The Scowcroft Critics I.
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THE SCOWCROFT CRITICS.


SCOWCROFT held a position in the Wallbury Circuit altogether out of proportion to its size and the number and social status of its members.  Its name was a very long way down on the plan, and its financial contributions gave it no claim for special consideration.  At the same time it had a distinction all its own, and was renowned throughout the district for a severely critical spirit and an exacting standard of pulpit ability.  Everybody who was anybody in Scowcroft was an expert in the difficult art of sermon tasting.  Even the children as they grew up learned to prop their chins on the backs of the forms before them and follow the words of the preacher with faces of such precocious astuteness that an embarrassed, hesitant, or nervous preacher was greatly disturbed.  There was more than one preacher on the "plan" who dared not occupy the Scowcroft pulpit at all, and there were others who must not if they would.  And when once the Scowcroft sanhedrim had pronounced against an aspirant to pulpit honours he would have been a bold superintendent indeed who had appointed such an one.

    Everybody of importance sat in the gallery, which went round the four sides of the building, and was disproportionately large for the size of the chapel, and the rank of a worshipper was indicated by the distance of his seat from the front pew. The men of light and leading sat of course at the front overlooking the well, each one occupying the door seat of his particular pew, and thus having his family safely penned up inside.

    There were three front pews on each side and two over the clock, and in these apartments sat eight keen, caustic, uncompromising critics, like so many impanelled jurymen, showing by their whole demeanour that the ordinary tricks and blandishments of "counsel" were entirely wasted on such experts as them.

    Several of these men were preachers themselves, and preachers of more than average popularity too.  There was alert, eager, quick-eyed Miles Grimshaw, who was the only local preacher who was appointed at Wallbury Chapel every quarter.  There was Jacky o' th' Gap, the bright, humorsome, highly emotional, and anecdotal preacher, who could boast that he had once shared an anniversary with the great Dr. Newton, and who had an odd trick of breaking into singing, and even occasionally sitting down, whilst he preached.  And then there were the two Barlows, "Owd Mark" and "Young Mark," as they were called, both of whom were above the average in pulpit gifts and fiercely critical to boot.

    But above all these was that terrible slaughterer of the innocents, that remorseless inquisitor-general, Jimmy the Scutcher, of whom the young ministers were all afraid, and before whom even superintendents had been known to turn pale.

    The rank and file of the Scowcroft critics were given to free-and-easy modes of audible approval or disapproval, and a preacher was never left long in doubt as to whether he was hitting the nail on the head or not.  His words were received for the first moment or two in severe silence, then if the hearers broke into nods, sometimes at him and sometimes at each other, it might be concluded that text and exordium had been approved, and the sermon might be preached with confidence.

    Jacky o' th' Gap had special licence, and often followed the preacher with a sort of ejaculatory running comment, now interrogative, now confirmatory, now sarcastic, and now flatly contradictory.  If the preacher was making a favourable impression Jacky would be followed by several others in a lower key, one or two of the women even venturing so far on occasions.

    But all this was only the rattling, harmless thunder which the preachers learnt to value at its true worth; but in the second front pew on the preacher's right sat a man with a long oddly-shaped head and an uneven brow over which hung a fierce-looking tuft of hair.  He had full lips and a wide, almost malicious mouth, and though he possessed two eyes, you were only conscious of one, the oversized left one—but that a very fiery dragon's eye of intimidating fierceness, which never moved from the pulpit and its occupant for so much as a glance at the clock.  The light from this eye was the real lightning which struck terror into the hearts of all comers; and there was no person high or low in the Wallbury Circuit but had a wholesome fear of the renowned Jimmy.  In his private capacity he was of no particular account in Scowcroft, but when it came to homiletic criticism the village was becomingly proud of its great chief, and was quite conscious of the glory his presence gave to their chapel and Society.  Rumour had it that Jimmy had been ambitious to get on the plan himself in his early days, and those who had suffered under his castigations asserted that the hour that saw the closing of the pulpit-door against him was the hour in which the critic was born within him.

    Jimmy sat at the door-corner of his pew, with a small cube-shaped duodecimo hymn-book for he was specially proud of his independence of spectacles or large print—and an extra large Bible covered with an outer binding of green baize before him.  Nothing ever escaped him.  He sat with sphinx-like immovableness throughout the whole service, and it was only two or three of his closest friends who were able to discover during service whether the great inquisitor was satisfied or not.  And even they were deceived sometimes.

    Most of the homiletic epicures of Scowcroft were content with a general criticism of the sermon, but not so their great head.  Whether the preacher "lined aat" every verse of the hymn, or adopted the modern and depraved habit of having it sung through; whether the hymns were each of them germane to the subject of the discourse—were points noted with unerring care.  All originalities in the pronunciation of Scripture names, the range and emotional temperature of the prayer, were matters also that had to be duly noted.  It was a fixed principle in Scowcroft that all sermons must be delivered extempore, "hot off the backstone," as it was always phrased, but only the Scutcher could distinguish those fine shades of tone and manner which decided whether the orator had been really preaching or only "saying his piece."

    "Notes" were always regarded as contraband, and awakened a severe spirit in most of the hearers, but if the preacher forgot to consult his notes or in the fervour of his Oratory ignored them, he was considered to have redeemed himself for the time; but only the lynx-eyed watcher behind the green-baize Bible could have told you exactly how often a hampered preacher consulted the obnoxious "papper."  On that awful night, for ever memorable, when a local preacher, newly come from the South of England, deliberately read his sermon "wod fur wod" amidst a frigid silence, any respectable Scowcrofter could tell you that Jimmy, breaking through the habitual silence of years, as far as sanctuary ejaculation was concerned, gave vent when the preacher stopped to a long-drawn "T-h-e-e-r," so expressive at once of profound relief and grimmest irony that the preacher not only did not wait to be spoken to in the vestry, but informed the super., whom he overtook as he went home, that nothing on earth would ever induce him to preach at Scowcroft again.  "And," the respectable villager aforesaid would add, in tones of impressive conviction, "that chap turnt aat a wastril."

    That green-baize Bible, too, was a most formidable book.  It had broad margins, and on them were inscribed in lead pencil opposite this or that verse of Scripture the name of the man or men who had preached from it, and the date of that occurrence; so that a preacher, hard driven for time or matter, and tempted to fall back on an old discourse, knew better than to do so at Scowcroft.

    Two or three of the veterans of the circuit, who were assured of Jimmy's private regard, ventured on this course occasionally, and would have felt that something was wanting if Jimmy, on the way home or over the after-service pipe at Mileses', had not rubbed his hands and cocked his head on one side and remarked with an expressionless face, save for that terribly eloquent eye of his, "Warmt-up broth's poor meit."

    "Naa then, Jimmy," one of the bolder spirits would reply, "it's fowerteen yer sin Aw preached that sarmon here," but the only reply vouchsafed would be, "Let's whop (hope) it ull be twice fowerteen afore tha brings it ageean."

    And then there was another thing about this inexorable record.  The text of every sermon that had been preached in the chapel for the last thirty years was marked off in it.  And when some poor preacher had had an unusually bad time with a text, Jimmy would remark to him in the vestry when it was over, with one of his most aggravating drawls, "Dr. Bunting wunst preached a sarmon here off that text" with a very special and significant emphasis on the "sarmon."  And forthwith Jimmy would glide off into a minute description of the twenty-year-old discourse, giving copious extracts and even the illustrations; so that, whilst every Scowcrofter present glowed with pride in the skill and marvellous memory of their great critic, the poor victim was tortured by a sense of the insignificance of his own utterances as compared with the quotations given.

    What made matters worse was that the Scutcher was credited with a profound acquaintance with theological literature, and it was considered as the clearest possible evidence of the extraordinary nature of his gifts that he actually seemed to enjoy reading pure theology.  Most of the Scowcrofters were content to possess "The Saint's Rest," "The Life of Hester Ann Rogers," and the "Pilgrim's Progress," but Jimmy owned, and was reputed to have read, Leslie's "Method with the Deists," Paley's "Evidences," and Mr. Wesley's "Notes."  And when on a certain Sunday night Jimmy, before all the assembled magnates, calmly ordered the "super." to bring him Butler's "Analogy" opinion was divided between intense wondering pride at Jimmy's intellectual greatness and strong suspicion that the Scutcher was giving way to intellectual pride and descending to that, to a Lancashire man, most intolerable of weaknesses, a desire to "show off."

    "Lest see, whoar is it ta-neet?" asked Noah, the grocer, as they' sauntered back from a before-service stroll over the bridge one heavy summer's evening.

    "Abe Whittle, fro' Puddincroft Fowt," somebody replied,

    "H'm!" grunted old Matt Briggs.  "We'er in fur splutter and splash ta-neet, then."

    "Aye; th' poor lad doesna spur hissel', does he?" observed Quiet William, intentionally misinterpreting the last remark.

    "Neaw, nor he doesna spur uz noather," retorted Matt.

    "He met let th' Bible and hymn-bewk abee, at ony rate," chimed in Jacky o' th' Gap.

    "Aye," assented Jimmy, with that slow deliberateness which was the surest sign that something was coming; "when owd Mixey wur i' this circuit he used say as it wur nobbut th' empty pots as rung."

    By this time they had reached the chapel door, and after the smokers had knocked the ashes out of their pipes, they all entered the building, and in a few moments the service commenced.

    They got just what they expected.  The preacher, a tallish, thin-faced man, with watery eyes, was noted for a highly rhetorical style, and a verbosity which was often wearisome and always distasteful to the Scowcrofters, particularly to the Scutcher.

    On this night, in fact, the preacher seemed to be rather worse than usual, and all his faults seemed to have become more pronounced than ever.  His sermon was wordy, incoherent, and long; so that whilst the rank and file went away at the close feeling somewhat weary, the responsible chiefs wore discontented and even sulky looks.

