The Minder( I)
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THE MINDER

――――♦――――

PART I

THE MINDER
__________

CHAPTER I.

HOW ONE GOOD KISS BEGOT ANOTHER.


THE engines of the Bramwell new mill had just stopped for the night, and the hands were streaming out through the great gates near the boiler-house.  As it was nearly dark, and a drizzling, sticky sort of rain was falling, the workpeople were all making homewards as fast as possible, and there was a clatter of innumerable clogs on the flagged sidewalk.  Most of the hands were going in couples, but there was one young fellow who was walking by himself, and had his head down.  There was nothing in the least remarkable about him, except that his dark hair was a little longer than usual, and suggested amateur and not too frequent barbering, whilst his greasy old hat was soft and round, and looked as if it might once have been a parson's wide-awake.  He had a plain, open face, a little sharper perhaps than it ought to have been, and that seemed to indicate that he was already finding life somewhat hard.  His clothes, too, shiny with wear and mill-oil, hung somewhat loosely upon him, and created the impression that the body they covered was not so well nourished as it might have been.  Of medium height, and uncertain, almost sallow complexion, he was just such an average young factory lad as could have been found in any Lancashire town.  A second glance at his face shows that pleasant thoughts are moving in John Ledger's mind, and the fingers of his left hand drum merrily on the lid of the breakfast can he is carrying.  Now he raises his head, turns his face upwards and smiles, and you note that if his face wore that light upon it always it would be really worth looking at.  Then he mutters something to himself and draws down his brows, but the lips and chin seem to have escaped control for the moment, and joy lurks in the corners of his mouth.  Joy was such an uncommon thing with him that he was shy in its company, and afraid, and even a little suspicious, but though he pulled the wayward mouth tight again the fingers only drummed the more rapidly, and before he had gone many yards he caught himself actually humming.

    By this time he had reached the end of the street and turned into the Market Place, still musing.  All at once he pulled up, and staring hard at the church clock, suddenly burst into a laugh that made the lamplighter turn round and stare at him resentfully.  John looked surprised too, and ashamed, and plunged across the Market Place into Shed Lane, where he stopped again in the twilight to call himself names and pull himself together.  He seemed to have himself well in hand when he started down the lane again, but though the expression on his features was stern enough, there was a tell-tale light in his eyes, and the corners of his lips would not keep straight.  Suddenly he pulled up again, his whole face one delighted grin.  Another thought, in which pleasure and mischief seemed about equally blended, had got possession of him.  He looked up the lane and down, and then turning his face toward the dim gravestones in the churchyard, he shook his fist and cried—

    "I will!  I will!"

    But mill girls were coming down the lane, and were just beginning to observe him; and so starting off once more, becoming serious as he walked, he dismissed the great idea, whatever it was, with a grunt of stern rebuke.  But the joy within him was not so easily put down, and so fifty yards from his own door, and speaking apparently to the bills of a great hoarding, he cried—

    "H-a-y! wouldn't she like it!—she'd cry!"

    By this time he had become quite excited, and also a little embarrassed; he was so near home that he already felt its influence, and his great resolve began to look foolish.  Propping himself against the hoarding, he looked up the lane and down, and then, shaking the breakfast can until it jingled again in his hands, he cried—

    "I will!  I'll kiss her!

    He looked very resolute and very serious as he said this, but he stopped twice before he reached the little cake and bread shop where he resided; and when he finally got up to it his heart suddenly failed him and he walked past.  Then he grew ashamed, and checked himself: "I will! I will!  I never have done, but I will!" and then, lest his shyness should once more get the better of him, he darted back and hastily pushed open the door of the little shop.  But here, to his confusion, he found a small customer getting her pinafore filled with oat cakes and crumpets, and he strode nervously forward and stood on the hearthrug.  Many a time during the short period it took to dispose of the little one, he resolved to put off his rash resolve, but the idea had taken possession of him, and he could not move it; and so before the door had been closed a moment, and whilst the tall pale woman of the shop was putting back some cakes into the window, he suddenly sprang at her, and seizing her round the neck imprinted on her wan cheek a rousing kiss.

    It was his mother.

    "Hoo!  Ha!  Save us, John! whatever's to do?"

    But though there was alarm and protest in the tone, the face told another story; a sweet light rose into the faded eyes, and a blush, soft and beautiful as any girl's, spread itself over the colourless cheek, whilst the chin dropped upon the breast and she hung her head like a naughty child.  And John, who had skipped awkwardly back to the hearthrug, and now stood with his back to the fire, was blushing too.  He was utterly ashamed of his unprecedented act, and yet so glad of the news he had to tell, that though he dare not look into the eyes that were shining so unwontedly, he was delighted to see them so, and hastened to explain himself.

    "I've got 'em, mother!  I've got my wheels at last!  Cheer up, mother lass!  I'm a minder now!"

    "Thank God!  Oh, thank the Lord!" and she dropped into the low iron-rockered chair, and great tears of relief and gratitude welled up into her eyes.

    "That's it, mother.  Thank the good Lord we're all right now.  Sorrow may endure for the night, but joy cometh in the morning.'"

    For a few moments "mother" sat still in her chair, and then commenced absently to rock herself.  Her face was lighted with uplifting emotion, and her lips moved uneasily, and at last, as she began to finger nervously the hem of her apron, raised her eyes to one of the pot dogs on the mantelpiece, and repeated—


"Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
     But trust him for His grace."


    For several minutes longer she continued to rock herself, and then, in sudden self-recovery, rose to get her son his tea.

    John was her eldest child and only son.  Her husband was one of those unworldly souls who, though they possess more than average intelligence on most questions, can never be made sufficiently to understand the absolute necessity of bread and butter, and can never for the life of them concentrate their energies on mere commercial matters.  He was at once the admiration and the cross of his ambitious and practical wife, who in her struggles to keep her head up had made a confidant of her beloved son from his earliest days, so that he was by this time already old in his knowledge of the world, at least on its sterner side.  There were two children besides John, both girls, but the secrets of the family life were always kept from them, and John and his mother did all the scheming and pinching.

    These experiences had prematurely sobered him, and, as he was of sensitive nature, they had left their mark even upon his body; and so, though old in sorrow, he had dropped behind his competitors at the mill and been outstripped by younger but better-developed fellows, and still remained a "big-piercer" at about fifteen shillings per week.  At last, however, his turn had come, and he had received a sort of certificate of manhood by being appointed minder of a couple of spinning mules, with a bobbiner and piecer under him.  This meant an addition of ten or more shillings per week to the family income, and as mule-minding was piecework he was not without hope of exceeding the average.  Circumstances, rather than natural temperament, had turned him into a serious stay-at-home fellow, and outside his own home he was regarded as shy and uninteresting.  At the time of which we write the struggle of life had become somewhat easier for them, and John and his mother had begun to indulge in ambitious hopes for his young sisters, who, he declared again and again, should never go to the factory.  It had been hard work keeping them at school so long, and now Annie, the eldest, had turned out delicate, and so they had started the shop in order to be able to allow her to remain at home in her mother's care.  Lucy was a pupil teacher, but did not care for the profession, and was anxious to get something more congenial; but as yet nothing had presented itself, and of course her wages at school were next to nothing.

    Now, however, things would be better.  With a full man's wages and their other little sources of income they were not likely to be in any immediate want, and if only John's father, who was a painter, would not spring any of his own financial troubles upon them, as he had an awkward habit of doing when they least expected, they would be fairly comfortable.

    And so John finished his tea with a light heart, and a face that beamed in sympathy with his mother's grateful sighs.

    Later on John washed himself and put on his evening clothes and sat down to a book; but he did not read much.  His eyes wandered again and again to his mother, who went about the house humming a tune, a thing almost unheard of in her.  From his mother his gaze returned to his book, and then to the fire, into which he stared with widening eyes and pleased, contented smile.  Then he would suddenly remember himself, and puckering his brow with stern resolution, bring his eyes back to the volume in his hands, and, before he knew where he was, he was day-dreaming again.

    The house was spotlessly clean and the fire-irons shone with their week-end polish, the little swing lamp cast a cheery light, and the kettle hummed drowsily on the hob, and John's heart was warming in sympathetic joy and gratitude when the door opened quickly, a gust of wet wind swirled into the house, and a voice that went through him like an electric shock cried—

    "Good evening, Mrs. Ledger.  Oh, what a night!  Isn't it?"

    "Sallie!  You!  Whatever have you come out a night like this for?  John would have brought the bread down.  Come in and get to the fire."

    "Oh, I had to come this way.  Yes, I will sit a minute or two.  Never mind my cloak, John."

    But John, at sight of the visitor, had jumped to his feet, and with hands that shook a little, had drawn the rocking-chair near the fire, and was now engaged in helping to remove the waterproof from the visitor's shoulders.

    She was a young person of about twenty-two, and as she handed her cloak to John, throwing back as she did so a coquettish little veil, she revealed a remarkably pretty face.  Her features were so formally regular as to be almost uninteresting of themselves, but at this moment they were wreathed in bright smiles, and flushed with conflict with the elements outside, whilst her fine dark eyes flashed with points of light.  She was rather below medium height and inclined to embonpoint, and her dress indicated that she belonged to a class a little above that of John and his mother.  A cynical person might have said that the young lady was evidently quite aware of her attractions, but John Ledger was neither cynical nor critical, and at that moment she appeared to him a ravishing embodiment of bewitching womanhood.  She did not talk to John, of course, though his book lay on his knee and his face wore an inane company smile.

    She had come for the week-end cakes and bread, and to talk with Mrs. Ledger; and though she did now and then flash a look at John, it was only because, being there, he could not in politeness be altogether overlooked.  She spoke of the weather and the storm that had overtaken her, and seemed so animated about that stalest of topics that John found it wonderfully interesting.  Then she had to tell her woman friend about yesterday's sewing meeting, and she looked so very pretty as she talked that the male hearer forgot that small scandal was his pet abhorrence.  Then she grew suddenly confidential, and in low, earnest tones expressed her fears that the new Circuit stewards were not hitting it with the super., and John would really have become very uneasy about this kind of tittle-tattle, only she every now and then rolled her eyes round to him, and arched her brows in such an altogether irresistible way, that he could think of nothing else.  Presently she discovered that it was on the stroke of nine, and she must, of course, be going.  But the bag she had brought for the bread proved on examination to be sodden wet, and her order was larger than usual, and her arms had not been made for carrying heavy burdens, and—well, Mrs. Ledger said that John must go with her and carry the parcel.  Of course Miss Sallie would not hear of this for a moment, but John, being in most unusual spirits, and feeling that he must make amends for not having offered before, became quite bold in his urgency; and so, in a few minutes, with the loaves and cakes wrapped in an old newspaper, and hugged to a thumping heart, he was going down the lane by Miss Sallie's side.

    It was three-quarters of a mile to the old-fashioned stone house where she resided, but the time passed so rapidly that John was quite disappointed when they reached the gate of what had once been a farmhouse.  Sallie, still talking brightly, did not stop at the gate and relieve him of his load; she simply pushed it open before her, and still chattering, led the way into the house.  Opening the door, she took the bread from his laden arms, and thanked him with a look and tone which he, shy fellow, found delightfully embarrassing.  Then he must sit down and rest a moment before returning; and though he said it was getting late, he allowed her to pull a chair towards the fire for him, and sat down in it, scarcely able to believe that he was not dreaming.

