Clog Shop Chronicles IV.
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A Diplomatic Reverse.


WEAK people are great trials to their friends, and Long Ben was a frequent source of anxiety to old Jabe.  Ben was so easily moved, and so rash when he was moved, that the Clogger told him every week of his life, "Thy yed's as sawft as a fuz-baw " (ball).

    In financial matters Jabe regarded him as utterly incompetent.  He was so open-handed towards the borrower, and so patient and hopeful towards his debtors, that he was informed by his chief mentor again and again, "Tha'll ne'er ha' nowt woll tha'rt wik (living).

    More than one Becksider had been disappointed of temporary loans from Ben by the sudden and peremptory interference of the Clogger, and Ben scarcely ever came to the Clog Shop without being catechised as to the state of his account with this or that slow-paying debtor.  If Ben became reticent in any of these matters Jabe at once took the alarm, and by threatening and judicious "pumpings," and occasionally by plottings with Ben's wife, ultimately got the truth out of him, and sometimes saved him from loss.

    Of late years, however, Ben, partly out of shy modesty, and partly out of fear of the Clogger, had developed a quite crafty slyness in his methods of rendering help to others.

    "He's that fawse [cunning], wench," Jabe would confide to Mrs. Ben in their consultations on the subject, "He'd diddle Owd Scratch hissel', an' we ne'er knaw wot he's up to."

    And the Clogger's difficulties were complicated by the view he took of himself.  He regarded himself as of a naturally hard and unsympathetic disposition, with a terrible tendency towards grasping greediness.  Financial operations were therefore very welcome to the old Adam in him, but very baneful, he feared, in their effects on his spiritual life, so that when Ben's weaknesses compelled him to act the part of an astute worldly-wise counsellor to his friend, it was done at great risk to his own soul.

    Under these circumstances it will be easily seen how grievous a cross Ben's weaknesses were to poor Jabe.  It must, however, be stated, if we are to make a full and faithful record, that the Clogger did not bear his cross either meekly or silently.

    Jabe had been busy one day teaching his apprentice the art of clog-sole shaping, and as the work had been trying to both his back and his temper, he was resting and taking a quiet whiff, meditating the while on a little problem which was just then exercising his mind.

    Four or five months before, Ralph Green, the cut-looker, had died, leaving a wife and five children unprovided for.  There was the club money, of course, and Ralph, though delicate, had managed to put a little into the savings bank at Duxbury; so that it was well known that the bereaved family would be in no particular need for a little time.

    But time had travelled quickly, and Jabe, reckoning it up, was startled to find that nearly five months had gone, and that therefore it was high time to make some inquiry into the condition of the family.

    But Ben was in the way.  If the subject were broached in his presence he would be sure to go right off and do something foolish, and something which, with his large family, he could ill afford.

    And then Mrs. Green was not exactly a persona grata.  She was a quiet, shy sort of woman.  It was reluctantly granted that, as a wife and mother, she was "reet enuff," but as a neighbour she was close, reserved, and stiffly proud.  Jabe, with the rest of the villagers, felt this, and he had difficulty in repressing a feeling of satisfaction that now, at anyrate, she would be compelled to make friends of her neighbours.

    At the same time, the Clogger justly surmised that, if help were given to the cut-looker's family, considerable care would have to be taken as to the mode of rendering it, or else it might be refused.

    And then, none of the Greens were "members," so that to the strictly legal mind of the senior society steward there was a difficulty in the way of helping them from the chapel poor's fund.  To further complicate matters, Jabe suspected himself of disinclination to help this case of need, which was another indication of the original desperateness of his nature, and entirely shook his own confidence in his power to rightly judge the matter.

    Altogether the subject provided a very neat problem, which might have occupied two or three nights' discussion around the Clog Shop fire, and have given opportunities for the display of those fine forensic talents on which Jabe prided himself, but for that irritating and humiliating weakness of Long Ben's.

    By this time the Clogger's pipe was out, and hung negligently between his lips, threatening every moment to drop to the ground.  The apprentice, standing almost up to the knees in clog-chips, was perspiring over his work and inaudibly anathematising obdurate clog-soles, when there was a murmur of young voices outside, the "sneck" of the shop-door was gently and hesitatingly lifted, the door itself slowly pushed open, and in came two children, a boy and a girl.  They carried a basket which seemed to contain something heavy, and after carefully closing the door after them, they dropped their burden upon the floor.

    "Well, wot dun yo' want?" demanded Jabe, taking his pipe out of his mouth, and scowling with a sternness he always assumed when talking to children.

    For a moment or two there was no answer; the boy looked at the girl; and the girl, catching at her pinafore as if preparing to cry, looked back at the boy.

    Presently, however, the girl seemed to repent of her tears, and making a resolute effort, which drove the blood from her thin cheeks, she stammered―

    "Dun yo' want to bey ony roppits [rabbits], Jabe?"

    The Clogger rose to his feet, and seemed about to explode upon his visitors, when the boy chimed in―

    "Full-bred Spanish, yo' known; nineteen inches across th' ye'rs."

    "Roppits! yo' wastrils," cried Jabe, in a grossly overdone pretence of anger; "wot dew Aw want wi' roppits?  Tak' 'em aat o' th' place, or"―

    But the girl plucked up courage, and dropping into a slightly wheedling tone, she said―

    "Yo' met bey 'em, Jabe, my— We wanten th' brass."

    "Brass!  Wot dun yo' want th' brass fur?"

    But a look of sudden resoluteness came into the eyes of the children, and the girl shook her head admonitorily at her brother, and then answered―

    "We conna tell thi, Jabe."

    "Yo' conna tell," shouted the Clogger; "yo' meean yo' winna."

    And then, suddenly, as if to surprise something out of them, he asked―

    "Does yur muther knaw as yur sellin' 'em?"

    Another look of caution shot into the girl's eyes, but before she could speak the boy had answered, "Neaw."

    "Neaw!  Tha'rt a bonny mon ta cum sellin' roppits ba'at tellin' thy muther," cried Jabe, addressing the boy as evidently the less artful.

    But the sister had telegraphed some kind of warning to her brother, and he stood and refused to answer a word.  Then Jabe tried several other questions without much success, and finally said―

    "Naa, then, Aw'm just wantin' a pur [pair] o' roppits like thoose," and he lifted the basket lid and glanced critically at the occupants.  "Aw've a hempty pig-hoile daan th' garden yond', an' Aw want ta keep 'em in it; bud Aw'st bey noa roppits off childer as corn't tell me wot they're goin' fur t' dew wi' th' brass."

    The young rabbit-vendors breathed hard and looked at each other in dire perplexity, and then the girl glanced apprehensively at the apprentice, who, on perceiving that he was noticed, suddenly resumed his clog-shaping with demonstrative haste.

    "Here, Isaac!" cried Jabe.  "Goa daan th' gardin' an' mak' a place for these roppits i' th' pig-coite."

