The Mangle House (I)
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THE MANGLE HOUSE
_______________

CHAPTER. I
A DISCONSOLATE LOVER


THERE were more empty houses in Slagden than inhabited ones, and no new building bigger than a hencote had been erected there for nearly thirty years.  It had been "summat of a place" in the old hand-loom weaving days, but the coming of machinery had sealed its fate, and so, though nobody who could live in Slagden would ever want to live anywhere else, that hard necessity which knows no law and no sentiment had driven the people forth, and they now resided in those dirty-looking, stuck-up mill villages in the valley, whose smoke reached even to Slagden itself, and reminded Saul Swindells of the sulphurous regions to which his neighbours were going.  Slagden crowned the first shoulder of the great hill that blocked the end of the Aldershaw valley, and from the middle of the old road opposite the Mangle House you could on a very clear day see not only Noyton, Pye Green, Longclough, and Aldershaw itself, but right away to Drillington Folly, some fourteen miles off.  When the wind was in the right quarter the air of Slagden was nothing less than genuine sea air, all the way from Blackpool!  As the aforesaid Saul Swindells declared, whenever the new-fangled "trips" were mentioned in his presence, "When Aw want sea air, Aw stops awhoam an' tak's it neat; noan o' your Blackpoo' hyster-shell and tripe-stall mixturs fur me."  Most of the Slagdenites "bowed in the house of Rimmon" so far as to accept employment in the mill villages of the plain below, but there all intercourse with degenerate modernity ended, and Slagden kept itself severely to itself, and became quieter and more isolated every year.  The "cities of the plain," Noyton, Pye Green, etc., boasted of terraces, groves, avenues, and even crescents, but stalwart Slagden stuck proudly to the older nomenclature, called its longest block of houses "Bumby's Row," and the five low cottages just above the Mangle House "Switcher's Buildings."  The only public-house in the village was the "Dog and Gun," a long low structure with mullioned windows and corpulent bays.  It was never open on Sundays, for its owner and keeper was the bassoon player at "th' Chapil i'th Fowt," and a very zealous though inconsistent Methodist.  The only public buildings were the New School, which was, as a matter of fact, one of the oldest remaining structures, an old fourteenth- century church which was not in the village at all, but about half a mile nearer the moors, and the Methodist chapel above mentioned, which was hidden away beyond "Bumby's Row" and down a narrow "ginnel."  You entered the "ginnel" from "Chapel Fowt," and just where the latter emerged into the main or "owd" road stood an ancient pear tree, and four yards above this was the Mangle House, gable-end to the fold, but facing the road.  Right across this gable-end was a rude thick plank seat supported upon old tree stumps, and it was upon this seat that the village philosophers sat to discuss the affairs of the universe, such opposition as there was gathering generally round the roots of the pear tree.

    One bright, breathless Saturday afternoon two men occupied the bench—Seth Pollit, the milkman, and Saul Swindells, the schoolmaster.  Saul was also the village accountant, lawyer, and literary and theological referee.  He was besides a local preacher in "th' owd body."  He was painfully thin, and looked much taller than he really was.  Not only his garments but his limbs seemed to have been made for somebody else, and to have been obtained by their present owner second-hand.  He had a big, top-heavy head, which rolled about and threatened to come off as he talked, little restless black eyes, buried under heavy overhanging crags of eyebrows, a large mouth, which never seemed to be big enough for the words he wished to use, and a domineering, contemptuous nose.  His companion was a short, heavy-limbed man, with high narrow forehead, small drooping mouth, and light blue eyes, the sockets of which seemed to have been intended for much larger optic machinery.  There was scarcely a single question in life upon which these two agreed, and consequently they were inseparable lifelong friends.  Seth could not have expressed himself in anything but dialect if he had wanted to, and Saul's speech was a bewildering mixture of pulpit English and homely folk-talk.

    "Hay Lorjus! bud it's hot; we're bonny foo's to sit here sweltering," grumbled Seth, as he threw his new-washed corduroy waistcoat open.

    "Speak for yourself.  I should be hot if my inside was a blast furnace an' my mouth a mill chimney."

    Seth's wooden face gave no sign; he only curled his forefinger round the stem of his pipe, closed his eyes sleepily, and took a long relishing pull.  After a moment's meditation, however, he propped his head negligently against the gable-end, removed his pipe reluctantly, and replied, "Chewin' wod be mysterer [moister] sartinly."

    Saul, with cheeks indignantly puffed, as was common with him, glared at the offensive smoke-rings, and cried pouncingly, "Chew?  Why not?  Them that burn the devil will eat him.  Poo!  P-h-e-w! take your breath o' Beelzebub away."

    Now Saul loved raillery quite as much as his companion loved tobacco, but the heat, in spite of the shade of the pear tree, was so enervating that neither of them seemed to have strength to pursue the argument, and as it was an old bone these two war-dogs were fighting over—one only unearthed when every other excuse for quarrelling failed—the conversation seemed likely to perish of inanition, and the two were subsiding into lazy silence when a door at the bottom end of the fold—the one next to the ginnel, in fact —opened, and a young fellow, evidently about thirty years of age, and dressed in decent Saturday afternoon attire, came lounging towards them.  His approach was apparently of no interest whatever to the cronies, and even when he came and dropped with a sinking sigh into a cavity between the pear-tree roots they neither looked at him nor spoke.  For a while the new-comer treated his companions as they had treated him, but presently wriggling himself deeper into the space between the root branches, until his knees were almost on a level with his chin, he put his arms round his legs, and clasping his hands in front of his shins, bestowed on the two men opposite an uneasy sidelong glance.

    "Wor art siking theer fur?" demanded the milkman, though no sound of any kind had come from the last arrival.

    He of the pear tree turned his head away, stared first at the "Dog and Gun," and then down towards the ginnel, but did not utter a word.

    Seth having failed, Saul would try.  Eyeing his man over with suspicious frown, he observed, "It 'ull tak' a lot o' sighs to mak' a sarmon."

    "Sarmons be hanged!  Aw wudna sike fur a tun a sarmons;" and the speaker went suddenly red with resentment.

    Seth, the milkman, closed his eyes and gave his head a long deprecatory shake; there was no hope for a preacher who began with notions like these.  Saul's little black orbs were rolling about in evident search for adequate language, and presently he set his heels to the ground, thrust his hands into his pockets and his back against the gable-end, and delivered himself thus: "Jesse, sighs an' sarmons is like t' Siamese twins, they canna be parted; if there's noa sighs i'th makkin' of a sarmon, there'll be a bonny lot i'th yerrin' on it."

    It was one of the milkman's strongest points that he never under any circumstance allowed himself to manifest the slightest interest in what the schoolmaster said, and the more boisterous the pedagogue's oratory the more wooden and unconscious did he seem.  As soon, therefore, as Saul had finished, and before Jesse could frame any reply, Seth interjected drawlingly, "It's oather a sarmon or a woman."

    The dull red blush that rose in Jesse's neck and travelled to his brow told its own tale, and Saul, a thirty-year widower, whose short married life had been very stormy, fixed a stony glare upon the young fellow under the tree, sprang at him, hot as it was, and, thrusting a long, dingy hand under his nose, demanded fiercely, "Give me that plan."

    "Wot fur?"

    "Give—me—that—there—plan."

    "Aw shanna!  Wot fur?"

    "Con thou go up a ladder by sliding down it?  Con thou whitewesh a wall wi' gas tar?  Con thou mak' fire an' wayter mix?  Well, then!  Luv and theology, sarmons an' women, 'ull noa mooar mix nor fire an' wayter."

    Seth was waiting patiently for this diatribe to end, and then, after a preliminary flicker of his slovenly eyelashes, he remarked, without directly addressing the young preacher, "Why dustna ax her, an' ger it dun wi'?"

    "Ax her?  That's it!  Aw ha' axed her!"

    "Resign!  Send in that plan!" thundered Saul.

    "Tha has axed her?  Then has hoo jack'd thi up?"

    "Jacked me up?  That's it!  Aw wuish hoo hed."

    Seth's wooden face showed just the slightest trace of surprise, his eyebrows went up a little, and his mouth corners came down; whilst Saul, now back upon the seat, began to show a passing gleam of ordinary human curiosity.

    "Hoo's a bit awkkerd wi' thi, then?" remarked the milkman, with an interrogative inflection.

    "Hoo's as nice as pie."

    Seth's face showed genuine expression at last.  With a pucker of perplexity on his brow, and a long hard stare at Jesse, he observed disappointedly, "Oh, then it's thee?  Tha's changed thi mind?"

    "Nay, Aw hav'na!  Not me!" and Jesse jerked his head about with vigorous decision.

    "This bangs Banager!" and the thoroughly excited Saul, losing sight for the moment of the theological aspect of the case, bumped his head against the gable-end, and thrust his hands deeper into his trousers.  Seth was beaten, but with one last effort to grasp the situation he leaned a little forward towards Jesse and demanded, "Dust coourt her gradely?  Wenches conna ston' hanky-panky wark, tha knows."

    "Aw goos ivery neet."

    A groan, intended to express the hopelessness of the case from the theological standpoint, escaped Saul, and Seth, staring hard at the trunk of the pear tree, poured forth huge volumes of smoke, and then remarked, in a hopeless, resigned sort of way, "Haa dust goo on wi' her? dons hoo walk aat wi' thee?"

    With sad, solemn emphasis, Jesse jerked out, "That's it! hoo doesna."

    "Wot does hoo dew, then?"

    "Hoo axes me t' turn th' mangle."


Ed.—A simple clothes wringer (U.S.) or "mangle" (U.K.).
The washing receptacles were known as "dolly tubs".


    Saul burst into a great roar of laughter, and Seth shut his eyes sharply, but with treacherous twitchings about the mouth corners.  He waited a little, until he could control his voice and reduce his face to its normal woodenness, and then he asked softly, "An' wot then?"

    "Then?  Why, Aw turns it fur sure."

    "Well?"

    "An' then hoo axes me t' turn it ageean."

    "An' then wot?"

    "Aw turns it.  An' then hoo smiles at me, and puts her yed 'o one side like that (suiting the action to the word), an' hoo says, 'Just wun mooar basketful, Jesse.'  An' Aw does."

    "Aw neet?"

    "Aw neet—partly wot."

    The muscles of risibility seem to have been left out of Seth's make-up, and so on those rare occasions when he wanted to grin he pulled his small mouth aside, like a costermonger at his calling, lugged the corner of it painfully up towards his left ear, and presented the appearance of a man who was wrestling with a frantic toothache.  Tic-doloureux seemed to have attacked him suddenly at this point, tears even began to roll down his cheeks; only there was a light, uncommonly like laughter, shining through them.  Saul, whose amusement had changed into indignant jealousy for the honour of his sex, made a savage grab at the man next to him, and shouted, "Seth Pollit, wheer's your men?  The sex is hextinct!  We're all mollycoddles an' John-Mary-Anns now."

    "Mollycoddles!  Ay!" and Jesse's homely face was flushed with shame and resentment.  "Mon, Aw'd turn it neet an' day if hoo'd let me; hoo's killin' hersel';" and then, as he dropped back against the tree, he added sighingly, "It's no' that."

    Seth, the picture of vacancy, half opened his eyes at the last sentence, and then, after a moment's musing contemplation of Jesse's face, he asked, "Is ther' summat else, then?"

    "Ay is there!  Bud it's nor her; it's him."

