The Scowcroft Critics V.
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A SUSPICIOUS CASE.

I.


IT was Saturday afternoon—the Saturday afternoon of the year, in fact—at Scowcroft, the one preceding the "sarmons " day.  The croft, always lively on Saturdays, now wore an unusually animated appearance, the ordinary travelling hawkers' carts having been reinforced by several strange ones of gay and rakish look.  Opposite "Tay Wayter Martha's" was a gorgeous red-and-white-striped nut and brandy-snap stall, and at the other end of the row was a small stall doing apparently a large business in balloons, monkeys-up-the-stick, pea-shooters and rag dolls.  In the middle of the croft, nearly opposite the chapel, a man, with thick, raucous voice, was inviting the juvenile population to invest in "A stick an' tew glawses fer a ha'penny,' whilst old Eb. Cribby and his lame daughter Lavinia were selling posies and "sarmon button-holes" out of a very shaky wheel-barrow.  The smaller juveniles were gathered in little groups around these alluring "emporiums," and gazing with wide-open eyes and toffee-smeared mouths at the wonderful treasures so seductively offered for sale, whilst the older ones were crouched in doorways, in various stages of dishabille, cleaning Sunday boots or polishing the rarely-used best cutlery for the approaching anniversary festivities.

    At the chapel Quiet William and several of the teachers were busy putting up the stage or platform, and Tom Crompton, the chapel-keeper, in a frightful condition of nervous excitement and profuse perspiration, was fetching and carrying for the stage builders one minute, and the next minute making excursions and alarums after the children who, having spent their pocket-money, were standing round the chapel gate, long sticks of wall-paper-covered treacle-toffy in their hand, and small and very green-looking apples bulging out of their pockets, every now and then venturing to peep into the porch, and thus coming into collision with some of the not too amiable stage builders.

    The only door that was shut in the row was that of Miles Grimshaw's house, inside which the irascible tailor was stitching and shearing at various belated garments which were required for the coming morrow.  Every now and again the future wearers of these garments came to the door to see how their coats and trousers were progressing; but as they held the door in their hands, and glanced at the flurried and anxious face of the gentle Dinah, they either retreated without asking the question that was upon their lips, or else they stopped in the middle of their first sentences and beat hasty retreats, followed by rasping sarcasms and most terrible threats from the irate tailor.

    At Jimmy the Scutcher's, on the other side of the chapel, preparations for the coming Sabbath were already in an advanced state.  Sarah Ann, the eldest daughter, still in her factory clothes, was cleaning the window, pausing every now and again to converse with Letty Hollows, who was standing in the next doorway, and who had her own reasons for being interested in the doings of the Scutcher's household.  Inside the house Mrs. Jimmy, a tall, thin, somewhat worn-looking person, was going about with an absent, preoccupied air, glancing every now and again at the little, drunken-looking clock on the inside wall, and then turning to gaze earnestly across the croft as if expecting some one to come over the canal bridge, as indeed she was; whilst Jimmy himself, washed and dressed, was sitting in his shirt sleeves with a long clay pipe in his mouth and a little dog-eared book in his hand, from which he was hearing Harriet Jane repeat her Sunday's "piece."

    Harriet Jane was not getting on very well, her fear of her terrible father seeming to confuse and clog her memory, and Jimmy consequently wore puckers of irritation and impatience on his rugged face.

    The "piece" was Longfellow's "Village Blacksmith," and Harriet Jane had reached the fourth verse, though not without hesitation and stumbling.  She stood heavily on one leg, the corner of her best pinafore crumpled up in her hand ready to be used upon her frightened eyes.

    She had just finished the third verse:


    When the evening sun is low.


Then she drew a long breath, and was about to commence the next verse when her eyes suddenly darkened, she gave a short gasp, and then raised her head and began to gaze helplessly at the joists above her head.

    "When the evening sun is lo-o-ow."

    "Oh, it's low ageean, is it?  Twicest i' wun neet; it's a funny soort ov a sun."

    Harriet Jane gave a little hysterical giggle, but hastened to suppress it as her father turned his terrible eye upon her.

    "When the evening sun is low," she repeated, helplessly, and gave undoubted signs of approaching tears.

    "Harriet Jane," drawled the Scutcher, in slow and biting tones, "Aw'm sorry for th' sun reet enuff, bud Aw conna skrike abaat it.  If Aw wur thee Aw'd leeav it wheer it is, a' goa on to th' next――"

    But the tortured reciter had a sudden flash of memory, and plunged off at racehorse speed:


He goes on Sunday to the church,
And sits among his b'iys.


But an ominous creak from the critic's chair suddenly stopped her, and as she held her breath apprehensively her father turned to look at the clock, and then, as if addressing that article of domestic furniture as a colleague in judgment, he proceeded: "Naa, this sun's summat loike a felley, a dacent, religious soort of a chap; he goes to th' church an' sits amung th' b'iys"―― and then suddenly whisking round and glaring fiercely at poor Harriet Jane, he shouted, "Dust know as tha's skipped a voss, thaa lumpyed?"

    But just then a stentorian "Whoy!" was heard outside, and Jacky o' th' Gap, addressing a string of objurgations to his twenty-year-old grey mare, came clambering down out of his shaky old gig into the house.

    "Gettin' thi piece off, wench?" he cried, as he entered.  "Give it maath, lass, plenty o' maath.  That's getten ta keep th' family name up, tha knows."

    "Aye! hoos getten summat ta keep up, sureli," grunted Jimmy, as he emptied a parcel of tobacco into a big jar, and then handed the vessel to Jacky.

    "Keep up!" cried Jacky, in his energetic way.  "Hoo hez that!  Scowcroft 'as allis been th' best place i' th' circuit fur pieces, and the best piece-sayers i' Scowcrof' haz allis cum aat o' this hawse, anna they?  Hast fergetten yore Caleb?  There's nowt i' th' countryside cud touch him!"

    And then the thin face of Mrs. Jimmy came out from behind the kitchen-door with something of an uplifted look upon it, and she said, as she offered Jacky a drink of small beer: "Dost remember th' last toime he set up, Jacky?  His piece hod thorty-seven vosses in it, an' six loines in a voss?"

    "Hi, sure!" cried Jacky, "an' he went through it loike steeam an' niver slipped a wod.  There's now't loike him i' Lancashire, that's sartin'."

    A soft light came into the worn eyes of the delighted mother, and, putting a hand gently on Jacky's shoulder, she asked, "An' wot wur it as that bump-feeling felley i' Wallbury market said abaat him?"  But Jimmy, who had more than his share of the Lancashire man's dislike of open praise, either of himself or his belongings, scowled threateningly at his wife and replied sternly, "Aar Caleb's now better nur he should be, Aw con tell thi'."

    The indignant mother tossed her head a little, and was apparently about to retort somewhat hotly upon her provoking husband, when there was a short cry at the door, and Sarah Ann was seen coming in from her window-cleaning with some mysterious-looking something crouched behind her.  A moment later a tall, good-looking young fellow of about twenty-two rose up from behind Sarah Ann's skirts, and with a joyous "Hew dew, all on yer?" sprang into the middle of the room.

    But although he had been six months absent in his situation in Manchester, and was the only son and pride of the family, there was no embracing, no kissing.  The sisters came very near to him, and looked as though but for country shame they would have liked to take him round the neck.  Letty Hollows, following him in at a little distance of time stood shyly in the door-way with a light in her eyes she was trying in vain to conceal.  The mother stepped back towards the kitchen-door, having suddenly become as shy as a school-girl, and heaved a great sigh, whilst pride and delight made her sad face quite beautiful for a moment.  Jimmy, after a startled glance at the newcomer, turned hastily away, and fixed an apparently absorbed look upon a little oak-framed funeral-card hanging over the fire-place, and everybody looked away from everybody else with shame-faced and almost guilty looks.

    There was a moment of embarrassing silence, and then Caleb suddenly remembered the presence of Jacky o' th' Gap, and relieved his own and everybody else's feelings by taking him enthusiastically by the hand, and asking him over and over again how he was.  Jacky responded in a characteristically boisterous manner, and the ice having thus been broken, the younger people began to talk and ask questions with a nervous rapidity which was meant to conceal their nearly uncontrollable emotion.

    In the midst of it all Letty suddenly remembered herself, and said she must be "gooin'," upon which Caleb, to the delight of all the women folk, uttered a hasty but emphatic protest, rushed at the retreating maiden, caught her cleverly in the doorway and—it could only be attributed to the unwonted excitement of the occasion—actually kissed her as she tried to escape him.  Upon this Mrs. Jimmy retired into the kitchen again, to dry her eyes, and murmur a fervent "Thank God!" and the embarrassed but happy Letty accepted for the first time an oft-repeated invitation to stay to her "tay."  Meanwhile, Jimmy was still engrossed in his distant study of the funeral card, and but for one spasmodic roll of his nether eye, just when the smack of the kiss was heard, nobody would have thought that he was at all conscious of what was going on around him.

    When tea was ready Mrs. Jimmy frustrated a carefully-arranged plan of her daughter's for placing Caleb next to Letty, by dropping into the seat herself, and whilst the rest were busy eating and talking she was nibbling gingerly at a piece of bread and carefully studying her idolised son.  And somehow the examination was not quite satisfactory, for her husband, watching her narrowly, caught her sighing once or twice, and even he was disturbed to find a tendency in himself to the same pensive exercise.

    Late that night, when the rest had all retired, Jimmy sat moodily smoking by the expired fire, whilst his wife went about doing little odds and ends of work, or rather pretending to do them, but in reality waiting for her husband to commence a conversation on their beloved son.

    But the Scutcher seemed a long time in beginning.  At last, however, as she was piling some wood on the hob by the fire for use, next morning, he leaned back in his chair and sighed sarcastically.

    "Aye! feshionable breeches an' lastic-side boots."

    Mary winced, drew herself up to her full height, and cried querulously, "Well, he mun dew as uther young felleys does, Aw reacon."

    Jimmy blinked his eyes rapidly, poured out a great volume of smoke, blinked again, and then said, "An' a watch in his waistcut pocket, an' a cheean loike a booat rooap."

    Mary had reached the kitchen door, but, stung by this second sneer at her favourite, she turned round and retorted, hotly, "He's as good as his faythur, an' a foine seet bet-ter, sa, theer," and then she broke down and vanished into the kitchen, trying in vain to choke back her angry tears.

    But the remorseless Jimmy was not yet content.  He knew that in her heart his wife was as concerned at what they had seen in Caleb as he was himself, and in fact very much more so, and this cruel banter was his only way of discussing the matter with her.

    Ten minutes passed before Mary came near him again, and when she did so it was only to demand, in her surliest tones, if he was going to bed that night; but Jimmy had to relieve his mind fully, and so he sat for a minute or two without speaking, and then drawled out, "An' a Shakespeare collar an' a goold-plated ring."

    And then Mary, with a candle already in her hand, stepped into the middle of the floor, and, standing defiantly before her husband, cried through a fresh flood of indignant tears, "Aye, an' he'st hev a solid goold cheean, if he wants wun, bless him," and with this final though consciously feeble shot the distracted mother turned to the staircase and was gone.

    Jimmy sat for some moments in the darkness, evidently in deep thought, and at last he heaved a long sigh, and groaned out, "It's aar fawt, Lord, nor 'is.  Dunna punish th' lad fur his payrunt's proide.  Dunna!  Lord, dunna!"



II.


