"DID I LOVE HONOUR LESS"
WHEN the black
head and scowling, impish face of the schoolmaster's foster-daughter
were withdrawn through the hedge, and Jesse was left to himself, he
stood there with his chin on his chest, in dull, wondering
perplexity. For days he had been struggling with all sorts of
strange and contradictory moods, and the message so oddly delivered
to him did not improve matters. That Milly was guilty of the
things imputed to her he did not for a moment believe, but that
there was something in her conduct much more than mere whimsicality
seemed as clear as anything could be. The injustice done
her—for such he was convinced it was—roused a resentment deeper than
any mere sympathy or sense of common fairness could have awakened,
but that she had been just either to herself or him he could not
admit. It was hard to seem to desert her in her hour of need,
but she had so peremptorily dismissed him on the night of the Stang
riding, and was, according to report, so distant and "brazzened"
about it, that he could not tell how he could possibly render her
any assistance. He had told himself again and again during the
last few days that he would stand by her at whatever cost, and sink
or swim with her fortunes; but the next moment he had found himself
remembering that, if he braved his family and defied public opinion,
he had no sort of assurance that it would make any difference as far
as Milly was concerned, or that he would be any nearer winning her.
If she would give him the slightest gleam of hope he could laugh at
other things, but she was so incomprehensible and so inconsistent
even with herself that he had not a single substantial encouragement
to cling to. He loved peace and quietness, and was almost
proud to be regarded as under petticoat government; but that, whilst
he felt it would not have influenced him for a moment if he had had
any hope of Milly, greatly confused the issue, and created uneasy,
But this was anything but a heroic position to
occupy, and the realisation of the fact annoyed and humbled him.
He was angry and ashamed of himself for his hesitation, but the
difficulties presenting themselves whichever way he turned were
considerable, and he certainly was not prepared to be fooled by
Milly and ridiculed by the neighbours without any compensating
advantage. Sometimes he realised where his easy, unresisting
manner was leading him with regard to Emma Cunliffe, and that
deepened his feeling of cowardice; but, on the other hand, his
engagement to her would be such a great delight to his mother and
sisters, and—he could not help seeing—to Emma herself, that it
appealed strongly to his easy, kindly disposition. He had a
strong man's indolent, non-resisting temper where women were
concerned, was intensely though quietly devoted to his mother, loved
above all things to please her, and hated domestic squabbling; and,
had there been no Milly in the way, he might have allowed himself,
as many another strong man has amazed his friends by doing, to be
married by them, as the easiest and most comfortable policy for the
moment. But Milly's summons awakened feelings he had been
trying with faint success to suppress, and hesitation and reasoning
ceased with him. He did not ask himself what she wanted—she
did want, and that was more than sufficient; and he was absent and
almost rude to his womenfolk, Emma included, without showing the
slightest consciousness of it, or being in the least penitent when
it was pointed out to him by Maria. Emma seemed pensive and
suddenly shy, Maria was tactful and managing, but he treated them
all with heedless indifference, announced he was not going to chapel
without a pang, and went back into the garden to pace about and
chafe at the leaden-footed moments until the arrival of the time
suggested by Tet.
The service at the chapel had barely commenced when he raised
his head over the top of the wall at the bottom of the Mangle House
garden, and bobbed down again with a suppressed little cry.
Milly was yonder, seated at the back door, and dressed in a light
grey dress he had never seen her wear before. It was the dress
she had obtained for use in her little ventures of public singing.
She had not observed his action, but sat looking thoughtfully down
at her hands as they lay in her lap.
He called himself a coward and a "ninnyhommer," but he could
not help himself, and so he raised his head cautiously to the level
of the coping of the wall and took another and longer look.
She had turned her head to listen for any sign that her patient
needed her, and so he had a good view of her face. He heaved a
great, long, wondering sigh, like that of a miser at a heap of gold
not his own.
He had not seen her for days, but that was not sufficient to
account for his surprise. What was it? This was another
Milly—fairer, purer somehow, with a new indefinable dignity about
her!—thinner, paler; but what had come to her eyes? They were
larger, deeper, and, yes, less restless and changeable. All
Jesse's soul went out to her; this was the spiritual transfiguration
of suffering he had heard the preachers hint at now and then.
Oh, if it should be that they had all misjudged her, that behind
that vivacious, saucy face, and arch, mocking manner there was a
really sensitive and refined spirit, what a martyrdom her life must
be, and what a brutal cruelty the stang riding was! That
cowardly David Brooks should pay for this if ――
But Milly's father gave no sign of needing anything, and so,
as she moved her head round towards him, Jesse had to duck, only
instead of doing so he inadvertently raised himself, and she saw and
beckoned to him.
She did not move as he approached, or even raise her head,
but when he got near he observed—he could scarcely believe his own
happiness—an empty chair waiting for him at her side. She
smiled faintly, and motioned to him to be seated. For lack of
something to say, he remarked about the weather as he dropped down
beside her; but she did not reply. He stole a quick glance at
her, and a sudden fear, a sense as of impending calamity, fell upon
him. His second look was a hungry, regretful search for some
sign of the old Milly in that changed and chastened face.
"Jesse, tha's bin a good friend ta me."
He was surprised, and not exactly comforted; but as her
meaning sank slowly into his mind, a sense of unutterable meanness
and self-loathing came over him, and he looked shyly again for some
hint of the old Milly—she of the glinting eyes and mirthful but
sarcastic lip. There was a pause, the leaves of the trees
rustled softly, and through the branches came the distant hum of the
"Aw want ta thank thi fur—fur stonnin' up fur me that neet."
There was something in her tones that terrified him, a ring
of parting—of finality, and with a sudden impetuous impulse he
cried, with protesting, indignant face, "It's nowt! it's nowt!
Aw wod ston' up for thi if tha'd gi' me th' chonce."
"Tha wod, lad!"
Why, great booby that he was, he was actually crying, and he
grinned savagely to keep back the silly tears.
"Dunna, woman! dunna! Sauce me, caw me, clowt me, and
Aw'll thank thi for't." She was very still, and scarcely
seemed to hear him, but when she spoke she drove what little
capacity for amazement was left clean away.
"Dunna mak' anuther mistak', lad. Be sewer tha luvs
Emma afoor tha weds her."
