Clog Shop Chronicles III.
Home Up Biographic Sketch Beckside Lights Scowcroft Critics Doxie Dent Making the Million The Minder The Preachers The Mangle House From Crooked Roots Old Wenyon's Will The Partners Life's Working Creed Reviews, etc. Main Index Site Search
 


 

[Previous Page]


The Knocker-up.


THAT all-important event the "Sarmons" was approaching.  The formal rehearsals for it took place in the chapel during the fortnight immediately preceding the great Sunday, but the real hard work of the band was done at the Clog Shop, and woe to the misguided customer who came to do business after the music had commenced.

    It was the first practice of the season, and one by one the members of the band entered the shop, most of their faces wearing a caught-in-the-act sort of look, for their instruments had been taken down from their hanging-places on house ceilings to a feminine accompaniment of railing against all bands in general and the Beckside one in particular.

    Each player as he arrived and began to tune his instrument, inquired―

    "Hasn't Jethro come yet?" and the later comers exchanged their query into―

    "Wheer's Jethro?"

    Jethro, though not the leader of the band, was its moving spirit, and far away the best musician in Beckside.  He was usually the first to arrive; but now, although Nathan, the smith, for whom they always had to wait, had come, there were no signs of Jethro.

    At last Sam Speck offered to "goa an' fotch him," and whilst he is away on his errand I will tell you about the missing bandsman:―

    He was a spare little man of about sixty years of age, and lived in a one-storey cottage, two steps below the level of the road, on the left-hand side as you went down towards the Beck.

    He was the village knocker-up, and went his daily rounds with unfailing regularity every morning, except Sunday, between the hours of four and six.  Over his shoulder he carried a long, light pole, with wire prongs at the end, with which he used to rattle at the bedroom windows of the sleepy factory hands until he received some signal from within that he had been heard.

    Though employed and paid by the "hands," Jethro regarded himself as representing the masters' interests, and if a post was unoccupied or a loom "untented" when the engine started at six o'clock, Jethro felt that it was a reflection on his professional ability, and was ashamed and hurt.

    This doubtless accounted for the extraordinary zeal which the old man put into his work.  The knocker-up was expected to go and knock a second time a few minutes before six to stir up any drowsy one who might, peradventure, have fallen asleep again, and into this second round, which was to many the real signal for rising, Jethro put all his resources.  Not only the windows but the doors were assailed, and in addition he would give a word of exhortation in his thin piping voice―

    "Bob!  Dust ye'r?  It's five minutes to six!  Ger up, tha lazy haand (hound).  If tha dusn't ger up Aw'll come an poo' thi aat o' bed."

    At the next call he would drop into a coaxing tone-

    "Lizer!  Jinny!  Come, wenches!  You'll ne'er ha' breet een (eyes) if yo' lie i' bed like that."

    After his rounds were finished, he would go down to the mill to report "quarterings" and sick cases, and to spend an hour with the fireman.

    Jethro was a light-hearted, merry old fellow, who quoted Wesley's hymns by the yard on all possible occasions, and sang snatches of them in the still mornings as he went his rounds.

    The knocker-up began his musical career as a fiddler, but on visiting Manchester on one occasion, and attending a great concert there, he came back bringing a trombone, and though there was considerable murmuring at the incongruity of introducing a brass instrument into a string and reed band, Jethro was so indispensable that nobody openly rebelled.

    This trombone was Jethro's chief earthly pride and glory, and the source of untold pleasure to him.  He was, in fact, often troubled with the fear that the very strength of his affection for the instrument was a sign of its unhallowed nature, and many of his spiritual conflicts were fought about this unfortunate trumpet.


"The dearest idol I have known," etc.,


was a favourite class-meeting verse at Beckside, but Jethro always sang it with painful misgivings, which gave an additional quaver to his tremulous tenor.  In all pulpit utterances, "stumbling-blocks," "besetting sins," "spiritual idolatries," "false gods," and the like spelt "trombone" to Jethro, and all appeals for self-sacrifice brought up painful visions of a possible parting with that cherished instrument.

    Once, indeed, it spent a Sunday night in the back garden, where its owner had thrown it in a fit of self-disgust at having played it in a public-house, where he had substituted for the sick trombonist of the Clough End brass band.

    But the conscience-smitten knocker-up could not sleep whilst his beloved instrument lay among the cabbages, and he finally sneaked out about three in the morning, brought in his pet, went to bed again, and slept the sleep of guilty peace.

    Now Jethro had an only son, grown up and married, who from the standpoint of the chapel was a very unsatisfactory character.  Every Becksider, as I said before, believed in retribution, and the father was haunted with the suspicion that his son's prodigalities were judgments upon himself for his idolatrous love of his trombone.

    By this time Sam Speck has returned from his search for the missing musician.

    "Aw say, chaps," he cried, "there's summat up wi' th' owd lad; " and as the fiddle-bows stopped their scraping, he continued―

    "He's sittin' afoor th' feire yond', and staring into't like sumbry gloppened, an' Aw couldna get a word aat on him."

    The musicians looked at each other in astonishment.

    "Wor he in a fit, dust think?" asked Jonas.

    "Aw conna tell thi, but theer's summat wrung wi' th' owd lad."

    Jabe and Long Ben posted off instantly to Jethro's cottage.  Opening the door—for knocking was a sign of stiffness—they found him seated on a chair before an expired fire, with his feet on the fender and his body bent forward, so that he propped his chin with his arms, which, in their turn, were propped on his knees.  He never moved when the visitors entered.

    "Wot's up wi' thi, Jethro?" asked Jabe, approaching him with some hesitation.  But the knocker-up neither moved nor spoke.

    Long Ben took a careful look round the room, and finding nothing suggestive, he leaned against the mantelpiece so as to get a side light on Jethro's face, and then he said soothingly―

    "Come! come! owd lad, wot's up?"

    Jethro heaved a great sigh, and looked wildly round, whilst Jabe, getting behind the old man's chair, motioned to Ben not to speak.

    "It's a judgment on me," cried Jethro at last.  "It's a judgment on me."

    Ben was about to interrupt him, but Jabe scowlingly motioned him to desist.

    "It's my own doin'.  'Be sure your sin 'ull find yo' aat!'  An' it hez done!  It hez done!"

    Another pause; during which Jabe was going through every kind of pantomimic gesture he could think of to prevent Ben from speaking.

    "Aw carried him to th' chapel when he wor three wik owd.  He's been ta'n (taken) theer for twenty ye'r.  When he'd th' fayver Aw fowt wi' th' Lord two neets an' a day, an' naa"—and the old man buried his head in his hands and moaned piteously.

    Jabe and Ben drew chairs up, and sitting down one on each side of him, Long Ben asked gently―

    "Come, owd lad, wot's it aw abaat?"

    Jethro lifted his head out of his hands, and asked, in a voice of tremulous surprise―

    "Why, durn't yo' knaw?" and Jabe and his companion answered simultaneously, "Neaw!"

    "Durn't yo'?  Why, aar Jethro ta'n th' alehaase.  O Absalom! my son! my son Absalom!" and the heart-broken old man rose and stamped on the sanded floor in a passion of grief and shame.

    The only public-house in Beckside stood on the left, a little below Jethro's house and close to the Beck-bridge.  The innkeeper had died recently, and Jethro junior, unknown to his father, had got the licence temporarily transferred to himself.  This young man could not have taken a more cruel young means of inflicting pain on his old Methodist father than the one he had adopted, and whilst Jabe and Ben looked at each other with dull sad astonishment, Jethro walked about the house crying―

    "Wot con Aw expect?  Didn't Aw let th' trombone tak' me into a public-haase Mysel'?  Aw never thowt it 'ud come whoam to me like this, but it hez! it hez!  My sin hez fun' me aat!"

    Nothing that could be said or done seemed to pacify the old man, and his visitors felt that to mention the suspended "practice" would be to inflict pain.

    For many a day after this Jethro went about disconsolate.  His voice was scarcely ever heard in the silent road on a morning, and when it was it sounded like a sad wail.  In spite of all that could be said, he was firmly convinced that his son's conduct was a sort of consequence of his own overweening devotion to the trombone, though he was never able quite to demonstrate the connection between the two.  No amount of persuasion would induce him to play the trombone again, and he dared not go near the Clog Shop for fear of falling into temptation.

    In a few days young Jethro moved into the Bridge Inn, and the knocker-up spent the whole of the removal day walking about in the road in front of the alehouse, but neither coaxing, nor flattery, nor reasoning, could induce him to step across the threshold.

    But when the door closed at night for the first time on the new tenants, a haggard old man might have been seen kneeling on the steps and pouring out his soul in intense and tearful supplication.

