabe was himself again, and realising the danger of further neglect of duty, he replied—

    "Thee mak' a pair!  Thee!  Why, tha conna mak' a wax end gradely yet.  T'ony thing as ever tha'll be able to mak' 'ull be a-a-a-botch."

    There was a great roar from the chimney corner.

    "Good, Jabe; good!  By gum, that's a good un," and Sam smacked his thigh in delight.

    Billy flushed, and as he bent over his work a great tear splashed down into the sprig-box before him.

    Now, "botch" was quite an unusual word in Beckside, but it sounded so expressive, and seemed so exactly to fit the case, that it was regarded as one of Jabe's greatest inspirations in nomenclature, and when Sam began to call the poor little apprentice Billy Botch, everybody else fell in with the habit, and Billy Botch he continued to be.

    The lad was really troublesome.  His over-anxious desire to please made him nervous, and he was constantly blundering, but he was so evidently proud of a place in the great cloggery, so humble and penitent when he had failed, and so anxious to make up for his deficiency by harder work, that although Jabe called him "num-yed" twenty times a day, and informed him that "all thy fingers is thoombs" about the same number of times, he hadn't the heart to turn him away.

    Billy was worse than an orphan.  He was the only child of the village sot.  His mother was dead, and Billy and his father lived alone.  The drunkard, once a respectable man, had starved and almost killed his wife, and since her death had alternately petted and abused his son.  A soft-hearted, harmless man to everybody but his own.  And Jabe stuck to Billy all the more on this account, especially after he discovered that neither abuse nor sympathy would induce the lad to say a word against his father.

    Billy was rather a timid boy, but on two occasions he had come to his work with a bloody nose, the result of an attack upon some boyish slanderer of his parent, and once, indeed, a dark rumour spread through Beckside that Billy had lifted his hand to throw a clog sole at his master for a similar offence, but as no member of the Club knew anything about it, and the suggestion was so wildly improbable in itself, nobody ever seriously believed it.

    One day Sam Speck had been chaffing Billy about his size.

    "Mon," he said, leaning his back against the chimney breast, and stretching himself out upon the bench, "tha grows less.  There'll be nowt left but thy clugs sum-day."

    Billy began a reply which threatened to end in a whimper, when Jabe gruffly ordered him to "pike off whoam, and see as tha cums i' time i' t' mornin'."

    When he had gone, Jabe put out the brown snuffless candle which was his speciality in dips, drew up to the fire, and filled his pipe.

    For a time there was silence, and then Sam, removing his pipe from his mouth, and nodding emphatically as he looked first at Jabe and then at Long Ben, as if to defy even their combined contradiction, said—

    "It's trew!  Th' little chap does grow less."

    "It's moar nor we can say for thy tongue," rejoined Jabe.

    There was an inarticulate grunt of amusement from Long Ben far into the ingle-nook, and then a sudden straightening of his face into portentous seriousness and sudden conviction, and he leaned his long body forward and said—

    "Aw'll tell thi wot it is, Jabe, that lad's clemm't."

    A few days later Billy came to his work limping badly, and making strenuous efforts to conceal his condition.

    "Wot's up wi' thi naa?"

    "Nowt."

    "Nowt! why, tha limps like a three-legged donkey.  Wot's to do wi' thi?"

    "Aw tumbled ont' fender and hurt mysel'."

    "Cum here and let's look at it."

    Slowly and very reluctantly Billy came towards the fire, and, holding up a skinny, blue-hued leg, exposed a frightful bruise.

    "That's niver a faw; that's a punce.  Whoa punced thi?"

    No reply.

    "Whoa punced thi, Aw tell thi?"

    "No—noabry " (nobody).

    Jabe jumped to his feet.  "If tha tells me a lie Aw'll knock thi daan."

    By this time Jabe was looking very terrible, and stood over Billy with an unfinished clog sole ready to strike.

    "My fayther."

    The clogger's hand dropped to his side instantly, and flinging his weapon back upon the heap it belonged to, he sat down and began glowering into the fire.

    That night there was a long confabulation in the ingle-nook, and all next day Sam Speck was running to and from the Clog Shop every few minutes with a look of dark mystery on his face.

    In the evening, getting as far into the chimney as they could, and speaking under their breath, Jabe, Sam, and Long Ben had a secret consultation.  At the usual time Billy, rising from his bench at the back window, pulling off his apron, and blowing out his candle, was making for home.

    "Naa, wheer art goin'?" demanded Jabe in his raspiest voice.

    "Whoam, for sure," answered Billy in dull surprise.

    "Theer's going to be a halteration between thee and me," and Jabe pursed out his lips, knitted his shaggy brow, and jerked his short leg across the other in a manner that brought a dingy patch of colour to Billy's cheek.

    "Why, wot have Aw dun?" he was beginning, when Jabe broke in more sternly than ever—

    "Aw'm abaat tiret o' thy gallus ways, so Aw'm goin' ta have thi livin' in."

    "Livin' in?" murmured Billy in perplexity.

    "'Avin' thy meit here and sleepin'," said Ben from behind a cloud of tobacco smoke far into the chimney.

    A momentary flush of joy suffused Billy's dirty cheek, and then it vanished, and in its place came a hard, desperate expression.

    "Aw conna live in; thank yo' kindly, mestur."

    "Tha means tha winna," snarled Jabe.

    "He's none goin' ta knock it off thy wages, tha knows," explained Ben, with a coaxing cadence in his voice.

    Billy only shook his head.

    "Aw conna leave my fayther," he said at last.

    "Thy fayther!" cried Jabe, with a look of infinite disgust.

    "It's abaat toime tha did," chimed in Sam from the other chimney corner.  "He's left thi fur wiks togather, and he's clemm't thi, and he's threshed thi, and welly [nearly] broken thi leg.  A bonny fayther he is!" he added scornfully, after a moment's pause.

    "But Aw conna leave him," said Billy, with a weary shake of his head.

    "Then tha other leaves him or me" shouted Jabe, jumping to his feet and shaking his clenched and waxy fist at Billy.

    After an awkward pause, Long Ben asked gently—

    "Why conna tha leave thy fayther, lad?"

    "Aw—Aw promised my muther Aw wouldn't, when hoo deed," and Billy burst into a great sob.

    No more was said to Billy on the question of living in, but from that time things began to occur which prevented him from being spared about meal times, and accepting the evident intention of Jabe, he found himself provided
with food at the shop, but at liberty to go home whenever he preferred.