"Awdunna! Aw winna! It's thee Aw want, but tha
winna have me."
She turned to look at him calmly, easily, but with a strange,
unmanning wistfulness that froze his heart.
"Ther's noabry i' Slagdin fit fur thee bud her; hoo's good.
Goody threw and threw is Emma."
"Huish, woman! huish! Dust want me to curse her?
It's thee, Aw tell thi. O Milly! Milly! wot's cum o'er thi,
"Mi nowty, wicked hert hates her, bud Aw know, Aw know hoo's
For a moment it came over him that this was another of her
tricks; she had always been wildest and most skittish when you
expected her to be most troubled. Was she playing a part?
He eyed her with dull suspicion, and as she turned her head and
caught his look a smile—cutting, terrible, heart-breaking—curled
about her cold white lips.
"Ay, tha'rt capt, lad! Aw'm capt at mysel'!"
"Milly, wot is it? Wot's up wi' thi? Tha'rt
killin' me, woman; tha'rt breikin my hert!"
There was a rush of red to her face—a momentary struggle
within—and then, rising and stepping before him, she cried, with
blazing eyes and swelling neck, "Emma? Emma? Hoo
canna loike thi as mitch wi' aw her body an' sowl as Aw loike thi wi'
my little finger."
He sprang at her with a cry, caught her in his arms, strained
her to his breast, and rained down on her hot, unresisting face a
shower of passionate, tear-mingled kisses. She did not
struggle or resist, she seemed for a moment as eager as he; but when
he dropped back into his chair, still holding her, he noticed that
her face was changing to ashen grey; the new strange look he had
seen in her for the first time that day was returning, and even
whilst he was calling her by every tender name he could think of,
she had slid from his arms, and was standing there and bending over
him, like some anxious, mothering guardian angel.
"Aw'm glad of it, lad," she said, putting her hands to her
rumpled hair, and evidently alluding to what had just passed between
them. "Aw'm glad of it; it 'ull help me as lung as Aw live."
He sprang up towards her again. She did not speak, she
did not move, but the quiet compelling dignity with which she looked
at him overcame him, and he sank back into his seat with new, and
this time resentful amazement.
"An' neaw we mun part, lad."
He rose in indignant protest, but she quelled him with a
look. "Goo thi ways, lad, an' may God in heaven bless thi!—an'
He dropped his head into his hands and his elbows upon his
knees; then, after a few moments of silence, he rose to his feet,
and with a stern, solemn face he said, "Milly, God do so to me and
more also if ought but death part thee and me."
She swayed to and fro with a fresh spasm of emotion, but
moved back slowly from him, and raised her eyes until they met his
"Ther's sum things wur nor death, Jesse; ther's disgrace."
"Wot dew Aw care? Aw loike it! Aw glory in it!
Aw'd rayther have it wi' thee nor be baat it."
She still drew away with almost imperceptible backward
movement, lifting a long labouring breath as she did so, but never
taking her eyes from him. "Jesse, Aw'm a silly wench, an'
Aw've hed a silly wench's dreeams o' weddin'. Aw've
dreeamed o' bein' a mon's pride an' glory an' queen, o' makin' him
happy an' rich an' proud."
"Tha will, wench! Aw'st be th' prewdest—"
"An' sin' Aw cum ta — ta loike thi, Aw dreeams ten times
mooar. O Jesse! mi lad, mi lad! Aw loike thi too weel ta
For half an hour longer they struggled, he pleading,
protesting, defying, she humble, patient, but marvellously strong
and firm, and when at last they separated, without either kiss or
word of parting, he went away to wrestle and brood, and pray as he
had never prayed, in the fields, and she to sit at the side of her
father's bed, with swimming eyes and bleeding heart—and sing.
Jesse's walk in the fields was a very long and troubled one,
but he went home in the young moonlight with a cleared mind and a
very decided purpose. In the interview just closed it had been
made as manifest to him as anything could well be that Milly had
The utterly surprising frankness with which she had avowed
her love to him was so contrary to her usual coy reticence and the
native shyness on all matters of deepest interest, so characteristic
of all true Lancashire folk, that he might under some circumstances
have suspected it, but there was simply no room at all for such an
idea. Neither could he entertain any longer the suggestions
about her character which had been so rife in the village for some
time. He had no illusions about her decision; there was
apparently no hope for him at all. Milly was lost to him, and
unless something happened which he could not anticipate at all, they
must remain apart. At the same time, he was conscious of a
marked change in his manner of thinking of her. She was
farther off, certainly—apparently unattainable—but uplifted,
idealised, transfigured, a sweet and holy thing to be thought of
with reverence. That he should ever have regarded her as
merely an interesting variety of the ordinary Lancashire village
girl seemed now incredible. That she might never be his
appeared to matter very little by the side of the fact that he had
become hers. For better or for worse, through ill report and
good, through all life and for evermore, he was hers. It was
no new and sudden passion, no blind idolatry or enthralment, but a
sort of reverent worship.
For the first time he realised that his manhood was awake.
Mother, sisters, village opinion, counted for nothing. Milly
and Milly's interests became the one exclusive business of life.
He would not have been an Englishman if he had not found reasons for
self-reproach in his meditations, and before he had been thinking
long he had arrived at the disconcerting conclusion that this
disappointment and trouble were directly connected with his refusal
to preach, and were Providential chastenings for the grievous sin of
disobeying the call of God. This humbled him, and strengthened
his desire to make atonement by devoting himself entirely to Milly's
interests. He needed no incitement to this, but, as soon as he
arrived at this point, the question arose what to do and how to do
it. And here he was soon in deep water.
That there was some mystery in Milly's life he
could not any longer doubt, but how there could be such a thing he
could not for a moment imagine. She had been born, like
himself, in Slagden, had lived all her life amongst its people, they
knew every detail of her history, and her peculiarities had led them
to discuss her oftener than most people; and yet the suggestions
made about her were so obviously wide of the mark, that he could not
entertain any one of them for a moment. Besides, if he
understood her at all, she would resent any prying, and the more
cause there was for secrecy the more likely she would be to want to
keep it to herself. The position was disheartening, but he
held firmly to his purpose of openly espousing her cause and doing
everything in his power to help her; and as for the future, well, he
would not have been a man had he not entertained some hope at least
that happier chances might arise. He would haunt that Mangle
House like a shadow, and do every bit of the unpopular work of
turning she would allow. Chaff? Well, in his present
mood he would like nothing better than to be enduring something, and
especially some injustice, for her sake. That night when he
got home, in a manner and with a quiet, unmistakable decision
altogether new to him, he made it clear to his women-folk that there
must be no more manoeuvring with Emma, and left it to Maria either
to settle the matter herself, or stand out of the way, that he might
set himself right with the butcher's pretty daughter.
