UNDER HEAVY FIRE
IT is an odd
thing about good and trustful thing women that they are often
unaccountably nervous about the moral resources of their husbands
and sons, and get seriously alarmed when their beloved ones are
unexpectedly exposed to even ordinary temptations. And it was
so with good Mrs Wenyon. She knew that her husband was a
sincere Christian, though in her view somewhat worldly; she knew
that he was proud—sinfully proud, she feared—of his position as
deacon of Salem. During all the years of their married life
his temperance principles had never been once shaken, in spite of
many and serious temptations, arising from the fact that his
business brought him into contact with, and in fact made him largely
dependent upon, brewers. She knew that in her mild way she had
great influence over him, and that he valued her opinion on
important matters, however much he might scoff in trifling things.
And yet, as soon as she understood the full significance of the
temptation to which he was now exposed, her heart sank within her,
and she became the prey of most painful apprehensions. She was
one of those gentle, pensive creatures who always take their
pleasures a little fearfully, see remote possibilities of evil in
the happiest occurrences, and are never really hopeful except when
all their friends are in despair. She loved and trusted her
husband, but she had small faith in poor human nature, especially
when it took the masculine form, and knew, and knew exactly, how
strong and trying this great temptation would be to her husband.
And Dolly secretly shared her mother's fears; only, as she
played a peculiar part in the relationships of the family, and was
compelled to say and do things sadly at variance something with her
real feelings, she met her mother's apprehensions with light banter
and inextinguishable optimism, and always "stood up" for her father.
To her father, however, she was generally, as he phrased it, "a
little parson in petticoats."
But this grave crisis now upon them, touching as it did the
deepest and dearest things in life, threw them all back upon
themselves, and the two women were afraid to confide in each other,
lest each should find in the mind of the other the very fears she
was fighting in her own. Before her parents, therefore, Dolly
affected to treat the thing as a huge joke, not to be seriously
considered for a moment; but it scared her to discover that her
father, after appearing for days to enjoy her banter, began to show
restiveness under it, whilst her mother grew more pensive and silent
every hour, finding her only consolation in the quotation of her
The two women did not know of Simpson's visit, and for his
own reasons Phineas said not a word about it; but next morning the
cooper showed signs of broken rest, was surly and absent-minded, and
presently slipped out a word that brought stricken cries from both
"Drat it, woman," and he turned snappishly towards his wife,
but avoided her eyes, "you talk as if t' job were settled; can't you
wait a bit and give me time to think?"
They both understood what he meant by "the job," and poor Mrs
Wenyon dropped her eyes and moaned, "Where there's smoke there's
"Mother, I'm surprised at you! It's only one of his
tricks! He's as much likely to become a publican as I am to
become a—a—a stuffed turkey."
The incongruous comparison tickled and mollified the cooper,
and as he departed to the workshop he chucked his wife under her
white double chin, and cried—
"There! there, woman! it isn't a hanging job, anyway."
From that moment, however, they both watched him with an
ever-growing anxiety, and both felt that even his hesitation was
discreditable. They noted that he had a feverish fit of
industry upon him, and stuck to the shop from early morn to late at
night. They knew that he had been to Benderton to see his
uncle's lawyer; he had been seen twice in consultation with the
agent of the brewer who usually supplied the King's Arms, and
finally they learned that he had been shown round the inn.
Lady visitors, chapel officers, temperance workers called upon them
and besought them to use their influence with the cooper; and Miss
Agatha Jacques, a particularly strong-minded lady, informed poor
tearful Mrs Wenyon that God and conscience were before even husband,
and that they were all looking to her to make a stand, if even she
had to separate from the "deserter."
The last word stung Dolly, who was present.
"Miss Agatha," she cried impetuously, "we hate the very
thought of that nasty place; we would die rather than go; but father
is father, and a dear good man, and—and where he goes we go."
Then they found that a few of the Salem faithfuls, lifelong
friends of the cooper's, had been holding prayer meetings that their
"poor weak brother" might be saved from the snare of the tempter.
Most unfortunately the minister was away on his summer holidays, but
two long letters came from him, the second of which Phineas did not
show them. The cooper, meanwhile, was growing, moodier and
sulkier every day; he was losing his appetite also, forgetting the
day of his most important chapel meetings, and carefully avoiding
his teetotal friends. "Mother" was growing visibly thinner
under Dolly's eyes, and the poor girl wished that she had even her
banished lover to comfort her.
"Blake tells me that 'The Arms' is worth four thousand pound
if it is worth a penny."
This was Phineas's first direct reference to the anxious
subject for days, and was made at the breakfast-table. Both
women dropped their heads, and the cooper had to try again.
"There's many a better man nor me been a landlord."
It seemed as if there was to be no reply, but at last Mrs
Wenyon answered almost under her breath—
"Two blacks don't make a white, Phiny."
"Old Swidge of the Griffin at Spattleshaw is a better saint
nor many a big professor."
"One swallow doesn't make a summer, Phiny."
"Well, woman, are fortunes picked up in t' street? It's
flyin' i' th' face o' Providence!"
"'Ill got will soon rot.' 'Better is a little with the
fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith.'"
The cooper, worsted in his word battle, gave a grunt and a
resentful jerk of the head; and as Dolly got up at that moment to
attend to a caller, husband and wife were alone. Phineas sat
stiffly in his chair, and as the silence became more and more
uncomfortable he stole a glance at his wife. Presently he felt
a soft touch on his hand; it seemed to burn him, and he turned his
head away. The gentle hand stole up his sleeve, over his
shoulder, round his neck.
"Phineas, have we allus been—been cumfortable?"
"Ay, what else?" and the cooper's voice had suddenly become
"And wouldn't I give me life to—to serve thee?"
Phineas was staring before him, obstinately trying to pull
his neck away, and choke back his rising emotion.
"If thou loves me, Phineas, if thou loves me nobbut a bit,
oh, my lad, my lad! spare me this."
And Phineas rose up suddenly, pushed her almost rudely away
from him, and tore out to his work. He returned though, twice
that morning, without any particular reason, and talked heedlessly
to Dolly, whilst he slyly watched his wife from out of the corner of
his eye; and when he came in to dinner Dolly perceived a puzzling
change in him. He seemed to have recovered his spirits, and
was quite himself again. No, not quite, for though jaunty
bunglingly witty, as his wont was, he was obviously not at his ease;
his laugh was more than a little forced, and his hilarity was broken
by curious little fits of absent-mindedness. The mood lasted
all that day and the next. Dolly augured all good things from
it, but her mother was very mistrustful and steadily refused to be
comforted. He was hardening himself, she feared, trying to
carry the thing off with a jest. Towards evening, however, he
changed again, and—oh, worse than ever!—became affectionate and
propitiatory. How utterly staggered therefore was Dolly, and
how amply justified her mother's fears, when late that night he
announced that he had decided to take the public-house; and how
amazed and scandalised were they when he supplemented the
announcement with a rough, coarse guffaw.