    Sallie carried the bread into the back kitchen, and was so long in returning that John had time to realise that they were alone in the house.  Oh, if only he had been in any position!  But she returned just then, and set before him a steaming glass of blackberry tea, which was so good for keeping the cold out.  John required pressing, but when he did accept, either he was unduly nervous, or else she retained her hold upon the glass longer than was strictly necessary, for their fingers touched, and the contact thrilled John through and through.  An awkward silence fell upon them as John sipped at his glass; but as Sallie still stood over him he grew more and more embarrassed, and declaring that he really must be going, he gulped down the hot liquid and hastily rose to his feet.  They shook hands quite shyly, and John's susceptible and timid heart went pit-pat again, and he felt that she did not withdraw hers as promptly as mere courtesy would have prescribed.  And then she came with him to the door, and as she held it open with one hand she snatched a little shawl from a nail behind it, and accompanied him to the gate.

    "The 'sneck' was rather awkward," she explained.

    But John's experience of life had made him cautious almost to suspicion, and he had learnt to distrust appearances that were more than usually propitious, and so he was growing a little uneasy under this gracious treatment.  It was too good to be true.  Sallie took quite a long time to explain to him the mechanism of the gate latch, and, perhaps because the rain had now stopped, he seemed to forget his hurry and to be most curiously interested in this branch of mechanics.  As, however, they bent down at the same precise moment to inspect the latch their heads collided.  John drew back with a cry of alarm, and wildly threw out his arms; Sallie tossed her head up with a merry laugh, but without stepping back, so that he might have caught her in his embrace by "accident," only he daren't.  With another anxious hope that he had not hurt her, he got out of the gate, and was turning round to say goodnight once more, when something seemed to strike her, and, putting the gate between them, she leaned over it and said in a loud whisper—

    "John!  Here!"

    John returned, and she drew so near that he could look right down into her deep, dark eyes.

    "Hey, I am glad you came with me to-night, John; Sam Kepple was watching for me."

    John, with those dangerous eyes still upon him, felt that he was expected to look astonished and shocked, and he did his best.

    "I cannot think why he bothers after me.  I'm sure I don't encourage him."

    It occurred to John that here was a chance for an honest compliment, but he could not for the life of him think of the right word, and so he answered huskily―

    "Of course not."

    "I'm not that sort of girl, forward and running after fellows, now am I, John?"

    John was absolutely sure of that, and tried to say so; only those eyes seemed in the darkness to be looking into his very soul, so he only made a stammering sort of answer.

    Sallie turned her head away, and John thought he caught a little sigh; but before he could speak she had leaned against the gate again, and, looking right at him, she said―

    "Of course, it's different with you, John, isn't it?  We are old friends, aren't we, John?"

    She seemed quite anxious about this matter.  Her little head was thrown back, and she was looking earnestly up at him, with her red lips parted, in eager desire to hear his reply.  And John was only human, and he was unusually elated to-night at the sudden brightening of his worldly prospects—the ordinary ambitions of men were possible to him now—and so, looking down upon her with hungry, gloating eyes, an overpowering impulse suddenly rushed upon him, and, ducking his head, he kissed the two lips so temptingly turned up to his, and then with sudden and violent reaction broke away from her, and without even a "Good-night," plunged madly into the dark lane, and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.


 
CHAPTER II.

A KISS MAY BREED A COMPLICATION.


WHEN he had travelled about a hundred yards a sense of the utter ridiculousness of the situation and its compromising possibilities came upon the fleeing lover, and he was just pulling up to collect his thoughts when a tall figure stepped out of the hedge backing, and planted itself in the path before him, whilst a high falsetto voice cried—"Hold!"

    John did not require a second bidding; the suddenness of the thing pulled him up dead, and his heart was in his mouth before the figure spoke.

    "Come on!  Show thyself!  What have you been doing as you're feared of being seen?"

    John stepped uneasily forward, but before he could make out who had accosted him the man in front, turning half round and flinging back his head to address the shadowy hedge rows, cried, "Well I'm jiggered!" and then, springing back with a gesture of repudiation, he went on, "Nay, nivver, nivver!  That would be a mank!" and once more breaking off, he rushed forward, thrust a long narrow face into John's, and shouted squeakily—

    "It's nivver John Ledger!"

    "Yes it is, Sam," replied John wonderingly.

    "Whatever's to do?"

    Sam towered over him in silent amazement, and then, moving a step backward and looking him over from head to foot—though, in the darkness, he could see little—he turned away, and, apostrophising the hedges, he cried—

    "Didn't I tell you?  Isn't it always so?  Isn't it t' way o' wold?"

    "Sam, whatever is the matter?"

    But Sam was still glowering into the darkness and tossing his arms about in tragic gestures; and as John watched him in dire perplexity, he suddenly smote on his breast in melodramatic intensity, and then, in thin piping tones that greatly heightened the comic effect, he cried—

    "If it had been a henemy that had dun this!  But it is thou!  Thou, my own fameeliar friend, thou!"

    Sallie had hinted not many minutes before that Sam was "after her."  Here was a pretty state of things!  He had been trifling with another fellow's sweetheart.  Sam was a minder like himself, and had been kindly trying to get him his "wheels" for some time, and it was to some degree to his influence that he owed his promotion.  Moreover, Sam was a member of the same class, and a prayer leader, and it was through words spoken by him to the super. that John had first been encouraged to try to preach.  He heaved a long sigh, and drew himself together.  After all, he had more experience in fighting his way through difficulties than in sustaining prosperity, and the emergency steadied him for the moment.  He must first see exactly where Sam was, and how much he knew.  Had he seen that utterly reckless kiss?  He could not imagine that the bright Sallie, who was twenty-two, could ever think seriously of this thirty-year-old fellow workman of his; but if she had simply been playing with Sam—but he would not allow himself to think of that.

    "Sam, old friend, I was—"

    "Friend!  Friend, he says!" cried the other, appealing once more to the darkness.  "The sarpent bites, an' then licks.  Friend!  Aye, I'm wounded in the house of a friend," and then breaking off abruptly, he plunged forward at John again, and thrusting his long face into his, he cried with wild, pathetic, wailing tones, "Three year come Good Friday I've gone after that wench, an' I've never hed so much as a little kiss yet."

    John was about to offer a soothing remark, when the distracted fellow plunged off again.  Turning his back upon his friend and shaking his fist at the hedge, he cried—

    "I will!  I'll let him!  I'll watch him dance like a carlin' pea in a frying-pan—like a weasel at a rabbit hole!  She'll lift him up and flop him down—like me; she'll fry him o' one side an' freeze him o' t'other, an' I'll let her!  Aye, I'll let her!  It'll do me good."

    Touched by his friend's distress, and always ready for self-accusation, John felt half inclined to offer to withdraw in his friend's favour; but a new jealousy for Sallie's honour got the better of this unloverlike feeling, and he cried—

    "No, no! Sam.  She's not cruel, at any rate."

    "Cruel?  Who said she was cruel?  The man who says a word again that girl will get my fist in his face.  What is it to thee if she is cruel?"

    John felt this was getting beyond him.  It was no use talking to a fellow in a state of mind like Sam's, and so he took him gently by the arm and began to move forward.  Before they had gone many steps, however, Sam pulled up, and, looking earnestly into John's face, he said—

    "They say as matches are made i' heaven, don't they?"

    "Well!"

    "Well, if they are, I'd rayther go to t'other place."

    "Sam!"

    "I would!  After what I've gone through, hell 'ud be a holiday."

    In tones of low, husky sympathy, and with feelings which frightened him as he felt them rising within him, John said—

    "Do you really love her, Sam?"

    But the touch thus given to Sam's lacerated feelings sent him off at another tangent, and jerking his arm out of that of his companion, he shouted—

    "Love her?  I hate her!  My blood's afire wi' hate of her!"  And then he paused, gazing wildly about him as he did so, and at length, with a moving break in his voice, he wailed out, "Yea, I do love her!  She's spelled me, John.  Oh, John, she's my doom, lad, she's my doom!"

    John's brain was buzzing into his ears, and his heart jumped spasmodically.  One thing, however, was clear to him.  At any cost he must put himself right with his friend; there must be no further concealment.

    "But, Sam!" he said, in a sort of sad dismay, "I like her myself, but I didn't know!  I never guessed—"

    Sam's arms dropped limply to his side, a long struggling groan escaped him, he stared distressfully into the other's face for a while, and then, in low husky tones, he murmured—

    "Aye, an' she'll tak' thee, lad—now!" and then, with a long quivering sigh, he concluded, "God help poor Sam!"

    The cry went through John.  Sam's characteristically inconsequent, coals-of-fire sort of treatment scorched his very soul, and he proceeded almost with passion to reiterate that he had never dreamed that he was in love with Sallie, and that he could not think for a moment of entering into competition with him; but as soon as ever the last statement had been made, he would have recalled it, only he could not think of anything better to say, and so he stood there and stared helplessly at his companion.  Eye to eye they remained there for several moments, and then Sam, drawing a reluctant breath, said—

    "Johnny, lad, she'll nivver have me—that I know.  I'm not good enough for her.  But, lad, if what they're sayin' about thee be true, she'll have thee aye, she'll have thee; but, Johnny, she's not good enough for thee—specially now."

    "Now!  How now?"

    "If thou doesn't know thou soon will do; but, Johnny! mark what I say.  I know her through an' through, and she's not good enough for what thou'rt goin' to be; be careful, lad, an' God help thee," and before John could stop him the strange fellow had darted down Sandman's entry and disappeared.

    John's father was reading a leading article to his reluctantly listening wife when he entered the house, and waved his hand to prevent his son from interrupting, and so, glad enough of such a chance, John slipped off his boots and stole quietly upstairs, his mother following him with inquiring eyes.

    His bedroom was on the third storey at the top of the house; the bed occupied the middle of the room, the only position in which the old four-poster could stand upright.  Against the wall near the door hung a small amateurishly-made book-shelf containing Wesley's notes, some volumes of the Cambridge Bible for schools, Banks' "Theological Handbook," and a few home-bound volumes of "The Preacher's Magazine," whilst near to it, and almost immediately under the skylight, was an old desk, upon which were pens and pencils, a penny ink bottle, an open Bible, and a copy-book.  He put the little benzine hand lamp upon the desk, and fell heavily into a chair.  He was tired, damp, and harassed.  A wan smile curved about his lips as he absently unbuttoned his coat and vest.  How very like life this was! at least life as he had so far known it.  Hitherto, every piece of good fortune he had had invariably proved the forerunner of some great trial, and here was another example of the same perverse fate.  He had that day achieved one of the great ambitions of his strenuous young life, and it had already plunged him into complications.