    Some time after this Billy was converted, and began to take an eager boyish interest in all chapel affairs.  He grew fond of reading, was made school librarian, and revelled in the somewhat heavy literature of the vestry cupboards.  Then he fell into the habit of "setting" the preachers home after evening service, and had not been entirely able to conceal from them his own aspirations.

    One day a letter came to the Clog Shop which Billy read in a flutter of delight and dismay.  It was a request from a sick local preacher that he would take the service at Beckside on the following Sunday night.

    Billy was in a fever.  He had several discourses prepared, and had frequently rehearsed them in the clough lanes, but now when the opportunity came his heart failed.

    Besides, he had never dreamed of commencing at Beckside.  How would Jabe take it?  His contempt for young men's "forradness" was well known, and then his master and Long Ben were the stewards at the chapel, and there was no telling what view they might take of the case, especially as Billy had no proper authorisation.

    All day on Friday and also on Saturday Billy was brooding over the coming ordeal, and watching for a favourable opportunity of telling the Clogger.  But none occurred, and Billy went home on Saturday night with his fearful secret locked in his own breast.

    Sleep was impossible, and when Sunday came he went to chapel with the fixed resolution of telling his master after the service.  But the preacher was billeted with Jabe that day, and being an old friend would stay to tea.  So Billy's last chance was gone.

    As the stumpy fingers of the hair-of-the-head clock hanging in the chapel vestry drew near to six, there was anxiety in the minds of those who occupied the apartment.  Long Ben was watching the clock and gently rocking his long body to and fro as a vent for his nervousness.  Jabe strode from end to end of the vestry with his most pronounced unevenness of gait, and Jonas Tatlock the "leading singer" sat at the end of the table tapping impatiently on it with his finger ends, and glancing expectantly every now and again at the door.

    "He doesn't use be'en this lat!" said Long Ben apologetically.

    "He's ne'er bin nowt else sin' Aw knowed him," snapped Jabe, glad of an outlet for his growing wrath, "but we'st begin at toime, preicher or no preicher."

    "Whoa'll begin?" asked Long Ben cautiously.

    "Whoa?  Why, thee."

    "Me, Aw oppened aat t' last toime."

    "Tha did nowt at sooart."

    "Ya, bur 'ee did," Jonas broke in.

    Jabe was just preparing a fearful blast for these contrary spirits when the door was opened, and Billy, as white as the vestry wall, stepped in.

    "Wot's tha want?" cried Jabe at the intruder.

    "Aw've come to tak' t' sarvice," stammered Billy.

    There was a dead silence.  Jabe stood glaring at his apprentice in speechless amazement.  Jonas became deeply absorbed in his tune-book, and Long Ben fixed his eyes upon the ceiling as if he expected some explanation from it.

    "Out of the mouths o' babes," he murmured at last, drawing out the "babes" as long as possible in a sort of pathetic emphasis.

    The fiery eye which Jabe had fixed on Billy was now turned upon Ben, who seemed under the glance to become lankier than ever.

    After transfixing him for some time with a terrific glare, Jabe turned suddenly on his heel, snatched his hat from the peg against the wall, and exclaiming mockingly, "Then tha can coodle thy ba-abes," limped into the chapel with his short nose very high in the air.

    In a few moments he was followed by Billy and the rest, and a buzz of suppressed astonishment arose as the young clogger walked into the pulpit.

    Billy trembled until the pulpit wax candles shook in their sockets.  Then in a husky, tremulous voice he gave out the hymn.  The former part of the service was got through without anything that needs comment, except that Long Ben, who was not usually very demonstrative in his worship, kept up a constant fire of responses during the prayer.  There had never, within living recollection, been any moment of stillness in that chapel so awful as that in which Billy prepared to announce his text.

    "Prepare to meet thy God," read the preacher.

    A long pause, in which Long Ben, sitting near the vestry door, declared afterwards he heard every tick of the vestry clock.

    "Prepare to meet thy God," repeated Billy.

    The superintendent minister had a way of announcing his text twice before he began to preach, and so, detecting an ambitious imitation, Sam Speck gave a significant and resounding sniff from behind the choir curtain.

    "Prepare to meet thy God," reiterated the preacher with a perceptible quaver in his voice.

    Another painful pause and a silence that was deathly, broken at last by Jabe in the back pew throwing his expressive leg about, and kicking the pew front as he groaned audibly, and in a tone of insufferable disgust.

    "Hay, dear!"

    The young women tittered, the boys in the gallery over Jabe's head suspended their preparations for fun, and were breathlessly attentive.  All over the chapel there was a bending down of bonnets, and Jonas in the singing pew began to clear his throat to start a verse.  Then Billy, gripping the sides of the pulpit to hold himself up, began—

    "Christian brethren, along the path of life there are many strange meetings. . . ."

    Having got started, the preacher divided his sermon into the orthodox three parts and an application.  When he had been going several minutes he seemed to get the upper hand of his work.  There were a few people, at any rate, who were all eye and ear.  The exhortation proved to be longer than the sermon, and when Billy sat down bathed in perspiration there was many a shining face and not a few glistening eyes in the little Beckside congregation.

    On Sunday nights the Clog Shop Club sat in Jabe's parlour.  The day's sermons were, of course, the chief subjects of discussion, but the debate was conducted by a strict and well-understood method.

    Supper of oatcake, cheese, and small beer or coffee having been partaken of, the critics drew round the fire.  It would have been nothing short of a misdemeanour for any one to have broached the sermon during supper,—only strangers ever attempted it,—and for any one to have led off the conversation without waiting for Jabe would have been simply rank treason.  When the pipes had been lighted, and no sound could be heard except the regular p't, p't of the smokers' lips as they poured forth expanding columns of smoke, Jabe would turn to Long Ben and commence the discussion with the invariable formula—

    "Well, wot dost reacon off yon mon?"

    On the night of Billy's sermon, however, there was a hitch.

    P't, p't, went the pipes—Jabe was a long time beginning.

    P't, p't, p't, but he never spoke.  Two or three of the cronies fidgeted in their chairs.

    "Little David wi' a sling an' a stoan," said Long Ben at last, in a hesitant, musing way.

    "Ay, an' plenty thick-yed Goliaths to throw 'em at," answered Jabe.

