Old Wenyon's Will (I).
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CHAPTER I

A LOVERS' QUARREL


"OH, dearie! dearie! life seems hardly worth living!"

    It was a dreadful sentiment for anybody in such a lovely place and on such a perfect day, but for pretty Dolly Wenyon, the most dainty and piquant young maiden in all Snelsby, standing, as she did, almost up to the waist in old-fashioned flowers, with a speckles sky above her and the air laden with summer fragrance, it was positively shocking.  A woman's moods depend on her dress, but Dolly had on her favourite gown; and though that was simplicity itself and fitted with trying closeness, she knew she was profiting by the severe test.  Her garden hat was big and old, but she looked better in it than in any of her more pretentious head-coverings, and was quite aware of the fact.  She loved the open air and the dear old garden, and was not altogether unconscious of the fact that she became its many beauties.  She was just turned twenty-one, in perfect health, had never known a care in life, and was going to meet her lover; why, then, this dismal exclamation, and why, oh, why did she spoil her charms by a pout on her red lips, and a pucker of discontent on her white brow?

    Not to keep the reader waiting, that was the reason.  Though the word was not much used in the limited vocabulary of Snelsby, Dolly was bored.  A happy, contented little woman for the most part, whose life hitherto had been a long summer's day of even, uneventful comfort, there had come upon her quite recently a most decided discontent.  Perhaps it was her visit to Packington and the glimpses of a larger life she had got there; perhaps it was the delightfully exciting stories she had begun to read of late; perhaps it was the weather, which, with all its glory, was rather oppressive: whatever the cause, Dolly was discontented, and the experience was so unnatural and so uncommon that she was surprised and a little ashamed, and began to take herself severely to task.  It was silly, ungrateful, wicked, but there it was.

    Her life was so humdrum, one day exactly like another and the next like both; nothing ever happened in Snelsby, and in all her life she could not remember anything more sensational than one or two rather sudden deaths.  "Dull?"  Everything was dull: Snelsby was dull, the people were dull, and—yes—though she bent down her head to sniff a rose and hide her shameful blush—her lover was dull too.

    Yes, what was the use of beating about the bush?—she might as well say it as think it: Simpson Crouch was dull, and her courtship the dullest of all dull things.

    And the worst of it was, everything was so regularly and drearily satisfactory.  Simpson indeed—yes, that was the trouble—was too satisfactory; there was nothing to find fault about, nothing to excuse, nothing to defend, and there was no need and no opportunity for that heroic defence of a slandered dear one such as she remembered to have read about in the stories, and which she would so dearly have liked to practise herself.  Courtship?  Why, there was not a single one of the delightful incidents she recalled about "Sir Frederick and Lady Gertrude" in her story: no stolen interviews, no delicious anxieties, no impassioned declarations and fervent vows; her courtship had never had a thrill in it!  Proposal?  She had never had anything approaching to one!  Since the time when Simpson defended her from rough boys as she came from school across the fields, everything had been taken for granted.  She had simply grown into the thing as she had grown into the other privileges of womanhood.  Everything had been accepted as a matter of course; she was about the only girl in Snelsby Simpson Crouch could have married, and he was almost the only young man who would be likely to suit her.  Other girls she knew were fascinated with the idea of being engaged, and she felt with a wicked little thrill how delightful it would be not to be so appropriated.  There had been no passionate love-scenes between them, no quarrels and delicious reconciliations; Simpson kissed her now and then, of course, but just according to rule and much as he might have done his sister.  She was his property and he hers; they acted towards each other like two old married people, and took everything for granted.

    Poor Dolly was a tender, affectionate little person, who had just reached the most romantic time of life, and she did not know then that "blank annals of well-being" are after all the most satisfactory features in either personal or national life; neither did she guess that that dull, sultry summer's eve was to be the last hour of quiet she would know for many a long day.  She had taken her hat off by this time, and we thus get a look at her.  Her features were a little irregular and nothing to boast of; she was a little too short perhaps for perfect proportion, and, badly dressed, might have been unconspicuous; but her creamy skin, her round dark eyes, her pretty dimples, and above all her mass of wonderful dark brown hair, which at a touch from her deft fingers would have dropped well towards her heels, gave her many advantages; whilst that enticing air of wholesome daintiness, so suggestive of new-mown hay or old-fashioned flowers, which was perhaps her most distinctive and abiding characteristic, made her a very tasty, alluring little person.

    She sauntered towards the old climber-covered summer-house and, leaning lightly against the wooden post that supported the roof, glanced discontentedly around.  The parish clock struck seven, and as she raised her eyes and looked across at its dim face and quaint single finger her heart misgave her.  What a wicked girl she was!  She had every ordinary comfort of life, kind parents, a lover who was at anyrate respectable and such as many a girl of her class would have been glad to take, and yet she was dissatisfied!  She gave herself a little shake, straightened out the pucker between her eyes, plucked an overgrown rose, and, dropping into a seat out of the sun, began to pull it musingly to pieces.  Simpson was steady, industrious, and in his way ambitious; he was just as much above a mere workman as she could expect; he was kind too, though in an easy, matter-of-fact sort of way; and if only he would not treat her quite so much as his absolute property and their courtship as a matter of course, she—but there was a click of the garden gate, and, though she could not see from where she was sitting, she knew that Simpson was coming.  With manifest effort she cleared her face and moved a little, looking the while bored and languid.  Simpson did not approach.  Ah! she knew what he was doing.  There was nothing of the eager lover about him.  He was looking how the cucumbers were growing, inspecting her father's wonderful prize-bred pigs, and estimating with shrewd business eye the crops on the heavily laden currant and raspberry bushes.  Simpson never forgot the main thing.  How could this be love?

    Presently he came round the corner, looking as dull as she felt.

    He was tall and well made and bade fair to be a portly country Englishman some day, only the lines about his eye-corners seemed to Dolly sordid and grasping.  His old straw hat was tilted back on his head, and perspiration stood on his brow.

    "Hullo, Dot!" and he lounged into the summer-house and dropped into the cooler corner, almost without noticing her.

    "You're not very punctual," she said, all her discontent returning at his indifferent manner.

    "Am I not?" and he glanced across at the church clock and yawned.

    She eyed him sideways with a dissatisfied air: he had not even changed his working clothes, though he only came thus formally once a week.

    After a lengthy pause he remarked—

    "Sarson's have got their hay in, I see."

    Dolly's lip began to curl, though he did not notice it; there was nothing to reply to, and she was getting afraid of her own feelings.

    A longer silence, broken only by his yawns; and then, something seeming to strike him, he leaned back, crossed his legs, clasped his hands behind his head, and really looking at her for the first time, he said—

    "Have you spoken to the old man about—er —that?"

    Oh, untimeliest of questions, had he but known!  It seemed to crystallise Dolly's vague ill-humour; throat began to swell and her eyes to blink rapidly, the colour left her cheeks and began to tinge the lower eyelids, and she answered with severest self-repression, "No."

    Simpson, observing nothing, gave a discontented hitch to his elevated arm and replied with surly disappointment

    "But you promised you would."

    "Well, I haven't—yet; why are you always bothering about that?"

    Simpson glanced at her indignantly.