    Jimmy the Scutcher walked off by himself to the tailor's house, and the awkwardly upward angle at which he was carrying his head boded no good to the poor preacher.  He said less than usual whilst the orator's supper was being "laid," but Quiet William, who was alternately watching him and studying with anxious looks the guest of the evening, grew more and more uneasy as Jimmy's silence continued.

    When the oat-cake and milk and cheese were brought out, William sat down immediately opposite the preacher and was soon pressing upon him the good things provided.  But the preacher did not need much encouraging to eat; in fact, under other circumstances his readiness to attack what was set before him might have attracted attention, and even as it was Jimmy's face grew harder and his eye gathered unholy light as he noticed that the preacher either did not realise how badly he had discharged his duties, or was not much disturbed by the fact.

    "That's a moighty foine sarmon we'en hed ta-neet," Jimmy began at last.

    Now, when the Scutcher fell upon an unsatisfactory preacher with one of his open attacks, terrible though it was, it was well known that this was not by any means his worst mood, and that he did not regard the case as calling for very drastic treatment.  If he snapped and snarled it was concluded that he had only noted surface irregularities, but if irregularities began deliberately, as now, with a compliment, it was a certain sign that there was trouble in store for the offender.

    Jimmy's encouraging remarks therefore greatly disturbed Quiet William, and snatching up a knife he cut for the guest an unusually liberal supply of cheese, and began to urge oat-cake upon him.  But Abram didn't seem to be disturbed; indeed, he appeared to be so engrossed in the business in hand that he gave a very indifferent sort of attention to what was being said to him.

    Jimmy watched him eating and drinking with growing displeasure, and was piqued to think that his fame as a critic was having so little effect on the man at the table.  "Bud Aw say," he resumed again, in the tone of a man who had appreciated as far as he could, and wanted a little difficulty or two removing in order to complete his satisfaction, "wot dust meean by th' circumnambient heavens?"

    The preacher looked round with an uneasy, hesitating look, and presently answered, "Aw meean th' sky—wot else?"  But as Dinah Grimshaw, the hostess, just then came forward with a bit of cold beafsteak pie, and began to press it upon him, Abram turned once more from his critic, and gave himself to more interesting business.

    "Oh! the sky," drawled Jimmy, whilst his pugnacious left eye began to blink ominously, and his tone indicated that he had just received sudden and complete relief from mental perplexity.  He paused a moment, and then, dropping into a treacherously confidential tone, he continued, "Aw'll tell thee wot, lad, if Aw war thee Aw'd say sky if Aw meant it—we're nobbut poor simple fowk at Scowcroft, tha knows," and the mock humility of his tone made more than one of the listeners squirm in their chairs, out of pure sympathy with the preacher.

    Quiet William began to press more milk upon the visitor, partly to distract his attention, and partly to conceal his own growing agitation.

    The preacher made no reply, and there was an uneasy sort of silence whilst Mrs. Dinah went into the pantry to replenish the milk jug.

    "Then," Jimmy went on in his most dangerously seductive manner, "wot dust mean by th' hayzure canopy?"

    "Aw mean the sky fur sure," and there were signs of rising resentment in the preacher's tones.

    "Oh!" ejaculated Jimmy, as if he were again conscious of sudden and vast enlightenment, "then th' 'starry concave of the empyrean' 'all meean th' sky tew, Aw reacon?" he asked, in a tone of modest but eager curiosity.

    But the preacher had become sulky and heedless, whilst the attention of the rest of the company became divided between Jimmy's scientific heckling and the remarkable appetite of Abram.  He was certainly making a most extraordinary supper.  Jimmy's prominent eye now put on its most fixed and inexorable expression, whilst its owner cleared his throat, and entirely changing his tone, said, in slow and weighty manner, "Abrum, when yung parsons an' college chaps an' newspapper felleys uses 'great swellin' roods o' vanity' they makken thersels redic'lous, bud when a Lancashire weyver lad starts o' talkie' o' thatunce, it's daan-reet pace-egging, an' nowt else."

    Abram, who seemed by this time to be relaxing his interest in the supper-table, and was therefore more at liberty to listen to his tormentor, flushed a little under this broadside, and was just turning round to reply when Jimmy resumed: "An' theer's another thing, Aw've allis noaticed as th' less foak han' tasay th' bigger maathful they makken on it an' th' less woth yerring (hearing) it is.  Naa tha's nobbut bin preichin' six yer, an' that's thod (third) toime tha's gan' us that sarmon ta my knowledge."

    Now Miles Grimshaw had been away fulfilling a preaching appointment, but happening to come in just as Jimmy was finishing his last deliverance, and guessing at once the cause of it, he plunged with his accustomed impetuosity into the subject under discussion, crying with a touch of indignation in his voice as he glared at Abram, "Tha's known as tha hed ta come here monny a wik; wot hast bin wasting thi' toime at as tha' worn't ready?"

    A sudden cloud appeared upon the preacher's face; his eyes became dim as, with hasty tears, his loosely hanging lip quivered, and he was evidently struggling to keep back some emotion.

    Everybody saw it and misunderstood its meaning, and Jimmy, who secretly believed that the man he had been chastising had something in him if only he would cultivate his gifts, was just preparing to give him another blast of reproof when Mrs. Dinah laid her big, soft hand on Abram's shoulder and asked kindly, "Haas yore Annie, lad?"

    The look on the preacher's face darkened, a sudden flush passed over it.  An entirely unexpected sob escaped him, and in fear and shame at this unwonted self-betrayal he dropped his head upon his arm and hid his face, whilst the sympathetic Dinah observed with distress that great tears were dropping upon the sanded floor.

    "Is owt wrung wi' her?" asked Dinah, putting all the sympathy she could into the question.

    There was a pause for a moment, and then Abram groaned out, "Hoos deein', Dinah."

    "Deein', lad?—niver!" cried Dinah in shocked astonishment.  "What's to dew wi' her?"

    There was a deathly stillness in the house.  All the men were holding their breaths to listen.  Presently Abram lifted his head for a moment and cried, "Consumshon," and then, after hesitating, he went on with a resentful jerk, "an' starvation."

    "Starvation!" cried everybody at once.

    "Aye, starvation," answered the now desperate preacher.  "Hoos bin i' bed five munths, an' Aw've bin aat o' wark fur seven wik, an' wot wi' th' doctor, an' wot wi' th' childer, an' wot wi' seein' her deein' afoor me een, an' wot wi' clemmin Aw'm welly meythered amung it."

    There were looks of deep and solemn sympathy on all the faces, and down Quiet William's cheeks streams of silent tears were flowing.  Presently he leaned forward, and looking hard at Abram, he said, with an interrogative inflexion of his voice, "Tha's etten a rare supper ta-neet, lad."

    But Abram didn't answer the question that was in the big man's mind, and so, after watching his face for a moment or two, William inquired softly, "Aw reacon tha's hed noa gradely dinner ta-day."

    "Dinner!" cried Abram, with fresh agitation.  "Aw'm tellin' thi God's trewth, William; Aw havna hed a bite o' nowt i' my yed fur welly three days."

    The preacher's wife, Annie, was a native of Scowcroft, and in a few seconds everybody was talking at once about this unhappy and yet lucky discovery, and all sorts of help was offered to the suffering man.

    Jacky o' th' Gap went off hurriedly to fetch his trap and drive poor Abram home, and when he returned with it he had two bags of potatoes lying in the bottom of the vehicle.  By this time a good stock of provisions and other things had been collected, and when the trap drove away all present sent after the poor weaver many a fervent "God bless thi, lad."

    All this time Jimmy the Scutcher was sitting perfectly still at the fireside.  He had a habit of biting his nails when excited and unhappy, and now seemed to have one of his worst worrying fits upon him.

    The others, coming in from seeing poor Abram off, addressed him several times, but without evoking the slightest response.  At last, however, he rose to go.

    "Well," he said, looking shyly into the fire, and evidently trying to avoid catching any one's eye, "Aw've fund aat wot th' mooat an' th' beeam meeans ta-neet, an' Aw expect A'wst be na wur fur it."  And sauntering to the door with his head down he departed.  But the manager at the mill had a very persistent applicant next day, who wanted looms for a four-loom weaver, and as the Scutcher was a very old "hand" he had his way, and a week later Abram, the preacher, had been removed to Scowcroft, where his sick wife's last days were made sweet by many tender little attentions.


――――♦――――
 
THE
STARTING OF SCOWCROFT MILL.


I.


THE, engine of Scowcroft Mill had just "slackened" for a moment as an intimation that in a short time it would stop for the weekend.  The mill-gates, usually closed during work hours, were thrown wide open.  Just inside the gate was a little office at the pigeonhole window of which a number of men were receiving their own and others' wages.  Here and there within the yard were little knots of work-people "settling up"—minders paying their piecers and bobbiners, and cardroom over-lookers distributing wages to their subordinates.  Outside the yard were a number of wheeled stalls, retailing tripe and trotters, hot pork pies, hot peas, and the like.  At the near end of the long row of houses nearly opposite the gates a tall woman was standing inside a doorway receiving "tay-wayter money" from a small but constant stream of customers, and moving about amongst the groups of hands standing here and there round the gates were two or three club-collectors and the Scowcroft knocker-up gathering in their dues.  Just as the engine was giving a sort of dying groan, as if painfully reluctant to stop even out of respect to the approaching Sabbath, and you began to see the short spokes of the pulleys in the shafting as they slowly slackened speed, a heavy pulley-and-weight door was opened in the side of the mill, and a young woman, evidently a weaver, stepped out.  She was not the least bit like the typical Lancashire lass.  Her hair was light and her eyes large, grey, and dreamy.  She had just colour enough in her face to make it piquant, and though her features were not particularly regular there were lines in them suggestive of much more than appeared on the surface.  She had a seductive grace of movement which made her almost independent of the art of dressing, and which even factory clothes could not conceal.

    As she approached the mill-gate a side door in the office where the men were being paid was opened, and a young man whose clothes, though they bore unmistakable evidences of contact with cotton manufacture, at once distinguished him from those about him, stepped into the yard, and in a moment was walking by the girl's side.