A COMICAL CUPID
Crouch though taller, was not as heavy as Dolly's father, and of
course he was much younger; but when he staggered into the dark and
silent street on the night of his interview with the cooper, all
thought of resistance, all indignation and anger, were swallowed up
in paralysing, stupefying amazement. The action of the cooper
was so utterly inexplicable, and so entirely different from all his
expectations, that poor Simpson had been ignominiously ejected and
was alone in the street before he could realise what was happening.
What could he have said or done? He was succeeding so well,
Phineas had seemed so thoroughly interested, that victory seemed
certain; and all at once, like the transformation scene of a play,
this had occurred. He pulled himself together and glanced
sheepishly up and down the road to see if his degradation had been
observed; he clenched his fist and shook it at the closed door of
the cooperage with muttered curses, and then, standing there in the
stillness, be looked round and tried to realise what had happened,
The more he reflected, the more confusing and hopeless seemed
the puzzle, and when, at last, he began to move away, the double
indignity he had just suffered was awaking raging fires within him.
And Simpson let them burn: burn themselves out if they would; for
whatever else he was or was not, nobody could accuse him of ever
allowing his dignity to interfere with his practical interests.
Something had offended the fool of a cooper, that was evident, and
he would have given much to find out what it was. At the same
time, there was a great deal at stake in this matter, and if there
was anything to gain by swallowing his humiliation it must be done,
dignity or no dignity; but if there was nothing to gain—well, then,
revenge and just resentment might have their fling. And by
this it will be seen that Simpson was a philosopher—of a sort.
But if he could not decide why the all but convinced cooper had so
suddenly changed his mind, neither could he find in what had taken
place any reliable hint of what his prospective father-in-law
intended with regard to the King's Arms.
Once embarked on this aspect of the case, personal
considerations were, for the moment, forgotten; he never dreamed of
the possibility of there being an end to his courtship, and, having
now in prospect two strings to his bow, the bobbin factory and the
King's Arms, he clung to these with relentless tenacity and made
them the means of forgetting the humiliations he had suffered.
The financial value of Dolly's charms, and the numbers of amorous
customers who might be attracted to the inn by so dainty a landlady,
were far more practical considerations than any amount of mere
vulgar revenge, and no one could put his pride in his pocket more
easily than he upon sufficient inducement. All the same, when
be had carried his point and got himself securely installed in the
hostel, Phineas Wenyon might look out, and his independent daughter
too, for that matter.
His sister had retired when he reached home, for he took a
long detour to get himself cooled down; but over his frugal supper
he took the matter up again. Yes, having failed with the
father—what on earth had riled the old fool?—he must turn his
attention once more to the daughter; and the alternative was
unexpectedly distasteful to him. All his attempts to get on
terms with her again had so far failed; his letters had not even
been acknowledged, and though he usually met her often enough in
going about the town, some perverse fate had lately kept them apart.
After what had occurred—and the remembrance of his ignominious
ejection certainly was hard to forget—he could not simply go to the
house and ask Dolly's parents to intercede for him; still Dolly,
impulsive and even proud maybe, had always been easy to manage
before, and this was only a passing freak, and now that he had so
much at stake it would be a simple thing to take all the blame and
plead for her unqualified forgiveness. It was a new thing
certainly to have to consider his ways with her; but knowing what he
knew, no foolish scruples must stop him. He got very little
sleep, for that humiliating ejection would insist on coming back
again, and consequently he was not in the very best of humours when
he sat down to breakfast, and it was nearly nine o'clock when he
turned into the yard of the little bobbin-mill.
His office was a little tumble-down one-story structure, just
inside the gate, with a narrow high-countered room as you entered,
and an inner office where all the work was done. A wooden
partition divided the two, and as Simpson quietly opened the outer
door, as his manner was, he pricked up his ears at the sound of
voices, or, to be exact, a high-pitched voice, declaiming in
sternest tones some literary extract. Simpson frowned
contemptuously, and, pulling up, bent his head to listen. The
tones were harsh and grating, and there was marked indistinctness of
articulation, but the speaker was evidently in great earnest.
"Yes, William, Immortal, Encyclopedic William, thou hast said
''Tis true, 'tis pity; and pity 'tis 'tis true.'
"'Oh, that men should put an enemy in their mouths to steal
away their brains; that we should with joy, pleasance, revel and
applause, transform ourselves into beasts.' Beasts, William?
Swine, sir! crawling, guzzling, grovelling beasts! Here they
are, sir, large as life. Beasts, sir! the guzzling—"
"'Oh, that men should put an enemy in their mouth
to steal away their brains'"
But here there was an abrupt stop, for Simpson had opened the
door and was looking in with undisguised contempt. And there
was something to look at certainly. Prosaic little Snelsby had
not had in it for many a day a more fantastic object than that upon
which the bobbin-maker now gazed.
The figure was that of a man, tall, painfully thin, yet very
well proportioned; but the garments were those of a scarecrow. A
dingy white, battered top-hat, stuck on the head at a perilous
angle; a weather-faded green-black frock-coat, much too small for
the wearer; a dirty red sporting waistcoat, with the nap for the
most part rubbed away, and a great clumsily made tuck under the
lapel of the coat to reduce the vest to wearable dimensions.
There were also a pair of faded grey trousers turned up at the
bottom, and boots so down at heel that the toes tilted up like the
nose of an empty river-steamer. The collar round the neck was
frayed and dirty, and the scarf which held it together was blue silk
in the exposed part and grey cotton garter under the collar-folds.
The face, in spite of its absurd puckers of tragic expression, was
refined and intellectual, but the nose was red, the skin blotchy,
and the striking brown eyes weak-looking and watery. This was
Billy Stiff, the bobbin-maker's recently engaged half-price clerk,
who had been in this employ for about-three days. He was not
modern enough to drop the ruler with which he was assisting his
elocutionary efforts, but stood there overtaken and abashed—a
ridiculous serio-comic figure.
Simpson unfortunately was somewhat devoid of humour at any
time, but this morning everything irritated him, and so, eyeing his
servant with surly disgust, he cried—
"You were drinking again last night?"
"Drink, sir? No, sir! I was drunk—drunk as a
fool, drunk as an ass! Ass?—I beg pardon, my long-eared
friend"—this with a grandiose, apologetic gesture—"I was drunk as a
pig!" and, pulling up suddenly, be banged the ruler on the desk,
stared hard at his scowling master for a moment, and then whisking
round and presenting his rear, he waved his ragged coattails and
cried, "Your look says, kick, sir! By all means, the very
thing, sir! Oblige me with a kick, sir!"
Simpson turned away with a weary sneer, and then, as he began
to open his correspondence, he remarked icily—
"Drink, you fool, if you like; but once come drunk to work
and you'll have a kick out."
Billy, for that was the clerk's name, took off his absurd
hat, bowed obsequiously almost to the ground, stuck the shapeless
head-covering on a peg, took up a pen and opened a ledger, and in a
few moments was working at express rate, muttering as the shaky pen
travelled over the paper a medley of Shakesperian quotations which
Simpson neither recognised nor heeded.