    "Because it's important, isn't it?  It'ull make a lot of difference, won't it?" and he seemed scandalised at her lack of comprehension.

    He was a bobbin-maker, the neighbourhood producing much suitable wood, and the question at issue was an old tumble-down building adjoining his yard, which belonged to her father, at least nominally, and which he had suggested should be transferred to him as a sort of marriage dowry he thought he could make it useful.

    She stole another sidelong glance at him, choking back her wounded pride as she did so; and then she inquired in ominously quiet tones—

    "Why is it so important?"

    "Why?—Silly!  What are you thinking about?  Haven't I told you it will save us expense?"

    She waited to control her feelings and choke back hasty, resentful tears.  His talk was always about such things as this.

    "Will it be so very expensive—er—after we are married?"

    He could not read her: this was an entirely new mood, and his perplexity annoyed him.

    "Why, of course it will; it always is; women are dear luxuries, I can tell you."

    He would have withdrawn the last sentence, but didn't know how; it was a new and unpleasant experience to have to pick his words with her.  She was strangely still and quiet; he could not be sure she was even thinking.  But presently it came, soft and low and tantalisingly indifferent—

    "I wouldn't burden myself like that if I were you, Simmy."

    He was on his feet now; amazement and indignation in his face.

    "What on earth is the crazy thing talking about?"

    "I wouldn't, lad! I wouldn't I—and there's no need, you know."

    "No need?" and he stepped back into the entrance of the bower in breathless astonishment and gasped.

    "No need at all, lad; my father'ull keep me, or—or—some other chap."

    "W–h–y!  Why, hang it!  Why!—did anybody ever!—Doll, you're mad!" and then, after glaring stupidly at her for a moment, he plumped down at her side and demanded, "Dolly, don't you want to be married?"

    She was white to the lips and trembling, but apparently quieter than ever, as she answered with a demureness that cost her prodigies of self-repression—

    "Ay, I hope to marry some day, please God."

    "But me?  Marry me?"

    As he waited for her reply he was preparing his.  He would have no more of this nonsense; she must understand once for all what marrying him would mean.  She was raspingly deliberate, though he could hear the beating of her heart.  She glanced at him, and he could see she was repenting.  He was sitting on the edge of her dress, and she drew it away and sighed.  She brushed the rose-leaves from her lap, allowed her head to fall back, closed her eyes, paused a moment, and then he heard—oh, staggering, utterly confounding sentence!—

    "I wouldn't marry thee, Simmy, if there wasn't another man in the world."

    And Simpson, not yet understanding that women are never so undecided as when specially emphatic, stood up and stared at her again in speechless amazement.  Then he burst into a torrent of loud, reckless abuse, and with a final "You'll want me afoor I shall want you!" he flung out of the bower and was gone.

    Then the deep broke up in Dolly's soul; she flung herself along the seat, burst into a passion of tears, indignation, disillusionment, and terrible misgiving, all struggling together within her, until she sank to the cold floor and pleaded fervently for the Divine forgiveness.


 
CHAPTER II

THE MOCKERY OF THE DEAD


AND as Dolly lingered sorrowfully in the summer-house, infinitely more distressed with her exciting little episode than she had been for lack of it, there was a sound of the opening of a distant door, followed by a sharp whistle, performed evidently on human fingers.  Dolly heard without hearing, and went on with her painful dubitations.  The call was repeated, shriller than before, and supported by the strident tones of a man's voice crying—

    "Dolly!  Dolly woman!  Here wi' thee, sharp!"

    Rising reluctantly to her feet, she began to move through the gathering dusk towards the house, drying her eyes and composing her face as she went.

    As she entered the large low kitchen, blinking her eyes at the freshly lighted lamp, her father, usually indifferent enough to her movements, was standing before a dim fire eagerly awaiting her coming.

    "Come on, woman!  Throw thy cap up!  It's come, it's come!  Thou'rt a lady, an' thy dad's a gentleman!—gentleman!" he continued, as the full magnificence of the idea unfolded itself before his eager mind.  "By frost! that's it.  Look here, look here, Mrs W.!" and turning to a round, portly, cherry-cheeked woman of about fifty, he smote himself proudly on the chest and continued, "Phineas Wenyon, esquire, gentleman and fancier."

    Mrs Wenyon looked up at him with mild deprecation, but Dolly, relieved to discover that something was forward that would prevent her parents noticing her red eyes, cried as naturally as she could—

    "Whatever's to do, father?"

    "Do?  It isn't to do—it's done!  I'm a gentleman and a fancier, and, by frost I'll teach them owd fossil o' farmers summat now.  Look here! " and he held out a newspaper, and, pointing with a finger that shook with excitement, he held it to the lamp for his daughter to read.

    The paper was the great local authority, The County Times, and Benderton, Snelsby, and Spattleshaw Reporter, and near the top of the page was a short paragraph headed, "Death of an old Townsman."  Underneath the public were informed that one of the oldest of the Benderton townsfolk, Mr Joshua Wenyon, had that morning passed away unexpectedly at the ripe age of eighty-seven.

    Dolly read it twice, raised her eyes to her father's and smiled, and then, realising what a shocking thing it was to be glad for another's death, subdued her face into becoming gravity.

    "Don't whistle before you're out of the wood, Phineas."

    This in the soft, musical tones of Mrs Wenyon.

    "Whistle?  It's there, woman, isn't it, in black and white?"

 

"It's there, woman, isn't it, in black and white?"


    "Ay, but there's many a slip twixt the cup and—"

    "Go it, Unbelief!  Go it, Mrs Double-damper!  Thee and thy mouldy proverbs!  Thou wouldn't believe it wur wet if thou were drownding in it!  Who can he leave it to but us?"

    "Blessed is he that expects nothing, Phineas.  Don't boil the pobs till the baby's born; don't count your chickens afore they are hatched."

    But at this moment there was a knock at the front door, and John Sizer, one of Phineas's brother deacons, came in, a copy of the Times in his hand, and a look of wonder on his face.  He was followed by Dick Leech, the painter, and Aaron Tibbs, and in a few moments Phineas was the centre of an admiring circle of friends, who discussed the amount of the dead man's possessions, the probable date of the funeral, and other equally interesting matters.  Dolly, meanwhile, stole sadly about the house, wondering how she would look in black, and what Simpson would think and do.

    Now Phineas Wenyon was a red man: red hair, little sharp red eyes, and red face.  His body was heavy and sluggish, but his mind was quick, versatile, and whimsical.  By trade he was a cooper, and, like most of the tradesmen of old-world Snelsby, had inherited his business; his father and grandfather had taken care that he should be the best cooper in the county, and necessity compelled him to attend to his shop.  His business, established nearly a century, and amongst a community constitutionally averse to change, enjoyed a monopoly in Snelsby, and he had an apprentice and a journeyman as assistants.

    His comfortable wife, and latterly his pretty daughter, were both popular with the customers, and so the business largely took care of itself, whilst Phineas was interested in and regarded himself as an authority upon every trade in the neighbourhood—except coopering.  Volatile, talkative, self-opinionated, and excessively curious, he had established himself as local critic and censor, and woe to the unlucky wight who came under his lash.  In a stock-rearing community he posed as the apostle of advanced ideas, scoffed unceasingly at "mouldy-brained" farmers who stuck by traditional and inherited methods; he knew the points of a horse as well as a breeder, could give you the weight of a fat beast to a pound or two, and was the actual introducer of the famous "Nonsuch" pigs.  But his special foible was poultry; and since the time that he had been chosen judge at the Benderton and Spattleshaw Agricultural Show, the one ambition of his life had been to shake himself loose from prosaic tubs and baskets, and set up as a gentleman fowl-fancier and local poultry expert.