When he went to bed, however, the various experiences of the
day came back to him, and Milly's relations with the oboist gave him
a very bad half-hour. Then he began to go carefully over
Milly's history and the various incidents he could recollect in her
very commonplace history—their life at the farm, Mrs. Scholes's
death, the sudden and unexpected selling up of the stock and
implements, and the retirement of father and schoolgirl daughter to
the Mangle House. The stock must have fetched several hundreds
of pounds, and unless they were in debt, which was against all he
had ever known of them, the money thus realised, together with their
income from the mangle and herb shop, should have kept them in more
than comfort. And yet they seemed poor! Even now that
her father was helpless, Milly made no effort to get assistance, and
was working harder than ever. Well, after all, the village
verdict that miserliness was at the bottom of it all seemed the only
reasonable one, but that it harmonised either with what he knew of
Milly or the character and spirit of old Nat he could not for a
moment admit. There could be no secret leakage of their
resources; they had no poor relations—no relations at all, in fact,
except very distant ones in another part of the county. Milly
was an only child— But here came a pause, a frown, and he suddenly
sat up in bed with an exclamation of amazement, a long-forgotten
face slowly developed itself before his mind, and he cried, with a
little gasp of bewilderment, "Wot on earth's cum of him?"
THE SUPER'S DILEMMA
Superintendent of the Aldershaw Circuit was in a quandary.
"The Slagden Scandal Case," as he was beginning to call it, seemed
likely to give him considerable trouble, for he could not get
anybody of any account in the Circuit to take it seriously. A
strict, conscientious man, and something of a martinet, he could not
bear irregularities, and the undisguised contempt for law and order
which he seemed to see in the ecclesiastical procedure of Slagden
had fretted his righteous soul, whilst the easy indulgence with
which the most influential people about him listened to and laughed
at the odd stories which were circulated in the Circuit about the
village stirred his bile. The Circuit, he was convinced, was
not a little responsible for the very unsatisfactory condition of
things which he lamented so much; for it made a pet of the place,
and could not be induced to take it seriously. Nobody
pretended to understand the financial arrangements of the Slagden
Society, and when he hinted that they seemed to him to be
suspiciously like the process known as "robbing Peter to pay Paul,"
they did not seem to be surprised, and certainly not much concerned.
"It's only Slagden," or "Poor old Slagden," or "That's Slagden to a
T," was all he could get by way of comment; and when he had tried
his first fall with the Society, and succeeded, they did not seem
anything like as grateful as they ought to have been, and seemed
astonished that he should think it necessary to take such trouble.
The fact was, he was one of those careful, law-loving, but
somewhat limited souls, who pride themselves on being diplomatic.
The case now in hand, however, was beset with more than common
difficulty, and if only he could have got his officials to see the
importance of putting things on a regular basis, he would have gone
into the matter with confidence and hope. But the thing was
complicated. He had not been in the Circuit long before he
discovered that old Nat Scholes, Milly's father, held a very high
and secure place in public esteem. He seemed to be better
known in the Circuit than he was in his own village, as is often the
case with popular lay preachers. The rank and file of the
members, from one end of the Aldershaw valley to the other, spoke of
the old man in glowing terms, and the Methodist dignitaries held him
in the highest esteem. Of his daughter, people seemed to know
next to nothing, many of them never having heard of her existence,
and one or two insisting that it was a son Nat had, and not a
The case, therefore, was beset with difficulties, and the
fact—first communicated to him at the time he received his
information about the Stang riding—that old Scholes had been smitten
down with a paralytic seizure did not help matters, for it seemed to
indicate that the veteran local preacher was taking his daughter's
disgrace very hardly. Such a scandal would have to be dealt
with, of course, but it seemed cruel to have to do it whilst the old
gentleman was suffering. The Super had expected to get
something to guide him when he came in his colleague's place to
preach, and at the Brookses', where he always went for tea, he
certainly heard more than enough to justify his serious conclusions.
But the action of the Slagden officials, as detailed in a previous
chapter, disconcerted him altogether, and prepared him for
obstruction, if not defiance. He had his duty to perform,
however, and the honour of the Church to protect; some action must
be taken at once, but when he asked himself where he ought to
commence and how he ought to proceed, the answer was not
forthcoming. Old Scholes was ill, however, and must be
attended to, and in discharging that duty he might get some
information, or at least an opportunity of personally studying the
cause of all this unpleasantness. Two anonymous letters
received by Monday morning's post, and each containing strongly
worded animadversions upon Milly and pointed hints that official
favouritism was suspected and would be exposed, constrained him to
immediate action, and about eleven o'clock in the forenoon, on the
day after Milly's interview with Jesse in the garden, he presented
himself at the Mangle House door.
He had resolved, as he walked up from the Pye Green station,
to be perfectly impartial, as became his position; but a girl who
had smirched her father's honoured name, given him a shock that
disabled him for life, and brought scandal on the Church, was not
the sort of creature to receive any weak-kneed encouragement from
"Could I see Mr. Scholes?" he asked, as Milly opened the
door. He would ordinarily have added "Miss," but he could not
be too civil until he knew more. Besides, this self-possessed
young person had no trace of discomposure or shame about her; she
seemed pleased rather than otherwise to see him.
"Will you come in, sir?" Milly was advanced enough to
use ordinary English with such important persons as superintendent
ministers. "You've had a long walk, sir. Will you take a
pot of dandelion beer?"
She was drawing the liquor as she spoke—perhaps she was of
the wily sort. Yes, he had heard, now he thought of it, what a
wonderful tongue she had; but he was not to be caught that way.
"No, thank you. I want to see your father."
With true Lancashire hospitality, she ignored his refusal,
and placed the foaming pot, flanked by a small plate of oatcake, at
his elbow. It was very warm weather, and the froth-topped pot
looked exceedingly tempting to a man who had climbed a two-mile
hill; but he could not compromise himself, so he turned his head
away and asked curtly, "Is your father well enough to be seen?"
