The Scowcroft Critics IV.
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A SILENT SERMON.

I.


THE long row of cottages facing the croft at Scowcroft was broken in two places, the first by the chapel and the second by Noah's grocer's shop.  This, the chief place of business in the village, stood back a little from the rest of the houses, and was a squat, wide-windowed stone structure, which belonged to the period when Scowcroft was a quiet agricultural hamlet, undisturbed and undisfigured by canals, mills and mill-people.  In those days it had been a small farmhouse, with a neat garden and wooden palings in front; but now the fence had vanished, the garden had been trodden hard, and there was nothing but an open space littered with old soap-boxes, butter-tubs, and the like.  The low, wide, dusty window had a thin layer of nuts on the bottom, upon which stood imitation Chinese bowls of green coffee berries, whilst a tall, fly-blown cone of loaf-sugar occupied the place of honour in the centre.  These were backed up by once-gorgeous show cards, which had held their positions longer than most of the customers could remember.  The shop itself had a broken, flagged floor, and a ceiling hidden from view by innumerable bundles of candles of all counts, strings of onions, brushes, breakfast-cans, clogs, pattens, and blue-and-white pint-jugs, interspersed here and there with hams and sides of bacon.  The counter was L-shaped, and at the end nearest the window there was a small desk hidden behind a pile of mustard and Epsom salts boxes.  In the inner wall was a small window, which commanded a view of the counter and the desk at the end of it, and which was screened on the inside by a curtain.  This curtain was a very dainty one, for however untidy and greasy the shop where Noah and his assistant Peter reigned, everything was as neat as a new pin in the house, and these two worthies had to be on their very best behaviour when they ventured across its threshold.

    Late one windy afternoon in the middle of the week, when business was slack and customers few, Peter was standing at the desk apparently deeply engrossed in booking, but really engaged in a very much higher kind of literary labour.  He was of medium height, but his long neck and short trousers made him look taller than he was.  He had a narrow, receding forehead and a long weak chin, prominent teeth, dark, sunken eyes, and a helpless sort of mouth which always had a pathetic curve about the corners.  There were signs that he ought to have had a slight moustache, but such adornments were not considered quite religious, and so his lip was always carefully shaved whenever it seemed to him to require it, which, to tell the truth, was not very often.  He had long black hair, which was thick and bristly, and would have stood up and made him look quite fierce, only it was copiously hair-oiled and carefully combed back to make its owner look poetical.  Not that Peter aspired to be a maker of rhymes; his ambition soared far higher than that.  It was the dream of his life to be a preacher and thrill the crowds at anniversaries, only nobody had any idea of it but himself, and his most partial friends would have laughed at his aspiration had they known of it.  And nobody knew this better than Peter himself, and so he kept it to himself and brooded over it and nursed it, and dreamed beautiful dreams of the great day coming when those who scorned him now would listen with wondering ears and gaping mouths to his enthralling eloquence.  Meanwhile he was preparing himself, as he thought, and making sermons; yes, and preaching them, too, only as yet he had found no audience but the boxes in the shop, or the gooseberry bushes in his aunt's garden up Cinder Hill Lane.

    At the moment we are introduced to him he is revising and rehearsing one of these wonderful discourses.  It is laid on the little desk before him, and he is reading it half aloud to himself.  Presently he warms to his work and begins to move his right arm about very earnestly, then he raises it above his head in tragic emphasis, then he suddenly shoots it out as if giving some imaginary adversary a knock-down blow, and then as he evidently approaches a grand climax he wildly throws both his long arms into the air and brings them down with an emphatic thump upon the desk, making the stumpy pens dance again and the brass weights on the counter jingle in their scales.

    And all this time some one is watching him.  The curtain of the little window above described is turned back just the least trifle, and a fair sunny face, with laughing grey eyes, is peeping at him in evident enjoyment of his caperings.

    Unconscious of the amusement he was providing, Peter was still standing with his hands on the desk glaring with head thrown back and pursed-out lips at the bacon and candles and pint-jugs hanging from the low roof above his head, when the cracked door bell was suddenly set ringing, the little white curtain at the window was hastily dropped, and in stepped a very brisk-looking young fellow some three years Peter's senior.  He was altogether a striking contrast to the young grocer—smart, good-looking, and well-dressed, with a bright, lively air about him which made him popular wherever he went.  By profession he was an accountant; that is, he collected rents and debts and club-money, and canvassed for orders for furniture on the weekly payment system, and so was very well known in the neighbourhood.  Besides this he was a local preacher, a taking teetotal advocate, and a very popular Lancashire dialect reciter.  Altogether, in fact, Squire Fogg was about the best known and most popular young fellow in the neighbourhood, a great favourite with the young men, and a perfect Adonis amongst the "wenches."

    "Hello! Pe, lad," he cried, as he came fussily up to the counter, "heaw goes it?"  But though his tones were very cordial his manner showed little interest, and his eyes wandered eagerly towards the little window and the inner door at its side.

    "Oh, Awm reet enuff," replied Peter, slipping a piece of butter-paper over his manuscript, and coming shyly out from behind the desk.  "It's windy, isn't it?" and he put his hands into his pockets under his apron, and leaning against the fixtures behind him, assumed an appearance of ease he was far from feeling.

    "Aye," answered Squire, absently; and then, suddenly changing his manner, he raised his eyebrows, dropped his voice, and, jerking his thumb in the direction of the inner room, he asked, eagerly, "Th' owd chap in?"

    "Neaw," answered Peter, in slow, hesitant tones, for he was thinking rapidly, and a great idea had suddenly entered his head.

    "Aw say, Squire, that wur a grand sarmon tha preiched a fortnit sin."

    "Oh, aye, aye!" replied Squire, with careless impatience; and then, lowering his voice again, he said earnestly, "Pe, is hoo bi hersel'?"

    But Peter was thinking on quite different lines to those of his visitor, and so ignoring, if he had really heard, the question, he inquired, "Is it yezzy ta mak sarmons, Squire?"

    "Oh, aye, aye," answered Squire, impatiently.  "Is hoo in, mon—is hoo in?"

    "Aye; a-a-a - - - n-e-a-w—dust feel narvous when thaa preiches, Squire?"

    "Preichin' be hanged!" cried Squire, angrily, but just then a new thought flashed into his quick mind, and pulling himself up sharply, he demanded, "Wot art meythering abaat preiching fur?"

    Peter went white to the lips, changed his position nervously, and then answered slowly, "Nay, nowt."

    "Naa then, dunna start o' lyin'; tha's getten summat i' thi noddle; aat, wi' it, mon," and Squire glared impatiently at the aforesaid noddle as if he would very much like to have knocked it against the fixtures.

    Peter twisted his clog heel about uneasily in the sand, glanced up shyly at a string of picking-hooks above Squire's head, and at last forced himself to say, "Nay, Aw wur nobbut thinkin' Aw met try ta preich mysel'."

    "Thee " cried Squire, and with all the effort he made he did not succeed in keeping surprise and contempt out either of his face or his voice.

    There was a pause, during which Peter was feeling that he could have crawled into the proverbial mouse-hole, whilst Squire was slowly conquering his astonishment and collecting his thoughts.  Presently he said, leaning over the counter and speaking in tones of coaxing confidence, "Pe, thee an' me's allis bin thick."

    "Aye! oh, aye," cried Peter, in eager tones.

    "Well, if thaa'll help me, Aw'll help thee."

    "Wilta?  Wilta, lad?" and Peter's sallow face beamed with eager delight.

    "Sithi, Pe, if thaws ony preiching in thi thaas't preich."

    "Shall Aw?  Hey, shall Aw?"

    "An' if thaa wants ta goa on th' plan thaas't goo on th' plan."

    "Shall Aw?  Hey, shall Aw?"

    "Thaa shall, lad, thaa shall; bud tit fur tat, thaa knows."

    "Oh, aye, aye!  Sithi Aw'll read thi a bit o' this," and Peter was stepping up to the desk to produce his precious manuscript, when Squire laid his hand on his arm, and, checking him, said hastily, "Owd on; thaa mun dew summat fur me fost."

    "Aw reet, wot dust want?"

    Squire paused, glanced stealthily round, gripped Peter's arm tightly, and, scowling with a look of intense mystery, earnestly said, "Pe, Aw want get thick wi' Dolly, an' thaa mun help me."

    All the eager light faded out of poor Peter's face; he went pale to the lips, which trembled as he helplessly licked them.

    But Squire, although he was staring hard at the young grocer, never noticed the change; he was too intent on his own thoughts and aims to trouble about Peter's feelings.

    "Thaa mun talk tew her abaat me, an' tell me wot hoo says."

    But Peter only licked his lips and stared helplessly before him.

    "An' thaa mun tell her az aw th' wenches i' th' village wants me."

    Still Peter never spoke.

    "An' thaa mun tell her az Aw'm makkin tew paand a wik, an' mooar."

    Peter heaved a great sigh, and Squire could not help noticing now that something was wrong with his friend.  "Pe! Pe! wot's up wi' thi?" he cried, with more of impatience than sympathy in his voice.

    "A-a-ax me summat else," stammered Peter, in choking tones.

    "Summat else! ger aat wi' thi!  Aw want thi ta dew this.  Th' owd chap's daan on me an hoo's az fawse az a foomart, bud Aw'll hev her!  Therr's nowt loike her abaat here, an' Aw'll hev her, if Aw dee fur it."

    Peter looked at his interviewer with gathering fear and distress, and pressed against the fixtures as if he would have shrunk through them if he had been able.  "Bud Aw conna――"

    "Thaa conna!  Thaa con if thaws a moind, Sithi; thee keep thi blinkers oppen, an' th' fost toime az th' owd chap goes aat at neet thee whip raand ta aar haase, an' then leeave it ta me, an' Sithi, Pe, th' fost neet az Aw get her bi herself i' that parlour, thaas't goo tak my appintment."

    But just then the cracked door-bell rang again, and in stepped old Noah.  Squire looked confused for a moment, and then putting on a bold face he greeted the grocer effusively, and cracked a clumsy joke about Noah looking "as smart as a snig."  But Noah really looked very stern and glum, and stood still, evidently waiting for Squire to finish his business and be gone; and so, after a few rather stammering words and a significant look at poor Peter, he hastily departed.

    "Wot's yon mon want?" demanded the grocer when the door had closed.

    "Nay nowt; we wur nobbut talkin'."

    "An' dew Aw keep a big bluffin-yed loike thee furt talk to wastrils loike yond?"

    "Aw wur nobbut―"

    "Thaa wur nobbut—well, if Aw catch yo at it agean Aw'll chuck him aat o' th' shop an' thee efther him, soa Aw'll tell thi!"  And with a fierce, threatening look Noah walked forward into the house, and poor Peter was once more alone.



II.


FOR the next five minutes or so Peter bustled noisily about the shop, presumably with a view of convincing his master that he was busy.  Then a customer came in, and he talked to her in an unnecessarily loud voice for the same purpose; but although she only wanted three articles, Peter made so many mistakes in serving her that she asked him if he was in love, and appeared by her face to have a fear that something even worse than that was the matter with him.

    When she had gone Peter, heedless evidently of the banter he had just provoked, stood gazing absently at the dusty old ink-pot on the desk with thoughts that were clearly very distressing.  As he thought his chin dropped, the corners of his mouth began to droop pathetically, and turning half-round he looked earnestly at the shelf against the window jamb, and appealing as if for sympathy to the hair-oil and castor-oil bottles before him, he moaned, "Awm in a bonny pickle naa."