Proceeding with his correspondence, Simpson for once seemed
disappointed with its purely business nature; then he sat down and
stared vacantly through the dirty window, went out into the works,
but, returning almost immediately, sat down to his letters again,
and in a short time he was propping his chin on his hands and
peering through the dirty panes.
Usually Simpson could not work fast enough, and was
incessantly and not too civilly stimulating to the excitable Billy;
but today the poor clerk had peace, and his employer was up and down
and in and out every few minutes. Towards the middle of the
afternoon, however, he seemed to revive, and gave some attention to
his affairs; but just as Billy was going out, for what he
superfluously called "tea," Simpson called him back.
"Billy, would you like to earn—er—a—a— sixpence?"
Billy removed his hat with a grand flourish, as though the
sum named had been in banknotes, and protested that even the modest
threepenny-piece was not beneath his consideration. But just
as he was plunging into quotation, Simpson asked—
"Do you know Sticky Lane?"
Billy was of the opinion that all Snelsby lanes were sticky,
except when they were dusty; but Simpson, who was obviously
"It's the lane that runs down the back of High Street, on the
further side from here. Do you know Miss Dolly Wenyon?"
"Woman! lovely woman!
"'They are the ground, the books, the
From whence doth spring the true Promethean fire.
"Oh, shut up! She's the cooper's daughter; their house
is the third from the bottom, and you'll know it by the fancy
pigeon-cote near the back door."
Billy was looking prodigies of comprehensive acuteness, but
did not speak.
"I want you to go there and watch for her; she's young—about
twenty—and will, I daresay, have a light frock on."
The clerk was nodding and his lips were moving, as he
muttered to himself some choice quotation he dare not utter.
"I'll take you and show you where you can stand and be out o'
sight. You are to watch till she comes into the garden; there
is a summer-house facing the lane, and if you are smart you will be
able to see right into it. If she goes in there and sits down
or begins pottering and gardening, whip round to me instanter; I
want speech with her badly. But if she seems to be likely to
go indoors, stop her at once and give her this note."
Billy was scowling and twisting his face to impress these
details upon his mind, and as he took the note and was about to
speak, his master added—
"And look you, Billy, let me get speech with her, or only get
this note safely into her hands, and I'll make it a shilling, and
you can get as drunk as you like."
An odd spasm, as though some sore spot had been touched in
the poor wreck's soul, passed over his features, but Simpson,
absorbed in his own affairs, noted nothing.
"I can't skulk about there looking like a fool, so just look
slippy, man—and, mind you! let the drink alone until you've done
your job, and you may drink your fill."
About six o'clock, therefore, Billy might have been seen
dodging under the hedge on one side of narrow Sticky Lane some yards
behind his master, who had strictly forbidden him to come nearer.
A minute later he was securely hidden in the deep hedge of the
cooper's garden at the point indicated by Simpson, who was now
strolling idly down the lane, trying hard to look as though he had
no interest in anything near him.
Unfortunately the little recess in which Billy found himself
did not give him the advantage he required; the hedge was higher and
thicker just there, and a clothes-post stood right in his line of
vision for the summer-house. He had not dared to point this
out to his master, so he spent some time in seeking a more
favourable point and thinning out the twigs thereabouts, so that
presently he had a fairly convenient outlook. Then he stepped
hurriedly into the middle of the lane, glanced hastily up and down
to make sure his master was not secretly watching him, took another
somewhat absent-minded survey of the garden, and then, stooping so
that his head was not visible over the hedge-top, scurried up the
lane, darted into the back-yard of the Red Lion, and returned almost
immediately, surreptitiously wiping his lips. It was dull work
standing there and peering through a hedge at the time of year when
its foliage is thickest, and Billy was not of a patient nature.
Presently his muddled brain began to work in its favourite
direction, and, smiting his chest with stagey vehemence, he cried
under his breath—
"'Oh, what a fall was there, my countrymen!'
A go-between! Troilus become a Pandarus! Adonis a
messenger and fetch-and-carry for Hodge and Molly!"
Scowling fiercely in tragic self-contempt, he shook his fist
at the aperture he had made in the fence, wiped his mouth, glanced
longingly towards the Red Lion, and was just subsiding into
indistinct quotation, when his manner changed and a sudden
admonitory "Ah!" escaped him. In a moment his red nose was
buried in the thick hedge and he was staring with raised brows and
bulging eyes at some object in the garden. Then he drew back,
gave a soft prolonged "P–h–e-w," and jammed his face into the
"William," he gasped, "great William, she's a beauty!"—and
then, after another amazed exclamation—
"'Oh, sweet Juliet, thy beauty hath made me
Billy took another long, wondering look around, as though calling
all nature to behold this entrancing vision; then he thrust his face
into the hedge again, and springing back in sudden horrified
revulsion, he dropped into a melodramatic whisper and cried
incredulously, "He!—and a goddess? Pluto and Proserpina?
Beauty and the beast?" and with a face the picture of sudden
loathing he dug his heel-less boots into the soft soil and took
Dolly, clad in simple summer drapery, had come out into the
garden, more by force of habit than anything else, and was now
wandering aimlessly about the moss-grown paths with a cloudy,
brooding face. She was evidently avoiding the summer-house,
and keeping herself from the more exposed places, but her manner was
pensive and absent, a fact which the absorbed watcher did not fail
"'The lily tincture of her face!'"
and poor Billy sighed prodigiously. Dolly wandered a little
nearer, and the excited watcher was feasting his eyes and marvelling
more and more.
She something stained with grief, that's beauty's
and Billy scowled until his face looked hideous, and fiercely shook
his fist in the direction in which his master had left him.
Dolly, unconscious of the eyes that were devouring her, stood
there with drooping head just long enough for Billy to take his fill
of her fresh and simple beauty, and then, turning her back to him,
wandered toward the garden-house. Billy dragged his fantastic
hat from his head, squeezed it recklessly between his knees, pushed
his head deeper into the thorny fence, heedless of scratches, and
followed her keenly with his eyes. Her beautiful hair, her
soft willowy figure, and the neat little hands she clasped behind
her, appealed powerfully to Billy's susceptible soul, and he sighed
heavily as she moved away. Suddenly he remembered his
instructions and fixed his watery eyes on the summer-house.
But his thoughts were evidently otherwhere, and in a vain endeavour
to fix his muddled mind on the amazing, confounding fact before it,
he whispered to the hedges—
"He, the soulless, money-grubbing bobbin-man! He—
On the white wonder of dear Juliet's hand,
And steal immortal blessings from her lips!'"