    He rose mechanically and hung his wet coat upon the spike of the bed post, and then suddenly checked himself.  No, he was slandering Providence!  The blessing had been given graciously enough, and he had proved unworthy of it.  He had allowed himself to be so carried away by his suddenly brightening prospects that he had, by a reckless act, placed himself in a very invidious position.  Yes, it was his own doing.  No wonder he had received so few Providential favours; he was not to be trusted with them, he used them to his own hurt.

    He had sat down again by this time, and with folded arms and chin on chest he began to review the adventures of the night.  The first discovery he made added to his contrition; the old Adam in him was still revelling in that hasty kiss at the farmyard gate, and threw it up so vividly that he could think of nothing else.  The slender little hand on the gate, the ripe lips, the dark, enslaving eyes seemed at that moment more real to him than they had done in the mad moment he was recalling.  He had rushed away out of a sudden sense of his presumption and the resentment it might provoke, but now, strange as it seemed, all doubt on that point had left him, and he realised the amazing fact that, to Sallie at any rate, his conduct had not been distasteful.  The thought filled his brain like an enslaving mesmerism; his blood tingled again and his eyes sparkled.  For some time now he had felt that Sallie Wood was different to other girls in his eyes, but the insignificance and uncertainty of his future had kept him within the bounds of secret admiration, but now he realised that he was possessed by a great overmastering passion, and for the moment the consciousness was a delicious, intoxicating dream.  But the very strength of his feeling alarmed him as he thought of it, and the difficulties at once began to present themselves.  He took serious views of life, and marriage was to him the most solemn step that could be taken.  He had never yet gone so far as to ask himself whether Sallie was suitable for him, and when he did so, the answer added to his perplexities.  No man, he felt, ought to allow his passion to over-ride his judgment, but he had done so, and now he had more than one misgiving as to whether they were suited to each other.  Sallie was light and gay, and, in fact, these, sad to say, were the characteristics that most attracted him in her, and she belonged to a family which had a reputation for over-keenness in commercial matters.  John had his full share of that odd contempt for riches which so often characterises the hopelessly poor, and he imagined it had a spiritual origin.  Sallie, he felt sure, would have earthly ideals, and would try to infuse into him her own low but practical ambitions.

    Then he recalled with another pang what Sam had said, and he could not disguise from himself that his own observations of her gave him too much reason to suspect that she was quite aware of her attractions, and somewhat unscrupulous in her use of them.  But flirtation was utterly abhorrent to him, and he realised that their courtship, if it did proceed, would be a tantalising and uneasy experience.

    By this time he had worked himself into a state of restlessness, and was pacing the little room with uneven steps.  His mother had entered the room below, and now called to him to get into bed, and so he put out the lamp and threw himself, half-dressed as he was, upon the bed, and once more surrendered himself to his tormenting perplexities.  Poor Sam's agitated looks came back to him as he lay in the darkness; of course his passion was an utterly hopeless one; Sallie, he felt sure, would never think seriously in that direction, but the big man's pathetic warning alarmed him, and his own temperament and the deep, though narrow, theology he believed made it easy for him to blame himself for that compromising kiss; and he did so, muttering bitter self-reproaches as he tossed about upon the bed.  He had played the fool; he, a local preacher, had allowed a sudden and altogether fleshly passion to overcome him, and stood committed to the consequences.  He could not draw back, and—oh, awful situation!—he did not really wish to draw back.  Self-sacrifice came easy by long practice to him, but now, when he fairly faced the question, his whole nature rose in rebellion.  Again and again his deeper manhood grappled with the enemy, but each time they "clinched" it was thrown, and a sense of helplessness came upon him, and he had a cowardly, unregenerate longing to let go and drift.

    The church clock at the end of the lane struck twelve, and he had to rise a few minutes after five, but he still lay tossing there, tortured with the consciousness that he had lost self-mastery, and—oh! terrible situation!—did not want to resume it.  Then a new thought entered his mind, and he rolled off the bed, and was just dropping upon his knees when he drew himself up again.  "What? ask God to deliver me!  Why, it would be asking Him to condone sin!  It is something I have done myself, and only I can undo it."  Turning away, therefore, he began to pace the room, but remembering presently who was underneath he desisted, and upon fresh impulse sank upon his knees at his bedside.  With bowed head and writhing body he poured out his whole soul to his Maker, stopped, and began again, paused once more, and then plunged into a long, impassioned supplication.  Then he leaned further over the bed, and buried his face in the clothes, and was still.  Presently he rose to his feet with set, stern face, and crept into bed.  He had won, or thought he had won, one more battle.  He had not slept much when he rose next morning, and as he walked to the mill, breakfast-can in hand, he was able to review his position.  The hope and love born last night were to be resolutely crushed out.  It was not absolutely necessary for people in their condition to explain or apologise for a kiss, and though he would greatly have liked to know what Sallie thought about his ridiculous running away, he must leave that and see her no more.  He had acted without due thought, he had placed himself in rivalry with an old friend, and though he realised that the course he was taking was neither very lover-like nor very courageous, it was certainly safest.  In the meantime he would watch and wait; he would study, as circumstances might allow, the character of the girl he now knew he loved, and would also ascertain what were Sam's chances, though he already guessed them.  He did not see, as the reader will, that his resolution was not quite consistent with itself; he had a sort of instinctive feeling that the most painful course must necessarily be the right one—there was present safety in it at any rate—and he must be content with that.

    All Saturday afternoon he was strangely uneasy in spite of his resolves.  He wondered whether Sallie would call on Saturday evening as she sometimes did, and he spent his time, now trying to settle to his books, and now resolving to go to the band-meeting and thus avoid a possible rencontre.  In the end he fetched downstairs a magazine and tried to interest himself in an article on "Open-air Preaching."  The hours passed, however, meeting time came and went, but Sallie did not appear and he stole off to bed at last, out of love with himself for feeling so disappointed.  On Sunday morning he had an appointment at a little mission-room on the outskirts of the town, and so missed the service at the chapel.  He was early at school, however, and stole many a sly look across at the young women's class, but no Sallie appeared, and by this time anxiety was fast getting the better of caution, and he so far relaxed his original resolution as to decide to get a word with her that night if at all possible.  The Woods sat three pews behind the Ledgers under the gallery of the chapel, and as, of course, he was too well-behaved to turn round, he found himself listening to the banging of pew doors and imagining the entry of Sallie and her father.  Once or twice during the service he thought he caught the sound of her contralto voice in the singing, and whilst the sermon was being delivered he felt as though his sweetheart's black eyes were boring holes into his back.  When the service was over he moved, whilst waiting for the commencement of the after-meeting, into the corner of the pew, and turned half round to get a hasty glance behind him, and lo! the Woods' pew was empty.

    He felt he was going cold; something certainly must be the matter at Fidler's fold, and when the first two prayers were concluded, he took up his wide-awake hat and stole out of the chapel.

    Twenty yards down the street he heard himself called in a husky panting voice, and turning round came face to face with old Zeph Wood, Sallie's father.

    "Hold! Hold wi' thee!  Art walking for a wager?" tried the old fellow, puffing hard, and pushing his Sunday hat back on his head as he came up.

    Zeph was a short man, and thick-set, with arms and feet disproportionately long for his height; his eyes were as dark as Sallie's, but small and restless, whilst an overhanging nose and long drooping mouth to match gave an almost whining expression to his face.  He was a leader, and had a somewhat numerous following among the more demonstrative of the members; but his record was stained by instances of over-shrewdness and trickery.

    "This is a bonny mank," he cried, pulling up and staring hard at John, whilst he rubbed his perspiring face with a blue-spotted cotton handkerchief, "Dost know that yond wench is bad?"

    "Bad!" cried John, with a sinking heart.

    "Ay, bad!  This is wot comes o' stannin' at t' fold gate with young fellows like thee!"

    "I'm awfully sorry," began John confusedly, but Zeph broke in upon him again.

    "Sorry! wot good'ull that do, if she's gotten her deeath o' cold?  Stir thy pins an' cut off to Black Jacob's for some cumfrey herbs an' camomile, while I go and fetch Aunt Pizer.  Hay, dear! young folk e'er has no sense."

    John was not in a state of mind to see this new incident in its true proportions; so, full of fear and self-reproach, he darted off to the herbalist's, which was a mile or so on the other side of the town.  When he reached Fidler's fold Zeph and Aunt Pizer were already there, and Sallie, with her long dark hair hanging in wavy masses down her back, and a soft cream-coloured shawl on her shoulders, looked, John thought, lovelier than he had ever seen her.  Mrs. Pizer took the herbs and soon had them bubbling in the pan and giving forth a pungent savour, whilst Zeph walked about the room, snapping and snarling at everything and everybody, in his muttered disgust of young people's thoughtlessness.  John would have expressed his sorrow and retired, but Zeph drew him nearer the big chair in which Sallie was sitting, as though he wished him to realise the enormity of his transgression by beholding the condition of the sufferer.

    Sallie did not smile as he approached; she simply looked very solemnly at him, closed her eyes, and put on a suffering and resigned expression.  John, consumed with sympathy and contrition, stood awkwardly, first on one leg and then on the other, and when Aunt Pizer asked for a mug, Sallie, without opening her eyes, told her father where he would find one, and when he had disappeared into the kitchen, and Aunt's back was turned as she inspected the boiling herbs, she slyly put out a moist little hand for John to take.  In spite of all his resolutions he grasped it eagerly, and then discovered, with an embarrassing mixture of joy and alarm, that she did not want to withdraw it.  Even when her father returned she still held it in his, and he felt his scrupulous prudence vanishing before the strong risings of pleasure and passion.  He tried to say something sympathetic, and Sallie put her soft fingers between his and drew him nearer.

    Both Zeph and Aunt Pizer saw the position of things, and whilst Aunt turned her head away, with a sort of apologetic little cough, the father looked dreely for a moment at John, and then snorted out a half contemptuous grunt, as if to say that he thought the situation very ridiculous, but he supposed he must accept it.  John went hot and cold; they were all, Sallie included, taking his supposed relationship to the invalid as a settled thing, and evidently regarded him as possessing the privileges of a lover; and with that soft little hand laid so confidingly in his, it would be the meanest of all mean things not to accept, at least for the moment, his happy fate.  What was that dull, heavy feeling, which lay underneath all the keen pleasures of the moment?  Was not this a position he had long desired, and had it not come to him almost without an effort? and by that peculiar series of circumstances which he had always been taught to regard as providential.  Now that his highest ambition in earthly things was suddenly and wonderfully realised, why was he so suspicious and shy of it?

    Still holding that little hand, and allowing his greedy eyes to wander over that mass of rippling hair and the margin of white neck below it, his struggles of the night before looked like the morbid imaginings of an introspective ascetic; he was only frightened at the ease and suddenness of his own success, and so he gave the lissom fingers a gentle squeeze, and began in nervous manner to recommend certain simples much believed in by his mother.  Then Sallie withdrew her hand to put back a stray lock that would droop over her brow, and as the clock just then began to strike ten, John remembered himself and prepared to make his departure.  Sallie did not move, but she opened her eyes and looked at him as he drew nearer, and put out his hand for leave-taking.  She did not appear to see his action, but turned up her face and raised two ravishing lips to be kissed: and to crown all, as he was withdrawing his burning face from hers, she whispered, "Come again to-morrow night."