    Then his eyes wandered pleadingly around the shop, as if looking in vain for pity and comfort, and finally they came slowly back to the manuscript on the desk.  His brow cleared a little, he stepped up to the paper and began slowly to scan the writing.  Suddenly, however, he started, sprang back, and stood glaring wildly at the document.  Then he dashed forward again, seized the paper and crushed it in his hands; then he threw it upon the floor in tragic disgust, and putting his clog upon it, stamped it down on the sanded flags.  For some time, he stood looking down on the once cherished manuscript, and presently the fierce look on his face began to fade before one of tender concern, the leg holding down the paper grew limp, and then moved just enough to release it.  He stood gazing thus for a full minute or more, and ultimately he stooped down and rescued the document, and placing it once more on the desk he carefully straightened it out and brushed off the adhering sand.

    "Hey, wot a pickle Awm in," he groaned again, and began to move aimlessly about the shop, as if to divert his painful thoughts by active employment.  But Peter did very little real work that night, he groaned deeply every few minutes, made all sorts of absurd mistakes, and at regular intervals groaned out again, "Hey, wot a pickle Awm in!  Hey, wot a pickle Awm in!"

    When the shop closed that night Peter seemed very reluctant to go home.  He loitered about doing odd jobs for the wilful little lady who ruled in the grocery parlour, until Noah lost his temper and inquired if he was intending to sleep there, upon which Peter affected great haste and departed, but forgot his haste as soon as he got clear of the house and dropped, though the wind was still high, into the slowest saunter.

    Presently he approached the cottage in Cinder Hill Lane where he resided with his only relative, a rather gruff and hasty-tempered aunt.

    "Naa then, Gawmliss, dust see wot a puther thaar't makkin'?" cried Aunt Jemima, who was fat and squat, with a broad masculine face and a distinct moustache, as Peter opened the door and let in a rough gust of wind.

    The young grocer quietly closed the door after him and proceeded to hang his greasy cap on a peg behind it.

    As he did so he sighed, and then sidled quietly to a seat already set for him at the table where a large empty basin was waiting his use.

    Jemima, still grumbling, brought the porridge pan from the hob and emptied part of its contents upon the plate, and then brought forth from the pantry a jug of milk, and with a discontented "Theer" set it before her nephew.

    Then she retired to a little low seat near the fire, and commenced to work upon a partly finished hearthrug.

    And as she worked she watched the unusually gloomy youth at the table.  Two or three times she seemed about to speak but did not.  At last, rising to her feet and going over to the other side of the fire, where she had a better view of Peter, she asked, brusquely, "Wot's up wi' thi?"

    "Me! nowt!" exclaimed he, with feebly affected surprise.

    Jemima stepped up to her nephew, and giving his shoulder a push so that she could see his face more distinctly she demanded, sternly, "Wot's up, Aw tell thi."

    Peter moved uneasily in his chair, and then, shaking off the hand on his shoulder, he murmured, "Dunno meyther me."

    "Arr ta gooin' ta tell me," and Jemima lifted her hand, which for so short a person was a very broad one, and holding it out as if prepared to box his ears demanded once more and with increased sternness, "Wot's up wi' thi?"

    Peter wriggled still more uneasily in his chair, and then answered in an injured tone, "Squire says he'll larn me t'preich."

    "Well! that's wot tha wants, isn't it?  An' a bonny mess tha'll mak on it, tew."

    "Bud he wants me ta dew summat fur him."

    "Well! won gooid turn dwarves another, sureli.  Wots he want thi ta dew?"

    "He wants me ta help him ta get thick wi' Dolly."

    "Is that aw?  He met a wanted me bi th' way thaa talks."

    Miserable as he was Peter couldn't help smiling at the grotesque idea suggested by his aunt, but the smile soon died away, and he sighed again and looked more wretched than ever.

    "Well," demanded Aunt Jemima, still standing over him, and evidently waiting for more explicit information, "that's yezzy enough, wot's ta hinder thi?"

    But Peter only shook his head and sighed.

    "Naa then, if he helps thee whey conna thaa help him, Aw should loike furt know?"

    Peter threw his head back and shut his eyes tightly, and turning his face to the ceiling he cried piteously, "Aw conna, Aw conna! "

    Jemima, who under all her roughness loved this nephew of hers as much as mother ever loved her son, was now genuinely alarmed, but as according to her philosophy she might do anything under the sun rather than show it, she only looked the more grim and uncompromising as his distress increased, and so in a moment she demanded, "Wot the ferrups dust want, thaa lump-yed?  If hoo wants him tha'll ha nowt ta dew, an' if hoo doesn't want him tha'll ha nowt ta dew; wot art meythering abaat?"

    "Yo' dunna know, Aunt, yo' dunna know."

    "Wot dunner Aw know?"

    "Aw want Dolly mysel'."



III.


To say that Aunt Jemima was astonished by the statement with which the last chapter closed would be an altogether inadequate manner of describing her condition.  She was simply dumbfounded.  It was the very last thing under the sun she would have expected to hear.  And then it was so very distressing.  She knew Peter, and in her fond eyes he had no equal.  But her strong Lancashire common sense made it impossible to be deluded about him, and she had only too much reason to know his many limitations.  She had to admit—to herself, at any rate—that he was not bright, and she was perfectly well aware that her neighbours regarded him as scarcely compos mentis.  She knew also how the villagers would laugh at the idea of Peter "puttin' up" for the dainty Dolly Ward, and how much their chaff would irritate her excitable nephew.  She had only too much cause to remember also how prone her poor charge was to these ridiculous infatuations, how excited he was about them whilst they possessed him, and how ill and miserable he became when he had to abandon them.  For years now she had been haunted with a feeling that one day he would have an infatuation that he would not get over, and she felt as she stood looking at him now that if that fatal delusion was to come, this was it.  His craze about preaching was bad enough, but this was infinitely worse.

    Peter had always been very delicate.  She told people yet, in confidential moments, that she should never "rear" him.  He had had about every complaint that a child could have, and it is only doing her the barest justice to say that but for her slavish devotion to him he would not now have been alive.  Any great strain, she felt sure, would be fatal to him.  This, therefore, was the time for a supreme effort, and she made it.  For fully half-an-hour she exerted her very considerable powers of argument to their utmost; rough raillery, vigorous abuse, biting ridicule and coaxing cajolery were all tried, and when these made no impression she at last fell back on a weapon very seldom used by her, and sat down and softly cried.  This last argument certainly did seem to affect Peter.  He was startled, ashamed, and deeply distressed.  He fidgeted about until the chair creaked under him; then he got up and began to pace about the room.  At last he stopped and seemed about to speak, but just then a new idea seems to have entered Jemima's head, for she raised her head, sat staring at her nephew for a moment or two, and then said, abruptly, uptly, "Peter."

    "Wot?"

    "Artna thaa starting o' preichin?"

    "Aye, wot be that?"

    "Bud tha'll nobbut be a Local, Aw reacon?"

    Now this was the first time that his aunt had admitted the possibility of his being able to preach at all; she was letting the cat out of the bag.  She did believe in him.  She evidently thought that he might even be thinking of something more than mere lay preaching.  Well, if she thought so, why not?  This had been beyond his wildest dreams.  But if he could preach at all, why not altogether?  He had caught his aunt this time, and would make the most of his opportunity.

    "Bud Aw mun be a Local fost; th' plan fost, an' th' ministry efther."

    "Bud if thaa goos i'th' ministry thaa conna' be wed fur a great while.  Thaa munna meyther wi' wenches, mon."

    "Bud, aunty, Squire 'ull get her."

    "Squire me leg!  Dust think hoo'll bother wi' Squire if hoo sees a chonce of a minister?"

    Peter's face was a study.  Delight and wonderment struggled together upon it.  He stood gazing at his aunt in a sort of ecstasy, and at last he rushed at her, and, slapping her heartily on the back, he cried, "By gum, aunt, yo' arr a stunner!" and Jeminia, was afraid for a moment that the lad was going to kiss her, but that was a form of caressing they had not indulged in for years.

    And whilst Peter was pacing excitedly about the floor, and talking in broken snatches about his great future, poor Jemima turned her face to the wall, and murmured under her breath: "God forgi' me for lyin'.  He's aw Aw hev i' th' wold."

    For a full hour after this poor Peter walked about the house and talked and dreamed of his coming pulpit glory, and Aunt Jemima, with many sharp pangs of remorse, encouraged him, and finally sent him off happy and contented to bed.  Then she had a bad half-hour with herself on the hearthstone before retiring, and on her way to rest she paused to listen at Peter's half-open bedroom door.  Then, assured by his heavy breathing that he was asleep, she stepped softly into the room and approached his bedside.

    She began to cry again as she stood watching him, and presently she murmured through her tears, "Bless thi lad, tha's preiching enew i' thi heart if tha's noan i' thi yed," and wiping her wet eyes with the corner of her working brat, she glided softly away to repent of her fibbing and accuse herself of much other wickedness, but not to sleep.

    Next morning Peter was at his work betimes, and was in a tolerably comfortable frame of mind.  But just as he was finishing lighting the fire, which was his first task every morning, a soft a voice was heard humming a tune upstairs, and a moment later Dolly came down.  Poor Peter! all his aunt's labours of the previous night were undone in a moment.  There was nothing remarkable in Dolly's features; many a factory girl in Scowcroft could have given her points in that respect.  But not one of them had such a radiant skin, or such bright sunny eyes, and her hair, such a mass of fluffy golden glory was it, that that alone would have made her beautiful.  Peter felt his heart jump, and her gay "Mornin', Pe Lad," sent such a thrill through him that he was glad to escape into the shop.  And here, as he dusted the counter and polished the scales, he was fighting his battle over again.  How could he give her up even in pretence and only for a time?  Besides, if she was to wait for him to become a minister, she must know that he was intending to be one, and for the life of him he dared not tell her.  Moreover, wouldn't his aunt's wonderful plan involve deceit and treachery towards his friend Squire?  How could anything prosper if there was falsehood in it?  He must find some other way of working the details of his plan, or rather his aunt must, for she had to do all the scheming for both of them.  At any rate, for the present he would do what he had promised to Squire, and God would bring it all right, with the help of his aunt.  A moment later a bright voice from the house called him to breakfast.

    "Pe," cried Miss Dolly, as he drew up to the table, "thaa lewks bonny an' peart this morn-in'; wot's up wi' thi?"

    Peter's heart nearly came into his mouth.  Now for it!  But he would do what he had promised.

    "Nay, nowt," he answered, with a tell-tale quaver in his voice.  "Aw wur thinking abaat yo'."

    "Me!  Naa, Pe, noan o' thi bother!  Wot abaat me?"

    "Aw know sumbry as loikes yo' terble."

    "Aye, it's thee, Aw reacon."

    Oh, what a tumult of struggling feelings rolled over poor Peter's heart all in a moment.  Dolly would have been blind indeed if she had not seen long ago the idolatrous love with which he regarded her, but she never dreamed of it as the love that leads to marriage, and felt at liberty to joke about it, as, in fact, she often had done.  It had been one of Peter's difficulties that she always received his attentions in this spirit.

    "Nay, it's no me—no this time."

    "Then tha's gan o'er likin' me, has ta?" and this naughty pussy, playing thus tormentingly with her poor suffering mouse, arched her brows and showed her small white teeth and laughed, whilst her victim went white as the tablecloth, and felt very much like crying.