    "Owd Nat?"

    "Ay; he'll pizen me afoor he's dun.  My inside's loike a doctor's shop this varry minute."

    Saul was gripping the edge of the bench to suppress his rising wrath, and though the milkman's face was as solid as a block of stone, he was shaking with convulsions of internal laughter.

    "Does t' mean as he mak's thi tak' his yarbs?" he asked with a trembling voice, and a prodigious effort at self-control.

    "Ay does he!  Quarts on 'em, an' pills, an' pumaytum."

    It was no use; the eyes of the two cronies met for an instant, and then wrath and scorn and sympathy alike were swept before an irresistible sense of the ridiculous, and whilst Saul awoke the echoes with a long roar, Seth was wrestling with a most sudden and furious attack of dental agony, and emitted a series of smothered gurgles which represented the best he was capable of in the way of merriment.  Suddenly, however, his face straightened, and, pulling himself up with hasty seriousness, he asked, "But tha doesn't tak' pumaytum?"

    "Aw wuish Aw did!  Aw'd sooner hev it in me nor on me—lewk here!"  And lugging off his cloth cap, he exposed a head of hair all glued together with some greasy shining unguent, and smelling strongly of bergamot.  Poor Jesse had evidently borne his persecutions as long as he could silently, and now having broken out, intended to get all the relief possible from a full disclosure, and so, before either of his odd confidants could reply, he went on protestingly, "It's Cumfrey one neet, and knitbone another, an' Tansy or Tormental th' next.  It's sickenin'!  Aw'st be fun' deead i' mi bed sum foine mornin'."

    "An' serve thee right!  Nobody but a lovesick ninnyhommer 'ud stand it."

    Saul's words were scornful enough, but his twinkling eyes and smirking mouth betrayed him, and at length Jesse, angry at being laughed at, snarled, "Ha' sum sense, will yo'!  If Aw didn't take' 'em, hoo'd ha' to dew.  He says he mun ha' sumbry to practise on; th' poor wench uset tak' 'em aw, tin Aw turnt up."

     Saul's eyebrows went up, and he became a picture of weary disdain; and Seth, of the expressionless face, twice turned his light eyes to the young lover with evident questions in them, but when at last he spoke it was upon a new aspect of the case.

    "Does hoo cum wi' thi when tha's dun turnin'?"

    "Wi' me?  Neaw that's it!  Hoo just stop's at t'other end oath mangle, an' nods her yed, an' says, 'Good-neet, lad'!  Mon!  Aw've niver wunce hod a kiss off her yet!"

    "An' this is Courtin'!  This is modern luvmakin'!  This is pluck an' independence!" and Saul's strong upper lip was curled in loftiest scorn.  "Thou numskull!  Can't tha see as th' little besom's foolin' thi?"

    Jesse looked as though he thought that very likely indeed, and the woebegone expression on his face deepened, but he did not reply.

    The log-faced milk dealer eyed him over with musing interest for a moment, and then remarked pityingly, "This job wants oather mendin' or endin'."

    "Mendin'!  Aw'd see th' jade at Hanover afoor Aw'd bother wi' her!  An' thee startin' 'o preachin', tew," added Saul fiercely.

    Jesse coloured, bit his lip, looked from Seth to Saul, and Saul back to Seth, stared up at the Mangle House chimney, whilst his brown eyes began to swim, and then, struggling hopelessly to keep back the shameful tears, he cried, through stammering lips, "Ay, it's yessay talking, bud Aw—Aw—Aw—loike her!"

    There were two or three moments of embarrassing silence, and suddenly Seth rose, took a stride towards the disconsolate lover, and bending down, and dropping his voice so that Saul could not hear, he asked, "Does th' owd chap borra brass off thi?"

    Jesse blushed to the eyes, tried to evade the look fixed too searchingly upon him, and then cried with clumsily simulated indignation, "Me?  Neaw!  Why should he?  They're weel off, arna they?"

    Seth's face was unfathomable, but as he still gazed down on his victim he said, "Tha'rt a poor liar, Jesse.  Tak cur o' thysel'; they're foolin' thi;" and then, turning away, he stepped to the edge of the road, glanced up it and then down, and just as he was turning back towards his seat he muttered a sentence that would have been incomprehensible to the others had they heard it, "Number fower—the little besom!"


 
CHAPTER II.

A STARTLING DISCOVERY


THE Mangle House, at the gable-end of which the discussions of the last chapter took place, faced the old road, and was a low stone structure with a flag roof and four rooms.  The lower storey was divided down the middle by a passage which went through from the front door to the back.  There was a stone table near the front door, whilst the other opened into a carefully tended back garden.  The room nearest to the fold corner was a herbalist's shop, which smelt strongly of aromatic simples, and the other was the mangling-room and house-place.  As the herbalist had a great local reputation in a time and amongst a people much addicted to "natural" remedies, and the mangle was the only one in the village, the house was well known in the locality, and often, as the landlord of the "Dog and Gun" admitted, had more customers than his own comfortable place of resort; and this in spite of the notorious fact that the "quack doctor" and his daughter were self-contained and "standoffish" sort of folk, who looked down on even their best customers.  That they were well-off when they left the grazing farm in Finny Lane and "retired" to the Mangle House was perfectly well known, and that their present double-barrelled business more than kept them was equally clear, and yet they lived meanly, screwed and scraped in every possible way, and had become bywords of nipping miserliness.  "Scratters?" why, couldn't Saul the schoolmaster tell you that the old herbalist had once tried to manufacture snuff out of ground roots, and didn't everybody know that on the rare occasions when old Nat did condescend to sit in the gable-end Parliament he brought a pipe made out of a wooden bowl and a clay churchwarden stem, and smoked "nasty stinkin' stuff that wasn't bacca at all, but dried yarrow"?

    Nat was a tall, gentlemanly-looking old man, with large open features, wandering dreamy eyes, pale complexion, and a singularly strong-looking mouth, that contradicted the impression of weakness given by the rest of his face.  He invariably wore a long loose overcoat, a black skull-cap, and Wellington boots.  He was a local preacher, and had once enjoyed an almost phenomenal reputation; but when he retired from the farm he retired from the pulpit too, and now only preached very occasionally.  He never took ordinary appointments, but his reputation was so great, and his pulpit power so extraordinary, that ambitious Sunday-school managers were willing to fee him if he would serve them at anniversaries, and that he took these, and only these, engagements was confirmatory evidence, if any had been needed, of his grasping, greedy disposition.  The gable-end senators were agreed that Milly, the herbalist's daughter, would have been a "stunner" if only she had been better fed.  She had fine features, wonderful dark grey eyes, a white broad forehead, which was fully displayed by her curious habit of throwing her dark brown hair back without a parting, and a good but somewhat satirical mouth.  Of medium height and dignified carriage, she ought to have been beautiful, and sometimes was, but poor feeding kept her pinched-looking, and her skin was almost sallow; whilst the little tinge of colour which was necessary to complete her claim to prettiness never appeared except when she blushed, and then it was overdone.  She was clever and hardworking, and her house was always fastidiously clean, but her almost unnaturally high spirits and her formidable gift of speech caused her to be more feared than respected by her neighbours.  This notwithstanding, the Slagden young men were always willing to take the family mangling to her, and there were always two or more of them, as Saul phrased it, "snuffin' about th' Mangle House door," but this, of course, was because, at her father's death, she would be the richest woman in the village.  At the time our story opens Jesse Bentley seemed to be the favoured candidate, but as he was the steadiest lad in the neighbourhood, and had escaped female blandishments up to the mature age of thirty, and was just about to redeem the intellectual reputation of Slagden by "Comin' on th' Plan," Seth, Saul, and the other chapel authorities viewed his untimely infatuation with disappointment and alarm; for when a quiet, deep-natured fellow like him got under the spell of a witch like Milly Scholes, it was, as the milkman put it, "Dicky Pink wi' preichin' or owt else as is sensible."

    About four hours after the conversation recorded in the previous chapter, and when the gable-end bench was full of villagers, and the conversation busy, the door of the Mangle House was cautiously opened a little, and Milly, dressed for a walk, peeped nervously out.  She waited a moment, with the door in her hand, stepped back and nearly closed it; reappeared with an old basket on her arm, glanced suspiciously towards the gable-end, noiselessly closed the door, crept close against the side of the house in the opposite direction to the fold, hesitated, darted across the old road, and disappeared unnoticed down Grey Mare Lane.

    She wore a little tight-fitting hat, too warm and heavy for the time of year, and a long cloak very much the worse for wear, whilst the trim lines of her figure were broken somewhat in front and gave palpable signs of the presence of a concealed but inconveniently bulky parcel.  She stopped now and again in the lane to cover her retreat by appearing to gather tufts of dandelion and burdock, but as soon as she was really out of sight of the village she put her old knife into the basket, and began to walk briskly along the road.  She had a wearied air, and the hidden parcel evidently incommoded her.  It was an old, deep-rutted, bramble-grown lane, which widened out here and there, providing pasture for stray cattle and sly corners for rustic lovers.  She was evidently very tired, and somewhat impatient to get along, and so she turned aside at the next "bay" in the lane, and began to unbutton her cloak, with the intention of transferring the parcel underneath it to her basket.

    "M-i-l-l-y!"

    It went through her like a bolt; a sudden shock, a piteous, gasping cry, a moment of intense internal effort, and then she raised herself, cool, collected, and saucy.

    "Hay, Davit, dunna sit there loike that; tha looks loike a broody hen on a pot egg!"

    The person thus addressed sat on a gate in the far corner of the opening, with his legs tucked under him, and hooked by the toes to the second rail.  He was carving a "Whissun stick" when he caught sight of her, but the surprise and curiosity expressed in his use of her name were swept away before the swift attack made on his weakest point—his personal vanity.  He sprang self-consciously down from his undignified perch, and strode awkwardly towards her, adjusting his tie and pulling down his very fancy waistcoat; and as he approached he said sulkily, "Aw'm bet-ter lewkin' nor gawky Jesse Bentley onyway.  Wheer art goin'?"

    "Ay!  Well, Aw've ne'er seen him cocked up on a five-barred gate loike a duck tryin' to peerch; bud he con lick thee at mangling, Davit."

    "Ler him mangle!  Aw'st dew no moor, Aw con tell thi!"

    "Chonce is a foine thing!  Tha'd rayther sit on a rail loike a tom-tit on a pump handle, Aw reacon.  Jesse is a rare turner."

    David was a light-complexioned, warm-tempered young fellow, but as he dared not provoke her he replied snarlingly, "Ther's noa woman i' thee, Milly!  Tha curs nowt about felleys, nobbut to turn yond owd mangle."

    "Well, it's toime sumbry fun' a gradely use for 'em!  They'n bin i'th rooad lung enuff."

    He stared at her with a sense of exasperation, and then, devouring her placid, mock-modest face, he cried, "That tongue o' thoine 'ull be thi ruin sum day; tha'd aggravate a saint," and fairly conquered by her demure look and downcast eyes, he broke down and cried pleadingly, "Gi' me anuther chonce, wilta, wench?"

    She was the picture of gentle, yielding modesty, with her head on one side and her eyes cast down, and a man who did not know her might have been tempted to catch her in his arms; but David had experience, and so he eyed her with more of suspicion than hope.  She sighed a little, drooped her head languishingly, slowly raised her eyes, and looking him over deliberately, as though she were pronouncing some sad but inevitable doom upon him, she said, "Tha doesn't turn steady enough yet, Davit—fur a mangler," and before he could grasp what she was after she had dodged lightly past him, and was tripping sedately down the lane.