    But "that eternal lack of pence, which vexes public men," had so far been against the enterprising cooper; and though he had always kept his head above water, his only hope of realising his dreams had been the indecently postponed death of his Uncle Joshua.

    That worthy, a childless widower who hated his wife's relations a little more than he hated the rest of his fellows, had no other connections; and as strong local sentiment and invariable practice forbade the alienation of property by will, Phineas, though never on terms with his relative, had lived on in expectation of the legacy, and, though the cooper would have energetically denied it himself, it is probable that this ancient hope had had something to do with his distaste for his own trade.

    Uncle Joshua had, however, proved most disappointingly tough, and had never taken the slightest interest in his nephew.  The cooper, moreover, held strong views on the drink question, but the old man was a property broker, and of late years had confined his attention almost exclusively to licensed property.  Once or twice since then, he had gone out of his way to express his disapproval of his nephew's teetotal views; but as, during a recent illness, the old fellow had sent for Dolly and seemed very pleased with her, the cooper hoped that the past was forgiven and that at anyrate Uncle Joshua would not carry his resentment to the grave.

    Phineas, elated and eager, talked all night, pouring scorn and incredulous mockery on his wife's occasionally hinted proverbs about the un-wisdom of over-confidence.  Next day he spent his time ordering funeral black and sketching airy plans, including the transfer of the cooperage to his journeyman on the easiest possible terms.  Phineas, like other people, was very generous with what he did not as yet possess.  Dolly was almost as excited as her father, and, glad of any escape from the reproaches of a tender conscience, she dwelt eagerly upon their future prospects, and became so very amiable that she presently resolved to send for Simpson and "make it up."

    But the note she received from her lover just before dinner was a little too humble for Simpson, and suggested a little too obviously that he also had heard of the family luck.  Consequently she put the note in her pocket with a petulant little lift of the shoulders and a pensive sigh.  There was small use in showing grief under the circumstances, and Phineas Wenyon was the last man in the world to pretend what he did not feel.  The old fellow now dead had scarcely ever acknowledged them, and had always referred to Phineas with biting satire.

    As soon as possible the cooper set off to Benderton to see what he could discover about the old man and his possessions; but nobody seemed to know anything, and everybody assumed that the cooper was the heir and treated him accordingly.  The formal invitation to the funeral came in due course, and, arrayed in uncomfortably fashionable black, Phineas took the market-day 'bus that ran to Benderton, looking as solemn as it was possible for him to do.

    He "would be home by five o'clock" he had said, but when six and then seven arrived and he had not returned, Dolly, uneasy all day with her two-fold anxieties, grew almost ill with nervousness, and poor "mother" had not even the energy to quote a proverb.

    She had asked twice that day why Simpson did not come, and Dolly had had some difficulty in putting her off; but now, as the daughter sat, in spite of the heat, indoors, and mother went about the house doing everything and nothing, a whistle broke on their ears from the garden.  Mrs Wenyon heard it and looked at Dolly.  Dolly heard it down to the tips of her fingers, but had got herself so worked up about her father's errand and his unexplained delay that she bent her head and went on with her needlework at feverish speed.

    "Dolly, don't you hear Simpson?  That's the second time—oh, here he is!" and in this sudden break off, "mother" hurried across the kitchen, her hand on her heart, and they both looked eagerly into the face of Phineas.

    Alas! this was not the elated, triumphant man they hoped to welcome, but neither was it mere crestfallen disappointment that sat so heavily on his florid countenance; he was angry, worried, disgusted, and dropped heavily into his seat.

    Dolly heard her lover's whistle again, but she was watching her father.

    Mrs Wenyon, who was as hopeful in adversity as she was fearful in prospective good luck, hurriedly popped teapot, toast, and fried ham on the table, murmuring in her soft voice as she did so—

    "Heigho!  The ring's gone, but the finger's safe."

    Phineas was sulky and drew up with lowering face to the table, taking his wife's, thoughtful ministerings without a sign.  There he sat with head down and eyes on his plate, glumly munching his food, and apparently taking a revengeful pleasure in the suspense of the women who were watching.

    "Well, father, have you nothing to tell us?"

    Mrs Wenyon glanced nervously at the privileged interrogator, and shook her head, and Dolly waited for an answer that never came.

    "Now, father, you're tormenting.  I'm sure he's left us something—a dying man—"

    "Tormenting?  Tormenting?  It's him that's tormenting.  Drat him!  Why, woman, he's tormenting us in his very grave; he's snurching and grinning down there in the ground this very minute—the wicked old varmint!"

    "Speak no ill of the dead," came pleadingly from the corner into which Mrs Wenyon had stolen.

    "Ho!" cried Dolly dolefully, "and has he left us nothing?"

    "Nothin'?  Who said 'is left us nothin'?  He's left us too much, the spiteful old rogue!"

    "Too much?  Oh, father, what do you mean?" and Dolly was wringing her hands and hovering nervously over him, whilst even her mother had drawn nearer.

    "Now, look you here, you two," and the cooper laid down his knife and fork with two emphatic bangs, rose to his feet, and expanding his chest and tapping it with his open palm, be demanded, "am I a respectable, God-fearing man, or am I not?"

    "Well?"

    "Am I a deacon of the church?"

    "Well?"—both together and with breathless eagerness.

    "Am I a lifelong abstainer and a Band of Hoper?"

    "Well, well!  Go on!"

    Phineas drew back to give due effect to his staggering announcement, looked hard at his wife and then at Dolly, drew a long hard breath, ground his teeth together, and then said—

    "Well, that old spiteful's left us a PUBLIC HOUSE," and when he reached the last two words, the outraged cooper shouted them out at the top of his voice.

    There was a long pregnant pause, an exchange of amazed and horrified looks, and then the ingenious wickedness of the idea struck Dolly forcibly, and she burst into a long, rippling laugh.

    "Dolly!" cried Mrs Wenyon in shocked, reproachful tones, and the amused girl, checking herself as another thought struck her, made a straight face and cried—

    "But you can sell it, father!"

    "Sell it, woman!  That's it!  That's the crafty spitefulness of it; we are to have it on condition."

    "What condition?"

    "On condition—ha! ha!" and catching suddenly his daughter's point of view, he laughed in angry, baffled helplessness—"on condition that we live in it!"

    For a full minute the three stood looking chapfallenly at each other, and then Dolly said, though with little heart—

    "Never mind, dad, we'll let it go and take the rest."

    "Rest?  What rest?"

    "The other property.  He has left us something else?"

    "Not a stick, not a dolt!  Every blessed stick goes to her."

    "Her?"

    "His old housekeeper.  The crafty, scheming old skinflint, let him take his old alehouse, and be hanged to him!"