JIMMY did not get to sleep until the small hours of the morning, and consequently awoke too late to go to the usual Sunday morning prayer-meeting.  The sun was shining in at the bedroom window, and it was evidently going to be an ideal anniversary day.  And now Jimmy began to feel that his fears of the preceding night had been a little excessive.  Caleb was "nobbut a bit gallous, loike th' rest o' young chaps," and he had been rather foolish to trouble himself so much about the lad's little vanities.  He would think no more about the matter.  Just then he heard a burst of very un-Sabbath-like laughter, and realising that household discipline demanded his restraining presence downstairs, he made haste to dress himself, and descended the creaking stairs in his stocking feet—for slippers were unmanly luxuries in his eyes.  The scene that met him when he arrived on the lower floor not only aroused his fatherly ire, but brought back all his previous night's fears.  There on the hearthstone stood young Caleb, dressed in a new suit of clothes of disgracefully fashionable cut.  His coat was hung over a chair back, he wore also a fine white cotton shirt, a pair of shining patent leather slippers, whilst cocked on the top of his head, at an irresistibly comical angle, was Sarah Ann's new Anniversary bonnet.  Caleb, with the broad ultra-fashionable cuffs of his shirt turned up over his elbows, and a long fork in his hand, was pretending to superintend the cooking of a pound of those wonderful and famous Smithy door sausages, which the better end of the Scowcrofters always brought home as rare dainties on their occasional visits to Manchester.  The girls, who were without their frocks, and had their hair in curl papers, were watching their frolicsome brother with eyes that danced with delicious fun, and even the mother was peeping out from behind the kitchen door, her face wreathed with smiles that looked all the sweeter because there was a shadow of pain behind them.

    It required all Jimmy's boasted self-control to save him from a most compromising grin, but when with a supreme effort he had escaped that disgrace he assumed a look of awful sternness, glared round severely on the confused merrymakers, and then, after a terrible pause, remarked in biting tones: "Oh, Aw'm a whoam, Aw see!  Aw thowt Aw wur sleepin' o'er a bar-parlour."

    "Mornin', fayther!" cried Caleb, flourishing the fork, whilst Sarah Ann shyly snatched her precious new bonnet from his head.  "Cum on wi' yo!  Theas sausage is dun tew a toucher.  Muther, dun yo know wot ther made on?"

    "Naa, Caleb!" cried both the girls at once, in deprecatory anticipation of one of their brother's old jokes.

    "They makken 'em aat o' owd shoon an' hymn bewk backs daan Shudehill way, bud theas is made aat o' ceaw-heel-pie an' hair-ile.  They're stunners."

    The girls uttered cries of nausea, and Caleb, with a delighted chuckle, whisked the hissing sausages upon the table and called upon all the rest to "reich tew."

    Jimmy drew up to the table with a face of gathering gloom, and interrupted his son in the telling of a funny story to ask a blessing.

    Caleb commenced his duties as carver by selecting the brownest and most tempting sausage for his mother, who took her plate with a hand that suddenly began to shake and eyes that had a quick, light in them.  And then the light all at once became tears, and unable longer to control feelings that had been gathering ever since her beloved son came home, she burst out, "Bless thi, lad, Aw'm fain to see thee," and dropped her head over her plate and blushed like a maiden; for the stern eye of her husband was upon her, and she realised that she had broken every canon of Lancashire reticence and unpardonably committed herself.

    But the awkward pause that followed was not to Caleb's mind at all; he was intent upon enjoying himself and on making everybody else enjoy themselves as far as possible; and so he felt resentful at his father's sternness, and inwardly resolved to give him something to be sulky about as soon as possible.

    "Caleb, when is it yore sarmons?" asked Sarah Ann, as she handed her brother a piece of new oven-bottom cake.

    "Aar sarmons?  Wot dust meean?  Theas is aar sarmons."

    "Ger aat wi' thi!  Aw meean yore sermons i' Manchester.  Thaa goos to th' schoo, dustna?"

    And Caleb, glancing hastily at his mother out of one eye, noticed that she was waiting his reply with an interest that was painful, and so, feeling still a little resentful, he glanced out of his other eye at his father, and as that worthy was looking very ostentatiously out of the window to conceal the fact that he was awaiting as eagerly as his wife for the answer, Caleb gave way to inward anger, and with a toss of his head answered, "Schoos!  Aye, there's plenty o' school i' Manchester."

    "Bud which does thaa goo tew?" asked Sarah Ann, after a somewhat painful pause.

    "Me!  Me goo to th' schoo?  Not me," and Caleb laughed a boisterous but not very successful laugh.

    Then there was another long and embarrassing pause, broken only by a heavy sigh from the mother.

    "Then wheer dust put thi toime in ov a neet?" asked Sarah Ann, and everybody looked away from everybody else as if afraid to hear what was coming.  Caleb stole a long, uneasy glance at his mother, but again his resentment at their unjustifiable suspicions overcame all other feelings, and he answered defiantly, "Oh, th' Albert Gardins an' the Strawberry Gardins an' th' theayter, and sich loike."

    There was a sudden choking sob; mother fell back in her chair, and throwing her apron over her face, uttered a piteous wail, and Sarah Ann, rising from her chair hastily, cried almost in tears, "Dunna believe him, mother, he's lyin'.  Haa could ta for shawm, Caleb."

    Caleb rose from his chair and walked sulkily to the door, where he stood looking across the croft with resentment and penitence struggling together upon his face.  Poor mother hastened into the scullery, where she could be heard trying to smother her sobs, and the girls sat looking down on the now despised dainty on their plates, and biting their lips to keep their tears back.  As for Jimmy, he had never moved; he still sat looking through the window, but he had become sternly pale, his great left eye seeming to protrude and dominate his whole face, whilst the morsel of sausage he had in his mouth might have been poison, judging by the difficulty he had of getting rid of it.  Then he turned away from the table, leaving a newly-filled cup of coffee untouched, and groping in the corner of the fire-place for his pipe, he stuck it unfilled into his mouth, and with an effort to appear unconcerned sat staring moodily at the fire.

    For seven or eight minutes Caleb stood in the doorway looking fixedly before him, and only the rapid motion of his left leg gave any indication of the state of his feelings.  Once or twice he turned slowly round and glanced into the house, his gaze resting each time upon the kitchen door.  Then he commenced to whistle a hymn tune in low, wavering tones, turning round as he did so, and gliding towards a large picture-frame containing funeral-cards, which he began to study intently.  Then he moved across the floor to the other side of the wall, where was a similar picture, and became absorbed in that.  Then he transferred his attention to a small rosewood frame hanging on the inner wall near the pantry door, and containing a print of Mr. Wesley and Dr. Coke.  This occupied his thoughts, at least in appearance, for quite a long time, but suddenly he glanced hastily round the room again, made a rush at the pantry door, and Jimmy, sitting still and morose by the fire, heard a scuffle and a series of short cries in the pantry, followed by a rousing kiss, and then there was a moment's silence again, and Caleb emerged from the pantry with his hair very much ruffled, and trying to hide a look of sheepish bashfulness behind an appearance of sudden and delighted recollection.

    "By gum, wenches, Awd welly furgetten!  Well, that is a mank, ony way.  It must a bin mi fayther as put it aat o' mi yed wi' talkin' sa mitch."

    And whilst the girls laughed rather constrainedly at this sally on their father's taciturnity, Caleb scrambled noisily upstairs and presently returned with a small parcel.

    "Naa, then!  Come on wi' yo!  Who speiks fost?" he cried in nervous excitement, and commenced to fussily unwrap the parcel.

    "Me!" cried Harriet Jane, eagerly, and Caleb thrust into her hand a packet which, when she had opened, proved to contain a quantity of tobacco.

    "Naa, then, lumpyed!" he cried, delightedly, "tha'rt no wantin' thi fayther's 'bacca, sureli," and as his sister pettishly jerked the packet across the table towards her father's elbow, Caleb, rejoicing to think that he had so easily got over the ordeal of presentation to his sphinx-like parent, chuckled gleefully and dived his hand once more into the parcel.  A pair of gloves for Sarah Ann was the next thing produced, with a serious exhortation not to let Sammy Dick "sile 'em bi squeezin' 'em whol th' collection wur bein' made."

    Then came a small box containing a brooch for Harriet Jane, who, whilst she received it, could not help noticing that a similar one was being surreptitiously slipped into her brother's pocket, and she was not therefore surprised later in the day to see Letty Hollows with a resplendent ornament pinned upon her white dress.

    While this had been going on mother had stolen quietly out of the pantry and crept to Caleb's elbow, and was looking shyly down upon his parcel.

    "Hey, muther!" he cried, catching sight of her, and hastily covering up something in the parcel with his hands.  "Aw'd clean furgetten yo!  Well! wot mun wi dew?  This is a bonny mank." And then, after looking at her for a moment in well-dissembled astonishment, he went on: "Ne'er moind; Aw'll bring yo wun o' them new fancy Chignons as is comin' up.  Aw will, fur shure."

    But the mother, with a quiet, confident smile, gently pushed away her son's hands from what they were covering, and drew out of the parcel a beautiful new hymn-book.  She stood for a moment looking down at her present, then raised her eyes for a moment to her son's face; then lifting the book, tapped Caleb lightly on the head with it and turned away hastily into the pantry again, where, hugging the gift to her breast, she reminded herself that it was only a very carelessly-dropped word that she had uttered about wanting a new hymn-book, and it was months since she had done so, and yet here it was.  And putting her precious present into the window-bottom and plunging her hands into the wash-basin again, she murmured, "A lad as thinks ov his muther loike that's no goin' t' be a wastril, bless him."



III.


AND whilst the proceedings narrated in the last chapter were going on around him Jimmy was sitting still and stony before the fire.  He had charged his pipe and lighted it at least twice, but it had now been out for some time, and he appeared entirely unconscious of the fact, and every now and again took a long, pensive pull at it.  He was greatly disturbed.  Up to some two years ago Caleb had worked in the mill as a weaver.  But the lad, greatly to his father's delight, had again and again declared that he wasn't going to "stop behint a loom aw his days," and though as in duty bound Jimmy had sternly reproved the lad's "proide," he had been greatly pleased at the declaration, and raised no objection beyond indulging in a characteristic jibe when Caleb announced his determination of going to the Wallbury night-school twice a week.  It was a long way to go for learning, and Jimmy shrewdly reasoned with himself that if this was merely a passing whim his son would soon weary of it, and if he did stick to it that would be the clearest possible evidence that he ought to be encouraged.  Caleb had stuck to it, thus falsifying all the prophesies which his father had perversely made to the proud mother, when she tried to ascertain the state of her husband's mind on the subject.  At last Caleb won the first prize at the night-school for book-keeping, and was strongly recommended by his teacher to apply for a situation in Manchester as a clerk.

    Jimmy, when his son made this announcement to him, treated the matter with great scorn, told him he was "gettin' tew big fur his shoon," and bade him "stick of his weyvin'."  But as his father did not formally forbid the attempt, Caleb answered advertisement after advertisement until at last a favourable offer was made him.

    Then, to everybody's surprise and perplexity, Caleb's mother suddenly opposed the whole thing.  She would lose her son for ever, he would become a "foine gentleman"; he would forget his "owd muther," and "happen lewse his sowl."

    Then the Scutcher came out in fine style.  His wife's opposition had arisen far more than she was aware of herself from Jimmy's own remarks at odd moments when he was in a scoffing vein, for she had secretly great faith in his judgment.  But now Jimmy rose to the occasion; with glorious inconsistency he poured lofty scorn on his wife's fears, and indignantly denied having ever expressed such views as she now reminded him of.  She was a "meythering owd maddlin," and wanted to make her son a "slavvering molly-coddle."  "He had ne'er expected nowt else"; the lad "hed a bit a spunk in him loike his fayther."  If only he (Jimmy) had had half Caleb's chances he would have been a manager before now.