Milly hesitated, and seemed to be debating the point.
"I think so, sir, as you have kindly come so far. But may I
ask a favour?"
The minister looked at her sharply and drew himself up a
little "What is it?"
"He is not in a fit state to discuss a—a painful matters."
"I'm sorry he has these painful matters, but he needs my
sympathy all the more, and—"
"I had rather you wouldn't, sir, if you please."
"I had rather there had been no cause, my girl. Where
shall I find him?" and he rose to his feet with a stern face.
She moved into his way, but without speaking, whilst a dull blush
began to mount to her cheeks.
"I suppose you mean the—the Stang riding, sir?"
"I do; I'm sorry for your father, sorry in my heart."
He did not see that she was choking, and that her
finger-nails were being driven deep into the palms of her hands.
"You cannot see him, sir, unless you promise not to mention—that."
He looked at her hard enough now; she was certainly no
ordinary girl, and he could easily believe some of the singular
things he had heard about her. Her manner was respectfulness
itself, but there was not the slightest doubt that she meant what
she said. He was trying to look her down, but he might as well
have stared at a statue.
"Very well; let me see him."
Being Monday morning, the mangle had not yet commenced its
weekly labours, but Milly, having ushered him into the sickroom,
The furniture was somewhat scanty, and looked as though it
had belonged to a much bigger house. Everything was spotlessly
clean, and the invalid looked so neat and well-cared-for that he had
difficulty in convincing himself that his visit had not been
expected. Good or bad, the girl was a most assiduous nurse.
But then, after what she had done, she had need. The Super was
an exceptionally good sick visitor, and Nat looked so comfortable,
cheerful, and even saintly, that he stayed longer than he intended,
and returned to Milly in a very perplexed and undecided condition.
Nat had only alluded to his daughter once during the
interview, but there was such perfect trust, such proud, grateful
love in the reference, that the minister concluded that he did not
know about the disgrace that had come. And yet, was not this
the very cause of his breakdown? Really, it was very
perplexing. Milly was ready with another offer of refreshment
when he returned to her, and this time it was a dainty little glass
of some home-made wine. He hesitated for a moment; perhaps if
he sat down and drank it, and chatted a little, she would talk, as
all women did, and he would get some inkling to all this mystery.
He took the proffered glass, therefore, with a short "Thank you,"
and subsided into a seat.
"What do you think of father, sir?"
"Very ill, very ill! It must have been a great
Milly closed her eyes for a moment, and then asked, "But he
will get better?"
"I hope so, I hope so; but in these cases the physical
trouble is often the least serious of the complications."
She sighed. Would it be wise to speak a word to her for
her good? Whilst he was debating the question, she asked,
"Might I ask another favour from you, sir? "
He was on his guard again in an instant. "What is it?"
She stood away from the table against which she had been
leaning, and revealed a pile of substantially bound books.
"These are preachers' books. Could you tell me where I could
He stepped towards the table and glanced at them—a good set
of "Matthew Henry" complete. "These are your father's books?"
"Yes, sir, but he'll never need them again."
There was that husky, choking sound in her voice again, and
this time he noticed it, but mistook the cause.
"Does he know you are selling them?"
He had begun to thaw at these mute signs of poverty, but his
suspicions all came rushing back. "But if your father is the
man I take him for, these volumes will be precious to him."
"They are, sir." Her head had dropped. Ah! she
was afraid to look him in the face.
"And will you take advantage of his helplessness to sell the
things he loves?"
Her head was still hanging down. He was glad he had
stayed now; he was getting at her. There was a struggle going
on within her; his words had gone home. Suddenly she raised
herself, stood there before him, not a convicted sinner, but an
angry, outraged queen. Her bosom heaved, her lips went white,
and her eyes were red and gemmed with starry tears.
"Sir, you are my minister, a man of God. I must tell
you now what I have never told to mortal man. I sell his books
to save his life, to get him a crust of bread."
The Super stared stupidly. This was not acting; this
was no loose, giddy, frivolous girl! If there was wickedness
here, it was of no common sort. Was he standing, as ministers
so often have to do, on the edge of a terrible domestic tragedy?
"I'm very sorry," he murmured in a softer tone.
"Perhaps I can sell the books."
"Never mind, sir. I can manage some other way;" and she
threw an old cloth over the volumes.
"Yes, yes; I will. You need the money, and your father
must not be pinched."
"The Lord will provide, sir. He knows."
The minister hesitated, feeling uncomfortable and somewhat
ashamed. Perhaps there was some mistake. At any rate he
could not leave matters where they were now, and so, after a long
awkward pause, he said, "I'm sorry for this disg—er—a—trouble of
yours—very sorry. Er—w—would you like to say anything to me
"N—o, no, sir."
"But I might be able to help you. I must do something
in the matter, you know. I cannot leave it where it is."
No answer; she seemed to be thinking of something else.
Presently, however, she replied, "Only do it quickly, sir—before my
father gets about again."
"But, my dear young woman, it is more serious than you
imagine; think of your soul!"
"Spare him, sir, and do what you like with me."
He was a little annoyed, partly with himself and partly with
her. "But you do not see how serious it is. I would help
you for your father's sake—if you would allow me."
She was looking at him sideways and very studiously; he felt
an uncomfortable sense that the tables were being turned and that
she was reckoning him up.
There was a little twitch in one corner of that
expressive-looking mouth. Surely the jade was not mocking him?
"There is one thing you can do for me, sir."
"What is that?"
"You can forget what I told you about our poverty—and let us
His anger was rising, but he was a good man and tender
withal, and so, by no means sure of his ground, he said, "No, no!
you must let me assist you; I'll buy the books myself. Your
secret is safe with me, but I wish you would confide in me about the
other matter." He regretted that last sentence as soon as it
was out. It might be interpreted as a condonation of her
offence. As he spoke, however, he stepped towards the table
and took up a volume. "I will take this with me and send for
the rest; leave the price to me."
But there was a change in Milly. She was clasping her
hands together, and her eyes were dilating wildly as she watched him
taking the book. She had the manner of a cat watching the
abstraction of its last kitten.
He tucked the bulky tome under his arm and took up his hat
and stick. Milly's eyes followed him with that fearful,
suspicious look with which a patient follows a dentist when he is
collecting his instruments.