    David's language, Methodist though he was, was not fit to print in a respectable story.  He ground his teeth, drove his heel savagely into the soft soil, and stared after her in dull, lumpish disgust.  His eyes were fixed on the road she had taken even after she had vanished, and he was just turning to move towards Slagden when he pulled up and cried, in sudden curiosity, "Wheer the hangment is hoo going'?"

    He resumed his walk presently, but in a slow, dubitative manner, and after a few steps he stopped again.  "Aw've seen her cum this rooad of a Setterday neet afoor; wheer does hoo goo?"  Another fit of uneasy hesitation, another long stare down the road, and then, with sudden resolution, he darted after her, crying to himself as he did so, "Aw will foind it aat!  Aw'll bottom this, chuse wot it cosses me."

    In less than five minutes he had her in sight again, but as she stopped every now and again and looked cautiously round her, he found it necessary to be careful and keep out of sight.  As they went on thus he began to put things together.  She had evidently a very definite errand, and therefore the herb basket was a mere blind.  She was going away from the moor edge and the places where herbs were to be obtained, and taking the direction—roundabout and secret, but none the less sure—to one of the villages in the valley.  But, if so, why?  Why had she not taken the direct and much easier highway?  She worked much too hard to want a walk for its own sake, and she was going too fast for a person taking the fresh air.  Of course!  She was going shopping, that was what the basket meant; she was walking two or three miles and robbing the village shopkeeper just to save a copper or two by getting her groceries at a cheap store in one of the villages.  He had nearly abandoned the pursuit at this point in sheer disgust at her niggardliness, but the girl on before did not turn down at the lane-end to go to Noyton, as he expected; she crossed the road and went a little higher up, and finally took the old lane that carried her along the hillside; and as he watched her thus extending her trip he frowned at the thorn hedge behind which he was studying her movements and gave vent to a prolonged, amazed "Whew!"  There was something very curious about all this, and many an uncanny little story of what the Scholeses had done to save a copper came into his mind as he doggedly followed her.  Another twenty minutes' walk and David, perspiring with heat and growing curiosity, noticed now that Milly had taken the Aye Green Lane and was making unquestionably towards that most disreputable of all pit villages.  There was a small but very noisy market held here, he now remembered, on Saturday evenings, but every Slagdenite believed that the butcher's meat there offered for sale was indubitable "slink," and poor even at that.  Milly, screw though she might be, was proverbially dainty; what on earth was she coming here for?  Into the village she plunged, however, though knots of gossiping females stared rudely at her, and drunken men flung filthy words or plucked at her cloak as she passed.  David's blood began to boil and his fingers to tingle, but he dare not draw nearer lest she saw him.  When she came to the "Croft," where half a dozen bawling butchers were making miniature bedlam, she took a sudden turn and darted down an evil-smelling back street, and her pursuer thought for the moment he had lost her.

    When he reached the corner, however, he was only just in time to jump back; she was standing not three yards away and taking something from under her cloak, and he must have been observed if he had not pulled up.  Peeping cautiously round the corner, he saw her glance suspiciously about her, but when he took the next look, good gracious, she was gone!  The street was empty, and she had vanished as completely as though she had dropped into the earth.  Then he drew his breath and steadied himself; she had entered, of course, one of the many cottages whose back doors opened into the street.  Well, he would wait: he would get to the bottom of this whatever it cost.  Seven or eight minutes passed, he dare not go into the street lest she discovered him.  Perhaps she had only—Ah, there she was! coming hastily out of a ginnel he had not previously noticed, and he had to scurry away lest she should see him.  He had only time to hide behind a tipped-up coal cart when she appeared, but where was her parcel?  She passed within a few yards of him, hurried out of the street, skirted the edge of the market, crossed the road, and vanished up the lane the way she had come.  But now he was clear of her, Milly became for the moment of secondary interest; where had she been?  He was not going to have this long hot walk for nothing.  The questions were, where had she been? and what had she done with that parcel?  She had never got a mangling customer all this distance away.  He moved as easily as he could from behind the cart, strolled down the street towards the entry, looked round to see that nobody was watching him as he approached, and then, glancing hastily down the entry, he staggered back in sheer stupefied amazement and cried, "Good Lord, a pop shop!"
                        .                             .                             .                             .

    Late that same night old Nat Scholes sat in his arm-chair, with his elbow on a little table, his head leaning on his hand, and dejection, anxiety, and the sickness of hope deferred in his face as he looked in sorrowful abstraction at the little pile of coppers and small silver, which, in spite of Jesse Bentley's reckless wholesale order for a dozen boxes of pomatum, only amounted to some three shillings.  Milly, though ostensibly engaged in domestic duties, was watching him with wistful, anxious face, but neither of them spoke.

    There was a knock at the door, and, according to strict Slagden custom, the visitor entered without waiting to be asked.  It was Jesse Bentley.  Milly eyed him over curiously as he walked to the proffered seat and sat down opposite her father.  The old man sat up and tried to look more at his ease, whilst his daughter retreated behind his chair, but glanced pityingly at Jesse's grease-saturated hair.  The lover sighed a little, twirled his hat round, glanced timidly at the herbalist, and then ventured, "They'n stuck my name upo' th' plan, Nathaniel."

    "Ay, Aw see they have; it's a great honour."

    Another pause, another series of hat twirlings, a desperate look around, and then the new-comer blurted out, "Aw'st mak' a bonny mess on it!  Wot dew Aw know abaat preichin'?"

    "Oh, cheer up; that'll larn," said old Nat; but Milly looked anything but hopeful.  "There's noa preichers loike th' owd uns," she said at length, and a new strange beauty Jesse had never seen before came into her face as she noted the effect of her words on her parent.

    "Aw mun get sumbry to help me, that's wot Aw mun dew;" and Jesse took another rambling look around, as though he expected to find the assistance somewhere on the shelves.

    He had evidently intended this for some sort of a hint, but as it was not taken up he threw one arm out upon the table, and stretching it towards the old herbalist he cried, "Seeyo', Nathaniel, Aw'd give aw as Aw hev i' th' wold if Aw could preich loike yo'!"

    Milly looked for a brief moment as though she were going to kiss him, and then she said demurely, "Saul Swindells 'ud larn thi hard enough."

    "Aw dunnat want him, he's so bullockin'; Aw want sumbry to larn me to preich as con preich."

    Milly was baptizing him with grateful light from her eyes, only he did not notice it: she leaned forward and gave her father a gentle nudge.  The old man hesitated and sighed, and then, shaking his head wearily, replied, "Aw'm tew owd fur that soort o' thing."

    The eager, delighted Jesse made a gesture of repudiation.  "Owd! why yo're just i' your prime!  Aw could preich loike a Punshon if you'd teich me.  Seeyo', Nathaniel, if yo'd larn me, Aw'd pay yo' for it! "

    The old man shrank back as though he had been struck, and those great grey eyes watching Jesse and blessing him for his sweet flattery of her father, suddenly filled with alarm, suspicion and cold anger.

    Jesse, however, saw nothing, but intent upon his object went on, "Aw'll pay yo' hawf a craan a wik till Aw get on th' full plan, if yo'll tackle me."

    Nat hesitated; the compliment implied in this urgency was sweet to his sore, heavy heart, but the mercenary element in the proposal was revolting to him.  Jesse, however, grew quite eloquent, and urged his plea again and again; but presently he was conscious that Milly was studying him, and his courage entirely failed.  After several minutes more of argument and hesitation, the old herbalist at last consented to undertake the task, temporarily, but hoped that the money question would not be named again.  But he said it with a long sigh, and Jesse, knowing the old man's weakness, insisted that it should be as he had proposed, and then rose to go.  The uneasy lover felt embarrassed and ashamed, for Milly's eyes seemed to haunt him everywhere.  He had intended to put the matter very delicately, and lo! he had hurt and offended them both.  He had reached the door by this time, and Milly followed to let him out.  With the "sneck" in his hand he paused to whisper to her that she must be his friend with the old man, but she looked at him with hard, expressionless eyes, and never spoke.  His heart sank; a great idea had been suggested to him by Seth Pollit, and he had muddled it all. He stepped out into the shadow, and was turning to say "Good-night," when a pair of white arms were flung round his neck, a wet cheek was pressed hastily against his, a flying kiss touched for a blissful second his lips, and before he could comprehend what was happening, he was pushed out into the silent road, and the door was shut.


 
CHAPTER III.

SAUL ON SLANDER


FOR a man who had just come out of a pulpit Saul Swindells was in a very bad temper.  Whatever their impression on his hearers, his sermons always uplifted and transfigured him, pro tem., and he had descended from the pulpit on that, as on other occasions, with the uplifted, far-away look and solemnly benignant manner which became a man who had just raised his fellows to the seventh heaven.  In mood much too lofty for frivolous vestry gossip, and sensitive modesty that fled before such fulsome compliments as his great effort had certainly evoked, he had descended the winding pulpit staircase, silently and swiftly crossed the vestry floor, snatched his hat from its peg, and fled the spot; in much the same manner as Joseph had escaped from his tempter.  It did not become him either to join any of the little groups moving up the ginnel and along the fold; for their minds and tongues were of course engaged upon the great discourse they had just heard, and it was impossible but that some stray word of warm appreciation should inadvertently slip out to the peril of his soul.  Naturally voluble and demonstrative, he was usually chief speaker in the after-sermon debates at the Mangle House gable-end; but to-night, of course, if he would escape being "puffed up," he must eschew the danger, and so, with head thrown back, hands clasped behind, and eyes in the clouds, he stalked through the little throng without speaking, or even nodding, hastily turned the corner, and pressed on to his own solitary dwelling.  Safe away from moral danger, however, his pace slackened, the loftiness of his look faded, and in its place came a vague dissatisfaction, which gradually deepened into unmistakable disgust; until by the time he had reached the gate of his odd-looking, tall cottage, his upper lip and even the ridge of his prominent nose were puckered with scornful discontent.

    Saul had three distinct causes of vexation.  First, when old Maggie o' th' pump died, she left a small legacy to purchase a new Bible and hymn-book for the chapel.  That was about nine months ago, and the volumes had been introduced with a solemn "opening service" and were now in regular use.  But when he reached the pulpit that night he found that the old service-books had been substituted!—a mean, underhand reflection upon his well-known habit of emphasising his arguments with lusty thumps upon the Bible, using the hymn-book as a sort theological sledge-hammer.  Offence number one.  Saul had long since ceased to make new sermons, or even to improve the old ones, and this latter for the very cogent reason that they were not capable of it; but for once, as a concession to the fastidiousness of the Slagdenites where local talent was concerned, he had gone out of his way to give a good old discourse a new introduction, an anecdote which he had never used before in that sermon, and a fresh peroration, which was crowned with a verbatim extract from "Watson's Institutes."  With what result?  Talk about casting pearls before swine?  Why, although the congregation was much given to oral comment and accompanied some quite indifferent sermons with a running fire of responses, and though he had challenged directly and by name not only Billy Whiffle, who was generally inconveniently demonstrative, but Nat Scholes, the great authority on sermons himself, neither they nor any one else had uttered so much as one solitary "Amen."  These things were hard enough to bear, and the rude action of the aforesaid Billy, who used in the chapel a big Bible almost as large as the pulpit one, and who closed it with an audible and peculiarly significant bang ten minutes before the preacher had done, did not mend matters.  But the great affront has yet to be told.  Saul had seen with a stern effort at humility when the new plan came out that he was appointed to make the Quarterly collection, but just as he was going into the pulpit he was informed that the "Quarterly" would be put off until the following Sunday, as the cold-blooded junior steward put it, "to mak' sure on it."