Then he took another, a long indignant look, at the
unconscious maiden. She was leaning absently against the
pillar that supported the roof of the summer-house, and gazing with
cloudy face at a clump of snap-dragons. As he watched her the
thought grew great within him that he was playing an unworthy part;
he was a spy, a spy for pay, for mere drink! Of Simpson Crouch
he was evidently prepared to believe the worst; of the pretty Dolly
it were treason to think ill; and in a few moments the mercurial
clerk had gone over heart and soul to the maiden's side. Here
was Beauty in distress; here was a lonely maid being dragged by a
scheming villain, and perhaps by stern, greedy parents, into hateful
marriage; or here was a tyrannical and jealous lover taking cruel
advantage of his position and privileges; and the soft-hearted,
muddle-brained watcher ground his teeth and spitefully thrust his
red nose against the thorns. "Ah! Billy felt a cold
chill run down his back, and his heart grew suddenly hot: the girl
he was watching had lifted her hand and brushed something from her
"A tear! Oh, not a tear!" and a moment later, Billy,
forgetful of his errand and even Shakespere, was staring with
swimming eyes through the branches and weeping in copious sympathy
with the sorrowful maiden, his mouth all a-work with feeling, and
his frail body shaking with vicarious emotion, whilst great beads of
tears were rolling down his cheeks and standing in blebs on his nose
He gnawed at his lips, clenched his hands, thrust his heels
deeper into the earth, and looked again. She had sunk back
into the shelter, and dropped disconsolately into a seat, her face
covered with her hands, and soft sobs shaking her frame.
"William! William!" and the agitated, sobbing drunkard shook
his fist vehemently in the direction of the bobbin-shop.
But his outstretched arm stopped suddenly in mid-air, a scowl
of almost demoniac craftiness wrinkled his grotesque face, he patted
his moist and ruddy nose with his forefinger, and bestowed a wink of
prodigious cunning upon the nearest tree. Then he dropped on
his hands and knees, crawled along the hedge-bottom until he found a
likely place, and then, with a final peep to make sure the
distressed damsel was still there, he began crawling upon his
stomach and insinuating himself through the fence into the garden.
Dolly, whose thoughts, sad though they were, were miles away
from Simpson Crouch, still sat in the shelter, allowing the soft
tears to drop through her small fingers. Her father's
announced intention of taking the King's Arms had so amazed and
distressed her, and her mother's pitiable sorrow was so harrowing to
behold, that hope and comfort seemed suddenly to have left her life,
and a sense of humiliation and horror at the thought of standing in
a bar had taken entire possession of her. To whatsoever point
she turned, there was the same dreary, hopeless blackness, and
though she had thought until her brain ached, she could think of
neither likely way out nor friend to fall back upon.
Dolly raised her head with a startled exclamation.
"'Weep not, sweet Queen, for trickling tears
With a terrified little scream the amazed Dolly sprang to her
feet and then fell back, gasping with fright, whilst the
preposterous Billy, looking seedier and more ridiculous than ever,
stood there with bared head and hand on heart, genuflecting like a
His outrageous sartorial get-up, his blooming nose, the tears
not yet dried on his cheeks, and the fatuously reassuring smirk with
which he beamed upon her, would, but for the startling suddenness of
his appearance, have tickled Dolly's fancy, but as it was she shrank
away in genuine fright, and cried, "Oh—oh! Go away! What
do you want?" and she pushed her hands outward and averted her
Billy majestically swept the floor with the crown of his hat,
fell with a drunken lurch upon his knees, clasped his hands
together, and cried,—
"Afraid? A garden goddess, a queen of flowers afraid!
'Tis Billy! thy slave Billy, love's meekest messenger!"
"Go away! Oh, I shall scream!"
"Scream? Am I a monster? a frightful goblin of the
'The Russian bear, the Hyrcan tiger?'
'I'm like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Which wears a precious jewel in his—er—a—hand,''
and with another dramatic flourish he pulled the letter out of his
pocket, gallantly kissed it back and front, and with many an
overdone bow presented it to the shrinking girl.
Dolly was not a nervous person, and so, in spite of natural
alarm at the advent of so suspicious and grotesque a stranger,
amusement and curiosity were getting the better of her fears, and,
reassured by the sight of Simpson's well-known yellowish envelope,
she asked more confidently—
"Who are you? What do you want?"
"Who am I?"—and Dolly noted that, fantastic and tramp-like
though be was, his accent was refined—"I am love's poor pilgrim.
I am—ah, verily!"—this with sudden inspiration—"I am Mercury the
messenger; I am Cupid himself!"
Bowing, ogling, covering his dingy red waistcoat with
expanded palm, and scraping his right foot at every word, the doubly
intoxicated Billy was superb; and glints of fun shot up into Dolly's
still wondering eyes; whilst a half-fearful smile began to play
about her little mouth. She had forgotten the letter; this
grotesque and ridiculous figure was vastly more interesting, even
though he did smell of beer.
"Are you?—did you—did Simpson send you?"
Another long series of obsequious bows.
"Who?—where?—do you—do you work for him?"
"Your servant's servant is your servant, madam," and the
messenger made another unsteady attempt at posturing, and smote
heavily on his chest.
In our complicated natures there is a consciousness
underneath our consciousness, and Dolly's prevailing mood at this
time was pensive. Something, therefore, in his last gestures
struck her oddly and touched a tender chord. She glanced at
him again: his emaciated look, his worn, sunken eyes, the
poverty-stricken details of his costume, all heightened in some odd
way by the ridiculousness of his manner and appearance, moved her
unexpectedly; she looked until her eyes grew misty, and, hastily
feeling in her Pocket, she held out a little silver coin and
"My poor, poor fellow!"
And Billy returned her look with sudden stupidity, his whole
frame gave a quiver of emotion, he reached out for the coin, and
then sprang hastily back, whilst his face was all a-work with
agitation, and the next instant he had cleared the summer-house and
was staggering down the garden-path.
Before she could collect her thoughts, however, he was back
"Goddess divine! Angel of pity sweet!" and his face was
wet with maudlin tears. "Command me! enslave me! b–b–b–ind me
in chains, for I am thine," and then, as she rose and gently laid
her band on his threadbare sleeve, he stepped back, eyed the place
she had touched with glowing looks, and then, raising his hand in
dramatic warning, he cried, "Beware of bobbins! Beware of the
heart of wood!" and with a snort, a snuffle, a hasty whisk round,
and a flying sob, he was gone.
And as Dolly sank wonderingly back into the shed, the anxious
self-pity with which she had first entered it melted into soft,
womanly sympathy, and the feelings that went out so tenderly to the
poor muddled drunkard brought gentle relief to her own breast, and
she lingered there in the fading light, forgetting utterly the
letter in curiosity and pity for the messenger, and sad wondering at
this strange, queer world.
PHINEAS AT HIS WORST
cooper's little household was divided and distracted about the
terrible impending, removal to the King's Arms. Mother and
daughter were filled with dumb, helpless incredulity that paralysed
thought. That a family of teetotalers should belie their
convictions and the professions of a lifetime and become sellers of
liquor was simply unthinkable, and Dolly at any-rate refused to
believe that the thing would ever come about. Mrs Wenyon was
the prey of most painful misgivings; without ever having heard that
"every man has his price," she had such mistrust in human nature,
that she feared almost any human being could be overcome if only the
temptation were strong enough. She believed her husband to be
sincere both in his religion and his teetotalism, but she knew that
he did not like coopering, that he had strong business instincts
which would paint to him the financial advantages of this tempting
affair in rosiest colours, and that he was very susceptible to
temptation on the side of his pet hobbies. To her, therefore,
it seemed only too possible that the inducement might be too strong
for him. It was hard to think so ill of him, but masculine
human nature was very, very weak.