    Helpless with sheer surprise, Mrs Wenyon dropped into her chair, and Phineas, now got going, plunged into a detailed account of the funeral and the reading of the will; and then for several minutes strutted about the kitchen denouncing the dead man and all his malicious ways.  The bequest was so ingeniously wicked, so mockingly, tantalisingly clever, and so extremely characteristic of the acrid, cynical old man who had made it, that in spite of himself the cooper had to laugh every now and again.  Joshua Wenyon had always been a mocker; he had mocked at religion, mocked at temperance, mocked at the virtues of his neighbours; but this bequest of his was the bitterest and cleverest mock of all.

    The cooper realised this, at least in part, as he stalked about the kitchen; but before long he became conscious that he had but half grasped the deadly wickedness of the contrivance.

    Even sleepy Snelsby woke up when the story became known.  The landlord of the Red Lion laughed until he cried; the cooper's customers also heard and re-told the tale until it became almost unrecognisable; the chapel people received it at first with incredulous head-shakes, and then with indignation mingled with alarm; and Nixon the brewer went about amongst Phineas's temperance friends, openly jeering at them, and offering to bet the price of a barrel of beer that the valiant teetotal cooper would turn landlord.


 
CHAPTER III

JEFFREY TWIGG WANTS A CROSS-AND GETS ONE


AND whilst the cooper and his family were agitating themselves about old Wenyon's will, other events were transacting themselves in another part of Snelsby which were destined to have an important effect on Dolly's future.  Away down the white highroad from Snelsby to Benderton, there was an old tollhouse with an apartment at each side of the road.  The gate of course was gone and toll no longer taken, but the small buildings were occupied by old Jeffrey Twigg and his wife.  Jeff was the local bill-sticker and bellman, and his wife a monthly nurse.  He was long, lank, and bony, and she was short even for a woman.  She was a round, black-eyed, apple-cheeked little person, about fourteen years younger than her great lumbering husband; and he had weak, oddly coloured eyes, a wandering sort of mouth with lips habitually nipped together in a vain attempt to express a decision of character most conspicuously absent.  His most eloquent feature, however, was a long queer nose which terminated most unexpectedly in a tell-tale red bulb; this was generally browned with snuff, for Jeff's one weakness was a fondness for the fragrant dust, which he carried loose in the left-hand pocket of his sleeved corduroy waistcoat.  Mrs Twigg was a loyal churchwoman; Jeff was a leading light at a little nondescript Bethel in Frog Lane: a place conducted on most democratic lines, but which had a reputation for reclaiming character quite out of proportion to its relative position amongst local churches.

    Just about dusk on the night when our story opens, the two were sitting in the low porch of the tollhouse, enjoying the cool evening breezes, Mrs Twigg knitting, and her lord taking his favourite indulgence and meditating.  As he thought, he grew fidgety; his beetling brows went up and his mouth corners came down; he was evidently discontented.  He glanced scowlingly at his provokingly placid little wife, crossed and re-crossed his legs, thrust his thumb and forefinger deep into his snuff pocket, raised the dust to his nose, and then said, punctuating each word with a long sniff—

    "I'm sick o' this sort a wark; I'm nor a Christian, an' I niver wur."

    Mrs Twigg apparently saw nothing in this to reply to, so Jeff curled his discontented lip and added—

    "For two pins I'd chuck t' job."

    An exasperating click! click! of the needles was the only response.

    Another lingering sniff at his dusty finger-ends, another discontented side-glance at his wife, and then—

    "Tommy, thou can say what thou's a mind!  T' Almighty's not dealing wi' me as I should like."

    Mrs Twigg's baptismal name was Thomasina, but the Snelsby folk usually abbreviated it to 'Siná, whilst her husband preferred "Tommy."

    "Jeffrey, for shame!  Does to know it's blasphemious!"

    The bill-sticker gave a couple of defiant, unbelieving sniffs, leaned back into the corner of the porch, cocked his chin, and sighed again.

    "I tell thee it is so, say what thou likes."

    "Jeff!"

    "There's Owd Simmy and Lizer Cribble," he continued, "allus grumblin' an' groanin' about their trials; an' here's me as 'ud jump at 'em, never gets none at all," and then he added after a grieved review of the case, "No, not t' odd un."

    "Is that all!  Thou talks about crosses as if they were good things and thou wanted 'em.  Thou'd cry at t'other side o' thy face if thou had one."

    Solemnly shaking his head and helping himself to snuff, Jeff replied—

    "Thou'rt no theologian, Tommy; you church folk knows nowt about doctrine."

    Mrs Twigg had evidently her own views on that point, but was not sure whether it was worth while to advance them; and whilst she was hesitating, Jeff was pursuing his own reflections.

    "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteth—when has He ever chasted me?"

    "For shame, Jeffrey Twigg!  Thou'll be bringin' summat on thee, talkie' like that."

    "He's given old Lizer many a cross, and poor Tommy too, but He's never given me a single, solitary one—not one."

    "Go on!  Go on!  That's t' way to get thy crop full.  Dunnat blame me if trubbel comes; thou's asked for it."

    "Does the Lord ever chaste me?  That's t' question," and a cloud of fragrant dust puffed off from Jeff's glowing nose, and he eyed his spouse with an injured look.  Presently he went on, secretly triumphing in a sour sort of way over his wife's argumentative helplessness, "I've told thee afore, and I'll tell thee again, Jeff Twigg's not in the kingdom."

    Siná, was expecting this; all his roundabout theological arguments landed him at this point, and so she burst out impatiently—

    "No, and thou doesn't deserve to be!  Them as isn't content wi' Providence deserves to be miserable."

    But the bill-sticker had heard this reproof before, and no longer regarded it.  He was following the argument as it developed in his own mind, and taking in snuff in prodigious quantities.

    "There's Lizer and Sammy and Long Peter, as hesn't the pluck o' mice, but they can have as many crosses as they like; and here's me never gets a chance.  How can I show me paces?  How can I dare to be a Daniel and 'hold the fort'?"

    Mrs Twigg looked troubled; perhaps she did not know enough of theology; this sort of doctrine was certainly beyond her, and so, whilst she mused and he sniffed, there was a pause.

    "Never seek trouble, Jeffrey; rest and be thankful; never seek—oh, lawks, what's that!"

    Jeff had evidently heard something too, and sat with a pinch of snuff on its way to his nose, listening.  As the sound was not repeated, he affected superiority to feminine imaginings, and growled about women being "feared of a frog's croak."


"'A horse! my kingdom for a horse!'"


    The night had shut down dark and starless, and the slightest sound rang far in the still air.  Jeff and his wife sprang to their feet with scared faces, and stared hard at each other.

    The very silence became disquieting, and Jeff began to edge towards his wife.  "It's nothin', woman—oh, la!" and as Jeff made a frightened grab at his wife's arm, there rang out on the stillness—


"'Avaunt, thou dreadful minister of hell!'"


and there was a crashing sound like the breaking of a hedge or the falling of a tree, and Jeff, with a "Lord preserve us!" flung his arms round his wife.  Tremors were shaking them both, and their faces in the darkness grew white and terrified.  To be disturbed at night was not very unusual in their wayside abode, but there was something about this that was uncanny.

    "Chut, man, it's nobbut a beast coming through—oh, la!"


"'Blow me in winds; roast me in sulphurs."'