    The Slagdenites were the hardest, most jealous and ungrateful people in a hard, envious world!

    Saul's house, unlike every other building in the neighbourhood, was tall and narrow, and stood by itself at the village end of a neglected, overgrown garden.  There was a patch of shrubbery about three yards by two in front, as overgrown as the rest, and the door of the cottage was protected by a drunken-looking lattice porch, now covered in riotous profusion with climbing roses and honeysuckle.  As Saul entered he gave a minatory sort of cough, relieved himself of Sunday coat and top hat, assumed a dingy brown holland jacket, and arming himself with "Watson's Institutes," settled down finally in the corner of the little porch to brood over his wrongs.  A little, odd-looking, deformed girl, apparently between seventeen and eighteen, brought him his invariable supper of oatcake and milk, and he glared at her as though she had served him with a jury summons, until, supremely indifferent to both the man and his ways, she retired indoors again.

    Ten moody minutes passed, and Saul, whose body was on one bench and his legs on the opposite one, cast a relenting glance upon the milk, and was just stretching out his hand to appropriate a piece of cake, when he checked himself, held his breath, and listened.  There were footsteps in the lane.  Yes!  No!  Yes, it was not a mere passer-by, but somebody coming towards the house; and as soon as this was clear to him the schoolmaster settled himself farther back in the corner of the bench, and with his back towards the village, composed his features into an expression of half-contemptuous indifference, and commenced to turn over the pages of "Watson."  Somebody benefited by his evening's discourse was coming to offer the natural but dangerous incense of gratitude, and he must be on his guard against these "wiles of the devil."  The footsteps came nearer and then ceased, and Saul, with his eyes glued to the book in ostentatious unconsciousness, apparently neither saw nor heard.

    "Ramming th' owd gun agean, Aw see, mestur."

    The visitor was leaning negligently upon the rickety garden gate and staring hard at a pair of old Wellington boots and the outer edge of a book, which were all of the schoolmaster he could see.

    "An' mooar foo' me."

    This was not very encouraging, but David Brooks knew his man and had come with a very decided purpose, and so he rejoined meekly and with solemn wonder in his voice, "They tell me as yed-wark's varry tryin' fur t' systum."

    The face behind the honeysuckle relaxed somewhat, but as David could not see it, he had to pick his way carefully.  Waiting a moment for the reply that did not come, he remarked admiringly, "Ther' wur a seet o' brain-wark i' yond sarmon.  Mon! it fair floored th' gable-enders."

    "Th' gable-enders!"

    The exclamation was the very quintessence of contempt, and as he made it Saul sprang to his feet, and using his book to emphasise his statement, he went on, "Sithi, Davit! them jockeys knows as mitch abaat sarmons as Aw know abaat —abaat—abaat owt."

    This dismal anti-climax, brought about by the schoolmaster's inability to find any subject on which he would have been willing to admit ignorance sufficiently complete to crown the comparison, rather dashed him, and so he sank back into his seat and added sulkily, "That gate's no' locked as Aw know on."

    As this was the nearest approach to an invitation to enter that he was likely to get, David grinned, glanced bashfully up and down the road, sidled into the garden, and leaning his back against the gate, blurted out, "There's noa sooapy cat-lickin' abaat yo', Saul; but Aw'd rayther yer yo' nor Dr. Punshon ony day."

    The mendacious extravagance of this compliment would have defeated its purpose in most cases, but David knew his man, and accompanied his statement with a frown of immovable conviction.

    The schoolmaster shook his head in that modest deprecation which he felt the situation required, and then, thrusting his head back amongst the leaves to conceal the tell-tale complacency of his looks, he placed the open volume on his shiny knee, and drawled indulgently, "Th' Doctor's a rare hand at langwidge, reet enuff; but he's rather short o' bant.  Naa wot we wanton i' these days is bant; hideas, tha knows, p'ints—artna goin' t' sit thi daan?"

    This second invitation was so very exceptional, and promised so well for David's errand, that he blushed as he dropped into the seat opposite the schoolmaster, and then, speaking under a most evident sense of gratitude and appreciation, he knitted his brows, tapped Saul on the knee, and said, with the emphasis of irresistible conviction, "Saul! ther's mooar p'ints i' wun o' yore sarmons nor ther' is i' twenty o' owd Nat's."

    Saul, inwardly glowing with elation, put on a severely judicial expression, and assuming the air of one determined at all costs and in spite of strong temptation to be perfectly fair, weighed his companion's words slowly over, and then, putting his head consideringly on one side, he replied, "Nat's a sooart of a way wi' him, an' he's pop'ler wi' th' riff-raff; bud Aw've yerd him toime an' toime ageean, an' when Aw yers Nat Aw says wun thing to mysel' o'er an o'er ageean."

    "Wot's that?"

    "Aw sits i'th corner o' my pew, an' Aw listens an' listens, an' Aw says, Saul Swindills, Aw says, He's short o' bobbins."

    David threw his head back and his mouth open in a loud but not very natural laugh.  "By gum, Saul, yo' licken aw!  That ticks him off to a T;" and then, with rapid change of countenance and sudden seriousness, he leaned forward, tapped the back of "Watson," and added, "Bud, Saul, wot abaat preichin' fur looaves an' fishes?"

    But, to David's disappointment, Saul showed no interest in this aspect of the case; he was staring hard at the top of a flowering currant and blinking his eyes rapidly in intense thought, and presently he said, "Nat's preichin's fur owd women o' booath sects—an' childer; he mak's 'em skrike, an' when th' tears rowls off they noose-ends they feel religious—he's a regler deggin' can!"

    David had heard such statements from the same source many a time before, but he now put on a look of astonished admiration, and then tried to get his own point in by remarking, "Yo're reet, Saul!  Just fancy a chap workin' poor folks' feelin's up loike he does, just fur brass: it's sickenin'!"

    David put as much significance into his use of the word "brass" as he could, but somehow Saul was not curious, but continued his musings without reply.  His companion watched him narrowly but with growing restlessness; it was no use, he must come to close quarters, he saw; and so, bending forward and dropping his voice into mysterious confidence, he said, "They tell me as th' owd codger gets a solid haaf-guinea ivery toime he preiches—an' sumtoimes mooar."

    But this was a miss-hit; the preacher in Saul Swindells was always stronger than the man, and so the only answer David got was a drawling "It's a poor sarmon as isna wo'th mooar nor a guinea."

    "Ay, bud there's sarmons an' sarmons!  If owd Nat's is wo'th a guinea, th' discourse wee'n hed to-neet's worth twenty!"

    Saul relaxed again, his strong face glowed complacently behind a thin veil of modesty, and so, seeing his advantage, David resumed, "Aw think as sum 'locals' should be paid, but not scrattin' owd split-fardin's like Nat; why, mon, they tell me he's wo'th hunderds and hundreds!"

    Saul appeared a little weary; this branch of the subject did not interest him at all, and his companion, whose mind was big with a disclosure he was dying to make to some one, watched him furtively as he put forth his hand, groped for the milk basin, and took an absent sort of "swig" at it.

    "Yo' con say wot yo'n a moind, bud Aw dunna believe as th' owd scratter is rich;" and David gave the schoolmaster an expressive and significant slap on the knee.

    This incitement to curiosity was so direct and palpable that anybody else would have been affected by it, and Saul was more inquisitive than most people, but he only crossed his legs, opened a cavernous mouth in vast yawns, and then replied, with lazy indifference, "Aw noather know nor cur—bud he conna be poor."

    "Aw tell thi he is poor, Aw know; Aw dunna carry tew been i' mi yed fur nowt."

    There was that in David's tones which would have awakened curiosity in a statue almost, and though Saul was still indifferent, his combative instincts were beginning to stir, and so with a gleam of returning animation, he said, "Gear aat; has noabry ony een bud thee?"

    On the right track at last, the wily David sat forward, held out his arms, and ticking off his words on his finger-ends he said, "Saul! yo' gable-enders says he's rich; yo' caw me a bermyed, bud Aw sniffs, an' Aw snuffs, an' Aw skens abaat, an' Aw say as he's poor, an' Aw con prove it!"

    There was a momentary flash in the eyes behind the honeysuckle, but whether it was interest awakening at last or some other sign David could not decide.  It was gone, however, in an instant, and the eager secret-bearer was astonished to hear himself addressed in a tone that was conciliation and encouragement too.  "Ay, tha wur allis a sly owd fox, Davit."

    The compliment was equivocal, but as there was at any rate most palpable invitation to proceed in it, David chose to disregard the doubtful point, and said, "Saul, Nat Scholes is as poor as a church maase—an' poorer!"

    "Bud, mon! th' manglin' mooar nor keeps 'em!"

    "Aw tells thi the'r' poor."

    "An' yarbs cosses nowt."

    "The'r' poor!"

    "Haa con they be?  Wheer's th' intrist o'th brass they geet when they sowd up at th' farm?"

    The tone of these questions was that of gentle expostulation, but there was a glint in Saul's eyes that was in most striking disagreement with his soft speeches had David only observed it.

    "Aw tell thi the'r' poor!  Aw'm no' talkin' off th' bewk; Aw know."

    Saul breathed a long dubious sigh, and shook his head with a mistrustfulness that was a little too elaborate for reality.  But David was now in full cry, and it would have taken signs much more palpable to have checked him, and so, putting an impressive hand on each of Saul's knees, and peering up into his face in a vain attempt to read it as he spoke, he dropped his voice into a portentous whisper and said, "Saul, Aw wodna tell onybody else for a fortin, bud Aw've fun' summate aat."

    The pedagogue was engaged in a desperate effort to keep all expression out of his face, and so did not reply.  David studied him dubiously, wishing as he did so that he could see his face more clearly; and then he went on, "Tha knows as Aw put up [proposed] to yond powsement of a Milly, a while back."

    Suddenly still as death, Saul did not open his eyes.

    "An' tha knows as hoo daddlet me an' daddlet me on, an' made me turn th' mangle."

    Saul had apparently stopped breathing.  "An' then hoo chucked me."

    No reply.

    "Well, Aw said Aw'd sarve her aat; Aw've bin squintin' an' nooasin' on her track, an' Aw've seen summat."

    That queer suspicious glint came again into the schoolmaster's eye, and an almost imperceptible twitch to his mouth corner, but it passed instantly, and he sat still as a statue.

    "An' Aw watchet her an' watchet her, an' last neet Aw follered her daan Grey Mare Loan."

    Saul's jaw had dropped a little, but except for that he might have been asleep, or even dead.

    "An' hoo sniggert at me an' chafft me—an' Aw seed summat under her cloak."

    As he spoke David hitched himself forward so that he sat on the extreme outer edge of his seat; but he saw nothing that helped him.

    "An' Aw follert her—aw th' way to Pye Green."

    The twigs behind Saul snapped, but David's expectation of speech was disappointed.

    "An' hoo went daan a back street.  Aw crep' up behint, an' seed her tak' a parcil fra under a cloak."