    How he got out of the house and into the lane he never knew; for the time all fear and doubt were swallowed up in the glow of a great delight.  What a wonderful thing!  Sallie had evidently secretly loved him for many a day, and he had gone on thinking about her without ever imagining that she held him in any special regard.  How confiding and innocent she was!  As soon as she had seen what he meant she had accepted the situation without a trace of the finessing so common with young women.  She understood him better than he understood himself, and knowing his serious ways, she had fallen quietly into his possession as soon as he had really shown his heart.  What an open-minded, loving, beautiful girl she was, and oh! how happy he felt.


 
CHAPTER III.

INTRODUCES SUNDRY ECCLESIASTICAL EXPERTS.


BRAMWELL was a small town of some six or seven thousand inhabitants, and had a somewhat curious appearance arising from the fact that whilst it was now almost entirely given up to cotton manufacture, it had formerly been a somewhat important market town and the centre of an agricultural district.  The old market square, which was any shape but the one indicated by its name, was now almost at the extreme end of the town and contained a certain mysterious stone erection in the centre, about which local archæologists grew wrathful or enthusiastic, according as their descriptions were accepted or otherwise; but which the up-to-date vandal vicar laughingly declared was the burying-place of such of the ancient Bramwellians as had perished in the time of the Great Plague.

    The church, a low squat example of Tudor-Gothic, stood at the west end of the square and was covered with ivy that was black with layers of soot from the mill chimneys.  Half-way down Lumley Road, which ran due west from the square, was the Wesleyan Chapel, an ugly brick building with a flagged yard in front and a disused burying-ground at the back.  At the eastern end of the square was a small enclosed cattle market, and beyond that long rows of workmen's cottages running at right angles to Station Road, with three or four mills in the background, and the railway station, which old-time prejudice had prevented coming near the town, still further down the road.

    Between the cattle market and the square, just where the latter ran into Station Road, there stood a row of dilapidated one-story buildings used by small local tradesmen.  The third and most dingy-looking of the lot was evidently devoted to the business of painting, and had over the door a drunken-looking signboard, on which was written in sprawling old church-type characters:—


SAMPSON LEDGER,
Gilder, Decorator and Artist's Colourman.


    On the time-honoured principle that the cobbler's children are always the worst shod, this building was entirely devoid of paint, and when close inspection revealed here and there slight traces of the presence at some by-gone date of that excellent preservative, it was utterly impossible to decide what had been the colour originally used.  As compensation, however, the back of the shop door was bedaubed in all the colours of the rainbow, and so thick were the layers that the middle of the door must have been nearly half-an-inch thicker than the other parts; for this was the place where the proprietor dried his brushes.  The inside of the windows and the walls were covered with dust of ancient date, and various implements of the painter's craft, most of them appealing pathetically for instant superannuation, were lying about here and there in careless disorder.  In the middle of the floor stood a small stove perfectly innocent of varnish, but splashed here and there with various colours of paint.  Near this stove was a round block at one time evidently part of the trunk of a tree, and about twenty inches high, its polished top giving ample evidence that it was usually used as a seat; whilst against the wall were dirty-looking bags of painter's colours, old and useless stock; across which was laid a whitewasher's plank, which thus formed a seat.  This resting place bore signs also of frequent occupation, for the painter's shop was the general rendezvous of the left or radical wing of the Bramwell Wesleyan Church.  The proprietor of the establishment was John Ledger's father, a rattling, graphic, anecdotal local preacher of the old school, whose gifts and shortcomings made him at once a fearful delight and an unhappy burden to his friends.

    On the Monday morning after the events described in the last chapter, Sampson was standing at the bench-like table under the window absently grinding paint on a slab, for he had a supreme contempt for the "ready made trash they sold in tins," and adhered stubbornly to the ways of the good old times.  He was rather tall, with long greyish hair turned back without parting over his head, and hanging down with a slight outward curl behind.  He had high cheek bones, a narrow, though lofty forehead, sharp grey eyes, a dogmatic chin, wide, loose mouth, and thin Dundreary whiskers.  His greasy, green-black coat of clerical cut was covered with a long apron that now, as usual, was twisted round under his left arm.  Behind him, seated on the bench near the stove, was a man who even in that position appeared to be a dwarf.  He had a full, corpulent body, a big, long head, short, ungainly legs, and a shrewd, almost intellectual face, of pugnacious expression.  He wore a thick showman-like silver watch-chain hanging over a waistcoat that had once been imitation sealskin, but which now only retained its nap in out-of-the-way places.  He was smoking a long clay pipe, and every now and again got off his seat and stepped close to the stove, where he had a full view of the little dingy broker's shop opposite, of which he was the proprietor.  Wilky Drax, or Robert Wilkinson Drax as he signed himself, though he had been in the shop for fully ten minutes, had never spoken, as the ordinary courtesies of greeting were dispensed with between such old friends.  Just now he has wriggled off the bench and is standing with his pipe stretched out and his back to the stove watching a stray customer who is scanning the contents of his shop window across the road.  The stranger, however, moved on, and Wilky, as he waddled back to his seat, removed his pipe from his mouth and remarked in hard, crackling tones, as though he were resuming a conversation which momentary attention to business had interrupted—

    "A second-hand shop, an' a secon'-hand church, an' a secon'-hand wold, and nowt doin' i' none on 'em!  It's sickenin'!"

    As this was a distinct challenge to discussion, and as controversy was meat and drink to the painter, he stopped his rubbing, and turning round and leaning his back against the edge of the slab, he demanded—

    "Second-hand?"

    "Second-hand!" and Wilky punctuated each syllable with a defiant nod.  "Secon'-hand preaching, secon'-hand sermons, secon'-hand services, an' secon'-hand revivals! "

    The momentary perplexity vanished from the painter's face, he pushed his open fingers through his hair, blinked his grey eyes, and answered in the pulpit phraseology he never dropped except under great excitement.

    "Thou speakest as one of the foolish—a—a—men.  Thou looks at the world through the smoked glass o' thy own worldly callin'.  Thou'rt for the new, the cheap, the flimsy, bogus new.  Thou'rt bitten wi' the vice o' the age, brother!  No man having drunk old wine straightway desireth new, for he says the old is better."

    "Old!  Ay!  Oldey an' mouldy!" and with eyes that glistened at his own unexpectedly brilliant alliteration Wilky continued: "New times, new men.  New men, new methods!  New methods, new Methodism, that's my motty!  We nivver gets a new toot out of an old horn;" and gripping the stem of his pipe with his forefinger, he glared defiantly at Sampson and all the world besides.

    "Wilky!" replied the painter, rubbing his hands on his apron and approaching the stove.  "Thou rushes like the unthinkin' horse into battle!  All the great things is old.  The cheap things nivver gets old.  Where's the old power?  Where's the old times of refreshen'?  Where's the sons of thunder now?"

    "What about the super. then?  He's old enough, surely to goodness! leastways his sermons is, they smell o' Wesley's saddlebags—regler green, mouldy second-handers."

    "Speak not evil of dignitaries, brother!  Honour them that's over us in the Lord.  Isn't he a managing man?  Doesn't he abide by the stuff?  He's a horganizer, he is!  What we want i' these times is horganization."

    But Wilky could listen no longer to "Bosh" like this; thrusting out his chest and jerking the words forth like bullets from a pistol, he cried—

    "That's it!  That's it!  We axes bread an' you gives us a stone!  We wants power an' you gives us machinery!  We call's for life an' you gives us a corp!  Can you organise life into a corp?  Can you horganize the Sperit?  We shall hear as Pentecost was horganized next."

    "Methodism declines, sir, because the Newtons an' Punshons is gone," cried Sampson, now thoroughly roused.  "There are no men to lift up axes on the big trees; there are no giants in the land in these days!  What we want is more Boanergeses an' not misnancified striplings wi' little sermonettes!  Our fathers, where are they?  An' the prophets, do they live for ever?"

    "Ay, an' if young men would do, we canna get 'em," chimed in a strange voice; and as the debaters turned they were joined by old Zeph Wood with a newspaper in his hand.  "Summit's wrong, somewhere.  We want young men an' they don't come forrad.  Listen to what t' Times says."

    "T' Times," snorted Sampson, throwing back his head in contempt, for the mention of that publication was like shaking a red rag at a bull.  As there was not much light, and Zeph's eyes were not as good as they had been, he stepped to the door and commenced reading a paragraph which expressed a fear that the supply of candidates at the approaching March quarterly meetings would not be equal to the needs of the Church, and calling upon young men of talent and education to resist the temptations of mercantile success and consecrate themselves to the service of their fellows.

    "Just so; just so!" said Sampson reluctantly, for this once only acknowledging the wisdom of what he had heard.  "T' old preachers is dyin' off an' t' young uns can't do nothin', an'—an' we can't get 'em if they could."

    "T' chat!" rapped out Wilky, overlooking the inconsistency of Sampson's remark.  "We've brains enough i' Methodism to manage a—a—t' universe!  They can have five hundred candidates if they'll open their mouths."

    "Ay! we could find 'em one or two i' this circuit if they were fast," and old Zeph nodded significantly at Wilky, but avoided the eye of the painter.

    "This circuit! why we haven't even a decent local-a-a a—'mong t' young uns," he added, as a cover for himself and Wilky.

    "Hav'n't we?  We 'ave that.  We've one or two as 'ud make rippin' ministers," spurted out the broker.

    Sampson looked very doubtful whether "rippin'" was a proper term to apply to the cloth, but his curiosity was stronger than his taste, and so he asked cautiously, "Well, who are they?"

    And Zeph with a glance at the diminutive furniture dealer for support, turned his face to the painter and said boldly, "Well, your Johnny for one."

    To say that Ledger was taken aback by this suggestion is an utterly inadequate way of describing his appearance.  He gasped, opened his mouth, threw back his hair, and then after a long stare at Zeph, shook his head; but all these signs did not conceal from his friends the look of eager pride that rose into his eyes and puckered his face into a sort of painful smile.

    "Whist! brethren, whist!  Don't trifle with a subject like this!  Our John's a good lad, but that—why it would be rank presumption."  All the same he glanced inquiringly at Wilky to see how he was taking the idea.

    John had none of the ready volubility and demonstrativeness of his father, and was made in an altogether different mould, and Wilky had declared again and again in that shop that he would never be the man his father had been.

    "No, friends," Sampson went on.  "He's my own lad, an' as good as goold, but he hasn't the gifts, though I say it myself—he hasn't the proper gifts."

    But this was the opportunity for which the contradictious little broker had been waiting.

    "No," he jerked out, "he hasn't the gifts, as you call 'em, an' thank the Lord he hasn't."

    Both his companions turned upon him with astonishment, and rising to his feet and glaring at them defiantly whilst he drew himself up to the utmost of his four feet something he repeated—

    "Thank God, I say, he hasn't!  We don't want the windy washy blethering tub-thumping of the 'good old times.'  We want hideas, we want thoughts, we want arguments an' brains, that's what we want, an' that lad shall be brought forrad at t' Quarterly meeting or I'll know the reason why."