    And so, of course, Caleb had his way, and went to the great city and became a clerk.  And this was his third visit home in about eighteen months.  On the two previous occasions his mother had been so surprised and delighted with her son's handsome, gentlemanly appearance, and so uplifted by the remarks of her female friends, that she had forgotten all her fears, and was only too willing to believe that in this case, at any rate, she had justified her husband's oft-repeated declaration that "Aw thy meyse (mice) is tigers."

    And just in proportion as "mother" got over her fears and indulged her maternal pride, Jimmy, with natural contrariness, lapsed again into his old scoffing and unbelieving manner.  Whenever Caleb's excellences were described in his presence he curled his expressive upper lip, and hummed and haa'd and sniffed in a most provoking manner, and listened to extracts from his son's letters with ironical, unbelieving sneers.

    Now, however, this elaborate pretence of scepticism suddenly became painfully real.  He had all an old-fashioned villager's mistrust of town folk and town ways.  He had more than his share of Lancashire prejudice against show and bounce, and his son's manner and appearance seemed to him to justify his worst fears.

    Just at this moment Harriet Jane slided towards him the little packet of fancy tobacco, and Jimmy, though he neither moved nor spoke, felt strongly tempted to snatch it up and toss it into the fire.  Then lest there should be any mistake as to his appreciation of his son's gift, Jimmy got up to refill his pipe out of his own tobacco-box, only to discover that his pipe was still full.  Having risen, he somehow felt it awkward to sit down again, and so still standing, he re-lighted his pipe and sauntered aimlessly towards the door.

    Pausing a moment in the doorway, he presently wandered across the croft to the canal bridge, and stood leaning over the wall, moodily and absently contemplating the water beneath him.

    "Grand day fur th' sarmons, Jimmy," cried a thin, squeaky voice behind him.  Jimmy recognised the speaker by his tones, and so without moving or even turning his head he answered in his surliest manner, "It's reet enuff."

    The new-comer was a tall, thin man of about thirty-five, who was the only Scowcrofter besides Caleb who was employed in Manchester, and who for several years now had carried on a leisurely and intermittent courtship with Jimmy's eldest daughter, Sarah Ann.  He was employed in the same warehouse as Caleb, but though he had been there as many years as Caleb had been months, the younger man was already several places before him in rank.

    Jimmy seemed more taciturn even than usual, but as his companion had come to talk, and was not inclined to let the opportunity slip, he proceeded, "Aw see yore Caleb's a whoam tew.  Hay he's a wik un yore Caleb is."

    Jimmy felt a sudden sinking within him, and so turning round and leaning against the bridge wall he demanded, sharply, "Whey! wot does thaa know abaat aar Caleb?"

    "Oh, nowt! nowt!  We dunna tell tales aat o' th' schoo' tha' knows, Jimmy."

    Jimmy eyed the speaker steadily for several seconds, and then turning his back upon him with a look of freezing disdain, he coolly resumed his contemplation of the canal.

    "Naa, Jimmy, dunna be vexed; ther's plenty wur nur yore Caleb, Aw con tell thi."

    But Jimmy maintained an icy silence.

    The informer fidgeted for a moment or two, then moved a little further away from his companion, and turning to look over the bridge, murmured as if to himself, "Aw've ne'er seen him drunk, nur goin' wi' fly women noather, an' they con say wot theyn a moind."

    All at once the Scutcher wheeled round, and with white set face and blazing eyes he lifted his hand and struck out at the traducer of his son.  But the coward was too wary, and stepped aside, and Jimmy went sprawling against the side of the bridge wall.

    When the fallen man picked himself up his companion was nowhere to be seen.  Jimmy stood looking about him for a minute or so, then fell to contemplating the broken pipe in his hand, and finally, with a groan and something very like a curse, he strode slowly back towards home.

    Then he changed his mind, not caring to face his own in that condition, and turned off up Twiggy Lane, and when at length he returned to his own house the young people had gone to join the school procession, and Jimmy found himself alone with a sorrowful-faced wife.

    A single shy glance at her husband's face told Mrs. Jimmy all she needed to know.  She had no idea, of course, of what had taken place on the bridge, but to her anxious mind what they had seen and heard since Caleb came home was more than sufficient to explain her husband's stern and gloomy looks.  Then her heart went out to her son.  They couldn't expect him to be the same as if he had stayed at home.—Oh! how she wished he had done.—But he was her only son, and it cut her to the heart to see his father so troubled about him.

    "He's noa, woss nor uther folks's lads if we knew aw," she murmured at last, with a heavy sigh, but Jimmy did not answer her.  "It wur niver my will fur him to goa," she continued, after another long silence.  Jimmy jerked himself round in his chair and seemed about to make a hot reply, but he suddenly checked himself and only looked at her with stern protesting look.

    Then she went to the window, where she could see the scholars beginning to form in procession, and then turning away with a smothered cry, she came and put her hand gently on her husband's arm and said in low, coaxing, but tremulous tones, "Less tak him away, lad, afoor it's to late."

    Jimmy sprang to his feet as if he had been stung.  "Woman," he cried, in fierce anguish, "thaa talks loike a meythering foo , it's ta, late naa, Aw tell thi."

    The Scutcher and his wife never saw the Sunday-school procession that day, although it passed their door, and when the children came home they found the atmosphere of the house so heavy with a mysterious gloom that their own tongues seemed tied, and dinner was eaten almost in silence.  Caleb in particular seemed uncomfortable, and fearing that his parents had been having words about him, he tried to be gentle and conciliatory, and made every possible overture short of actual request for pardon to his silent and surly father.

    Jimmy had some doubts as to whether he could go to the service in the state of mind he was in, but eventually he made an effort and insisted on his wife going with him.  Both the services passed off satisfactorily; the sermons, although Jimmy found that he could only listen to them by fits and starts, satisfied him, the sun in the hands of Harriet Jane went down in its best manner, and the collection was up.  Altogether the services did Jimmy good.  He found himself watching with painful interest the conduct of his son, and concluded that either Caleb was a consummate hypocrite or that he was agitating himself about his boy without any just cause.  During the interval between the services Jimmy heard Harriet Jane whisper to her mother that "Aar Caleb put a wholl haaf sovrin into th' box," and Jimmy was divided between a fear that so unusual a sum could not have been honestly gained, and joy at the generosity of his son.

    When the evening service was over, Jimmy found himself able to join his old friends at Miles's, and presently got so animated in a discussion on the afternoon's sermon that for the moment he quite forgot his fears.  Recollecting himself, however, in good time, he left the tailor's house earlier than usual, and was just settling himself down to a go-to-bed pipe when the door was suddenly burst open, and with a wailing scream Letty Hollows came staggering into the house crying, "They'n tan him!  Oh, they'n tan him."

    Letty's cry was immediately drowned in another, and Caleb's mother, with a piercing shriek, flung herself upon the weeping girl.

    "Wot?" cried Sarah Ann, coming rushing downstairs.  "Whoa?  Whoa's tan him?  Whoa an they tan?"

    "Caleb!" cried the unhappy Letty.  "They'n tan him.  Th' bobies fro' Manchester as tan him, an' ther comin' here."

    As she spoke two policemen entered the house from behind her and immediately beg-an to explain.  Something had gone wrong at the office, and Caleb was suspected.  They had come in a gig, and had met Caleb in the lane courting Letty.  They had arrested him at once, and two of them had driven off to Manchester with the prisoner, whilst they (the speakers) had stayed behind to search the house.



IV.


FOR some minutes nothing was heard in the house but the sobs and wails of the distracted mother and sweetheart, mingled with incoherent protestations from Caleb's sisters.

    "He browt summat wi' him when he coom whoam, didn't he?" said one of the officers at length.  "We mun see it."

    "Nay yo' winna!  He browt nowt, and yoll see nowt," and with streaming eyes and suddenly-defiant looks the wretched mother rose to her feet and stood at the staircase door to prevent the search.

    "Bud he towd uz sa hissel," remonstrated the officer gently; "he said he hed a carpet bag."

    "He hadna!  Aw tell yo' he hadna!  Fur shame o' yursels, yo' hard-herted wastrils."

    "Well!  We mun see at ony rate."

    "Nay, yo winna!  Yoll no goo up thoose sturs ta-neet.  O-o-h, ha' marcy, will you!  Lord, do Thaa ha' marcy!" and the distracted mother leaned against the staircase door as if her son were behind it, and they were seeking his life, and she was resolved to lose her own to save him.

    "Dunna muther! dunna!" said Sarah Ann, soothingly, though her face wore a look of surprise and shame that her mother should thus plunge recklessly into falsehood.

    But "mother" still clung to the staircase door, and leaning her tear-stained face against it she sobbed, "Theyn tempted him tew it!  Theyn tempted him! he'd ne'er a dun it of hissel'," and then, after a moment or two of passionate sobbing, she went on, "Haa could ta, Caleb!  Haa could ta! tha's brokken thi muther's hert."

    But at this moment there was the noise of a chair being pushed violently over the sanded floor, and the next instant Jimmy, white to the lips and in a perfect passion of indignation, strode over to his weeping wife, and seizing her violently by the shoulders and pressing her against the door, so that she was compelled to show her anguished face, he shouted, hoarsely, "Woman, art thaa aar Caleb's mother?"

    "Aw am!  Aw am!  God help me!" was the wailing reply.

    "An' does thaa believe az aar Caleb, aar Caleb's a thief an' a liar an' a wastril?" and with face all a-work, and expressive eye rolling fearfully about Jimmy stood glaring at the sobbing woman before him.  "If Aw thowt tha did," he went on, "if Aw thowt tha did, sithi, Aw'd—A'wd fell thi ta my feet!" and then releasing the now-terrified woman from his grasp he pushed her away from the door, and, flinging it wide open, he turned to the officers, and cried, "Goa up wi' yo'!  Seearch wheer yo'n a moind.  An' goo tew his lodgin's i' Manchester, an' seearch theer, an' if yo' foind owt, if yo' foind owt ageean him, see yo', yo' con tak' him to th' New Bailey an' hang him—aye, an' his owd fayther wi' him."

    And thus did Jimmy and his wife illustrate in their own persons the different effect upon different temperaments of the same great love.  In the mother it took the form of anxious solicitude and a Thomas-like apprehensiveness which made belief in misfortune to her beloved fatally easy, and in the father it brushed away all petty prejudices, and laid bare the broad foundations of an attachment and trust which misfortune could only increase.

    By this time the neighbours had got to know what was going on, and came hurrying in to offer sympathy and get fuller information.  Jimmy treated the women with a merciful indifference, for which they were very grateful; but the men who entered were met by the Scutcher with such stares of challenging inquiry that they lapsed one after the other into discreetest silence, and were fain to wait to discover Jimmy's attitude on the question before they ventured to express any opinion.

    This divided the company into two parties—one standing round Jimmy in moody, wondering silence, and the other trying to soothe Mrs. Jimmy's sorrows with loud lamentations of their own.

    Then Quiet William came in, and at once set the tongues of the men loose, expressing himself in tones as empathetic as those just used by the Scutcher as to his confidence in Caleb's innocence.