    He was a medium-sized but strongly-built young fellow, in whose face keen business shrewdness was somehow blended with a softness that neutralised the effect and made the observer uncertain in his judgment.

    The girl started and flushed when he spoke to her, and, checking her pace, glanced uneasily around as if afraid of being seen in such company; and then, turning her great eyes with a sudden flash in them, she said something to her companion which was evidently very unacceptable, and which compelled him to stop in the middle of the road, and begin to plead, heedless altogether of the fact that many pairs of eyes were now fixed curiously upon them.  The young master, for such he was, seemed to be very much in earnest about something, and yet very much afraid of being overheard; and the girl listened with wavering manner one moment, and glanced round with fidgety impatience the next, and was evidently very restive under the popular gaze.  Thus they stood for some moments in close conversation.  Presently a man with a flat, open cart containing earthenware, sand-barrels, and bags of rags and bones, and drawn by a ragged-looking pony of uncertain yellow colour, came round the corner at the lower end of the croft, and screwing his mouth to one side of his face he cried out in round, ringing tones, "Wey-shin-up-mugs!  Stew mugs!  Whaaite sand an' rubbin' stone.—Whey! will ta?"

    The animal addressed in the last sentence made a feint at stopping, and then settling down into a slow professional sort of saunter moved slowly along the front of the row and past the chapel.  In a moment or two they had reached the mill-gate end of the row, where the pony stopped of itself, and the man, turning his back to the mill, but moving gradually round towards it as he cried, began again: "Weyshin-up-mu――" But there he stopped, and whilst the lips of his big mouth still retained their trumpet-like shape he stared scowlingly and amazedly before him.

    As he began his professional refrain his eyes caught sight of the weaver and her companion still engaged in earnest conversation.  His trade-cry died on his lips; a sudden fiery glare came into his eyes; every feature of his strongly-marked and shaggy face tightened into rigidity, and he stood there glaring at them in undisguised anger.  Just then the girl caught sight of him; she flushed, spoke hastily to the young man, who was still urging something upon her with intense earnestness, and turning abruptly, left him, making off towards Lark Lane, with a startled and downcast look.

    The hawker was still standing looking at her, and just as she was approaching the end of the row, and in another moment would have been lost to sight down the lane, he raised his whip a little, and, jerking it beckoningly, called out to the evidently frightened girl, "Here! Aw want thee."

    The girl turned pale, hesitated a moment, glanced hastily down the lane as if meditating flight in that direction, and then, turning, stepped slowly towards the cart and its driver.

    The hawker did not move an inch to meet her, nor did he speak when she stopped a moment at some little distance from him as if afraid of coming within reach of his whip, but simply stood looking at her with a cold glitter in his eyes, his hands the while twitching nervously about the stock of his heavy whip.

    When she had come close up to him, and was preparing to speak, he stopped her with a gesture, and, looking almost through her, said, sternly, "Pike off whoam, an' if tha stirs aat o' th' haase afoor Aw come, Aw'll gi' thi some o' this," and he gave a significant twirl to his whip.

    Dropping her head, and blushing afresh as she realised that many eyes in the croft were upon them, the girl turned slowly round, and increasing her pace as she went quickly disappeared round the corner.

    The hawker was Reuben Tonge, one of Scowcroft's most notorious characters, and the girl he had addressed so harshly was his only living child, Grace.

    A stranger moving about in Scowcroft would never have suspected that there was more than one class amongst the inhabitants, but the native Scowcrofter knew of several, and could have drawn the line between them to a nicety, and in any such classification Reuben Tonge would have been included in the lowest; if, indeed, he was not placed in a still lower grade all by himself.  Not that he was poor, though his appearance would have justified such an inference, nor that he was dishonest; rigid business integrity, indeed, was the one virtue in which he prided himself.  He was not by any means a drunkard, though he had occasional violent drinking spells, and he was not a blasphemer, but that may have been because his marvellous command of the vocabulary of vituperation relieved him of the necessity of resorting to such clumsy implements as oaths.  He was not neighbourly and made great display of his lack of "bowels," and yet there were two or three incidents in Scowcroft history which were inexplicable, except on the assumption that he had a soft place somewhere.  He was never seen inside the chapel, and was ostentatiously opposed to his daughter's attendance; and yet somehow she always had gone, not only since she had grown up but from earliest infancy.  He appeared to treat his daughter with a roughness verging on cruelty, and yet she not only never complained, but seemed on the whole as comfortable at home as most of her girl associates, and had quite as much liberty.

    Reuben had been brought up in the Sunday-school, but since the day Alice Pollitt married Jacky o' th' Gap instead of him he had never been inside the chapel doors, and on all possible occasions jeered and scoffed at religion and religious institutions so relentlessly that when any of the leaders prayed in the prayer-meeting for all scoffers and gainsayers, everybody thought of Reuben Tonge.  Of late years he had become conspicuous as the only avowed sceptic in the parish, and was also suspected of holding Chartist and other revolutionary opinions.  He boasted constantly of his views on social equality, and practised them to the indecent length of "thouing" the vicar and even his good wife, who was cousin to a lord.  And yet there was nothing that so quickly aroused his unrivalled powers of abuse as any attempt on the part of a Scowcrofter to aspire to a social grade higher than the one to which he or she originally belonged.

    It was in harmony with this last of Reuben's many inconsistencies that he acted on this particular occasion towards his daughter as he did.  He had been free enough with his sneers at the new owners of the mill when first they came to Scowcroft, and called them "hupstarts" and "clug swells" whenever he had occasion to allude to them, and had carefully collected a stock of more or less reliable stories of the early life of Mr. Westall, senior.  And yet when he saw "th' yung mestur" in such close converse with his daughter, his sense of the immense social gulf between them created in him intense anger that his child should even appear to suppose that she could by any means cross that gulf; and, on the other hand, he was angry that she should be so lacking in proper pride as to be flattered by his attentions.  For Reuben made no manner of doubt in his mind as to the meaning of what he had seen.

    It was dark when he had finished his rounds and reached his house, which was about half a mile down Lark Lane on the way to Wallbury.  Presently, having groomed the unkempt "Pablo," he turned into his house with a hard look and his nearly perfect teeth set in grim resolution.

    He opened the door quietly, for his anger was not of the explosive kind, and stepped slowly across the threshold.  His daughter was nowhere to be seen.

    "Grace."  No answer.

    "Grace."  Still no sound or sign.

    Another man would have grown furious and plunged about in search of the disobedient one, but Reuben never turned his head, but sat down in his chair and quietly lighted the lamp with a hard set about the mouth that boded ill for the absent daughter.  Reuben sat thus for a couple of hours, but no Grace appeared, and presently, though only a little past nine o'clock, he got up, went out quietly and took a look at Pablo, and then came back into the house and slowly locked the door, so that when the wanderer returned she would find it closed against her.

    But she did not return.  During Sunday Reuben so far departed from his usual manner as to cast a cursory glance behind the pink-and-white curtain that screened off the corner next to her bedroom chimney, and thus made it into a wardrobe.  A deep sigh that angered him as he made it escaped the rugged hawker as he discovered that all the girl's clothes were there except her Sunday best; and he went out and down into the village, where, standing amongst the members of the open-air village Parliament at the "brig-end," he learnt that his daughter had eloped with the young master, and had that morning been married at a small church in the suburbs of Wallbury.

    That night poor Pablo got no supper, for his master went home so preoccupied and depressed that he forgot all about his patient pony, and sat down by the expired fire sick at heart, and nursing a fierce resentment against Westall the younger.  Just as the old verge watch hanging on a hook under the mantleshelf reached the hour of nine, and whilst Reuben still sat gloomily thinking by the cold fireplace, he heard the latch of the door gently raised; but as he had turned the key in the lock when he came in, the applicant, whoever it was, was disappointed.  Reuben turned his head slightly round to listen.  In a moment or two the latch was raised again, and a soft, anxious voice outside said, "Feyther!"

    The hawker rose slowly to his feet, stepped to the door, and, half opening it, put his own burly body into the aperture.  It was bright moonlight, and there in the lane stood Grace, tearful and trembling.  Reuben fixed her with a steely eye, and looked her over with slow deliberation.

    For some moments neither of them spoke, but at length Reuben said, "Aw knowed as they made hypocrytes an' scandal-mongerers at the chapil, an' naa Aw see they makken harlots tew"; and with the same stony look he stepped back, closed and locked the door in the girl's face, and walked calmly to his seat.

    Poor Grace burst into a wild cry, and rushed forward as if to stop the closing door.  But she was too late, and in a moment she was alone in the lane, with the knowledge that that door was closed against her for ever.

    For a few moments the unhappy girl stood in the lane, sobbing and trying to collect her thoughts.  Then she began to move back along the way towards Wallbury, from whence she had come.  Then she stopped, hesitated, turned back, and passing her father's house, with another burst of sobbing, she walked slowly along the lane towards Scowcroft.  In a few minutes she had reached a little cottage, standing on the edge of the footpath, and noticing that the door she would have to pass was wide open, and that a tall, stout man was standing smoking in the doorway, she crossed the road, and was stealing past under the shadow of the opposite garden fence when a thick, husky voice called out, "Wot!  Grace, wench! is that thee?"

    Grace stooped lower and began to run, but in three or four strides the big man was across the lane and had taken her by the arm.

    "Let me goa, William," cried Grace, piteously; "Aw want to dee—ta dee."

    For answer, the man addressed put his long arm around her, picked her up as if she had been a baby, and carried her gently into his house.

    A little quick-eyed old woman, in a spotless granny's cap and a natty bedgown, rose hastily from her seat as William came in with his burden, and when she saw what her husband carried, her frank face became suddenly over-clouded, a soft chirping "Hey my!" escaped her, and she hastened forward to make the girl a resting-place on the check-cushioned long settle.