    As both the friends looked the little man over curiously, he hitched himself up upon the stump seat and began dangling his little legs against the sides.

    "I suppose it rests wi' the super., after all?" said Zeph, feeling his way to something definite.

    "The super. must move first, an' we must move the super.," cried Wilky oracularly, and then dropping suddenly into a loud whisper he added, "an' by George here he comes!"

    The painter's shop was an institution in Bramwell; the new ministers as they arrived began by suspecting and disliking it, then they came to tolerate and fear it, and generally ended by accepting and making the best of it.  It was a sort of left wrist of the body ecclesiastical, where the pulse of the circuit might be felt.  It was also the best place to procure or at least to hear of supplies for vacant pulpits, and its proximity to the cattle market made it a convenient place for the leaving of parcels of circuit plans, magazines, and messages for country officials.  Superintendents, therefore, made use of it somewhat frequently, and all the more willingly, perhaps, because they could always pick up there the latest circuit gossip and the first mutterings of ecclesiastical thunderstorms, with the comfortable knowledge that the trouble, when it did come, would certainly not be worse than it had been represented at the paint shop.

    "Morning, brethren!  Still cold, isn't it?" and the super., a florid, well-groomed man of fifty-five or so, strolled into the shop and made his way towards the stove.  Wilky immediately slipped down from the stump and retreated to the bench, whilst the painter carefully dusted the top of the seat and obsequiously invited the super to accept the stool of honour.  Mr. Haley protested against dethroning Wilky, but as everybody insisted that he must occupy it, he sat down, and leaning his arms on the top of his stick turned his face towards the door as everybody else did, so that they could sit and talk and still watch the street and the passers-by going to the station.

    "Well, Methodism's comin' to somethin' now, Mestur Super.," said Zeph, who seemed strangely interested for him in the question of the supply of the ministry.

    The super. knew his men too well to be easily drawn, and so he enquired in his easiest manner-

    "Why, what is the matter now, Mr. Wood?"

    Zeph, who had dropped upon the bench alongside Wilky, gave his companion a sly nudge to invite his assistance, but the little broker was thinking hard, and earnestly watching the minister, and so did not feel the jog.

    "Hav'n't you seen that piece in the Times?  It seems we cannot get no ministers."

    The super. laughed.

    "Ho! ho! that's a new idea!  I think I've heard brother Drax say we have too many already 'of the sort.' "

    As both his friends knew that this was one of Wilky's favourite positions, but that it would not exactly fit in with their present designs, they looked to see how he was taking the home-thrust; but he simply stared steadily before him, blinked his eyes rapidly and puffed away stolidly at his pipe, which had long since gone out.

    "Still if there is a scarcity, sir," began Zeph—

    "Tut! tut! no such thing.  We want quality, not quantity, eh, brother Drax?"

    Wilky puffed away at the useless pipe more stolidly than ever.

    "It's a great while sin' we sent onybody out fro' this circuit," said the painter in a cautious, tentative way.

    "They canna' send thersel's out—they've to be brought out," said Zeph, who had, evidently, difficulty in restraining himself.

    "Steady, brethren!  Don't let that paper alarm you  There's nothing worse than getting up a scare and dragging in all and sundry; we've suffered from that before."

    Wilky's tight mouth emitted an indescribable sort of snort, and Zeph looked apprehensively round at him, fearing he was going to say something personal to the dignitary present, and the painter turned and stared glumly through the dirty window.

    "There were one went out o' this circuit every year as Mr. Pyewell were super.—but that's a deal o' years sin' now," persisted Zeph.

    "But you can't bring them out if you hav'n't got them, brother Wood; we cannot make preachers, you know," replied the super., who began to suspect there was something behind old Zeph's most unusual persistence.

    "No! an' when God makes 'em and sticks 'em under our stupid noses we cannot see 'em," and having shot out, bullet-like, this unexpected fling, Wilky threw one of his diminutive legs on the bench and lolled back with the air of a man who has, at last, said his say.

    The super. began to rise from his stump seat; these men were evidently after something, but he was not going to be dragged into a ridiculous position just to please them, and so he thought of beating a retreat.

    "Well," he laughed, conciliatorily, "if some of you brethren had been younger something might have been done, but—"

    "Instead of the fathers shall come up the children," rapped out Wilky sententiously, and the super., who was already on the move, turned round in puzzled surprise and looked from one to the other of the companions.

    "The children!  But none—ah! oh! do you mean young John Ledger?"

    Nobody answered, and the minister, to whom the idea thus unexpectedly presented appeared perfectly absurd, moved a little nearer the door.  It was the last thing he would ever have thought of, but whether to get away before he was cornered or say something that would nip the notion in the bud at once he could not quite decide.

    "The standard is so very much higher than it used to be, you see, and it rises every year," he said dubiously at last.

    "What standard?" demanded Wilky with a snap.

    "The standard of education and general culture, you know."

    Wilky was evidently expecting this answer and waiting for it.  Everybody anticipated an explosion, but to their surprise he seemed to change his mind all at once, and staring hard at a pile of wall papers on the other side of the shop he said, in slow musing tones—

    "Ay! t' Almighty makes some terrible blunders sometimes."

    Every man present uttered a shocked ejaculation, but Wilky had evidently not finished.  Giving himself a little twist, as though to assist the processes of thought, he went on in mock apologetics—

    "But I reacon He isn't heddicated neither."

    They were all used to extravagant things from Wilky, but this seemed to border on the blasphemous, and the super. was just about to rebuke him when he went on in the same pitying apologetic tones—

    "You see he hadn't Conference to keep him right i' them times."

    "Drax! whatever are you driving at?  What times?"

    "T' Bible times.  You see, we have no account o' t' prophet Elisha's examination marks, an' we don't know as t' apostles even preached trial sermons."

    The minister laughed, with a curious mixture of amusement and irritation.

    "Well! well! but you see we must have educated men, when all's said and done."

    "Sartainly! an' t' Almighty were wrong when he called Elisha, the ploughman, and Peter, the fisherman, and Bunyan, the tinker, and Peter Mackenzie, the collier.  Why didn't he consult t' Conference?"

    The super. began to feel that he was demeaning himself by arguing with men holding ideas like these, and he threw up his head and started to leave.

    But just before he reached the door the painter, who was still staring hard through the window, asked without turning his head—

    "What's t' Hinstitutions for, Mr. Super.?"

    "Yes! oh yes!" cried the super., turning round again a little irritably, "We can give them education if they have got decided gifts.  Has young John got gifts, that's the question, and does he feel called to the work?" and he glanced enquiringly towards the painter.

    Sampson waved his hand grandiloquently.

    "Respecting gifts, I'm his father, he is of age; ask him, he shall speak for himself."

    Mr. Haley stood in the doorway meditating.

    "Well," he said at length, "I certainly never thought of such a thing myself, but I'll think about it and make a few enquiries and see, and in the meantime let nobody say a word to the young fellow himself," and with a cautionary nod and a curt "Good morning," he disappeared.

    Before he had got many yards away from the shop Zeph rushed at the painter, and smiting him heavily on the back he cried—

    "It's done, lad! it's done!  Yond fellow always puts the worst side out."

    But Sampson was now on his dignity; the idea they had been discussing had never entered his head, but it was already realized to his sanguine mind, and imparted to his manner some of the dignity which he imagined became the father of a minister.  Then another idea possessed him; parents who had sons in the ministry were always supposed to have made some great sacrifice in giving up their beloved ones to the service of the Church, and so, whilst his companions were discussing the situation, he was conjuring up suitable emotions, and when Zeph turned round to congratulate him he was met with a look of martyr-like resignation, and Sampson, with a doleful face, shook his head, and heaving a prodigious sigh groaned out—

    "It'll be an awful wrench."

    Wilky gave a snort of disgust, whilst Zeph demanded in amazement—

    "What 'ull be a wrench?"

    Sampson shook his head again, gave his long nose a hasty upward wipe, drew in his lips with sorrowful but relentless resolution, and then, disregarding the question just asked, he snivelled—

    "But I'll take up my cross!  I'll take up my cross!  Lord help me!"

    And Wilky, the uncompromising hater of all humbug, stuck one of his little legs upon the stove and snarled out contemptuously—

    "Ay! take it hup, lad; it 'ull be a change for thee, anyway."


 
CHAPTER IV.

IN WHICH THE SUPERINTENDENT SURPRISES AND
IS SURPRISED.


THE Reverend William Haley was a strong man, and not the least likely to be unduly influenced by the things he had seen and heard at the paint shop.  He held strong views, also, on the absolute necessity of an educated ministry.  But he was a Methodist, and shared to the full the democratic belief that God was as likely to call a plough-boy to the ministry as a University graduate.  He knew, also, that some of the strongest men in the brotherhood were of the lowliest origin.  But he held, also, that obscure youths must give evidence of the possession of unusual gifts, and that if they had such endowments they would evidence them by surmounting, by some means or other, mere educational difficulties.  But young John Ledger had not attracted his attention in any way whatever, and he could not remember to have heard a single thing about him indicative of special talent.  There was no man on the plan, in fact, of whom he had heard less, and the only things he could recall at all were remarks made by country hearers that John was not the least bit like his father; and as the older man was notoriously popular, and the remarks were somewhat regretfully made, he was forced to the conclusion that John was a very ordinary young fellow.  Well, he was not going to be forced into bringing forward an unsuitable candidate, either by impetuous "locals" like the little broker, or anybody else; but as it was Monday morning, which he generally spent in working off little odds and ends of business, he would see what other people thought about the suggestion and act accordingly.  Bulwood, the senior steward, "did not even know the young fellow by sight," and Raskelf, the ex-steward and a Conference man, said "John was a pious, well-meaning young fellow, who had got further than he ever expected him to do when he was promoted to 'full plan.'"  Then the super. remembered that John had never preached at the circuit chapel, and that, therefore, it was unfair to him to consult those who had never heard him.  Consequently, he next applied to Parbold, the saddler, a strong, sensible local preacher, who, by reason of his business connections with the Methodists of the country places, and his keen interest in young men, would be able to tell him all he wanted to know.

    Parbold had great respect for John, but he could say nothing very encouraging about his preaching.  It wanted more of his father's "go" and sparkle.  For the first time during these enquiries, the super. ventured to hint at his reason for making them, and Parbold shook his head very decidedly, and said that he should very much like to see a young man "go out" from the Bramwell circuit, but mentioned the names of two or three others, who were, in his judgment, more likely than John.  The super. was inclined to regard this as decisive, but just as he was crossing the market-place on his way back to the paint shop, he ran across his colleague, who was in his third year, and therefore knew more of such matters than he could possibly do himself, as he was only about half-way through his first year.  The Rev. T. Burcliffe was warm in John's praises, and described him as a studious, painstaking young fellow, who made up for the lack of showy gifts by assiduous application; but when the object of the super's enquiries was named to him, he hesitated, and ventured the opinion that such a thing had never entered the Minder's head.  Well, then, if John had never thought of it, and the people who would have to vote on the subject had never thought of it, what was the use of the super. bothering his head about the notions of such irresponsible and scatterbrain fellows as the frequenters of the paint shop.  Besides, he was in his first year, and did not know enough to justify his undertaking so serious a task as that of piloting a candidate through the examinations and tests required.  Of course, he could get John to preach for him some week-night in the circuit chapel; but why should he give himself the trouble about so very dubious a case?  No! he would not absolutely shelve the question, but he could at any rate defer it for a year.