    Taking their cue from William, the rest became equally certain and much more demonstrative as to the final issue of the matter.  Then they began to cross-question the weeping Letty as to the exact occurrences connected with Caleb's arrest, and as this gave food for further discussion everybody had an opinion and everybody else a reminiscence that bore more or less directly on the case.  The debate had been proceeding for some minutes, and Miles Grimshaw was just finishing an emphatic little homily to Mrs. Jimmy, the chief point of which was that it was a trial and would "Aw cum reet, tha'll see," when somebody suddenly missed Jimmy.  Search was made for him in vain, and it soon became evident that the distracted father had started off for Manchester.  Then William announced that he must be going, but he was so mysteriously hurried in his manner that everybody guessed in a moment that he had gone after Jimmy.  It was some twenty odd miles to the great city, but both the men knew every inch of the road, having in earlier days tramped it many a time carrying "cuts" on their heads.  William overtook his old friend very soon, but little was said between them, and they jogged along together with heavy hearts through the still summer night.

    Never to be forgotten were the hours of that weary night to Jimmy's household.  The distracted mother sat rocking herself to and fro and moaning out her unavailing lamentations, and the girls, scarcely less affected, clung to each other and hung on the necks of sympathising neighbours.  One by one their friends left them until only Dinah Grimshaw and Quiet William's kindly little wife remained.  The morning dawned very early, but brought no relief, and as hour followed hour the sufferers began to expect news, though they could not understand how it was to reach them.  Breakfast time came, and Dinah did her best to make the sorrowing women take some refreshment, but with little success.  Jacky o' th' Gap had brought his trap down, and offered to drive them all to the city, and though the poor mother was all for going, Miles and Noah, the grocer, advised that nothing should be done until some tidings had been received.  Ten o'clock came, and eleven, but still no news.  Noon arrived, and Mrs. Jimmy was almost getting beyond control.

    Just, however, as the hands were coming home from the mill to dinner a boy on a pony drove up to the croft and asked for the Scutcher's house.  A moment later he had handed a telegram—the first they had ever received—to Sarah Ann at the door.  Before the trembling girl could open it, however, it was snatched out of her hand, and her mother, hugging the flimsy packet to her heart, began to moan and weep afresh.

    "Oppen it, muther! oppen it!"

    "Aw darna!  Aw darna," moaned the wretched woman.

    "Then let me oppen it.  Dew, muther!"

    "Aw darna!  Aw darna!"

    "Cum, cum, wench," said Dinah Grimshaw, coaxingly, and, stealing an arm round her friend, she drew the telegram from the trembling fingers and handed it to Sarah Ann.

    But the daughter, only a little less excited than her mother, fumbled so with the envelope that Miles, who had heard the news and came running in, snatched it from her, and, tearing it open, glanced hastily, at the contents, and then, casting the fateful document into the air, he cried out wildly, "Aw said sa!  Aw said sa! an'  Awm reet! "

    This shout brought in the little crowd that had gathered about the door, and when Miles had thus got a larger congregation he sought for the telegram, carefully smoothed it out, and then, after an impressive pause, read:


All right—a mistake. Coming home.—CALEB.


    The present chronicler has no power to describe the scene that followed, and must leave it to the imagination of his readers.  Everybody had been right.  Nobody had ever had any doubts as to the innocence of him who was now the hero of the hour.  They all knew Caleb and his folks too well to think that he could have done anything wrong.

    Mother, however, was only half convinced.  It "was only sent to th' 'sizes," and Caleb was "bailed aat."  At the least he had lost his shop (situation), and would have to go to "weyving" again, though she confessed afterwards that on the whole she would rather have liked that.  But the more dubious "mother" was the more confident the rest became, and she listened with a hungry eagerness to all their reasons for being sure that her fears were groundless.

    About tea-time the three absentees returned, and then the mystery was explained.  Pilfering from the petty cash had been going on in the Manchester office for some time, and the cashier had been driven almost to his wits' end to discover the culprit.  Latterly suspicion had seemed to point to Caleb, and after he had left for home on the previous Saturday discoveries had been made which seemed to confirm the suspicions.  The police had been called in, with consequences of which we are aware, and Caleb had been arrested in the manner already described.  Then a message had been sent to the junior partner, who was away on his holidays.  That gentleman, who was a fiery, impetuous little man, had returned at once, and when, upon arriving at the office on Monday morning, he had been told that Caleb was the culprit and was now in prison, he had flown into a great rage, called the cashier a grinning idiot, and then darting across the room he had seized a sallow-faced clerk by the neck and shaken him until the wretched man had been fain to confess and beg for mercy.  Then the irate little man had called for a cab and driven at top speed to the police station, where he had called the chief inspector a lunatic, and then after a few words of explanation had dragged Caleb out of the place, and with a kick behind had ordered him off home for a week and sent him staggering into the arms of Quiet William, who, with the now triumphant Jimmy, was waiting in the passage outside.

    When the joy of the reception had somewhat subsided and a bountiful tea had been partaken of, Jimmy lounged out of the house to his place at Miles's fireside, and Caleb got Letty Hollows into a corner and made her blush again and again as he reminded her of the compromising things she had said when "th' bobbies were takkin' me," and Letty really looked so very pretty as she blushed that her lover might have committed himself before company, but that she drew away from him and pretended to want to speak to Sarah Ann very particularly.  Meanwhile, Quiet William was sitting and staring at the empty fire-place, with a musing but delighted expression on his big face.  Presently he glanced round slyly into the corner occupied by the couriers, and then, beckoning Mrs. Jimmy to him, he jerked his thumb over his left shoulder and said in a soft undertone, "Aw thowt az tha said az he didna goo to th' schoo'."

    And a shadow came back for a moment into the mother's face as she answered, with a little sigh, "He towd uz sa his-sel'."

    And William put out his great hand, and, pulling her nearer to him until he could whisper into her ear, answered huskily, "Whey, woman! he's th' Secretaary."

    And as soft, grateful tears rose into the red eyes of the mother, William began to feel very moist under the eyelashes himself, and so, pausing a moment to recover possession of himself, but gazing earnestly all the while down into the swimming eyes before him, he presently cleared his throat, and, bending forward, said, "An' tha towd me az he went to th' theayter an' th' Strawberry Gardins."

    "Well, he does, doesn't he?"  And there was a painful eagerness in the eyes that looked so wistfully into William's.

    "Whey, wench! he's nee'r bin theer in his loife.  He spends his neets teichin' in a neet schoo'."

    And then the overwrought mother, lifting her thin arms, cried out, "Bless the Lord! bless the Lord!"  And William ducked down his head and buried his face in his hands; and as the young people flocked round their mother, demanding what was the matter, William softly stole away, and a few minutes later was sitting with his cronies at the tailor's house.

    Here the first excitement of the conversation on the topic of the hour had subsided somewhat, and there was a little lull as William arrived.  When the big man had charged his pipe, however, Jacky o' th' Gap, looking steadily at the smoke that was issuing in thick volumes from William's mouth, heaved a long sigh, and said slowly: "Aye ther's sum foine lads bin turnt aat ov aar schoo'."

    And Jimmy gave most welcome and satisfactory signs of having returned to his normal condition by replying, with all his customary contradictoriness, "Aye, an sum wastrils tew."

    A long meditative silence followed, but presently Jacky returned to the attack.  Taking his pipe out of his mouth, and leaning forward and scowling at Jimmy as he tapped his knee with the stem of his churchwarden, he cried in a tone that challenged and defied contradiction, "Yore Caleb ull be a pardner yond ofoor he dees."

    And Jimmy made the reply which everybody expected from him when, after a somewhat scornful and unbelieving pause, he answered, "Aye, when pigs flies."


 
REUBEN CLEANS HIS SLATE.

I.


WEYSHIN'-UP mugs!  Stew mugs!  Whaite sand an' rub-bin' sto――" and the familiar cry ended in a long fit of coughing as the sandman drew up before a little row of stone cottages just at the corner where Cinder Hill Lane ran into the Wallbury High Road.  "Pablo, lad," gasped the hawker, laying his hand on the pony's back and struggling to get his breath, "we're gettin' owd, thee an' me; weest sewn be done fur if things goos on o' thisunce," and as his face again became purple he bent down and went off into another long cough.

    "Hay, Reubin, yo dew saand bad!  Wotiver's to dew wi yo?"  The speaker was a short, trim little woman of about thirty-seven.  She had a broad, serious brow and black wavy hair, whilst her cheeks still wore some of the bloom of youth, and her soft, dark eyes looked at the coughing sandman with sympathetic distress.  She wore a pink print dress, with white spots in it, which, though somewhat faded and neatly patched on the bodice in two or three places, still became her well and set off her very natty figure.

    "It's losening, wench, it's losening," gasped the sandman, and in confirmation of his statement he went off immediately into another fit of coughing.

    "Hay, mon! bud yo arr badly.  Yo shuld'na be aat wi' a cowf loike that.  Cum into th' haase, an' Aw'll gi' yo summat warm."

    At another time the surly old hawker would have declined this invitation, but this was one of the few women be had learned to respect, and his cough had really exhausted him, and so, with a crusty grunt, he followed her into the cottage.  In a few minutes the sympathetic little woman had set him in an armchair by the fire, and was busy mixing him a glass of black currant tea, into which she dropped a few drops of brandy, and as he held the smoking glass in his hand and sipped at it, he heaved a sigh and began to look round the room.  It was scrupulously clean; the window-blind and the tabletop were almost equally white, the three little fuchsia-pots in the window had been "ruddled" until they looked as red almost as paint, the fire-irons shone in a high state of polish, and the mahogany chest of drawers reflected the fire almost as in a glass.  It was a long time since Reuben had seen so sweet a little nest, and his heart warmed towards the owner of it as he looked again and again at the brightness around him.  And then the active little woman began to advise him about keeping his feet dry and wearing goose grease on brown paper on his chest, and a bacon collop round his neck at nights, and finished by handing him two little packets of herbs, "cumfrey and horehound," with minute and oft-repeated instructions as to how they were to be brewed and how often the decoction was to be taken.  And Reuben, wondering at his own mildness, took the little packet, and with a muttered and strangely bashful "Thank thi, wench," rejoined Pablo in the road.

    As they went along Reuben seemed to be lost in meditation; then he stopped, and, turning round, stood looking back at the little cottage he had just left.  Then he hurried forward to overtake his cart, and in a moment or two he had brought his steed to a standstill in the road, and once more turned to gaze down the road.  Then, as if struck with a sudden thought, he darted forward, and seizing Pablo by the rein he brought him to a standstill, and then pulling the animal's head half round and pointing with his whip down the road he cried, "Hoos poor, an' hoos hafe-clemmed, and hoos worked ta deeath, and hoos a Methody, but sithi, Pablo! hoos ten times happier tin yore Reuben," and there was sorrow and regret and keen disappointment in his face, and he shook his head mournfully.

    After giving his master as much time as he thought the subject demanded, Pablo started again on his journey, leaving Reuben still standing and staring down the road.  Presently the sandman made a sudden dart after his pony, and seizing the bridle once more with an impatient jerk, he cried, half angrily, "Sithi, thaa owd haythen thaa!  If thaa doesna be sharp and ger on wi' thi deein thall live ta see yore Reubin a Methody!  Aye, an' a gradely Methody tew!"

    And then another mood came over the disturbed man, and taking the pony gently by the reins he began to lead him along the road.  He was looking straight before him now, and sadness and vain regret were in his face.  Then he heaved a heavy sigh, and jerking his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the cottage he had left he muttered, "Hoo wudna lewk at me!  Aw tell thi, Pablo," and he turned to the pony once more as if it had raised some objection, "hoo wudna lewk at me.  Awm rich, an' cud mak' her into a lady, an' her childer into swells, and hoos next dur to th' bastile, an hoo wudna lewk at me," and Pablo plodded doggedly on as if this was an extraordinary and unaccountable lapse on the part of his master, of which it was not worth his while as a self-respecting and experienced animal to take too serious notice.