    Now the ponderous William—known popularly as "Quiet William"—had dropped his pipe in the effort to bring Grace into his cottage, and so as soon as he had placed her upon the settle he went back into the lane to seek it.  The garden hedge opposite his house kept the moonlight from the road just where he had dropped his comforter, and so he had to grope about awhile before he recovered it.  When he did so, however, he stuck its short stem into his mouth and, staring down the lane in the direction Grace had come, he held up his huge fist and shook it threateningly towards Reuben's house.  Then he crossed the road, and was re-entering his house, but overcome by his feelings he turned back, shook first his left fist and then his right in the same direction as before, and then, shaking them both together until he went red in the face, he stepped softly into the house and closed the door.

    Whilst William was thus engaged, old Hannah, his sharp little wife, was fussing about their inconsolable visitor.  As she glanced curiously at the dishevelled Sunday clothes she cried under her breath, "Hey, my!" then, looking intently at Grace's left hand and finding it ringless, she cried still more sorrowly, "Hey, my!" and then stooping over and tenderly smoothing back the wavy golden hair and wiping the tearful eyes with her white Sunday apron, she went on, "Hey, my! Hey, dear my."

    But by this time William had returned, and Grace suddenly sitting up began to beg to be let go.

    "Aw'm disgraced!" she cried; "Aw'm turnt aat o' whoam.  Aw'll throw mysel' i' th' cut" (canal).

    "Hey, dear, my wench," cried old Hannah, "thaa munna talk loike that; God's pitiful, tha knows, an', an'"—with a glance of inquiry at William—"ther's a whoam here fur thi till tha con get a bet-ter."

    The big William, standing where Grace could not see him, threw up his arms with a gesture of delight, and nodding triumphantly at Hannah, stepped quickly behind the little draught screen near the door, and relieved his feelings by shaking his fist once more in the direction of Reuben's residence.

    Much more was said, both by Grace and Hannah, with an occasional monosyllable from, William, but neither he nor his little wife showed the slightest desire to pry into Grace's secret.  Eventually, the unhappy girl was persuaded to go to bed, and next morning all Scowcroft knew that Grace was not married, and had returned; but having been turned from her father's door, had found refuge at Quiet William's.  And on Tuesday morning Grace, with dark circles round her eyes and a white cold face, was found at her looms in the mill.



II.


NOW the Methodist Church at Scowcroft was managed on somewhat peculiar principles.  The leaders' meeting was, of course, the fountain of all authority, at once its parliament and its high court of justice, and was held as occasion required after the week-night service, so that the superintendent minister from Wallbury, or one of his colleagues, could preside.

    But somehow this meeting had always a very formal and perfunctory air about it, and was usually got through with quite remarkable celerity.  Ostensibly because the minister had a long way to go, but really because everything had been arranged beforehand.  The fact was, it was a fixed idea amongst the ecclesiastical officials of the society that the less the ministers knew about the actual internal working of the church the better, and so there was an informal leaders' meeting—a, sort of irregular "House of Commons"—of the church, where all important matters could be debated at becoming length and with unrestrained liberty.  The conclusions of this council were generally reached without any such artificial arrangements as formal resolutions, and once settled thus nobody ever dreamed of appealing against them to the legal court.  These irregular meetings were held at irregular times and places.  They were never formally convened, but any time after the Sunday-night or week-night prayer-meetings they might take place around the vestry fire, and if any emergency meeting was required such a gathering might be held either at Miles Grimshaw, the itinerant tailor's, or at the house of Jimmy the Scutcher, next door to the chapel.  The conventions thus held were generally summoned by Jimmy standing at his door and looking across the croft until he caught the eye of some one of the authorities lounging at the bridge end, when he would jerk his thumb over his shoulder, and then walk inside and wait until the court assembled.

    On the Wednesday night after Grace Tonge's return nobody needed to be told that there was to be a solemn inquisition on Grace's conduct and her relation to the church, and so as the rank and file dispersed the rest resumed their seats and waited until they were alone.  There were five of them, a full complement.  Jacky o' th' Gap, who, by reason of his position as a very small freehold farmer, was nominal chief; Miles Grimshaw, the only remaining local representative of the race of itinerant tailors, once so common in North-country villages, and the real ruler of the Scowcroft Society; Jimmy the Scutcher, whose obliquity of vision extended to his mind and prevented from him ever seeing things exactly as others saw them, and made him therefore a thorn in the side of Miles and an inveterate obstructionist all round; Noah, the grocer, and Quiet William, who has already been introduced.

    Whilst these potentates were settling themselves in their seats as comfortably as stiff-backed and cushionless forms would permit, Miles took the lid off the top of the little stove and began violently stirring the fire.

    He was a very small man with a large, long beard, sharp green-grey eyes, sharp features, a wide, thin-lipped, aggravating mouth, and hair that stood out in such irregular points as to make him look what he really was, a sort of Methodist terrier.  When he had been pounding away for a minute or so at an obstinate piece of bass that had somehow got into the stove, he suddenly stopped, and turning round with a jerk and looking fiercely at Quiet William sitting against the wall under the window, he demanded, "Well, wot's yond wench say fur hersel'?"

    William in a conciliatory and apologetic tone answered, "Aw durn't know."

    Another savage plunge with the poker into the little stove which sent the greater part of the contents flying through the little door at the front, bringing with them a puff of sulphury smoke; and then: "Wheer wor hoo a Setterday neet an' Sunday?"

    "Aw durn't know."

    Miles stood up, placed one foot on the bench near him, and eyeing the abashed and melancholy William from head to foot, twirling the short poker as he did so, he proceeded: "Is hoo marrid?"

    "Am durn't know."

    Miles looked very much like throwing the poker at William's head, but after taking another deliberate inventory of the big man's clothes, he drew a long breath and launched out his final question: "Is hoo goin' back to her feyther?"

    "Aw durn't know."

    "Tha doesn't know!  Hast a gradely pow or nobbut a biled turmit for a yed, dust know that?"  And flinging the poker down in a pet, Miles resumed his seat in high dudgeon.

    Now, Miles and William were brothers-in-law twice over, a brother and sister having married a brother and sister, and there was a big man and a sharp little woman in one house, and a big, tender-hearted woman and a sharp little man in the other.  And Miles, always sensitive on the point of undue influence, and jealous, above all things, for independence, always made it a point to put on his most worrying manner when dealing in public with his brother-in-law, between whom and himself there was an attachment of the strongest kind, which seemed to grow stronger by being so constantly strained and tested.

    Nobody, therefore, was much disturbed by the apparent harshness of Miles's attack on the peaceable William.  But gathering from Miles's attitude what was the official view of the grave question of the hour, Jimmy the Scutcher at once prepared himself for conflict.  He was sitting next to Miles on the same form.  He paused a moment, dropped his folded hands and clasped them round his knees, cocked his head at the angle of contradiction, and turning his eyes up towards the lamp hanging high above head, he said, slowly, "Aw yerd a chap preich t'other Sunday off 'Judge not, that ye be not judged,'" and then, after slowly taking his breath, "An' it wur a gradely good sarmon, tew."

    A grin went round the room, even Quiet William making a peculiar sound with his tightly pursed lips that was suggestive of enjoyment.

    Miles was momentarily nonplussed.  He, of course, was the preacher referred to, and pride in his pulpit power was his greatest earthly besetment, so that whilst the latter part of Jimmy's observation broke the force of the reproof, it also in another sense increased it.  He gave a little gasp, whipped round sharply towards the Scutcher, and was evidently just about to extinguish him when Jimmy, who had not moved a muscle, went on drawlingly and with a sly smirk of relish: "Th' preicher that neet said as an aance o' practice wur wurth a ton a preiching."

    "By Gow he did," shouted Jacky o' th' Gap, smiting both knees at once in recollection and enjoyment.  Miles waited until the faces were all straight again, and then, taking a solemn, reproachful look round, he sank back against the bench side, and said in tones of weary resignation and despair, "When th' leets o' th' church con grin o'er a wench's faw and a church's shawme it's toime to write Ichabod up."

    This sobered everybody at once.  The painful subject they were discussing came back to their minds and brought a cloud to every face.  There was an uncomfortable pause, and then Jacky, looking across at Quiet William, asked, "Has hoo towd thee nowt, William?"

    William leaned his head back, and looking steadily at the long stove pipe answered with a sigh, "Nowt."

    Miles, whose face seemed to say that he had said his last word and that torture could not wring another from him, suddenly jerked out: "He's ne'er axed her."

    This charge was so exactly characteristic of William that everybody knew it was true as soon as it was stated, and deep sighs, expressive of reluctant resignation to the inevitable, escaped from three or four.

    Then the conversation became more general; a long, tortuous discussion took place, and finally Miles, as usual, had his way.  Discipline must be maintained at all costs, and though many roughly kind things were said about Grace, it was finally acknowledged that there was nothing for it but to dismiss her from the choir and remove her name from the class-book.

    "Whoa's class is hoo in?" asked Miles, who was trying to conceal his dislike of the business behind an inexorable insistence on law and discipline.

    "William's!" answered Jacky o' th' Gap.

    Three pairs of eyebrows went up quickly, and a flicker of amusement passed over Jimmy the Scutcher's face; for everybody present suddenly realised that the whole debate had been so much wasted breath.  They could guess what William's attitude would be; and though he had never spoken save as reported here, it was perfectly plain to everybody that, he would not consent to Grace's expulsion.  And if he didn't they knew full well that it was no use reporting the case to the ministers, for they all seemed to have a regard for the big man altogether out of proportion to anything he ever either said or did.

    A few minutes later the meeting broke up; and whilst the rest adjourned to Miles's for a smoke William stole quietly, almost guiltily, away towards home.

    When he had got into Lark Lane he dropped into a saunter, as if he felt safer; and presently pulling up as if struck by a sudden thought, he ejaculated, "Well, Aw'll be bothert.  Aw've read mony a time as 'a mon should be fur a hiding-place,' but Aw ne'er thowt as it 'ud be me.  Hay, Aw'm fain it's me."

