THE MANGLE HOUSE
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
"Hay Lorjus! bud it's hot; we're bonny foo's to sit here
sweltering," grumbled Seth, as he threw his new-washed corduroy
"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
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
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."
"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
"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,
"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
"Wot does hoo dew, then?"
"Hoo axes me t' turn th' mangle."
Ed.—A simple clothes wringer (U.S.) or "mangle"
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."
"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—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
"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."
"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
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
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!"
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
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.
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
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
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
Milly looked for a brief moment as though she were going to
kiss him, and then she said demurely, "Saul Swindells 'ud larn thi
"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'
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
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.
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
"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."
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."
"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
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."
"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;
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
"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
"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
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
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
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.
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
"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
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
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.
The exclamation had begun in tones of grave concern, but
there were quavers of hardly suppressed laughter in it before it
"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,
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
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
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
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
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
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."
"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."
"It's true! th' bonniest wench i'th countryside—an' th'
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
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
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!'
THE TURNING OF THE WORM
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
"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,
She put her elbow on the table and her wet cheek into her
"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
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
"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
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
"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
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
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
"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,