    As soon as Isaac had disappeared on his invented errand, Jabe demanded the price of the wonderful Black Spanishes, and on having two shillings each tentatively quoted to him, he pulled two half-crowns out of his pocket, and balancing them on his fingers, he said―

    "Naa, then; wot dun yo' want th' brass fur?"

    The children hesitated, looked longingly at the coins and then at each other, heaved great, anxious sighs, and then the girl ventured―

    "Will yo' tell onybody, Jabe?"

    "Tell onybody? Not me," cried Jabe, in a tone expressive of the utter impossibility of such a thing.

    There was another pause, and then the girl drew a long breath, hesitated, took a step nearer the old Clogger, and then giving way suddenly, she fell forward with her head on his breast, and sobbed―

    "We want to give it my muther fur th' rent."

    No Becksider of any experience would have believed it, but it is nevertheless true, that Jabe did not remove the little hot face that was buried in his bosom, and it was also true that whilst he was speaking to the brother, blushing and ashamed of his sister's tears, but hovering perilously near them himself, Jabe's arm somehow strayed round to the other side of the sobbing child, and as he talked he drew her tightly to him and held her there.

    "Haa dust knaw thy muther conna pay th' rent hersel'?" he asked, looking at the boy, and speaking in tones of most unnecessary gruffness.

    "'Cause Owd Croppy came for it yesterday, an' he sauced my muther, an' aar Lizer theer sleeps wi' my muther, an' hoo says hoo wur skrikin' welly aw neet."

    As the reader will have surmised, Jabe's juvenile visitors were the children of Widow Green, and the interview just described brought painfully home to the Clogger the state of affairs at the cut-looker's cottage.

    So with a brief, brusque admonition to secrecy, Jabe dismissed the children, and adjourned to the parlour for tea, previously telling the apprentice to take great care of the rabbits for a day or two.

    Over tea and the pipe that followed, Jabe matured his plans with difficulty.  It was very provoking not to be able to take Ben into his confidence, and he resolved to punish that troublesome weakling by keeping him out of the affair altogether.

    Only Ben was much more ingenious and inventive than the Clogger, and Jabe sorely needed a suggestion or two from him as to the quietest and most roundabout way of conveying the assistance to be rendered.  Invention, in fact, was not Jabe's strong point, and he knew it, and so he was still chasing through his brain ideas that refused to be caught when the cronies began to assemble for the evening.

    For a time he sat at his bench and took no part in the conversation.  Presently, however, he pulled off his apron for the night, and joined the circle round the fire.

    "Has ony on yo' yerd has Phebe Green's goin' on?" he asked, with a laborious attempt at indifference which excited more curiosity than his most anxious tones could have done, and unfortunately woke up Long Ben, who seemed to be dozing far into the nook.

    But nobody seemed to know anything, and Nathan the smith declared that "They met be clemmin' i' th' haase for owt as they towd onybody"; and Sam Speck said he "couldn't abide sitch fawse pride."

    Jabe undertook a feeble defence of the widow, all the time keeping a vigilant eye on Long Ben, who manifested a most satisfactory lack of interest.  In fact, Ben only seemed to really wake up when Sniggy Parkin came in and announced that he was going to "tak' cur" (care) of his "owd woman," and, for a start, "Th' mangle's for sale!"

    Now the sale of Molly's mangle was a matter of public interest.  Wringing- machines were scarce in Beckside.  Johnty Harrop's wife had got one, of course, and so had Jimmy Juddy's Nancy, and one or two others of the upper ten, but for the rest everybody took their clothes to the public mangles.

    Until recently there had been two in the village,—one owned by Blind Alice, and patronised by the more respectable of the Becksiders, and Molly Parkin's in the Brick-croft, supported by the democracy.  But some weeks before Blind Alice had been taken to the Asylum, and her mangle removed to Clough End.

    The sale of Molly's machine therefore would create a sort of public crisis.  It was agreed on all hands that the Brick-croft mangle must not leave the village, and Long Ben seemed so absorbed in the situation, and its possible developments, that Jabe rejoiced to think that Widow Green would drop for the time out of his thoughts.  Meanwhile, what must be done for the Greens?

    The next night proved so very wet that nobody turned up at the Clog Shop except Sam Speck.  But Sam was clearly prejudiced.

    "Hoo keeps hersel' to hersel'; leave her to hersel'," was his dictum.

    Then Jabe opened his mind more fully, but though they talked for a long time, the two schemers could invent nothing better than a tortuous and involved system of subsidies to be given as occasion offered under various elaborate pretexts.  When they parted neither was quite satisfied with the outcome of their consultation, and Jabe was more and more irate at Ben for his unavailability.

    That same night, wet though it was, Ben paid a visit to Phebe Green.

    "Arta' in, Phebe?" he asked, opening the door a little, and holding it.

    "Ay," said a somewhat weary voice, and the carpenter stepped inside, and reared his big umbrella on the slop-stone to drip.

    "Childer, reitch a cheer," said Phebe, and when Ben had taken his seat, and given a sour-sweet to each of the children, he stole a quiet look round the house, and then glanced shyly at the widow.  She looked older and sadder than of yore, Ben noted with a pang, and there was that harassed look which sorrow never brings to the face except when blended with worry.

    "Phebe, thee an' me's allis been thick, 'anna we?" he ventured at last.

    "Ay," said Phebe, but there was suspicion and rising resistance in her tones.

    "Well, Aw want thi ta dew me a favour, ay, an' aw Beckside tew, if thaa will."

    "Wot dust want?" asked the widow, still cautious and icy.

    "Why, we're goin' t' be ba'at a mangle i' Beckside, an' Aw thowt sum on us met bey it in if thaa'd tak' it fur a bit, an' work it fur th' good o' th' village, thaa knaws."

    Phebe, a tall, severe-looking woman, stood looking down upon Ben, white and motionless as a statue, and then the fountains of the deep seemed suddenly to open within her, and with a passionate cry she staggered to a seat, and leaning her head on the table, she sobbed out―

    "O Lord, Thaa art 'the Father of the fatherless, and the Husband of the widow'! just when Aw were at th' fur end Thaa's sent me deliverance."

    Presently her agitation subsided, and, looking up at the carpenter, she cried: "It's just loike thee, Ben Barber, bud thy wife an' childer 'ull ne'er want for nowt as long as theer's a God aboon us!"

    "Aw see nowt ta tak' on o' that rooad abaat," said Ben, with a look of surprise which was not perhaps perfectly sincere.  "If owd Molly's mangle went aat o' th' village it 'ud be Dicky Pink wi' aw th' Beckside cleean clooas.  Th' childer 'till be able ta turn fur thi,"

    "But," he continued, suddenly assuming a brisk business air to bring Phebe back to commercial matters, and with a thought also of saving her pride, "tha'll ha' ta dew aar manglin' fur nowt fur a month or tew if thaa wants th' mangle fur thy own."