    It was some time before Peter could speak, but at last he found power to say, "It's sumbry bet-ter tin me—a foine seet."

    And Dolly, who somehow began to suspect that she was giving unintentional pain, answered gently, as she bent over him and pulled at the tuft of hair which even oil could not keep in its place on Peter's forehead, "Nay, ther's noabry loikes me better tin thee, is they, Pe lad?  Bud whoar is it?"

    And the question at the end of the sentence just saved Peter.  He paused, choked down a sob, and at last blurted out, "It's Squire—Squire Fogg."

    "Him!" cried Dolly, in disdainful surprise, and she tossed her golden head and looked scornful; but even Peter was able to perceive that her scorn was not very real, and that a gleam of sharp curiosity and pleasure shot into those bewitching eyes.

    "Hay bur he does loike yo, Dolly—he's i' luv wi' yo."

    Dolly had stepped back a little, but she now carne forward again, and putting her hand on the crown of Peter's head she tilted it back until she could look right into his eyes, and then she asked, very deliberately, "Haa does thaa know, Pe?"

    Peter blinked his eyes and tried to turn his head, but there was no escape from those great grey orbs that were gazing so searchingly into his, and so at last he stammered, "He towd me sa hissel."

    "Did he!  It's loike his impidence!"  And then she released her hold upon Peter, and stepping back, surveyed him critically from head to foot, and at last continued: "He's a consated, stuck-up gawby.  Whoa'd hev him, dust think?"

    "Hev him!  Whey, Dolly, aw th' wenches i' th' village is efther him."

    "An' did he tell thee that tew?"

    But Peter found he had got into another tight place, and was just beginning to wriggle uncomfortably in his chair when Dolly's father came downstairs, and Peter made his escape into the shop.



IV.


BEFORE the day was out, however, Dolly had pumped poor Peter dry, and by the spirits she seemed to be in and the way she sang about the house he was compelled to conclude that the information pleased her, and he was at liberty to proceed to the next step in the negotiations.

    After tea he noticed, as he expected, that Squire was hovering about the shop outside, and so, taking his cue, though with a heavy sigh, he slipped out at the back door, having previously given Squire the arranged sign.  When he returned, having stayed away as long as he deemed it prudent, he found Squire leaning over the counter and talking earnestly to Dolly, who was propped against the fixtures as far away from her wooer as she could get, and looking very demure, though Peter could see instantly that the two were already on very friendly terms.

    Next night Squire came again, and stayed even longer, and on the third visit, when Peter returned to the shop, the two, instead of parting, adjourned to the house, and the lover stayed quite a long time.

    This sort of thing went on for about a fortnight, and Peter began to wonder when his instructions in the art of sermonising would commence.

    One night, however, when Squire, after staying longer than usual, came out of the inner room he looked more than usually elated, and turning back, he came up to the counter where the young grocer was engaged, and gripping him tightly by the arm, he cried, excitedly, "Awve getten her, lad!  Awve getten her!  Hay, Pe, hoo is a clipper! hoo is, fur shure."

    Peter, to whom the news came like a death-knell, was just opening his mouth to mention the subject of sermonising, when a deep, struggling cough was heard outside, and as they both knew that this was the sign that Noah was returning from his usual chat at Miles Grimshaw's, Squire, pulling himself together, made for the door, and meeting Dolly's father with an airy "Good neet, Noah," he hastened away, leaving Peter to bear the brunt of Noah's wrath for keeping the shop open so much after time.

    And now our young friend began to be tortured with most painful self-accusations for deceiving his employer.  Noah had taken him when the doctor had said that he was not fit to work any longer in the mill, and it seemed to poor Peter to be the very basest deceit to conceal from him what was going on in his absence.  On the other hand, it would not do to get Dolly into trouble, and after all this seemed to be the only way open to the great goal of his hopes, so he smothered down his feelings and heartily wished the business was at an end.

    Now the formality of asking the young lady's father was not generally observed in Scowcroft; the parents being left, as a rule, to find these things out for themselves.  And in this case Squire, though a most ardent lover, seemed to be, for some reason, exceedingly anxious that the thing should be kept from Noah, at least for the present.  And to tell the whole truth, Dolly found that the secrecy of her courtship added so much spice to it that she was almost as anxious as her lover to keep the thing a secret for a little while.  During these occurrences, therefore, she was unusually kind to Peter, on whom they both to some extent depended for protection, and that youth was expecting that every time he came Squire would make some proposition about the preaching lessons, and so was more content to be kept at the shop as a cover for the couriers than he otherwise might have been.  All the same he grew very impatient, and at last one night when Squire was departing he found Peter dressed ready to go home, and was a little surprised when he joined him at the door, and made as if he would walk along with him.  Squire didn't like it, but there seemed no help for it, and besides Peter was such a simple fellow that it would be easy enough to shake him off whenever he wanted.

    As they walked along Peter seemed at a loss for something to say.  He mentioned that it was "a sloppy neet," a second, and then a moment or two after a third time.  He seemed to be about to say something two or three times and then changed his mind, and at last as they drew near to Squire's door he stopped suddenly in the middle of the path, and with a nervous, anxious face he managed to squeeze out, "Squire, when arrta goin' furt tak me wi' thi ta preich?"

    "Preich!" and then he suddenly remembered and went on, "Oh aye, Aw'll tak thi some day, lad.  Good neet!" and leaving Peter standing in the lane, he disappeared hastily into the house.  Peter got no sleep that night, but next evening he joined his friend again and reminded him of his promise, only to be rebuffed more rudely than before.  Then Squire took to avoiding the would-be preacher by going out at the back door of the grocery, although he of course gave Dolly some other reason for so doing.  This went on for about a week, Peter meanwhile suffering untold agonies of anxiety and fear.  On the following Monday night, however, he resolved to be "up sides wi' Squire," and so leaving the shop at the usual time, he lingered about the entrance of the back-yard until Squire should appear.

    He had not to wait long, for Noah had grown suspicious of late that all was not as it ought to be at the shop, and so he returned earlier than usual.  Squire, taken somewhat by surprise and greatly disappointed, was compelled to make a sudden bolt for it, and in doing so, ran straight into the arms of Peter.

    "Naa then, lump-yed, ger aat o' me road, wilta," he cried, as he pulled up and discovered with whom he had collided.

    "Squire, Squire," began Peter, "tha, promised, tha knows."

    "Promised! whoa promised?  Wot did Aw promise?" shouted the angry lover.

    "Ta tak me ta try furt preich."

    "Thee preich! thaa great cawf-yed! ger aat o' me seet!" and giving the too-confiding Peter an angry push that sent him staggering into a filthy ditch, he disappeared into the darkness.

    Peter, all wet and muddy, scrambled out of the water, and stood looking in a dazed and woe-begone manner in the direction Squire had taken.  It was all over now; even to his dull wits the truth came home that Squire had never really intended to help him in his great ambition.  Slowly and sadly he began to move towards home.  Before coming into Aunt Jemima's presence, however, it was necessary to decide upon his course of action, and it seemed to him, when he was sufficiently recovered to be able to think, that it would be best for the present to say nothing to her.  She was very violent when really roused, and might make matters worse by letting out Dolly's secret, which seemed to him to be a sacred thing to be hidden in his heart until the proper time to reveal it came.  Whatever else he must be faithful to Dolly.

    Contriving, therefore, though with considerable difficulty, to get into the cottage and upstairs without revealing his condition, he hastily removed his wet garments, and then waited until he heard his aunt go into her own bedroom, when he slipped down into the little back scullery and washed himself, and was quite comfortable before Jemima reappeared.

    For two or three days Peter went about scarcely knowing where he was.  For besides the ill-treatment he had received he was nearly heart-broken at the thought that his grand dream of being a preacher had been destroyed, and he had nothing in life to think about.

    And every day he seemed to feel his disappointment more and more.  It took away his appetite and exposed him to constant and very awkward questions both from his aunt and Dolly.  His faith in his fellow-men had received a rude shock, and he felt lonely and miserable.  But to have to give up the idea of preaching! that was the bitterest thought of all.

    But before long his thoughts were turned into a different channel, and his own sufferings were forgotten in his concern for his beloved Dolly.  Every Thursday he had to go to an adjoining village to take parcels of groceries, and was often somewhat late in getting back.  On this particular week he was later than usual owing to an accident to the little cart he drove.  As he was returning, sitting in his trap and musing on the topic which was with him night and day, he observed a couple of courters a little way on before him.  There was nothing very remarkable in that, to be sure, but Peter thought that the female looked rather like his mistress Dolly, and just as he got up to them the moon, which had been for a moment behind a cloud, came out again and shone straight down on the man.  It was Squire Fogg, and therefore the young woman with him must be Dolly, as she was of about the same height and figure.

    It had got to that then.  They were "walking out" in the regular fashion, and as the young lady clung very close indeed to her companion he could only conclude that she liked this even better than indoor courtship.  And now Peter felt his own deep love for Dolly suddenly awakening.  Oh! how sweet it would be to have her walking by his side and leaning on his arm like that.  But that was now for ever impossible—somebody else had got her, and got her with his assistance and as the result of a mean trick.  Peter could scarcely sit in his seat.  He longed to go and tear his young mistress out of the arms that were now encircling her.  But did she know what a mean liar and deceiver the man she was learning to love was?  Ought he to let her marry without telling her?  If she married and was unhappy he felt as if he should go mad.  Oh! what a predicament for a poor lad to be in.  Just then the pony turned into the croft, and a moment later pulled up at the grocery.  Peter had a bundle from the dressmaker's for the mistress, and so taking it out of the cart he carried it, through the shop into the house.  But as he opened the door he came to a sudden stand, and the bundle dropped from his nerveless grasp, for there, sitting cosily by the fire, was Dolly.

    "Dolly!" he gasped, and then, what with one thing and what with another, Peter had a sudden and awful sense of overwhelming pressure and slipped down on the mat in a dead swoon.



V.


WHEN Peter came to himself he found that he was reclining on the big long-settle under the little window that looked into the shop.  Somebody was evidently propping him up, and feeling something warm beating behind his ear he glanced up and discovered that he was leaning on Dolly's breast, and that her soft left arm was encircling him.

    "Arr ta badly, Pe?" murmured a low, sympathetic voice close to his ear.

    "Hey, neaw—Awm bet-ter naa," and in confirmation of this statement he immediately fainted away again.

    When he recovered Dolly's arm was still round him, and a warm, wet little cheek was being pressed against his.  "Poor lad," she murmured. "Poor Pe!  Arr ta bet-ter?" and she bent down and kissed him.

    Better!  Peter didn't want to be better if that was being ill.  He was in heaven, and the kiss was like the kiss of an angel.  Then he opened his eyes and saw the grocer standing looking at him on the door-mat.

    Noah lingered about a few minutes asking Peter every moment or two how he "felt hissel'," and then went off into the yard to put up the pony.

    And by this time Peter had somewhat recovered, and was sitting up and leaning against the end of the "settle," whilst Dolly fussed and crooned about him until the delighted lad began to feel quite spoilt.

    Then she brought a cup of hot tea with a little whisky in it and compelled him to drink it.  He felt better after this, and began to try to comprehend the situation and decide upon some course of action.

     "Haa lung is it sin Squire left?" he asked, cautiously, as the maiden took the empty cup from him.

    "Left?—he's no bin here ta neet; wot fur?"

    Peter paused a moment before answering, and then he said, looking earnestly into the face still bent over him, "H-a-y, Dolly, yo dew loike him, dudna yo?"