    When they turned the corner of Lark Lane they of course came in sight of the sandman's cottage, and as they did so Reuben's countenance changed, and an amused, half mischievous look came into his eyes.

    "Bi Gum, Pablo!" he cried "we're coppt!  We're fairly coppt this time!  Naa fur it."

    There was a perambulator standing at the cottage door, and somebody evidently well acquainted with the mysterious and complicated system of door fastenings in vogue there was already in possession of the house.  The sandman did his best to look penitent and apologetic as he entered, but a smile lurked about the corners of his big mouth.  On the hearthstone stood a bright-looking, well-dressed young young woman, who might be a little under or a little over thirty.  It was Mrs. Grace Westall, née Tonge, and she was dandling a baby up and down as she talked.

    "Father!  How could you!  Was there ever such an aggravating man!

    The sandman walked meekly to his seat.

    "Didn't I tell you not to go out for a week?  Oh, I could shake you, you old a—a—maddlin'," and Grace, who as the mill-owner's wife now usually talked decent English, or at any rate Lancashire English, slipped unconsciously in her pretty indignation into the dialect.

    The sandman grinned, but never spoke.  Grace since her marriage and consequent elevation in station had become quite an imperious little domestic tyrant, especially toward her father, and Reuben liked her better in this character than he had ever done as his meek and dutiful daughter, and when she went into one of her pretty tantrums Reuben delighted to sit and watch her.

    "You're worse!  I can see you are worse!  And you might well!" and the irate lady tossed back her long yellow curls and shook her head threateningly at her parent.

    Then she took a little walk across the rug with the baby, and then glancing scornfully at the table she cried, more indignantly than ever, "And look at that table!  A week's pots unwashed!  What are they doing-there?  Where are those lazy charwomen I sent?"

    But the sandman only grinned the more.

    "Where are they, I say?"

    "Aw sent 'em whoam."

    "Sent 'em home!  And what for, pray?"

    "They aw wanted ta merry me."

    And in spite of herself Grace had to laugh, which was what her father most of all desired.

    "Marry you!  I wish one of 'em would, I do for sure!"

    After a moment's pause, during which Grace was tossing her baby up and down, Reuben drawled out, "Aw wur thinkin' o' puttin' up ta Long Sally—bud hoo happen wodn't ha' me."  And Grace rippled out a long, merry laugh, for Long Sally was about the ugliest and most intemperate old woman in the parish, and a character to boot.

    And then Grace tucked up her dress-sleeves and carried away the dirty pots, and announced that she was going to send her servant down to "fettle up."  Then she made some tea, during which last operation Reuben went out and put up Pablo.

    Grace was just rolling down her sleeves again and preparing to take up the baby, who was becoming fretful, when her father returned from the stable.

    "Father," she said, turning to him quite seriously, "I really wish you would find some decent body and wed her.  You won't come and live at the house, and you can't go on like this.  You are gettin' older."  But the twinkle in Reuben's eye set her off laughing again, and she hastened away to her own residence.

    The sandman, who had followed his daughter to the door, sauntered slowly and absently back into his house; then he put his hands into his trousers pockets and stood looking through the window with a far-away and somewhat pensive expression on his square, strong face.  Then he took off his coat and hung it behind the door, and once more resumed his gaze through the window.  A little sigh escaped him, and turning round he took the little bundles of herbs out of his coat pocket and stood looking at them.  Then he laid them on the table, glanced again through the window, and with another little sigh walked to the door.  From the door he wandered into the stable and began to inspect his four-footed friend once more.  He groped in the manger to feel for the corn, then he picked up a bucket and offered the ragged looking animal a drink.  Once more he sighed, and this time more heavily, and then, standing away a little and appearing to take a long careful look at his old companion, he murmured, "Neaw, neaw, Pablo!  It winna dew, lad!  Thee an' me's to owd fur that sooart o' wark!" and then as he withdrew towards the door with another and longer sigh he continued, "Bud sumbri 'ull ger a bargin' some day, they will fur sewer, lad."

    As Reuben stepped into the lane, and stood fumbling absently with the fastening of the stable door, he caught the patter of little clogs coming along, and the murmur of children's voices, and turning round he beheld two youngsters, the children of the widow of whom he was at that moment thinking.

    "Hello! Lizer," he cried, with a clumsy affectation of eagerness and surprise, "wheer arr yo goin'?"

    The eldest of the two children stopped, and began to look frightened as the sandman sauntered towards them.  "We're goin' whoam tew arr baggin'," she answered timidly, and stepped back a little.

    "Aye!" exclaimed Reuben in pretended surprise, "an' what dew yo hev fur yur baggin'?"

    "Traycle butty-cake an' tay."

    The sandman seemed overwhelmed with astonishment for a moment, and then he asked, "An' wot dun yo hev fur yur dinners?"

    The little girl hesitated as if she were not quite sure whether these were proper questions to answer, and then she replied "Bacon collops, a—a—a—when we han ony."

    The sandman seemed more surprised than ever, and presently went on, "An' wot dun yo hev when yo hanna ony collops "

    Lizer hesitated again, glanced timidly back down the lane, looked up again into the face of her interrogator, and then answered almost in a whisper, "Nowt."

    The hawker lifted his heavy brows higher than ever, and demanded hastily, "An' wot dun yo dew then?"

    The little one was embarrassed; surely her questioner was asking very unjustifiable questions.  She would evidently have very much preferred to run away, but she had quite her share of the Scowcroft children's fear of the sandman, and so presently she stammered, "Then my mother prays."

    Reuben's hard eyes suddenly became most unwontedly dim; he choked back a novel rising in his throat, and asked, in a voice that annoyed him by its huskiness, "An' wot then?"

    Lizer seemed surprised at the question, and with a little look of remonstrance and astonishment she answered, "Oh! ther's allis summat comes then."

    The sandman wheeled suddenly round, and hastened indoors as if little Lizer had struck him—as indeed she had.



II.


NOW Reuben had not in the least exaggerated when he had described the condition and circumstances of Kitty Wallwork, the widow, to his faithful steed.  Since the death of her husband some four years before she had found the struggle of life very hard indeed, and had many a time been reduced to the direst straits.  She lived by baking and selling bread and teacakes, and by doing a little washing.  She had her full share of that proper pride which hates to acknowledge poverty, and her feelings on this point were intensified by the recollection that her present condition was an ample justification of the evil prophecies of her neighbours when she had defied public opinion by marrying into an unpopular family.  Moreover, though modest and quiet in her general demeanour, Kitty was a very ambitious woman, and strove to forget her present difficulties in highly-coloured day-dreams of the future of her children.  If only she could get over three or four more years; but that was the difficulty, and every now and again she felt as if she had got to the last extreme and would have to give in.  And things had reached an acute stage at the time when she had her little interview with the sandman; and she could not help wishing, as she watched his creaking old cart go down the road, that she had a little of the money which rumour credited him with possessing and for which he had so little use.

    But it was no use wishing and fretting; the winter was coming, her needs were great, and she must work whilst she had the chance, so she heaved another little sigh, threw her shawl over her head, and hurried off to do a little work for the Misses Garlick at the farm.

    This employment, to her great joy, lasted all that evening and the next day, and when she arrived home on the following evening she was greatly astonished to find her little coal-shed crammed to overflowing with coals that would, with the care she had learned to exercise, last her all the winter.  But who had sent them?  The children knew nothing.  Owd Hecky next door was blind, and pleaded that as a reason for his ignorance, though he did not say, as he might have done, that a load had also been given to him as the price of his silence.  The other neighbours all went out to work, except Martha Myers at the end of the row, and she was away from home.  Who could it be?

    And presently it struck her that it must be the sandman, only it was so very unlike him, and his character was so bad, that if it were he, there must be some suspicious reason behind the generosity.  She mentioned her idea to little Liza over a frugal supper, and the child then remembered her interview with the sandman, and detailed it to her mother.  Yes, it was the sandman without a doubt, and almost immediately poor Reuben was forgotten in the widow's gratitude to her Maker.  He had answered her prayers, and did work in mysterious ways indeed, when He had answered her prayers by sending her help through such a channel.  Then she began to fear whether it was right that she should accept help from a hard-hearted, money-grubbing old wretch like Reuben.  But she got over that by reminding herself of stories she had read in tracts in which God had sent help to His children in distress from people quite as unlikely as Reuben, and that night the little ones looked up into their mother's half-transfigured face with solemn wonder as she poured out her thanksgiving to her Maker for fulfilling His promises and helping the widow in distress.

    She was out when next the sandman came on his rounds, and it was several days before she got an opportunity of thanking him.

    One morning, however, as she was busy baking, with the door open, a shadow fell across the entrance, and a rough voice demanded, "Dust want owt, Kitty?"  It was Reuben, of course.  He was seated on the little stone table outside the door, and looked as unconcerned as usual.

    "Aye, Aw want thee.  Aw want ta thank—"

    "Me!  Thaa wants me!  Bi Gum, Kitty, Awm fain—"

    "Neaw!  Neaw!" cried the widow, hastily, whilst a faint blush rose to her face.  "Aw dunna meean that; Aw want ta thank thi――"

    But again, and with obvious intention, Reuben interrupted her.

    "Aar Grace wur saying t'other day as Aw owt get marrit."

    And Kitty ducked her head down and drew a short breath, and then she went on, "Aw want ta than――"

    "Thaa wants!  Neer moind what thaw wants, Aw wants a woife."

    Kitty felt that the situation was getting ridiculous; she could feel her face beginning to burn, and yet she was sure that the sandman was only joking.  And he had been very good to her; there was evidently some good in him somewhere.

    Could she say anything that would do him good and set him thinking in serious directions?  She paused a moment, stole a rapid glance at her visitor as he sat on the stone table.  Poor man! perhaps nobody ever had spoken to him for his good.  She would try.

    "There's summat else as thaa waants mooar tin a woife, Reuben."

    And then she caught her breath, fearing that she had ventured too far, for the sandman was credited with a dreadful temper.

    "Wot's that?" demanded Reuben, eagerly.

    And Kitty bent her head over her dough, and answered, timidly, "A cleean slate, lad."

    But there was no explosion as she had expected; there was no reply at all, in fact; and a moment later she heard the wheels of the sand-cart begin to creak slowly, and when she raised her head her strange wooer had disappeared.

    And then Kitty began to accuse herself of all kinds of transgressions; she had repaid Reuben's kindness by offending him; she had flown in the face of Providence just when God had sent her most unexpected help.  She had given way to pride, and had robbed her children by slighting the help they all so much needed.  Once more she had let her tongue get her into trouble.  Oh, what a foolish and wicked woman she was!

    For two days poor Kitty continued to torture herself about her mistake, and had resolved a score of times that when next the sandman came on his rounds she would make ample amends for her ingratitude.

    On the Saturday morning whilst she was black-leading the fire-grate, and was therefore very hot and dirty, she was surprised to hear the old familiar cry of the sandman about two hours earlier than the usual time.  Why was he coming just then?  She would finish hastily and wash herself before he reached her door; she could not possibly talk to him in that condition.  But before she had finished her shining grate she heard a rough "Whoy wi thi" outside, and almost instantly the door opened, and the strong face of the hawker looked in upon her.

    "An' soa when thaa gets wed it'll be tew a felley wi a clean slate, will it?" cried Reuben, holding the door in his hand.

    And Kitty, annoyed to be caught in that condition, especially when she wanted to be nice to the sandman, replied, without ever turning round, "It will that."

    "Oh."

    And before she could rise to her feet or stop him the sandman had banged the door and was leading his pony down the road.