    When Ben had gone, having in leaving bound Phebe over to strict secrecy for a few days, the widow's children were amazed to see their staid, emotionless mother kiss them impulsively all round, with a series of hugs for the podgy baby, and caught some of their mother's gladness when they heard her say―

    "Thank God, wee'st be able ta pay aar rooad naa, ay, an' put a bit of a stooan on yer fayther's grave an' aw."

    Next night Jabe made a visit to the widow's with his first subsidy in his pocket, and was both surprised and encouraged by a new softness in Phebe's manner.

    "Hay!" he said, looking significantly at the two children with whom he had negotiated the purchase of the animals, "we 'an had sum wark wi' yon roppits.  They'll dreive me off mi yed if Aw keep 'em mitch longer.  Sithee, Jack!  If tha'll fotch 'em back tha'st have 'em for nowt, an' Aw'll give thi summat fur t' tak' 'em aat o' mi seet."

    This speech, of course, had a very lively effect on young Jack's spirits, but quite a contrary one apparently on those of his mother, who thus learnt for the first time to whom the creatures had been sold.

    A frosty silence followed.  Jabe had an uneasy sense of having blundered somehow, and so presently, discarding the subterfuges for which he felt so ill-fitted, he said, with a sigh of anticipatory sympathy―

    "Well, wench, haa ar'ta goin' on?"

    "Pratty weel," said Phebe shyly; "wi' God's help an' my naybors' Aw think wee'st pull through."

    The reply finished in so cheerful a tone, and Phebe herself looked so easy, that Jabe suspected there must be some recent cause for it, and beat about the bush for information.  But it was no use, and so he retired in the hope of gleaning something at the Clog Shop fire.

    But nobody responded to his very palpable leadings, and Long Ben's conduct was so unexceptionable as to disarm all suspicion of him.

    Jabe was so ill-satisfied with the result of his first visit that he went to the widow's again the next night, but though Phebe was out and Jabe used his utmost artifices with the children, he got "noa furrader," as he grumblingly admitted to himself going home.

    Next day he went again, resolving to have no more evasions, but to compel Phebe to accept his help, and even if necessary to scold her for her sinful pride.  But though Phebe was very kind, and even talkative for her, it was evident that she suspected his errand, and was bent on thwarting him, and so after staying a very long time he abandoned the entire scheme in sheer bad temper, and spitefully banged the door as he went out.

    But next day the mangle was removed to Phebe's, and before night everybody knew of the new arrangements.

    Jabe heard of it very early, of course, and sat over his work preparing for Long Ben the best "dressin' dawn" he ever had in his life.  But Ben evidently thought discretion the better part of valour, and did not turn up, for he knew that Jabe would suspect him of having arranged the matter.

    Besides the absence of Ben, the conduct of the rest of the Clog Shop cronies was irritating.  Jabe sat at his seat before the window some time after his ordinary hour for adjournment, and toiled on in moody unsociability, but the others—Sam Speck, Lige, and Nathan the smith—got as far as they could into the inglenook, and were whispering and breaking into sudden explosions of laughter, which they made great haste to suppress.

    Jabe concluded they were rejoicing over the way in which Ben had out-manoeuvred him, and bore it with ill-smothered wrath.  When Lige and Nathan had gone, the Clogger drew up to the fire, and Sam, whose face wore a broad grin, at once looked preternaturally grave, but after struggling with himself for a few moments, overcome by irresistible inward merriment, he burst into an uproarious laugh.

    The look Jabe cast on him would have frozen any mirth, however, and so, as soon as he could make a straight face, he leaned forward and said―

    "Dust knaw wot they're sayin' abaat thi?"

    "Aw nayther knaw nor care," snapped the Clogger, looking fiercely into the fire.

    "They say"—but Sam got up and prepared for sudden exit, as he said it—"they say as thaws started o' courtin' Phebe Green;" and away Sam rushed, waking the echoes by his explosions of laughter as he crossed the road for home.


――――♦――――

 
Vaulting Ambition.

-I-

O'erleaping.


THE Clogger sat at a table under his parlour window with Fleetwood's Life of Christ open before him as a writing-pad, a very short stumpy pen in his hand, smudges of ink on his fingers and lips, and an irritated, indignant look on his rugged countenance.

    Seated in a chair beside him, and bending so intently over him as to seriously incommode him, and thus intensify his anger, was a long, thin-faced woman of nearly his own age, who wore under her shawl the "brat" of the ordinary card-room factory-hand, which still had traces of cotton "rovings" upon it.  This was Rachel Walmsley, Jabe's cousin, a widow who lived by herself in one of the small cottages between the chapel and the Fold farm.

    The two were occupied in writing a letter, which was a very serious business, as the Clogger hated writing, and Rachel could not even read.  The letter was intended for the widow's only son Richard, a young doctor in London.  Rachel usually wrote about once in three months, using Jabe as an amanuensis, and the composition of the letter generally produced a fierce conflict between the two.

    Jabe, to whom the task was utterly abhorrent, was always bitterly sarcastic about some of the things dictated to him, and immovably obstinate about others, whilst Rachel was tormented with the suspicion that Jabe was not quite as scholarly as he pretended to be, and that her instructions to him were freely translated, and often cruelly abbreviated, by the penman to save trouble.  The writing of this letter, therefore, was generally the occasion of a battle royal, out of which Jabe usually came with a complete loss of temper and self-respect, vowing with fierce resolution, "Aw'll niver write anuther woll my heart's warm."

    On the present occasion, however, the letter was of more than usual interest, and Rachel was therefore more than usually trying, and Jabe was already in a high fever of irritation and disgust.

    "Theer," exclaimed the widow, as Jabe, having over-dipped his pen, made a black spot on the letter, and then tried to remove it by using the end of his finger as a blotting-pad, "that's th' third blotch ta-neet, wun upo' ivery.  That's a bonny letter to goa to a Lundon doctor, isn't it?"

    "Haa con Aw help it wi' thee mauling abaat me?" shouted Jabe.  "Tha mak's me aw of a whacker" (shake).

    "Whacker?  Ay! that's thy ill-temper.  Tha ne'er had a grain of patience sin' Aw knowed thi."

    "Temper?  Of aw th' aggravatin'"—

    But the Clogger stopped, took off his spectacles, laid down his stumpy pen, moved his chair from the table, and relighting an unfinished pipe, puffed away in grim silence, his weak member rocking up and down over the knee of the other leg at a frantic rate.

    Rachel, knowing well with whom she had to do, and quite accustomed to demonstrations of this kind, waited quietly for some time, during which Jabe, sitting with his back to her, gave vent every now and then to an angry snort.  At length she said mildly―

    "Aar Rutchart [Richard] thinks a seet o' thee, Jabe."

    Another snort from the Clogger, and a resumption of violent leg exercise.

    "He'll be whoarn afoor lung, naa, and ther'll be noabry praader on him nor thee, Jabe."

    The smoke began to puff from Jabe's pipe in short, rapid whiffs.

    "Didn't tha read as he wor thinkin' o' settlin' amung his own fouk i' Beckside, Jabe?"