    Meanwhile Grace, with cold, averted face, was braving things out as best she could in the mill.  She was conscious all day long that curious eyes were looking at her from all parts of the room, and every time she lifted her eyes and saw two weavers talking together she dropped them again with a guilty consciousness that she was the subject of their conversation.  On the afternoon of the day after the leaders' meeting a girl, a weaver from the opposite side of the room, paused as she passed Grace's loom ends, and after a glance round the room, as though attracting all the spectators she could, she stepped into the loom-alley and said to the embarrassed Grace, "Arta goin' to the practice ta-neet?"

    The girl was a fellow-singer of Grace's, who had been very jealous because Grace was always asked to take the solo parts.  Grace flushed painfully, turned her head away, and said as softly as the rattling looms would permit, "Neaw, no' ta-neet, Aw think."

    The girl took another glance round to assure herself that the other weavers were still watching, and then, looking into Grace's timid eyes with a quiet, hard insolence, she said, "Neaw; Aw wouldna if Aw wur thee," and then, picking up her cop-skip, she passed jauntily on her errand, whilst poor Grace dropped her head over her loom with the added bitterness of not being able to conceal her tears.

    That same night as she was going home to Quiet William's just about dark she heard a footstep behind her, and then a low but significant clearing of the throat.  She slackened speed, and presently the young master came alongside her, saying as he did so, "What a little fool you are, Grace."

    The pretty weaver stopped, stepped back into a little by-lane they were passing, and then, suddenly turning round, replied, "Aw'd sooner be a little foo nor a big sinner, Mester George."

    "But they are all sneering at you, and whispering as you go by.  Any other girl would be having grand dresses and gay times now."

    Grace did not answer for a moment, but then she said, "Yo con stop their whispering if yo'n a moiud, Mester George.  An' if yo'n ony feelin' fur me yo will.  An' that's the fost an' last thing Aw'st ever ax off yo."

    But Mr. George only laughed.  He knew his power over her, and hoped that the disgrace she was feeling would drive her to him in spite of herself.  But for once he overreached himself.  Grace drew herself away from him, and standing up to her fullest height she answered, "Mester George, yo made me loike yo, an' me luv an' me nowty pride made me think as wun loike yo 'ud marry a poor weyver lass.  Bud yo've oppened my een fur me.  Aw've lost aw my friends, an' Aw've lost my charickter, bud Aw hav'na lost me—me—mysel'; an' there's One aboon as knows me, an' Aw winna vex Him even fur yo'"; and with a smothered cry she swept past him, and in a moment was in safe shelter in Quiet William's cottage.

    A muttered curse broke from the young man when he found himself alone.  "I'll have her!" he cried, with a passionate jerk of his clenched hand.  "The proud little Methody, I'll have her yet," and returning to the lane, he strode away, still muttering as he went.

    When the wages were paid on the following Saturday the overlooker told Grace that her looms had been "shopped," and that she need not come any more, and Grace went home to William's nearly broken-hearted.

    Very soon, however, Grace and her troubles were forgotten in Scowcroft, for the following Sunday morning the old master of the mill was found dead in bed.  Then it was discovered that the Westalls were not so well off as had always been supposed, and as Mr. George had long before quarrelled with his only sister, and had now to pay her out in cash, it was soon realised that the firm was in straitened circumstances, and that, with the young man's wild habits, made it very doubtful whether he would long carry on.

    There was no other factory within three miles, and, consequently, dark days seemed to be in store, and anxiety reigned in many a Scowcroft home.



III.


THREE anxious pinching years passed away, and the fears of many had been realised.  Mr. George, released from the restraining oversight of his father, and harassed by financial worries, had plunged into reckless excesses and become a helpless drunkard.  The mill, after running irregularly for months, stopped altogether.  The hands had, some of them, found work at Wallbury Moor and other places still further away, and had to walk to and fro every day.  Many had been unable to find regular employment at all, and so whilst heavy scores were being run up at Noah's shop everybody in the village was feeling the pinch of poverty.  Rumours that the mill had been sold and would be started by the new owners sprang up every now and again, and were eagerly believed, but no sign of such a welcome event ever showed itself; whilst the present owner, having got to the end of his resources, was no longer able to keep his place amongst people of his own rank, and loafed about the "Red Cat," a slinking, disreputable wreck.  One day, however, the bailiffs arrived at the mill and took possession, and a fortnight later large bills were posted on the gates announcing a sale by auction.  The mill was to be offered first in one lot as a going concern, or, failing sale in that form, it was to be done piecemeal.  Scowcroft received the news with divided feelings.  To some it was the sign of the end and the inevitable parting from the place of their birth, and to others it was the promise of a new master and better times.

    Grace still lived with Quiet William.  He and she had found work at Wallbury Moor Mills some three miles away, and Grace could never quite understand the curious coincidence that William should have grown tired of "th' Shop" just about the time that she found work elsewhere, but had she known how frequently Mr. George haunted the dark lanes between Scowcroft and Wallbury Moor, about the time when she would be returning from her work, the mystery might have been less obscure to her.

    The sale was fixed for a Monday and the two following days, and all the week before the auctioneer's clerks and assistants were busy on the premises.  Late on the Saturday afternoon Mr. George, shabby, prematurely aged, only a wreck, in fact, of his former self, turned up at the mill in a state of wild, pugnacious drunkenness, and in a few minutes was embroiled in a reckless quarrel with the men in charge.

    As it was Saturday afternoon the Croft, as the large, irregular square of open land by the side of the mill and in front of the chapel was called, was more than usually thronged.  A travelling stall or two was moving along the front of the "long row" overlooking the Croft.  A small knot of men stood against the bridge end at the lower corner, and in the middle of the open space a number of boys were playing "piggy."

    Just as Reuben Tonge and his everlasting pony came round the top corner of the row with the inevitable cry of "Weyshin-up mugs," &c., "Stew mugs," &c., &c., a sound of angry voices was heard coming from the mill lodge.  Everybody turned round to look and listen.  The sounds grew louder, and the listeners looked at each other in mingled perplexity and alarm, and a crowd of small boys made towards the point where the sounds came from.  All at once the low half door of the mill lodge crashed open, and out came three men struggling and cursing and fighting together.  The middle man was Mr. George, bleeding and blaspheming, but still struggling violently with his ejectors, and just as Reuben's cart reached that end of the row one of the men sprang angrily at the young master and struck him a furious blow in the face, which sent his head violently against the stone gate-post, from which he reeled to the ground, and fell insensible, whilst his assailants slunk back into the lodge and locked and bolted the door.

    A sharp exclamation broke from men and women alike as they stood in their doorways and beheld what took place.

    The boys left their "piggy" and raced up to look at the fallen man; but old associations prevented them going very near.  Reuben, who had evidently seen everything, gave vent to an exclamation which might have been taken for either a sneer or a groan; and leaving his faithful steed to carry on his business, he sauntered slowly up towards the fallen man.  As he did so a woman, still young and fair, came rushing breathlessly down Lark Lane, and pushing swiftly through the little crowd cast herself on the ground with a wild cry, and taking the fallen man's bleeding head upon her lap began to wipe it tenderly with a soft Saturday afternoon apron, and to kiss it the while in a perfect passion of grief and fear.

    The little knot of people now gathered stood looking on in pitiful interest, and the rugged Reuben, stepping slowly up, glanced over the boys' heads at the woman and her patient, then stepped back, stood gazing fixedly for a moment at the ornamental top of the lightning conductor of the mill chimney, and then, returning to his cart, began to pat and stroke his antiquated and astonished pony, keeping an eye meanwhile on the little excited crowd a few paces off.

    A moment later the tall fat form of Quiet William appeared on the scene.  He, too, took but a casual glance at the two on the ground, and was just stepping back when he caught Grace's eye fixed beseechingly upon him.  Not a word did he speak, but striding into the ring he picked up the bleeding and still unconscious man, and hugging him to his breast as a mother might her child he strode rapidly off towards home, Grace walking tearfully at his elbow.

    The drunken and bruised young master was very soon restored to consciousness and put to bed, his head was bound up by the doctor, and in an hour or so he was sleeping peacefully.

    On the following Monday the great sale commenced; but when the bidding for the concern in one lot could not be got anywhere near the reserve price the auctioneer, to the surprise of all and the annoyance of the brokers, announced that his instructions to sell piecemeal had been withdrawn, and the proceedings were therefore at an end.  The few Scowcrofters present felt inclined to cheer, for so long as the machinery remained in the mill there was always some hope of better times; but if that had been taken out it would have meant dark days indeed for the village.

    A fortnight after this it was announced that Grace Tonge was going to marry the young master, broken and ruined though he was.

    He had recovered from his injuries and began to look respectable again.  Grace and Quiet William had induced him to "sign teetotal," and he was going about seeking work with a quiet earnestness that left no doubt as to his sincerity.

    There were, unfortunately, plenty of empty cottages in Scowcroft just then, and Grace had saved a little money.  How much she did not know, for William was her banker, and whatever thing she wanted there was always just enough left to buy it, so that before the wedding-day came she had a neat little house ready, of which she felt sufficiently proud.  She still kept on going to the Moor Mills to work, and thus escaped much of the gossip that was going in the village.  But whilst the women all shook their heads and spoke with looks of dark mystery about the matter, the men were united in applauding her splendid forgiveness and courage in taking such a doubtful lot as Mr. George, so much so that Miles Grimshaw, who was never known to retract anything he had ever said, was one night surprised into conceding, "Hoo's a wench in a thaasand, if hoo is a backslider."

    "Backslider!" jerked out Jacky o' th' Gap.  "If that's backsliding, Aw wish aw th' wenches i' th' Schoo wur backsliders."

    Then Mr. George, as he was still called, and Grace were married quietly one day at a little church in the suburbs of Wallbury, and came back to their cottage to start the world afresh.

    When they had been married about a week George was sitting one night by the fire with Quiet William for a companion, whilst Grace busied herself in little household duties, when the door opened and, without the least warning, Grace's father entered the house.  He looked perfectly cool, and was meditatively chewing a straw.  He walked straight up to the fire and, stopping right before it, stood looking thoughtfully down upon it, whilst William, with a look of most unusual fierceness on his big fat face, rose softly from his seat as if preparing for action.