    The chairs creaked loudly, and Jonas had a fit of coughing.

    Another long silence.  Jabe's rejoinder gave no clue whatever as to his mental whereabouts on the subject of the evening, and the first thing to do was to solve that problem.  So Sam Speck presently tried the other side, but very cautiously—

    "It tak's moar nor memory to mak' a preicher."

    "That's why they wouldn't ha' thee, Aw reacon," said Jabe—in allusion to a long bygone attempt of Sam's to get upon the Plan.

    Sheepish grins flitted for a moment on two or three countenances, and Jonas' cough came on again, and after a time he said: "This 'bacca's mortal strung."

    It was no use.  The conversation would not flow—Jabe could not be drawn; and in spite of several attempts to start other topics, the conversation hung fire.  The Club broke up earlier than usual therefore, and Jabe was left to himself.  As he was filling his pipe with the nightcap charge, however, the parlour door opened an inch or two, and Long Ben, holding the door open without coming into sight, said with unnecessary loudness—

    "Jabe!"

    "Well? "

    "Deal gently, for my sake, with the young man," and bang went the door, and Ben's long steps were heard retreating down the road.

    The night following, however, the ice was broken, and after Sam had retailed all the gossip of Beckside relating to Billy's sermon, and Jabe had elicited from his cronies by such tortuous byways of conversation as were peculiar to them that they were pleased with the effort, Jabe dropped his mask, and whilst sternly repressing all extravagance of praise, he conceded in what was regarded as one of his few weak moments that "Th' lad met [might] mak' a hexhorter i' time."

    But Billy improved rapidly, was made a local preacher, became in request, and was, withal, exceedingly studious and modest.

    The "super" had been "planned" all day at Beckside one Sunday, and though not billeted with Jabe, he was known to have visited him and had a long conversation during the day.

    The gathering in the parlour was therefore unusually large at night in expectation of news.  Supper over and the pipes lighted, Jabe, leaning back in his chair until it stood on its back legs only, and looking hard at the brass candlesticks on the high mantelpiece, puffed out a volume of smoke and remarked in the most indifferent voice he could command —

    "Th' 'super's ' wot Aw caw a far-seein' mon."

    Six pipes were taken out of six mouths, and six pairs of inquiring eyes were turned on Jabe, but nobody spoke.  Somewhat disconcerted at not receiving the spoken question, Jabe went on—

    "A gradely commonsense chap."

    Another long silence; and then Sam Speck, looking across at Jonas as if addressing him particularly, said—

    "Queen Anne's deead."

    Foiled again, Jabe went on another tack, and after a suitable pause remarked, with the same exaggerated assumption of indifference—

    "Aar Billy's bin axed to preich t' charity sarmons at Clough End."

    Now, most of those present were already in possession of this piece of information, and as every one felt that this was only preliminary skirmishing, which was being unnecessarily prolonged, they still maintained their taciturnity.

    Jabe fidgeted in his chair, threw his short leg over one arm of it, then took it down again, and at last, turning to his nearest neighbour, who happened to be Long Ben, he said—

    "Th' 'super' wants aar Billy to cum aat."

    "Aat into t' ministry, does tha mean?"

    "Ay!"

    There; the cat was out of the bag now, and in a few minutes they were talking one against the other in a manner bewildering to any but a native Becksider.

    Sam Speck had "expected nowt else sin' he preiched his fust sarmon."

    Jonas told Jabe: "Tha'll see that lad Cheermon of a District afore tha dees."

    Lige (Elijah), the road-mender, wanted to know "wot th' circuit ud think o' Beckside when it turn't aat a 'traveller,'" and Long Ben sat back in his chair with an exhausted pipe between his lips and beamed in silent satisfaction.

    When the conversation was loudest, and two or three had risen to their feet to get a better hearing, the door opened and in walked Billy.

    In a moment there was a great hush, and those who were standing slunk back into their chairs as if they had been suddenly detected in stealing.

    Billy looked round with curiosity and surprise.

    "What is the matter?" he asked; for he had been out preaching, and had not yet dropped back into his work-a-day vernacular.

    Jabe was informed afterwards that it would have been more becoming if he had held his tongue on this occasion, a criticism which his own judgment endorsed, but he was excited, and so he blurted out—

    "Th' 'super' says tha hes to goa aat."

    The colour went from Billy's cheek.  The hand which rested on Jonas' chair shook.  A soft light came into his eyes, and he sank quickly into a seat.  But nothing could be got out of him.  As the others talked with a rude eloquence about his future, Billy looked steadily and abstractedly into the fire, a sadness settling on his face which cast its chill over all the company.  When they were all gone except Ben, Jabe, who was evidently waiting, turned to his apprentice and demanded—

    "Well; has tha nowt to say abaat it?"

    "Mestur," was the reply in tones of anguish, "even if Aw wor fit Aw conna goa."

    "Tha conna goa!  Wot's to hinder thi?"

    Billy was still gazing into the fire.

    "Ay! why conna tha goa, lad?" added Ben.

    "Aw conna tak' my fayther wi' me," was the slow reply in tones of deep dejection.

    "Whoso loveth father or mother more than Me," cried Jabe, in evident pain and anger.

    "If my fayther were a gradely mon," began Billy again, and then he bent his head down upon his knees and heaved a heavy, struggling sob, for he was relinquishing the one great dream of his life.

    Billy's father, it should be said, had been converted under one of his son's sermons, and for more than a year had kept himself respectable.  But a few weeks before the night we are speaking of he had broken out again, to Billy's great grief.  Moreover, steady or otherwise, he was no longer able to sustain himself.

    Next day Jabe was unusually quiet, and when Billy, who had been quite as dull as his master, was leaving for the night, Jabe called him back and said, in a voice subdued with unwonted emotion,—

    "Howd on, lad.  Aw want thee."

    Rising from his bench, he went and locked the shop door, and then pulling Billy down upon a stool inside the ingle, he said in a choking voice—

    "Will tha goa, lad, if Aw'll tak' cur on him?"

    They were only simple Lancashire men, those two; but they fell into each other's arms, and when they parted Jabe had arranged for "t'owd chap" to live with him, and Billy was pledged to offer himself as a candidate for the mission-field, for it was understood that his heart was set upon that kind of work.

    Billy became a candidate for the Wesleyan ministry, was accepted, and, as there was great demand for men just then, was appointed immediately to the West Indies.