He was discussing with himself whether he ought to shake
hands with her, and she was staring at the book he carried with
hungry, frightened eyes. He made a stiff bow. "Good
morning, Miss Scholes. I will send the money."
But she had sprung at his arm, snatched the book from his
grasp, and was hugging it passionately to her breast. "Aw
winna! Aw winna! They're aw gone bud these. O God,
forgive me! It 'ud breik his heart."
Standing there in sore amazement, the minister felt his eyes
going wet. This woman confounded him. Good or bad, she
was certainly very extraordinary. Had they who had given him
the information upon which he was acting committed a blunder?
Her last action, if he understood it, was exactly to his mind; a
girl who felt thus towards her father was not quite lost.
"Yes, yes, miss; keep the books;" and he began to fumble in
his pocket for his purse. She was watching him, the volume
still hugged tight to her heart, and as he held out a sovereign in
his hands their eyes met.
"God bless you, sir. We may have to come even to that,
but not yet, sir;" and then, in a fit of confused stammering, she
added, "You've been good to come here, and I'll ask you when I
He went away very sad, and more perplexed than he had been
about anything for a very long time. A woman would do strange,
mad things for love of a man, and this might be some unusually
peculiar love affair; but if there was anything seriously wrong with
Milly Scholes, all his experience and knowledge of human nature went
Then he began to take in the wider aspects of the case.
This perhaps accounted for the strange conduct of the officials when
he summoned them last week. They would know all the facts of
the case, and had lived in the village all their days. Perhaps
he ought to have consulted them beforehand, perhaps he had better
see some of them now. Seth's milk-farm was nearest, but he was
not very well pleased with the Pollits, and he certainly did not
want another interview with Mrs. Seth. Ah, there was the
blacksmith's hammer! He would call upon Brother Jump.
But then a sense of restraint fell upon him; he could not betray
Milly, and he was conscious that this odd girl had obtained some
sort of influence over him. He must be careful. But
Peter, voluble enough as a rule, proved taciturn and most
mysteriously suspicious. He would not follow his visitor's
lead at all, but insisted upon discussing a chronic Slagden
grievance about the paucity of ministerial appointments; and when
the minister, craftily taking him unawares, plumped out the direct
question as to whether there was any truth in the charges laid
against Milly, he answered gruffly, "Ther' met be—an' ther' met
not," and at once enveloped himself in noise and anvil sparks.
The cleric watched the formation of the horseshoe with most
flattering interest, and then went on to admit that there might be
something in what he said about the Slagden proportion of
Suddenly, however, he asked, "Do you think, Brother Jump,
that the Scholeses are poor?"
Away went Peter's hammer and tongs; he evidently took the
question as a reflection upon Slagden, and was mightily indignant.
"Naa lewk here, Mestur Super. Arr yo' a sensuble felley,
or arr yo' not?"
The Super, half amused, half astonished, hoped that he was.
"Well, then, does tew an' tew mak' fower?"
"I believe they do; but—"
"Howd on! lest have noa shufflin' wark abaat this 'ere;" and
he limped up to his visitor, and, beating out his question on the
palm of his hand, he demanded, "Can yo' tell me has mitch yarbs
"Herbs? Why, nothing, I suppose, except for gathering;
"Well, then, wun wik with t'other they sell'n a paand a wik
wo'th—wi' pumaytum. Is that poor?"
"No, no; but—"
"Han yo' iver bin i'th manglin' trade?"
"I? Oh dear no! I—"
"Well, then, yo' known nowt abaat it, dun yo'?"
"I fear not."
"Well, Aw dew. My Aunt Nancy Ellen made sixteen shillen
a wik wi' that varry mangle, an' Milly mak's mooar."
The Super's face dropped; the matter got more perplexing at
every step. But Peter, now at full trot, plunged along afresh.
"Naa, yo' Supers is rare hands at figgurin'?"
"So, so! Why, arna yo' caantin' c'lections aw day
"Well, haa witch is three hundred an' seventeen paand three
shillen, at foive per cent. per hannum?"
"Nearly sixteen pounds; but what has that to do with the
"Ta dew? That's wot ther stock fotched when they left
t' farm, an' it's makkin' interest yet. Aw seed owd Nat goo
i'th bank th' varry day as he put it in, an' Aw've seen Milly cumin'
aat mooar nor wunce."
The Super was walking in deeps that had no bottom. He
stared at Peter, stared at the cow's-horn handle of the bellows, and
lifted a long wondering sigh. Peter's evidence seemed
conclusive enough, but it was impossible to think that Milly had
been deceiving him.
The blacksmith was watching the effect of his arguments with
growing satisfaction, and presently, leaning hard upon his stronger
leg, he shook his head with a broad, appreciative grin, and cried,
"Hay, he's an owd brid, Nat is!"
"You must be mistaken, Brother Jump. Look how
poorly she dresses and how hard she has to work. They appear
to me to be very poor."
Peter eyed the minister with the complacency of superior
knowledge. "Ay, yo' thinkin' sa, that's they fawseniss.
See yo', mestur,"—and he limped nearer, emphasised each word with a
pat on the shoulder, and went on,—"Owd Nat 'll dee wo'th thaasands!
Hay, he's a stockin' as long as mi arm sumwhere."
And the minister strolled back to Pye Green station more
bewildered than ever.
A VISIT TO WISKIT HILL
THE milkman was
meditating, to be exact, meditating, bassooning, and, to judge by
the doleful and discordant mixture of sounds that came from his
darling instrument, his dubitations were of a most melancholy
character. He did not for one moment believe in the dishonour
of Milly Scholes; it is probable that he would have stood up for her
in face of the strongest evidence that could have been produced.
At the same time, he did not attempt to conceal from himself that
there was some awkward mystery about the Mangle House and its
occupants, and this in spite of the fact that they had spent their
lives in the village and lived openly amongst the natives. Of
himself, he would have left the matter for time to unravel, but,
unfortunately, others were not of his mind. He had heard that
very day that the Super had visited the Mangle House during the
forenoon, and the minister had not left Slagden half an hour when
Seth heard all the details of the wonderful way in which Peter the
blacksmith had "fair flummaxed" the cleric. During the
dinner-hour his wife had informed him that Maria Bentley had packed
up her class-book to send to the minister, as an expression of her
own and her members' sentiments on the local scandal, and Billy
Whiffle, under pressure from the Brookses' faction, had taken a
similar resolution with regard to his position as Society steward.