    What a provoking man he was, and what an unlucky and foolish woman was she!  The very coals on the fire which she now poked so angrily were his gift, and she could not even be civil to him.  Besides, she had no rubbing-stone and could not finish her work without it.  What was she to do?  Next day was Sunday, and the sandman occasionally came to chapel now, she would look out for him then and give him her thanks.  Yes; that would be a very good opportunity, for Reuben was not likely to be able to evade the issue as he had done last time if she spoke to him at the chapel door.

    But that Sabbath Reuben did not appear, and she had, perforce, to wait until his next round.  On the day but one after, she finished her baking earlier than usual, and left her door open so that she could hear him as soon as he was in the neighbourhood.  She had also put on her second-best dress which, alas! was just then her first-best too; and having given her hair just a little touch, she sat waiting for him to approach.

    Creak! creak! creak! he was coming; as soon as he stopped at old Hecky's she would go out to him.

    Creak! creak! went the cart.  He must be opposite the door now, but she dare not look.

    Creak! creak!  Why, he must be going past!

    Kitty felt suddenly faint; turned to look round the house as if to ask the various pieces of furniture to behold this astonishing thing and explain what it meant; and before she could either move or speak, the pony and cart and owner too were past.

    Kitty sank back into her seat and felt very much inclined to cry.  She could have stopped him by calling after him, of course; but why had he gone past?  He had certainly never done that before.  He was offended, and well he might be!  And Kitty did not know, of course, that whilst she was sitting staring at the fuchsias Reuben was standing some distance down the road and gazing back at her cottage with much the same expression on his face as stood at that moment on her own.

    Later in the same day she heard news.  Old Martha Myers, who had returned home again, came in evidently full of some very toothsome gossip.  The Black Lion, more commonly known as "Th' Hole i' thi' Wall," a low beer-house on the outskirts of Scowcroft, was to be closed.  More wonderful still, for the house, though of evil repute, was known to pay well; it had just come out that Reuben the sandman had been the owner of the place for some time, and that it was his action that was causing it to be closed.  Kitty was more perplexed than ever.  She scarcely dared to hope that her few words to the old hawker had had anything to do with the matter, and still, if he had made up his mind to act on her suggestion, this was about the first and best thing he could have done.

    Kitty began to feel worried about the matter.  When the little ones had been got off to bed she sat down to have a good long meditation about the subject, but had scarcely composed herself when a cart stopped at the door, and a man bearing a sack of flour and a heavy parcel strode into the house.  To all her protestations that the goods were not for her the man opposed an obstinate heedlessness, and presently left her more bewildered than ever.  When he had gone she opened the parcel, which proved to contain two dresses, one a good stuff of fashionable pattern, and the other—oh, marvel of marvels—a real black silk!

    But the wonders of this most wonderful day were not over yet.  Kitty had just reduced herself by strenuous efforts to something like calmness, and was deciding that of course these were gifts from the strange sandman, which she could on no account accept, when a step was heard on the flags outside, the door opened, and in walked, of all persons, the sandman himself.

    "Oh, thart theer aar ta," he remarked, and then with the utmost coolness walked over to the chair on the other side of the fireplace and sat down.

    An exclamation of surprise rose to the widow's lips as she saw him enter, but his perfect self-possession and his changed appearance stopped her, and she rose slowly from her seat and stood there staring helplessly at him.  She had never seen him look like this.  He did not wear his ordinary dirty every-day clothes, neither had he on those gorgeous best blacks which he affected when he came to chapel on Sundays.  It was a neat and evidently new suit of dark mixture, which fitted him uncommonly well.  Besides that he was shaved, and his short, stumpy beard had been carefully trimmed, and Kitty saw to her surprise that he was after all a good-looking man.

    As the widow stood looking at her visitor she suddenly began to feel very awkward.  She realised that she must look like a shy schoolgirl.  All the same she felt powerless to move.  Why was she so helpless?  She always did feel helpless in the presence of this man.  She understood now why people were so much afraid of him.  She was afraid of him herself.  Presently, with a painful effort, she managed to say, "Hay, Reuben, Aw'm glad tha's cum, Aw —Aw—Aw—them coils――"

    "Naa, then, theer thaw art agean!  Dunna bother me abaat th' coils."  And the sandman sounded angry, as he made an impatient gesture with the arm that was leaning on the other side of the table.

    Kitty could feel her heart beating, and had to lean against the table for support.  Oh, why was she so "sawft" just when she needed to be cool and firm?  There were several things she had to say to her visitor, and now for the life of her she could not decide which to mention first.

    Presently she ventured very penitently, "Aw wur—Aw've bin ill off this last wik fur wot Aw said tew thi."

    And Reuben wheeled half round in his chair, and cried eagerly, "Oh, tha's changed thi moind, then hast?"

    "Neaw! neaw!  Aw dunna meean that!  Aw meean abaat wot Aw said abaat clean――"

    But the sandman perversely misunderstood her, and broke in impatiently, "Wot's a toathre coils!  Ha' sum sense, woman, an' think o' thi childer."

    "Bud, Rewbin"—and Kitty tried to be calm and speak firmly—"Aw conna!  Aw darna!  It's no' reet, tha knows."

    "Reet!" shouted Reuben, jumping to his feet in anger.  "Is it reet ta clem thiself, an' clem thi childer, an' chuck they chonces away wi' proide!  Is that reet?"

    Kitty was bewildered; this masterful man frightened her and paralysed her; she could not even think clearly.  At last she said, timidly, "Aw trusten i' Providence――"

    "Providence!" broke in the sandman; and striding across the floor towards the kitchen door he suddenly wheeled round, and cried, excitedly, "That's it! that's it!  That's th'way wi' aw yo' cantin' Methodys; Yo' talken abaat Providence, an' yo' pray ta Providence, an' then when He sends ya wot yo' wanten yo' conna tak' it fur proide!"

    But Reuben had gone a little too far, and Kitty felt her spirit rising.  "Rewbin," she commenced very firmly, but once more the irate sandman broke in—"Sithi, Kitty, wilt ha' me an' cumfort an' plenty o' brass, an' cloathes fur thi childer, an' summat ta leeav 'em when tha dees—wilta or wilta not?"

    But the woman in Kitty was aroused now.  What kind of love-making was this?  The idea of being proposed to by a man in a passion!  It was monstrous!  She drew herself up proudly, took a long breath, and then answered, "Ha' thi?  Thee!  Neaw, nor if tha'd ten toimes as witch, sa theer."

    Reuben stood looking at her from head to foot.  He seemed all at once to have become quite calm.  And still he looked her over until all the courage went out of her, and she began to tremble.  Then he drew his breath, walked quietly to the door, and was just departing when he turned round again, and said slowly, "Kitty, Aw want thi an' Awst have thi.  An' if tha sends that flaar an' stuff back Awst send twict as mich," and closing the door very deliberately he was gone.



III.


LEFT to herself Kitty sank into the nearest chair and burst into tears.  But just then she heard the pattering of little feet on the floor above her head, and a moment later her whole family was clinging around her and demanding what was "to dew."  Poor children!  They had become of late only too accustomed to strange men coming to the house and "saucing" their mother.  They had seen her cry more than once after the "rentman" or the "c'llector" had called, but this was a new voice they had heard shouting downstairs.  Who could this be?  And this tender, clinging child-sympathy—the most touching of all consolations—softened the mother more than ever, and for some moments she could only soothe them and hug them to her breast.  Then she told them that it was only the sandman, and showed them the big sack of flour, and told them that he had given it to them.

    "Then aar yo' skriking 'cause yore happy, muther?" asked little Lizer, wistfully.

    "Aye, chilt, aye," sobbed the mother, and coaxed them back, to rest.

    Then the harassed woman went downstairs again and sat before the fire and wept.  And somehow the crying relieved her, and she presently found herself sitting and gazing absently into the fading fire.

    After a little while she began to smile, and presently she laughed outright.  Really, her wooer's extraordinary mode of proposing was too ridiculous.  But it was certainly in harmony with everything she had ever heard of him; he never did anything like anybody else.  Then she became serious again as the grave question of accepting or otherwise of Reuben's gifts presented itself to her mind.  He had a reputation for being generous in his own peculiar way, and was reputed to be very well off.  Why shouldn't she swallow her pride and accept his help for her children's sake?  And there might after all be something in what the man had said about Providence providing for her, and she rejecting.  Perhaps God had seen she was proud, and had taken this way of helping in order to cure her of her sin.  Poor soul!  It was easy enough for her to think badly of herself.

    But this proposal!  That seemed to complicate everything.  If Reuben was simply trying to buy her there was an end of it, she could not bear the thought.  And every now and again the idea of the possibility of accepting the sandman passed through her mind.  But somehow she always shirked the thing, and preferred to argue the matter with herself without reference to this element of the case.  Again and again her thoughts went out to her children and their needs, and at last she stole off to rest, but only to toss about and brood until the small hours of the morning.

    The children had their promised cakes when they came down to breakfast next day, but not from Reuben's sack.  Kitty had not quite settled that question yet.  Then she took another look at the tempting dresses, the silk absorbing her thoughts for quite a long time, until at last she thrust it nervously from her, hastily threw the wrapper over it and carried it upstairs.  Not to keep, of course, but only to be safe from harm until she should be able to make up her mind.

    As she was finishing her own breakfast, who should come hurrying in but Peter, the grocer's assistant, to know if she could bake bread for a funeral on the morrow.  The bread would have to be made at once if she did, for it must be neither too new nor too old.  "Yes," she said, in answer to Peter's inquiry and without giving herself time to think, and then as the messenger departed, she turned to Reuben's sack and began to look at it very earnestly.  She had used all her own stock of flour to make the children's cakes, there was no time to go for more, or at least she tried to think there was not—was it another Providence that this order should come in like this, to compel her to decide?

    Perhaps it was.  She got up and went to the sack and took hold of the tied neck.  Then she let it go somewhat hastily and drew her hands away.  Then she sighed and looked the bag over again very slowly.  She might open it and just see what kind of flour it was.  It might be common, and that would save her the trouble of deciding for herself.  The flour was the very kind she always used.  It must be Providence!  She put her hands in to feel it, and then Ah! and then, in a moment or two she had taken a portion out and was busy kneading it in her mug, with a clouded and anxious face.

    And that day Kitty was trying to pacify her conscience by reminding herself how easily Reuben could spare the things she had taken from him.  Then she told herself she would be very kind to him when next she saw him.  As for the dresses, she was firmly resolved that nothing in the world should persuade her to accept them, she would make him take them back the very next time he called, and when he did come she would thank him for all he had done, whatever he might say.  Once or twice the question of marriage passed through her mind, but each time she dismissed it as something not to be considered.

    On the third day Reuben turned up as usual, and, to her great surprise, was as bland as she had ever known him in her life—which was not saying much.  He made no allusion to the last interview, and actually came into the house without being asked.  Everything was in her favour, and she at once plunged into her thanks.  Reuben frowned slightly when she commenced, but patiently heard her out.  "Well, hast done thi nomminny?" he asked when she paused for breath.  "Aye," she replied, surprised at the mildness of his tone.

    "Then let that dew fer allis.  Aw conner abide sich foo-scutter " (silly talk); and then without another word he strode out of the house towards his pony.

    "Rewbin!  Here, Rewbin, cum back wi' thi."

    But the sandman held on his way.

    Kitty was so eager that she rushed out of the house.  "Rewbin, tha mun tak yond dress-pieces back.  Aw conna' keep em."

    And Reuben turned round, and flourishing his whip at her, answered, "Aw'll gi' thi dress-pieces if tha doesnna' goo back," and then wheeling round again, unconcernedly resumed his journey.