    Young Jethro's wife was a bonnie brown-faced lassie, who had been a great favourite with her father-in-law, and she had done everything that woman's wheedling could do to coax him into the house, but he vowed again and again that he would never cross the threshold.

    Great, therefore, was Polly's astonishment one morning, when old Jethro entered the inn, but walked straight through into the kitchen.

    "Hay, fayther, bless yo'!  Aw am fain to see yo'," she cried, rising from her chair awkwardly; "come an' sit yo' daan."

    But the old man did not move.  He stood there in the middle of the room looking at his daughter-in-law with sad solemn eyes.

    "Doan't stop' theer, fayther; sit yo' daan an' Aw'll make yo' some tay."

    "But Jethro took a short step backwards, and raising his hand, and looking for the moment not unlike an old Hebrew prophet, he said―

    "Polly, if onybody 'ad towd me as my fast gronchilt 'ud be born in a alehaase, Aw'd a letten aar Jethro dee when he had th' fayver; he'd a bin safe then;" and then breaking down into a wail, and crying: "But it's a judgment on me," the old man hastened away.

    Now the young landlord had not been much disturbed by his father's protests, for he had not noticed that the circumstance had taken the hold upon him which it had.

    But two or three weeks innkeeping had opened his eyes, and so the account his wife gave of Jethro's visit made a deep impression on him.

    Meanwhile the old man's melancholy seemed to deepen.  All the efforts of his cronies to cheer him were vain, and as he evidently dared not go near the Clog Shop, the practices were seriously interfered with, not only by the absence of the leading spirit, but also by that of those who went to keep their old friend company.

    One cold, dull morning—for the spring was late—old Jethro was seen hurrying up the road past the Clog Shop as fast as he could go, with a sack on his back.  The sack might not have attracted any attention, but the suspicious haste with which it was being carried excited great curiosity at the cloggery, and Sam Speck followed very carefully to see what " th' owd chap wor up to."

    After passing the chapel, Jethro slackened speed, and having turned the crest of the hill, he sat down on a heap of stones, whilst Sam was crouching behind the hedge and watching him.

    The poor fellow looked very miserable, and after sitting for a minute or two he got up, looked stealthily around, then opened the sack, took out of it a long, green baize bag, containing the trombone, and, after concealing the sack in the hedge bottom, started off to Duxbury to sell his idol.

    It was a seven-mile walk, and such an instrument was not easy to dispose of, and had to be carried about from place to place before a purchaser could be found.  So terrible was the mental conflict going on within the old man that he forgot to take food, and started the long walk home in a fagged condition.

    It was a weary tramp, accompanied by more than one Lot's-wife-like look behind him.  The wind, strong and heavy, was all against him, the brooding grief of the last few weeks had drained his vitality; he began to feel very fatigued, then giddy; and finally, just as he drew near the place where he had concealed the sack, he staggered to the roadside in a dead swoon.

    Luckily, however, Lige, the road-mender, was returning home from his work behind Jethro, and seeing him fall he hurried up, and in a short time the knocker-up was safe in his own bed.  The doctor said it was a slight stroke, and Jethro must have been worrying about something, but as he had an excellent constitution no serious consequences need be apprehended.

    Jethro's walk to Duxbury took place on a Friday, and on the following day young Jethro sat brooding over late events behind his little bar, and it was evident he was very ill at ease.

    On the Sunday he went twice to chapel, and after the evening service Jabe gave him that significant jerk of the head Clog Shop-wards which was the recognised form of invitation to its councils.

    The ordinary members of the Club treated him with marked coldness, but he sat the session out, and when the others rose to go, Jabe beckoned him back into his seat, and he sat down, knowing full well what was coming.

    Long Ben also remained, and when they had gazed into the fire and puffed rather vigorously at their pipes for a little time, Jabe suddenly turned to the young landlord and said―

    "Well, wot dust think to thysel'?"

    "Wot abaat?"

    "Wot abaat!  Abaat aw t' trouble tha's geen yond' owd chap o' yours."

    "Haa did Aw knaw he'd tak' it so ill?"

    "Neaw " (very sarcastically); "tha thowt 'as th' best owd saint i' Beckside 'ud feel a-whoam (at home) among pigeon-flyers an' cards an' ale-pot bottoms, didn't tha?"

    The culprit was getting red, and so Long Ben put his hand gently on his shoulder, and said―

    "Wot 'ud thy mother think if hoo saw thi, lad?"

    Jethro winced, and Ben proceeded―

    "We ne'er thowt as that Bible we gav' thi at th' schoo' 'ud find its road into a alehaase."

    There was silence; the young man was deeply moved, and began to bite his lips, whilst a heavy sigh broke from him.  In a moment or two Jabe said, very gently for him―

    "Kneel thi daan, lad."

    And down the three went, and there they prayed and prayed until the small hours of the morning, when young Jethro "found liberty," and went home with a new joy in his heart and a new power in his life.  Next week he gave up the inn.

    Some ten days after this the old knocker-up sat on a "long settle" which had been pulled up near the fire, though it was late in May.

    Aunt Judy, who had installed herself head-nurse, had just been telling him about his son's conversion, for it had not been deemed prudent to inform him sooner.  The old man's face was a picture.  Delight, gratitude, and wonder seemed blended in it.

    Then Judy excused herself for a moment and went out.  She was soon back, however, carrying a mysterious bundle of clothes.  This she "flopped" suddenly on Jethro's knee, and, pulling back the outer shawl, disclosed a fine three-days'-old baby.

    "Theer!" she cried, "isn't that a whopper?  It's th' pictur of its grondad!  An' it's no' been born in a alehaase, nother."

    What the knocker-up thought as he sat and looked at the wee one will never be known, but as he held his knees together lest the treasure they supported should be disturbed, Judy was startled to hear him burst out in his high piping voice and to a popular local tune―


"God moves in a mysterious way," etc.


    After this the old man "came on" quite rapidly, and as the "Sarmons" were still three weeks off, he began to talk quite eagerly of being present at them "efther aw."

    One evening some of his Clog Shop cronies paid him a visit.  Jethro thought he noticed three of them as the door opened, but when he had made room for them on the long settle he perceived that there were only two—Jabe and Long Ben.

    Jethro at once began to inquire eagerly about the practices, and his face became quite clouded as Jabe mentioned with most persistent frequency that they were "ill off for th' trombone."

    The more the visitors talked the more uncomfortable Jethro got, and every now and again he glanced uneasily up at the empty hooks whereon his instrument used to hang.  Then Jabe, glancing round the house as if making a most unimportant remark, said―

    "We're thinkin of axin' Traycle Tim to tak' th' trombone parts."

    Now this was positively cruel, for Traycle Tim of the Clough End brass band was Jethro's great rival, and after gasping in a helpless sort of way, and glancing once more at the empty hooks above him, he said with a sigh―

    "Ay, well!  But Aw dunno want a trombone on the top o' me to keep me daan when Gabriel comes to knock us aw up."

    "Gabriel?" cried Jabe; "why, he's a trumpet hissel'!  Ay, an' he'll blow it too o' th' resurrection mornin'!"

    This was a new idea to Jethro, and it evidently told; but, shaking his head, he replied, though not quite so decidedly as before―

    "Ay!  But a trombone isn't a trumpet, tha knaws."

    "Yi, but it is.  Th' new schoo'-missis says 'at trombone's ony a soart of a frenchified name for a big trumpet."

    The new schoolmistress was a great favourite of Jethro's, and so, as Jabe expected, the second shot told even more heavily than the first.

    Presently he said, "Th' trombone's a varry worldly instrument, tha knaws, Jabe."

    "Nowt o' th' soart!  They blowed trumpets at aw' th' anniversaries i' th' wilderness, an' i' th' Temple, an' th' owd prophet says 'at when th' millenium comes they'll blow the great trumpet, an' that means th' trombone―naa, doesn't it, Ben?"

    "Sartinly!" said Ben, with tremendous emphasis.

    Jethro sat a long time in silence; at last he said―

    "Aw've happen made a mistak' efther aw."

    "Of course tha hez," chimed in both his visitors.

    "But yo see Aw'm feared o' lovin' th' trombone moar nor Aw love God, and God Gonna abide that."

    "Ger aat, Jethro," interrupted Jabe; "Aw'm shawmed for thi.  Did thaa iver tak' owt fra your Jethro for fear he'd like it better nor he liked thee?"

    "Neaw," very slowly and ponderingly.

    "Well then, dust think as God's woss nor us?"

    "Aw never seed it like that afore," said Jethro, and glanced up again at the hooks, and then he went on―

    "Aw wish Aw hed mi owd trumpet here!"