And the cooper's own conduct strengthened her apprehensions.
He either was or pretended to be most unusually busy; he
systematically avoided her, never gave her the opportunity of coming
to close quarters with him; and if they were accidentally thrown
together, he made all the haste possible, "couldn't be bothered just
now," and got away as quickly as he could. At meal-times and
on other occasions when they must meet he put on a jaunty,
rollicking air, seemed in most uncommonly good spirits, and indulged
in rough witticisms and boisterous but plainly forced laughter.
Every now and again, as his eye caught hers, he would burst into
unexpected and altogether inexplicable guffaws, as though the sight
of her suggested some secret but irresistible bit of fun; and the
more she sighed and moaned, the more flippant and demonstrative did
he become. That there was desperate defiance in his ill-timed
jocularity, defiance of her, of public opinion, of the voice of the
church and of his own conscience, she did not doubt for a moment;
and knowing his natural obstinacy, she was praying that somebody
would reason with him one moment, and dreading the provocative
effects of "badgering" the next. If Dolly refused to despair
and spoke hopefully, she chided her as young and thoughtless; and if
she gave the slightest indication of fear and was inclined to
censure her father, the dear, distracted soul valiantly took up
cudgels for her lord, and was fruitful of excuses and even
The two anxious women noted that the deputations from the
chapel and the Temperance Society ceased, that the cooper was being
left severely to himself, and that they were all looked coldly upon
by old friends wherever they went. But when at last it was
realised that Phineas was spending much of his time going to and
from the hated public-house, and that preparations for the actual
removal were already commenced, desolation came down upon them, and
they gave themselves up to weary, useless lamentation.
"But, mother, are we nothing? Are we nobody? Are
we to be dragged into this shame without a word?" And Dolly,
though exceedingly indignant, was also very miserable.
"'Honour an' obey,' lassie, 'for better or for worse,' 'till
death us do part,"' moaned the sobbing wife.
"But I'm not married to him! I'm not—"
"'Honour thy father an' thy mother,'" came struggling out of
the crumpled apron.
"But he does not honour us! He degrades us, defiles us;
he would drag us—oh, mother, fancy Dolly Wenyon serving beer to
ogling, leering boobies in a tap-room! I would die first!"
Mrs Wenyon was gazing at her daughter with weary,
pain-strained eyes that slowly filled with tears again. Then
she dropped her head, and with drooping, pathetic mouth she sighed—
"Dying? Wot's dyin'! I'd die and be glad if I
could save him, b–b–bless him!"
It was only thus and now that Dolly realised how little hope
of effective resistance there was in her mother; but just as she was
preparing some fresh argument, Mrs Wenyon raised her eyes, and,
clapping her hands, cried in tearful exultation—
"Oh, thank the Lord! That's it! Oh, bless the
"Mother, whatever is the matter?"
"Oh, Dolly, my dearie, dearie, you are saved!"
"Yes, saved! Oh, blessed God—yes, saved! Why,
girlie, you can get married!" and in her eager delight with her own
idea the poor soul put out her arms to catch at her daughter's gown.
"But, mother, he—he's not asked me, and—and we've
"Quarrelled? Tut, tut, girl, what's a lovers' tiff!
'Lovers' quarrels quicken love.' Make it up forthwith, woman;
it's thy salvation!"
Dolly, feeling inwardly the stabs of prudential
self-reproach, gravely shook her head.
"Yes, girl, it's the very thing! It's Providence's gate
of gold, a blessed way of escape. 'Lovers' quarrels are love
redoubled.' Why, bless us, thy father got me out of a
Dolly's head was still shaking.
"Tut, woman! Leave it to me. I've twenty pound
upstairs, and I'll give him a hint to hurry—"
"Tut! Will you spoil your life for a tiff? It's
Providence!—a blessed, blessed Providence!"
Dolly was wavering; she knew by this time that she had no
great love for Simpson Crouch, but she had a sensitive woman's
proneness to self-accusation. Their courtship had given her
lover certain rights, and it might be she was injuring him.
She had also much of her mother's simple, unlimited faith in the
Divine Providence, and it really did look as though this was not
merely a possible way out, but the one provided by the higher
powers. She had not an overweening faith in her mother's
judgment, but she had unbounded confidence in her religious
instincts, and the certainty with which Mrs Wenyon expressed herself
greatly impressed her. That she could bring her lover to her
feet again by a word or even by a look she did not doubt; that she
could get on fairly well with him when she must she also believed;
and that the experiment would please her mother and bring hope to a
shame-stricken, breaking heart seemed clear; but all the time
something within her was almost choking her with protestations.
She was a woman, with perhaps more than her share of a woman's
delight in self-sacrifice; it was something great to do, something
beautiful, one little sacrifice as an acknowledgment of her mother's
uncounted self-surrenders, and surely that was easy to do—and right.
Slowly she raised her brooding eyes and looked waveringly
into the other's painfully anxious face, and all at once a rush of
uncontrollable emotion swept over her; prudence, self-interest,
everything else was borne away before the impetuous rush of her
feelings; she flung her soft arms round her mother, pressed a hot,
wet cheek to another hot, wet cheek, and cried in broken accents
"No! no! no! There's plenty of lovers, but only one
mother. 'Where thou goest I will go; where thou lodgest I will
lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.'"
Mrs Wenyon, as much overcome as her daughter, sat still and
allowed the outburst to spend itself, and before Dolly had recovered
she had concocted a guileless little plan of her own, and presently
proceeded to carry it out. She would soothe her daughter, put
her off the scent by a little talk, and then contrive an interview
with Simpson, which she felt confident would put everything right.
But the questions she presently asked were not very
encouragingly answered. Dolly was very decided, saw no chance,
and seemed to have no desire for reconciliation, and the poor mother
got the suspicion that perhaps the separation had been of Simpson's
own seeking, and that therefore Dolly could not re-open the subject.
The good soul thought very slowly, hugged to her heart as one of
life's most precious remembrances the sweet words her daughter had
uttered, and only came back by intermittent efforts to the plan she
had decided upon. Yes, she would act at once; Simpson would be
only too glad. Dolly could have almost any young fellow of
their rank in the town. She was too innocent, too good-natured
to have made a quarrel without a cause. Simpson might require
a little management, but he could not have really changed his mind.
He was rather too worldly, perhaps—all men were, to her—but he knew
how to look after his own interests, and the legacy, hateful though
it was—Oh, no! no! That is it! that is it—and the simple
schemer, sitting alone and musing over her little plan, stared
before her with wide, wondering eyes. Of course! Of
course! Oh, why had she not thought of that before!
Simpson was ashamed of them, and had broken the courtship off
But just as the distressed soul reached this point, she heard
her husband calling her, and hastened downstairs with a
fast-fluttering heart. Phineas was seated stiffly in his
chair, and Dolly, white-faced and tremulous, leaned against an open
cupboard door. In a few moments the two were informed that two
days hence they would take formal possession of the ale-house.