    But that same afternoon, whilst doing a little pastoral work, he received two spontaneous testimonies about a sermon young Ledger had preached recently at the mission-room, both accounts being given in a manner which showed that the speakers had no idea whatever of the suggestions which had, that morning, been made to him.  He was the last man in the world to be superstitious about coincidences, but certainly he thought this a little remarkable; and when, after the Monday night prayer meeting, Nash, the fishmonger, as they walked home together, unconsciously revealed to the minister the genesis of the whole project, he was more impressed than ever.  It appeared that the week previous, Nash, old Zeph Wood, and two or three others, had been conversing together at Nash's stall in the market, when some one alluded to the very sermon the minister had heard of twice before that day; and old Job White, a shrewd but cautious and fastidious sermon critic, had predicted that John Ledger would go into the ministry, "where his father ought to have been before him."

    This, then, was the origin of the whole thing, and old Zeph Wood had evidently taken it up and introduced it at the paint shop.  The super. was perplexed.  Coming from such sources the suggestion certainly need not be taken too seriously, and he still saw no reason for proceeding further at present.  But, on the other hand, he did not want to stand in any man's way, neither did he care unnecessarily to provoke the opposition of the paint shop, of whose fighting qualities he had heard so much.  Then another idea occurred to him; he would send for John himself, and sound him, and if what his colleague had said was true, he would either stop the thing himself or give some more substantial reason for proceeding.  He was a cautious man, and so dallied until Thursday before he made up his mind, but on that day he sent a note to Shed Lane, asking John to call upon him on the following evening.

    Meanwhile, in blissful unconsciousness of what was preparing for him, John was prosecuting his courtship with delightful success.  Sallie, with a charming air of spoilt-childishness allowable always in invalids, had quietly taken possession of him, and assumed towards him the rights of a fiancé, and the bewitched minder, regarding this as a gentle womanly consideration for his shyness, added intense gratitude to all his other emotions, and was in the seventh heaven of lover-like bliss.

    But it was time he told his mother about it.  He and she had no secrets from each other, and though it was not deemed strictly necessary for people in their position of life to observe the formalities required in other circles, he wanted to talk to somebody about his happiness, and he knew perfectly well that his mother would be suspecting something, and would be wondering why he did not speak.  He got back from the farm a little earlier than usual on Thursday night, and found his father still out, and the rest in bed.  Now was his opportunity.

    Mrs. Ledger was one of those meek, silent women, to whom words seemed fearful things, to be used sparingly, and so whilst John absently consumed his supper, she moved softly about the house preparing the breakfast he would take with him to the mill next morning.

    "Sallie's a lot better, mother; she'll be out by the week-end."

    Mrs. Ledger was seeking something in the little side-cupboard near the window, and seemed to have difficulty in finding it; but John, if he could have seen the quiet face, would have been alarmed at the cloud which suddenly spread over it.  She did not speak, however, and John, occupied with his own happy thoughts, and looking smilingly sideways into the fire, went on with a glad little laugh

    "Hey!  I thought she would have been hard to catch, but she wasn't."

    Mother had found what she wanted in the cupboard, and, returning to the table, commenced sprinkling salt upon the little cold meat sandwich she was preparing.  In anybody else the silence would have been noticeable, but John was used to her speechless ways.

    "I've thought of her for a long time, but I couldn't pluck up.  I can hardly believe it yet; it is so sudden."

    He glanced up at her face as he said this, but she turned her head away; and just when he had concluded that she was not going to reply, she bowed her head over the little bundle of victuals, and said in low tones

    "Ay, lad, too suddin."

    "Mother!"

    "An' too easy, too."

    "Mother!"

    He was looking at her with amazed and distressful looks.  He had always been so sure of her, and as he stared she put out her hand as though warding off some attack, and went on protestingly—

    "I dunna' like it!  I canna' help it, John, but I dunna' like it!"

    "Why, mother, I thought you liked Sallie!  You never said anything!"

    But she only dropped into her own iron-rockered chair with a weary, perplexed shake of the head.  "I dunna' like it!"

    "But I've thought about her a long time.  Couldn't you see that?"

    "Ay, an' so could she."

    John sprang to his feet in utter distraction.

    "But, mother!  I couldn't ask her till I'd got my wheels!"

    And the agitated woman looked long and dreely into the fire, and then, turning her eyes full upon him so that he was compelled to meet them, she asked—

    "Did you ask her, lad?"

    "Yes, mother!  That is—I mean—I did what was the same thing.  But whatever does all this mean?  What's got into your head, mother?"

    But the slow-speaking woman had resumed her musing contemplation of the fire, and presently she gave herself a sudden shake and rose to her feet.

    "God forgi' me!" she cried.  "I believe I'm jealous o' t' lass.  Heaven bless you both, lad!" and then her eyes filled with tears.  "I'se be number two now, I reacon!"  And as John was opening his mouth to protest, a light broke through the tears, and she went on in tremulous tones—"But I'd rather be number two wi thee than number one wi' anybody else."

    It was perfectly clear to John that this sudden turn of topic was intended to be a shelving of the matter for the present, and though it did not in the least accord with his own views, he knew it was no use trying just now to get anything further out of his mother; however tantalising to himself and unjust to Sallie, he must wait.  He hastened to bed, therefore, and spent weary hours in trying to fathom the mystery of her opposition.  That it was not mere jealousy he knew well enough; but what there was lying behind his mother's words he could not for the life of him divine.  It occupied his thoughts all next day, and was only temporarily displaced by curiosity when, on his return home in the evening, his mother handed to him the super.'s note.  It was a brief request that he would call some time that evening at the Manse, and his first surmise was that it meant a request to take somebody else's appointment on the approaching Sabbath.  A few minutes before eight, washed, and dressed in his Sunday best—for a visit to the Manse was a ceremonious occasion—he presented himself at the minister's residence, and was ushered into the study.

    "Oh! come in, Mr. John.  Glad to see you!"

    "You want to see me, sir."

    "Yes!  I want to have a bit of talk to you.  Sit down, and draw near the fire."  And the minister fell upon an obdurate piece of coal in the grate, and having satisfactorily demolished it, still retained the poker in his hand, and twirling it rapidly round, he asked—"How do you get on with your preaching, Mr. John?"

    John's heart sank.  The super. had heard complaints, and was going to lecture him.

    "Not very well, sir, I'm afraid."

    The super., still toying with the little poker, eyed him over hesitantly; the youth was either very modest or very sly.

    "Do you enjoy preaching?  Now, don't be afraid.  I've a reason for asking."

    "Reason enough," thought John.  Well, if he was going to be invited to give up preaching, it would, on the whole, be a relief.

    "I can't say that I do, sir—not yet," and he seemed to sink back further and further into the armchair on which he sat so stiffly as though he would like to have disappeared altogether.

    The super. eyed him over sideway, and could not help thinking what sallow weedy youths these factory lads were.

    "H'm.  Ah—what educational advantages have you had?  Only the Board school, I suppose?"

    "That's all, sir, and a few evening classes."  And John felt rather glad to have this chance of saying so.  It would be some sort of excuse for his poor preaching.

    "Evening classes?  What subjects did you take?"

    "Mechanical and technical."

    "Oh! to help you in your work, I suppose?"

    "Yes, sir."

    Mr. Haley was puzzled.  This young fellow was ingenuosity itself; there seemed no presumptuous ambition here.  But John was thinking too.  The super. evidently had something unpleasant to say, but was too kind-hearted to say it.  Well, he would help him, and get it over at once.

    "I'm sorry I don't do better in preaching, sir; but I'll give it up willingly if you think it would be better."

    The super. knit his brow and looked at John as though he would have read his soul.  Was this fellow what he seemed, or was he only an unusually sly dog.  The scowling gaze embarrassed John, and he moved his eyes about nervously.  Oh, why didn't he get it over?

    "Then you really don't enjoy preaching?"

    "No, sir, I don't; and a—a—I think I'd better give in my plan at once," and the disheartened fellow began fumbling in his pocket.

    "Wait a moment.  Have you ever thought of becoming a candidate for the ministry?"  And as he asked the question the minister shot at his visitor a keen glance, and put the poker carefully in its place.

    The glance told him all he wanted to know.  Yes, he had hit the bull's eye at last, and surprised his secret out of him.  John's eyes, which had for the moment opened with amazement, all at once became dim.  He felt that his sallow face was burning, and all at once he fell forward, and burying his face in his hands, uttered a smothered sob.

    The super. pulled himself together.  Yes, he had this ambitious lad's deepest secret—that tell-tale look was eloquent of much.  Well, he must put him right and make him understand what this wild dream of his meant.

    "Well, John! you don't answer me?"

    There was a momentary silence, and then the young local preacher rose to his feet, his face white and stern, his lips quivering, and his eyes blazing.

    "There's my plan," he cried, in choking tones; "and the next time you want a young fellow to resign, please remember that even factory lads have feelings, and do your work less cruelly."

    "Cruel, sir?"

    "Yes, cruel! cruel in anybody.  But doubly cruel in you—God forgive me for speaking to my minister like this."

    The super. was dumbfounded.

    "John, whatever have you got in your head?  What do you mean?"

    "I mean this, sir.  You seem to think that because I'm poor and ignorant I'm not capable of the desire to do Christ's work for Christ's sake, but must of necessity be casting my eyes on the holy office you hold.  It's cruel, sir! it's unchristian!"

    The minister stepped over the hearthrug and drew John back into his chair.

    "My dear fellow," he said, huskily, "sit down.  I'm afraid we have been talking at cross purposes.  Now, the fact is, I've heard some excellent things lately about your preaching, and the other day it was suggested to me that you might make a minister, and I've sent for you here to-night to talk about it."

    John listened to his pastor with suspicious, incredulous eyes.

    "Then you hav'n't any fault to find with me, sir?"

    "Fault? not at all!  Who put that notion into your head?  Look here"—and the minister felt that he was making a plunge now, but had grown a little reckless from what he had seen and heard—"if you feel inclined to offer yourself for the ministry, I'll bring you forward."

    "Oh, sir!" and John showed such signs of returning distress that the minister hastened to pacify him.

    "Well, well, you are taken unawares!  Go home and think about it, and come and see me again."

    "Sir!" cried John, vehemently.  "As God is my witness, I have never thought of such a thing.  It's preposterous!  I'm a factory lad, sir."

    The minister paused and reflected.

    "Well, but, now that it has been suggested to you, the call of the—"

    "Don't, sir!  Don't!  I cannot!  I will not hear of it.  It would be sinful presumption; it would be the sin of Korah."

    "Oh, take a little time"—the minister was amazed to find himself actually pressing this factory lad, but he was not quite responsible for himself just then—"Take a little time, and see me again."

    John rose to his feet, and modestly put out his hand.