    "Naa, Aw'll tell thee wot, Rachel," cried the Clogger, rising to his feet and limping to the table, "Aw'st finish this letter, if it dreives me maddlet; but, mind thee, Aw'st write noa mooar, nayther fur thee nor yo'r Rutchart."

    And with a visage of adamantine resolution, the Clogger picked up his pen and sat down again before "Fleetwood," demanding snappishly as he did so―

    "Wot's th' next?"

    "Tell him fur t' moind wot he's doin' wi' them Lundon wenches.  They're a fawse lot, an'"―

    "But Aw've towd him that awready."

    "Naa, thaa hezna."

    "Then Aw said it th' last toime."

    "Ay, bud that's three munths sin', thaa knows."

    "Three munths?  Whey, Aw've towd him that i' ivery letter Aw've written this last five ye'r.  Dust think th' lad's sawft?"

    "Hay, bud it 'ud be an awful thing, Jabez, if he browt a forriner ta Beckside."

    "Lundoners ar'na forriners, tha lump-yed.  Thaa'll be cawin' th' 'super' a forriner next, 'cause he cums fro' Lundon."

    "Tell him theer's sum gradely nice wenches i' Beckside, an'"—

    "Beckside!" shouted the Clogger, rising out of his chair once more in amazement and indignation.  "Dust think there's ony wench i' Beckside as is fit for a Lundon doctor?  He'll live in a big haase, woman, wi' a brass knocker upo' th' dur, an' a sarvant lass, an' he'll want a wife as can talk fine and play th' pianney and visit th' quality."

    For a moment a look of exulting pride stood on the faded face of the widow, but it disappeared instantly, and in its place came a look of alarm, which developed rapidly into intense anxiety.  She leaned back in her chair, her thin face became ashy pale, and at last she said, quietly and huskily―

    "His muther 'till shawm [shame] him, then?"

    Jabe banged the pen down on the book before him, and cried out in exasperated, despairing tones―

    "Hay, dear!" and then, suddenly turning on Rachel, he continued, "If yo'r Dick's iver shawmed of his muther, th' Longworth blood's bred aat on him, that's aw!  Shawmed of his muther!  His muther's a meytherin' owd maddlin', iver ta think o' sitch a thing."

    But the thought was evidently a new one to Rachel, and rapidly took root in her mind.  She became so occupied with it, in fact, that Jabe had no further difficulty in getting his task finished, and was too rejoiced thereat to notice the deeply pensive look on his cousin's face.

    Rachel had called at the Clog Shop on her way home from the mill, and when she reached her own cottage the shadow caused by the words of Jabe deepened on her face, and tears dropped upon the highly-polished fire-irons as she made and lighted the fire.  When she sat down to tea, it proved a long and melancholy meal.

    She had been made a widow by a mill accident some twenty years before, and had been left with one child, a bright little fellow of six.  Several offers of marriage had been made to her, but she had peremptorily refused all, and lived alone with her child, who spent his time at Aunt Judy's when his mother was at the mill.

    Richard had grown up a fine sharp boy, of more than ordinary promise; and so when he was about fourteen, and had long been pestering his mother to allow him to go to work like other boys, Rachel had got Jabe to write to her brother-in-law, a tradesman in Manchester, to inquire if he knew of an opening for the lad.

    James Walmsley came to see Richard and his own old home at Beckside, took a great fancy to his fatherless nephew, and finally took him back with him.  But, instead of finding him a situation, he had sent him to school again, and kept him there.

    Then he discovered that Dick had a strong wish to be a doctor; and so, after many consultations with Rachel, he was sent to a college, and after a successful career had qualified some three years previous to the time of which we write, and the letter to which the one which had caused Jabe so much trouble was the reply had informed his mother that he was going a long sea voyage as a ship's surgeon, and that on his return he intended to come back to his native village and try to establish a practice in the neighbourhood.

    Now, all this had been marrow and fatness to the widow.  She had feared he would never come back and settle among his own.  Years ago, when on one of his rare visits she had hinted at it, Uncle James had shaken his head and quoted the text about the prophet in his own country.

    And then she was haunted by a terrible dread of his marrying some "forriner," and thus putting another barrier between them.  But the fact that her heart's idol would not be the same simple, merry boy she had given up long ago with such terrible pangs, but a fine gentleman with "quality" ways and refined tastes, had never presented itself to her exactly as it did as the result of Jabe's words.

    She was no sort of companion for a gentleman, she saw instantly, and she did not hide from herself that she would probably be a serious hindrance to him in society, and also, by her unfitness to manage his house and preside at his table, drive him into that very matrimonial market from which she longed to keep him.

    For over twenty years she had worked and screwed and waited, sustained always by the dream of a strong, clever, prosperous son to love her and do her honour, and now the dream vanished into thin air.  When he became a medical student she had given up all hope of his ever settling in his native village, and now, when her dearest wish was about to be fulfilled, and her boy was coming home, she felt she must begin a remorseless process of self-undeception and give up all she had lived for.

    She blamed herself for not having thought of all this before.  She understood now why "Rutchart " had pressed her so often in his letters of late to give up going to the mill.  He had told her over and over again, in words that were milk and honey to her, that he was not of the marrying sort; and now he would be compelled to wed because his mother was not fit to manage a house with a brass knocker on the door and a "sarvant lass" in the kitchen.

    It was a long, sad evening for poor Rachel, and when she retired to rest it was but to toss and roll about in perplexity and utter disappointment.

    Next night, however, Jabe noticed her pass the shop with a firmness of gait which was expressive of some change for the better in her mental condition, and after partaking of tea she fettled up the house rather more carefully than usual, and went out to "class."

    Coming down the "broo" from the meeting, she invited the schoolmistress to make one of her occasional calls.  The call included a "soop o' tay" and a bit of apple pasty.

    Whilst they were sitting at the table Rachel said suddenly―

    "Larnin's a foine thing, miss."

    "Yes," said the mistress, wondering what was the precise purpose of the remark.

    "Haa owd 'an folk fur t' be afoor they stoppen larnin'?"

    "The younger the better, of course; but people are never too old to learn, you know, Mrs. Walmsley."

    "Ay, but yo' conna teitch an owd dog ony new tricks."

    "Oh yes, we may all learn.  'Where there's a will there's a way,' you know."

    But whilst the mistress was wondering what the conversation was intended to lead up to, Rachel suddenly changed the topic by asking―

    "Are yo' comfortable, lodging wi' Bob Turner?"

    "Well, fairly comfortable; they do their best for me."

    "Wod yo' like fur t' stop wi' me if Aw gav' up goin' to th' shop?" (mill).

    Rachel's house was a tempting little nest of a place, almost painfully clean, better furnished than most, and surrounded back and front with an old-fashioned little garden which had often excited Miss Redford's envy.