    Dropping back for a moment and wildly taking her courage in her hands, Mrs Twigg snatched at her husband, and, dragging him to the porch front, shrieked, "Thieves!  Murder!" though her excitement choked the words and the sounds did not travel.

    For several moments the two stood gazing into the darkness, and at last Thomasina, knowing well who would have to take the first move, stooped down, and, catching sight as she did so of a dim figure in the grass, cried, though with bated breath—

    "Drat the thing, it's nobbut somebody in drink!"

    She stopped, however, and shrank back again for there was a long lugubrious groan, which changed into a sort of chant and ended in a blood-curdling "Ha! ha! ha!"

    Another pause, and then Thomasina, straining her eyes to discern the vague object in the road, cried with fearsome valiance—

    "Now, then, there, budge!"

    "Come back, lass, and shut t' door," cried Jeff in a thick whisper.


"'Angels and ministers of grace—'"


    "We're not angels; we're quiet folk as pays our way.  Off wi' thee, swill-tub!"

    "Oh, my poor eyes!  If nobbut I could see," groaned Jeff apologetically.

    "Eyes!  It's thy heart, man; it's down i' thy boots, man; get a light wi' thee," and then raising her voice, she called across the road, "March off now, Rantipole!"

    Jeff had obeyed orders, but was in his excitement running against everything in the darkness, and making such a disturbance that his wife had discovered the candle before him.  Meanwhile scraps of incoherent quotation, which Jeff mistook for Scripture, and Thomasina contemptuously denominated "rubbish," were coming through the darkness, and presently husband and wife were groping fearfully across the way, Jeff apologetically lamenting his weak eyesight and Thomasina carefully screening the sputtering flame with her hand.  Mrs Twigg was of course in front, and was making for the dim heap she could faintly see from the doorway.  Jeff, stumbling after her, fell over some stones, and they soon discovered that the object they were making for was a pile of new road-metal.  Jeff discovered it first, and, springing back, knocked springing the candle out of his wife's hand, whilst a wailing cry rang out on the still air—


"'Farewell! a last farewell to all my greatness.'"


    "Hush!  Oh, drat it!" Mrs Twigg had touched something soft with her toe, and as they stood there helpless in the darkness, the long tragic farewell was repeated close to them.  Jeff sprang away, and, returning hastily returning to the porch, began to exhort his wife to come away.

    A few moments later, however, the two were cautiously stooping over the prostrate form of a man, who, with a thin, emaciated, but still youthful face, in which was a gash, was reclining against the hedge-backing and declaiming miscellaneous Shakespere with alternations of mock solemnity and serio-comic hilarity which sent throbs of wondering pity to the hearts of his simple beholders.

    "Another tramp!" growled Jeff, eyeing the sprawling figure at a safe distance.  "Let him lie t' night air will bring him to."

    "Ay, an' a bit o' common sense 'ud bring thee to; does'ta see he's wounded?  Poor feller!" and then, after a closer inspection with the flickering candle, "Pick him up, man, an' bring him across t' road."

    Jeff sprang back with dubious shakings of the head, still keeping his eye warily on the recumbent figure.

    "Tramps is infected; he'll happen give uz summat."

    "I'll give thee summat if thou doesn't lift him up—here, tak' hold," and holding the candle towards him she went on, "He's happen dyin', and then wee'st be took up for manslaughter."

    Jeff, watching narrowly the limp and silent figure, moved obliquely round and began cautiously to approach the tramp.  Putting his back against the hedge, he got behind his man, stopping suddenly every now and again at some fancied sound or movement; and then bending his long body he got hold of the stranger under each arm and lifted him gingerly and with averted face.  There was a gurgling chuckle and a murmuring gurgling quotation—


"'Oh, beautiful tyrant, fiend angelical,'"


and Jeff, nearly dropping his burden, sank back into the hedge with a startled gasp.

    Mrs Twigg lost patience, and began to demand that he would take the candle and let her do the work, and so in confused, hasty shame, the big man, ostentatiously holding his head away, dragged the still muttering tramp with trailing legs into the little cot.

    Ten minutes later the stranger showed signs of coming to, and Jeff, standing off, indulged in a leisurely survey, assisting his meditations with copious doses of snuff.  Thomasina had lighted the fire and was already bathing the tramp's wounds with warm water.  This, however, as it increased the bleeding, scared her, and Jeff was peremptorily commanded to fetch the doctor.  The bill-sticker looked blue, and eyed the patient sourly: a half-mile journey to a not very patient doctor was no joke at this hour; and as he lingered sheepishly, and grunted out protests, his wife had to hasten him.  When he returned with the medico she had got the patient's face washed, and though he was still only half conscious, had ascertained several curious things about him.  Whatever else, he was not drunk: neither was he a tramp of the ordinary sort; for his hands, though dirty enough, were small and white, whilst the skin underneath his ragged underclothing indicated a person of fastidious habits.  His tattered garments were so full of dust that a little cloud arose every time he was moved.  His features had refinement stamped on every line of them, and the accent of his incoherent ramblings was that of an educated person.

    The doctor came in blusteringly, still abusing the much persecuted snuff-taker; but he went suddenly quiet when he saw the wound, and quieter still when he examined the patient's pulse and temperature.  He rapped out his orders in snarling tones, stitched the gaping gash, stood back and glared at the patient, as though he had committed some fearful crime, and then, whisking round and stopping a pinch of snuff on its way to Jeff's nose, he demanded—

    "I suppose you two old fools think this man is dying—well, he isn't,—that is, not of his wound he's starving; he hasn't had food for days!"

    "Lawk-a-days!" began Mrs Twigg, but the doctor hadn't finished.

    "Get him to bed; give him broth and milk—not too much at once, mind—and if he pulls round by to-morrow, get a barrow and wheel him to the workhouse."

    "But you'll come, doctor, and—"

    "What's that to you?  Do as I tell you, and woe betide you if he dies!" and, with a look of unexampled fierceness, the man of boluses banged the door until the still road rang, and left them to their task.

    The next three days were the most tormenting in Jeff's life.  His wife had all a childless woman's passion for nursing anything and everything that came in her way, and all a nurse's unreasonable imperiousness.  Their only bed in the cot across the road was appropriated for this disreputable, spouting tramp; his wife occupied the long settle, and he had to stretch his long legs where he could.  His wife was inevitable and had to be endured, but why should he be tyrannised over by a rambling, raving lodger, a starvation footpad, simply because he "hed sich grand eyes and quoted poetry"?

    The patient was certainly a most extraordinary person.  He was so thin and emaciated, and his eyes were so sunken and haggard-looking, that Mrs Twigg had a fresh gush of tears every time she looked at him.  He seemed to be in a perpetual state of intoxication, but the doctor's testimony and their own knowledge contradicting that, they found it difficult to decide when and how far he was sane.  There were moments when his great eyes swam with glowing gratitude as he followed them about; but the moment they spoke to him the look became a scowl, and he flung at them disjointed and incomprehensible blank verse.  Thomasina treated him as a spoilt child, much too ill to be corrected; but Jeff, tantalised and worried by a curiosity which never received the slightest consideration, went about with ruffled feathers and always ready to quarrel.

    "Poor, poor fellow, then!  Who are yo and where do yo come from?" said Mrs Twigg, when late on the fourth day the tramp looked quieter and more reasonable.