    At that moment a most mysterious noise came from behind the long settle.  It was intended to have been a royal blast, but Sam Speck's unaccustomed effort only evoked a gurgling, struggling sound.

    It was enough, however.  Old Jethro seized the instrument, and after holding it out to make sure it was really his own, he put it to his lips and sent forth a blast that brought the hands of his comrades to their ears.

    It was really the old trombone.  Nearly two days had Sam spent seeking it in Duxbury; and on the anniversary day, Jethro, with visions of tabernacle and temple in his mind, and the figure of the great Archangel in the background, blew away every lingering doubt and fear, and blew himself into contentment and hope and health again.


――――♦――――

 
For Better, for Worse.

-I-

The Dilemma.


JOHNTY HARROP the "Minder" had got into difficulties, and although thereby he had demonstrated the sagacity and justified the prophecy of popular opinion in Beckside, this was not regarded as any palliation of his mistake.  In fact, from the senators of the Clog Shop down to the frequenters of the Bridge Inn, the verdict had been "sarve him reet."

    After the usual number of juvenile flirtations with the girls of the village he had eventually turned his back on them all and married a Clough Ender.

    Now, as Clough End was a very modern mill village of no account whatever, but pretentious and aggressive in inverse ratio to its importance, its sedate and elderly neighbour, Beckside, had been compelled to treat it much as ancient Jerusalem treated Samaria, and no Clough Ender was of any account in the older village.

    But Johnty's offence was aggravated by the fact that he was regarded as a very "likely" lad, and somewhat of a plum in the marriage market.  So that feminine Beckside was scandalised at his lack of taste and decency in passing by his own people.

    Moreover, the "elect" lady was a renegade Becksider.  She belonged to a poor but somewhat proud and ambitious family which years ago had preferred Clough End to Beckside, which was, of course, an inexpiable offence.

    When she was a girl, Susy Stones and her elder sister had shown a decided aversion to going to the mill, and so the Stoneses, who were all supposed to be cursed with "fawse pride," removed to Clough End, where the daughters became dressmakers.

    Susy, the younger of these two, was undeniably pretty, a typical white-skinned, dark-eyed Lancashire lass, and whilst the Beckside girls felt that this gave a provoking justification to Johnty, the Clough End young men regarded him as an unscrupulous poacher.

    As a mule-minder Johnty got good wages, and must have saved money, so that nobody was greatly surprised when he indulged a long-cherished purpose by taking the large four-roomed cottage next door to Long Ben's, so that he could begin housekeeping in the same house his mother had done, and in the house wherein he himself was born, although according to current ideas it was much too large for a newly-married couple.

    Johnty filled the house with new and stylish furniture, but when Mrs. Johnty arrived she poured scorn on the chest of mahogany drawers with glass knobs, which her husband had bought with great pride, and insisted on its being exchanged for a new-fangled thing called a sideboard.  Every housewife in Beckside was outraged, for a chest of mahogany drawers, especially with the added and uncommon glory of glass knobs, was the last ambition of every wifely heart.

    Before feminine sentiment had got over this shock it was passed round in tragic whispers that Sue Johnty had got a sewing-machine, and though this was the first article of the kind that had been seen in Beckside, and every woman in the place was dying to inspect it, yet only a few of the baser sort ever made the attempt, all the self-respecting ones feeling that they would be morally compromised if by any means they should appear to be countenancing such unheard-of extravagance.

    Very soon it became a fixed opinion in the village that Mrs. Johnty was a dressy, extravagant, wasteful woman, and for a time this was marrow and fatness to the Minder.  It was clearly a case in which envy was at work, and the implied compliment to his own judgment in selecting a partner and to his wife's accomplishments greatly delighted him, whilst his wife's brightness and ability gave added zest to his pleasure, and her utter unconsciousness of the sensation she was making gave piquancy to the whole situation.

    The Beckside women kept very much aloof from Johnty's wife, but imitated her in their best bonnets, and made their baby clothes as nearly like hers as possible; whilst the men shook their heads over her finery, expressed strong commiseration for Johnty, but straightened themselves up whenever she passed them, and followed her with unconcealable admiration in their eyes as long as she was in sight.

    After a while, however, Johnty became uneasy.  The strict ideas of domestic economy which obtained in the village, and in which he had been brought up, slowly began to assert themselves, and as his house became better furnished, and his two children better clothed, he began to seriously regret that he had commenced his married life by "turning up" practically all his wages to his wife according to well-established Beckside usage.

    Having commenced, however, he found it difficult to stop, especially as his wife was so manifestly proud of the confidence reposed in her, and really gave him no opportunity of altering matters.

    Little by little also, though he scarcely ever heard a word drop, the very pronounced opinions of the villagers on the subject began to percolate somehow into Johnty's mind, and very soon he suspected that the neighbours were on the lookout for an opportunity of discussing the matter with him, which, of course, made him more anxious to avoid it.

    About this time the mill began to run short time, and Johnty took the news home to his wife with a heavy heart, and was confirmed in his fears of his wife's unthriftiness by the light way in which she received the news.

    "Ne'er mind, lad," she said, "it's an ill wind 'at blows noabry ony good.  Tha'll be able to tak' me an th' childer a walk a bit i' th' afternoons."

    The next Friday she brought him a fancy pipe and a quarter of scented tobacco from Duxbury, and poor Johnty, though his heart was sad, was so entirely under the influence of this little wife of his that at her bidding he smoked the new pipe and tobacco the same night, feeling all the time as if it would choke him.

    Mule-minding is piecework, and so, as she never thought of asking, Susy did not know exactly what her husband earned, and the Minder was strongly tempted to keep back more of his wages than he had previously done, and save it up for the dark day he felt sure was coming.

    But instead of doing so, he went to the other extreme, and gave her almost every farthing he earned, to prevent her running into debt.  This meant pinching himself in twenty little ways and running up small scores at the Clog Shop, and other places, as was usual when work was not plentiful.

    When he came in from his work one day about this time his wife held up her wee mouth and displayed two new false teeth.  Poor Johnty!  It was so like this wife of his, and they really did so effectually remove the only weak spot on her beautiful face, that he hadn't the heart to say anything unkind about them, but knowing what a buzz of tattle they would cause in the village—false teeth being rare in Beckside at that time—he made a hasty tea and got out into the lanes to brood over his anxieties.

    The Minder realised that the time for action had arrived, but how to act with the least possible disturbance was a problem that sorely perplexed him.  As he walked he thought, and thought rapidly for him, so that all unconsciously in crossing the Padfoot fields he overtook two women, Lottie Speck and an old flame of his, Martha Royle.

    Martha was evidently excited about something, and craning out her long lean neck, she was saying to Lottie—

    "An' theyn gowd plate on 'em, an' they tell me hoo's i' debt aw o'er Duxbury."

    Then she caught sight of Johnty, blushed "as red as a peony," and began to talk loudly and excitedly about some totally different subject, in pretended obliviousness of his proximity.

    The Minder passed them with a monosyllabic salutation, and turning at the first stile, took a short cut for the village.

    The prospect of debt and of impending exposure was now added to his anxieties, for there was no room for doubt as to Martha Royle's meaning, and he shuddered to think of his wife and her two false teeth in the hands of this scandal-loving gossip.

    Johnty made straight for home, and somewhat roughly demanded his supper.  His plate of porridge was placed before him, and by its side, on a little white plate, was set a fragrant roasted apple, and his wife playfully plucked at his beard and called him "owd Grumpy" in a merry and altogether irresistible way.

    But Johnty was in no mood for sport, and after eating his porridge he left the apple as a silent protest against extravagance, and went out again, for if the truth must be told he was afraid to stay alone with his wife just then.

    Somehow, when Beckside men were in trouble, they seemed to gravitate by a sort of natural law towards the Clog Shop, and so the Minder, after walking aimlessly up and down the road past the chapel two or three times, turned in at Jabe's.

    "Well! hast made owt on 'em?" he asked as he entered; but Jabe was not at his bench, as he expected, and turning towards the fireplace, he saw the Clogger sitting before the fire, and the clogs of some invisible wearer projecting out of the nook.

    "Wor art talkie' abaat?" asked Jabe in answer to Johnty's question.

    "Them owd clugs o' mine.  Hast bin able for t' mak' owt on 'em?"

    "Well, if Aw han, Aw'm abaat t' on'y mon i' Lancashire as could; an' if tha brings 'em here agean Aw'll chuck 'em on th' feire," and Jabe's short leg was riding up and down across the other at a frantic rate, whilst his lips pursed out and his eyebrows bristled quite threateningly.

    "Aw'll pay thi for 'em o' Seterday," replied Johnty very humbly.