    Rachel watched her visitor's face very narrowly as she asked her question, and saw instantly how welcome the change would be; and so without waiting for her reply she said―

    "Aw want yo' ta cum an' live wi' me, an' atsteead o' payin' me owt, yo'n ta larn me ta be a lady."

    An exclamation of surprise and amusement broke from the mistress's lips, but before she could reply Rachel had drawn her chair up close to her, and was pouring into her ears the perennial story of "aar Rutchart," adding, however, this time, several fresh items about his approaching home-coming, her own dislike of "forriners," and especially "forrin" women, and her desire to "fettle" herself up, so as to have some hope of keeping house for the doctor.

    They talked for a long time, the schoolmistress evidently shrinking from the proposed task, and also objecting strenuously to the other terms of the arrangement.  But Rachel would have her way.

    "Yo' mun larn me my manners, an' haa ta talk foine and ta read an' write, an' yo' mun show me haa to tittivate th' haase up an' mak' it a bit loike a Lundon haase," persisted the older woman; and in the end, without the least faith as to the result, and with an uneasy sense of the ridiculous in the matter, Miss Redford consented to join Rachel in her little home.

    Now, nobody was surprised when Rachel left the mill.  Some even expressed the opinion that she ought to have done it long since, as it was well known she had saved a "tidy bit."  Everybody approved also of her taking the schoolmistress to live with her, for, in the opinion of Beckside, nothing was too good for that young lady.  Of course, the precise purpose of the new arrangement was carefully concealed, and it was only when it began to bear unexpected kinds of fruit that the neighbours remarked upon it.

    One Sunday morning Rachel appeared at chapel with a gorgeously-bound hymn-book, which she made a show of using during the singing, and Sam Speck actually stopped in the middle of a fine bass run as his eyes fell on the widow using a hymn-book as big as the pulpit one, but much handsomer, and pretending to read it through gold-rimmed spectacles.

    A week or two later she appeared in that surest sign of feminine greatness, a watered silk dress, to which was added a little later a fashionable mantle.

    But the climax of outrageous innovation was reached when Rachel began to call her neighbours "Mister" and "Missis," and to speak in a ridiculous mixture of dialect and "fine talk."

    Now, it must not be supposed that the schoolmistress was responsible for all this.  She saw it with pain and shame.  When the widow persisted in her first proposals Miss Redford had acquiesced in the hope of being able in a quiet way to render her friend some assistance, or at anyrate to prevent her exposing herself to ridicule.

    But she was soon in deep water.  Rachel gave up learning to write after the third lesson, and proved but slow in acquiring power to read.  In the art of making a fair show in the flesh, however, she effectually proved her true womanhood by comprehending and carrying out with astounding aptitude the gentle hints given by her instructress.

    Before long, indeed, she got out of leading-strings altogether, took to going to Duxbury every week, where she bought her own garments, and was able to study at first hand the manners of the ladies she met with, and even produced afterwards slightly grotesque imitations of their toilets.

    The mistress's efforts were confined almost entirely to checking Rachel's immoderate zeal, though once she went the length of openly opposing the purchase of an outrageous bonnet which a Duxbury milliner had called "so ladylike."  They disagreed most of all, perhaps, on questions of colour.  Miss Redford's diplomatic resources were strained to the utmost to prevent glaring offences, and she was driven back more frequently than she liked upon her one argument that never failed, "I'm sure the doctor wouldn't like it."

    It must not be supposed that Beckside was indifferent to these things.  They were intermittently absorbing themes of conversation.  At the mangle-house, which was to Beckside women what the Clog Shop was to the men, Rachel's sudden rush into fashion was constantly canvassed and unhesitatingly condemned, and her "manners" and newly-adopted modes of speech called forth all Lottie Speck's unrivalled powers of mimicry.

    At the Clog Shop the subject was discussed under difficulties, for Rachel was the Clogger's cousin, and for a time it was not known how he regarded the matter, whilst Jabe himself was too much disgusted to allude to it.  Hints, however, were constantly being thrown out, and when one night Jabe said a word or two which seemed to invite discussion on the subject, he was told so many things that he boiled over with indignation.

    Next day he called on the widow with his temper very insecurely under control.  As he opened the door and stepped as usual over the threshold he noticed with rising scorn that the once carefully sanded floor was now covered with new carpet.

    "Ay!" he began in withering tones.  But before he could proceed he was met with the startling rebuke―

    "Jabez Longworth, you should knock when you comes into folk's houses."

    Arrested thus suddenly in his progress, and overwhelmed with what he saw and heard, Jabez stood in the middle of the room and glared around in speechless astonishment.  Slowly his gaze focused itself upon Rachel, and transfixing her with an annihilating glare, he cried―

    "Tha pride-brussen, mee-mawin, feathercock owd maddlin, tha, root's up with thi?"

    But Rachel was on her dignity, and so, bridling up, she returned his fiery glare with interest, and replied, betraying her excitement by dropping into dialect―

    "If thaa's ony manners thaa'll take thy cap off i' fouk's haases."

    The Clogger stood back a step, surveyed Rachel slowly and deliberately from head to foot, and then with a tremendous thump on the table with his horny fist, he cried―

    "Ay, Aw'll tak' my cap off an' mysel' tew."

    "An', Rachel," he continued, after a moment's pause, "thaa niver hed much sense, but sin' thaa sowd thy sowl to warldly pride thaa's lost root bit thaa hed.  Good mornin', Missis Walmsley," and, taking off his cap, he made her an elaborate mock bow, and stalked haughtily out of the house.

    But Rachel was not to be turned from her purpose.  Her dread of being an embarrassment to her son, and her fear of driving him into marriage with a daughter of the Philistines, acted as a stimulant to her energies, but whilst she certainly advanced rapidly in some things, her language was a bewildering medley, and her Sunday outfit was fearfully and wonderfully made.

    At last there came a letter from the young doctor to say that he had landed at Southampton, and was going to London for a few days, but would be home in about a week.  Rachel heard the schoolmistress read of the going to London with a pang, but soon forgot it in the excitement of preparation to welcome her boy.

    Then came a second letter to say that Richard would reach Duxbury Station by the 4.19 train on Thursday, and for two nights poor Rachel never slept.  Every few minutes she was asking her lodger if she thought "the doctor," as Miss Redford always called him, would like this or that article of dress or furniture, and the young lady was glad to have that opportunity of correcting several things which offended her taste.

    On the subject of personal adornment, however, the elder woman was still untractable; and though the mistress's influence secured the omission of the more glaring ornaments, the proud mother was still more than sufficiently gorgeous when she started off, in a trap specially hired from Duxbury, to meet her son.

    Now that the time had come she felt little of the elation she had expected, but in its place a nervous apprehension she found it difficult to account for.  She was now certain that her boy would be too grand a fellow to care much for a factory-hand mother, whom he had only seen twice during the last seven years, and that since mixing in such grand society there would be nothing in Beckside to satisfy him.