    "Naa, Pe, ger aat wi' thi; Aw loike thee a foine seet bet-ter."

    Peter felt his head beginning to swim again.  Oh, why was she so cruelly kind?  He knew she didn't mean it—not in the sense he desired, at any rate.  Oh, what was he to do?  He might be able to give her up himself; he would do that whatever it cost him.  He knew that he was in no sense the kind of fellow Dolly would fancy.  But then he loved her with all the power that he possessed, and he could not see her giving herself away to a man who was already deceiving her.  The woman he saw with Squire could not possibly have been Dolly; there could be no doubt whatever that the two he saw in the lane were on the most loving terms with each other.  Was his darling mistress, who was fit to be the bride of a duke, to be a mere second string to a base man's bow!  It was not to be thought of for an instant.  Poor Peter was not very quick as a rule, but in this case love made him keen, and he racked his poor brain, as he sat looking at the glowing fire, to try and decide what was the right thing to do under the circumstances.

    He decided to do nothing for the present.  He would go home and think about it and perhaps, if that seemed the best course, consult his aunt.

    He sat thinking and resting on the end of the long settle for some time, and at last, announcing that he felt "Aw reet naa," he got up to go home.  Dolly wanted him to wait until her father came in that he might help him on the road, but Peter, declaring again that he felt "Aw reet," went off by himself.  The air outside was very refreshing, and he felt himself improving every step he took.  He would not go indoors yet, he would walk about a little and think.

    "Hello, Pe! is that thee, lad?  Aw wur just seeching thee."

    The voice sent a thrill through Peter's frame—it was the voice of Squire.  Not a word could Peter get out.  He turned round to face his enemy, but only stared at him with a dazed and terrified look.

    "Awm planned at Baalamb Fowt o' Sunday; wilt come and thry?"

    But Peter was beyond all that now.  The desire to preach was as strong within him as ever, but even if he could have trusted this plausible tempter, his own interests were not to be considered for a moment where the happiness of sweet mistress Dolly came.  "Neaw, Aw winna," he answered, with peremptory fierceness, and glared at Squire as though he would have liked to fly at his throat.

    "Hello! thart huffed, arta?  Christians should forgive an' forget, tha knows; it's a noice little place ta start at is th' fowt."

    "Awst no goo!  Awst niver goo wi' thee, thaa lyin' wastril thaa."

    And though Squire disregarded Peter's offensive tone, and argued and coaxed for several minutes, he only made Peter more resolute and abusive.

    And now Peter wanted to get away, and turned in the direction of home.

    "Pe!  Pe! here, lad, donna goo yet!  A-a-hast towd Dolly wot tha seed ta neet?"

    "Towd her!  Neaw! bur Aw will dew if Aw live till th' morn."

    For fully ten minutes the embarrassed lover argued with Dolly's champion to bring him to a different mind, but without the slightest success.  Peter, in fact, only grew the angrier, and said the more provoking things as Squire became more and more oily and persuasive.  At last his patience seemed to become exhausted, and as another idea suddenly struck him he put on a look of fierce anger, and shaking his fist in Peter's flushed face he cried, "Sithi! if tha does tell her Aw'll, I—Aw'll knock thi brains aat."

    "Knock 'em aat then, Awst tell her."

    No sooner said than done.  In a moment the hard fist of the infuriated Squire flew into Peter's face, and he went staggering into the hedge, whilst his now terrified assailant rushed frantically from the spot.  Half an hour later, as Reuben Tonge, the sandman, was returning from one of his rounds, he thought he heard a moan in the hedge bottom, and glancing down he could make out indistinctly something very like a human form.  He stopped the never too eager pony and got out, only to discover the prostrate and partly conscious Peter.  In a few minutes the wounded youth had been gently laid in the cart bottom, and Pablo was being led along at a pace that exactly suited his tastes, but was not very often possible with so energetic a master.  Now there happened to be a heap of stones lying just where Peter had fallen, and as he was found with half his face upon the heap, Reuben concluded that he had fainted and fallen upon them.  And what Dolly told, immediately she knew of the affair, of Peter fainting in their house, seemed so exactly to fit in with the idea that when Peter came to full consciousness next morning he found that view of the case so generally accepted that it was a relief to him in his feeble condition to allow the explanation to stand until such times as he was fit to think and decide upon a course of action.  Alas! it was many a day before he reached that state, and when he did so he found that Squire, who was one of the first to hear this version, and took courage from it, had already got very much further on with his ardent courtship, and that Noah had discovered it and had raised no more serious objection than a sulky grumble.  Poor Peter! he was now in a worse fix than ever.  When Dolly really liked anybody she did like them, and was their uncompromising and almost intolerant defender.  Squire was just the man to make the most of his opportunities, and had such a way with women that Peter felt certain that by this time she was head over ears in love with her suitor.

    What was he to do?  He had allowed the popular version to go uncontradicted so long that he couldn't very well bring forth any other now.  And yet he could not warn Dolly without giving some reason, and if he began his tale he knew that he would be compelled to finish it.

    Meanwhile Squire was making the most of his chance.  He was very uneasy and very apprehensive as to what Peter might do or say.  He determined therefore to, if possible, anticipate any trouble by inducing Dolly to think less highly of her champion.  He began, one night, to drop hints as to Peter's soundness of mind, and was surprised to find how quietly Dolly took it, although he did not quite like or in fact understand, the look she gave him as he was speaking.  Then he ventured further, and was just about to make his first serious point, when Dolly suddenly flamed up, and for the next five minutes he could not believe his own ears.  She stood up to it; she clenched her little fist, she stamped, and before she had done there was not a doubt left in his mind as to the place poor Peter held in his lady-love's affections.  It was clear to him, therefore, that he would have to make his peace with Peter by some means, though by what was not at all apparent.  Upon his next visit to Dolly, however, an unexpected opportunity presented itself.  He had begun to inquire very earnestly about Peter's health, when he suddenly noticed a tear rise into her grey eyes, and her face became very grave.  On inquiry he found that the doctor had expressed some doubts as to his patient's ultimate recovery, and had recommended a prolonged rest and change of air.  A horrible fear took possession of him.  What if he should find himself charged with Peter's death?  Recovering himself, however, he realised that this was his opportunity.  If Peter could be got out of the way until the marriage was over he could take care of himself afterwards.  Besides, what a fine opportunity was presented for getting into Dolly's favour by playing the generous patron to Peter.  That was the plan!  Having once seen his chance, Squire was not long in making use of it.  The very next forenoon, when he knew that Aunt Jemima would be at the mill, he made his way to Peter's residence.

    "Art in, Pe?" he asked, as he opened the door.

    "Aye, Aw'm in, and Aw want thee."  And Peter, white to the lips and trembling all over, stood up to receive his visitor.

    "Thaw wants me?  Wot dust want?"  And though the tone was low and wheedling, the expression on the speaker's face was one of keen anxiety.

    "Wot 'ud Dolly say if hoo knew wot Aw know?"

    "Naa, Pe; come, lad!  Sithi――"

    And then, after appealing very earnestly to the generosity and good nature of his friend, he unfolded the scheme that meant so much to his own future prospects.  Peter listened so attentively to Squire's plausible plan that he thought he was going to succeed right away, especially as it was offered with an expression of sorrow and as some atonement for the injury done.  But when he had finished Peter paused a moment, and then said, quietly, "Squire, Aw'll agree ta aw as thaa says, if thaa'll gi' Dolly up."

    "Give her up!  Aw'll dee fost!"

    "An Aw'll dee afoor thaa's t' hev her."



VI.


AND there the two stood, white and excited, and glaring at each other in fierce defiance.  Squire looked as if he could have torn the frail figure before him to pieces, but as this was not his cue for the moment he dropped his eyes, relaxed his clenched fist, and then commenced to coax again.  But Peter was not to be moved; the more Squire talked the more obdurate he became.  Then the desperate man suddenly changed his tactics.  Turning from his rival, he dropped into a chair with a gesture of impatience, and commenced to glower at the fire.  Presently he began to look very sorrowful, then he sighed, and, leaning back in his chair, closed his eyes and seemed in deep and very troubled thought.  Then he sighed again, and more heavily; and at last, bursting into tears, he gripped Peter's arm tightly, and cried in apparently deep distress, "Pe, Aw've dun wrung—wrung ta thee, wrung ta Dolly, an' wrung ta iverybody!  Aw'm a wastril! Pe, Aw'm a sinner!  Aw'm nowt else!"

    Peter was visibly relenting.

    "Oh, Pe, wet mun Aw dew?  Aw'm a sinner!  Aw'm a wastril!  Lord ha' massy on me."

    "Happen God 'ull forgi thi, lad," stammered Peter, his eyes swimming with tears.

    "He winna! He conna!  Aw'm ta bad; bud Aw did it aw fur luv o' Dolly."

    That was sufficient.  Peter felt that a man might be forgiven for almost anything he might do for his dear mistress's sake, and so, with quivering lips and streaming eyes, he cried, eagerly, "Yi!  He will, lad!  He'll forgi thi just naa, a—a—an' soa will Aw."

    "Wilta, Pe—wilta?  God bless thi, lad!" and seizing the limp band of the poor fellow he was deceiving, he shook it fervidly, and blessed him again and again.

    It was soon settled after that they were to be fast friends henceforth, and Peter was to help him to get Dolly as soon as possible.

    But Peter had forgotten for the moment Squire's second sweetheart, and when he suddenly remembered her he turned stubborn again.  But Squire had a very easy explanation of that.  She was a girl who had "meythered his life aat," and he was free to admit that he had been "a bit sawft wi' her."  But it was all over.  The night Peter saw them together was the last time he had seen her, and he only visited her then to finally break with her.  "Clippin"?  Yes, they were "clippin"—at least, she was, and he had put up with it as best he could because it was the last time.

    And so the two were reconciled, and Peter, though he still declined Squire's offer of a holiday at Southport, expressed himself as very grateful.  As Squire was departing he turned back.

    "An', Pe, lad, thaa'll put a good word in fur me when thaa sees Dolly?"

    "Aw will, lad—Aw will"; and Peter beamed upon his penitent friend with a look of trustful confidence and pleasure.

    But the crafty hypocrisy he practised upon Peter availed its author nothing, for, a few days later, a young woman about Dolly's age and height called at the grocery.  Before she left she had established a claim upon the deceitful Squire that satisfied his fiancée, and filled her with an indignation that was almost terrible to behold.  Happily, she found that her affection was not so deeply engaged as might have been expected.  She possessed quite her share of that dislike of "bounce" so characteristic of the people of her county, and had never been as entirely satisfied with her lover as he, in his vanity, had imagined.

    It was almost a relief to her to have done with the business; but that did not prevent her making Squire's punishment as severe as she could.

    When her visitor had gone and she had had time to recover herself, she sent her father out of the shop, and then sent for her lover.

    He came eagerly enough, but after listening to his angry sweetheart for ten minutes he was only too glad to depart, and Noah was so delighted with the way his daughter had "combed his yure fur him" that he slapped her heartily on the back, and then went off to tell his cronies at Miles's.

    The next night Squire was "planned" to conduct the week-night service, and Jacky o' th' Gap prophesied that he "wouldn't face up."  The others, however, were of a different mind, and so it was left to Jimmy the Scutcher to "heckle" him if he did.