    That was it!—Saul was too intent on what he was hearing to speak!—and so David plunged to his climax.

    "An' as Aw watchet her hoo cut daan a ginnel an' walked straight into a —"But the sentence was never finished.  There was a crash; the half-emptied milk bowl went flying against the house door, a great hand slapped heavily on his mouth and held it as in a vice, and there above the amazed tale-bearer towered Saul, with blazing eyes and white, wrathful face.  "Daan wi' it!" he shouted.  "Swaller it!  If thou spits another word aat Aw'll choke thi!"

    David was the stronger man of the two, but the other had him at a disadvantage, and made the very most of it.  Still glaring angrily down, he cried indignantly, "Dirty maath!  Am Aw a public tip for scandal?  Am Aw a slander middin?  Am Aw a hoile for mangy dogs to bring they maggoty boanes tew?  Swaller it! that soart o' rubbitch is to be consumed on the premises;" and then, releasing his squirming victim and stepping back for safety into the doorway, he cried, "Pike! tak' thi savoury duck to them as loikes 'em!  Cheese is cheese, an' critikism is critikism, but we dunna want noather on 'em here—when the'r' maggoty."

    David blustered and threatened, but suddenly seemed to think better of it, and flung out of the gate, muttering reckless threats as he went; whilst Saul paced up and down between the door and the garden gate, defying the offender to do his worst, and flinging after him sundry texts of Scripture more or less suitable to the occasion.

    When the younger man was at last out of hearing, the irate schoolmaster kicked the bits of broken pot into the road, locked the gate, stood staring at the smooth head of Aldershaw top, now bathed in the rose and gold of sunset, and then strolled leisurely indoors.

    Here he found Lettice, his ill-shaped, ugly-looking foster-daughter, whose baptismal name had been abbreviated somehow into "Tet," sitting quietly upon a little oak settle between the long-cased clock and the fireplace.  She was reading an old brown-covered tract, and if she had heard the commotion outside, gave no sign that she had done so, but went on perusing The Gambler's Doom.

    She was anything but fair to look upon, for she had a crooked spine, prominent teeth and upper lip, a flat, insignificant nose, and a drooping right eyelid, which gave her a grotesque, satirical expression.  Of themselves her eyes were beautiful, dark and gipsy-like, but their presence in such a face only made the whole countenance more repellent than it might have been.  She knew all about the scene at the front door, having only left her place behind it as the schoolmaster entered.  She was too experienced, however, to show curiosity, and went on with her story as though he were still outside.  Saul had a lofty contempt for her opinions, modified curiously by an almost superstitious reverence for what he called her "hinstincts," and so, as talking was one of the necessities of life to him, he dropped down into a big, greasy-armed chair, upholstered in chintz, and remarked, "Aw've gan wun young scopperil belltinker, at ony rate."

    Lazily abstracting her good eye from her book, and blinking the other reluctantly at him, she asked, "Whoa?"

    "Davit Brooks! he's goan whoam wi' a flea in his yer-hoile."

    Tet slowly raised her head, tilting it back sufficiently to enable her to see him easily from under her pendulous eyelid, and then, curling her ruins of a nose and her upper lip scornfully, she remarked, "Hmph!  Aw wodna wed him if ther' worna anuther felley i'th kingdom—he's nor even middlin' lewkin'."

    Such a remark from such a source would have sent a stranger into roars of laughter, but as Saul was used to it he gave no sign save a passing flicker of fun in his eyes.

    There was silence for several moments, and Saul in his abstraction had evidently forgotten her presence; but presently she dropped her book upon her lap, and looking at him from under her brows, asked carelessly, "Less see, haa monny wik aar we bak in aar rent?"

    Saul brought his eyes suddenly down from the joists and stared at her stupidly; his jaw dropped, his breath came and went, and presently he gasped out, "Good God, wench, he's aar landlord!"

    It was evident that Tet was perfectly aware of this, and sat there furtively watching him from under her leering eyelid.  She saw his chin drop upon his chest, and his head and neck sink deep between his shoulders.  A groan escaped him, he looked wearily round, and then muttered, "We're dun! we're dun!  He'll sell us up, stick an' stump!" and then he added bitterly, "An' Aw've browt it on mysel'."

    There was a twinkle under Tet's unmanageable eyelid, and her face looked heavier and uglier than ever.

    "He'll send th' bums [bailiffs] in a wik.  O Tet! Tet!  Aw'm sendin' thi back to th' bastile" [workhouse].

    The hunchback leaned forward, propped her elbows on her knees, her good eye still fixed upon her foster-father, now groaning louder than ever.  Thus they sat for some little time, and then she moved her head, glanced round at the gathering shadows, stepped across the floor, and went outside to close the shutters.  Cottering them safely from within, she procured a slim candle, and then stood looking dreely at the forlorn and miserable pedagogue.  Thus she watched him musingly for a time, and presently, as though making for the stairs, came up to his side, and just in passing, and as the most casual of all remarks, she bent down, and in a voice in which gratitude, sympathy, and intense devotion expressed themselves, she said, "The rod of the wicked shall not rest on the lot of the righteous.  When a man's ways please the Lord He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him," and then she moved on to her bedroom, leaving the master abashed and rebuked, but with a face all wet with unwonted tears.


 
CHAPTER IV.

ANOTHER!


THE schoolmaster would have been considerably dashed if he had known that the gable-enders were not discussing his wonderful sermon at all that lovely summer night.  The fact was they had a much more interesting topic—nothing less than another suitor for the hand of that insatiable and shameless little flirt, Milly Scholes.

    The sermon, indeed, had been dismissed in three curt sentences.

    "New wine in an owd bottle," grunted Peter jump, the blacksmith, as he dropped heavily upon the bench.

    "Wine?  Sma' beer, tha meeans," corrected 'Siah Bumby.

    "An' no' barm enuff to blow th' cork aat," added Dick Meg.

    And then they turned eagerly to the succulent subject; for a new instrumentalist had appeared in the singing-gallery that night, and that would have been sufficient for a whole evening's debate if the new-comer had been an ordinary person, which he wasn't by any means.  He was a great, red-haired, fiery-looking fellow, with gorgeous variegated waistcoat, immense expanse of shirtfront, a long thick silver watch-chain, and a velvet-collared coat in the lapel of which was a scandalously noticeable rosebud.  To wear flowers in the chapel, except at the "Sarmons," was in Slagden to be a publican and a sinner, and public prejudice against the stranger had risen to boiling point.

    But who was he?  Where did he come from?  Why had Dan Stott, the musical director of the chapel and school, given no previous hint of the coming of the dandy?  And why, oh why, had he thought it necessary to obtain the services of a second clarionet?

    "Clarionet thi granny!" grunted Seth, the milkman, as he squatted down amongst the tree roots and lugged out his pipe.  Seth played the bassoon, and was therefore "in the know"; but 'Siah was not to be put down, and so he demanded, "Hev Aw tew een i' mi yed or Aw hev'na?"

    "Tha met as weel hev 'em i' thi yer-hoile fur ony good they are tew thi.  Clarionet! "

    "Well, wot is it, then?  Thaa caws it a Jew's harp, Aw reacon!"

    Seth deliberately lighted his pipe, in supreme indifference to the fact that eleven persons were anxiously waiting for his reply, and then he took a long and careful survey of the high and distant clouds, fell indolently back against the tree trunk, and remarked lazily, "Onybody as know'd a tinwhistle fro' a barril-organ 'ud know as it wur a hobo."

    Two or three repeated the name in wondering exclamation, but the majority rolled their eyes skywards in a vain endeavour to recollect where in their district they had ever heard of such an instrument.  The oboe was rare thereabouts, and respected accordingly, and everybody present realised that if the coming of the new player should lead to his permanent inclusion in the Slagden chapel band the village would rise several "notches" in public esteem.  There was therefore a perceptible stiffening of indolent backs and a raising of so many heads a trifle higher, and 'Siah was just preparing his belated retort to Seth when somebody cried in a startled whisper, "By gum, chaps, he's here."  Instantly the four men under the pear tree fixed relentless eyes upon the Mangle House chimneypot, and the eight against the gable-end stiffened into stony rigidity and stared as for dear life down the old road.  The oboist, nervously pulling down his waistcoat as he came, passed right through their midst amid a breathless silence, and turned to the right in the direction of Saul Swindells' house; and the agile Peter Jump skipped on tiptoes to the gable corner and peeped cautiously round.  No one spoke, any inclination thereunto being instantly checked by the wild gesticulations of Peter's right arm as he stood with his face glued to the edge of the gable-end.  Then the signals stopped, Peter's long nose was bent awry and crushed against the bricks, and his outer optic blinked with incredible rapidity.  The silence grew uncomfortable, and 'Siah, half in rebellion, but still in tones carefully low, was just commencing the remark he had not yet got rid of, when the signals began to work again, the spy danced softly back from his place, rubbing his stomach and doubling his body in uncontrollable contortions, whilst his face struggled with a rush of varied emotions that twisted it into indescribable grimaces; and when at last he could be reduced to coherent speech they learnt the paralysing fact that the oboist had just disappeared down Grey Mare Lane with Milly Scholes.  Here was matter enough for conversation surely, and in a few moments tongues were loosened, heads were shaken, and opinions were expressed which would have made the oboist, had he heard them, angry, and brought the blush of shame to the "brazzened" cheeks of the hardened Milly.

    An hour and a half afterwards, David had his jealous eyes seared by a similar sight to the one Peter Jump had beheld, and, in fact, it was this which accounted for the very supine way in which he had taken the schoolmaster's assault.  Nearly every person in Slagden under fifty had been at one time or other the pupil of Saul Swindells, and most of them retained some amount of fear of him.  It seemed natural for him to clinch his arguments with physical force, and David's amazement at the attack made upon him, together with the remains of this old-time fear of his teacher, had restrained him from retaliation; but just as he had reached the garden gate and was preparing to fling a terrible threat into the latticework porch, he caught sight of something down the road that made his heart stand still, and extinguished temporarily both the lust of revenge and every other feeling.  Grey Mare Lane, as has been explained in a previous chapter, was on the opposite side of the road to the Mangle House and the schoolmaster's dwelling, about fifty yards above the former and perhaps three hundred and fifty below the latter; and in the gloaming of that quiet Sabbath evening he caught sight of Milly and some stranger crossing the road from the lane towards the Mangle House.  He was not near enough to identify the man, but Milly's trim figure he could have recognised anywhere—every line of it was graven on his dull brain.  For a time he stood gaping in the lane, and Saul's parting shots fell upon deaf ears, for David was staring after the retreating couple utterly unable to believe his own eyes.  That Milly should have given him the cold shoulder for such a tame simpleton as Jesse Bentley was annoying enough, but this strong confirmation of the very worst he had ever heard about the girl he loved staggered him utterly.