    The day of the young missionary's departure from Beckside was one of the most memorable in the history of the village.  The farewell really began the day before.  Billy, having finished his packing and made his last calls, felt the time hang heavily on his hands, and so sat down at his old bench by the back window to make one last pair of clogs.

    As he was getting towards the end of his work a great lunge came against the shop door.  Jabe, who generally disdained to leave his bench for any such purpose, jumped up hastily and opened the door.  As he did so a huge chest, apparently borne by invisible hands, but really held up from the outermost end by Long Ben, came sailing into the shop, and was suddenly dropped with a bang upon the floor opposite the fireplace.

    Although only early autumn, a chip fire was burning, and Ben, after taking his breath, made a pretence of warming his hands as he said, looking up the shop towards Billy.

    "Theer, Aw reacon that 'll be big enough for thee."

    Now, as nearly all Billy's belongings had already been packed, this box seemed to the young missionary to be a kind of "day behind the fair" sort of thing, but he was soon undeceived, for before he could speak Sam Speck, who had been sitting in the nook for some time with a mysterious and somewhat impatient air upon him, suddenly ducked down, and dragging a carefully wrapped parcel from under the stool he had been sitting on, cried—

    "Theer, if them blacks starts on thi, give 'em a taste of thooas," and loosing the string he revealed a pair of silver-mounted pistols, which even then were antique, but were Sam's dearest bits of earthly property.

    All this had evidently been arranged, for whilst Sam was still speaking Aunt Judy came in with her arms laden with homemade hosiery of the very thickest Beckside make: a number of pairs of stockings, a "comforter" of bewildering length, a heap of mittens of almost all colours and patterns, and a long, red, knitted nightcap with a big bobbing tassel at the top of it.

    "Why, Judy," cried Sam, "India's a whot country; he'll ne'er need them things."

    "Good cloas keeps th' heat aat as well as t' cowd," answered Judy, a little dashed at this failure of her grand coup.

    Then others came.  Jonas brought a pedigree fiddle, which had been his grandfather's, and had made music at innumerable local "sarmons" and tea-meetings.

    Presently the box was full, and Ben began to rearrange the articles for their long journey.

    Jabe insisted on helping him, and the two bent double over the side of the huge case, seemed to take most excessive pains to see that all was safe.  And it was only when Billy stood in a West Indian mission-house, with the thermometer at over 90°, and held two greasy money-bags containing gold in his hands, that he understood the sweet kindness of this mysterious packing.

    Next morning the Clog Shop was occupied very early by six solemn-looking men dressed in their Sunday best.  An extra coach had been chartered to take them to Duxbury, whence the new railway was to carry Billy and his belongings to London.

    Billy's father, in a state of nervous collapse, sat looking on at the preparations in a dazed manner.  Jabe was scarcely less disturbed, though he attempted to get up a conversation on the state of the high roads they were going to travel on, just to conceal his own condition—a device that deceived nobody.  Billy's successor was stationed in the road to give the signal when the coach and cart for the luggage hove in sight.

    "It's cummin'," shouted the new apprentice at last.

    "It's cummin'," passed from lip to lip, and then with a white face and lips all awork, Jabe limped to the door and locked it, and the company, without any prompting but instinct, fell to their knees.  One after the other the humble souls commended their "lad" to "Him who holds the winds in His fists."  And then Billy prayed a broken, hesitant, mixed sort of prayer, beginning with the
minister's English and ending in the Lancashire 'prentice boy's broad dialect, with a great sob for the last "Amen."

    "Tak' care o' my owd fayther, my dear, dead muther's husband.  Tak' care, O Lord, o' my second fayther, and all my dear owd frien's, and if we never meet again below, may we all meet in he-e-e-ven and 'niver, niver part again.'"

    Then they dried their eyes and went to the coach.  All Beckside was ready by this time, for Ned Royle had stopped the mill for half an hour to give Billy a good send off.

    Then all the Clog Shop cronies got inside the coach as solemnly as if they had been going to a funeral, and as a big cheer went up from the crowd Billy bade farewell to his native village.

    It was a mournful company that gathered round the Clog Shop fire that night.  Everybody was dull and weary as well as sad.  Presently the shop-door opened, and a man came in.

    "Is them clogs dun?" asked the newcomer.

    "Wot clogs?" said Jabe, in no mood for mundane matters.

    "Them as Billy said he'd finish fur me afore he went."

    Jabe looked at the customer with a long, steady stare, during which it was evident something was passing in his mind.  At last going to Billy's bench and picking up a pair of new clogs, he put them on the little counter.  The man was picking them up, but Jabe snatched at them before him, and holding them at a safe distance from the customer, he asked—

    "Is thoas 'em?"

    "Ay!"

    Then Jabe drew a long breath, and, surveying the would-be purchaser from head to foot, he said—

    "An' has tha th' impidence to want t' last pair o' clogs as aar Billy iver made or iver will mak'?"

    The man was speechless with astonishment.

    "Sithee," Jabe continued, "theer isna brass enoo i' all Lancashire, neaw, nor i' all England, to buy them clogs."

    Next morning Long Ben had orders to make a little stand, and when it was finished the last specimens of Billy's handicraft were placed on the top of it.

    And that is the story of Billy Botch.


――――♦――――

 
"Hanging his Hat Up."


THE doctor had given "Owd 'Siah " (Josiah) up, and humanity and ordinary neighbourliness, to say nothing of higher considerations, required a becoming manifestation of concern on the part of Becksiders.  But it was uncommonly difficult to do—in fact, it required constant self-repression to conceal the presence of quite opposite feelings; and when Sam Speck related to Jabe and Long Ben how that the doctor—a rather hot-headed young fellow—had stamped his foot and sworn because he had not been sent for sooner, declaring at the same time that nothing could save the patient now, the news was received with looks which came suspiciously near to malicious satisfaction.

    This neglect to call in the doctor was so exactly characteristic of "Owd 'Siah" and his miserliness that its fatal termination was recognised as retributive, and everybody in Beckside believed in retribution.

    Old Josiah had begun life as a farm-labourer.  Then he got on to keeping a few cows.  Then he had taken Gravel Hole farm, and one day he surprised everybody by buying—actually buying outright—a small milk-farm called the Fold, which stood on the opposite side of the road to the Clog Shop as you turned the corner to go down to the Beck.