    "Ay, if tha doesn't forget; but come here wi' thi; Aw want thee," and the Clogger moved to another seat to make room for the Minder.

    "Wots cum o'er thi?" he demanded, as Johnty sank into a seat.  "Tha used goa in for th' fanciest clugs i' Beckside afoor tha wor wed.  Wot's up wi' thi?"

    Johnty had recently fallen into the habit of feigning avariciousness and worldly cuteness as a cover for his wife's extravagance, and so he answered with an attempt at a cunning wink—

    "A chap as hez his way ta mak' hez ta be curfull naa-a-days.  Neaw, Aw've gan o'er smookin'; it's wasteful," he added, as Jabe passed him a corpulent brown effigy of Punch, which served the cloggery as a tobacco jar.  The Clogger cast upon Johnty a slow, comprehensive, but quietly contemptuous look as he said—

    "Oh, tha's started o' scrattin hez ta?  Then that'll be whey tha hezna paid thy pew-rent this last two quarters."

    Johnty felt there was something ominous in the Clogger's tones, but he prepared to brave it out, and replied—

    "Oh, well, Aw'll fotch it up when we goa on full time agean; but if a chap's ta mak' owt aat he hez ta tak' cur of his brass, tha knows."

    "Aw ye'r, tha tak's cowd tay to th' factory; Aw reacon that'll be to save tay-wayter money," continued Jabe.  But though the tone was natural, it increased Johnty's misgivings.

    "Ay!" he answered very slowly.  "Aw—Aw liken cowd tay best, tha knows.  Whot mak's me sweeat soa?"

    Jabe gave a most mysterious grunt, and then after a few long, deliberate pulls at his pipe he looked steadily into the fire, and shaking his grey-fringed head, said with great impressiveness—

    "It's an awful thing when a Christian mon starts o' lyin', Jonathan."

    The Minder winced, flushed angrily, and then demanded—

    "Lyin'! whoa's lyin'?"

    The clogs protruding from the chimney corner crossed themselves, as an indication of quickened interest; but Jabe sat still, ignoring Johnty's question.

    At length, turning and looking the Minder straight in the face, he said—

    "Tha knaws as weel as Aw knaw at aw thy brass goas ta bey foine feathers for yon foine brid o' thine."

    "Whoa says soa?" cried Johnty, and there was anger and fear and pathetic expostulation in his voice as he went on—

    "Yo' aw talken like that, and yo' knaw nowt abaat it.  Ther' isn't a cleaner, willinger, quieter wench i' th' clough, and Aw've ne'er ye'rd her say a word agean th' warst on yo'.  Yo' owt ta be shawmed o' yo'rsels."

    There was a low whistle of surprise from far into the chimney, presumably from the wearer of the obtruding clogs.  Then Jabe, waving Johnty back into his seat, said, very mildly for him—

    "Aw'm sorry for thi, lad, reet enuff; but whey doesn't tha awter it?"

    "Haa con Aw?" cried poor Johnty, and instantly could have bitten his tongue out as he discovered he had given himself away.

    "Tha can be th' mestur i' thi own haase sureli," came from out of the chimney, and Sam Speck's face became visible through the smoke as he eagerly leaned forward.

    "Ay! as thaa used to be," said Jabe without looking at him, and at this reminder of his bygone domestic slavery Sam became invisible again except so far as his legs were concerned.

    Then Jabe began with slow carefulness to recharge his pipe, saying as he did so—

    "Hoo's a likely wench as fur as Aw knaw.  But women's like horses,—the better they are, the mooar they wanten th' bit.  Tha's nowt ta do but put thi foot daan an' be a mon."

    There was such unusual gentleness in Jabe's voice that Johnty, encouraged to be confidential, leaned forward and said with a tremor in his voice—

    "Jabe, hoo's as good as hoo's pratty.  Ther' isn't a better wife i' th' countryside."

    "Then, aw Aw've getten ta say is as th'art goin' t' reet rooad ta spile her.  Aw tell thi, women conna stond it."

    Then Sam, recovering from his rebuff, joined in the conversation, and soon Johnty was listening to story after story of the humiliating sufferings which men had brought on themselves by giving way to their wives, Sam's personal reminiscences being of a specially harrowing description.  All this worked on poor Johnty's well-prepared mind, and he saw more clearly than ever where he had missed his way.

    This thought dwelt the longer in his mind because it transferred the blame of the past to his own shoulders, and helped him to believe that in adopting the advice of his friends he would be really consulting his wife's best interests.

    As he went home his spirits rose.  It would only be one short, sharp struggle.  And then it was for Susy's own good, and would prevent worse happening in the future.  He was a man, and it was cowardly to shirk his responsibilities.

    All this, together with the ingrained hatred of extravagance in which he had been trained, and his keen sense of wounded pride at the discovery that he and his wife were the village talk, decided him to "tak' th' bull bi' th' horns," as he phrased it, and end the matter that very night.  There would be a storm, he expected, —the first of their married life.  Susy was more than his match in argument, and he felt that the only thing to do was to turn bully for an hour as the easiest way of settling his difficulty.

    Long Ben was standing at his garden gate smoking in the twilight as he passed, and it came into Johnty's head to consult his neighbour on the matter in hand, but remembering Ben's mildness of temper, he feared that a counsel of gentleness would be given, which would frustrate all.

    So he passed quickly on, and nerving himself to his great task, he opened the door with a noisy rattle, to keep himself up to sticking point, and stepped firmly across the threshold.

    The house was in darkness except for the red glow of the fire-light, and looking round for his wife, he found her lying on a short sofa which she had drawn near the fire.  She was fast asleep.

    Now, in picturing to himself what he would do and say when he got home, Johnty had never imagined the possibility of his wife's being asleep, and when he found her in this condition he was quite nonplussed.

    He paused a moment or two, reached up to the high mantelpiece and got hold of a candle, then hesitated and put it down again, and turning his back to the fire, stood looking at his little wife.  She was in deep slumber, and looked somewhat tired.  Her small, well-poised head was thrown back a little.  The perfect white of her skin gleamed in the fire-light.  The almost classically regular features were softened into repose, and the unhooked top of her dress gave glimpses of a round snowy neck, whilst her black hair drooped a little, and almost covered a tiny white ear.

    She wore a light print dress, a very uncommon garment for a minder's wife's everyday use in those times, but which Susy had made herself and put on for her husband's pleasure, never dreaming how it might strike him.

    But Johnty never saw the dress.  He was looking down upon the unconscious Susy with a world of warring thoughts passing through his brain.  As he looked he held his breath.  Then he bent down and nearly touched her.  Then he straightened himself again, heaved a great sigh, and finally, whilst his grey eyes gleamed again, he cried under his breath—

    "H-e-y wench, but tha art bonny!"

    And then he bent down again until his breath touched her hair and murmured thickly—

    "Bless thi; Bless thi."

    The sleeping woman moved a little, and Johnty hastily drew back whilst Susy tossed into sight a plump, round little arm, on which was a ridiculously small hand adorned by a wedding-ring.  Somehow the ring attracted the Minder's attention.  He stepped forward and knelt down on a mat by the sofa-side for Susy was above sanded floors.  Then he bent over and kissed the ring, murmuring as he did so—

    "Aw'd dew it agean if Aw had to dew it ta-neet.  Ay, Aw'd do it if tha cost me ten times as mitch.  Bless thi, bless thi."

    He noticed that he was keeping the light from his wife's face, so he moved to get it on again, and then stood over the sleeping form regarding it intently.

    "Hoo's welly loike an angil," he whispered.  Hey, theer's nowt fur wrung at th' back of a face loike that."

    Then he moved round to the other side of the sofa to get a different angle of admiration, and standing here, he cried under his breath—

    "If hoo hadn't a hed some bit of a fawt, hoo'd a bin a gradely angil, an' Aw should ne'er a known her."

    Then he began to pray.  Clasping his hands and turning his face towards the ceiling, he said—

    "Lord, Aw tewk her fur better or for wur, an' theer's sa mitch o' th' better abaat her Aw'll ne'er mention th' little bit o' wur ony mooar.  Let owd bachelors and henpecked widowers say wot they'n a mind.  Aw winna; Aw winna! "

    And then he stooped down, and picking up his sleeping wife as if she had been a baby, he carried her, held to his heart, upstairs, and placing her gently on the bed and solemnly kissing the still placid face, he cried—

    "Bless her; hoo's chep at ony price."


――――♦――――

 
For Better, for Worse.

-II-

The Denouement.


WHEN Johnty had left the Clog Shop fortified for the subjugation of his wife by the combined counsels of the Clogger and his satellite, Sam Speck sat rubbing his corduroys with his hands, and mentally basking in the beams of self-complacency.