Phineas spoke with quiet firmness, as though anticipating and
rejecting beforehand all remonstrances; but their opportunity had
come, and there was too much at stake to neglect it. They
objected, they protested, they appealed to his self-respect, his
temperance, his religion; they offered to work with their own hands
and keep him if he wished, to find him money for his hobbies, to
suffer any privation, any sorrow, rather than be dragged down to
this. Observing that he listened with most unwonted patience,
they took courage, and first hinted and then roundly declared that
they would never, never darken the doors of the King's Arms; and at
this the utterly abandoned wretch simply laughed. They talked
of his kindness, his indulgence as father and husband; they reminded
him of the sweet, quiet days of the past and the shadowless sunshine
of their hitherto happy lives; and Phineas shuffled uneasily in his
chair and presently hung his head. They appealed to his pride
in his home, his delight in his only child, the money he had spent
on her education, and the respect in which they were held in the
town. They recalled his ancestry and connections, his brother
the missionary and his sainted father; and when, with a low grunt,
he hastily brushed away a tear, they literally fell upon him, old
arms and young being twined round his neck, old lips and young
pressed to his burning cheek, and then—and then, oh! miracle of
hardness!—he suddenly flung them both from him, sprang to his feet,
and rushed away, crying as he banged the door—
"I've said I'd take it, an' I'll take it."
There was neither hope nor love in the faces of those two
when, an hour afterwards, he came back; and, oddly enough, this time
it was Phineas who had to expostulate.
Were they to throw three thousand pounds into the gutter?
Weren't there good publicans as well as bad? Did they think
that the old skinflint who had gone was going to best him?
Weren't hotels absolute necessities in business and social life, and
wasn't it a grand opportunity to show people how such places should
be conducted? Why, it was a call, it was a mission! He
could purify and reform a dishonoured but necessary calling, and
thus do more good than his teetotal advocacy had ever done.
But the women had exhausted themselves, and though every word he
uttered cut like a knife into them, there was no reply; and so
finally, with an aggrieved air, he went off to bed without taking
his invariable evening pipe.
The awful day came at last. Phineas was up by break of
day, and he seemed to have so successfully hardened himself that he
appeared to be positively enjoying himself. When Dolly and her
mother came upon the scene, he plunged at them in a clumsy,
shamefaced fashion, and insisted on kissing them, and then, standing
away and surveying them, though with averted eyes, he burst into a
great roar and bustled off to hurry up the men. Over the
breakfast, with a brutality that utterly amazed them, he called Mrs
Wenyon "landlady" and Dolly "barmaid" he declared the former was
born for the job, and that Dolly would make the fortune of any
decent bar. He showed them a letter from a brewery firm
offering £3250 for the inn, and requesting that he would receive
their representative, who was empowered to make extraordinary terms
if he would consent to "tie" the house. All morning he bustled
in and out, full of quips and cranks; and whenever he came upon
either of them, he looked keenly into the leaden face, burst into a
loud, coarse guffaw, and hastened away.
Mrs Wenyon became more than distressed, and very soon even
the bitter thought of where they would sleep that night was
forgotten in more serious concern for her husband. He was
another man, an infinitely harder and coarser man. Was he
already in drink? Had be broken his almost lifelong pledge so
soon? If it was not drink, he was certainly going mad, and her
dull, heavy grief and gathering shame were lost sight of in alarmed
The inn was not many yards away, but one of the first things
they learned that morning was that one of the King's Arms carriages
was coming to take them to their new abode. They both
protested; they both wept. They insisted that if they were to
go, they would go the back way as quietly as possible, and after
But Phineas did not even listen to them, and when the time
came he burst in upon them in a violent hurry, hustled them out of
the dear old home and up to the carriage door. When they drew
back at the sight of the gaudy equipage, he almost tumbled them
inside, and, skipping in after them, with a jaunty flourish he
defiantly waved his hand to a little knot of scandalised chapel-folk
who were looking sadly on. Holding down their heads for very
shame, the two humiliated and heart-broken women were borne rowdily
away; but as they drew up in front of the hostel a fit of reckless
bravery came upon Dolly, and, stung by the ridiculousness of the
spectacle they were making, she tossed up her head and boldly looked
round. The painters were engaged upon the outside of the
building, but Dolly noted that they had a surly, resentful look
about them. A man with a cart was driving away as they drew
up, and loudly denouncing the new landlord for something she could
not catch. Two loafers were coming out of the inn door as they
approached, and both looked indignant and disgusted. Why,
everybody, even the degraded drinkers themselves, were crying shame
upon them. "Lord help us!" groaned Mrs Wenyon, with a sigh
that went to her daughter's soul.
"Now then, come on! Isn't it grand? Shan't we be
comfortable? You'll live for ever here, old lady, and Doll 'ull
get more blooming—What? What did you say?" The last
sentence was addressed to a man who had entered the porch behind
"A four o' whisky—warm."
"Jane, gi' this man some whisky," and Phineas roared out the
order as though there was some secret and delightful honour in it.
Jane stood and grinned. "Now then, mestur!—we'll give
him a pie!"
"Pie?" cried the customer in supreme contempt.
"Ay, pie! There's more good in it nor i' whisky, and
thou'll get no whisky here," cried Jane with the same placid grin.
"Thou'll get no whisky here," cried Jane with the
same placid grin."
"No, neither now nor never; they'll be nothin' intoxicatin'
sold here," cried the cooper.
The two women had only faintly attended to the altercation
thus far, but the last words aroused them, and as the man turned
away with a curse, Dolly, in wide-eyed wonder, turned to her father
and demanded amazedly—
"Father, what does it all mean?"
"Mean? Old skinflint left me this public, didn't he?"
"On condition that I lived in it, didn't he?"
"But there wur no condition about selling drink, was there?"
Two breathlessly overwhelmed women gazed at the grinning
cooper for a moment, and then the impetuous Dolly flung her arms
round his neck, and, in spite of grinning lookers-on, began kissing
and blessing him as though she would never cease. Mrs Wenyon
stood there looking dumfoundedly around; but in the first pause that
came to Dolly's hysterical salutations, there was a soft, reverent,
trembling sentence from the new "landlady"—
"'The b—b—bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower,'"
SIMPSON SHOWS HIS HORNS
NEVER in the
whole course of her short life had Dolly Wenyon been so
inexpressibly, so overpoweringly happy as she was when the full
significance of her father's grand coup dawned upon her; it was so
sudden, so utterly unexpected, and yet so funny, and to her innocent
mind so wonderfully clever, that her whole nature exulted in it, and
the rebound from extreme depression to proud, exultant triumph was
so great as to be almost painful.