    Mechanically he began to follow them, edging to the side of the road that his footsteps might not be heard on the grass.  Milly was turning her head, and he had to dodge into the corner of a gateway to avoid detection.  The next moment he perceived that they would have disappeared before he could get near enough, and so he stooped and ran along the hedge-side to approach them.  He was hurrying along with one great desire in his heart, namely, that he might confront the shameless flirt and expose her.  But when her companion pulled up and stood for a moment, David had to duck behind a bramble bush in the roadside and watch.  The two appeared most tantalisingly friendly, and a light little laugh from Milly made his blood boil, but he dare not move.  They turned, however, and went on, and were now so near her home that David despaired of catching sight of his supplanter.  He heard a door opened and closed, and almost immediately a second.  Ah! of course, but he had them now!  They were going to do their miserable billing and cooing in the back garden!  To drop on his knees and creep through the hedge was the work of a moment, and as he could now run without any fear of being seen he was soon alongside the holly fence that divided the field he was in from the "enchanted" garden.  But holly is not a good thing to see through, and had it not been that Milly wore that same light blue dress he always remembered to have seen upon her on Sundays ever since he knew her, he might have missed them.  There they were, however, going down the narrow garden path towards the bottom of the enclosure, where, he remembered, there was an old seat.  David glanced eagerly round for something to stand upon, but he was in a well-kept meadow, and there was nothing to hand.  Up and down the hedge he went and searched for the thinnest place, but when he found it the courters were entirely invisible from that particular point.  Half-way down the hedge was a tree, but the danger of being heard was as great now as that of being seen, and he had to proceed very cautiously, for it was one of those still evenings when sounds travel far.  He got under the tree and took a survey: a spring and he would have hold of one of the lower branches; no sooner said than done; but as he hung there a yard above the ground and peeped over he could not see either Milly or her new sweetheart, but he could see, right across the garden, in the corner nearest the fold and just a little above the level of the wall, the head of Jesse Bentley.  David was securely hidden, however, and so when Jesse, hearing some slight sound, turned his eyes a moment, he saw nothing; and a moment later David, with unholy satisfaction in his heart, beheld his more favoured rival watching with amazed eyes the two people in the garden.

    All that David could see was a strip of blue frock and a woman's neat foot, and the only sounds that reached him were the indistinct murmurs of voices; but Jesse must be able to both see and hear.  Oh, why had he not found the corner that gave the stupid Jesse such an advantage!

    These reflections whetted his curiosity, though that was needless, and he dropped from his branch and began to reconnoitre.  Good! the bottom fence of the garden—that is, the one farthest from the road—was a wall, and alongside of it was an old shed or toolhouse.  If he could get there and lie flat on the roof, he might be able to overlook them yet.  Jesse, he now observed, was going along the fold wall, evidently sick of the whole thing; well, all the more reason why he should persevere.  He went carefully along and examined the wall behind the shed, and selecting the point nearest the side he was on, and farthest away from the courters, he raised himself up, and was soon on the wall close to the building, which stood about eighteen inches above the coping.  Softly and cautiously he tried the roof: he would not need to look over the other side, at any rate not at first; he could lie along the roof and hear.  But the moment he touched the roof his spirits dropped: it was old and very dry, and crackled frightfully as he put his hand upon it.  Ah! grand!  Why, just under his nose and against the end of the building were three rain-tubs; if he could get down to the ground again, behind these he could hear, at any rate, and perhaps also see.  He paused a moment, listened, looked cautiously round, and then put one leg carefully down to try whether the lid of the nearest tub was steady.  Yes, all was right!  Another moment—ah! Oh!  Huh!  There was a rumble, a great crash, and an instant later he was sprawling full length on the ground near the gooseberry bushes, with a big tub and certain very unsanitary liquid contents on the top of him.  There was a sharp little scream, a shout, another crash in the bushes, and the struggling intruder was dragged roughly to his feet and confronted with the gorgeously dressed stranger he had seen that night in the chapel singing-gallery.

    "D-av-i-t!"

    The exclamation had begun in tones of grave concern, but there were quavers of hardly suppressed laughter in it before it ended.

    "Wastril! wot dust meean?  An' good Sunday, tew! " roared the stranger.  But as David raised his head to make a sullenly defiant reply, Milly, whose dancing, mirthful eyes contradicted her serious tone, cried, "Davit, tha'll hurt thisel' sum day comin' that rooad.  Haa oft mun Aw tell thi?"

    The oboist checked himself.  "Oh, I see! you know him, then?"

    Milly could not trust herself to reply directly, neither could she risk showing her eyes to the stranger, and so, hedging round so that he was behind her shoulder, she looked steadily at the ridiculous David, and expostulated, "Tha doesn't expect as th' lads 'ull rob us of a Sunday sureli, an' i'th dayleet tew?"

    It was dusk only, but that was a trifle; the stranger was effectually hoodwinked, and hastened to offer such sympathy and help as suggested themselves.  Milly for some strange reason was crowding her handkerchief into her mouth, but as the two men were engaged with each other they noticed nothing, and presently followed her into the house.

    Half an hour later Jesse Bentley sat in what was undoubtedly the brightest and best furnished cottage in Slagden, disconsolately consuming his supper.  That night the iron had entered his quiet soul, and henceforth the world had nor hope nor sweetness for him.

    He had missed the grotesque scene just described, and, even if he had seen it, it would have made little difference, for there had come to him the certainty that the woman he worshipped with all the intensity of his deep nature was a heartless jilt.  There was a low murmur of voices from the back kitchen, and a little old woman in white cap and bedgown moved aimlessly about the room, putting down everything she handled with unnecessary noise, and colliding with stools, chairs, and all other movables as though anxious to quarrel with them.  Her face was heavy with clouds, and she cast on Jesse every now and again sidelong glances of anxiety.

    Jesse was not getting on with his porridge, and as neglect of food was a serious transgression in that house, the old lady watched him from a distance, stepped to the long-cased clock, and glowered through her spectacles at the worn figures on the old brass face; fetched a candle, and lighting it as she came, dumped it down on the table; spitefully glanced for an instant into the still full porridge basin, and turning away and commencing to rearrange a perfectly straight bit of tablecloth, she remarked tartly, "Them as turns up they noases at good porritch cum to skilly afoor they'n dun."

    Gloomy and brooding, with the spoon poised absently over the basin edge, Jesse stared before him without reply.

    "Ony flipperty-flopperty bit of a wench con mak' it better tin thi owd mother."

    Apparently he did not hear; he was stirring his food about now as though he had lost something in it.

    "Porritch!  Wot's porritch?  Tansy tay an' Hangelial an' Allicompane's mooar i' thy line."

    Now this was the first reference, direct or indirect, that old Mrs. Bentley had ever made to her son's courtship; he was one of those easy, comfortable- natured beings who take a secret pride in being managed by their women-folk, and until recently it had been the opinion of Slagden that Jesse would never marry—"he darn't for t' loife on him."

    That he never would was also the settled conviction of his mother and two maiden sisters, who were both older than himself and distinctly "on the shelf."  Jesse had submitted so long to this trinity of tyrants that the possibility of resistance had been almost lost sight of by all concerned; and so, when at last he discovered that he was in love, he knew that the difficulty of getting Milly, serious though it might be, was as nothing to that of inducing his women-folk to accept her.  He could not possibly have chosen a woman who would have been more objectionable to his relatives than the village flirt and miser's daughter; his action was nothing less than wilful provocation to resistance.  His mother's direct allusion to his recent proceedings, therefore, took him as much by surprise as anything could whilst he was in his present frame of mind, and he could not be sure whether it was a good sign or a bad one.  But his heart was sore; for twenty odd hours he had been in heaven, and Milly's amazing snatch kiss had so transformed and glorified everything that now his female friends had ceased to be terrors to him.  But this had come; he had gone over the fold wall for the purpose of seeing whether his sweetheart was in the garden, as she often was on Sunday evenings, and there he had seen a sight that had turned the world into a dungeon of dark despair.  His mother's allusion, therefore, tempted him; women never would talk reasonably, but she was the least unsatisfactory of the lot of them, and so, groping blindly after sympathy, he said in a hoarse, sullen voice, "Aw wuish Aw know'd a yarb as 'ud pizen me!"

    He expected an explosion, but his mother's reply when it did come turned the bolt back into his own breast, for she remarked with icy deliberateness, "Well, Aw'll foind thi wun!  Aw'd sewner see thi stiff an' stark i' thi coffin nor teed to a trollop like yond."

    Amazed, shocked, utterly scandalised, Jesse gaped at his mother in stupefied silence, and when he saw she was not exaggerating her feelings he dropped back into his chair and sighed heavily.

    A painful silence fell upon them; all they could hear was the ticking of the clock and the murmured conversation in the kitchen.  At last, oppressed and miserable, Jesse covered his face with his hands and complained, "Onybody con get wed but me," and all his surprise and perplexity returned as she retorted, "Whoa's stoppin' thi?  Nobbut say as thi mother's haase is no' good enough fur thi, an' Aw'll foind thi wun."

    "Yo,?"

    "Ay, me! an' a switcher tew!  Wun as tha's ne'er hed pluck to lewk at, an' her throwin' hersel' at thi yed aw th' toime."

    "Muther!"

    "It's true! th' bonniest wench i'th countryside—an' th' best."

    But the momentary interest in Jesse's face was fading already, and he was hiding his face in his hands again.

    "Hoo'll ha' seven hunderd paand if hoo hes a penny, an' tew noice haases."

    Jesse dolefully shook his head.

    "An' hoo's a Christian, an' mak's rare Cumfrey wine."

    Even this enticing medley of attractions did not move the melancholy man, but his eyes, she could see, were blinking rapidly.

    "Tha's nowt to dew bud walk i'th haase an' hang thi hat up—Aw know."

    He had not yet got over the unheard-of fact that his mother of all persons was proposing a wife to him; but just here another and very different idea began to shape itself within him.  Milly was worse than worthless; that never-to-be forgotten kiss was only another and baser sample of her duplicity and heartlessness.  To go away and marry another woman would stagger even her, and anything was welcome that would give her the punishment she so richly deserved, and so he raised his head a little and asked dubiously, "Whoa arr yo' talkin' abaat, muther?"

    "Hoo'd jump at thi, fort chonce!"

    "Whoa is it?"

    Dropping her voice to a portentous whisper, and jerking her thumb kitchenwards, she raised her eyes significantly and said, "Hoo's i'th haase this varry minute."

    "Whoa is it?"

    "It's Emma Cunliffe—so theer!"

    Jesse fell back in his chair and curled his lip disgustedly.

    "Why, woman! hoo wodn't lewk at me; Aw'm a workin' mon."

    Emma was the only daughter of the village butcher, who was also a small stock farmer.  Sweet-tempered and pretty, and altogether such a catch that the very boldest of the village swains had despaired of her, the popular opinion was that she would marry some well-to-do outsider.  Such persons had proposed to her more than once, and it was concluded that she was looking higher.  Jesse was a modest man, and could only attribute this extraordinary delusion of his mother's to her overweening pride in him.  His mother, however, was watching him narrowly, and at last she said, "Jesse, yond wench 'ud dee for thi;" and then, as a shuffling sound of feet came from the kitchen, she added with sudden eagerness, "Hoo's goin'!  Goo tak' her whoam an' mak' it up!"

    Jesse was strongly tempted; his mother's amazing confidence infected him, and he longed for almost anything that would enable him to retaliate upon the shameless mangle girl, who he knew would receive him next time he went as sweetly as ever, and so he stammered, "Yo're dreeamin', muther!"

    "Am Aw?  Thee go an' see."

    "Bud Emma! it's ridiculous!"

    "It's reet!  Goo on, an' get it sattled to-neet!"

    Jesse, staring hard at her, began to rise from his chair.  "Aar yo' sartin, muther?"

    "Goo an' try, an' foind it aat.  Goo! heigh thi!"