Saul, for all his pragmatic obstinacy, would, he was sure, follow
his lead and do what was possible for Milly. But they would be
almost alone in the village, and to take a stand in opposition to
the others would mean almost certain disruption amongst them.
He found himself arguing more than once that Milly evidently cared
very little what people thought, and that, therefore, it was
ill-advised to split the Society for such a matter; but, to his own
surprise, he found himself, these prudential considerations
notwithstanding, stiffening into defiance of the popular clamour and
to an uncompromising support of the ill-used girl.
"Naa, then, art ready? Wot wi' th' poipe, an' wot wi'
that squawkin' machine, tha'll blow thi brains aat sum day."
The speaker was Saul Swindells, who wore his everyday
trousers, his second-best coat, and his best Sunday top-hat, and
carried a heavy-knobbed stick in his hand, evidently prepared for a
"Sum folk hasna brains to blow aat. Wheer't goin'?"
"Wheer thaa goin', tha meeans?"
"Well, wheer am Aw goin', then?"
"Tha'rt goin' ta Wiskit Hill, fur sewer."
Seth stared at his visitor with dull astonishment for a full
half-minute, and then, as what Saul didn't say sank into his mind
along with what he did say, he dropped his eyes and gazed
thoughtfully at his bassoon. The very idea now suggested had
occurred to himself more than once of late, and the fact that Saul
had been moved in the same direction was a sort of Providential
leading for him. To have agreed at once, however, would have
been to violate all precedents, and so he continued his study of the
bassoon, and presently replied, "Tha gets sum o'th fantastikist
noations as iver coom intew a mortal's yed, thaa does: art goin' aw
th' way ta Wiskit Hill ta ger a good puncin'?"
All the same, he began to put up his instrument.
"Aw'm goin' ta Wiskit Hill, an' tha'rt goin' ta tak' th'
puncin', if ther' is ony."
"Ay, it doesna tak' mitch gumption ta bring trubble upa uther
folk. Tha'rt th' copp'st hand Aw know at that sooart a wark."
But as he replied he put down the lid of the bin in which his
precious instrument had been carefully stowed away, and commenced to
button his coat. Without another word, Saul led the way into
the road, and in a few moments they were marching through the
breast-high wheat, the schoolmaster leading the way with hat tilted
far behind his head and knob-stick under his arm, and Seth, hands in
pockets and head sunk between elevated shoulders, following after.
For a little while they trudged along in moody silence, except that
Seth grunted and groaned as though every step gave him pain.
There were harvesters in a field near, and sharp reports every now
and again told of grouse-shooters on the moor they were approaching.
Apparently the cronies neither saw the one nor heard the other.
"This is a gradely foo's harrand, this is," grumbled Seth, as
he mounted the moor stile.
"That's why Aw browt thee," was the snarling retort.
"Aw'll bet a boadle he'll no' be awhoam," was the next
complaint; and to this the pedagogue scorned to reply.
"Wee'st lewk bonny beagles gooin' seven mile fur nowt."
"It's no' seven; it's six."
"It's seven, if it's a yard!"
"It tak's a schoo' mestur fur gradely thick-yeddedniss."
"The'r' nowt wheer milkmen cums."
A few minutes of grumpy jog-trotting across the heather, and
then Seth pulled up.
"Wot art gooin' t' dew if he's nor awhoam?"
"Aw'm gooin' t' 'plough wi' his heifer,' loike th'
Seth stared at his companion in pitying amazement.
"An' tha'rt gooin' seven moile ta ax a woman if her husban's
Saul was momentarily staggered, and so, in his confusion, he
fell back upon the old dispute. "It's no' seven, Aw tell thi;
"Dust need t' walk seven moile of a swelterin' neet ta get
thi yure poo'd? That's schoomestur sense daan to th' graand."
"Aw'm gooin' t' get to th' bottom o' this lumber, chuse wot
tha says. Art cumin' on, or tha artna?"
For answer, Seth surveyed his friend from head to foot with
calculating deliberateness, and then turned disgustedly round and
stalked off homewards. Saul watched him with lofty scorn, and
when he had travelled about thirty yards he called out, "Duffin'
ageean! tha couldna face an owd sheep if it hed a petticoat on."
Seth stalked grimly on.
"Run, mon! Heigh thi! Th' boggarts is efther thi!"
Holding sternly on his course, Seth had now got a hundred
yards off. Saul, forgetting his scorn in genuine alarm, put
his hand to his mouth and bawled in tones tremulous with anxiety, "Aw'll
goo bi misel'! Aw'll spile th' job, Aw will!"
Seth, moved perhaps by the implied surrender, wheeled
suddenly round and marched stolidly back to his man, who was
struggling hard to keep the gleam of triumph out of his face.
The milkman passed him by as though he had not existed, and so led
the way in surly silence until they came in sight of their
Seth had not spoken a word for over twenty minutes, but
strode doggedly on, with his head projecting before him and his
shoulders almost level with his ears. At the stile entering
the village lane he switched round.
"Aw reacon tha'rt gooin' ta dew th' talkin'?"
"Aw'st pleease misel'."
"If tha pleeases thisel' tha goon bi thisel'."
Saul, to whom speech was a necessity of life, looked blank
enough; but Seth had evidently made up his mind, for he proceeded,
"Thee put thi motty in, an' th' job's dun ony minit."
"Tew yeds is better nor wun."
"Is tew brokken yeds better nor wun? Thee shut thi
maath an' save thi noddle, moind that naa; " and, turning round, he
led the way down the hill.
Saul must have been playing a part, for, as Seth proceeded,
the schoolmaster made grimaces behind his back and winked to himself
victoriously. Accosting the first person they met, the milkman
ascertained that the oboist lived in a little white climber-covered
cottage that stood end on to the road a little farther down, and so,
glancing round with a warning look at Saul, he approached the house
to reconnoitre, dropping as he did so into the lounging, easy manner
of a strolling sight-seer.