    "No, sir! it was hard to believe you at first, and it gets harder as I think of it.  I'll try and do my duty in the position in which God has placed me, but I hope neither you nor anyone else will ever mock me by suggesting it again."

    These were daring, almost rude, words, but when his visitor had gone, the super. still stood on the hearthrug, musing on the strange interview which had just closed.

    "But I shall think of it, my young friend, and watch you too, and if your head turns out to be as good as your heart, it shall go hard with William Haley if he does not make a minister of you after all."

    And next day every Methodist almost in Bramwell heard the amazing intelligence that John Ledger, the factory lad, had had a chance of going into the ministry, and had refused.


 
CHAPTER V.

JOHN FINDS THERE ARE MORE WAYS OF LOOKING
AT A THING THAN ONE.


WHEN John left the minister's house that night he was still smarting under a sense of humiliation; the super's words had touched him upon one of his tenderest points.  Lancashire people have an idiosyncrasy which seems to a stranger a contradiction.  They are free-spoken, self-reliant, and independent in the extreme, and insist tenaciously that "Jack is as good as his master," and yet amongst themselves they have an intense, almost morbid, horror of anything approaching to pretentiousness, any attempt to appear other than they are being keenly resented upon the offenders.  And John was thoroughly Lancashire, and took a pride in knowing his place and keeping it.  He had listened again and again to conversations between young fellow-preachers, and had detected their ill-concealed aspirations to the ministerial office with surprise and contempt; and here the very first time he gets a peep into the mind of his ecclesiastical chief, he makes the humiliating discovery that he is supposed to entertain these ignorant and vulgar ambitions himself.  Of course he was greatly exaggerating the thing; he was morbidly sensitive, and possessed quite his share of that poor person's pride which is as real and unreasonable as the kind he so fiercely hated in others.

    He paused when he got a few yards from the Manse, and looked absently up at the murky, moonless sky.  The minister's proposal had been seriously made, that was clear, but that only meant that people had been talking, and had in their minds credited him with the wicked ambition he so much despised.  Oh! why couldn't people let him alone!  If he had done anything remarkable, or had made any uncommon impression as a preacher, there might have been some justification for the proposal, but to make it to him, the feeblest of the feeble, was only to show how ingrained was the belief that all his work had been done from more or less ulterior motives.  Thinking thus, he began to move homewards, and as he did so, he recalled the minister's encouraging reports of his preaching, and whilst it made him resolve to work harder than ever, it galled him to think how he was being misunderstood.  The fact was he had suffered so long from overwork and insufficient food and premature earthly anxieties that he had little of the buoyancy of his age, and was most painfully prone to pensive and self-depreciatory views of thing.  It was too late by this time to think of visiting Sallie that night, but the thought of her brought comfort to his mind; she at any rate would understand him, and so he turned in home and got to bed.  Next day, as he mused over the transactions of the previous evening, he saw more and more reason to justify the course he had taken, and came as near to self-complacency as he ever allowed himself to get.  Alas! poor fellow, he had little idea of what was in store for him.

    As he sat over his dinner, and was just about to tell his mother of his interview with the super., he caught sight of his father, with long hair, coat-tails, and whiskers, all flying behind, darting past the window, and a moment later the painter burst into the house, and standing with his hand on the door, he cried, "Thou mun come, lad!  Pickles will be here at five o'clock for yond window-sashes.  Come an' help me to glaze 'em!" and without waiting for any reply, he banged the door and was off again.

    John sighed, and glanced at his mother, whose face wore an apologetic deprecating expression.  It was a very common thing for this erratic inconsiderate parent of his to do, and John had grown accustomed to having his one weekly half-holiday thus filched away from him, but to-day he was unusually disappointed, for he had been hoping to spend the whole time with Sallie.  He ate on, however, in silence, glancing every now and then at his mother, whose manner seemed extremely restrained, even for her.  She had evidently not forgotten their conversation of the night before, and it struck John that with her well-known pride in her only son she would be glad to hear what the minister had suggested.

    "Do you know what the minister wanted me for last night, mother?"

    And to his surprise her face fell, the light faded out of her eyes, and looking unsteadily out of the window, she uttered a single muffled monosyllable, "Ay!"

    John had sudden misgivings, but choking them back, and trying to speak as easily as he could, he went on—

    "Did you ever hear of such a thing!"

    Mrs. Ledger dropped heavily into a chair on the other side of the table, and picking up her apron began to pull nervously at the edges, but not a word did she speak.

    "It's a bit encouraging after all, isn't it?"

    And then the troubled mother dropped her elbow on the table, and shading her eyes with her hand, faltered out—

    "It's broken my life-long dream."

    "Mother!"

    "I've telled the Lord for twenty year He could put what He liked on me, if nobbut—if nobbut —"

    "If only what, mother?"

    "If nobbut I could see my lad a minister."

    John had been his mother's chief confidant as long as he could remember anything, but though she had always eagerly encouraged all his inclination towards religion, and broken the silence of a lifetime by crying out in tearful ecstasy when he went to the penitent form, she had never given him the slightest idea of the thought she had just expressed.  It was highly characteristic, however, and he understood that she would have regarded any hints of hers as interferences with the Divine will.  All the same the discovery greatly distressed him, and all the more so as he realised how small hope there was of it ever being fulfilled.  There was a painful pause whilst he struggled with these thoughts, and then he cried in blank dismay—

    "But, mother! I'm ignorant, and unqualified, and—and—and we're poor!"

    "That's it! that's it!" she cried, setting her teeth and clenching her hands in a passion of resentful grief. "T' ministers talks about poverty being a refiner.  Oh, if they'd had it stoppin' their way an' spoilin' their plans an' freezin' their love and wreckin' their lives as I have, they wouldn't talk like that!"

    John listened with something approaching to horror to this distressing outburst.  He was burning with desire to comfort; the words would not come, and so he slipped his hand across the table and began to timidly stroke the back of his mother's.  She seemed to feel it, and a sort of shiver went through her frame, and suddenly snatching at the hand that touched hers she leaned forward, and with hot pain-drawn face, she asked—

    "Thou said 'No,' because thou knew we couldn't do without thy wages?"

    "No! mother.  No! it was because I knew I wasn't fit.  I hav'n't the gifts, you know."

    Mother lifted her head with an irritated, impatient gesture, evidently resenting this constant harping on his lack of qualifications.  She did not speak, however, but hung down her head, and sat looking sorrowfully at her apron.  Then she rocked herself gently, and clearing her throat with an effort, she moaned—

    "I was feared as when t' time came I shouldn't be counted worthy—Well! His will be done."

    And John, with a bursting sob, jumped up and put his arms around her, and stroked her face and crooned over her, and poured into her ears words such as impassioned swain never uttered to fair woman, and she leaned her head against the back of her chair, and sighed, and smiled, and then shyly kissed his oily hand, and when on sudden remembrance of his father's summons he hastened away, she still sat musing and softly crying, and at last she murmured—

    "Forgive me, Lord.  There's nowt i' all heaven Thou could gi' me after Thou'd gi'en me him—a—a—nobbut Thyself."

    It took John all his time to recover his composure on his way to the paint shop, and his effort was not made easier when on his arrival he discovered that the summons had been more or less of a pretence; for the work was already nearly finished, and he guessed at once that he had been called in order to be "carpeted" by the authorities about his refusal to become a candidate for the ministry.  He spoke to his father on entering, but was received with portentous silence, the painter, with a painfully elongated face, looking at him fixedly for a moment, and then turning to his work again with a dismal groan.

    Sam Kepple sat upon the side bench, unable to conceal how deeply the prospect opening before his rival was affecting him.  If John entered the ministry he would, in Sam's view, cease to be a competitor for Sallie's hand.

    Wilky had relinquished his usual long clay for a short briar, and as it was Saturday afternoon, he hovered about the doorway, keeping a reluctant eye upon the sundry articles of furniture displayed on the pavement outside his place of business.

    Sampson sighed again, and gave his long queer head a melancholy shake, and Wilky emitted a scornful snort and waddled to the door.

    John had already possessed himself of putty and a pane of glass, and had stooped down upon his toes whilst he inserted the glass, when his father groaned again, and muttered, as he ruefully shook his head, "I have nourished and brought up children"—but apparently his feelings were too deep for words, so he left the quotation unfinished, and merely wagged his head in weary despair.

    Wilky was evidently swelling with suppressed indignation.

     "Thou nourished! thou brought up!" he rapped out, and then he broke off with a smothered exclamation of impatience, and hastening to the kerbstone, he shouted across the street to a man examining a second-hand perambulator of antique but sturdy make, "Six shillin', worth more nor that for old iron."  And then he wheeled round, and standing sideways in the doorway, prepared to keep up a double-barrelled conversation, one in shouts across the street, and the other in rasping snarls in the shop.

    The little broker's ideas of business were somewhat peculiar.  He was so uncompromisingly honest that townspeople would gladly have done more business with him than they did, but as the cardinal principle guiding his professional conduct was that business was an advanced form of philanthropy conducted by himself and his fellow-tradesmen for the public good, and out of pity for the ignorance and helplessness of the average purchaser, he thought he had gone far enough in the way of concession when he had provided articles they might need, and not only saw no necessity for those little courtesies commonly practised by the seller towards the buyer, but regarded them as weak and cowardly panderings to depraved tastes, and certain indications of ultimate fraudulent intentions.

    The painter was thrusting putty into a square, groaning and shaking his head in a manner that excited most savage feelings in the mind of Wilky, who was watching him resentfully.  Presently Sampson drew down the corners of his mouth, gave a twist and a sniff to his nose, and glancing sorrowfully over John's head, he remarked solemnly—

    "And Jonah fled to Tarshish."

    "Tarshish!" Wilky fired off.  "Ay, an' it's a pity we hev no Tarshish now.  I'd pay t' passage o' some o' t' modern prophets if we could nobbut get rid on 'em.  First-class cabin fa―" and then he broke off, and rushing to the kerbstone, he bawled out, "Ay, American cloth! common American cloth! an' flocks!  Thou ought to hev live horse-hair an' Rooshian Morocco for six shillin', oughtn't thou?"

    Wilky's over-candid depreciation of the goods he had for sale was in strict harmony with his whole plan of business operations, and people took it as they usually took the ordinary tradesman's special recommendations.

    The customer turned round, therefore, and began to re-examine the vehicle, whilst Wilky, with a grunt of disgust, strolled back into the paint shop.

    Sampson, who during the interruption had removed the window-sash upon which he was engaged, now commenced upon the one John had in hand.  He groaned again and again whilst the broker was busy, but when he came back into the doorway he looked sheepishly round, and then, with a sigh of awful significance, he murmured something about those who, "having put their hands to the plough, looked back."

    "Best thing as they could do," roared Wilky, "if they are not ploughmen, but only tinkers an' tailors an'—an'—Mollycots.  Some on 'em neither looks back'ard nor forrad, bud maks furrows all in and out like a dog's hind leg.  Every man to his tra—" but here he broke off again, and made another rush to the kerb.  "Five shillin'!" he shouted.  "No! nor five-and-six, nor five and 'levenpence halfpenny!  Six shillin'!  Hess, hi, hex—six, and bring t' brass here."