    But thrift had degenerated into penuriousness, and then into miserliness, and finally into every kind of meanness in 'Siah.  He gave up his pew at the chapel, and sat on the free seats.  He was only present on Sundays when there was no collection.  A fourpenny bit was the highest contribution he had ever been known to give to any subscription, and when he withdrew from the Beckside string and reed band Sam Speck declared he "gien up fiddlin' to save th' expense o' rozzin."  When his wife died, Aunt Judy declared that she had been "nattered to death wi' his cluseness."  His two sons had both run away from home, and were dead, and his only daughter Nancy had left home and was a weaver at the mill.

    When 'Siah died, though every tongue was still in the presence of death, and the women all sighed as they talked of it, from sheer force of habit, nobody pretended to any particular regret, and some, ignoring the immediate cause, expressed their satisfaction that Nancy would be "weel off naa."

    When at the tea after the funeral old Jabe absent-mindedly started "Praise God, from whom," etc., instead of "Be present at," etc., nobody saw the grim humour, except perhaps the young doctor, who went out rather hastily with a very red face.

    Nancy was just bordering on thirty, a rather tall, straight young person, whose homely, comfortable face was sharpened by a hard line or two about the mouth.  Everybody had sided with her in her rebellion against her father, and everybody felt a sort of relief from moral responsibility when it became known that her father had not carried his resentment to his grave, but had left her sole legatee.

    Before old Josiah had been long dead, people began to speculate about Nancy's future husband; for though they had treated with mild surprise the fact that such a "likely wench" had not got married whilst she was a mere weaver, now she had become a freehold farmer single blessedness was not to be thought of.  With "beeasts" to care for and a farm to manage, marriage was at once a necessity and a duty.

    A few weeks after the funeral Aunt Judy was "takkin' a soop o' tay" with Nancy, but though full of the subject of the young woman's future, she feared to venture far until assured that it would be agreeable.  She led several times, but Nancy somehow would not follow.

    "Ay, well!" she said with quite a demonstrative sigh, looking steadily into the fire, "life's full o' changes, wench.  We doan't knaw wot a daa nor an haar may bring forth, as th' Beuk says."

    "Neaw," said Nancy in a most provoking non-committal tone.

    "An' there'll be moar changes afoor t'year's aat," hinted Judy with the smallest catch of significance in her tone.

    "Aw reacon ther' will," asserted Nancy, but she went no farther.

    "Well! Aw mun goa, wench," said Judy, rising from her seat.  "Tha mun keep thy 'art up, tha knows.  Ay, dear," she continued, fixing her eye on the wooden partition near the door she was approaching, and looking directly at something she saw there, "Aw see thy fayther's owd hat's hanging on t'peg here yet," and then, with a significant sidelong glance at Nancy, "Aw expect there'll be a young felley's billycock hanging up theer afoor we're mitch owder.  But mind wot th' art doin', wench.  Aw expect tha'll no spend thy haupenny at fust staw'."

    "Neaw, neaw, Aunt Judy.  The mon as hangs his hat up o' that peg 'ull ha' to be a mon, Aw con tell yo'."  And Nancy smiled a quiet, humouring smile as she opened the door for Judy, as if hastening her departure.

    After Judy had gone the quiet smile still lingered on Nancy's face, and she sat down before the fire, and was soon in a brown study.

    Very soon all kinds of rumours flew about Beckside about Nancy's matrimonial prospects, and as there was a rather large proportion of eligible bachelors and widowers, the supposed competitors for her hand were many.

    Now it was Luke Knowles who was the happy man.  He was "rather owd," but, as a substantial yeoman, was in every way suitable; and then it was Billy Bumby, the coal-dealer, who was the only man in Beckside who had shares in a bank.  But as Billy kept flying pigeons (that is, homers), it was a moot point whether Nancy wouldn't be rather bemeaning herself; for though Billy was very well off, to keep pigeons was to be a publican and a sinner.

    Then it was confidently stated that the young doctor was "after" Nancy, and a day or two later the doctor was supplanted by "the mestur's" son from the mill.

    Now, as old Jabe was a confirmed bachelor, and at all times cynical and abusive on the subject of women; as Sam Speck (who was in matters of opinion a mere echo of Jabe) was a widower, whose marital experiences were supposed to have given him ample grounds for sympathising with Jabe's extreme views; and as Long Ben was known to everybody as a woeful example of the henpecked husband, it will be supposed that the Clog Shop Club took little or no interest in Nancy's prospects.

    And perhaps under ordinary circumstances it would not have done.  But, then, Nancy's farm stood nearly opposite the Clog Shop door, and the front of the house, as well as one end, and the road leading down the Fold to the farm premises were right before you, a little to the right as you looked through the Clog Shop window, and could even be easily seen as you sat by the shop fire.

    Besides, Nancy had long been a member of Jabe's class, and was the leading "seconds" singer in the chapel choir, which, of course, laid some responsibility on our friends as to her future happiness.

    Whatever the reason, Nancy's prospects were a matter of curious interest at the cloggery.  Never a trap turned the corner into "the Fowt"; never a creak was heard at Nancy's garden gate; never a bang of her front door, but the old Clogger lifted his bald, grey-fringed head over the low board that separated the window bottom from the shop, and Sam Speck stepped nimbly to the window end nearest the counter to look.

    Sam, as a sort of henchman to Jabe, always spent a considerable amount of time at the Clog Shop, but about the period of which I write he seemed to be constantly there.  He also took to slipping on his "Saturday efternoon" coat on ordinary days, and greatly scandalised his sister by putting on "shoon" which were always supposed to be especially reserved for Sundays and festivals.

    Sam was a short, small-made, but very "natty" man, and always neat in his appearance.  Just at this time, however, he became quite vain, but was so busy gathering and discussing the village gossip about Nancy and her future, and so animated, not to say excited, in his discussion of it, that the change in his get-up passed unnoticed by his chums.

    Early one afternoon, when Jabe had just finished his after-dinner pipe and resumed his work, Sam sat on the end of the long stool that jutted out from the Ingle-nook, lost in profound meditation.

    Presently he began to hug his knees with his hands, leaning back as he did so, and looking at Jabe as if he were making some intricate calculation of which Jabe was the subject.  At length he said―

    "Hoo's mooar nor an ordinary wench, hoo is."

    "Who art talkin' abaat?" asked Jabe gruffly.