    During the next few days Kitty and the sandman gradually became more and more friendly.  The hawker now called on one pretence or another nearly every day, and on those days on which he did not appear Kitty was alarmed to discover that she strangely missed him.  Meanwhile the children grew plump and rosy once more, and she dared not think of what would become of them if she broke with her benefactor.  To her great relief Reuben never broached the subject of marriage, and only showed his old temper when she attempted to revive discussion on the question of the dresses.  All the same, she resolved and resolved again that she would never wear them.  In fact, she told herself every time she thought of them that she dare not.  She noticed also that Reuben was now most exemplary in his attendance at the chapel, and she was delighted to hear her old leader declare as they came from the class one night that the sandman was turning over a new leaf, and would be a "dacent Methody afoor lung."

    By this tune also she had saved a little towards her back rent, but was surprised and rather uneasy that for two weeks the landlord's agent had not called.  The third week-end came, and still the "rentman" did not appear, and so on Monday morning after a very uncomfortable Sunday Kitty hastened down to the agent's house to avert the coming danger.  For she could see in this man's absence nothing but expulsion from her home.

    The agent took her back rent quite eagerly, and then, when she asked timidly why he had not called, he looked up at her from his desk with a glance of surprise, and demanded, "Whey dustna know as th' haases is sowd?"

    "Sowd!  Neaw!  Whoa tew?"

    "Rewbin."

    And Kitty went home with a very uncomfortable feeling in her mind.  She must stop this.  Reuben was almost keeping her, and he was doing these things as a means of winning her for himself.  It was not right that she should deceive him.  Neither was it right that she should be living on a man who was nothing to her.  It was not decent; it looked very ugly indeed when she fairly faced it.  But the children!  Oh, what would become of them if Reuben ceased to help her.  And they were looking so bonny just now; even little Milly, the delicate one, was getting quite strong and rosy.

    On the other hand, the flour was getting done, and now she could not conceive how she had ever done without it, and the prospect of having to buy again in small quantities seemed very dreadful to her.  Oh, what should she do?  What could she do?

    And that very night Reuben came again and almost immediately introduced the dreaded topic.  Kitty was terrified.  What a man this was: she never felt less able to contend than she did just then.  Could he read her heart?  Why had he waited until this day of her weakness?

    "Neaw! neaw! neaw!  Dunna, Rewbin, dunna!"  And she put her hands upon her ears and refused to listen.

    And the sandman, instead of "flyin' up" as she expected, waited until she was a little calmer, and then gently and gradually brought her back to the subject.  He talked about having watched her ever since her husband's death, and being much impressed by her quiet devotion to her children.  He praised the children, and said what a pity it would be not to give them a "chonce."  Then he spoke of his own position, and how easy it would be to make her comfortable for life, and so on, and so on.

    He was thinking of giving up the sand-cart and retiring and "livin' different," which gave Kitty the sweet feeling that perhaps the few words about cleaning his slate had not been in vain.  And so this strange man talked and reasoned and coaxed until at last poor Kitty, with visions of a future for her children, blended with a feeling of helplessness in the presence of this overpowering lover, consented, and Reuben went away a satisfied man.

    And next day another sack of flour arrived, and a side of home-cured bacon, and a piece of cloth to make dresses for the children, and Kitty tried to crowd back her feelings into some remote corner of her mind, and be happy for the sake of the little ones.

    But it was no use.  It seemed as if a legion of tormenting spirits had got into her soul, and were stirring up her whole nature to rebellion.  She could not be quiet.  She could not rest anywhere, and when she went to bed she could not, and did not, sleep.  Next morning she got up very early and started off to the sandman's to beg him to release her from from her promise, but Reuben had already left home, and though she looked out for him all day he never appeared.  At night, however, he came to see her, but as soon as she put eyes upon him all Kitty's resolution melted away, and do what she would, she could not muster courage to tell him what she felt.

    A week passed, a week of sleeplessness and anguish for the poor widow, and at last she began to realise that, however he might take it, Reuben must be told, or she would lose her reason.  By this time she bad begun to feel sorry for the sandman.  She had led him on, she had selfishly accepted gifts which would give him a false impression.  And she had found him out.  Under that rough exterior there was a real kind heart, and it was wicked of her to take his love when she could give him none in return.  Oh, what a base woman she had been!  But she would put it right now.  And then she prayed, and as she prayed grew calmer.  Yes! she could do it now, and would do.  Reuben was too good to be treated like that.

    The sandman seemed brighter and happier when he came that night, and Kitty's heart sank again as she looked at him.  She had resolved to speak as soon as she saw him, lest she should be too much afraid afterwards.  But now that he was here, her tongue seemed tied, and she welcomed him in silence.  As he took his seat in his favourite chair and accepted the lighted spill she offered him, he looked up very earnestly and searchingly into her face, but said nothing.

    Kitty felt as if she were choking, but for the life of her she could not speak.

    Presently the sandman turned slightly round in his chair, and said in a tone of gentle anxiety, "Thaa doesna' lewk weel, wench! wot's upwi' thi?" and there was a chord of sadness and regret in his tones that went to Kitty's heart.  It was the one touch needed to set her free, and with a heartbreaking sob she dropped on her knees at Reuben's side and burst into a passion of tears.

    The sandman sat strangely still as she wept, looking down upon her with a mournful moisture in his small, sharp eyes, and at last he leaned forward, put his hand on her hair, and gently stroking it, murmured, "Poor wench!"  And Kitty, whilst a new spasm of sorrow went through her frame, sobbed on and did not move.

    After a little while Reuben leaned forward again, and with the gentlest of touches upon her hair, asked, slowly, "Kitty, tha'rt nor happy abaat this wedding?"

    Kitty was still weeping, though she listened with painful interest to every word he spoke.  Presently, as she did not reply, he proceeded, "A yung woman loike thee conna take tew an owd chap loike me—an' him a wastril tew! conta?"

    And still Kitty did not reply, only she was holding her breath and listening with tearful wonder for what he was going to say next, for it was evident he had not done.

    "An' tha did it for th' sake o' thi childer, did t'na, wench?"

    And Reuben's tones were more mournfully sympathetic than ever.  Kitty had a feeling that she was listening to a totally new Reuben, such a one as she had never either heard of or imagined.

    And then there was a pause.  She felt it was time for her to speak, but what she was hearing was so delightful, and withal so wonderful that she felt she wanted to hear more.  But Reuben was in no haste to proceed, and she was just about to lift her red and tearful face, when the sandman bent over her, and, laying his hand solemnly on her head, said, "God bless thi, Kitty!  God bless thi!"

    Kitty's frame was shaken with a new paroxysm of feeling; she sobbed and sobbed again, and then she rose to her feet and blessed the sandman with an intensity and passion that amazed him.  Then she declared that he was far too good for her.  He was an angel; let the world say what it liked, she knew.  He was an angel; he was "nowt else."

    Then she stopped and stepped back, and stood looking at him with wonder and admiration shining through her tears; but before she could speak he said, "Aw'll let thi off merrying me, Kitty, up a wun condition."

    "Nay, tha winna!  Awst no be let off.  Awd merry thi naa, if tha hedna a bodle."

    Reuben smiled a sad sort of smile, and then repeated slowly.  "Up a wun condition."

    "An' wot's that?"

    "Az tha lets me help to keep theeas childer."

    And in spite of a fresh burst of tears and many emphatic protests on Kitty's part the sandman had his way.  She was to pay no rent and receive whatever he might send; and as Kitty poured out her overflowing gratitude for the twentieth time the sandman sauntered to the door, and as he opened it and was departing he turned round and said, in his old, hard, rasping voice, "Awst start o' cleeanin' my slate afoor lung."



IV.


THERE was a large company at Miles's; all the regular frequenters were there and one or two additional ones.  The fire burnt brightly, the lamp shed a cheerful light over the company, and the region of the fireplace was thick with tobacco smoke.

    Quiet William was descanting with glowing face on the recent and most delightful change that had come over Reuben the sandman.

    "Aw've seen it cumin' fur months," he cried; "an' it's cumin' gradely, naa; he'll be a member i' less than twelve months, see if he isna."

    Just at this point the door opened and Juddy Hicks, the clogger, a man of about five-and-thirty, came sauntering in, and soon settled into a seat.

    "Well, it's the coppest thing as iver Aw knowed," said Noah.

    The scutcher, who was seated on the further side of the fireplace, looked earnestly for a moment at the last speaker, and then said, in his slow, oracular way, "If yond mon turns o'er gradely there's a chonce fur th' divil, that's Aw."

    "Oh, yore takin' abaat him, arr yo'," broke in the new comer, though no name had been named, and there was contempt and irony in his pronunciation of the "him."

    Three or four pairs of eyes were turned inquiringly upon the speaker, and quiet William began to frown, but nobody spoke.

    "Aye," laughed Juddy, sarcastically, "a bonny mon to turn he is."


"And whilst the lamp holds out to burn,
 The vilest sinner may return,"


quoted William, in loud rebuking terms.

    Juddy laughed another hard unbelieving laugh, and then he said, "Does yo' chaps meean ta say as yo' dunna know wot he comes to th' chapil fur?"

    Quiet William rose from his seat, and standing over the traducer of the absent Reuben, he cried, in stern tones, "He cums ta worship God, wot else?"

    Juddy leaned further back in his chair, and looking with a grin at William, he cried, "William, he cums a cooartin'."

    There was a dead pause, and those present turned and looked at each other with surprise and curiosity in their faces.

    "Whoar is he cooartin'?" demanded William, without moving from before Juddy's chair.

    "Whey, Kitty Wallwork, fur sewer; an' funny cooartin' it is, tew."

    And in a few moments Juddy had told his tale.  Everybody knew.  The sandman was going to the house every night, and sometimes in the daytime, too.  He had bought Kitty's house, and Kitty herself had altogether changed her appearance, &c., &c.  "They're cooartin' reet enough, bud it's a sooart a cooartin' az Aw dunna loike th' lewk on, that's aw"; and Juddy finished by a mysterious little cough.

    Astonishment, disappointment, and rising disgust sat on every countenance, and at last, after looking helplessly at Jimmy for some moments, Miles gasped out, "Whey, mon! hoos nowt na bet-ter tin a kept woman."

    And Jimmy, after taking time to think, replied, "Hoo met as weel be livin' tally wi' him at wunce."

    And then William, who had all this time been standing over Juddy, turned round, and in tones strangely intense and bitter, he cried, "Yo' letheryeds!  Yo' numskulls!  Aw conna bide to lewk at yo'," and with a gesture of disgust he strode to the door and was gone.

    Now Juddy had very particular reasons of his own for being interested in the doings of Kitty and Reuben.  The fact was he was casting sheep's-eyes on the widow himself.  He had fancied her before she married his old companion, Kitty's first husband, but had been prevented from proposing because of his poverty, for he was only an indifferent hand at his business, having picked it up after he attained manhood.  Since Kitty had been free again he had been constantly making up his mind to approach her, but was deterred by the fact that he was no better off than he had been previously, and Kitty's three children made the task of maintenance more difficult.  He therefore had been about the first person to discover the relationship between the widow and Reuben, and had watched them with a very jealous eye.  But he was in the sandman's debt, almost hopelessly so, in fact, and therefore dare not cross him.  During the last few days, however, he had heard so often about the scandal that he thought he might safely speak; the matter seemed to be common property, and even if it got to Reuben's ears it was very unlikely that the sandman would suspect him.  Juddy was a very decent fellow as a rule, but when a man is jealous he sometimes gets beyond his own control.