    "Grace," said Reuben at last, without turning to look at her and altogether ignoring William's significant actions, "wot did to leeav whoam fur?"

    "Ta get married," gasped Grace, white to the lips with fear and excitement.

    "Then has is it as tha wur married ageean t'other day?"

    "Aw wurna—Aw meean Aw—Aw—didna—" began Grace, but just then George broke in.

    "I'll tell you, Reuben.  I coaxed her away under the pretence of marrying her, making sure I could persuade her to be content with—well, with something less.  But I couldn't, and now I thank God I couldn't.  She came back as pure as—as an angel of God."

    A gleam of concentrated anger shot out from under Reuben's heavy brows as he looked at his son-in-law, and his hand twitched ominously, but he restrained himself with an effort, and was still oblivious of William, who stood behind him ready apparently to fall upon him.  Presently he proceeded.

    "An yo'n letten her bur th' shawm, of a fause report aw this toime?"

    "Aye!  God forgive me," cried George, with a flush of keen shame and a gesture of despair. "But――

    But Reuben put up his hand and stopped him, and, turning round from the fire and looking for the first time at his daughter, he asked, "An' if tha'd a' towd, it 'ud a shawmed him an' getten him inta trubbel wi 'th owd mestur?"

    "Well, bud, feyther—" began Grace, but Reuben interrupted her sternly.

    "Aye or neaw, is it soa?"

    "It is, Reuben, it is!" shouted George in a choking voice, and with tears of passionate grief.  Another gesture of haughty impatience from Reuben, and then he proceeded, looking now at George, "An, yo leet her be turnt away fro' th' shop, an' still yo didn't speik? "

    George dropped his head into his hands, and began to sob piteously; whilst Grace, looking past her father at the conscience-stricken man, was just about to step across to him, when Reuben seized her somewhat roughly by the arm and said: "An' efther aw that tha picked him up i' th' loan (lane) yond, an' naa tha's marrit him."

    Grace dropped her head quickly, like a child caught in mischief, and as her father was evidently waiting for her answer she replied, with a sudden impulse of emotion, "Aye, an' Aw'd dew it ageean ta-morn."

    Reuben suddenly dropped the girl's arm, leaned one elbow against the mantelpiece, whilst a sort of convulsion seemed to shake his sturdy frame.

    There was an awkward silence for a moment, and at last he turned and looked down into the fire and said, as though talking to himself, "Fur twenty-five yer Aw've bin saying as ther wurn't sich a thing as trew religion, an' naa my own dowter's shown me as ther is.  Aye, this is religion."

    There was a low cry, and in a moment the white arms of Grace were round her father's neck, and she was kissing him passionately.  Quiet William disappeared into the back scullery, and stood looking through the window and making all sorts of grotesque grimaces, with the object, apparently, of concealing from himself the fact that he was crying.  George jumped to his feet and stood looking at Grace and her father in a sort of happy bewilderment, and presently he glided off into the scullery to William and began to shake him excitedly by the hand, as if he must find some means of relieving his feelings.

    Reuben stayed a couple of hours after that, and then began to talk of departure.  As he did so, however, he turned easily to George, who had resumed his place by the fire, and said, "Wot arty goin' ta dew fur a livin'."

    "I don't know; I'm willing to do anything, but I get no chance somehow."

    Reuben stood looking down at George and evidently reflecting.  Then he turned and studied the fire again, and then once more scanning his son-in-law's mournful countenance he asked, as indifferently as he was able, "Haa mitch would it tak' ta get them 'bums' (bailiffs) aat?"

    "Them," cried George, with a weary indifference, "three thousand pound at least, but I don't know where to get three."

    Reuben began to move towards the door.  When he had got half-way he stopped and turned round, saying as he did so, "Then, if yo'd a pardner as could put three thaasand in, yo could start?"

    A look of momentary curiosity flashed into George's face, and glancing up he said, "Yes, if I had."

    Reuben had reached the door and was toying with the sneck in a hesitant, absent manner.  Then he turned, and with his hand still on the door-fastening he said, slowly, "Well, if yo'n a moind yo con start Westall and Co. i' th' mornin', wi' aar Grace theer as Co., an' Aw'll foind th' brass," and before anybody could stop him he was gone.

    Next morning Reuben turned up before eight o'clock, and pretended to be rather astonished that George was ready to accept his offer.  But what seemed to please him most of all was the fact that neither Grace nor anybody else seemed to have any idea that he had money.

    A week later the mill started, and Reuben, having previously bound over the others to strict secrecy, went on his rounds as usual, asking everybody he could get into conversation with wherever George had got his money from, and had they any idea who this mysterious Co. was?  But the secret couldn't be kept.  George could not hold it if everybody else could, and in a short time Grace's praises were being sounded throughout the neighbourhood, and everybody knew that her patient heroism had brought about the starting of the Scowcroft Mill.

    As they sat over the vestry fire one Wednesday night about this time, Jimmy the Scutcher turned to Quiet William and said, with a short laugh, "Well, Aw reacon yond woman's name 'ull ha to goa back upo' th' class-book."

    "It's ne'er bin off!" was the quiet reply.


――――♦――――
 
ADAM AND THE STARS.


A LITTLE spare old man, with thin grey hair, which curled out at the ends, and with a well-worn walking-stick in one hand, and a large basket swung on the opposite arm, was trudging meditatively along Twiggy Lane on a certain Christmas Eve.  It was an exhilarating night, the ground was hard with frost, the air crisp and light, and the moon and stars seemed to have shifted their quarters, and drawn considerably nearer to the earth to be ready to take their part in the Christmas festivities.

    The old man looked pensive, and now and again cast despondent glances at his basket, which contained a few tempting looking oat-cakes.  But presently, as he climbed the rugged road, the quickening influences of frost and stars began to affect him, and at length pulling up and looking hard into the shining sky he burst out


The opening he-e-evens around me-e shine,
With bee-ems of sa-a-acred bliss.


    The music excited him, the basket began to sway up and down upon his arm, and he commenced to beat time by striking the heavy ferruled end of his walking-stick upon the hard ground.  Then he stopped suddenly, the stars were too many for him, and altogether too fascinating.

    "Hay bud, yo arr pratty," he cried, addressing them; "yo looken loike angils as is coming a Kessmassing, an' has na getten near enough fur us ta see their wings," and then, breaking off again, he murmured to himself, "Shur up, thaa owd gabble maath!  Dust think as they can yer thee," and turned to face the hill again towards home.

    He was approaching a short row of cottages on the right, and as he did so a door opened and a gleam of light shot across the lane.  As he heard the latch, the old man gave a little start and went nearer the hedge on the opposite side, as if wishing to avoid being seen, but a little child, a sturdy boy of five, came and stood in the light of the doorway, and catching sight of the passer-by, he cried: "Heigh! felley, merry Kesmus!"  And then, getting a glimpse of the stranger's face, he suddenly retreated, crying as he banged the door: "By Gow! it's my grondad!"

    The old man proceeded a few paces up the hill until he was quite past the cottages; and then, stopping and turning round to look at them he cried: "Aye, lad! it's the grondad!  An' a bonny grondad he is!  He's ne'er spokken to thee sin' tha wur born, neaw, nor thi mother nother."  And there was passion and tears in his voice as he turned once more homewards.

    But the child had given a very unhappy turn to his thoughts, and his face grew sadder and his step heavier as he plodded abstractedly along the lane.

    As he reached the top of the hill, where the lane opened out a little and gave a fuller view around, he stopped again; addressing the gleaming stars above him he cried: "Aye, yo met weel stare at me.  Aw've nobbut wun gronchild, an' he dar no' speik to me.  Oh, Lord!" he continued, turning a haggard face towards the heavens, "we said we wur reet, an' ween allis stuck tew it as we wur reet.  An' we've towd them as coom aat wi' uz as they wur reet; weel, if we wur Aw wish we hadn't a bin.  Aw dunna cur," he cried, raising his stick as if to hold off some invisible objector, "if we wur reet, Aw want ta be wrung, an' ha' me dowter an' her little 'un back in my hert; aw'd rayther be wrung nor reet.  Some folk can leeav feyther and mother and childer fur Thy sake, but Aw canna.  Aw've bin trying for eight yer, and it's welly brokken my hert."  And turning his face upwards to the stars once more he continued: "If yo arr angils coming to sing abaat peace, bring peace into Scowcroft Chapil, an' peace between me an' mine."  Gazing half resentfully up at the stars for a moment, and then turning and looking wistfully back at the cottage he had just passed, he sighed heavily, and resumed his journey homeward.  He lived at Spindlepoint, a full half-mile out of Scowcroft village.  In early life he had been a handloom weaver, but on the introduction of the power loom he had been driven to seek some other method of getting a living, and after several unlucky experiments he had finally started business as a baker and hawker of oatcake.

    His name was Adam Hargreaves, but he was most commonly known as "Adam o' the Point."  He had always been poor, but his character had given him influence among his neighbours quite out of proportion to his worldly condition.  He was a local preacher with a turn for anecdote, and enjoying considerable local popularity.  For many years he had been one of the leading spirits at the Scowcroft Chapel, but some eight years before the time of which we write a most painful dispute had arisen.

    A number of the young people had proposed the introduction of an organ into the chapel, and all the elders were up in arms against it at once.  It was worshipping God by machinery.  It was pride and "nowtiness" of heart.  It was Popish.  The conflict waxed hot, sides were taken, parties formed, harsh and severe things were said, and at last at a trustees' meeting Adam got hot and angry, and declared that the day the organ came into the chapel he would go out and never return.  The meeting decided in spite of Adam's protest to have the instrument, and there was nothing for it but for Adam to carry out his threat.  Of course he never intended to do so, but when his threat was defied it angered him afresh, and what was even more serious still, it angered his wife too.  Now Mrs. Adam would have made two of her husband, not only in cubic proportions, but in strength of character.  Adam's threat was an instruction from her, and she was all the more chagrined, therefore, when the trustees were not overcome by it.  When it was done she insisted on Adam fulfilling it to the letter, and so on the following Sunday Adam's pew was empty, both morning and night.  Another Sunday came and still no sign was made, and Adam, though he went about with an exaggerated assumption of vivacity, was eating his heart out with regret at the step he had taken, whilst Sarah, his daughter, openly protested as much as she dare.  Then the new organ arrived and was opened with great ceremony, and still no sign of rapprochement came from the victorious innovators.