    Now it happened that Peter did not hear of what had transpired that night, and came down to the grocery next day unconscious of any change.  When he asked his young mistress what was the matter—for Dolly had got over her first indignation and had just been having a quiet little cry when he arrived—she tossed her head, and answered somewhat tartly, "It's that wastril of a chap tha fun me."  And then she told him all that had happened, and Peter, in his indignation, blurted out something that awakened Dolly's suspicions, and in a few minutes she had compelled him to tell her everything.  Dolly's anger was wonderful to see; she actually shed tears of indignation as he detailed Squire's many deceptions.  She was like a mother hearing the story of some wrong done to her child, and her little body quivered with scornful resentment.  Noah, when he learnt about the matter, was almost worse than his daughter, and waylaid Jimmy on his way from the mill to post him up with these additional particulars.

    Jimmy, who had for years shown an unaccountable prejudice against Squire, received the information with manifest satisfaction, and prepared himself for a good innings.  When Squire arrived at the chapel vestry he was somewhat taken aback to see that apartment quite full of men.  His heart misgave him, but having no idea that Peter had rounded on him, he prepared to brave it out.

    "W-e-l-l, Pe, lad," began Jimmy, in his very blandest tones, "arty i' good fettle?"

    "Aw'm reet enough; wheer's th' hymn-bewk?"

    Jimmy was sitting on the hymn-book; but without movinb he followed Squire with his protuberant eye as he hung up his hat, and, then, disregarding his inquiry, he dropped into an, if possible, oilier tone, and asked, "Wot's it goin' to be ta-neet?"

    But Squire was not relieved; Jimmy was never so dangerous as when he adopted this tone, and the others had looks on their faces which confirmed his worst suspicions, and so he answered, sulkily: "Tha'll yer it sewn enuff―wheer's th' hymn-bewk?"

    "Aye, Aw reacon sa; Squire con ta preich off ony text—reet off, tha knows?" and Jimmy really looked so very innocent that Squire began to wonder whether there really was any reason to feel as much alarmed as he actually was.  But the presence of so large a company, and the mysterious absence of the hymn-book were not reassuring, and so, at a loss to know what to think, he answered: "Awm no goin' t' dew ta neet—whoas getten th' hymn-bewk?"

    As he spoke the uneasy preacher lifted his head and glanced at the faces of the men who were seated around the room, and meeting in every eye stern and menacing looks he quailed visibly and began to think it time to beat a retreat.  "Well yo' con tak th' bewk an' th, sarviss, tew!" he cried, angrily, and turned to the door.  But as he did so Quiet William rose from his seat and placed his big body against the entrance in a manner that was unmistakable.

    "Nay!  Nay! dunno goa, lad," drawled Jimmy, in mock expostulation; "we want t' yer thi preich.  Ween getten a text fur thee, tew."

    Squire was now fairly at bay.  He was also beginning to be very frightened, and so his one desire was to get out of the room by some means or other; dissembling, therefore, he answered, "Well, wot is it?"

    But Jimmy, was enjoying himself too much to be in any hurry, and so, looking beamingly upon his victim, he said, "Hay, it's a grand text!  If ther's awmbry i' this wold con preich off it, thaa con!

    "Wot is it?"

    "It's sumwheer i' th' Saams—Jacky, just reich me that theer Bible."

    With slow and painful deliberation the tormentor turned over the leaves of the sacred book, pausing every now and again as if to recollect where the text he was seeking was.  Meanwhile, Squire had glanced more than once towards the door again, but William was there still, and looked too stern to encourage the idea of a rush.

    "Oh, it's here," cried the tantalising Jimmy at length.  "Hay, it's a topper; thaa could preich aw neet off it, Squire."

    "Wot is it, mon?  Wot is it?"

    "Saam a hundred an' wun, voss seven—just lend me thy specs, Jacky."

    Jimmy took the glasses, laboriously breathed upon them, carefully wiped them with his pocket handkerchief, and then read out:

    "He that worketh deceit shall not dwell within My house; he that telleth lies shall not tarry in My sight."

    There was a deadly stillness in the room for a moment, during which Jimmy was still bent over his book, evidently musing deeply.  All at once he rose to his feet, and snatching off the ill-fitting glasses he lifted his head and looked at the wretched Squire as though he would wither him with his glance.

    "Thaa lyin' slotch! than brazened tew-faced hypocryte, thaa! ger aat o' God's haase."

    But Squire could stand it no longer.  With a cry like an enraged beast he sprang at his tormentor, and would doubtless have done him serious mischief.  But just then Quiet William's great arms were thrown around him, and he was dragged, foaming at the mouth, into the croft, and then flung out into the darkness.  And from that time Scowcroft knew Squire no more.

    When the details of the gay deceiver's treatment of Peter became known in the village the sick youth found himself astonishingly and delightfully popular, his friends vying with each other in showing him all sorts of little kindnesses.  This notwithstanding, Peter grew visibly weaker under their eyes, and Miles Grimshaw went about prophesying all the dreadful doom that awaited Squire if "Owt happens yond pooer lad."

    But the doctor removed all danger of that by declaring that, although the blow he had received had been a shock to him, yet he was far gone before that, and nothing could long postpone the end.  This deepened the sympathy shown to the sufferer, and gave great distress to Aunt Jemima and Dolly.  Every day now Noah was dispatched early in the forenoon to bring Peter down to the grocery, and he stayed there until his aunt fetched him home.  These were happy days.  Dolly fed and coddled and talked to her charge until the time flew by with amazing rapidity, and Peter was always surprised and sometimes even a little disappointed when the evening came.  Dolly knew more than anybody else about his great ambition to be a preacher, and drew him out as often as possible on his favourite topic.  One day she beguiled him into reading that precious manuscript of his, and discovered to her astonishment that instead of being the feeble, cooing, gentle thing she expected from such an author, it was a terrible denunciation of sin and sinners, and contained lurid and most realistic descriptions of the miseries of the lost.  She never asked for a second edition.

    Now Peter was constantly exercised in his mind as to whether Dolly was not secretly mourning for Squire after all, though her language was definite enough to satisfy any one.  Every now and again, therefore, he brought the conversation round to this subject, and Dolly, to gratify him, talked pretty freely about the matter.  One day, when they had become unusually confidential, even for them, Peter, after a longer pause than common, said, "Dolly, wot sooart of a felley wilt hev when tha does get merrit?" and Dolly, who was standing on the hearthrug and hanging clean clothes upon a long rack over her head, and whose only thought was to say something that would please him, answered, "Summat loike thee."

    "Dolly!"

    But she appeared not to notice his amazed exclamation, and went on as though she were talking to herself, "Bud ther's nooan sa monny loike thee, lad," and then, as a sudden choking came into her throat, she murmured to herself, "An' when ther is God taks 'em."

    There was silence for a moment, and Dolly moved to the other end of the rack, and so came close to her companion.  Presently she felt a trembling hand laying hold of her apron, and a husky voice asked, "Dolly, does to loike me—a that way?"  And Dolly turned and put her hand on the sallow brow of her wooer, and answered, "Wot else?"

    Peter was some time before he could speak.  His words seemed to be choking him, but at last he asked, in eager, wondering tones, "Bud tha wodn't merry me if Aw wur weel, Dolly?"

    And a great gush of feeling came into poor Dolly's heart as she remembered that he never could get well, and, reckless of everything but his pleasure, she replied, stoutly, though with shaking voice, "Wod'nt Aw?  Thee be sharp and get weel and tha'll see."

    If anything on earth could have saved poor Peter this would have done; but it was not to be.  He lingered all through the winter, and one day in the early spring he passed quietly away in his sleep, and they laid him in the old churchyard beside his mother.  Dolly insisted on joining Aunt Jemima as chief mourners, and when the last sacred office had been performed, and the mourners—of whom there was a great company—were turning away from the grave, Aunt Jemima, leaning over the side and looking down upon the plain coffin below, sobbed out, "Bless him!  He'd some grand sarmons in his hert."

    "Aye, if nobbut he could a preiched 'em," sighed Dolly.

    "Them soart o' sarmons doesna need preichin'," said a voice behind them, and Quiet William walked away wiping his eyes.


――――♦――――
 
THE SUPERINTENDENT.

I.


MILES GRIMSHAW was in the very worst of humours.  Before dinner he had been quite amiable; twice during the forenoon he had called the long-suffering Dinah "owd chicken," which was the most certain of signs that all was well with him, and was also a form of endearment he only permitted himself to use on very rare occasions.  And now ever since about eleven o'clock he had been snapping and snarling at everything and everybody.  Abram Briggs, junior, who had called about his new Sunday coat, was "fair taken to" when, upon offering a very mild and hesitating criticism of its fit, he was called an "awkered, cross-cornered, crow-boggart as noabry c'ad fit"; and "Taywayter Martha," who had called to impart to Dinah a piece of most interesting gossip, went away without ever getting her story told, as Miles fell upon her immediately she entered the house, about her irregular attendance at class.  Dinah, seeing how things were, had taken quite unusual pains with the dinner, but they were apparently all wasted, for the one bacon collop was "brunt tew a coak" (cinder) and the other was "red-raw," whilst potatoes and oat-cake and small beer were all deficient in some way.  And when the irascible tailor resumed his work things were no better; when he couldn't find his wax it was of course because Dinah had mislaid it; the "smoothin' iron" was cold and the fire never could heat it properly—it was always so full of "ess" (ashes).

    As for the new plan that had just come in, and was in reality the cause of all this perturbation, Miles snorted at it, gave vent—as he sat cross-legged on the table, looking at it—to short, sarcastic little laughs, and at last crushed the offending sheet up in his hands and flung it scornfully into the window-bottom, amongst the clippings.

    "For shawm o'thisel, Miles, wot's up wi' th' plan," and Dinah, as she finished putting the dinner-pots away in the side-cupboard, leaned her portly form over the table and rescued the disgraced document.

    "Oh, nowt!  Nowt!  It's a topper!" and Miles laughed—a loud, sardonic laugh.

    "It's reet enuff fur owt Aw see."

    "Reet enuff!"  And Miles spun round on his seat and down upon the floor, and snatching the plan from Dinah's hands he spread it carefully out on the table.

    "Dust caw that reet? an that?" he cried excitedly, pointing at first one number opposite the name of Scowcroft, and then another, "Tew hexorters an three on-trials and awth windbags ith circuit."  "Reet is it," and Miles burst into another mirthless laugh.

    And Dinah looked as she was commanded, but not at the Scowcroft appointments at all.  She ran her eye over the numbers opposite the circuit chapel, and then those for "Rehoboth," the second chapel, which was in the suburbs of Wallbury, and when she had satisfied herself that No. 7 was not appointed at either of these important places she understood all about her husband's anger, for No. 7 on the circuit plan was Miles Grimshaw.

    She sighed a little, and Miles was just about to explode upon her when the door opened and in walked Miles's particular crony, Jacky o' th' Gap.

    The farmer's coat was open, his scarf hung loose, and his hat was tilted back on his head, whilst his lips were compressed and his eyes rolled about restlessly, all of which were signs that his mind was not at rest.

    "Tha's getten it Aw see," he remarked, standing with his hands behind him and his back to the fire.

    "Getten it! aye! an a bonny thing it is," and Miles threw up his chin in disdain, and went sulkily on with his stitching.