    "Aw'm talkin' abaat 'Siah's Nancy, an' wot Aw say is as hoo's mooar nor a common woman."

    This was said with such unnecessary warmth that Jabe took a sort of hesitant glance at Sam as he asked--

    "Whoa said hoo worn't?"

    "Th' felley as hes her 'ull have a fortin in his wife as well as wi' her," continued Sam meditatively and ignoring Jabe's question.

    "Tak' her thysel', then," was the rejoinder.

    "Well," he replied, hesitating as if he knew he was giving himself away, but didn't see how to avoid it, "Aw met dew wor."

    "Wot!" shouted the Clogger, enlightened at last, and rising to his feet in his indignation and scorn.  "Th'art theer are to? thaa yorney!"  "At thy age tew," he continued after a pause.

    "Aw'm nooan sa owd," snapped the would-be bridegroom, suddenly sensitive on the point of age.  "Aw'm twenty year younger nor thee."

    "Ay, an' a hundred year i' sense Aw wop [hope], thaa meytherin' owd maddlin' thaa."

    Finding no sympathy or even encouragement to talk, Sam left in a huff, and for the rest of the week the Clog Shop saw him not.

    On Monday, however, he was back in his place, and confided to Jabe and "Owd Lige " over the fire that "Marriage wor a big risk efter aw.  Them's t'best off as hes nowt to do wi' it."

    This and his resumption of clogs and ordinary wearing apparel created the suspicion that Sam had "axed" Nancy and had been refused, which was confirmed by Aunt Judy, who was supposed to be in Nancy's confidence, and who reported that Sam had been in Nancy's on Sunday afternoon and had "cum away wi' a flea in his ear."

    A few days after Sam's discomfiture, and whilst he still wore a pensive and chastened air, Job Sharples sidled into the Clog Shop.  Job was a sharp-nosed man with a hard little mouth and red eyes that were suggestive of chronic catarrh.  He had a clean-shaven face, was quite fifty years of age, and was a pork-butcher and cattle-jobber by trade.  He took snuff, and had a hesitating manner, which was supposed to conceal a doggèd, tenacious will.

    He stood for a few moments before the short counter pretending to take a survey of the contents of the window bottom, but in reality he was counting Nancy's cows as they were being driven into the Fold to milk.  Presently he remarked―

    "Them clugs Aw had t'other day has split, Jabe."

    "T'other day," cried Jabe, always on the alert where Job was concerned, and never greatly in love with him; "it's six munths sin tha had 'em if it's a day."

    "Eh, is it so lung?" replied the visitor, whose cue it was to conciliate rather than provoke.  "Haa toime flies!"  "But," he added, unable entirely to repress his natural weakness, "nowt lasses [lasts] naa as it used do."

    Saying this he sauntered to the fireplace, and was soon comfortably seated on one of the stools.  Then he began to balance the poker on one of his fingers, whilst Jabe, with a darkening countenance, became suddenly very violent amongst his tools, banging them about and making a most unnecessary clatter.

    Job waited a moment or two, took another pinch, and then, setting the poker carefully into one corner as he spoke, said―

    "Aw reacon tha knows Aw've bowt Sally's haases."

    "Ay!" answered Jabe shortly, and in a tone of strong reluctance, as though he were acknowledging something to which he objected, but which he could not help.

    Job took up a handful of chips from the corner, sprinkled them slowly on the fire, dusted his hands one against the other, and then proceeded in a conciliatory tone of voice―

    "Aw'm nooan so badly off, tha knows, Jabe, for a Becksider."

    Now the pig-dealer was noted for a constant cry of poverty, and Jabe was therefore uncertain whether to take this unwonted admission as a mark of special confidence or as an introduction to something yet to come, so he was silent.

    Job blew his nose, scraped together the chips scattered on the hearthstone with his feet, walked to the end of the counter nearest the window, and took another long look at Nancy's house and yard.

    Walking back to the fire, but sitting down on the stool nearest to Jabe, he leaned forward and said in a low coaxing tone―

    "Dost think Owd 'Siah's property had owt on it?"

    And Jabe laid up mental lacerations for himself by answering―

    "Aw knaw nowt abaat it."

    "Less see.  They'n five caas, an' a bullock ha' na they?"  And the clogger suffered further inward humiliation as he replied―

    "Aw tell thi Aw knaw nowt abaat it."

    "Naa, Jabe, nooan o' thy fawseniss."

    But Jabe had perjured himself sufficiently, and commenced hammering an obstreperous clog top as though he would knock a hole through it.

    Job had recourse to the snuff-box again, and turning to the fire sat looking into it and ruminating deeply.  Then he got up once more, stepped behind the counter and over to the clog-cutting bench, which stood against the wall at Jabe's right hand.  Sitting down uneasily on this he said in a loud whisper―

    "Jabe, owd lad, Aw'm goin' to put up for Nancy."

    Jabe looked dangerously like hitting Job's bullet head with his hammer, but he checked himself, and was about to speak, when a new idea seemed to strike him, and after clearing his throat he said, with a very poor attempt at a smile―

    "Tha'll ha' to be sharp abaat it."

    That was enough; and whilst the Clogger was struggling with the fear that he had added fresh sin to his soul, Job was pressing him with eager questions―

    "Wot dost meean by that?  Whoa's t'others?  Am Aw i' time, dost think?"

    "Th'art i' time if tha goas naa," was the answer.

    Job started to his feet to go.  At the door, however, he hesitated, took another long look at the Fold through the window, playing nervously the while with the latch.  At last he said―

    "Hoo's a soft-spokken soart o' wench, isn't hoo, Jabe?"

    "Soa, soa," was the reply.

    The pig-dealer slowly opened the door and stepped into the road.  In a moment he was back, however―

    "'Siah left it aw to her, didn't he, Jabe?"

    "Whoa else could he leave it tew?"

    Away went Job, sidling past the window, and going a few steps up the road before he crossed it, so as not to appear to be going direct; whilst Jabe, dropping his hammer, rose to his feet and stood back a little, so that he might see his visitor go into Nancy's without being seen himself.

    Just as Job reached the garden gate Sam Speck stepped into the Clog Shop.

    "Hay!" cried Jabe in a stage whisper, "cum here; sithee! sithee!" and pointing through the window at Job fumbling with a refractory gate latch, he drew Sam behind the counter and into the shade where he could see without being seen.