But her healthy young nature soon came to her relief, and in
a few moments she was dispelling her long-pent and shameful
anxieties in the wildest possible way. With a sobbing laugh
she sprang at and hysterically hugged her father, smothered her
mother's inevitable proverbs about not whistling until you are out
of the wood under a shower of kisses, caught that solid dame round
the waist, as though to make her dance, and, finding the task beyond
her powers, spun round the substantial form in a whirl. She
dragged her mother from room to room with incessant exclamations of
delighted surprise at the many contrivances and conveniences to be
Whenever she encountered her father in any of the many narrow
passages, she fell upon him with a hug, till that good man, with
rumpled hair and necktie all awry, rescued his cap from the sanded
floor and declared with beaming face beaming that she had gone
"clean daft." She raced upstairs, whirled through the rooms,
skipped down again, to drag the protesting new landlady after her to
inspect the sleeping accommodation. She called her father
"Landlord," "Boldface," "Mine host," and even "Mr Bung." She
scrambled madly up to the attics and plunged into the cellars.
She patted the two astonished maids on the shoulder, and looked as
though she could have eaten them. She gave a grumbling and
disappointed farm-labourer a whole shilling as compensation for the
absence of "fourpenny," and terrified poor Jake the ostler by
pouncing upon him from behind, and, mistaking him for her father,
drawing his head back for a kiss, and then flinging him away with a
little scream of embarrassment and shame. At the
tea-table—another of the cooper's crafty surprises—she gaily usurped
her mother's position, gravely apologised for the absence of "brown"
cream, badgered her father about the difference between "noggins"
and "halfquarterns," pressed the unwonted dainties upon her parents
with excited volubility, absently helped herself to this and that
tasty bit, until her plate was a bewildering mixture of viands, of
which after all she scarcely tasted; and when at length poor
"mother" gently remonstrated, she rushed off into another string of
delighted exclamations, and, finally breaking down with a
treacherous catch in her voice, she burst into a flood of happy,
She was quiet for some little time after this relieving
breakdown, but even then her feelings found vent in caressing little
strokes of her father's sleeve and affectionate little pats on her
mother's soft hand; whilst the smiles she bestowed on the maids made
them blush with pleasure, and the poor ostler received what he
described privately as "another floorer" by being addressed as
"dear." The meal, though she took so little of it, did Dolly
good; and though she was calmer and more self-possessed after it,
the joy within seemed to grow deeper every moment.
Dolly was happy—happier than she ever remembered to have been
in her life; her cup was full to overflowing, and she must do
something, and something adequate to the occasion. She was
making herself ridiculous, she told herself, but there was no help
for it. Her heart was swelling; she could not contain herself
for gratitude to God, her father, and the whole smiling, friendly
world. Yes, she must do something!—something kind, something
generous, something really great and handsome; she was happy, and
others—ah! poor, poor Simpson! The bobbin-maker would have had
a perfectly new sensation if he could have peeped into that little
back sitting-room and seen right down into the swelling heart of his
hitherto obdurate and irreconcilable sweetheart. Dolly was
crying—crying for the pure joy of her last happy thought. Yes,
that was the very thing; that only would properly represent what she
felt. She would forgive Simpson; she would love him as of old,
only more, much more. Forgive him? She would ask him to
The sunshine broke again through the pitiful tears; yes,
Simpson should be forgiven and reinstated. There was something
deep down in her heart which was protesting strangely —well, let it!
She was glad of it! It would make the effort greater and the
sacrifice more real.
Simpson should be restored, handsomely restored, and that
very night. She would go further even than that. He
often visited them as her father's friend at the old cooperage, but
she had never brought him formally into the house as her future
husband—perhaps the poor fellow had felt that. Well, she would
make ample amends; he should come that very night, should have the
daintiest supper the King's Arms could provide, and should be as
happy as she was herself.
Too excited to sit, she paced about the room, clasping her
hands together, and laughing and crying and crying and laughing at
the fairy pictures in her mind. They seemed so beautiful, so
appropriate to her state of mind, that she could not resist them,
could not reason about them, could not even wait until Simpson
should be at liberty.
Stealing out of the inn the back way, she scurried up the
lane, in at the old cooperage garden door, and up to her own old
bedroom to dress—for even in this delighted ecstasy she could not
forget her clothes. Any dress had been good enough for that
reluctant and shameful expedition to the King's Arms, but now she
must look her very, very best. Her Sunday clothes? No,
but a judicious selection. There was a hat that did justice to
her hair, and a blouse that was a little less prophetic than the
others of embonpoint, a gown that helped her complexion,
and—oh, yes—a sweet little brooch that Simpson had helped her to
select. (That prudent young man had never bought her anything
more expensive than chocolates.) She began her toilet in
nervous, fluttering haste, but the finishing touches were added with
absentminded, dubious deliberation. At first she could not
dress fast enough; at last she was ready too soon.
She lingered at the glass a strange long time for a person in
a hurry; her complexion had never been so bad, or her hat so
unmanageable. She thought more and more about sending a little
note, but she had previously decided that that would not do; she
must go to the mill, go even to his very home and encounter that
terrible sister of his, if need be, to make adequate amends.
She was impatient to be off, and yet she lingered. She smiled
to think of Simpson's surprise and joy, and yet she had to put her
hand upon her heart to quell its turbulent beatings. Oh, yes,
God had been good! So good! It must be done, and done
handsomely. And so at last she started on her journey with a
plunge, pulled up at the shop door with a palpitating heart that
nearly choked her, turned half round in frightened postponement, and
then rushed into the street with sudden, desperate decision, her
heart thumping into her ears, her face changing colour every moment,
and her limbs trembling under her.
It was a mad thing, a bold, most improper thing, Dolly told
herself as she hastened on, to visit a young man at his place of
business; but whilst her mind went back to the security of her
little room and the handy notepaper she might have used, her feet
went forward, and in a few moments she stood at the bobbin-maker's
office door. She did not expect to find it ajar, and when she
did so she cast a startled glance around and started to flee.
Her leaden feet, however, refused to move, and lifting a hasty
little sigh she knocked timidly on the panel. The silence that
followed was providential, and there was still time to escape, but
she could not move, and presently mustered courage to tap again.
Could anything more clearly indicate the will of the higher powers
than this? But still she lingered, and at last, with a shaking
hand, she ventured to touch the door and gently push it inward.
Still nothing happened. Why, the outer office was empty, there
was nobody about! Ah, yes! Peeping shyly in, she could
just see the elbow of a sleeve and part of an arm and shoulder; it
was Simpson himself, but he had not heard.
Then an idea struck her; another timid glance around, and she
pushed the door softly before her and stepped on tiptoes into the
outer apartment. Pausing to balance herself and get her
breath, she could hear nothing but the scratch, scratch of Simpson's
pen. A nervous teasing fit, the refuge of fear rather than the
prompting of fun, was upon her; she peeped round the corner of the
inner door, paused a moment, drew a long breath, and then
whispered—quite loudly she thought—"Simmy!"
Scratch, scratch went the heedless pen. Simpson had not
But still the relentless writing tool scraped on its way.
"Simmy! Oh, Simmy!" and dropping her painful play she
stepped into the doorway, every limb of her body trembling, and her
face red with hot, desperate blushes.