    By this time Adam and those in sympathy with him began to feel that they had stayed away so long that they could not go back of themselves, and Mrs. Adam threatened her husband and daughter with penalties of unheard of severity if they even hinted at it.  To make things worse, Mrs. Adam never went into the village without getting into some kind of squabble with one or other of her old friends, and one day, after spending a whole evening at the house of Miles Grimshaw, the itinerant village tailor, and one of Adam's chief opponents, she came home late, and kept Adam up until after midnight trying to compel him to agree to start a new cause.  Adam was horrified, and resisted his strong-minded wife more than he had ever done before since they were married.  At last, after calling him by every opprobrious name she could think of, she fell to coaxing and then to crying, and finally she reminded him that, having resigned his membership at the chapel, he had of course lost his place on the plan, and would now be unable to preach.  This argument touched Adam's weakest point, for preaching was as the breath of life to him, and seeing in the proposal an opportunity for resuming his beloved work, he reluctantly consented, and a fortnight later opposition services were commenced in Joany's (Jonas's) loft, a large room which had once been used for weaving in the old handloom days.

    Now the rubicon was crossed, and Adam, though he was almost perpetual curate at the "loft," felt so keenly about the matter that he never passed the old chapel without heaving a heavy sigh and suffering fierce pangs of remorse and self-reproach.

    Then, as if to close for ever the gate of repentance, a serious domestic difficulty arose.  Adam was sitting one evening by the fire engaged with the Bible open before him preparing his Sunday sermon, when Sarah, his daughter, a comely, round-faced girl of two-and-twenty, came near her father's elbow, and, touching his blue shirt-sleeve nervously, said, shooting a quick glance of fear at her mother as she did so, "Feyther, dun yo' think yo' could spur me?"

    Both parents lifted their heads quickly, and the mother in her usual brusque tones demanded: "Spur thee!  We'er dust want ta goa?  Thart allis aat.  When Aw wur a wench――"

    "Aw dunna meean that," interrupted Sarah, avoiding her mother's eye, and appealing humbly to her father.

    "Aw meean, could yo' spur me for good?  Aw want to get marrit."

    Adam shot a glance at his wife and another at Sarah, and then, taking off his glasses with hands that shook unwontedly, and slowly closing his book, he replied: "Marrit, wench whoa tew?"

    "Aw thowt theer wur summat up wi' Aw them ribbins an' faldals, an' gooin' aat o' neets, that desateful hussy than!  Aw reacon it's sum wastril or other tha's picked up wi'.  When aw wor a wench―"

    "Huish, 'Tilda!" cried Adam, closing o, his eyes wearily, and then turning to his now white and trembling daughter, he asked, gently: "Whoa is it, wench?"

    "Abrum Briggs, feyther."

    And then there was an explosion.  Never in all the years of their married life had Adam seen his wife so utterly overcome with wrath, and never before had he guessed the power of quiet courage that slumbered in the breast of his daughter, for she stood up to her mother, and quietly and almost disdainfully defied her, and a war of words, such as Adam had never heard before, took place in that little sanded cottage.  For Abram Briggs was the village butcher, and organist of the new organ, and son of the leader of the movement in favour of procuring it.

    It was a terrible blow; even Adam felt that his daughter had been wanting in proper sympathy with him in his greatest earthly trial, and, though he spoke softly and tried to mollify his furious wife, he went to bed that night feeling grieved with his daughter and fearful as to what his wife might do.

    'Tilda soon settled that.  She got up to see Sarah off to her work next morning, and just as the girl was leaving the house she called her back, and, standing between the door and her daughter, said in words of cruel deliberateness: "Sayruh, thart gooin' aat o' th' hawse thaa wur born in, an' wheer them as curs fur thee lives.  Naa, if thaa comes back ta-neet it meeans as tha's gan yond organ-playing wastril up.  Naa, then, which is it to be, Whoam or Abrum?"

    Sarah turned deadly white, paused a moment, drew a long breath, and then said: "Abrum, mother," and then glancing up the stairs at the foot of which she stood, she called out, "Good-bye, feyther, an' God bless yo"'; and in another moment she was out in the lane sobbing as if her heart would break as she made her way to the mill.

    But she did not come back.  She was married a little later on, and though eight years had passed she and her parents had never spoken to each other.  Adam was for a time almost beside himself, and would have gone to his daughter for reconciliation many a time during the first year after her marriage but for his wife, and when he heard that a baby had arrived, and then that it was christened Adam, it took all Matilda's arguments and threats to keep him from going and "makkin it up."

    Latterly, however, he had settled down to a dull sort of endurance, except that occasionally he had fits of longing which more than once took him to Sarah's door, but on each occasion his heart failed him, and he returned as he went.

    Besides all this, Adam's customers fell off.  He either could not or would not call at the houses of his former friends to sell his cakes, and, when this became clear to them, they retaliated by inviting an oat-cake man from Cartwistle to supply them, and as this worthy added the additional attractions of muffins and "pikelets" to his stock-in-trade, he not only got all Adam's customers who belonged to "th' owd body," but several others as well.  And so for the last five years Adam had been going steadily down the hill, and now, as his patched and shiny clothes indicated, he was in real poverty.  And his religious venture had not fared any better than his worldly one.  One by one his chief supporters in secession fell away from him.  Some died, some went back to the enemy, and some lapsed entirely, and were the subjects of much heart-searching and remorse to their leader.  Only a few now remained, and these found it increasingly difficult to maintain the "cause" in the loft; and but for the fact that they could not bear the idea of giving the enemy cause to rejoice, would have been back long ago.

    This statement of affairs is given to enable the reader to understand poor Adam's soliloquy as he wended his way home on Christmas Eve.  The crisp air, the shining stars, and the suggestive and heartening season all tended to exhilarate him, but behind it all there was a depression and uneasy self-accusation which refused to be pacified.  A moment more and he has arrived at Spindlepoint, and approaching the first of the half-dozen houses which made up that place of residence he opened a back kitchen door, and, with an apologetic cough, stepped inside.

    "Theer's noabry wants whot (oat) cakes at Kessinas, wench," he said, anticipating deprecatingly his wife's first question, "it's aw cock-chicken and sparr-rib, an' pork-pie an' pudding."

    "Aye, cock chickin and pork-pie's fur other fooak's wives," was the hard reply, "an' whot cake—and whot cake tew it—for thine."

    Adam winced and glanced furtively through the back window at the stars, as if afraid they might be listening, and then, hanging his basket on a hook in the joist above his head, he heaved a heavy sigh and went quietly to his seat at the fireside.

    "Aw ne'er thowt," resumed Mrs. Adam, fretfully, "when Aw left my good whoam up i' th' moor yond as Aw should iver come to a Kessmas dinner o' whot cakes."

    "Ne'er mind, wench," replied Adam, in low, coaxing tones, "wee've a roof o'er aar yeds, an' a bit o' feire an enuff ta keep uz fro' clemmin.  Let's be thankful!"

    "Thankful"!  But words seemed too weak to express 'Tilda's disgust at the whole business, so she whisked back into the kitchen, angrily slamming the door as she went.

    A look of dull sadness sat on Adam's face as he cowered over the tiny fire, and very soon he was in profound and evidently not pleasant cogitation.

    Presently his wife, who though she had grown hard and raspy of temper of late was an excellent manager, brought her husband his "baggin" (tea), and placed in the middle of the table a big plate containing the cakes which he had brought back.  She did not sit down with him, but retired in grim dudgeon to the kitchen again, where Adam could hear her talking rapidly and angrily to herself.  Then she seemed to relent, for she returned into the house and flopped down under Adam's delighted nose a steaming dish of toasted cheese.

    "Bless the wench, tha art good to me," cried he in eager tones, but 'Tilda curled her lip and disappeared again into the back regions.

    An hour or two later the two sat before the fire in silence.  Adam kept glancing at his wife's clouded face in hope of finding signs of relenting there.  Presently he said in a tentative sort of tone, "Aw seed little Adam as Aw come whoam."  There was no answer, but the lines about 'Tilda's mouth tightened.

    After a long silence Adam ventured again, "Kessmas is rayther a looansome toime for—them as has na mony relations."

    No reply.  Another long pause, and then staring steadily into the fire and becoming suddenly quite husky and faltering in his tones, he said, "Aar Sayruh used trim th' haase up wi' pink papper, and holly and ivry.  Dust think hoo'll be thinking abaat us ta-neet?"

    And Matilda, with a face as hard as ever but with a traitorous quiver on her lips, rose hastily and went out to bring in the chips for next morning, but never a word did she speak.

    Next morning as usual Adam was up first, and on his wife joining him her practised eye noted some change in him.  He seemed to be struggling to suppress some excitement; he had put on his "blacks," now very threadbare, but still having an air of distinction about them, and was busy blacking his Sunday Wellingtons.

    'Tilda saw all these things with secret wonderment, but never a trace of that feeling showed itself on her face, and she persistently ignored all Adam's palpable attempts to provoke a question.

    There was certainly something the matter with her husband.  His hand shook as he toasted the oat-cakes, he spilt his coffee upon the white clothless table-top, and would have flopped the milk into the sugar bowl but for 'Tilda's timely interference.