    "He owt niver to mak anuther plan wo'll his wik," and Jacky's lips tightened with grim emphasis, and then glancing round into the right-hand corner of the fire-place he reached out a small bundle of long clays, took down the tobacco-pot from the mantel-piece, and sinking into the nearest seat he commenced to charge, upon which Miles whisked away the garment he was making, and descending to the floor, and standing aggressively before his companion asked, fiercely, "Wot did Aw tell thi th' fost time Aw iver clapped een on him?"

    Jacky evidently did not all at once remember, and threw himself back in his chair, puffing out a huge volume of smoke and looking meditatively at the joists above him, but Miles could not wait, and so he went on.  "Aw towd thee i' yond vestry as yond chap' Ud ha wovven his cut i' twelve munth, didn't Aw?"

    "Tha did, lad," replied the farmer, nodding his head in confirmatory recollection.

    Now, these two men were popular local preachers.  Their sermons were expressed in a sort of modified vernacular, and what their utterances lacked in literary grace or grammatical correctness they made up in racy point and idiomatic force.  This being so, they were often more welcome in local pulpits than more polished, but less interesting preachers, and were always much in request.  But the new superintendent, who had only been on the ground since last Conference, now some four months past, had judged them by what he had seen of them in their own village, and in their private capacities, and had only appointed them at the smaller places.  And this was the real grievance, and for the next hour or so the minister's ears must have burnt most distressingly, for not only his plan-making but every prominent act of his administration since he had been in the circuit was canvassed, and he was roundly condemned as a bungler and a failure.

    Not a single allusion was made, of course, to their own appointments, it was the weak and corrupt favouritism which had given three more "Ministerial" appointments to Mill-houses than to Scowcroft that was stigmatised, and the outrageous folly of sending 'Hexorters' like Harry Nobby and Fat "Rafe" (Ralph) to so important a place as the one they worshipped at, and the thoughtlessness of sending "Owd Dottie" all the way to Greenhalgh Fold in the winter quarter, and the appointment of Dobson at the circuit chapel just because he was a mill-owner and circuit steward.

    "Aw dunnot know ha yo tew con fur shame o' yer faces," cried Aunt Dinah, out of all patience at last.  "Yo'n nowt to dew bud lewk at his face ta see wot he is."

    "Wot's than know abaat it P " cried Miles, with an impatient fling of his head.

    "Aye! they sen as th' chap as wur hung at th' New Bailey t'other day hed a face loike a cherrybim," laughed Jacky, a little uneasily, and they tried to resume their talk, but somehow Dinah's remark had made an impression, and in a few minutes Jacky took his departure.

    Miles couldn't settle to work any more, however, for even though his mind was somewhat relieved by the conversation they had just finished, he already began to feel another disturbing influence.  The super whom they had been so energetically denouncing was coming to tea that day, or, at any rate, he was expected to do so.  It was the week-night service night, and, besides that, it was the day for holding the annual Leaders' meeting—always an important event at Scowcroft.  As has been explained in a previous chapter, official affairs were conducted on somewhat original principles in this village.  The "Grave and reverend seigniours" settled everything in their informal councils, either at Miles's house, or when lingering behind in the vestry.  The supers were not supposed to know this, of course, but they must have been guileless men indeed if the very perfunctory and expeditious manner in which business was got through did not awaken their suspicions.  By the time, however, that the good men had found out how they were manipulated they had also generally conceived considerable respect for and confidence in those who thus hoodwinked them, and were content to let well alone.  But there was always an element of uncertainty about the first official meeting held by a new chief, and the arrangements for his regulation had to be made with special care.  It is necessary to explain also that there was a very rigidly preserved official ring at Scowcroft, and the chief positions of honour rotated upon a well-understood and jealously preserved plan, from which no departure could be made.  On the occasion of which we are speaking the outgoing officials were Miles and Abram Briggs, and it had been arranged according to precedent that Jimmy the Scutcher and Noah were to succeed them, and it was Miles's duty to get the absolute necessity of these appointments, and no other, fixed in the minister's mind during the time that they were drinking tea together.  Miles, therefore, got himself washed and dressed in his meeting coat, and sat down before the fire to await the arrival of his spiritual superior, whilst Dinah made ready a quite wonderful tea.  Things that had not seen the light of day for months were brought out of the cupboard, for only the very best that they had was to be given to the minister, even though he was, as far as they could see, a somewhat unsatisfactory character.

    But the minister did not come; the tea hour arrived, but still no super.  Miles was indignant; it was just like him!  He had never expected anything else.  He was no more fit to manage a circuit than he was fit to fly.  Super or no super he would have his tea.  Half an hour passed, Miles filling up the time with long and scathing denunciations of the new preacher and all his ways.  Then he insisted on having his tea, "Parson a or noa parson," and before he had concluded that very unsatisfying meal the rest of the church officers began to arrive, for it was part of the "Plan of campaign" that these should drop in before service time, in order to reinforce their spokesman, if haply any misguided super should prove untractable.

    Each man as he arrived raised his eyebrows in surprise when he discovered that the expected cleric had not arrived, but they all found Miles so exceedingly touchy that they settled down in their places and said little or nothing.

    "He's happen not sa weel," said Quiet William at last in musing tones, and looking straight before him at nothing in particular.

    "He will be when he's getten' th' length o' my tungue, Aw con tell thi'!"  And Miles turned and glared at the speaker as if he were to blame for the missing man's absence.

    "Huish!" cried Dinah, suddenly; and almost before she could stop her irate spouse the minister stood on the door-mat.  He was a tall, rather stately-looking man, with a thin, intellectual-looking face and pensive expression.

    As he stood looking round on the company he sighed a little, raised his eyes, which had a wearied and sorrowful look in them, and then said, with a slight bow, "I am afraid I've kept you waiting, Mrs. Grims――"

    But just at this point Miles rose hastily to his feet, and, avoiding the minister's eye, he said, roughly, "It's toime furt goo to th' chapel, mestur."

    The minister, who seemed somewhat preoccupied, lifted his eyes again at these brusque words, and was silently leading the way into the open air, when Quiet William sidled up to him, and, after glancing somewhat anxiously at his face, said softly as they walked along, "Hay yo did cumfurt me wi' that last sarmon o' yores, mestur."

    A ray of light seemed suddenly to light up the minister's face, and he slipped his arm into William's, and murmured softly, "Thank you, brother, thank you."

    Arrived at the vestry, the discontented officials seated themselves on the benches around the sides of the walls, but further away from the preacher than usual.  Upon observing which, William placed his big body right under the minister's nose, and throughout the service kept up a most appreciative and stimulating succession of nods, smiles and low ejaculations, in significant contrast to the stony and quite unusual silence of the others.  The discourse was briefer than usual—"A pup off an owd Sunday sarmon," as Miles declared afterwards.  Then the congregation dispersed and the official meeting commenced.  At the super's suggestion, William moved a comprehensive vote of thanks to the retiring stewards, and after an awkward pause it was seconded and carried very perfunctorily.

    "And now, gentlemen, some of you have borne the burden and the heat of the day a very long time, and there are a number of very interesting young people in the church who are doing nothing, suppose we introduce a little new blood into the meeting."  William shot an apprehensive look at the chairman, Miles gave vent to an angry snort, Jimmy the Scutcher's expressive eye began to bulge out ominously, and the rest holding their heads back against the white-washed wall shot sidelong telegraphic glances at each other.  The super was going far beyond Miles's very worst predictions.  "There's Brother Entwistle and Brother Greaves and our young friend Barlow," went on the minister, as nobody spoke.  Miles and Jacky uttered exclamations of amazement, the others tilted back their heads against the whitewash at still acuter angles and smiled at the ceiling, whilst even William was not able to keep a look of pained surprise out of his face, for the young fellow last named was a bumptious, long-tongued, aggressive fellow, who was secretary of the improvement society, and the willing tool of the mischief-making new bookkeeper.

    The minister was not very observant evidently, for after waiting a moment or two for someone to speak he went on, "Suppose I nominate, then, our excellent Poor-stewards to be the new Society stewards; those who agree please to show in the usual way."

    This appointment was, of course, in harmony with the decisions already arrived at, and so every one present voted at once.

    "And now, which of these young men will you have?  They are all good fellows—but you know them better than I do; somebody please make a selection."  There was a long and awkward pause, and at last the chairman said, "Come, let us get on?  What do you think, Brother Grimshaw?"

    "Me!  Nay, no me!  Aw no nowt!  Oh, neaw"—and Miles laughed, a bitterly sarcastic laugh.

    The minister began to suspect that there was something wrong, but as nobody spoke he proceeded, "Well, then, I will nominate Brother Entwistle and Brother Barlow to be our Poor-stewards"—and then he paused again.  Nobody replied, and so, after hesitating and looking round, he said, "Those who approve, please vote."  Not a hand went up; even William, though looking very uncomfortable, kept his hands clasped on his knee before him.  The chairman looked astonished.  He was accustomed to have to deal with all sorts of people in all sorts of meetings, but this was a new experience.  "You don't vote, gentlemen!  What is the matter?"

    Nobody replied, and Quiet William was just about to relieve the tension by making a conciliatory remark when he heard a peculiar but well-known cough behind him, and glancing apprehensively around, he observed Jimmy just in the act of rising to speak.  William winced and glanced pityingly at the man in the chair.

    "Mestur shuper," began Jimmy, in his most dry and delusive drawl, "haa lung an yo bin i' this circuit?"

    "Oh, never mind that," replied the minister. "Let us get on with the business."

    "Abaat five munch, isn't it?"

    "Never mind, never mind!  Speak to the point, please."

    "Dun yo know haa lung wee'n bin here?  Well, well, sir, never mind!  Let us proceed."

    "Ivery mon i' this place ta-neet wur born i' Scowcrof."

    The super fell back in his chair with a little gesture of despair, and Quiet William sighed heavily.

    "An' wee'st be here when yo're gone."  William was about to interrupt, but the minister restrained him with another little wave of the hand, and Jimmy growing, if possible, more deliberate every word, proceeded: "If Aw wur yo, mester shuper, Aw'd let weel alooan, an' stick to th' owd uns."

    Thereupon Jimmy slowly resumed his seat, and throwing back his head he joined the others in an earnest contemplation of the ceiling.

    There was that in Jimmy's tone which indicated that he was face to face with quiet and yet obstinate resistance, and so the "super" decided that he must have more light before he took further action; he somewhat hastily, therefore, adjourned the meeting until he could make up his mind what was the right thing to do.

    When he had gone Miles, standing in the midst of his friends and fellow-conspirators, projected his great broad chin, and shaking his fist emphatically, said, "Yond chap 'ull ha ta shunt at th' yer end, moind that naa! "

    And William astonished everybody by replying "Aye!  He's ta gooid fur uz—pooer felley."



II.


FOR some days the obstructive Scowcroft officials were in some doubt as to how the super would act in the matter, and spent their time speculating on the next move, and encouraging each other to resist any encroachment upon what they regarded as their rights.  William seemed like deserting them, and shook his head and sighed whenever anything stronger than usual was said.  But he never could be relied upon when it came to crises like these, and the most that could be expected of him was that he would do nothing to interfere with their chances of success.