    By this time the pig-dealer had reached Nancy's door, and when he was admitted Jabe began to hop on his unequal legs about the shop, crying―

    "Aw wodn't ha' missed this; Aw wodn't ha' missed this for aw t' brass owd 'Sian ever had."

    Sam seemed to enjoy the situation quite as much as Jabe, though probably for a different reason, and when in a few minutes they saw Job emerge from Nancy's door and stalk down the short garden path, looking so abstractedly before him that he nearly fell over the gate, and then from their vantage point, standing back, saw Nancy's comely face, all beaming with fun, peep out from behind the curtain at the retreating form of her would-be husband, the two sat down and guffawed and grinned with unalloyed satisfaction—Jabe taking off his apron and adjourning to the chimney corner to discuss the matter in all its details.

    Something strange must have been in the air that day, for, drawn by some occult influence, first one and then another of the Clog Shop cronies dropped in until the ring round the fire was complete, and the host had to tell his tale over again each time a newcomer arrived.

    Job being heartily disliked by nearly all Becksiders, his discomfiture was the tit-bit of every feast of gossip for some time, and, in fact, it was only forgotten when another piece of news had put it out of people's heads.

    Soon after the event just recorded, there sprang up in the village a rumour that Nancy was going to be married.  Nobody seemed to know how it had originated, but Jimmy Juddy (Jimmy, son of George), who was only an occasional occupant of the Ingle-nook stools, happened to be there when Sam Speck brought the news to the Clog Shop, and he immediately adduced confirmatory evidence in the fact that he had just come from the Fold, and had received orders to "fettle th' place up inside and aat, upstirs an' daan."

    But who was the happy man?  And here rumour was absolutely silent.  That there was to be a wedding was now certain, for Aunt Judy had taxed Nancy with it, and she had not denied it, but all attempts to get at the name of the bridegroom had utterly failed.

    Once, indeed, when Aunt Judy and Sally Walters had cornered Nancy, and there did not seem any possible escape for her, she evaded it by saying, as Judy reported, that "Hoo worn't gradely sure; hoo hadn't axed him yet," but as this was clearly a joke nobody paid much heed to it.

    Sam Speck declared himself out of all patience with Jimmy Juddy, because night after night during his labours at Nancy's, where he must perforce be in constant contact with that lady, he assured the members of the club that he'd "nayther seen nowt nor yerd nowt."

    This was all the more remarkable because, though the men spoke of Jimmy as soft-hearted, he was known to be a great favourite with women: his quiet, almost womanly, ways procuring for him a great share of the feminine confidences of the locality.  Jabe and the rest, though not so severe on Jimmy as Sam, yet were fain to confess that he certainly hadn't made the most of his opportunities.

    But it was like Jimmy.  He was too mild for anything, and whilst all gave him more than the average share of personal affection most were ready to subscribe to Jabe's oft-repeated declaration that "He'd a getten on better i' life if he'd had a bit mooar spunk in him."  Jimmy was a social failure; beginning life with something more than average opportunities he had made nothing at all out.  A middle-sized, mild-mannered fellow, with an arm partly disabled by rheumatism, he was already going down the hill of life, in spite of hard work and a great personal popularity.

    He began life as the bookkeeper at the mill, which gave him a status amongst the better end of the Beckside population, especially as he would do their private bookkeeping for them.  At that time he was considered to have excellent prospects, and no one was surprised when a boy-and-girl courtship sprang up between him and 'Siah's Nancy.

    But one day Jimmy was dismissed without notice, and no explanation of the matter was forthcoming, either from the masters or from the bookkeeper himself, but it was said that old 'Sian had put his foot down concerning Nancy and Jimmy, and I am now revealing for the first time a secret when I state that Jimmy in a painful interview would give no explanation to Nancy, and so there was an end, too, of that.

    All this was years ago, and since then much had happened.  Jimmy was considered to have wiped out his disgrace by rescuing a little piecer from the top room of the mill during a fire at the risk of his own life.  On this occasion the excitement of his effort, and the drenching he got with the water used for extinguishing the flames, threw him into bed with rheumatic fever, and permanently injured his health, unfitting him for hard work.

    Then the smallpox came, and Jimmy, who had become a sort of handy man—whitewasher, jobbing painter, and even chimney-sweep for those sufficiently well off to afford the luxury—served as Long Ben's assistant in coffin-making and undertaking until he went down himself with the plague, and barely escaped with life.  Altogether, Jimmy's had been a sad career; but he was a cheerful, willing, kindly fellow, and in a quiet way a general favourite, whilst his old mother and paralysed sister simply worshipped him.

    Jimmy was busy cleaning, whitewashing, and painting Nancy's premises for several clays, and at last worked his way down into the front kitchen, which for general convenience had been left to the last.  The kitchen had formerly been larger, but it was now divided into two, the end nearest the Clog Shop being partitioned off to make a small "best parlour."  Attached to the partition was a thick peg, ornamented at the front with a short cow's horn.

    "Mun Aw tak' this peg daan?" asked the painter as he prepared to paint the partition.

    "Neaw, tha marmot.  Th' mon as is comin' here 'ull want to hang his hat theer," replied Nancy.

    Now, Jimmy had been several times on the point of sounding Nancy on the mystery of her approaching marriage, and here was a direct challenge.  But after stealing a long sidelook at her, and forming his lips two or three times as if to speak, he lapsed into silence and went quietly on with his work.

    During his labour at the Fold he had not seen much of the proprietor, but now as he was in the general living place they seemed constantly together, and anybody but Jimmy would have noticed that though she bustled about a great deal Nancy was really doing next to nothing, and was constantly hovering about him in a quite suggestive way.  Once or twice, indeed, in explaining her wishes, she had come very close to him, and had brushed his whitewash-spotted cheek with her frizzy brown hair.

    But Jimmy was used to women, and his mind was rather preoccupied by a little domestic anxiety of his own, and so he thought nothing about it.

    A stranger listening to their fragments of conversation would have thought that Nancy was trying to draw Jimmy, but the poor fellow saw nothing, and the questions he had previously asked were intended more to furnish information for the Clog Shop inquisitors than to gratify his own curiosity, though that was not quite dormant.