    That his own painful experiences had at last been turned to account for the benefit of a fellow-sufferer was at anyrate some consolation for the humiliation he had endured, whilst the rôle of counsellor, though somewhat new, was very flattering to his vanity.

    Leaning against the chimney-back, and stretching out his somewhat bowed legs as far as they would go, he sucked away at his pipe in pleasing reflection.  But with Sam to think was to talk, and so in a few moments he broke the silence by assuming an air of great meekness, and observing―

    "Well, efther aw, it's summut ta be able ta gi' yo'r neighbur a bit o' help."

    "Ay: aat o' th' fryin'-pon into th' feire," was the gruff rejoinder.

    This totally unexpected retort fairly staggered Sam.  His jaw dropped, a look of surprised mystification spread itself over his face, and at length he asked―

    "Wotever dust meean, Jabe?

    Now, ever since Johnty's departure a course of reflection had been passing in the Clogger's mind of an exactly opposite character to that which moved in Sam's.  He realised that at that very moment a painful scene might be enacting itself in Johnty's house.  He felt how serious a thing it was to interfere between man and wife.

    Then he began to remember how vague and unreliable was the evidence they possessed of Susy's weakness, saving only her superior taste in the matter of dress, which might, after all, be accounted for by the fact that she had been a dressmaker.  And when he came to think of it, all the Stoneses were clever and smart, and Johnty had admitted that he had never asked his wife how she spent her money.

    By this time things had assumed very serious shapes in his mind, and he had just begun internally to call himself and his fellow-counsellor very hard names, when Sam's conceited remarks broke on his meditation, and surprised out of him the exclamation which so excited Sam's amazement.

    "Aw meean," he replied, in answer to his companion's last question, "as tha'rt a foo', and Aw'm a bigger, an' we're boath a pair o' meddlesome mischief-makkers.  For owt we knaw," he added, "yon little woman's cryin' her een aat bi this time, an'"—

    But here he broke down, dashed his clay pipe petulantly to the floor, and dragging out of his thick leather belt an enormous red handkerchief, he blew his nose with most suspicious violence.

    Descending at one drop from self-complacent exaltation to a sense of meddlesome meanness, Sam was silent, and very soon sidled sheepishly off home, leaving the Clogger to sit far into the night torturing himself with self-accusations and visions of misery for Johnty and his wife.

    All next day Jabe was very uneasy.  Johnty sometimes went back to his work after dinner the longest way round for the sake of fresh air, and as this took him past the cloggery, Jabe, on the chance of seeing him,—as the day was unusually fine,—stood for nearly half an hour in his shop doorway, hoping to thus get some inkling of how matters had gone.

    But no Johnty appeared, and Jabe spent a very miserable afternoon.  By tea-time, however, he had made up his mind, and just before dark, after dressing himself with most unusual care,—going in fact to the extreme of a shirt-front in the middle of the week,—he made his way down to Johnty's house.

    To his great relief, Susy looked as bright as ever, and welcomed him quite effusively.  To his inquiry after her husband, she said that he had gone to Slakey Brow—a mile and a half away—after some celery plants, but would soon be back.

    Jabe somehow felt immensely relieved, and would have excused himself, but Susy would take no denial.  She put him in one of her new-fashioned easy chairs, and Jabe admitted to himself that these were easier than the Beckside straight-backs.

    Then she got him a pipe, praised her husband's scented weed, and playfully compelled him to try it, charging the pipe herself, and even bringing him a lighted "spill."

    When he had got fairly agoing, she rated him teasingly about not having been to see them before, and suddenly remembering something else, brought him a glass of "balm" wine, and insisted on his drinking to their happiness.

    This unconscious coals-of-fire treatment made Jabe feel very bad indeed; but just then the baby—a sturdy, young ten months' old—awoke, and Susy brought him to Jabe to look at, and so bewitched him that, though he had scarcely touched a baby for thirty years, and felt dreadfully afraid of hurting it, he recklessly asked to be allowed to hold it, Susy, as he did so, stepping back and clapping her hands in admiration.  She told him how well he looked "nossing a babby," and asked him if he hadn't made a mistake after all in being a bachelor—and the poor Clogger was never nearer confessing that he had in his life.

    And then she began to talk to him artfully about himself, a temptation which no man can resist, and she did it so adroitly and unsuspectingly that Jabe was unconscious of the flattery of it, and would have felt very well pleased with himself but for the secret remorse that was stabbing him inwardly.

    "Hay! yo' doan't know yo'r born till yo' get marrit, Jabe," she said.  "Aw'm happier in a day naa nor Aw used be in a ye'r afoor we wor wed."

    And this was the woman he had recommended should be subjugated!

    It had come into the Clogger's mind that perhaps before Johnty returned he might get an opportunity of speaking a word in season to Susy, and he made this excuse to himself for tarrying, but before long, partly through shame at the way he felt he had misjudged the Minder's wife, and partly from the intoxicating influence of Susy's presence and innocent chatter, he had thrown all reflection to the winds, and was enjoying himself to the full, reckless of all consequences.

    Johnty came at last.  But strange to say, Jabe seemed to have forgotten what he came about, and departed presently without explaining his business.

    "Naa, Aw expect [hope] yo'll not be lung afoor yo' come ageean, Jabez," Susy said as she opened the garden gate.

    "Neaw, wench, neaw!" cried the Clogger, and hurried up the "broo" towards home.

    When he had gone a few steps, and the door had closed upon Susy, Jabe stopped in the road and began to talk to himself―

    "Jabe," he said, " tha's made mony a foo' o' thysel' i' thy toime, bud tha's ne'er made a bigger than tha hez this toime, tha prying, suspeecious, owd maddlin, thaa!"

    Then he proceeded, and as he climbed the low "brow" his face began to light up with amused gratification, and an almost simpering expression came upon it, but he pulled up again and said―

    "Whey, tha'rt i' luv wi' th' woman thysel', tha soft ninny, thaa!"

    When Susy returned to her husband after seeing the Clogger off, she found him in the best of spirits.

    "Aw mak' noa accaant o' frisky young bachelors comin' to see thee when Aw'm aato' th' rooad.  He cut loike a redshank when Aw turnt up."

    "Hay," cried Susy.  "Isn't it a pity th' owd chap's ne'er bin marrit?  He doesn't know wot he's missed, does he?"

    And as Johnty replied "Neaw," she continued―

    "Bud Awst ax him daan here to his tay sometimes of a Sunday.  He must be looansome.  Dust think he's bin crossed i' luv, Johnty?"

    Johnty didn't know, but he ate his supper, and then, to stifle returning scruples, smoked out of his best new pipe and sat silently speculating on Jabe's visit.

    It was clear the Clogger had said nothing to Susy, but he wondered why he had come at all; and seeing he had come, what had prevented him speaking either to his wife or himself, or both?

    But when Susy entered into a detailed description of the visit, giving all those minute particulars which only a woman can remember, Johnty's face beamed with amusement, and he went off to bed in a very comfortable frame of mind.

    Next day was Saturday, and the Minder came home between one and two o'clock.

    Just as he turned out of Sally's entry, a short cut from the mill, he came upon a bill-poster who was pasting an auction sale bill on the nailed-up door of Long Ben's workshop.

    Johnty paused a moment, and ran his eye carelessly over the bill, but presently came upon a paragraph, which brought all the gall back into his mind.  It ran thus


"LOT V.—All that MESSUAGE dwelling-house situate on the roadside adjoining the premises of Benjamin Barber, carpenter, in the hamlet of Beckside, and now in the occupation of JONATHAN HARROP."


    Several others were gathering round the bill, but Johnty had seen enough, and turned sullenly home.  He could not trust himself with his wife just then, so he made for the back garden, ostensibly to examine the condition of the celery plants he intended to set that day, but really to cool down and get command of himself.

    Johnty's house had been built by his grandfather, and had descended to his mother.  Johnty himself had been born in it, and remembered with painful vividness the day when the mortgagee foreclosed and took possession, and widow and children had to "flit" to a smaller house.

    It had been a joyful surprise to him when he found he could take the house on his own marriage, and he had cherished the hope that he might one day be able to purchase it.  And now, instead of being owner, he knew he could not remain much longer even as tenant, for it was well known that Job Sharples, the pig-dealer, wanted to buy the cottage, and in fact all the property about it; and when Job was in the market there was no chance for anybody else.

    "Johnty, come lad.  Thy dinner's waitin'," cried Susy from the kitchen door.

    But the Minder was angry and surly, and never deigned an answer.

    Presently, however, he went indoors.

    "Childer as corn't dew as they's towd gets their ears seaused" (boxed), said Susy playfully, suiting the action to the word.