    A fortnight passed away, and the service night came round again.  This time it was the third or junior minister who was appointed, and the stewards had received a note from the super stating that "his excellent colleague" would hold the adjourned meeting and finish the business left over.  This was another offence; the annual meeting could only be held by the super himself, and this was really only part of the former meeting.  Besides, the young minister was very popular in Scowcroft, and nobody wished to seem to be opposing him.  The super was "duffing," he dar'nt come and fight the matter out himself.  Besides, Jimmy the Scutcher had serious doubts as to whether it was legal for an unordained minister to hold the meeting, and he spent what little time he had before the service in searching through "Grindrod's Compendium" in search of the law on the subject.  "Will the leaders kindly stay behind a few minutes at the close of the meeting?" said the preacher just before he pronounced the benediction.  As the worshippers rose to their feet, however, Jimmy glanced round upon his colleagues and jerked his head doorwards; and they, obeying his signal, sidled out of the room, leaving the young cleric with no supporters except Quiet William and two leaders who were nobodies.  A quarter of an hour later news was brought to the house that the meeting had been duly held, and that "th' yung mon" had announced to those who met him that he was instructed by his super to nominate two of the old officials, which he then proceeded to do and immediately closed the meeting.

    Yes, the super had given in, and they had won the day.  They ought, therefore, to have been satisfied, but they were not.  Now they pretended to despise the super for his cowardice; he had "noa spunk in him."  He "hedn't th' pluck of a maase," and his attempt to shelter himself behind his young and popular colleague, and draw them into a quarrel with that delightful young man, was denounced in unmeasured terms.

    The next Sunday evening the super closed the service without holding a prayer-meeting an unheard of thing at Scowcroft; and, as if that were not enough, he excused himself from going to supper at the appointed place, which happened to be Jimmy's, and then walked off to take his coffee at the new bookkeeper's.  Even Quiet William seemed disappointed at this, and allowed his friends to rail at the offender all the evening without a single word of protest.  The next time the super was appointed at Scowcroft on the week-night he sent a supply.

    "Wots thaa want?" demanded Miles in his fiercest tones, as the young man entered the vestry.

    "The super has been called away to Manchester to attend an important committee," was the reply.  Not another word was spoken to the stranger until the service was over, and it seemed as if he were about to get away without further trouble; but just as he was leaving the vestry door Jimmy sauntered up, and eyeing him over very deliberately said, "It's th' fost toime as that tha's bin here, isn't it?"

    "Yes, I only knew a few hours ago and was not very well prepared," said the stranger, apologetically.

    "Oh! tha wornt, wornt thaa," drawled the terrible critic, whose fame had long been known to the preacher.  "Well, tha con tell th' super az he can goa to Manchester as oft as he's a moind if he'll send thee," and with a sniff that was peculiar to him after he had said anything intended to be final he turned away and left the relieved substitute to make his way home.

    The next time the super came to Scowcroft he discoursed on the character of Judas Iscariot, and in the course of his opening remarks described him as an interesting psychological study.  Jimmy, whose face up to this moment had worn a look of ostentatious endurance, at once began to show interest, and when, a moment later, the preacher alluded to one of the traitor's "idiosyncrasies" his eloquent eye began to stand out ominously; but when, just as he was concluding, he added a remark which he called a "corollary" Jimmy shut up his open Bible with a vicious bang and turned his head towards the gallery door in a manner which even a dull man could have understood at once.  Next Saturday night Jimmy came home with a huge dictionary, which was tied up in a big red bundle handkerchief, and which he had purchased at a second-hand book-stall in the Wallbury Market, and the following Sunday the faded tome was added to his already formidable-looking collection in the pew.

    But Jimmy's greatest objection to the new super's preaching was on account of its excessive deliberateness; the Scowcroft standard of pulpit eloquence demanded energy and emphasis and gave the palm to voluble perorations, whilst the super was quiet and slow.  "Caw that preichin'," cried Jimmy, sitting in his usual chair at Miles's after the unhappy Judas sermon, "Aw caw it ackering an' hawmpling (hesitating and limping).  Flowin' language," he went on scornfully, in answer to a criticism of the super which had been imported from Wallbury, "it niver flows at aw, it comes aat on him a drop at a toime loike alicar (vinegar) aat ov a tripe-stave bottle," and this brilliant simile was so much to the taste of those who heard it that the poor parson was often afterwards denominated "Owd Alicar bottle."

    About this time, also, Miles and Jacky discovered, or thought they discovered, signs of discontent with the new super in one or two of the villages they visited on preaching excursions.  These complaints they listened to very eagerly, and then they retailed a long list of the grievances, which Scowcroft had against the same unlucky individual.  When they reached their general meeting-place at Miles's house they, of course, gave full and particular, not too exaggerated, accounts of what they had heard, thus strengthening, both in their own minds and in the minds of those who listened to them, resentful feelings against the offending minister.

    Long before the March quarterly meeting—at which the annual invitation is given to ministers to continue in the circuit—came, our friends had resolved that they would take the very extreme step of not voting for the super, and even, if necessary, voting against him.  Quiet William did his utmost to prevent them, and might even have succeeded, but, unfortunately for his good intentions, just on the eve of the great event, the super committed another and even less excusable transgression.  He complained from the pulpit that Scowcroft did not contribute its proper share to the Worn-Out Preachers' Fund, and in the vestry after the service he hinted pretty plainly that, in his judgment, the blame lay with the "leaders."  That settled it!  There must be no "shafflin' wark naa."  William was abused without measure or mercy after the preacher had gone, and when the day of the Quarterly Meeting came Jimmy actually got off work for half-a-day in order to attend that fateful gathering.

    As the four leaders of rebellion were passing up Lark Lane they were somewhat disconcerted to find William standing at his cottage door and evidently waiting for them.  He also had got off work, and the others felt that they could have done very well without him, for he was so peace-loving that he was certain to put a "Scotch" in their wheel somehow; and then he was so very sly when he was "up to owt" that his presence was nothing short of suspicious.  When they reached the schoolroom door at Wallbury, however, William said he had "a bit of a arrand," and left them; and the super, going home, disturbed and sad, a few hours later, found a small parcel lying on the study table, which on opening he discovered contained a half-pound of tobacco, accompanied by a small slip of paper on which was written in a rough scrawling hand, "From a lovin' fiend."  When the financial statement came to be read, the senior steward paused at the name of Scowcroft and called the attention of the meeting to the fact that the contribution from that place was some fifteen shillings below what was usual, and as there was an awkward silence many eyes were turned to the back bench where our friends were sitting.  William ducked his head and groaned apprehensively; and well he might, for a moment later the meeting was startled by the rasping voice of Jimmy the Scutcher crying out, "Bet-ter preichin', bet-ter pay."  Scowling faces were turned angrily upon the daring Scutcher, and William was just rising to his feet when the steward very wisely resumed his reading of the accounts.  Presently the time for giving the invitations came, and the official upon whom that duty devolved commenced a very sincere and glowing eulogium upon the super.  There were shufflings of feet and certain very peculiar gruntings from the place where the Scowcrofters were seated; all smothered instantly, however, by a stentorian "Yer! yer!" from William.

    Then several others followed in the same eulogistic vein, including one at least of those upon whom the leaders of rebellion had been depending for support.  Then the vote was put to the meeting, and the anger of the Scowcrofters gave way to quick feelings of shame and surprise as they saw every hand in the meeting held up except theirs, William in fact standing to vote, and extending both hands as far as he could stretch them.

    "On the contrary" was called, and those close enough to see were greatly edified to behold the four malcontents suddenly drop their heads into their hands, whilst Quiet William stood menacingly over them with an expression on his face which boded ill indeed to any one who might dare to exercise his rights.

    The rest of the meeting's proceedings were of little interest to our friends, although they did make a clumsy attempt to redeem themselves by a boisterous demonstration when their favourite third minister's name was submitted.  But the meeting received their effort very coldly, and when the gathering broke up the four abashed and humiliated conspirators were the first to depart.  After shaking the super's hand in his own mighty paw until that good man winced again, William hurried away after his friends.  Nobody would speak to him, and for some distance they did not even address each other.  At last, just as they were striking the Scowcroft road, Miles exploded upon his big brother-in-law; the ice having thus been broken, they were soon all talking together, and William was having a very warm time of it indeed.  Miles was so excited that he stopped in the road to thunder out his threats, and was so engrossed in this occupation that neither he nor any one else had heard a rattling cart come down the road after theim.  At this moment the cart stopped, and the rough voice of Reuben Tonge was heard calling out, "Naa, then, ger in if yo wanten."

    At another time our friends would have been surprised at so civil an offer coming from their old enemy, but now they were so engrossed in their angry discussion that they did not think of the peculiarity of it, and sulkily climbed into the cart from behind, still continuing their debate.  Reuben sat quietly in the front of the vehicle eagerly listening, but giving no sign; and when they reached his house and, curtly thanking him, departed, still absorbed in fretful debate, the sand man stood watching them as they went down the lane, and at last, as they were just disappearing, he pointed after them with his whip, and as his strong upper lip curled he said, "Pablo! see how these Christians love."  And Pablo seemed so impressed with this revelation of the weakness of good people that he stood staring down the road in deep meditation, and had to be actually led into his own stable.



III.


NOW the Superintendent had not caught the very disloyal remark that fell from the able Jimmy at the Quarterly Meeting; neither had he noticed that the Scowcroft contingent did not vote; in fact, he did not feel that he ought to observe how anybody voted.  And the applause that followed the carrying of the resolution was so unanimous and hearty that he could not doubt that his ministry was acceptable to the great majority, and that was all he felt he could fairly expect.  Still, he noticed that there was something unusual in the affair, and, being a highly sensitive man, he was somewhat troubled, and tried to get some information from his colleagues.  But these good men only laughed; it was some characteristic eccentricity on the part of the Scowcrofters, and that was all they would tell him.  All the same, the super allowed the matter to trouble him, and went home in a somewhat depressed and anxious frame of mind.  At home, however, he had other things to occupy his thoughts, for his only son was sinking fast into the grave under the baneful influence of consumption, and as he was the only one left of all his children the good man was in deepest sorrow about it.  The next day the servant announced that a queer, rough-looking man with a sand-cart had called and left two cock chickens and a basket of new-laid eggs.  A few days later he came again, and kept Barbara talking quite a long time at the back door whilst he plied her with a number of very pointed and inquisitive questions about "Th' mestur."  The super gave orders that if he called again he was to be detained until he could get to the door to speak to him, but when the day but one after the man made his third visit and was asked to wait to speak to the master, he answered very gruffly, and when the minister had been called and appeared at the kitchen-door, it was only to see a stout unkempt man with a dirty yellow pony just disappearing at the other end of the back lane.

    Meanwhile Miles and his friends were only recovering somewhat slowly from their discomfiture at the Quarterly Meeting.  The fact was they had begun to feel heartily ashamed of the part they had played at that gathering, and were very uneasy about the super's next visit.  Latterly they had fallen to blaming each other for what had taken place, and it was all that Quiet William could do to keep the peace amongst them.

    On the morning of the super's next appointment at the village William, contrary to custom, went a little way to meet the preacher.

    "Good mornin', mestur shuper.  H-a-y, Aw am fain ta see yo'.  Wee'st hey a grand toime this mornin'."

    "Thank you, Mister William.  I hope so; but everybody――"

    "Aye, iverybody!  We Aw loiken yo' i' Scowcrof' ther'll be a slappin' congregation, yo'll see."

    "Thank you!  Thank you!  But I'm afraid —the Quarterly Meeting, you know."

    "Quarterly Meetin'!  Hay, Aye, it wur a gradely good vooate, wornt it?  Aw wur welly skrikin' when Aw seed 'em stick they hons up."

    The minister was touched and yet uneasy, for William was rather overdoing his part.