    Would he admire her plum-coloured satin dress in which she was meeting him?  She was sure Miss Redford had been mistaken in recommending that plain shawl instead of the grand mantle.  But, at anyrate, she had her gold guard on, and so she arrived at the station in a flurry of anxious misgivings.

    Rachel had all a countrywoman's dread of trains, and stood a long way back when the express came in.  In a moment she saw her son.  Oh, what a fine fellow!  What a fine beard he had grown!  Here he comes!  He has seen her, but after a hasty glance he looks farther down the platform.  He doesn't know her!  Then he turns toward her again.  She starts forward with a cry, and in a moment he has hugged her to his heart.

    But after a long, hearty embrace the young doctor holds her from him, glances perplexedly at her grand outfit, and seems uneasy and a shade disappointed, she fears.  During the ride home, though he talked freely as of old, he seemed to be always looking at some part of her apparel, and appeared a trifle flat and disappointed, and even, she thought, distant.

    But in a few moments Rachel had something else to think about.  The day had been very warm, but during the last hour it had become sultry and thundery.  Just as they were reaching the top of the hill out of Duxbury the rain began to fall, and in a few minutes it was pouring down.  Rachel had "forgotten" her umbrella—that is, she had left it at home, because it was not fine enough.  The doctor's had been left behind with his luggage, to come by Squire Taylor's cart.  There was no shelter near, and the driver had scarcely any wraps.  Such as he had were hastily dragged from under the seat, and wrapped round her shoulders, but, in spite of all, the poor widow reached home in a drenched and draggled condition.

    The schoolmistress met them at the door, and exclaimed as she saw their soaked clothes, but as it was still raining heavily they made haste to get indoors, and the doctor insisted that "mother" should go and change at once.

    But in the bedroom another scene took place.  Rachel was disappointed and thoroughly out of temper, and obstinately insisted on putting on her watered silk.  But the schoolmistress, having taken her measure of the doctor, insisted that the widow's ordinary black stuff was the proper thing, and was so firm that Rachel had most unwillingly to give in.  By the time she was ready to go down again she felt sick of the whole affair, and more than a little ashamed, and came into the wee parlour with a very penitent look on her face.

    The doctor was stooping down pulling on an elastic-sided boot as she entered, but on hearing her footsteps he lifted his head.  A look of surprised delight suddenly shone on his bronzed face, and jumping forward he seized her in his great arms, and giving her a tremendous hug, he cried, dropping quite naturally into the purest Beckside dialect―

    "Hay!  Aw'd a fine lady i' th' trap wi' me.  But this is my gradely owd muther!"


―――♦―――

 
Vaulting Ambition.

-II-

Alighting.


SAM SPECK had often complained that there had been an oversight in the building of the Clog Shop.  There ought to have been a window in the gable end of it, for that would have commanded a view of the road up past the chapel, and have immensely enhanced the value of the Clog Shop as a coign of vantage from which to supervise the public life of the village.

    And on the night of the young doctor's return, Sam particularly felt the absence of this outlook.  It was too wet to stand about outside, and too soon after his arrival to make a decent excuse for calling, and yet Sam was consumed with curiosity to see the doctor.  Lige, the road-mender, driven in from his work by the rain, was also at the cloggery, and these two—Sam in his character of cynic, and Lige from sheer depression of spirits—were prophesying the certainty of the doctor's unapproachableness and pride, and prophesying all the more doggedly as their vaticinations produced very welcome declarations of an opposite character from Jabe.

    As the evening drew on the company increased, and whilst some expressed themselves hopefully, the majority of the cronies belied themselves by endorsing Long Ben's dictum that "We conna expect owt else."

    Jabe, however, stoutly held out, and whilst admitting the force of Ben's argument as to the length of time the boy had been absent, the character of the society in which he had mixed, and the appearance he would have to keep up if he meant to succeed as a doctor, he still expressed unbounded confidence in Richard, and predicted that they would find that he had not changed in the least.

    In spite of all that Jabe could say, however, the company took a desponding view of the case, and Lige, the oldest person present, related numerous instances of persons who had left Beckside poor and unknown, and who either never acknowledged in after days the place whence they had sprung, or else returned occasionally and patronised the villagers with most offensive condescension.

    To crown all, Jethro, the knocker-up, recalled the well-known instance of Tommy Royle, who, when he had risen to the dignity of mayor of a distant borough, brought his grand wife and a party of Corporation friends to see his birthplace, and made fun of the village and its inhabitants, even going to the length of chaffing Jethro himself, for the amusement of his fine friends, about the importance of Beckside, and Jethro's thin voice assumed its deepest possible tones as he impressively added, "Ten ye'r after, he wor i' th' bastile" [workhouse].

    The relation of this oft-repeated tale in the present circumstances seemed to have a damping effect on the confidence even of Jabe, who relapsed under it into pensive silence, and as there was a long pause,—the most painful of all things to Sam Speck,—he broke it by smiting his thigh and crying in tones of unalterable resolution—

    "If Aw'd twenty childer, Aw'd keep 'em aw a-whoam [at home], if we'd to eight [eat] porritch, and porritch to it."

    Long Ben, as the family man of the party, seemed to dissent from this view of the case, but was so slow in replying that Jabe was just taking his pipe out of his mouth to answer, when the shop door sprang violently open, a tall figure rushed through the doorway, and putting a hand on the little counter and clearing it at a jump, alighted on a heap of clog chips on the other side.  Turning to the company, the young doctor—for it was he—cried out in tones welcome as music to those who heard them—

    "Hay, chaps, has are yo' aw?" and in a moment he was taking them by the hands and shaking them two at a time, and then beginning again and shaking again, he cried—

    "Hay! bud Aw am fain to see yo' aw."

    The effect was magical.  Jabe straightened himself up and glanced proudly round on the rest.  Sam and Lige looked embarrassed, but very happy.  Jethro turned into the corner on the far side of the fireplace and blew his nose, and Long Ben had recourse to a dirty red cotton handkerchief.  As it was summer time, there was no fire in the Ingle-nook, but the cronies sat in a circle round it as though it had been the depth of winter.

    Room was made for "Rutchart," and he was speedily installed as the guest of the evening.  In the excitement of greeting, most of the pipes had gone out, and there was a general refilling as an introduction to proper conversation.

    As soon as the doctor perceived this he cried, "Howd on, chaps," and diving into the pockets of a long loose coat, he produced a handful of gigantic foreign cigars and handed them round, crying as he did so—

    "Noa pipes ta-neet.  Th' mon as starts a pipe while theer's ony o' these left, Aw'll—Aw'll chuck him i' th' Beck!"

    This terrible threat was quite unnecessary, however, cigars being at all times scarce things in Beckside, and foreign ones almost unknown, and in a few moments seven round red spots gleamed fitfully in the deepening twilight.

    Yes, Richard Walmsley had come back to Beckside absolutely uncorrupted.  He had the same merry twinkle in his eye, the same low but hearty laugh, and the same frank, open honesty in speech and act as he ever had.  He talked about his voyage, and described the places he had seen and the adventures he had experienced, and passed for a moment under a cloud when, in answer to questions, his information about Methodist mission-stations proved to be scanty and bald.