    "Aw'st say nowt tew her to-neet onyway."

    "Tha doesn't need; tak' her whoam, an' tak' thi oan toime."

    He sighed, turned to take his hat from the dresser, wavered, and was turning to his chair again, when the old woman in a fever of excitement cried, "Hoo's goin'! hoo's goin'!  Away wi' thi, mon!"

    Jesse took up his hat, made a dash for the door, stopped, took a wondering, wavering look round, and then, with a smile of exquisite pain, fell heavily into his chair and cried, "Hay, muther, bud hoo isn't Milly!'


 
CHAPTER V.

THE TURNING OF THE WORM


NOW, however strongly Milly Scholes was disliked in Slagden, it was acknowledged that she had effected one great improvement, grateful to motherly minds—she had made mangling popular.  The exercise was the bane and torture of boy and girl life in that, as in other villages; for no sooner had the half or full timers settled down to evening play—the girls to "Jacks" and the boys to "Holey," "Piggy," or "Whip-in" than some cottage door would open, a strenuous female fill the aperture, who, with head cocked at the proper angle and voice uplifted, awoke the echoes with a shrill "T-o-m-me-e!" or "S'lee-na!" and some poor player would suddenly realise that this world was a waste howling wilderness.  There were daring spirits who, when the game was unusually absorbing, would have sudden fits of stony deafness, but it made no difference in the end, for though the remarkable aural affliction continued until the mother had screamed herself hoarse and gone indoors, the quiet that followed was so ominous that all interest went out of the play, and when "father" was observed a few minutes later coming round the corner studying with bland abstraction Seth Pollit's pigeons, or the cloud on Aldershaw top, but with a strap hidden in his palm, or a peggy-stick handle up his sleeve, it was realised that fate was too strong, and there was nothing for it but a strategic retreat.  A few minutes later the aforesaid Tommy or S'leena would be seen with blank despair in their hearts, tear-stains on their cheeks, and a hateful clothes-basket on their shoulders, making off to that detested village treadmill, the Mangle House.

    As far as the boys were concerned, however, there was always hope to hold them up—adolescence meant freedom; the slow-coming years brought at last emancipation from the slavery of the clothes-basket, and the toothsome privilege of standing at the gable-end and jeering at their younger brothers or sisters still in bondage.  And Milly had changed all this; at least temporarily, and for some of the young folk, for though the young men still declined as peremptorily as ever to carry the clothes to and from the mangle, thus running that terrible gable-end gauntlet, they would condescend with hypocritical grumblings, and out of pure consideration for mother's rheumatiz or sister Sarah's preoccupation with "faldals," to "caw an' give a bit of a turn just fur wunce"; the disappointing part of the arrangement being that after obliging with surprising alacrity for several weeks they were sure to come to an abrupt stop, and were afterwards found amongst the jeering, woman-despising gable-enders.  Milly's customers were divided into two classes—those who turned for themselves and thus escaped with half charges, and those who sent their clothes to be turned for them.  Broadly speaking, the latter monopolised the earlier hours of the day, and the former took the evenings; but Milly was far too good a business woman to have any hard-and-fast rule.  In the later days of the week, when all self-respecting villagers had got the washing out of the way, Milly had to work very hard; and it was then that she had to use all her blandishments to capture or retain useful members of the awkward sex.  But it had been noted for years that even in times of greatest pressure the mangle girl had never employed her father as assistant.

    On the Wednesday after the scene of the last chapter Milly had been employed all day on the work of those who left all to her and paid accordingly, and by tea-time was very weary and somewhat dispirited.  That she had before her the hardest night's work of the week accounted in part at least for this, but it scarcely explained a dejection which she was trying to keep from her absent-minded parent.  It had been observed that she was always at her best when she had captured a new lover, but now, though her conquest of the oboist was already public property, she seemed altogether out of heart, and sat at the table after her father had returned to the herb shop toying negligently with her food, and staring with her great grey eyes at the brown-ware teapot.  She lived too hard a life to know much of the luxury of tears, but the corners of her mouth drooped piteously, and her long lashes were rimmed with sparkles of wet.

    "It sarves me reet," she murmured.  "Aw shouldn't ha' bin sa forrat."

    The eyes were brimming over now, and the mobile lips quivering.

    "He'll ne'er lewk at me ageean, niver!"  And the tears were falling like rain.

    "Aw've niver kissed a mon afoor, an' Aw couldna help it, bless him!"

    She put her elbow on the table and her wet cheek into her hand.

    "He thinks Aw'm chep!—an' forrat, loike t'others!  An' he knows we're scratters!"

    She sat thus, the picture of sorrow, for several moments, and presently, raising her head and gazing at the teapot again, she proceeded: "Winnat he oppen his dayleets if we manidge it, an' they aw know us gradely!"  But then the momentary hope vanished, and with another pitiful shower she cried through set teeth, "Bud we ne'er shall!"

    "Cryin', Milly?"

    A start, a hasty struggle, a swift sweeping of the hand over the eyes, and then she turned a pouting, puzzled face round to her father, and answered in tones half querulous, half laughing, 'Ay, an' yo'd skrike if yo'd three gawky chaps efther yo', an' didna know which on 'em to tak'."

    It was the first time for years that her father had seen her in tears, and, though her manner was gaiety itself, her limp look and the red that lingered round her eyes seemed to confirm his suspicions, and so he eyed her sorrowfully, and said, "Specially when tha knows tha conna tak' noan on 'em, poor wench!"

    "Connat Aw!  Yo'll see!  Wait tin—yo' know when—an' Aw'll tak' 'em aw, an' half a dozen mooar, if they wanten."

    The old man looked at her with eyes that blinked and shone, and at length he said slowly, "Ay! if they know.  If they know'd my Milly they'd be thirty on 'em atstead o' three, God bless thi!"

    "Know?  Wot does men know! sawft gawpies!  They hav'na sense to goo i'th hawse when it rains.  Aw'll hev two-a-three mooar on 'em on th' stick afoor Aw'm mitch owder, yo'll see."

    But the tone did not ring naturally, and was a little too coarse for her, and the old man watched her with wistful pain.  His faded cheek went paler as he looked, and at last he said in low, shaking voice, "Milly, my wench, it's spoilin' thi!  We mun give it up; we munna spile thee—even for that."

    Her only chance was to keep up the pert manner, and she was just about to make a jaunty reply, when her countenance changed; pride, courage, and desperate defiance flamed up into her cheeks, and she cried hotly, "Ler it spile!  It can ruin me, an' kill me, an' breik me hert, but wee'st dew it!  Anuther feight or tew, fayther!  Anuther desprite struggle, an' wee'st dew it!  An' then we can boath lie daan an' dee!"

    At this moment there was the "bash" of a basket on the stone table outside, and as Nat turned hastily round and hobbled into the herb shop, Milly subdued her face, and turned carelessly to speak to a girl with a big "mangling."

    The mangle stood against the wall opposite to the door, and there was free space at either end, so that Milly could get near to change her rollers.  It was a great lumbering, worm-eaten old thing, very much the worse for wear, and that creaked and groaned under every turn of the handle.  The great box-like carriage was filled with heavy slabs of stone to secure the requisite pressure, and strong straps attached to the upper edge of the box, and lapping round the big cross roller above the frame, produced, when the latter was turned, the requisite motion to and fro.  The carriage ran on long wooden rollers, and when these were wrapped with layers of clothes, all enclosed in a blanket and placed under the box, the handle was turned, and the mangling proceeded.  The modus operandi was not quite as simple as it may appear to those of our readers who have never seen one of these ancient, but once indispensable, adjuncts to village life.  If the rollers were both filled at the same time, the box travelled level and easy, but they scarcely ever were, and when the person in charge removed one and introduced another, the one that remained, holding as it did clothes that were partly done, had become thinner than the last comer, and so the carriage was tilted up a little and ran somewhat unevenly, requiring very careful manipulation.  The mangle, once started, was not allowed to be empty, and so the turner had often to mangle the last roller of his own goods and the first of somebody else's, an arrangement not always conducive to good feeling.  On those odd occasions when there was only one full roller left, an empty one had to be inserted to enable the machine to work, the consequence being that the box ran jerkily and in fitful plunges, that threatened every moment most disconcerting effects.  Whilst the turning proceeded the mangle woman emptied and refilled the rollers, and if she had to do the turning herself the work proceeded more slowly, and was perhaps, in spite of double fees, less profitable.

    The entrance of the person who interrupted Milly's interview with her father introduced the work of the busiest night of the week, and Milly was soon fully occupied.  It was hard work, especially at this time of the year and to a person tired to the very soul; but Milly disposed of the rollers rapidly, in spite of the fact that she was more than usually preoccupied, and glanced nervously round every time a foot was heard in the open doorway.

    The lover most favoured at the moment was generally on hand at night to turn when required, but though David Brooks had looked in at the door several times since Sunday, and the oboist had stood like a man for two solid hours on Monday evening, carrying home with him eventually a monster parcel of "yarbs" when he departed, Jesse Bentley, to whom that reckless and shockingly "forrad" kiss had been given, had never once been near.  Oh, why was he staying away? and why was the mangling of those most invariable of Monday washers, the Bentleys, not forthcoming?  Her dwelling was a sort of open house, for though grown men girded scornfully at it, in the summer-time, at any rate, the stone table outside the door, the bench between the passage and the window, and the short settle were usually filled with folk, who came quite as much to gossip as to work.  In the passage stood an old oak table containing a couple of large earthenware bottles with wooden spigots, and two blue-and-yellow pint mugs.  The Scholeses sold herb beer of various kinds, especially in hot weather, greatly to the disgust of mine host of the "Dog and Gun."  Under the window stood the mangling-table, and though the former was wide open and the door ajar, Milly looked hot and flurried, whilst a weary cloud rested on her face.  There were a series of bumps at the door, followed by wriggling creaks, and a small and not too clean basket, with little Tet Swindells at the stern of it, came sailing into the room.

    "Tet! thee! at this toime o' day! an' Wednesday, tew!"

    The hunchback dropped the basket on the floor, took a calm survey of the room to ascertain how soon her turn would come, cocked her leery eye at the woman who was turning, and then went and took possession of old Nat's armchair.  For any heed she gave, Milly might just as well never have spoken.

    "Aw'll dew 'em i'th mornin', an' tha con fotch 'em ony toime efther dinner."

    "Them rags is gooin' whoam ta-neet;" and Tet, the picture of cool indifference, began to blow a tune through her prominent teeth like a ploughboy, and looked more comfortable than might have been thought possible to a hunchback in a stiff, high-backed chair.  She was usually the most impatient and quarrelsome of customers, ready to engage anybody on the momentous question of "Turn," and so Milly, who was changing rollers at the moment, glanced at her inquiringly, and then replied, as she spread her blanket, "Aw shanna hev a minute tin bedtoime, an' tha'll no' turn, tha knows."

    "Aw'st please mysel'!  Aw'm a foine seet stronger nor thee—an' better lewkin' tew."

    The woman who was turning gave a little screaming laugh, and even Milly's drawn and anxious face relaxed.  Tet, more at her ease than ever, leaned her head back lazily, and, blinking from under that disreputable eyelid of hers, drawled mockingly, "Tak' thi toime, Barbara, dunna fluster thisel'; it isna iverybody as mangles for a wholl fowt."