    Breakfast over, Adam became distinctly restless.  He couldn't sit still.  He asked several times how much fast the clock was, and went to the back door again and again to study the weather, although the old lady in her infallible weather-gauge house had been out for many a day, and showed not the slightest inclination to retire in favour of her husband.  At last he brought out his very venerable and carefully-preserved hat, which represented a fashion which had been in and out again several times since Adam purchased it, and began smoothing the nap with his coat-sleeve.  And he did this in so distinctly challenging a, manner as to almost compel the question he was waiting for.  But Matilda would not respond, and was as ostentatious in her indifference as Adam was in his preparations, and it was only when he had actually reached the doorstep that she managed to squeeze out as lackadaisically as possible, "Naa wheer art gooin'?"

    The question now that it had come shot through Adam like a shock.  He seemed in a moment as if he were paralysed, and then glancing down the lane as if meditating flight, and turning to his wife with a quiet desperation in his look, he answered: "'Tilda, Awm goin' to th' chapil."  Matilda gave a sharp cry, and rushed forward as if to stop him by main force, but he who usually quailed before her anger moved not.

    "If we wur reet at the first," he cried, "we'en putten aarsels i' th' wrung lung sin.  An', 'Tilda, my heart's bleedin' fur me dowter an' her little un.  Aye, an' fur my owd friends yond.  An' it's Kessmas toime, a toime o' peace an' forgiveness, an' Awm goin', chuse wot tha, says."

    Another minute and Adam was hurrying along the lane, striking his stick upon the hard ground by way of emphasis to his excited thoughts and pressing on rapidly as though he feared his wife was after him to bring him back.

    But she wasn't.  Standing at the little window at the end of the house, where she could see down the lane, she watched the retreating form of her husband with a strange intentness.  And as she gazed the hard lines melted out of her face, her eyes began to shine with very unfamiliar dewiness, and at last she murmured, "God goa wi' the lad!  Tha'rt best bit a human nature as iver walks that owd loan.  Bless thi; Awm no fit to tee thi shoon."

    Meanwhile, Adam was pressing on towards the village.  As he passed Quaking houses he looked out eagerly for a little curly head that never appeared, and presently slackened pace and felt his legs shaking under him as he came in sight of the chapel.  Now, the Scowcroft male Methodists, however early they arrived at the gates, never thought of entering the chapel until the preacher arrived.  A body of men, therefore, were propping up the railings and standing in various positions about the chapel door as Adam came in sight.  One or two remarked, as they caught sight of him, that he'd been failing badly lately; and Jacky o' th' Gap, once Adam's inseparable chum, heaved a little sigh as be thought of happy Christmases of yore, and then remarked, "Aw thowt they didn't hev sarvis at the loft at Kessmas."

    But by this time Adam had left the road, and, instead of turning down towards the "loft," had struck across the croft, and was making a straight towards them.  They stood back in silent astonishment as he came up, and turned to stare at each other in amazement as he passed them by with bowed head and walked right into the building.

    The door was open, and a moment later they beheld Adam kneeling in the pulpit, with bent head and shaking with suppressed emotion.  In a few moments the great news was taken into the vestry, where the appointed preacher was already selecting his hymns.  Surprise and delight struggled together on the faces of all in that little room; and when Tom Crompton came in and said, in a tragic whisper, "Th' owd lad's picking his hymns aat," everybody looked at his neighbour in bewilderment.

    "Well, that's th' coppest thing we'en seen i' this chapel for mony a yer," cried Jacky o' th' Gap, and everybody else looked emphatic endorsement.

    For a moment the preacher was inclined to resent being thus supplanted; but the rest felt that, if Adam was coming back, they could not stand on trifles, and so, having pacified the dethroned one, they all hastened into the chapel, and Jacky climbed up the narrow stairs into the organ loft, and cried to the man at the instrument, "Thaa munna play that thing this mornin', naa."

    By this time the news had got to the villagers, and many who had not intended to come presented themselves for worship.

    Presently, in a high, unnatural tone, Adam gave out "Christians, awake"; and when that had been sung with quite unusual fervour he tried to pray.  For a time everybody listened breathlessly, but before he had done the scene resembled an old Scowcroft revival meeting, and men and women of hard aspect and unemotional nature were laughing and crying together from pure overjoyfulness.  By the time the sermon was reached even the dislodged local had forgotten his grievance, and in every pew men were propping their chins on the pew-tops before them, and eagerly waiting for Adam's discourse.

    "Owd frens," he cried, "Aw conna keep away ony lunger." ("Praise the Lord!" from Jacky o' th' Gap.)  "But Aw have na come back o' mysel', moind yo'.  The Lord's driven me back.  He wur maulin' wi' me aw day yesterday, till my hert wur welly brastin'; and last neet He sent me a vision."

    One or two looked doubtful as to whether it was not presumptuous for Adam to rank himself with the ancient prophets, but Jacky o' th' Gap, with glowing face, cried out, "Tell us abaat it, lad!"

    "Aw will, Jacky," resumed the preacher.  "It wur a dream, yo' known.  Aw thowt Aw wur i' th' Cinder Hill fields yond, an' lookin' up at th' stars, an' aw ath wunce Aw yerd a great shaat, an' Aw looked up and theer, by th' mon!  Aw seed aw th' stars rushin' towart me loike a swarm o' bees.  An' then when they geet nrarer me Aw seed as they worn't stars at aw, but angils.  They leeted loike pigeons aw abaat me; an' then wun on 'em blew a trumpit, an' they aw struck up singing!  Hay wot singing!—Aw ne'er yerd nowt loike it; Aw didn't know th' tune, but it wur that luvly an' meltin' Aw thowt Awd jine in.  But the first nooat Aw tried the angil as wur th' leader turnt raand on me and shaated, 'Huish!'

    "Aw stopt fur a minute, thinkin' as Aw must a-bin aat o' tune, bud when they geet to th' chorus Aw dropped in wi' a soart of a hum, yo' known.  But he yerd me, and afoor Awd getten three nooats aat he turnt on me ageean and shaated, 'Huish, mon!'

    "Well, Aw wur fair capped wi' th' job, but just then th' music went heigher and heigher an' swelled aat sa grand Aw couldn't howd in, so a brast aat wi' aw me might an' shaated 'Peace on earth, goodwill to men,' at th' top o' my vice.  An' aw at wunce th' music stopt, an' aw th' angils started o' staring at me as if they'd ne'er yerd a mon sing afoor.

    "'Wot arr yo' stopt fur?' Aw said, an' Aw wur gettin' a bit raspy abaat it, an' th' leading singer angil come up ta me, an' he said, 'A mon as sings wun thing and lives anuther conna sing wi' us.'  An' just then Aw wakkened, an' theer Aw wur up a mi bed.  Bud Aw could see wot th' angil meant, Aw could see as aw th' Kessmas hymns aw've sung sin Aw used sing 'em i' this owd chapil 'as bin lies—("Ne'er mind, lad," from two or three)—and Aw thowt ta mysel', if Aw conna sing wi'th' angils dawn here, Awst ne'er ha' to sing wi' 'em i' heaven.  But Aw munn! A w munn!  An' so Aw've come to mak' peace, owd frens, and goodwill and brotherly love.  Aw want ta sing with angils, aye, wi' th' best on 'em."

    The Scowcroft Chapel, although small, had a gallery all round, and all the leading lights of the church sat in the front gallery pews, and so those near the preacher could reach him if they wished, and just at that moment there was a clattering sound in the neighbourhood of the organ behind Adam, and a moment later a burly young fellow with red face and wet eyes leaned over the gallery front, and stretching out his hand as far as he could reach, cried eagerly: "Dun yo' meean it, feyther?"

    As quick as thought Adam wheeled round, and snatching at the out-stretched hand of his organist son-in-law he replied: "Aw dew, lad, Aw dew," and began to shake hands as if he never intended to leave off.

    Then came whole rows of hands from over the gallery front, and then an opening of pew doors below and a swarming of eager men up the pulpit stairs.  In the midst of it somebody struck up


What, never part again!
No, never part again.


And they sang it, and sang it, and shook hands with each other, and beamed on Adam with their homely faces all aglow with delight and affection.  Nobody ever could properly tell how that service ended; but, at any rate, there was no more sermon, and after standing round the Communion rail and singing—


Oh, happy day, &c.,


and


If this our fellowship below, &c.,


someone struck up Adam's favourite hymn in the happy days of old―


I want to be an angel,


and when that had been sung through several sung times over, they finally, and with manifest reluctance, began to disperse.

    Half-a-dozen of them immediately got into something as near to a dispute as the occasion would permit as to who should have the honour of taking Adam home to dinner, but when Abram Briggs put in his claim everybody else at once withdrew.  As the two approached Abram's cottage that excited young man had an inspiration.

    "Stop here a minute, feyther," he cried, and thrust the old man behind the trellis-work screen that protected the door, and then, putting on a very serious look, he stepped inside and said, apologetically, "Sayruh, Awm bringing th' preicher to dinner."

    Sarah's face, red and hot with cooking, became redder still as she answered: "Th' preicher?  Bud it's nor aar turn."

    "Neaw, but Aw thowt thaa'd happen loike him as it's Kessmas day."

    "Thaa knew varry weel Aw loiken noabry bud me own o' this day—bud wheer is he?" she broke off, as a peculiar look on Abram's face attracted her attention.

    But before Abram could answer the old man, who had heard most of what had been said, came sliding round the porch.

    "Hay, feyther! feyther!" cried Sarah.  "God bless yore owd face!  Well, this is a gradely Kessmas!"  And whilst Adam and Sarah were making up for their long separation, by what to Lancashire folk were most extravagant demonstrations of joy, Abram was yoking the pony, and having driven round to pick up Jacky o' th' Gap, they rattled up the old lane to Spindle-point, and after a long struggle Matilda was induced to come with them, and soon Adam and his wife were so much at home in Abram's house that nobody could possibly have believed that they had never been in before.

    As they went home that night Adam told his wife all about the stars, and the part they had played in the transactions of the day, and after Matilda had stood some moments gazing silently up at them, she did what she had not done for many a long year before—she took her husband's face between her hands, and, after looking intently into his eyes for a moment, silently kissed him.



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