    A soft, grateful light came into the patient's eyes; but as Jeff could not see this sign of intelligence, he stepped up to the bedside and bawled, as though deafness were an inseparable accompaniment of insanity—

    "She wants to know thy name."

    The languid sufferer bounced up as though shot.

    "Name?  I'm Bard of Avon, the immortal William; my name is Shakespere;" and he flourished his arms, made a sitting bow, and leered at Mrs Twigg, until Jeff began to feel jealous.

    To Jeff, Shakespere was a mythical British hero of King Arthur's class; but not a copper had been found in the tramp's clothes, and so the bill-sticker shook his head in amused contradiction, whilst 'Siná coaxed the patient's arms under the bedclothes again.

    "Ay, then, sure then, did he say his name was William?  Lie thee down, duckie, William."

    Jeff, listening to these coaxings with growing restlessness, went away lest he should be tempted to say something; but next day, after an unusually trying night with the sick man, he broke into open rebellion and threatened to fetch the wheelbarrow ordered by the doctor.  Mrs Twigg offered prompt and decided resistance.

    "Poor fellow?  Why, woman, he calls me all the foul names he can put his tongue to!"

    "Names?"

    "Ay, names!  Bruter an' Bellydick, an' las' night he wanted to cuddle me an' called me 'Jeff demona'—he'll be calling me Beelzebub next."

    As the days went on and the stranger slowly improved, the old couple became more and more perplexed about him, and more and more at variance with each other.  He had long hours of absent-minded musings, from which neither coaxings nor scoldings would arouse him.  In the daytime he would get up and sit on the bedside, and presently he began to appropriate, without the slightest sign of any conscious irregularity, such articles of Jeff's wearing apparel as might be within reach, and by the end of the week, Jeff, with the careless consent of the doctor, had decided to remove the poor fellow to the workhouse.  Mrs Twigg, however, proved obstinate, and Jeff had no refuge left but his precious dust.

    "Shakespere," as he still persisted in calling himself, was now sufficiently recovered to get about a little, though he seemed strangely indifferent, and had no desire whatever either to "take the road," or have any sort of contact with life and society.  Mrs Twigg was using rum for some domestic purpose one day, but the smell of it produced such wild agitation in the stranger's mind that they passed the worst night with him they had ever experienced.  He snatched the rum from her and drank it off ravenously; his eyes rolled, his face flushed, and he became suddenly another man.  He was light, frisky, jocular, then stern, tragic, and sarcastic; and even after they got him safely to bed, he was rolling out Shakesperian selections.  Even Mrs Twigg repented at this, and Jeff had hope that the incident would bring him deliverance.

    But the next morning found the "great dramatist" in a new mood.  He lay in bed and followed them about with great pleading, anguished eyes, and refused with earnest protests all food, shrinking as he did so from Mrs Twigg, as though he feared his touch might pollute her.  The first time Jeff came near he snatched eagerly at his snuffy hand, and, pressing it to burning lips, passionately covered it with kisses, and wept like a sorry child.

    Little by little the terrible truth sank into the minds of the bill-sticker and his wife that their unbidden and distressing guest was a dipsomaniac, and that night they had a long and anxious talk together.

    Jeff had much to do to convince himself, and much more to convince his wife, and when at last he had shown her how impossible it was for them to do anything, and how much more reasonable it was to let "Shakespere" go to the workhouse, she was just bringing herself to accept the inevitable, when a great inspiration came to the assistance of her pitiful, reluctant heart, and touching her husband gently on the arm, she cried—

    "Why, Jeff, that's it!  That's the very thing."  Jeff rubbed his dusty nose and glowered dubiously at her.

    "It's a big'un and a queer 'un, but it's just the thing for thee."

    "Wot, woman? wot?"

    "Why, what thou been wantin' this many a day!"

    Jeff helped himself again, eyed her earnestly, and then said—

    "I don't know what thou means."

    "What wur thou wantin' t'other day?" asked Thomasina.

    Jeff took two heavy pinches, but no light came.

    "Weren't thou wantin' a cross, a burdin, somethin' to do for the Lord?"

    Jeff stared and stared, and then nodded with dreamy, distant eyes that were only just taking in the full significance of the suggestion, and at last he gave her an emphatic tap on the knee, rose up, and went into the lane and thought the matter fully out.

    And that night, as he lay upon the hearth-rug trying to sleep, he kept murmuring to himself—

    "He's sent it at last!  There's a chance for me here."

    And he dropped off to sleep, drowsily repeating, "Whom the Lord loveth He chasteth."


 
CHAPTER IV

SIMPSON CROUCH MAKES A HELPFUL SUGGESTION


NOW if old Joshua Wenyon, when he inserted that ingeniously mischievous paragraph in his will which related to his cooper-nephew, had intended to disturb as many people and create as many heartburnings as possible, he certainly succeeded; and if he had been able after his decease to visit Snelsby, and still retained his old bitter feeling towards his fellow-creatures, he would have been abundantly satisfied with the results of his malign device; for the bequest sent the iron deep into the breasts of his relatives, and produced powerful effects upon the minds of people of whom the misanthropic old wretch had never thought.  Simpson Crouch, for instance.  When that very worldly-wise young man got away from his sweetheart on the night of their quarrel and thought things over, he was more disposed than ever to resent her conduct.  He was most unpleasantly surprised to begin with; this was a new and not at all attractive side of her character, and he had no idea at all of a wife with such notions.  Besides, things were prospering with him just then—he was doing rather better than usual, in fact; and, after all, she was not the only girl in the marriage-market, and, his improving prospects considered, not quite the catch he might make.  At anyrate he was not going to be treated like this quietly; she had made the quarrel and she must mend it.  It was a reasonable and fair thing that the old building which brought next to nothing to her father, but would be so very serviceable to him, should come along with her when they married; and even though she should wish to be reconciled, he would stick to his point.  Of course she would repent, and—happy thought!—in that mood would be more pliable even than usual; nay, if she was the girl he took her for, she would square her father as a means of reconciliation with him.  It took some time to reach this point, for Simpson did not think quickly; but when, as he crossed the High Street on his way home, he heard of old Joshua's death, it reminded him of one of the motives of his engagement and entirely changed his views.  The old fellow who was gone must have had anything from five to twenty-five thousand pounds, and there was absolutely nobody for it worth thinking of but the cooper and his family.

    A thousand pounds or so would make a vast difference to his business, and he would be able to make the local bobbin-trade "hum."

    These considerations affected his view of Dolly's temper, and the unjustifiable quarrel rapidly shrank to the dimensions of a little tiff.  He knew Dolly, if anybody did: knew her softness and tenderness of heart; he must not be too hard on the whims and freaks of a girl's fancies, and—well—perhaps it was as much his fault as hers.

    He wrote what he considered a reasonably conciliatory note that very night, and rested all the better for it.