    It was an open secret that people with small families sometimes "pooled" their mangling for economical reasons, but as this abridged the Mangle House profits it was considered dishonourable, and as Milly had both a keen eye for garments of changeable ownership and all the imperiousness of the monopolist, flagrant cases came in for condign chastisement.  Tet's innuendo, therefore, made Barbara redden with angry resentment, and Milly was just turning to drop in a soothing word when there was the slow crunch of an undecided footstep in the passage, and Milly checked herself to look towards the door and listen.  At the same moment the schoolmaster's little housekeeper, who from her vantage point in the arm-chair could see the entrance, suddenly uncrossed her legs, straightened out her short linsey-woolsey skirt, and sat primly up.

    "Is it traycle or horeheaund?"

    The voice was that of David Brooks, who was leaning with a studied air of indifference against the jamb of the outer door, his whole manner intended to signify that he really didn't know why he asked the question, and didn't in the least care whether he obtained any answer.

    Tet and Barbara glanced at each other, and then at Milly, who apparently had not heard, though the would-be customer had been loud enough.  There was a long pause, broken only by the laboured groans of the mangle.  Then another footfall, but this time on the step outside.  David was evidently retreating, and Barbara coughed to attract Milly's attention.

    But that young lady went on with her roller-packing, a smile of easy confidence on her face and a pucker of dawning amusement in the corners of her mouth.  The step was heard again in the passage, a slow, undecided shuffle this time, and followed by certain clinkings of pots.  Tet hastily smoothed down her coarse hair, and rescued an old brass brooch from the folds of handkerchief that concealed its glories, whilst the woman at the mangle looked interested, and Milly sly.

    "Is this traycle or horeheaund, Milly?

    He was standing in the doorway now, and trying to look independent and patronising.  Milly did not turn her head; she peeped cautiously through the open window as though interested in something going on outside, and then speaking with apparent reluctance, and as though his very presence were a weariness, she answered, "Ther's boath, help thisel'."

    David was disappointed; he looked back into the highway, then discontentedly round the room, changing uneasily as he did so from leg to leg, turned distrustfully and examined the bottles with his eye, and then asked, "Is it hup?"

    "Middlin'; but moind tha doesna pull th' spigit aat."

    There was that in Milly's voice which somehow made Tet think of the fable of the spider and the fly, but the kindly invitation to drink was somehow not quite what David wanted.  He eyed her sourly for a time, glanced down at the innocent wooden tap with suspicion, and then said sighingly, "Well, Aw mun ha' summat!  Aw'm as dry as a rack-an'-hook."  He studied the spigot warily, gave it a little experimental tap, and cried, "By gow! it waggles!"

    The women laughed mockingly, and Tet sat forward on her chair with a self-restraint very different from her recent easiness.  Stung by the merriment, David snatched at a pint pot, and made a plunge towards the bigger of the two bottles.  Then he drew back.  The thing was "fizzin"' already, and he eyed it with deep distrust.  The inside of the pot in his hand was next explored, but, as in holding it up he caught sight of Milly's face, he made another dash at the tap.  There was a squeak of turning wood, a sputter, a cry of alarm, an explosion, and David, all covered with hissing froth, came staggering into the house.  Milly bounded past him, and had her hand on the gurgling bunghole in a trice, and then, crying with a voice that betrayed her vilely for the fallen spigot, she said, whilst the tears ran down her cheek, "That's a gradely mon's trick, fur sure."

    Tet, in a manner strangely meek for her, came softly forward and began to wipe the foam from the discomfited David, assuring him in a way that was maddening that "it met a bin wur."

    David was the picture of confusion and self-disgust, and as the giggling in the passage went on he glared in that direction, and then round upon the conciliatory Tet, as though he would very much like to have fallen foul upon her.  Then he began to denounce all bottles and "spigots" and "yarb drinks" for everything he could think of, frowning and fuming all the more because of the maddening laughter in the passage and the uneasy consciousness that as he was now in the house there would be no getting away again until he had paid the usual turning tribute.  He had sulkily snatched the cloth from Tet, and was wiping himself down, when Milly, her face painfully straight, appeared with a foaming pot of "traycle" drink.  As he took it reluctantly from her she produced a large jug containing the same refreshing liquor, and, placing it on a little shelf conveniently and most suggestively handy for the mangler, she said, with most suspicious kindness, "Ther's plenty mooar when tha's finished that."  David scowled and writhed inwardly as he drank, for he realised that he was now most securely captured, and there was no possible escape.  He was perfectly well aware that this was Milly's busiest night, and could see that she was tired and anxious for assistance, but he had reason to know that Jesse Bentley would not be on hand that evening, and so he had come to tantalise her by lolling about, buying drink, and taking his ease before her very eyes.  Alas! she had been too clever for him once more, and here he was, caught like a rat in a trap, and evidently the secret laughing-stock of three aggravating women.  He knew only too well what that great jug meant; he must make some amends for the blunder he had committed, and there was nothing for him but another night's slavery at that detested old machine.  He emptied the blue and yellow mug with a savage swig, muttering abuse of himself as he did so.  Well, if she would entrap him in that mean, underhand way, she must take the consequences.  He knew what he knew, and if he did not make her bitterly repent of her trick before the night was out, well, his name was not David, that was all.  The presence of Tet, too, reminded him of another injury for which the exasperating mangle girl was responsible, and this was an additional reason why he should show no mercy.  A little scuffle near the fireplace made him look round, and he was just in time to catch Milly trying to take a basket of clothes away from the little hunchback, Tet meanwhile struggling silently, but with might and main, to crowd it into the corner between her chair and the fireplace.

    Tet was evidently afraid of him having to turn her clothes; he would turn those if he had to wait all night, and pay the Swindellses out afterwards.  Barbara had finished, and was fumbling in the pocket under her skirt for the coppers wherewith to pay; and Milly, having conquered her in her battle, was commencing to fill her roller with the schoolmaster's washing.

    "Heaw mitch o' that sloppery stuffs sheeded [spilt]?  Aw con pay fur it, at ony rate."

    "Hay, Davit, Aw couldna tak' brass of thee.  Just turn thease two-a-three o' Tet's, an' we'll be straight."

    "Oh! the blarneying witch!"  He could have struck her for her mockery, and she looked as quiet all the time "as a pot doll," the hussy!

    He did not answer a word, but the slow fire of revenge was burning within him as he watched her getting the rollers ready.  A minute later he was "on the mill," and turning for dear life, but with surly grunts and peevish, irregular jerks, which made the old mangle groan.  Just then two other customers arrived, before whom he must at least preserve the semblance of decency.  The new-comers recognised him as a recaptured slave, and as he banged away, spun the handle round, and made the old machine tremble, they looked at each other with knowing winks, and prepared for entertainment, in a rasping way that sent the iron deeper into his soul.

    "Thi muther's lat' wi' her weshin' this wik, Davit; is it her rheumatiz?" said one of the last arrivals, with a sly wink at Tet, who somehow seemed to resent it.  David made a savage lug at the enslaving handle, and Milly, looking round from her work with her sweetest smile, said admiringly, "It's no' theirs. He doesna moind whoar he turns fur, Davit doesna."

    David writhed, muttered something about "sewner turn for th' Owd Lad," and glared at the other customers to see if they dared to show even the ghost of a grin.  Tet was laboriously trying to catch Milly's eye, and seemed unaccountably miserable all at once.

    The mangle girl, however, either could not, or would not, see, and presently she went on, "It's no' onybody as 'ull turn a wholl neet, i' this weather," and the hypocritical gratitude in her demure glance drove away the last thought of mercy from his mind.  Tet gave a series of deprecatory, almost imploring, coughs, whilst the other women raised their eyebrows delightedly at the prospect, real or pretended, of getting the work done for them.  The mangle was travelling very slowly now, David was deep in thought, so deep in fact that he overwound the machine, and the great travelling box suddenly tilted threateningly up, and there were a number of alarmed little screams.  The mistake was perceived, however, and rectified, and David, resuming his labours, and glancing shyly out of the window, remarked, as though he had appreciated the recent flattery, "Aw'st no' be able to stop lung; Aw've summat on ta-neet," and he contrived to throw into his voice just that necessary hint of mystery that would excite curiosity.

    "Ay, sum sawft wench, Aw reacon.  Who is it, naa, Davit?"  And the speaker nudged Milly under his very eyes.

    His eyes flashed, he nipped his lips together, and then, with relentless resolution, he said, "If awmbry catches me wenchin' ageean, Aw'll give 'em a sovrin."

    This produced ironical laughter, and the women noticing an undergarment of undoubted newness, and trimmed with somewhat elaborate "edging," amongst Tet's mangling, became absorbed in the mysteries of needlework, and poor David seemed in danger of being forgotten.  After they had had their inspection out, however, and Tet had been duly catechised about the matter, the man at the mangle drew attention to himself again by remarking, "Yo' couldna gex wheer Aw'm goin' ta-neet for a toffy dog."

    The women, though only faintly interested, began languidly to speculate; and Fat Sarah, with a wicked glance at David's hair, which was of the most flaming shade of the then unpopular red, hazarded, "Thwart goin' ta Bob Dubbit's gerrin' powt," and then she dropped heavily upon the bench behind her and began to fan herself with her apron.

    As David, with nervous self-consciousness, lifted his free hand to his head and smoothed it, Milly, with a sly glance at the other woman, guessed, "Tha'rt goin' to Griddlecake fowt warmin' coved porritch up."

    "Nay, he's goin' to Wisket Hill to larn t' play th' hobo," grinned Martha Bumby.

    David had gone hot and red; he turned a moment in silence with his back to them, then he set his face hard, and, staring at the passage wall, replied, "Well, Aw'm goin' ta Pye Green, if yo' want ta know."

    As he spoke the carriage reached the extent of its tether, and so he wheeled round to bring it back, and flashed a quick glance at Milly.  She gave no sign of alarm, however; she was smiling a little, and evidently thinking, and, as he studied her disappointedly, she said, with bantering tone and a most provoking glance at his thick red head, "Ther's a fortin' teller cum to th' Green; he tells yur luck an' curls yur hair for sixpence."

    Personal vanity was his weakest point; he had expected that his allusion to Pye Green would at least have checked the sharp-tongued tormentor, but she was utterly unconscious, and seemed to be enjoying the baiting he was getting.  And so, stung to the quick and maddened by her jauntiness, he sent the mangle carriage flying from one end to the other with a savage jerk, and blurted out, "Ay, an' ther's a pop shop, tew."

    The silence that fell on them was neither so long nor so dreadful as David felt it to be himself.  The two women-customers looked at each other in vague perplexity, seeing no reason whatever why such an institution should be mentioned, for everybody knew about it.  Had they glanced at Tet, however, they would have seen a little crooked figure shrinking back into the corner of the arm-chair, and a half-closed eye desperately struggling to express as much horrified amazement as its more perfect companion.  But the mangler was looking from under frowning brows at Milly, and it is only bare justice to him to say that the sight he saw swept out in an instant the black passion of his revenge, and brought swift and bitter repentance.  For one brief moment Milly's mask had fallen; every trace of colour vanished from her face; her great eyes dilated in stony horror; and she stood there pallid, statuesque, and marble cold.  A moment more and the two customers must have seen everything, and of course understood, but a merciful Providence intervened at the most dangerous instant, and there came bustling into the Mangle House the most fussy and talkative woman in Slagden, Jesse Bentley's sister, Maria.



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