    But Johnty began eating his food in sullen silence.  When dinner was over he walked to the front door, and stood moodily leaning against the doorpost, and smoking, ruminating bitterly the while on his troubles.

    "Johnty," cried Susy, after a while, "art'na gooin' ta set them sallery plants?"

    "Neaw, Aw'm not," snapped the Minder.

    "Haa's that?"

    And Johnty turned round and nearly roared out―

    "'Cause we're getter ta flit."

    "Flit?  Wot for?"

    "'Cause th' property's gooin' t' be sowd next Frid-day," and a feeling of utter despair came over Johnty as he observed that his frivolous little wife was not stunned by the news.

    Susy was perfectly aware how dear the house was to him, and how he had hoped some day to possess it, and yet in a few moments he heard her actually singing in the kitchen.

    The next few days were spent by Johnty in moody gloom, all attempts on Susy's part to cheer him being sullenly rejected, and on Thursday, the day before the sale, the Minder came home in a worse frame of mind than ever, ready, in fact, to pick a quarrel on the smallest possible provocation.

    But somehow Susy was prepared for him, and had sent the baby out so as not to annoy him.  She had also adorned the tea-table with cress, and a nice bit of pig-seause (brawn).

    "Johnty, con tha get off thy wark to-morn, dust think? " she asked, as she put a second piece of brawn on his plate.

    "Neaw!" Johnty almost shouted, and then glared angrily at his wife, expecting her to say something that would give him cause for going further.

    "Well, dunna shaat loike that.  Aw want thi to goa a bit of an errand for me."

    "An' hev' Aw nowt else t' do but goa errands for thi?  It takes me aw my time ta keep thi as it is."

    There! the rubicon was crossed, for the tone of Johnty's retort was even harsher than his words, and though he would have given worlds to have the word back, he kept up his hard look, and glanced furtively across the table to see what effect he had produced.

    Every drop of blood seemed to have left Susy's face, an injured and haughty look rose into her eyes, and rising to her feet, she bestowed one cold, hard glance on Johnty and fled upstairs.

    To say that Johnty was miserable would be a very mild way of putting the case.  He left his unfinished tea and went out, and after wandering aimlessly about for some time, turned in to the Bridge Inn.  But he could not stay, and by nine o'clock he was back home again, and found his wife sitting sewing by the candle-light.

    "Wheer dust want mi ta goa?" he asked, in a tone between apology and protestation.

    "Noawheer; Aw con goa mysel'," and a second time Susy retreated to the bedroom.

    When he came home to dinner next day he found, as he expected, that his wife had gone by the coach to Duxbury, and he felt painful misgivings as to his conduct, and was troubled with most unusual apprehension as to Susy's safety.

    It was an almost interminable afternoon, and when six o'clock did come Johnty was almost the first man to leave the mill, although he worked in the top storey.

    He heaved a great sigh of relief as he caught sight of his wife stooping over the cradle, and went up to kiss her, but she eluded him with an averted face, and went about her work.

    The Minder ate his tea in silence, his mind filled with conflicting emotions, whilst Susy hovered about the table and her husband quite strangely, but never gave him the chance to take hold of her, and carefully avoided meeting his eye.

    There was a very tall jug standing on the table, a show-jug which Susy greatly prized, and which Johnty had never known her use before.

    "Wot's i' this jug?" he asked, to break the uncomfortable silence.

    "Look and see," was the short answer, and Susy became instantly very busy amongst the baby-clothes.  There was a small plate on the top of the jug, and Johnty lifted it down upon the table, and took the vessel up to explore its recesses.  It contained a bundle of documents.

    "Whativer's thoos?" cried Johnty, and took them out and began unfolding them.

    A moment's scrutiny showed him that they were the title-deeds of his house, with a hasty memorandum and a receipt for the price.

    The sight nearly took his breath away and also his speech.  But presently he found courage to ask―

    "Wot's aw this meean, Sue?"

    "It meeans as tha'rt thy own landlord, if tha wants to know," and there was a distinctly no-compromise tone in Susy's voice.

    "Me a landlord!  Haa con that be?  Whoa's bowt [bought] it?"

    "Aw have."

    "Thee!  Wheer'st getten th' brass?"

    "No' fro' thee.  It tak's thee aw thy toime ta keep me, tha knows!"

    Johnty winced, and continued―

    "Wheer'st borrad it?"

    "Aw've ne'er bin used ta borraing, Jonathan.  Aw've saved it."

    "Thee saved it?"

    And then the scales seemed to fall from the Minder's eyes, a great many things became clear all at once, and after a pause and a great relief-ful sigh, he rushed at his wife, and she ran upstairs again, and he after her.

    He caught her before she got to the top, for she was not very good at climbing stairs just then, and took her in his arms and brought her down, stopping on every other step to kiss her burning and teary face.

    Then he took her on his knee, and held her very close, and compelled her to tell him all about it.

    There was nothing to tell, she said.  She knew how much he would like to own the house they lived in, for old associations' sake.  She had a little bit of money when they were married, but thought, if he ever needed it, it would be so pleasant to give him a nice surprise; so, as he never asked, she had never told him about it.

    Since their marriage she had put something by every week, and perhaps the fact that she was able to make her own and the children's clothes had helped her, as well as enabled her to make a pretty fair appearance.  She had also made a few neighbours' dresses, but daren't tell him, because "he wor sa soft abaat" her.

    She had learnt about the sale of the cottage quite by accident, and had already opened negotiations for a private purchase when the auction bills came out, and his alarm about having to flit had rather hurried her.

    Oh what a happy man was Johnty Harrop then!

    He made a full confession of all his suspicions, omitting only the Clog Shop incident.  But he might as well have told that also, for when Jabe and Sam came to tea on Sunday by special invitation and heard the whole story, they confessed too, and Susy forgave them also with quite a queenly grace, and insisted when they had gone that their next baby should be called Jabez ― as it very likely would have been, only it turned out to be a girl, and was christened Susan.


――――♦――――

 
"Bullet" Pie.


A LADY evangelist was conducting special services at Clough End, and Lige and Sam Speck had been to hear her, or, perhaps more correctly, to enjoy the unhallowed delight of seeing a woman in a pulpit.  The "heckling" they received at the hands of the Clogger produced very complete repentance apparently; but, alas! the mischief was done, and the very next Sunday the fearful fruits of it were seen, for a woman actually got up in the Beckside after-service prayer-meeting and made a speech.

    A speech, mark you; not a prayer or an experience—these were not altogether contraband—but a speech, and a somewhat startling speech, too.  Jabe had declared again and again whenever the disturbing question of female evangelists came up―

    "There's ne'er bin a woman iaar poopit sin' th' place wor built.  Neaw, an' they' never will be woll [while] Aw'm alive."

    And now Beckside was suddenly brought down to the ignominious level of Clough End.

    The offending female was the new schoolmistress, and whilst some were of opinion that her official position gave her a sort of licence, Jabe and others held that such a person ought to have known better, and that her status aggravated the offence.

    It was just at that time in late autumn when the temperature of the Sunday night prayer-meeting usually began to rise, and the prayers were most thickly punctuated with ejaculations.  Suddenly one evening this misguided young woman rose in her place in the singing-pew, and, holding up her hand, cried in schoolmistress style, "H-U-S-H!"

    Then, before anyone could rise from his knees and sit down, she gripped hold of the iron rod supporting the singing-pew curtain, and cried out in tremulous but earnest tones―

    "Friends, why stand we here all the day idle?  Why do we keep on praying God to save sinners when the Brick-croft is full of sinners to whom we never go?  Christ said we were to go into all the world.  Why don't we go?"  And then she paused, quiet tears swam in her eyes, and she sat abruptly down.

    Sam Speck, who sat by her side, blushed a great red blush, and hid his head in his hands.

    Long Ben opened his mouth as if to speak, and then in sheer astonishment forgot to close it, and sat gaping in a helpless sort of way, whilst his eyes glistened with suppressed excitement.

    Others of the Clog Shop community glanced timidly round at each other, and presently Jabe from the back pew thundered out in his sternest tones―

    "It's toime to goa whoam, Bruther Banks."

    Brother Banks, the preacher conducting the meeting, hurriedly closed it, and Jabe was seen limping homeward alone, with that exaggeration of his ordinary lameness which was a certain indication of internal disturbance.  The rest of the counsellors followed in a slinking, guilty manner, as if they had been the transgressors and were coming for judgment.

    Long Ben, however, who was the last to arrive, having shyly lingered behind to shake hands with and encourage the mistress, betrayed himself almost instantly, for, whilst putting on a look of portentous gravity, he allowed the corners of his mouth to twitch, and chuckled as he vainly hoped sotto voce, and was therefore considerably startled when Jabe, without sitting down, wheeled suddenly round and fiercely demanded―

    "Who'rt lowfin [laughing] at?"