    Twice next day he made errands down Sticky Lane, which ran along the bottom end of the cooperage garden, but did not succeed in seeing Dolly.  For three long fretful hours he haunted the old lane next night, but still no Dolly.  Then he sent another and much humbler note, and, following it up promptly, went and sat in the summer-house which had been the scene of their unfortunate disagreement, and whistled the old signal.  But the hitherto placable, easy-tempered young lady was still obdurate.  The thing was getting serious: here was the whole town talking about the Wenyons' luck; his housekeeper sister chaffed him so bitingly about marrying a fortune that there was no peace at home for him, and all at once there came to him the terrible suspicion that Dolly had manufactured the quarrel in order to get him out of the way now that she was going to be rich.  Simpson felt himself going very sick; clammy perspiration oozed out of his pores, and he muttered something very like a curse.  But he was not the man to miss a chance like this; he would humble himself, abase himself if need be, but Dolly and her fortune must be his; and, in fact, he had so long regarded her as his own that he had a sense now of being robbed.  The one person likeliest to help him was Dolly's mother, and, curiously enough, this gentle-spirited person was the one member of the family of whom he stood most in fear.  Fear or no fear, he must make his position secure, even though he had to swallow his resentment and put his pride in his pocket.  Before approaching Mrs. Wenyon, however, he decided to try another night of garden watching, and when that failed and he got home surly and taciturn, his sister greeted him with the details of the fantastic will as it was known to Snelsby.

    Simpson's ardour cooled again at once, but, thinking it over in his favourite place of meditation, his bed, a brilliant idea struck him, and the more he thought of it, the more was he enamoured.

    It was not the fortune he had once hoped for, but it was a great deal better than nothing.  Yes, that was what he must do; only, to the success of this latest project reconciliation with Dolly was absolutely necessary.

    Over next day's dinner his sister regaled him with the latest gossip; the public-house mentioned in the will was no other than the King's Arms, the most respectable and prosperous hostel in Snelsby, and not many doors from the cooper's shop.  Simpson pricked his ears, and the scheme he had elaborated in the night seemed more alluring than ever.

    "It'ud be a sight to see teetotal Phineas a landlord," be remarked, to keep his sister talking.

    "He never will be," was the curt reply.

    "Never will be?  And why not?" and Simpson sounded distinctly injured.

    "His women won't let him.  Maria Boskill was saying that they'd both set their faces again' it, and declared they'd sooner take in washin'."

    Simpson's heart sank, for he could very well believe it.  Dolly and her mother were just the sort of narrowly religious folk who, devoid of all true business instincts, would take a perverse pride in sacrificing a comfortable competency for some romantic and ridiculous scruple.  He must bestir himself, he must take prompt measures, or the prize would slip through his fingers; it was no use arguing with unaccountable and "pious" women; he must apply, and that without loss of time, to the cooper himself.  And when he thought of Phineas he breathed more freely.  The tubber was a man at least, and would at anyrate take a reasonable businesslike view of things.  He was prone to silly fads and hobbies, and was given to run to odd extremes, but he had an eye to the main chance, and was as keen a bargainer as ever stood in Snelsby market.  Besides, Phineas, it was notorious, did not like his own business, and badly wanted leisure and especially larger means for the indulgence of his fancies; and Simpson hugged himself as he reflected that the plan he could suggest would be an almost irresistible temptation to a man of his prospective father-in-law's proclivities.

    And then—yes, his plan was nothing short of an inspiration—the cooper, though always soft with women, a doting husband and father, was notoriously pigheaded and pugnacious, as all faddy men were, and if only he could be got to entertain the notion that people were interfering with him, then the more wife and daughter and friends and chapel people protested, the more surely would Phineas stick to his point.

    Simpson, for reasons he could not have explained, had more misgivings about the cooper's teetotalism than about his religion; but then the plan he could suggest would give Phineas more relief than any other device he could think of, consistent with the retention of the bequest; and as it would set him almost entirely free to carry out his dearly cherished hobbies, without any anxieties about the awkward question of bread and butter—well, if Phineas was able to resist the double-barrelled temptation, then Simpson didn't understand human nature at all.  Thinking about his quarrel with Dolly, he felt inclined to kick himself; it was about the unluckiest thing that could have happened just then.  But she was not the girl to carry every little thing to her parents, and would, if he knew her, be so very self-conscious about her own share of the matter, that he thought he might safely leave that point; and the excitement about the fortune would be so fully occupying her mind that the occurrences in the summerhouse would have left far less impression upon her than at another time.  At anyrate, even if his worst fears proved correct, he could not think of giving up now, at least, without a very serious effort.

    The bobbin factory was sadly neglected that day, and Simpson made journey after journey past the cooperage in hope of seizing some opportunity.  Unfortunately the fates were against him.  The cooper's workshop, a low lean-to that stood alongside the house and faced the street, had at this time of the year its big front door always open, but whenever Simpson lounged past the place it was full of visitors.  Now it was Phineas's coadjutors from the temperance hall, next the vicar and his wife, and at another time no less than four chapel folk.  The bobbin-maker did not like this at all; be knew but too well how both the cleric and the chapel folk would talk, and he realised that unless a spoke was put in the wheel, and that speedily, Phineas, who was very susceptible to attention, might be talked over and commit himself.

    All sorts of rumours meanwhile were current, equal confidence being expressed on both sides, and the result seemed to prove to Simpson that the cooper was "wobbling."  That very night, therefore, carefully dressed and industriously schooled by his astute sister, he turned out to get by any possible means an interview with the much-talked-of "heir."

    He loitered about the road near the shop, inwardly grinding his teeth as first one and then another garrulous Snelsbyite came or went; and when at last the apprentice closed the big door and the popular cooper strolled out of the workshop into his house accompanied by closest friends, Simpson felt inclined to give the thing up for the night.  But the case was important and time pressing: the whole thing might be settled by any one of those interminable conversations going on with the man of the moment, and so, torn with conflicting emotions, Simpson lingered about, seeing little use in staying and yet sadly loth to go.

    At the moment when he was just giving up, the front door of the Wenyons' house suddenly opened, and all the cooper's visitors, still talking loudly and excitedly, came forth into the twilight, and such scraps of talk as the bobbin-maker could catch showed him that whatever he did must be done with the utmost despatch.

    As soon, therefore, as the last good-night had been shouted along the road, and before the cooper could close the door, Simpson came out of his retreat and commenced—

    "G'd evenin', Phineas; goin' a bit cooler, isn't it?"

    Wenyon absently admitted that it was, and then, turning his back upon his visitor, silently led the way into the "room," as the cooperage parlour was called.  It was no uncommon thing for Simpson to have a smoke with Phineas and his cronies, when there was anything particular to talk about; and so the man of tubs, to whom talk was the breath of life, pointed first at a chair and then at a pudgy tobacco jar, and sat down with the restrained modesty of a man who was getting used to congratulations and supposed they had to be endured.

    Simpson eyed his host narrowly as he filled his pipe, and would have given much to know the exact state of his mind on the important issue.

    "Well, allow me to congratulate you on your luck, Phineas."

    Phineas puckered his brows with an excellent pretence of momentary forgetfulness.

    "Wh—oh, that, er—um."

    "Um" was not very illuminating, and Simpson stole a sidelong look through the tobacco-smoke and waited for additional light, which, however, did not come.

    "Well, you've managed to make yourself t' talk o' th' town for once, at anyrate."

    Phineas closed his eyes meekly, and expanded a little; the fact had to be admitted, but modesty forbade any comment.

    But the bobbin-maker could not hold in, though he carefully picked his words.