The cottage was almost buried behind high hedges, only there
was a little gate at the corner. Seth, looking everywhere but
straight before him, sauntered towards the gate, and then started
back and tried vainly to reassume his suddenly dropped manner; for
there, within five yards of him, sat a comely, round woman of about
forty, who was knitting in the open doorway. He was too late
to save himself, and so, to cover his retreat, he called out, as he
glanced ostentatiously round, "Good evenin', missis! Wot place
is this, naa?"
But Saul was a local preacher, and Mrs. Rawlings, the
oboist's wife, recognised him at once. She also guessed that
his companion was another Slagdenite, and suspected their errand,
and so disconcerted the crafty Seth by replying, "Ger aat wi' yo'!
Yo' known as this is Wiskit Hill as weel as Aw dew, an' Sam Rawlin's
lives here, if yo' wanten him."
But Seth had recovered; his wooden face became as blank as a
wall, and he appeared so absorbed in the floral decorations of the
cottage that it seemed doubtful whether he had heard the last
remark. He had sidled up alongside Saul, and was pointing out
some particularly fine climbing roses at the house corner.
"Them jockeys is th' Proide o' Preston, arna they, missis?" and his
manner was intended to convey that he was simply a flower fancier
out for a stroll.
"Aw dar' say they arr; bud conna yo' cum no furder?"
Thus invited, the two lounged in through the gate, still
absorbed in floriculture.
"Aar Sam's nor in, if it's him yo' wanten, bud happen Aw'st
As she spoke she indicated a garden seat, and the two
accepting clumsily the proffered accommodation, sat down, Seth still
commenting to Saul on the fine condition of the roses.
Mrs. Rawlings watched them with amusement lurking in the
corners of eyes and mouth, and presently she volunteered, "Aar Sam's
no' cumin' a-playin' to Slagdin no mooar."
To Seth's utter disgust, the irrepressible schoolmaster
blurted out, "It 'ud ha' bin a foine seet bet-ter if he'd ne'er cum
It was no use. All the intricate and subtle scheme of
cross-questioning which Seth had arranged as he came along must now
go by the board; the stupid, plunging Saul had spoilt everything,
and the discomfited milkman relieved himself by a prodigious groan.
"Ay, that's wot folk gets fur helpin' other folk. Aw
towd him has it 'ud be."
Seth emitted another groan; and Saul, with dolorous shake of
the head, replied, "Aw'm sorry fur yo', missis; Aw am, fur sewer."
"Sorry fur me? Wot fur?"
Saul's answer was another and longer groan, but Seth was
perspiring with suppressed agitation. This woman evidently
knew nothing about what had taken place at Slagden, and what a sorry
thing it was to make her wretched!
"Well, ah ―" Saul was commencing, when Seth drove his elbow
into his side, and assuming his most wooden expression, rose to his
feet, and remarked, "Well, Aw think we'll be goin' a bit furer."
"Nay, nay! yo'n hed nowt yet! Sit yo' daan, an' Aw'll
bring yo' sum drink;" and as she hastened to the scullery Seth shook
his fist fiercely at his companion and whispered, "If tha speiks
anuther wod Aw'll chuck th' job."
"Chuck it! Tha allis does when tha's mulled it.
Tha shap's loike a flea in a glue-pot."
But their hostess was returning, and Saul became interested
in the man-and-woman weather-box over the dresser, whilst Seth
stared before him into vacancy with his blankest look.
"Yo'n cum abaat yond wench an' th' Stang ridin', so aat wi'
it;" and Mrs. Rawlings set pots of foaming treacle beer before them.
The cronies gave guilty little starts, and, sitting up, stole
long significant glances at each other, and it would have been
impossible to decide which of their faces looked most miserable.
"Ther's mooar foo's i' Slagdin nor i' aw Englanshire besoide."
Saul was firing up, but his companion checked him, and
remarked conciliatorily, "Well, wench, we wur nobbut feart ―"
"Feart? Ay, yo' wur feart of a quiet chap loike aar Sam
runnin' off wi' a young wench,—Aw sh'd clog ageean if he did,—that's
wot folk getten fur doin' a good turn."
"Good turn? It's a hill turn he's dun uz, Aw con tell
thi, an' thee an' aw if— Aw'st speik, chuse wot tha says;" and Saul
sprang away, and glared defiance at his friend.
"Ay, he walks six moile weet an' foine ta play fur yo', an'
just 'cause he helps a poor wench ta mak' a liven, yo' pay him wi'
lyin' an' backbitin'."
Seth was dazed—this thing was getting utterly beyond him; but
he rose up, elbowed back the blustering schoolmaster, and, assuming
command, replied, "Missis, we wur fain ta hev him fur a player reet
enuff, bud a chap wi a noice, quiet-lewkin' woife loike yo' shouldna
goo maulin' wi' young snickets o' wenches."
"Hey, wot a lung tail aar cat's getten! Yo' numyeds!
Naa, sit yo' daan, an' Aw'll straighten it aat fur yo'. Why,
mon, Aw did it misel'."
Dropping back wonderingly into their seats, the two cronies
stared at her amazedly.
"Aw wur o'er at New Babylon Sarmons i'th spring,—aar Sam wur
playin' theer,—an' a wench az wur shabby dressed coom an' set bi mi
soide. Aw ne'er gawmed nowt abaat hur till th' singin'
started, an', seeyo', Aw ne'er yerd nowt loike that wench's vice i'
aw mi born days. Why, yo' bermyeds, ther' isn't a vice loike
it i' Lankashire! Well, Aw yerd her aw th' efthernoon,—Aw
couldna hearken to nowt else,—an' when we wur hevin' uz tay Aw towd
"Well, th' lumpyed furgeet aw abaat it, bud a toathre wik
efter it wur aar Sarmons, an' Dan Stott coom fro' Slagdin ta help.
Well, he geet thick wi' aar Sam, an' axed him t' cum a-playin' ta
Slagdin; an' he did. Th' fost toime he wur theer yo' hed a new
chune az noabry knew. Well, aar Sam hed ta stop i' parts, an'
when he wur restin' he yerd a vice i'th congrigation, an' at last he
spotted it, an' then he rec'llected wot Aw'd towd him, an' hoo
wur shabby drest, an' soa he says to hissel', he says, 'That's
hur,' an' when they wur loosin' he went up an' spok' tew hur."