    But Ben's eyes only twinkled the more, and he filled his pipe with most exasperating deliberateness.

    Somehow Jabe's pipe wouldn't light.  The second "spill" burned his fingers; the third lighted the pipe, but there was something wrong with the "draw"; and finally, in whisking round to give an annihilating answer to a question from Lige, he knocked the pipe against the chimney-corner and broke it.  Then he sat down in a pet, and obstinately refused to smoke at all.

    This was most ominous.  The lesser lights of the Clog Shop looked at each other with apprehensive glances, but Ben smoked on in aggravating and aggressive imperturbability.

    "Wee'st have a revival naa," he exclaimed at length—coming down rather heavily on the "naa."

    "Ay," cried Jabe, rushing in at the opening for which he had been waiting, and laughing in bitter scorn.  "A revival o' neyse (noise) an' Ranterism an' bosh!  Crowin' hens an' preychin' women 'ull mak' a bonny revival sureli."  And his speaking leg actually kicked the hob of the fire-grate in its frantic excitement.

    And then the others joined in, and soon the debate become fast and furious.  For once Jabe was entirely alone.  Encouraged by the daring stand made by Long Ben, the others, not even excepting Sam Speck, took up cudgels for the schoolmistress, which, of course, only exasperated the Clogger the more.

    "By th' mon," he cried at the close of one of his tirades, "Hoo'll ger i' th' poopit next?  Bud if hoo does!  If hoo does!"  And finding no threat equal to the enormity of such a deed, he shook his fist in the air, and strutted lamely across the sanded floor.

    In spite of all this, the revival did break out at the chapel, intermittently at first, but presently it settled down into regular form, under the direction of a lay evangelist recently engaged by the circuit.

    Somehow the human credit of it was given to the schoolmistress, and as she made no farther attempts at public speaking, but worked with exemplary zeal in twenty other ways, even Jabe suspended final judgment upon her, and admitted that she was a "varry dacent wench —i' sum things."

    The lady in question had had charge of the village school over the bridge and at the foot of the "Knob" for some months now.  She was a plain-looking, yellow-haired girl of about twenty-five, whose face only became interesting when she began to speak to you.  Then the great grey eyes filled with soft warm light, and the fair skin gleamed with kindliness, and the soft low voice worked upon you like a gentle spell.  Nothing was known of her origin, except that she came from somewhere Gloucester way, and belonged to the Church.

    But there was no church in Beckside.  The parish church of Brogden was nearly two miles away, and the chapel-of-ease at Clough End was about the same distance.  Most of her pupils went to the chapel, and as she was a sociable little body, and much interested in her scholars, she went too, and though startled and somewhat amused by what she saw, she soon discovered the deep spirituality underneath these surface incongruities, and became a most diligent attendant.

    In a short time she grew quite interested in everything, read the History of Methodism out of the Sunday School Library, and asked Sam Speck (whose favour she won very early by calling him "Mister") some very perplexing questions as to the wherefore of the various usages in vogue at the chapel.  She was charmed with the class-meeting, and, being rather afraid of Jabe, became a member of Long Ben's class, and immediately captured that worthy's affection by the charming naïveté of her "experience."

    Before long she caught the fever of Methodist aggressiveness, and became quite concerned for the religious condition of some of her neighbours, which explains the impulsive little plunge she made into exhortation at the prayer-meeting already described.

    The Brick-croft, of which the mistress had spoken in her memorable speech, was a cluster of poor cottages, mostly single-storeyed, which stood on a flat piece of land along the side of the "Beck" and just behind the Bridge Inn.  The unregenerate part of Beckside resided here.  Almost every house, however small, had a pigeon-cote attached to it, and upon a good few of the low roofs were mechanical arrangements for the entrapping of "strags" (stray pigeons).

    You never met a Brick-crofter but he had a pigeon in his pocket and a bull-terrier at his heels.  Even the women were easily recognised in Duxbury by the fact that they invariably carried a sort of twin-lidded basket, commonly used for conveying pigeons.

    The Brick-croft was the Beckside "far country."  Whatever of broiling, drunkenness, or gambling disgraced the village was sure to spring from this unsavoury corner of it.  The policeman lived on its outskirts.

    The schoolmistress having to pass the outer border of the Croft every morning on her way to her duties, and having also to visit it frequently in search of her most truant scholars, grew quite alarmed for the state of the people and the surroundings amid which "her children" were brought up, and it was whilst listening to the seemingly earnest prayers of the chapel people, and brooding over the condition of the pigeon-flyers, that she was moved into making the speech which gave such umbrage to the Clogger.

    During the week following, Miss Redford held conversations with all the chapel people she could get hold of about the moral needs of the Brick-crofters, and was specially urgent upon Nathan the smith and Sam Speck, and these—immensely flattered by the lady's preference—at once began to stir up the rest.

    The following Sunday an open-air service was held in the Croft, and whilst the men sang and exhorted, the schoolmistress went to the women, who stood in their doorways with aprons folded round dirty arms, and invited them to chapel.

    One or two responded, and as they were old scholars of the Sunday School, they were easily impressed and coaxed up to the penitent-form.  This was the beginning of the revival, and very soon special services of an exceedingly enthusiastic character were in full swing.

    But the mistress was not content.  Several women and two or three of the least notorious of the Brick-croft men had been drawn to chapel, but the main body of the pigeon-flyers was still untouched.

    At last Miss Redford could rest no longer, and after dismissing the children one afternoon she retired into her little anteroom and dropped upon her knees.  When she rose again she had pledged herself to make some determined effort that very night.  Hastening home to her lodgings and making a hurried tea, she sallied forth to enlist assistance.

    The smithy was next door but one to her lodgings, and Nathan had always been kind to her, but as soon as she expounded her plan he declared he was "up to th' een i' wark"; and so she passed on to Sam Speck's.

    Sam, his sister said, was "at th' Clug Shop as yewzuall," and the mistress, who only guessed Jabe's sentiments towards her, but who regarded him with wholesome fear, could not muster courage to seek Sam there.

    She turned back, therefore, and went into Long Ben's shop.  The carpenter, when he heard her proposition, felt that his acts were recoiling on his own head, and half-wished that he had not triumphed quite so cruelly over his old friend Jabe.  But before the schoolmistress had done Ben had pledged himself to call for her at half-past six and escort her round the Brick-croft, with the clear understanding, however, that she was to do all the talking.

    Whilst the second hymn was being sung at the service that evening, and some of the worshippers were vaguely wondering what had become of the mistress, a commotion was heard in the porch outside, and almost immediately the dingy green door swung open, and in walked Miss Redford with moist eyes and uplifted look, and behind her came nine rough-looking men from the Brick-croft, including the two most hardened reprobates in the place.

    Long Ben brought up the rear, closed the pew doors on the captured ones, and handed them hymn-books with manifest consciousness that he was one of the heroes of the hour, and the object of much official envy.

    This was the breaking of the ice, and in the days that followed, first one and then another of the lapsed Brick-crofters was "added to the Church," whilst the schoolmistress lived in a seventh heaven of delight, and Long Ben struggled fiercely with a pride which he feared was sinful.

    But two or three of the most notorious of the pigeon-flyers still held out—their ringleader, "Sniggy" Parkin, in particular.

    Sniggy (a bye-name which had long supplanted his baptismal Isaac) was an undersized, but thick-set, middle-aged man, who lived with his mother at one corner of the Croft.  He had been fined for drunkenness times out of count, imprisoned at least once for poaching, was the foulest-mouthed man in the Croft, and was gravely suspected of being concerned in an affair which had all but cost a gamekeeper his life.

    In the Croft, however, he was facile princeps.  His bull-terrier had the most distinctly curved front legs and the most murderous-looking head in the community.  He knew more ways of snaring rabbits than a keeper; but chief of all his distinctions, he was the owner of that immortal pigeon, the "Bullet," which was glory more than enough for any ordinary man.

    Other famous birds would come (fly) from Manchester; Tommy-o'-th'-Well's "Blue-cock" had come from London; but the incomparable "Bullet" had visited "forrin parts," and had flown home from Paris.  But the highest distinction of this wonderful bird was its speed; and when, after one of its early victories, "Sluthering Jack," who had won five shillings by the achievement, said to the assembled sportsmen that "th' 'Dun-cock' owt to be caw'd th' 'Bullet,'" everybody felt that Jack had had an inspiration, and that the bird had been finally and adequately labelled.

    No one ever dreamed of competing with the "Dun-cock" now on equal terms, and all other aspirants to flying fame were valued by the distance they stood from Sniggy's "Bullet."