    But the cronies noted with grim satisfaction that the doctor spoke seldom and always very modestly of himself.  Uneasy about his ignorance of missions in the presence of experts, he hastened back to his hospital days, and described scenes which were most satisfactorily blood-curdling.  Then he said a few rather lame words about being glad to be in Beckside again, his confusion as he expressed himself being regarded as in the highest degree becoming.

    Conversation afterwards became general, and at length, glancing hastily at a real gold watch which made Sam Speck's mouth water, he asked leave to retire, bargaining as he did so for a permanent place in the company, which was of course rapturously granted to him.

    "Didn't Aw tell thi?" shouted Jabe, smiting Ben heartily between the shoulders, "th' Longworth blood breeds true, thaa sees."

    "Aw thowt he'd a' bin a bit mooar of a gentleman," said Sam Speck, in a tone of dubious regret, and evidently forgetting his former and quite opposite fears.

    "Gentleman!" shouted six voices at once, and Sam was glad to vanish, and escape the storm he had raised.

    "Naa, Jonas," cried Jabe, as the company moved towards the door, "tha knows wot hymn we mun oppen aat wi' o' Sunday morning?"

    Jonas looked a moment at the Clogger in perplexity, and then replied—

    "Oh ay!  But what if the preicher winna have it?"

    "Have it?  He'll ha' ta have it!"

    And accordingly on the following Sabbath morning, with a full attendance of the choir and a quite unusual congregation, the Becksiders gave their old-time Sunday School scholar a most characteristic welcome, singing as he stood by his proud mother's side—


"And are we yet alive
 And see each other's face?"


    Now, Dr. Walmsley was not an exceptionally clever man.  He had got the ordinary surgeon's qualifications, and had passed his examinations respectably; and that was all.  But you couldn't have convinced Beckside of that.  The postman had shown Sam Speck a letter, on the envelope of which was the doctor's name with no less than seven mysterious and imposing letters behind it—a fact which was duly communicated to the authorities at the Clog Shop, and discussed at becoming length.  Clever or not, young Richard was soon as popular as either his mother or uncle could wish.  He greeted the young men who had been boys with him as "owd lad," and called the girls by their Christian names.

    He took the chair at the "Sarmons" tea-party, and the villagers laughed and cried together as he spoke in simple language of the days of "Auld Lang Syne."  Jabe, as senior superintendent, lifted his head almost out of his very high shirt collar as he announced that "Dr. Walmsley" had undertaken to "teich th' little wenches" whilst the schoolmistress was away on her holiday.

    Now, the Beckside neighbourhood, even if you included the whole of the Clough, embracing Brogden parish and Clough End, was not exactly a happy hunting-ground for an aspirant to medical fame.  The inhabitants were mostly of tough constitution, and regarded hardness and stoical endurance of small ills as so indispensable a virtue that their applications for professional assistance were comparatively rare, and always reluctant.  Besides this, they showed a marked preference for contraband, or, at any rate, irregular forms of doctoring.

    Every housewife of any pretensions was something of a herbalist, and every cottage ceiling was adorned with numerous brown paper bags containing "yarbs" supposed to be potent for life or death; and there was no more important person in the village than Little Eli, who lived in Shaving Lane, and who, whilst doing a little occasional business as a barber, maintained himself chiefly by collecting, drying, and preserving herbs, and retailing certain mysterious but potent salves, ointments, and drops prepared therefrom.

    For some years Eli had had no more constant customer than Rachel Walmsley, who prided herself on being a sort of valuable walking advertisement of the efficacy of Eli's celebrated "pain" drops, which she took as a cure for her rheumatism.  But when the doctor had been at home a week or two, Eli lost his largest consumer, for Rachel, anxious for her son's future success, and scheming constantly to promote it, suddenly realised that Eli was an enemy and a stone of stumbling in her son's path.

    "Aw'm fain aar Rutchart's come whoam," she would say, "if it's nowt but what he's done fur my pains."  And when the person to whom she was speaking asked the question she intended them to ask, she would reply—

    "Hay, wench, theer's nowt loike a gradely doctor efther aw.  Aw've ta'n [taken] gallons upo' gallons o' Eli's drops, an' wot better wur Aw?  But th' fust bottle aar Rutchart gave me cured me—a—a—partly—wot."  And then, after a pause, she would add, in an impressive whisper, "They tell me as Eli's toothwarch pills is nowt bud cobbler's wax."

    After shaking a loose leg for several weeks, the doctor began to "shape" at practising.  As his mother's house was small and low even for Beckside, and there was no suitable one empty, Jabe offered his parlour for temporary use, and Long Ben painted a neat board, on which was inscribed, "WALMSLEY, SURGEON."  The doctor busied himself in sending to London for his remaining belongings and certain necessities of his profession, and when these arrived and were arranged on shelves in the parlour, with just the slightest bit of ostentation, the habitués of the Clog Shop were invited to inspect the extemporised surgery, and listened, open-mouthed, as the doctor explained the uses of the instruments and chemicals.

    Jethro, the knocker-up, was regarded as a benefactor when, after a preliminary cough or two, he asked to be treated for "th' asthmatic."  Then a bad cut on Ben's finger was submitted, and the way the doctor's deft fingers bathed and bandaged it made a profound impression.  Then Sam Speck wanted a large wart removed from inside one of his fingers, and the howl he set up when the doctor, with a comprehensive wink at the company, dropped a drop of some terrible fiery fluid upon it, completed their satisfaction.

    Very soon the young physician was getting a fair amount of practice, and so, after a serious consultation, to which Jabe and Aunt Judy were called, it was decided that a piece of land opposite the chapel should be bought, and Long Ben was requisitioned to prepare plans; and presently, after much profound debate both at the cottage and the Clog Shop, the house began to rise upon its foundations.

    But Rachel realised now more clearly than ever that she could never take the place of the doctor's lady, and so she began to cast about to get him wisely married.  The doctor must get "in" with the "quality," and so she thought of going to Brogden Church; but her fear of Jabe and also of her son compelled her to abandon that idea.  Money was a sine quâ non she felt in this case, but she realised with distress that she had no connections with the upper-ten in the neighbourhood, and no means of establishing such connections.

    Then she remembered, and was astonished she had so long forgotten it, that one of the ladies whose acquaintance she had made at Duxbury on her fashion-studying expeditions had two daughters, and in a few days she had them over to spend the week-end with her.  But Richard, though gallant enough to the maidens whilst they stayed, openly ridiculed both their dress and their manners when they had gone.

    Next she thought of asking the schoolmistress, who on Richard's advent had gone back to Bob Turner's, whether she had any eligible friends whom she could invite to Beckside, and was busy maturing this idea in her mind when Aunt Judy came in one day, evidently laden with important news.

    "Well, tha'll dew ba'at th' Duxbury dowdies naa," began the visitor.