Saul was devouring every word, and Seth was shaking his head
"Bud, my stars, worn't hoo huffy wi' him! He met ha'
bin dirt bi th' way hoo lewked at him."
The cronies glanced at each other; that was just Milly
"Bud aar Sam, az Aw towd yo', is fair crazy abaat singin',
soa he up an' he says, 'Lewk here, young woman,' he says, 'ther's a
fortin i' that vice o' thoine.' An' that browt her tew her
cake an' milk, Aw con tell yo'! Hoo wur as fain as a sawft lad
wi' a buttycake, an' talked as oily as th' insoide of a cart-wheel.
Well, aar Sam fund aat az hoo knew mooar abaat music nor he did, an'
he towd hur ta goo on, an' lent her sum pieces, an' then yore
Sarmons cum raand, an' yo' known wot happened then."
Saul turned and glared at the milkman with a fierce
"I-told-you-so" sort of look, and Seth, with a weary shake of his
head, said, "Hay, wench! he'd ha' saved a seet o' bother if he'd
oppened his maath."
"Hoo wodna let him; an' yo' ne'er axed him."
Saul began to feel than he was in a tight place, and knowing
what to expect from Seth for bringing him on such an errand, he
wanted to find some scapegoat, and so he remarked, with overdone
conviction, "That wench's proide 'ull ruin her sum day!"
"Uther folkses' lyin' tungues hez ruin't her, if Aw
know owt," retorted the milkman sternly. As though to finish
poor Saul off utterly, Mrs. Rawlings added, "Aar Sam says az that's
just th' wun thing hoo's short on—consate."
In the terrible pause that followed Saul felt himself sinking
lower and lower in his own and his companions' estimation, and so,
with a desperate attempt at self-recovery, he cried, "We mun hev aw
this writ daan upa papper."
Seth gave a sniff of ineffable scorn, and so, as an
alternative suggestion, the suffering pedagogue went on, "Yore Sam
mun cum to th' leeaders' meetin' an' give his affidavit."
"He'll dew that fast enuff; he's feart o' this lumber stoppin'
her singin' jobs."
"Singin' or noa singin', hur charicter mun be cleart.
If he winna cum, he'll ha' ta be subpeeneyed or habyus corpus't be
Act o' Parlyment."
Saul thought this so fine a deliverance that he ventured to
glance round, though a little fearfully, at his companion: this at
least ought to conciliate him. Mrs. Rawlings also was watching
the milkman's wooden countenance with curious interest. Seth
rose deliberately, cleared his throat, glanced round the room, and
then, buttoning his coat and preparing to make a departure, he
looked at their hostess and remarked, with withering scorn, "Missis,
yo'n seen tew gradely Slagden foo's to-neet, an' Aw dunna know which
on 'ems th' biggest;" and without a glance at his guilty-looking
friend, he stalked down the garden path and up the hill towards the
The walk home was pleasanter than might have been
anticipated, for the sweet thought that Milly's character had been
cleared of the most serious charge against her speedily overcame
Seth's ill-humour, and so, long before they reached Slagden, they
were talking as freely as ever. Saul, passing at a bound from
dejection to triumphant confidence, was loud in his denunciation of
the shortsightedness and prejudice of those who had so rashly
concluded that Milly was guilty, and louder still in his
condemnation of the jealousy and spitefulness of the Brookses, her
chief detractors. Then he put together bit after bit of
evidence to show that the action of David and his sympathisers was
only part of a crafty scheme of which Seth's removal from office was
a move; and finally he constructed an elaborate plan for the total
discomfiture of the Super, and the Brookses, and all disturbers of
the peace of the Church. They must lie low, keep what they had
learnt to themselves, let the opposition mature their plans and make
their investigations; and investigation at the supreme moment they
would produce the oboist, and overwhelm the prosecution with
confusion and shame.
Seth trudged at his companion's side with raised shoulders
and blank face, responding only with mysterious grunts; but when at
last the schoolmaster paused for breath, he wheeled round and
"Will that put loife into her fayther's deead arm? Will
it put brass into her pocket an' meyt into her stomach? That's
wot Aw want to know."
Dashed by this unexpected damper, Saul stalked moodily on for
some moments, and then, having become suddenly almost as doleful as
his friend, he remarked, "Aar Tet says as hoo's gan Jesse Bentley th'
"He's gan it hur, mooar liker. Dust think a young chap
loike him wants a wench as is th' talk o'th countryside?" and Seth,
whose voice had given way, dashed an angry tear from his eye and
plunged on again.
But the mercurial Saul was not to be depressed; they had made
a great discovery and relieved their minds of a grave anxiety, and
he was not going to allow Seth's pessimism to spoil his joy.
Once more, therefore, he began to rejoice over their recent
experiences, and was waxing warm and eloquent, when Seth wheeled
round again and said, "Sithi! th' end, soide, an' middle of this
lumber is this: they're poor. They'n twice as mitch a wik
cumin' in as tha hez, and hoo's killin' hersel' an' gerrin' i' aw
this lumber to pay ther rooad. Naa if thaa con straighten that
aat, tha'll dew sum good; bud tha's gettin' thi wark set, Aw con
There, amid the rustling corn and the soft, changing
moonlight, the two old stalwarts stood staring hard into each
other's face. Not a word was spoken for several seconds.
Then anxiety for the peace of the Church that was more than life to
them, and sturdy resolution to vindicate an injured girl, moving
mightily within them, Saul nodded to Seth, and Seth made a slow
brooding signal in return. Two hands that never met in the way
of ordinary intercourse silently gripped each other, and the solemn,
wordless compact was made.
They parted presently, for Saul took a nearer cut home, and
Seth plodded on by himself, his thoughts so entirely occupying his
mind that he had reached the stile next to the "Dog and Gun," and
nearly opposite the Mangle House, before he realised where he was.
It was very still, but the fast moving clouds overhead played
hide-and-seek with the moon and gave momentary periods of darkness.
Just as he approached the stile the moon had one of its brief
triumphs, and flooded everything with silver light. Seth
pulled up with a gasp, stood staring before him like one stunned,
and then, with an amazed glance around, as though calling all nature
to behold this staggering phenomenon, he stepped back and groaned,
whilst his heart beat almost into his ears, for there, in the Mangle
House door, stood a tall young fellow, of towny dress, straining
Milly Scholes to his heart, and covering her upturned face with