    William, when he left the tailor's, made straight away to Kitty's house.  She was one of his members, and he had a special responsibility for her.  He resolved as he went to be very faithful and have the matter ended once for all, but when he arrived the widow was so very glad to see him, and evidently so very unsuspicious, that he found it difficult to commence what he intended to say.  Abandoning, however, his first plan, he tried to bring round the conversation towards Reuben, and Kitty seemed so very glad to speak about the sandman, and expressed herself so delightedly, and yet so innocently, about the signs of reform which had appeared in his recent conduct, that William grew ashamed and angry again at the innuendoes to which he had listened, and eventually left without giving any hint of his original purpose in coining.  When he got outside he stood wavering in the twilight for a few moments, and then started off to interview Reuben.  This was, of course, a much more formidable task than talking to Kitty; but William reflected that he might perhaps make the sandman see what he meant without actually telling what he had heard, and unless Reuben were a very much worse person than he supposed that would be sufficient.  But Reuben was not at home, and so William returned homewards, and as the evening was not yet far gone he passed his own cottage and went on to Miles's again.

    The company had thinned during his absence, but those who remained were still discussing the unsavoury subject with which he had left them.

    As he sank with a little sigh into his seat, Miles, who was standing before the fire and looking very grim and emphatic, having evidently just delivered himself of some very conclusive and all-silencing verdict, turned to him and cried with fierce, defiant emphasis, "Naa, then! then mun 'be noan o' thi shilly-shally wark abaat this.  Yond woman's name cums off th' bewk at wunct!  Mind that, naa."

    And William, the quiet, gentle William, rose to his feet, and shaking his great fist in his brother-in-law's face whilst his own flamed with anger, he cried, "If yond wench's name cums off th' bewks moine cums off, tew."  And then after drawing his breath he went on, "If tha'd hawf as cleean a slate as hoo hez tha'd be a foine seet bet-ter mon tin tha art."

    But though William had not found courage to tell Kitty of the rumours that were going about, there were others who had no such scruples, and she heard of it the very next day, and heard of it in its most brutally suggestive form.  It went to her heart like a stab—all the light seemed to have suddenly gone out of her life, and she blamed herself with cruel perseverance for her lack of thoughtfulness in the matter.  However, now that she did realise all that it meant, she must take immediate and decisive action.  As soon as it grew near to the time at which Reuben would come, if he did come, though, as a matter of fact, he scarcely ever called now except on his rounds, she locked the door and put out the light, that she might appear to be out, and next morning she took her children and walked all the way to a small farm a mile on the other side of Wallbury, where she spent the next fortnight with some distant relations.  She might probably have stayed longer, for it appeared impossible for her to go back to Scowcroft, and yet she could not decide what else to do; but at the end of this time she realised that the evil tidings had reached the farm, and there was a sudden cooling of her welcome.  The next day she returned to her home.

    In the meantime Reuben had discovered what was the matter also.  He had been amazed and nonplussed when he discovered that Kitty had disappeared without leaving any trace behind, and in his concern he began to make all sorts of inquiries.  And these questions of his, of course, only confirmed the suspicions of those to whom they were made that there had been something between Kitty and him, and that Kitty had gone out of the way to escape him.  Little by little, by a hint here and a look there, Reuben discovered that something was wrong, and that somehow he was considered to be responsible for it.  But he got at no facts, and so, worried and anxious, he began to get angry and desperate.  The night following the day upon which Kitty came home he slouched into the "Red Cat," and called for a glass of spirits.  Avoiding the parlour, he dropped into a little apartment which had been formed by partitioning off a little space behind the "tap."  In this position he could hear what was going on in the bar-parlour without being seen, though at the time he never thought of it.  He was very miserable.  He had been trying to do some little towards "cleaning his slate," and all that had come of it was a nasty scandal and deep trouble to a woman he loved.  A few months ago he would not have cared about the scandal; he had rather gloried in outraging public sentiment, in fact; but now, after some months of long and painful struggling to be better, he felt the thing very keenly indeed.  Just then he heard Kitty's name mentioned, and pricked up his ears.  And then it all came out.  The speaker was not detailing the story, but was evidently speaking of something that was common property, and so Reuben had to pick up the facts bit by bit.  The laughs and jeers of the men who were talking fell on his ears without in the least distressing him; he was listening only for the facts.  Little by little the true position of affairs was made clear to him, and as the conversation branched off into speculations as to where Kitty had gone, Reuben rose to his feet and stole slowly home.

    As he was giving a last look at his steed before retiring to rest that night, he said, mournfully, "Pablo, lad; slate cleaning's hard wark! it's harder tin Aw thowt it 'ud be!"  And then as he was leaving the stable he turned suddenly and impatiently round again, and just as if the animal had been saying something with which he did not agree, he cried, fiercely, "Aw tell thi they is!  Ther's monny a wun!  Isn't aar Grace a Christian? an' Quiet William! an—an—an—Kitty, God bless her!  Aye, an Awst be a Christian tew if Aw con, an' tha con say wot tha's a moind!  Awve tan nooatice o' thee lung enuff, thaa owd haythen thaa!"

    Next day Reuben had an interview with Quiet William, and by roundabout methods got from him a shrewd suspicion as to who had first told him the rumours.  Then he took a walk round by Kitty's, and discovered to his delight that she had returned, but he carefully avoided being seen by either the widow or her children.

    Two days later, as Juddy the clogger sat at his work in the little building which he used for the purpose, and which had once been a butcher's shop, the door opened, and Reuben, looking, Juddy thought, very stern, walked in.

    "Aw've cumin' a Setterda!  Aw'll pay thi awf a sovrin a Setterda, Aw, Aw will fer sewer!" cried Juddy, in great agitation.

    But the sandman stood looking sadly and a little scornfully on the clogger, and never spoke.

    "Aw've hed ta pay Cheetham's fur owler wood, but Aw'll pay thi summat o' Setterda, Aw will."

    But Reuben's mysterious silence began to affect the clogger, and so he ventured to steal a look at his visitor, and as he did so he went suddenly cold as he remembered that Reuben might have called about what he had said about Kitty.

    The sandman drew two pieces of paper from his pocket and held them up.  "Dust see theeas, Juddy?" One of the papers was an I. O. U. for £20, the other contained memoranda of certain repayments.

    "Well, Aw'll pay, Aw tell thi.  Aw'll pay sunimat o' Setterda."

    Reuben walked to the fire and put the papers in, and stood watching them burn.

    Juddy dropped the clog that lay upon his knee and stood up in sheer amazement.

    "Wot the ferrups hast dun that fur?" he demanded, sulkily; but the mysterious sandman made no reply.

    Juddy watched the papers burn for some time, and was just raising his head to speak when his visitor said, slowly, "Juddy, Aw believe thaa, loikes Kitty Wallbrook, dustna?"

    "Well, what bi that?  Wot hast brunt them papers fur?"

    Ignoring the latter part of Juddy's question, Reuben went on, "Whey dustna merry her, then?"

    "Haa con Aw merry when Awm i' debt?  Wot hast brunt them papers fur?"

    The sandman paused, looked down for a moment at his feet, and then said, "Then tha'd merry her if thaa could affoard—if thaa could keep her?"

    "Merry her!  Aye, would Aw if hoo'd ha me.  But wot hast brunt――"

    But the sandman stopped him by a hasty wave of the hand, "Niver name them papers ta me ageean—hoos woth hevin' lad."

    "Hoo is that," cried Juddy, very earnestly.

    "Juddy," said Reuben, with strange eagerness, "hoos pure goold, Kitty is.  Th'mon az gets her 'ull be weel off if he's no' woth a fardin'."

    There was a chord in Reuben's voice that somehow touched the clogger, and so he blurted out all at once, "Aw yerd az yo wer efther her."

    Reuben was now gazing pensively out through the dirty little window, and presently, with a long soft sigh, he said, "Aw think ta weel on her ta tee her tew an owd felley loike me —an' besoide, hoo wouldna ha' me, lad."

    They talked for some time after that, and in the end Juddy was made to understand that his debt was forgiven him, and that if he could get Kitty's consent to marry him the sandman would make some sort of provision for Kitty's future and give them a good start in life.

    Juddy was overwhelmed; again and again he tried to thank his eccentric friend, but he soon found that that was the one thing that angered the sandman.

    When Reuben had gone Juddy gave himself up to all kinds of delicious speculations and wonderings.  He tried several times to finish repairing the clogs upon which he was engaged when the sandman called, but found it impossible to stick to any kind of work.  One moment he was melted down with gratitude at the sandman's generosity, and the next he was trying to arrange how he must propose to Kitty.  Once he kicked over his clogging stool in sheer frolicsomeness, and the next moment he burst out singing,


"Cum, Mary, link thi' arm i' moine."


    Presently, however, a thoughtful mood came upon him, and standing where Reuben had stood some little time before he stared hard and abstractedly through the window, and muttered "If owd Reuben's a wastril Aw wouldna gi mitch fur sum o' th' chapil folk's chonces."

    Now Reuben's intention had been, after seeing Juddy, to go over and arrange matters as far as need be with Kitty, but he had been so satisfied with Juddy's eagerness that he thought that he might safely leave matters to take their own course.  And on the whole he rather preferred not to go near Kitty at this juncture.

    A week later Juddy, with overflowing gratitude and thanks he dared not speak, reported to the sandman that he had "getten her."

    Reuben replied with a surly grunt that reminded the younger man of the Reuben of other days, and then commanded him to go and tell Liger, the village carpenter, to put a shop-front into the large cottage that stood at the far corner of Twiggy Lane, "and," he added, thrusting a bundle of title deeds into his hands, "see az tha taks cur o' them an' keeps thi maath shut."

    The deeds made Kitty the owner of the property indicated, and accompanying them was an envelope containing a banknote, presumably to pay for the alterations.

    About two months later Juddy and Kitty were married; and though Reuben was known to be at the church whilst the ceremony was being performed, he refused very peremptorily Juddy's oft-repeated invitation to the breakfast.  In the meantime, however, Juddy had taken good care that the truth about Kitty's relations with the sandman should be known to the village, even though it involved certain severe reflections on himself.  Quiet William was triumphant, and sat listening to Juddy's explanations with beaming face.  The others pretended to receive the story with doubt, and Miles and Jimmy ventured on the profound and original prophecy that "Them az lives lungest 'ull see th' mooast."

    "See! they will that!" cried William, excitedly.  "They'll see Rewbin Tonge i' th' Society afoor he dees, that's wot the'll see."

    And William proved to be right, for Reuben attended William's own class the very next time it met.

    One evening, about a month after Kitty's marriage, Reuben went home from a visit to the new clog-shop, and after partaking of supper he sauntered into the stable to take a final look at his faithful steed before he retired.

    Pablo was lying down; but as this was no unusual thing, he stooped and gave him an affectionate slap on the back.  And then he drew back and touched the beast with his foot.  Yes; there was no doubt of it, Pablo was dead.  Reuben stood looking at his old comrade mournfully for a few moments, and then with a quaver in his voice he said, "An' tha's gen o'er at last!"  And then after another heavy sigh he added, "Well, if tha's gen o'er Awst give o'er tew."

    The sandman kept his vow; the old sand-cart appeared no more in Scowcroft; but when he had quietly buried his old friend in the paddock at the country end of his house, he heaved another heavy sigh and said, "An' naa Aw will start o' cleeanin' my slate."

    And next Sabbath be was found teaching the infants in the Scowcroft Sunday-school.





THE END.







Printed by Hazell, Watson & Viney, Ld., London and Aylesbury.

 


 

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