    It drew near to tea time, and Nancy became really busy; in fact, Jimmy could not help noticing that her preparations were much too extensive for a party of one.  She had brought in a great piece of cheese, toasted several slices of bread, reached down a plateful of oatcake from the rack over her head, and was searching the depths of a cupboard for what turned out to be a large pot of blackberry jam, when the painter began wiping his brushes on the edge of his paint can, saying as he did so―

    "Aw'll goa to my baggin [tea], an' cum agean i' t' morn."

    "Tha'll do nowt o' t' soart; corn't tha see Aw'm makkin' sum tay, tha'll ha' to finish taneet.  Dost think Aw want thi here till Chresmass?"

    Jimmy looked surprised, but the women were all kind to him, so he resigned himself to the inevitable.

    When they had "said a blessin'," and Jimmy was pouring his tea out of his cup into his saucer, as was the correct thing at Beckside, he nearly upset it upon his paint-stained trousers as Nancy abruptly commenced―

    "Tha hasn't axed me whoa Aw'm goin' t' have?"

    The painter smiled sheepishly, and answered, "Neaw."

    Somehow the pause that followed felt rather awkward, and it struck Jimmy that his silence might be taken for lack of interest, so he ventured―

    "Noabry [nobody] seems to know whoa it is."

    "Let 'em find it aat then," was the reply, and Nancy's eyes began to dance with fun.  Jimmy was stuck again, but as Nancy seemed to be expecting him to go on, he said―

    "He's not a stranger, is he?"

    "Neaw, he'er [he was] born i' th' clough."

    "But not a Becksider?"

    "Ya,—a Becksider," and Nancy laughed out.

    "Has ta known him lung?"

    "Ya, aw my life."

    Jimmy felt uneasy, and would gladly have stopped—he scarce knew why; but Nancy was so evidently pleased to be questioned, and so openly invited him by her manner to go on, that there was no help for it.  So he resumed―

    "Do Aw knaw him?"

    This question really did seem to disturb Nancy, for a crumb went down the wrong throat as she swallowed her tea and led to a violent fit of coughing, and the painter felt absolutely compelled to get up and slap her between her shapely shoulders to help her.

    When she had recovered and heaped Jimmy's plate with muffins again, she came back to the interrupted conversation with―

    "Well, Aw doan't think tha does knaw him gradely; at ony rate, tha doesn't think mitch abaat him."

    Jimmy was simply bewildered.  It wasn't like Nancy to have anything to do with a doubtful character, so at last he said―

    "Well, Aw wop he's a gradely mon."

    "Gradely!" and her flashing eyes suddenly softened into a strange tenderness.  "He is that.  He's a hero!"

    "Th' woman's i' luv wi' him at ony rate," thought the painter.  But Nancy hadn't done.

    "He's wun o' them scarce chaps as conna get on for helpin' other folk ta get on."  And there was a curious break in her voice, and she got up to seek something on the high mantelpiece which she never found.

    "A-y," said Jimmy, with slow incredulity, and he began to run his mind over all the eligible Beckside males who could be said in any sense to be heroic.

    "A hero, tha says?" he queried.

    "Ay, as owt to 'a lied t' Royal Society's medal mooar nor wunce to my knowledge.  He's no mitch to look at, and he's welly [nearly] lame wi' th' rheumatiz; Aw—aw"—and there were tears in Nancy's voice—"Aw'd rayther have him nor t' Prince o' Wales."

    Jimmy was sitting straight up in his chair, and looking at her as if he had fears for her reason.  He had heard many women's confidences before now, but this—.  But Nancy was speaking again.

    "He's clemm't hissel' for mony a year for th' sake of an owd craytur and her badly dowter at th' Beck Bottom yond."

    But Jimmy had jumped to his feet, his mouth wide open, and his face bathed in sudden perspiration, whilst the smothered, buried but ever living, love of a lifetime came welling up in his heart.

    "Nancy!  Nancy! tha doesn't mean me?"

    And there the two stood: Nancy with blushing, tearful face buried in her hands; and Jimmy looking about him as if he were expecting an earthquake.

    Then he took a step or two back, and shaking his head with solemn earnestness, said―

    "Neaw, neaw, Nancy!  Aw'm fain to see th'art same as tha allis were; but it munno be, it munno be?"

    "Why munno it be?" she said, lifting her head out of her hands with a look of sudden fear and anger.

    "Tha'rt young and bonny, an' weel off, and Aw'm poor, and my arm's welly stiff wi' rheumatism, an' Aw's soon be dun for."

    "If tha talks like that abaat bein' dun for, Aw'll—Aw'll smack thi i' th' faace," and Nancy really looked like doing it.

    "Then theer's my owd muther, and aar Alice, an'—"

    "Well, Aw want them mooar nor Aw want thee," and Nancy looked quite triumphant at her own double-barreled retort.  There was silence, during which Jimmy stepped slowly backward.

    "Tha knows, Nancy, if theer wor nowt else, theer wor that other thing tha knows on."

    "Wot thing?"

    "It's past twelve ye'r sin', as tha tow'd me when Aw geet sacked [discharged], niver to think o' thee till Aw'd cleared mysel'; an' Aw niver have, tha knows."

    "Cleared thysel'!  Cleared thysel'!" and Nancy flew across the floor and seized him by the shoulder as she cried: "Jimmy, tha knows; an' Watty knows; an' when he left for Australia a fortnit sin', he told me in this varry kitchen as tha's carried his shawm [shame] for twelve ye'r to save him fro' jail, and his wife and childer fro' th' bastile [workhouse].  Aw've never thowt o' noabry else, an' when Aw yerd that Aw said Aw'd mak' thi ha' me.  An' Aw will!  Aw will!"

    And the push she gave him by way of emphasis sent him spinning against the cupboard door.

    What they said and did after that is nothing to you and me, gentle reader, but they talked a long time, a great happiness filling poor Jimmy's heart, such as he had never felt before.

    When he rose to go, for there was no chance of being able to finish that night, Nancy called him back.

    "Jimmy," she said.

    "Wot?"

    "Tha's never kissed me yet."

    Kissing was reserved for children at Beckside, and was, at the best of times, a very rare thing, but Jimmy made up for twelve years of enforced and bitter abstinence before he let his sweetheart go.

    Once more Jimmy began to collect his paint cans to depart.

    "Jimmy."

    "Wot?"

    "Is that t' hat tha allis wears?"

    "Ay."

    "Hang it up o' that peg then."



[Giving a Man Away]

 


 

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