    There was a little counter which stood lengthways out from the window, and when Wilky had finished with the customer, and had returned, he found Sampson waiting for him behind the counter.

    "Wilkinson," he demanded solemnly, as he pointed a paintless dust-brush at the defiant broker, "wot did t' apostle say about young Mark when he turned back?"

    "T' apostle?" and Wilky looked a little blank for a moment, for he was very fond of flinging St. Paul at his opponents, and was now about to be hoist with his own petard.  But suddenly a flash of recollection lighted his face, and drawing down his thick eyebrows scowlingly, he demanded, "Which apostle?"

    "Which apostle?" cried Sampson, stepping back and surveying his friend with reproachful sorrow at his evidently wilful ignorance and evasion.  "Why the apostle—the great apostle of the Gentiles."

    This was what Wilky was waiting for.

    "An' this is t' sort o' man as stan's up i' pulpits!  This is him as sets up as a hinstructor of the public!" he cried, apostrophising space, and then, pulling up suddenly with a plunge against the counter, he cried, "Has thou nivver heard of a man called Barnabus?"

    "Barnabus!  What by him?" asked Sampson, with an uneasy sense that there was something he ought to have remembered and didn't.

    "Here's hignorance!  Here's blockheaded hig-norance!" and Wilky stepped back, and flourishing his left arm oratorically, "This Barnabus was an apostle an' he backed Mark up an' trotted him out an' made a man on him.  That's wot Barnabus did."

    But John had by this time finished his glazing, and knowing that sooner or later he must go through the ordeal, he rose from his stooping position, and looking steadily at the last of the window-frames, he cried—

    "What's the use of talking?  I hav'n't the gifts, and you know I hav'n't."

    Sampson sighed heavily, turned and looked long and musingly out of the window, and then, punctuating every word with a solemn wag of the head, he said—

    "That's just what Moses said, an' Joshua, an' Jonah, an' Isaiah."

    "Yes," jerked out Wilky, and the words followed each other like pellets from a badly-working pop-gun.  "Bud numskulls never says it!  Thickheads an' scatterbrains never says it!  They hav'n't sense to know as they hav'n't!  T' fost sign o' brains is to feel t' want on 'em."

    "Whom the Lord calls, He qualifies," quoted Sampson unctuously.

    "Does he?" and Wilky, ignoring altogether John's right to a share in the discussion, plunged off again more recklessly than ever.  "Then t' biggest part o' t' names upon our plan has nivver been called—that's sartin.  A hempty head's like a hempty pot an' rattles all over, but a full head's like a full 'un —silent."

    John was laughing in spite of himself at this characteristic outburst, and before he could straighten his face, his father had turned upon him

    "Woe is me if I preach not the Gospel."

    "But I will preach the Gospel, father, in my own way, and to people of my own sort.  To attempt the other would be to bring the ministry into contempt."

    Sampson turned away with a sigh, and Wilky was just about to make some reply, when he spied a woman examining a peggy tub and stick.  She was dumping the stick down upon the tub bottom, to make sure that the wood was sound, and as this was a sort of reflection on his character, and the woman made her experiments none too gently, he stood staring at her in speechless indignation for a moment, and then, rushing out, he cried angrily—

    "It's wood, woman!—common English wood!  It's not nine-inch armour-plate, it's wood!"

    For a moment or two John watched Wilky's peculiar business methods with amusement, and then, as his father seemed to be deprived of the courage of his convictions in the absence of his opponent, he moved quietly towards the door, and was making off when Wilky spied him.  The little broker was giving change to his customer, but as he observed John slipping away, he took the two half-crowns, which he had placed temporarily in his mouth, into his hands again, and leaving the female standing where she was, he darted after the young minder, crying—

    "Here, here!"  And then rushing at him and shaking his fists fiercely, he cried, "Thou's gotten ower him, bud thou hesn't gotten ower me yet."  And with a nod of portentous warning, he turned his back and went away to his business.

    John, glad to have escaped his father and his father's friends so easily, and eager to join his sweetheart, returned home in haste, and washed and dressed himself.  By this time his sister had prepared tea, Mrs. Ledger being busy with customers; and though the young minder had hoped to take his afternoon meal at the farm, he soon saw what was expected of him, and sat down at the table.  Lucy then volunteered to attend to the shop, so that mother "could have her refreshment in peace.  John, who from long practice had come to be able to read his mother like a book, was comforted to observe that she had resumed her ordinary placidity of manner, and chatted more freely than usual about domestic and chapel matters.  This was her world.  She was interested in little beyond.

    Lucy, bright and merry, and dressed in a curious mixture of working and holiday garments, took her meal in the intervals of business, and slyly chaffed John about his evident impatience to get through what was usually the most leisurely meal of the week; and as mother seemed rather to enjoy this banter, he lingered reluctantly at the table, reflecting how soon he would be enjoying himself to the full.  Presently, however, he was able to make his escape, and left the house to a running fire of roguish cautions from his sister.

    Well, he was done with this troublesome and ridiculous ministry question, at any rate, and with his own improving worldly prospects, and his remarkable and unexpected success in wooing Sallie, life seemed less dull to him than it had appeared for a very long time.  He met old Zeph in the lane, and his pleasure at the prospect of finding Sallie alone was dashed by the curtness of the old man's salutation.  An uneasy pang smote his heart as he hurried on, but remembering his own foolish proneness to believe evil of his own affairs, he laughed a little forcedly, and refused to be discouraged.

    Yes, Sallie was alone, except that he could hear someone—probably Robina, the day-girl—washing up in the back kitchen.  But Sallie was not dressed.  She still wore her ordinary working clothes, and her face had a clouded, weary sort of look when he entered.  When he inquired somewhat anxiously how she was she replied with cold indifference that she was "Right enough," and looked anywhere and everywhere except at him.  He had dropped into a chair beside her, and was looking eagerly into her face; but she averted her eyes and pushed back her chair.  Poor girl!  This was reaction and weakness after her illness—these high-spirited people were all subject to these trying fluctuations—so he sighed sympathetically, looked dreely into the fire, and waited.

    "I met your father in the lane.  He seemed put out a bit," he ventured at last.

    "He might well," she responded, jerking her head away, and looking cloudily at the circuit plan hanging by the side of the fireplace.

    "Why, what has happened?  There's nothing wrong, is there?"

    "Oh, no, of course not!" and she tossed her head with angry scorn.

    "Sallie, what's matter?  Whatever's to do?"

    She did not answer at first, but after a long pause she turned and looked at him, and then, with resentful contempt, she demanded—

    "What have you been saying to Mr. Haley?"

    "Mr. Haley?  What about—the ministry, do you mean?  But Sallie, it is ridiculous!"

    "What's ridiculous?"

    "Me setting up for a preacher.  It's presumptuous.  I couldn't think of it."

    "And what about me?"

    "You?"

    "Yes, me!  Do you think I should ever have listened to you if I had thought you were going to be nothing but a self-actor minder?"

    "Sallie!"

    And the look of utter amazement and horror on John's face impressed even her; but she stuck to her point.

    "Don't 'Sallie' me!  If a man's no push and ambition before he's married, what is he going to be after?  That's how lots of girls spoil their lives."

    John gave a gasp of utter helplessness.  A girl with these views, he realized, would be utterly unable to comprehend his position.

    "Oh, Sallie, Sallie!" he moaned; and then, leaning forward, he propped his elbows on his knees, and hiding his face in his hands, uttered something very like a sob.

    Sallie had risen to her feet, and stood leaning with one arm against the mantelpiece, watching him intently, but with troubled though resolute face.  Presently, with an impatient little gesture, she cried—

    "Sit up with you, and be a man.  A woman wants somebody she can look up to—somebody that will climb the ladder and pull her with him, someone to live for and strive after."

    "And I will!" burst out John, and lifting a haggard but eager face.  "I will!  I'll work for you, slave for you, do anything for you, but not that way, Sallie, oh, not that way."

    Sallie could scarcely contain herself with impatience, but checking herself under the influence of some fresh idea she leaned heavily against the mantelpiece and drew her hand across her brow with an evident effort at self-control.  There was silence for a few moments, and then as she looked meditatively at him, as if debating some further question, she moved softly towards him sideways, raised her hand to his forehead, gently stroked back his dark hair, and said—

    "I wonder how it is that the best men have the least ambition!  You were made for something better than a minder, Johnny."

    Her presence so near to him, her light, cool hand on his brow, the soft coaxing sympathy in her voice, and the caressing tone she threw into her pronunciation of "Johnny" thrilled him through and through, and as a new hope began to rise within him he cried—

    "Oh, Sallie, you don't understand; let me explain it all to you."

    But she drew her hand down over his face, and placed it upon his mouth.

    "It's thee that doesn't understand, lad, but I do; I know what folk are saying about thee, and what thou can do if thou likes.  I'm ambitious, because I'm proud of thee and—and—and—like thee.  Thou'll have to go on with this, for my sake and—and thy mother's."

    The humble, caressing tone in which all this was said, the loving significance of her use of the familiar dialect, the subtle flattery interblended in the words, and the touching and altogether unexpected allusion to his mother, came rolling like so many inbreaking waves over John's heart; the pleasantness, the worldly advantage, the popularity of the course she was urging upon him, seemed to have taken all the stiffening out of his resolution, and for a moment or two he felt himself being swept along helplessly towards surrender.  But the very strength of the rushing current saved him; its force was the measure, to him, of its dangerousness; if he yielded now he was undone for ever.  All men have their testing times, and his was come, and come in the most dangerous of all possible forms.

    "Sallie," he cried, "I cannot!  If it were a worldly calling, an ordinary matter of life, I would do anything to please you, but this is a holy calling.  No man taketh this office upon himself; it comes by what I've never had—a call from God.  You wouldn't bring the curse of Korah on me, Sallie?"

    Sallie allowed his emotion to subside somewhat, and then returned to the charge; softly, coaxingly, with pretty poutings one moment and subtle hints of love the next, now patting his cheek and using such terms of endearment as were rare and precious amongst the reticent folk of her county and class, and then putting her own soft lips to his and whispering words that would have melted a Cybarite.  She did everything that woman's wit could think of, and at last flung herself down into a chair, and fell back on woman's last and mightiest argument—tears.

    Love, pity, self-reproach, and a miserable sense that he was narrow, hard and pharasaical, struggled for a while against these blandishments, and when at last he heard her soft low sobs, and the hissing of her tears as they fell on the hot fender, all power of resistance was gone, and had she returned to the attack at that moment it seems certain that she would have carried her point.  But she simply sat where she was and cried, and John, sick with embarrassment and penitence, held his tongue from sheer cowardice, until presently she rose from her seat, made a dart for the staircase, and a moment later, in spite of his attempt to stop her, had gained her bedroom above.

    John waited in sore distress for a few moments, and then went to the bottom of the staircase, and called—

    "Sallie!"

    No answer.

    "I'll come again to-morrow, Sallie."

    Still no answer.

    At that moment Robina the maid came into the parlour, and John, partly to conceal his agitated looks and partly to get time to think, opened the front door and slipped out of the fold yard into the lane.



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