    "Well, I always did say that the King's Arms was the neatest bit of licensed property in the county," and then, giving a considering inclination to his head and an interrogative inflexion to his voice, he went on, "It'ull be worth a couple o' thousand pound, I daresay."

    "Couple?  Couple?  That place is worth three an' a half, if it's worth sixpence!"

    Ah, then he was considering the question and there was still time!  Simpson plucked up his spirits and went on.

    "It's so many out-buildings!  Why, there's room there for any amount of fancying: stables, barns, fowl-houses, piggeries, and everything as a fancier could want!  My stars, Phineas, you could show them farmers summat! "

    "Show 'em!" and the cooper fired up instantly—"I'll show them jockeys what hens is, an' pigs and pigeons, Simpson lad.  I'll make 'em bite their finger ends off wi' spite!"

    It was working: Simpson secretly hugged himself.  He paused with crafty deliberation, eyed his man closely, and then, leaning forward and tapping the cooper on the knee with his pipe-stem, one tap to every word, he said in tones of absolute, unalterable conviction—

    "Phineas, if there's any man i' this countryside could do it, it's you; and, by George, I'd like to see you do it!"

    The cooper was now on his high horse.

    "Do it!  Why, man, if them poverty-stricken owd farmers knew what I know they'd be Millionaires i' no time."

    "O' course they would, and if I wur you I'd show 'em;" and then, with a sudden show of high moral conviction, "Why, it's your duty, man, an' you can't get out of it."

    The cooper sat upright in his chair, his legs spread out and his chest expanded, whilst his face shone through the smoke with glowing self-complacency.  But even as he thought the light faded, the vision of glory clouded over, and with a long regretful sigh for that which could never be, he murmured—

    "Ay, but I cannot do it."

    "Do it!  Why not?  Why, man, it's the chance of a lifetime!" and Simpson sounded sternly reproachful.

    Phineas sighed again, pulled moodily at his pipe for a moment, and then, in tones of sad regret, he said—

    "It's again' my principles."

    "Principles!  What has principles to do with it?  It's a matter o' business, man!"

    Another sigh, a series of reluctant wags of the head, and then—

    "I'm a Christian, an'—an'—a deacon."

    "What, you, Phineas!  I thought you'd more sense!  Religion's religion, but business is business!" and then he added resentfully, "I see how it is, them muddlin' owd jockeys from t' chapil's been at you."

    "They've niver ge'en me a minute's peace this blessed day," and Phineas had a grieved and injured tone.

    "Oh, drat 'em!  Now, look here: has any of them owd jackasses ever been wo'th a twenty-pound note all their born days?  Will they ever be?"

    A little twitch of disapproval, too slight for the eager bobbin-man to notice, passed across the cooper's countenance, but he only shook his head and stared dubiously into the tobacco clouds.  Presently, however, he said dolefully—

    "What would they all think about me?"

    "Think?  Let 'em think!  An' answer me one question.  Is there one man of all t' lot as 'ud refuse three thousand pound?—answer me that."

    Phineas pulled heavily at his pipe, shook his head again, and replied—

    "But, man, I'm a lifelong teetotaler!"

    "An' so is lots o' public-landlords; all t' best on 'em is: they have to be.  Now, look you here, man, we cannot do without some sort of places like publics, can we?  It isn't t' places, it's t' way they're conducted that's wrong; what this country wants is somebody to show 'em how they ought to be managed, and the man who'd do that 'ud be a public blessing."

    This was an aspect of the great temperance question that as yet had not presented itself to the cooper, and, coming just now, it looked most dangerously plausible, and he proceeded to argue it; and Simpson, perceiving his advantage, made the most of it, and they talked and smoked until they could not see each other.  The cooper at last got up and lighted the lamp, and then, as he adjusted the wick, he said—

    "I could never bring myself to do it; but it's a pity to let all that property go."

    "Pity!  It 'ud be a burning shame!  Every sensible person i' th' town'ud laugh at thee, man," and then he added—for the supreme moment had come—"Besides, there's more ways o' killin' a dog nor chokin' him wi' butter."

    Phineas was slowly wiping the paraffin from his fingers, whilst his hand shook with the strength of his emotions.  It seemed that what he really wanted was some middle way, and the tempter, watching him keenly, went on—

    "Wills is like Acts o' Parlyment, gumptious folk can drive a coach an' four through 'em."

    The cooper was looking hard at him with a curious mixture of hope and fear in his eyes.

    "Simpson, I'd give half of what I've got this minute to best that owd wastrel."

    "Well, there's ways"; and the bobbin-maker, leaning back and apparently studying a stuffed jackdaw on the mantelpiece, looked most tantalisingly mysterious.

    "Ay, but not right ways, honest, straight ways?"

    "Honest enough and easy enough," and the crafty Simpson talked like a man who was not interested, and was, in fact, getting tired of the subject, whilst Phineas had to sit down to control his rising excitement.

    "Easy as chips.  I could do it."

    "Thee?"

    "Ay, me!  Give me t' chalice, that's all."

    "Whatever art drivin' at, Simpson?" and Phineas's voice was husky with suppressed eagerness.

    The tempter, his eye still on the jackdaw, had a confident smile, though his heart was beating almost into his mouth.

    "Out with it, man; what's i' thy head?" and the cooper's eagerness was pitiable.  Slowly Simpson withdrew his gaze from the jackdaw, pulled himself together, put on a look of preternatural mystery, and dropping his voice to a thick whisper he looked bard at his man, and remarked—

    "A man can live in a drink shop without selling drink."

    Phineas returned the other's stare with interest, his rapidly beating eyelids being the only things about him that moved.

    "Wh—a—wh—a—what does ta' mean?"

    But Simpson now had the upper hand, and knew it; and so, rolling his head to one side, he drawled with studied indifference—

    "Nay, nuthin', but a wink's as good as a nod to a blind horse."

    Half guessing and yet uncertain, with scowling face and trembling voice the cooper glared at his visitor, and cried fiercely—

    "Go on, man!  Out with it!"

    But Simpson was cruel.  His scheme had grown more precious and encouraging as he played with it and watched its effects upon his friend; and so, after a series of hum's and ha's, he said—

    "Me and your Dolly's thinkin' o' getting wed afore long."

    "Well?"

    "We might—we might hurry it up a bit."

    "Well?"

    "You could take t' King's Arms and live in private parts, an' have all them outhouses for your hens, an'—an'—an' we could do t' business."

    Phineas saw it now, that was plain; he rose to his feet, drew himself up, took a step nearer, and asked in quite a different tone—

    "Who could do t' business?"

    "Uz, me an' her."

    "Dolly? our Dolly?"

    "Ay."

    The transformation was instantaneous and amazing.  There, towering over the astounded and cringing bobbin-maker, stood Phineas, white with scorn and rage.

    "Thou limb o' Satan!  Thou slimy, slippery snake i' th' grass!" and, pouncing on his visitor with a grip of iron, he dragged him from his seat, kicked the chair from under him, pushed him with purpling face to the door, and flung him out into the darkness, crying thickly as he did so, "Git out!  Git out!  Git out!"

 

"Pouncing on his visitor, he dragged him from his seat, crying
"Git out!  Git out!  Git out!"



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