    Emboldened by the security of his position as king of the Croft, Sniggy had shown the only discourtesy towards the schoolmistress which she received on her memorable invasion of that region, but the look on Long Ben's face as he stood behind Miss Redford, and the shamed way in which his mates dropped their heads at his insolent word, warned him of danger, and, to tell the whole truth, had awakened in him a shame which of itself prevented him from going to the chapel.

    In the third week of the services, however, he ventured to join the rest, but even then nothing could be made of him; and when one night the schoolmistress's hopes were raised a little, they were subsequently dashed again by the fact that he did not turn up on the three succeeding evenings, one of which was Sunday.

    Every day during this period Miss Redford called at Sniggy's, venturing alone by this time, but though on one occasion she almost followed Sniggy into the house, his hard-faced old mother assured her that he "worn't in."

    Then she sounded his recently-converted mates, but they seemed afraid of him, and the only information she could glean was that he had pledged himself to fly the "Bullet" from Manchester against a Clough End pigeon for £20, giving the less famous bird a two-minutes' start.

    Somehow this man got on the teacher's mind, chiefly, perhaps, because of the extraordinary difficulty of capturing him, and she was more than disappointed when for the fourth evening in succession Sniggy failed her.

    Meanwhile the owner of the "Bullet" was himself in great trouble.  As an old Sunday School scholar he knew enough to make him miserable, now that he had begun to think, and he confided to one of his mates that he felt "wuss nor he did when Billy Tinker stool th' 'Bullet.'"

    On every occasion on which the schoolmistress had called, he had been in, but had crouched behind the mangle, or rushed into the pantry, and up the plank ladder into the little dimly-lighted bedroom under the thatch.  When the mistress stopped to talk he took his clogs off, stepped lightly over the attic floor until he was directly over the speaker's head, and then, lying on his stomach and applying his ear to a crack, he listened eagerly to every word that was uttered.  Once, indeed, when Miss Redford had insisted on praying with hard, ignorant old Molly, he had sobbed until he was afraid of being discovered, as the visitor prayed for "Thy handmaid's son."

    That night Sniggy gave his bull-terrier to the gamekeeper, shrewdly surmising how that functionary would dispose of it, and regarding it himself as a sort of compensation for many past injuries of which he was now painfully conscious.

    Then he spent almost all the next night in the pigeon-cote wrestling with the question of the disposal of his birds, but always sticking fast when it came to the "Bullet," and edging off on the excuse of his approaching engagement with the ambitious Clough Ender.

    Just as the prayer-meeting was closing on the fourth night of Sniggy's absence, and Miss Redford was listening to the final prayer with a sinking heart, Silas, the chapel-keeper, touched her on the shoulder and beckoned her out.

    Arrived at the porch, she found Sniggy's mother with a shawl over her head, and a very sour look on her face, waiting for her.

    "He wants yo' to cum an' ha' sum supper wi' him, if yo' will," she said, in a tone which showed that she was far from approving of the invitation herself.

    Now, during the revival, the poor fellows of the Brick-croft had taken all sorts of odd ways of showing their appreciation of the mistress's interest in them, and so she was not greatly startled at this extraordinary request.

    "Thank you, Mrs. Molly," she said, calling the old woman by the only name she had ever heard of her having, "but won't you ask Mr. Barber to come as well?"

    "Oh ay!  He wants Ben an' owd Jabe tew, if they'll cum."

    The mistress hastened back into the chapel and acquainted Ben with the invitation, leaving him to negotiate with Jabe, of whom she stood in great fear.  In a moment or two both the stewards joined her, and all walked in wondering silence down to the Croft.

    Two small tables of slightly different height, and covered with small white cloths put together to do duty as a tablecloth, stood in the middle of the newly-sanded floor, and Sniggy, washed and dressed in the best he had, but looking agitated and miserable, sat at one end waiting for them.

    He bade them "mak' yo'rsels a' whoam" in gruffly solemn tones, and then, after seeing them all seated, he brought a "blazer" out of the pantry to screen the mistress's back from the fire, and, looking uneasily round, he said―

    "Jabe, wilt' say a bit of a blessin'?"

    The Clogger did so, and then there was an awkward pause, during which Sniggy seemed to be struggling with some almost uncontrollable emotion.  The quick woman's eyes of Miss Redford showed her that there was nothing on the table to eat except a little broken oat-cake at one corner.

    "Naa then, bring it aat," cried Sniggy at that moment.  And old Molly went to the oven and produced a rather small pie, which she immediately set before her son.

    Sniggy seized the knife, rose to his feet, and then stood waveringly over the smoking dish, whilst the rest looked on with curious interest.  But his knife dropped from his hand after a moment's hesitation, and falling back into his chair, he cried, with a sort of half-wail in his voice―

    "Aw conna dew it; Jabe, thee carve."

    "Ar'ta badly, lad?" said Jabe, as he moved to take the pigeon-flyer's place.

    "Neaw!  Neaw! goa on wi' yo'r supper," was the answer, whilst old Molly disappeared suddenly into the pantry, from whence the mistress thought she heard smothered sobs coming, and Sniggy drew very close to the fire, as if he were cold.

    "Art'na goin' to ha' sum'?" asked Jabe, turning to their host, after he had served the schoolmistress.

    "Neaw, neaw!" cried Sniggy hastily, "bud help yo'rsels, aw on yer."

    The dish turned out to be pigeon-pie, or rather a mixture of pigeon and steak, a very popular dainty in the Brick-croft, and the schoolmistress shrewdly surmised that they were eating some of Sniggy's own birds.

    But it was a melancholy feast.  Once or twice Miss Redford tried to start a conversation, but Jabe and Ben answered in monosyllables, and the master of the house cowered gloomily over the fire.

    When supper was over and they were turning with feelings of relief from the tables, Sniggy turned to Jabe, who was nearest, and asked―

    "Han yo' finished it?"

    "Ay, lad."

    "Ivery bit?"

    "Ay!  Except t' boanes."

    Then there was a pause.  Sniggy had evidently something more to say, but found it difficult to say it.  By and by, looking from Ben to Jabe, and finally resting his eyes on the mistress, he stammered out―

    "Yo'—Yo'n etten th' 'Bullet,"' and burst into passionate sobs.

    Poor Sniggy had realised very early in his spiritual struggles that the supreme conflict would be fought about his idolised pigeon.  Again and again he had staved matters off by sacrificing his dog and his drink, and eventually several of his less distinguished birds, but it always came back to the same point.  If ever he was saved the "Bullet" would have to go, and so, after a whole night's struggle, he at last nerved himself to the great sacrifice by the thought common in the Brick-croft that the schoolmistress "clemm't hersel'," and he would give her one good meal at anyrate.  So with a terrible struggle he made the supper, achieved his victory, and soon after found spiritual rest.

    The revival lasted some weeks after this.  Many of Sniggy's companions followed his example, and soon the whole district was moved by the story of this wonderful work of God.

    No Methodist revival is complete without a Lovefeast, and so on the last Sunday of the services there was a never-to-be-forgotten one instead of the Sunday evening service at Beck-side.

    The chapel was packed.  All the Brick-croft men "testified," and each in turn made grateful, if somewhat clumsy, allusion to "th' schoo'- missis," as the first human cause of their conversion.

    Everybody was on "tenter-hooks" to hear the wonderful teacher speak, but in her retreat behind the singing-pew curtain she held down her head, and laughed and cried quietly to herself.

    Presently Lige and Jonas Tatlock began to scowl and nod their heads excitedly in the direction of Long Ben's pew, and that worthy, puzzled for a moment, suddenly heard several voices calling in loud whispers, "Th' missis," and, rising, he stepped up the pulpit stairs and said something to the preacher.

    "Perhaps Sister Redford will say a few words," said the preacher, and then the schoolmistress rose, and with her great eyes full of glory and her lips quivering with intense emotion, she looked timidly round on the many radiant faces upturned to hers.  She tried to speak, but there was nothing of the schoolmistress about her that day, and her tones were low and timid.

    "Speak up," people began to cry, and when every ear was strained to hear, the tense silence was broken by the well-known voice of the Clogger, crying in tones quivering with deep emotion―

    "Bless thi, wench; goo i' th' poopit."



[A Diplomatic Reverse]

 


 

[Home] [Up] [Biographic Sketch] [Beckside Lights] [Scowcroft Critics] [Doxie Dent] [Making the Million] [The Minder] [The Preachers] [The Mangle House] [From Crooked Roots] [Old Wenyon's Will] [The Partners] [Life's Working Creed] [Reviews, etc.] [Main Index] [Site Search]

Correspondence should be addressed to.... Webmaster@Gerald-Massey.org.uk