A LOVERS' QUARREL
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
"Will it be so very expensive—er—after we are
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
"What on earth is the crazy thing talking about?"
"I wouldn't, lad! I wouldn't I—and there's no need, you
"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
"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
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.
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
"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
"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
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
"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
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
"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?"
"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."
"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
"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.
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
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
"I'm sick o' this sort a wark; I'm nor a Christian, an' I
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
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
"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."
"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
"Thou'rt no theologian, Tommy; you church folk knows nowt
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
"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
"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
"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
"'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
"'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
"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
"'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
"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
"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
"Lawk-a-days!" began Mrs Twigg, but the doctor hadn't
"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
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
"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!"
"Ay, names! Bruter an' Bellydick, an' las' night he
wanted to cuddle me an' called me 'Jeff demona'—he'll be calling me
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
"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
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
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
"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
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."
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
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
"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
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
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
"Well, allow me to congratulate you on your luck, Phineas."
Phineas puckered his brows with an excellent pretence of
"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,
"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
"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
"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
"Easy as chips. I could do it."
"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
Half guessing and yet uncertain, with scowling face and
trembling voice the cooper glared at his visitor, and cried
"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,
"Me and your Dolly's thinkin' o' getting wed afore long."
"We might—we might hurry it up a bit."
"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'
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?"
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
"Pouncing on his visitor, he dragged him from his
"Git out! Git out! Git out!"