    "Yes, but everybody is not like you, my dear friend; your brother-in-law, for instance――"

    "Him!  Hay, mester, yo' dunna know aar Miles yet.  He allis talks collywest to wot he thinks.  Bud he knows when he yers a gradely good sarmon, Aw con tell yo."

    By this time they had reached the chapel, and William fussed about the minister in the vestry until his very eagerness to make things pleasant increased the "super's" suspicions.  Then Miles came in with a curt "Mornin'," followed immediately by Jimmy, who did not speak at all.

    But William proved to be right: there was a quite exceptional congregation that morning, for William had canvassed for it, and the super preached with more than usual vigour, whilst our quiet friend kept up a running of ejaculations which manifestly stimulated the man in the pulpit.  Whilst the congregation was singing the last hymn Miles and Noah were having an animated discussion in the vestry.  There was a half-crown in the collection, and this was so entirely unprecedented a sum to be given at an ordinary service that these two worthies were discussing what must be done.  It was a mistake, of course, and Miles was urging Noah to go into the pulpit and ask the minister to announce that the person who had given it in mistake for a penny might correct the error in the vestry.  But Noah proved obstinate; he was not accustomed to go into pulpits and Miles was.  It got to the last verse of the hymn, and ultimately Miles was constrained to venture on the errand.  But just as he opened the door to go into the chapel he caught sight of some one he had not seen before.  His jaw dropped, he hesitated and turned round, and as the congregation went to prayer he turned hastily to the vestry, and staring in amazement at his colleague gasped out, "Whey, mon! dust know whoas here?"

    "Whoa?"

    "He hesna bin i' this chapil fur twenty yer an' mooar."

    "Whoa?"

    "Owd scratch 'ull be comin' to chapil next."

    "Whoar is it, mon?  Speik, wilta?"

    "Reubin Tonge, an' noabry else."

    Noah gave the little tailor a rough push to one side, and darted for the chapel door, but the congregation was dispersing, and so, missing his man, he came back hastily and made for the door of the vestry, where he stood watching for a sight of the visitor.  Reuben was dressed in a new suit of black, with a new silk hat, a high collar and broad black stock, and looked what he really was—a substantial man of property.  A more striking transformation it would be difficult to conceive, and the astonishment and curiosity of the chapel people was so great that the super and his transgressions were for the moment forgotten.  And at night the minister had Reuben in his congregation again, and Miles and Noah found another half-crown in the collecting-box.

    But Reuben did not come on the following Sunday, nor on the Sunday after that; and it was only on the next visit of the super that he reappeared at the chapel.  What did it all mean?  The only conclusion that they could reach was that it was another instance of that inveterate contrariness for which Reuben had been so long distinguished.  Everything that the authorities at the chapel liked he disliked, and everything that they condemned he took up and defended.  This had been his habit now for many years, and the present was only a somewhat more remarkable instance of his strange perversity.

    The spring was somewhat late, the weather had indeed been genial, but it suddenly harked back and the temperature was that of midwinter again.  A Sunday or two after the strange appearance of the sandman at the chapel, Miles Grimshaw had been appointed at the most distant place on the plan and had to drive in an open conveyance.  The evening turned out rough and wet and bitterly cold, and Miles was conscious as he rode behind the second minister and another "local" that he was catching cold.  Next day he felt better than he expected, but towards evening he began to be unaccountably tired and listless.  By bedtime he was quite feverish, and though he threatened all sorts of pains and penalties to any one who suggested the idea of a doctor, Quiet William went off to fetch one, and, returning about ten at night, suddenly ushered him into Miles's bedroom.  The doctor said that Miles was in a very serious condition, and predicted that it would require every effort they could put forth to save him from rheumatic fever.  Miles was indignant.  The doctor was a "numyed," a "blethering quack," and several other equally objectionable things besides, and William and poor Dinah were "mopesing molly-coddles," and as for staying in bed all the doctors and all the wives in creation should not keep him in bed longer than next morning.

    But next morning Miles never named getting up, he had something else to think about.  He had passed a woeful night and was, if possible, crosser than ever.  During the forenoon he seemed to improve a little, and for some time lay very quiet in his bed.  Dinah, who had been up all night and had travelled up and down stairs numberless times, was still standing anxiously at his bedside, when a knock came at the back door.

    Dinah hurried downstairs once more and opened the door very cautiously, for it was blowing a hurricane outside, and fine sleety snow was whirling about in thick clouds.  It was the super.  He was covered with the small snowflakes and looked cold and very thin.

    "Hay, mestur!  Yo'n neer come aat a mornin' loike this!  Wotiver's browt yo' here o' thisunce?"

    "I heard that Brother Grimshaw had taken cold on Sunday, and was very ill; how is he?"

    "An' han' yo' come fro' Wallbury to see aar Miles a day loike this?"

    "Certainly!  How is he?  Can I see him?"

    "He's up sturs.  Yo con goo an see him yorsel'!" and Dinah, who was bursting into tears and scarcely knew what she either said or did, surprised the minister by hurrying off into the pantry to conceal her emotion, leaving him to find his way upstairs by himself.

    The staircase was opposite the door, and Miles had heard every word that had been said.  When the minister reached the little bedroom he found the tailor sitting up in his bed, and evidently trying to control his face.

    "Well, Brother Grimshaw, I'm sorry to find you so unwell, but you were serving a good—"

    But Miles just reached out his hand, and, taking the minister's in his, he shook it passionately, and cried through rising tears, "God bless yo," and then, suddenly releasing his grasp he turned away and buried his head in the bed clothes and could not be induced to speak a word.  The super stayed some time, and Dinah was scandalised at her husband's behaviour; but it made no difference, Miles would not uncover his face; only as he was going down the stairs the minister heard a hoarse, quavering voice, broken as if by a sob, crying after him "God bless yo," and he went away with the feeling that the Scowcrofters were stranger than ever, and more difficult to understand, and that he never should get to know them.

    Dinah was loud in praises of the super when he had gone, but Miles would not say a word, and even when, two days later, by which time he had thrown off the danger and was sitting up in bed, his wife began enlarging upon the good man's thoughtful and self-sacrificing visit, Miles did not join in.

    In a few days the tailor was convalescent, and received permission to come down stairs, and then his wife informed him that Reuben Tonge had called twice to inquire after his condition.  Miles was more surprised than ever.  What could be coming over the fellow?  When his cronies came in that night he mentioned the matter to them, but nobody could give even a likely guess as to what had produced this great change in their old enemy.

    All day the following Sunday Miles stayed indoors, but at night there was a full attendance of his associates round the fire.

    Jacky o' th' Gap ventured a disparaging remark about the super, but nobody took it up.  Then Jimmy the Scutcher commenced in a similar vein, and was just turning to appeal to Miles when the door opened and in stepped, of all persons in the world, Reuben Tonge.  Two or three rose from their seats in pure amazement, but nobody offered the newcomer a chair.  Reuben looked coolly round, and then remarked to the master of the house, "Thar't cumin' tew, Aw see."

    "Aye," answered Miles, shortly, and there was an awkward pause.

    Then, as the sandman seemed to be inclined to stay, Dinah came forward and asked him to sit down.

    Reuben sank carelessly into a chair, drew out a short wooden pipe, and leisurely charged it, everybody present watching the operation with painful interest.

    Then the visitor leaned back laxily in his chair, and contemplated the joists above his head, and, finally, without changing his position, he remarked, "Awve fun' a Christian at last as is a Christian."

    As this was an implied reflection on all present several of the faces hardened somewhat, but nobody answered.

    "Aye, an' he's a parson, tew."

    The stillness deepened.

    "An' a Methody parson, tew."

    There was still no response, but the eyes of the company were all turned upon the speaker with quickened interest.

    "He wur born amung th' quality, an' they turnt their backs on him 'cause he wur religious."  Reuben paused for some response, but as none came he proceeded.  "An' he gan up a thaasand a yer to be a Methody parson."

    Quiet William gave an exclamation of admiration, but nobody else showed any sign.

    "An' he went a bein' a meesionaary amung the blacks.  It wur a whot place, wheer white folk couldn't live, bud he kept on stoppin'."

    "Bless him," muttered William, under his breath.

    "An' his woife deed, bud he wouldna' leev his wark."

    "That's summat loike," assented Miles, with growing interest in the story.

    "An' his two little wenches deed, bud he wouldna' leeav."

    The expressive eye of Jimmy began to roll about as if he were getting excited over something, as, indeed, he was.

    "An' then he wur took bad hissel', and hed ta be browt whoam."

    "God bless him!" shouted William, unable any longer to restrain himself.

    "Bud as sewn az he get bet-ter he were fur off ageean, bud th' doctors said az if he did it ud kill him."

    Every pipe in the company was sulkily smouldering because its owner had forgotten it, and was waiting breathlessly for the speaker's next word.

    "Bud he went."

    The interest was now painful, and even the phlegmatic Jimmy gasped, "Goa on, more."

    "He said he wanted ta translate Scriptur' into th' langu'ge o' th' country.  He stopped five yer, an' they buried his owdest lad woll he were away."

    "Bless him!  Bless him!" broke in Dinah, "Hay, Awd loike fur't d see that felley."

    Reuben glanced at the sobbing woman with a very peculiar look, and then went on.  "An' when he'd finished his translating he wur welly deead.  An' they browt him whoam again."

    "An' he wur tew yer afoot he were fit fur owt."

    "He met weel; he ought ta niver a dun nowt no moor—he owt t'hed a pension fro' Parliament," shouted the glowing, full-hearted Miles.

    "They sent him tew a hard circuit."

    "The lump-yeds, it's a shawm!  It's nowt else!" shouted Abram Briggs.

    And now it seemed as if Reuben had finished, for he made no attempt to proceed.

    "Well!  Goa on wi' thi," cried Jimmy, eagerly.

    "Nay, Aw've no mooar ta, say."

    Then, forgetting that they were scarcely on friendly terms with the man who had told them this wonderful story, they began to quiz him with all sorts of questions about the hero they had been hearing about.  Was he alive?  Could they by any means ever get to see and hear him?  Miles announced his purpose of going to Manchester, or even further if he could only see such a man.

    "Grandest felley Aw iver yerd abaat," cried Jimmy.

    "We ne'er getten sich felleys as that at aar meesionary meetings," said Jacky, who generally was the most voluble of the critics, but who in the presence of Reuben had special reasons for silence.

    "Dust think we cud get him fur aar sarmons?" inquired Miles, looking eagerly at Reuben, who was rising to depart.

    "Aw darr say yo met if yo tried, but Aw yer yo dunna think mitch abaat him in Scowcrof."

    "Uz?  Dun we know him?  Whoar is he?"

    Reuben put his chair away carefully against the wall, and then standing carelessly on the mat, he replied: "Aye, Aw think some on yo knows him, his name's Lingard," and whilst shouts of amazement came from the company, Reuben, with a smirk of delight at the consternation he had caused, stepped to the door and was gone.  Lingard was the name of the unpopular super.

                        *                            *                            *                            *

    But the now all interesting minister never came to Scowcroft again, for the unseasonable and unexpected winter weather which had given Miles his bad cold proved fatal to the minister's son, who died in a few days, leaving a broken-hearted and lonely parent, who thus lost his last and only earthly tie.  The good man was so broken down by his great calamity that he was compelled to go away, and when a subscription was started to pay the expenses of the holiday, the circuit stewards were surprised at the astonishing contributions that came from Scowcroft, Miles Grimshaw's donation being higher than that of the richest man in the circuit, and only exceeded by that of the eccentric sandman, Reuben Tonge.



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