    "Judy Longworth, thaa'll have a nickname fur th' Almighty afoor lung!  Dowdies!  But wot shall Aw dew ba'at 'em fur?"

    "Cause your Rutchart's fun' one nearer whoam, and a fine seet better tew."

    "Nearer whoam?" cried Rachel, turning pale.  "Whativer dust meean?"

    "Well, if tha'd oppen thy een thaa'd see.  If it had bin a lad o' mine Aw should ne'er ha' needed onybody fur t' tell me.  Aw should ha' fun' it aat a munth sin'."

    Now, as Aunt Judy was quite as curious as Rachel and almost as interested in the doctor's future, but had only been in possession of her great secret some ten minutes, it is to be feared that her statement was somewhat unscrupulous.  But if she exaggerated for effect, she certainly had her reward; for Rachel went white to her lips, put her hand to her heart, winced with a sudden twinge of her old "pains," and with terrible visions of Richard eloping with a factory girl, she fell back into her chair, crying, half in tears—

    "Hay, wench, thaa's set me aw of a whacker!  Speik, woman, speik!"

    "Speik!  Dust meean ta say as thaa's lived i' th' same haase wi' him an' doesn't knaw as he's i' luv wi' th' schoo'missis?"

    The look on Rachel's face as she slowly grasped the situation baffles description.  Amazed at the character of the news, and confounded by the fact that whilst she had been anticipating remote dangers she had never seen the nearer and more likely one, she was stunned, and sat looking at Judy dumbfounded.

    Judy, in calm enjoyment of the effect she had produced, was just preparing to make a remark as a means of setting Rachel off again, when she was spared the trouble, for Miss Redford herself suddenly opened the door and stepped into the house, her pale face evidently flushed with pleasant excitement.

    Before she could speak, however, Rachel started to her feet, and with red angry face almost screamed out—

    "Stop wheer yo' are!  Haa con yo' for shawm ta show yo'r face here?  Pike aat o' th' haase, an' niver darken that dur ageean Yo'"—

    But the schoolmistress didn't hear the rest, having hastily retreated with surprise and distress on her face.

    Aunt Judy called her back, but she sped on; so in hot indignation Judy turned upon Rachel, voicing the popular local opinion, and declaring "Hoo's as good as yo'r Dick ony day"—the "Dick" being a title never applied to the doctor, except in contempt.

    This only inflamed poor Rachel the more; and for some minutes the battle raged hot and fierce, until at last, no match for the redoubtable Judy in word-warfare, and already condemned at the bar of her own conscience, she lapsed into silence, and allowed her visitor to retire with the honours of the conflict.

    Now it happened that Judy was right, and the doctor had asked for an interview with Miss Redford, taking no pains to conceal his purpose in so doing, and so, as the prospect was very sweet to her, the mistress was in a flutter of happy feeling when she called upon Rachel.

    The reception she met with rudely opened her eyes, and prompted her, after a severe struggle, to decline the proffered honour; and next day young Richard went back from the place of rendezvous a rejected man.

    The mistress knew better than most people how deep and all-absorbing was Rachel's love for her son, and convinced herself that it was her duty to make the sacrifice for the mother's sake, and so in declining the doctor she did not even encourage his urgent supplication for a possible hope in the future.

    That night the doctor went home a miserable man, and found, without particularly noticing it, a still more miserable woman.  Rachel knew that Miss Redford would have been an ideal wife; but she had no money, and in Rachel's opinion that was a fatal objection.  She was greatly exercised, especially as a fairly healthy conscience did its duty, and the doctor grew gloomier every day.

    One night, after an unavailing attempt to move Miss Redford, or to get any explanation out of her, the doctor came home very late.  He looked weary, and scarcely answered Rachel's inquiries, and the distressed mother went to bed to toss about and cry and pray.

    Next day Richard went off to Duxbury, and did not return until the third night.  He seemed more cheerful, however, and Rachel began to hope the worst might be over; when, to her dismay, he began to tell her of an assistant's place in Manchester that was vacant, and carried with it the chance of a partnership.  Poor Rachel was at her wits' end, and to make things worse a neighbour brought her intelligence that the schoolmistress had given notice to leave.

    The same morning Aunt Judy went to the Clog Shop, muttering and shaking her head as she walked.  Having beckoned the Clogger into the parlour, where he followed her very leisurely, for it would never do to show any great concern about a woman's communications, Judy opened her budget by saying—

    "Jabe, Aw've summat on my moind."

    Jabe grunted with apparent unconcern, but in a few moments he was eagerly looking into his sister's face as she detailed the memorable interview in which she had taken a part.

    When she had finished and received emphatic admonition to say "nowt to noabry," she departed, and Jabe, after a vain attempt to resume work, put off his apron, and putting on his most uncompromising look, marched off to interview Rachel.  She was almost glad to see him, and listened with chastened manner to his utterances.  He certainly did not spare her, and when he left, the air seemed to be clearer, and Rachel began to see her way.

    Next day, with a subdued and wistful look on her face, she made her way to the little schoolhouse, timing her visit so as to arrive just as the scholars were "loosing."  The mistress, perched on a high stool at a desk, blushed quickly as she caught sight of her visitor, and Rachel, stepping timidly up, said in penitent, apologetic tones—

    "Will yo' speik to me?"

    For answer the mistress leaned over and kissed her.

    Rachel was much moved, and for a few moments neither of the women spoke.  Then Rachel took an aimless sort of look round the school, and dropping her head much as a guilty schoolgirl might have done, said very softly—

    "Aw ax yer pardon."

    Tears came into the mistress's eyes, and she bowed her head on the desk and sobbed quietly.

    There was another long silence, and then Rachel, still standing by the high desk, faltered—

    "Yo'—yo' can hev him if yo' want."

    The schoolmistress shook her still bowed head very resolutely.

    "Hay, bud yo' mun hev him."

    Another shake of the head, another sob, and another painful silence.

    Rachel sighed heavily, took a long troubled glance round the school again, and finally said, chokingly—

    "Aw conna have him if yo' dunna."

    But still the schoolmistress did not speak, and the older woman, clinging to the edge of the desk, continued—

    "Aw know Aw've done wrung, but if ivver yo're a hen wi' one chick yo'rsel' yo'll forgie me.  Hay! dew have him, dew!"

    And as she pleaded thus, she timidly slid her hand across the desk until it touched the little white hand of the mistress, and patting it coaxingly, she resumed—

    "Aw gan his fayther up ta God twenty-two ye'r sin', an' Aw'll give him up ta yo'—if—yo'll hev him."

    And then her head dropped upon the desk, and she began to sob as if her heart would break.

    The schoolmistress tried to comfort her, and so the ice was broken, and they talked, and Rachel pleaded so urgently that when they left the school Miss Redford had consented to receive another visit from the doctor.

    Next day all Beckside knew that young Richard was to marry their beloved schoolmistress.



[The Zeal of Thine House]

 


 

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