With a nervous jump and a startled cry, Simpson sprang round
and faced her, his chair tilting over and falling with a noisy bump
and his pen dropping from his limp fingers. And there they
stood for a moment; but Dolly, looking up at him with a smile
through which the tears were rising, saw his face change rapidly,
and all for the worse. There was alarm, as though he had been
caught in some nefarious act, then surprise and dawning pleasure,
and then the sudden gathering of black, fierce, wrathful
indignation, and before she could muster strength to speak he had
hissed out in blazing resentment—
"Your father's a confounded ass."
As though the stinging lash of some terrible whip had struck
her, Dolly quivered from head to foot; and as they stood there
confronting each other, neither of them heard the step and the
slightly shuffling movement in the outer office.
But there were undreamed-of depths in Dolly's innocent
nature, and the troubles through which she had recently passed, and
from which she had been so wonderfully delivered, had made her
sympathetic and generous. Her soul was burning with a sense of
insult, but Simpson had a real grievance; she had commenced this
hard task and must go through with it; and so presently she raised
her head and said in quiet, measured tones—
"Her soul was burning with a sense of insult."
"Don't blame father, Simpson; it is I, only I."
"Then the bigger fool you, that's all!"
Another pause, another long suffocating struggle in Dolly's
soul, and then came the harsh, grating demand—
"What do silly women want wi' business?"
"Business?', stammered the bewildered and outraged girl.
"It isn't business. I came to—to—to make it up."
This in a tone of cold scorn that struck like a whip-lash;
but she still persisted.
"Yes, oh, yes! I've been silly, but, oh, Simpson, God
has been so good, and father so brave and strong—"
"Brave? Strong?" and, raging with a sense of
irreparable injury, he glared at her with fierce indignation and
cried impetuously, "He's an ass a blockhead! a conceited, whining,
"A swindling ranter! a canting, mouthing, fanatical idiot!
that throws three thousand pounds away and brags about it!"
"Simpson, I came to—"
"You came to cant, and whine, and lie like your father.
You are bragging about a deed that is the act of a drivelling
But Dolly had come back to herself at last, and standing up
to her utmost inch, she was eyeing him with a glance that made even
this raging madman quail. Then after another long pause she
moved haughtily back, surveyed him witheringly from head to foot,
and said slowly—
"Simpson Crouch, God has been very good to me; He has saved
me from lifelong shame and made my dear father dearer than ever.
I thought I loved you once, but now I know I never—" But all
at once she stopped, struggled to speak and could not, choked back
her swelling sobs, and finally burst out, "Oh, Simpson, Simpson,
There were more strange, snuffling sounds in the outer
office, but neither of them heeded.
The bobbin-man, as she took a half step towards him, and
pleadingly held out her hand, stepped sullingly, scornfully back.
"Will forgiveness bring back your fortune? Will
forgiveness save that three thousand pounds? Bring back the
property and I'll talk to you; but I'm not going to marry a fool!"
Stricken and utterly broken under the double shame of that
cruel moment, Dolly cast one last piteous glance at the raging man
before her, and then, with another burst of weeping at the thought
of her fruitless self-abasement, she turned to leave. Her head
was bowed, and her eyes half blinded with tears, but as the inner
door closed behind her she became dimly aware of the figure of a man
in the outer room, who, utterly oblivious of her presence, and with
face drawn into puckers of melodramatic rage, was wildly
gesticulating, ruler in hand, at the aperture through which she had
just come. She paused and raised her head, but he did not
heed. First the ruler, then the ink-pot, then the coal-shovel
were brandished and shaken at the door, and thick-voiced threats of
most murderous intent were hurled at it, until, in spite of herself,
Dolly was compelled to notice. All at once the performance
stopped, the extemporary weapons were thrown aside, and, springing
to the outer door, the ridiculous Billy held it open and commenced a
series of posture-master genuflexions which at any other time would
have greatly amused her. As she emerged into the yard, still
stifling her sobs, Billy snatched at the loose door-nob, swung
himself forward, hanging on the latch with one hand, and shouted in
deep, tragic tones—
"'Arise, black vengeance, from thy hollow
He hath out-villained villainy so far
That the rarity redeems him."'
In her crushing, bewildering disillusionment, overwhelmed at
once with shame and indignant resentment, Dolly gave but a passing
glance to the grotesque figure as she passed on her way, but Billy
stood blinking after her and muttering quotations for a full minute
after she had disappeared. A more miserable, helpless wreck of
humanity than he looked, as he stood staring helplessly down the
yard, it would have been impossible to find, but the scene he had
witnessed through the half-opened office door had awakened a long
dead something in the poor outcast's breast, and this, blending with
all the other emotions of the moment, made him look and act like one
distracted with conflicting and mutually exclusive emotions.
In that brief space of time he wept, he laughed, he grinned like an
angry cat, he cursed; and finally he drew himself up, as though for
one pathetic moment his ruined nature had been touched with a gleam
of long-lost dignity, and with a heavy sigh and a seriousness quite
new to him lie sauntered absently back to his desk.
At this instant, however, he heard Simpson's chair move, and
all his recent excitement came rushing back. It looked for a
moment as though he were about to spring at the door and burst it
in, but his upraised arms were suddenly arrested and then flung
higher than ever, in the tragedian's most approved style of
manifesting sudden and startling surprise. His eye had fallen
on the knob of a drawer which had been left half open, and he was
staring with hypnotic intentness on a bit of light-coloured dress
material. It was obviously a fragment of the dress of the lady
who had just departed, and Billy, transfixed with mingled delight
and reverence, stared at it like one bewitched. Then he took a
long, comprehensive glance round on the silent fixtures, evidently
inviting their attention to this most marvellous bit of luck,
rubbing his hands together as he did so, and laughing in low,
delighted chuckles. He straightened out his face, strode
towards the little knob, sprang suddenly backward with alarm,
quickly relapsed into giggling, and, appropriating the small blue
morsel of material, he hugged it in his hands, into sniggering,
gleeful grimaces, and burst out—
"'The very train of her worst wearing
Was better worth than all my father's land.'"
If the little bit of dress-edging had been singing to him,
Billy could not have been more fascinated. He held it at
arm's-length and grinned at it; he dodged first to one corner of the
room and then to the other, still glowering at his treasure; he
scowled and glanced with sudden suspicion at the inner office door,
and then, after two or three foolish plunges this way and that, laid
the scrap of material cautiously on the desk and began to gloat over
it. At the stirring of his master's chair he swept it under
his flattened palm and hid it under the whole breadth of his
forward-bending chest. Then, as his alarm passed, he took it
out, and, reverently kissing it, talked to it in incoherent
Shakesperian snatches. Simpson came out of the office, but
Billy was too quick for him. He answered his gruff command to
close the building with an obsequious but silent bow, and then, as
the bobbin-man went his way, he took out the little shred once more
and bent over it in maudlin, doating ecstasy. Presently he
found a piece of soft tissue paper, and carefully folded his
precious prize within it. Then, as he stood in the middle of
the floor, still patting the place where his treasure lay, next his
bare skin, he suddenly remembered something, and his jaw dropped,
whilst his face turned a bilious yellow-green.
He had been so absorbed in his wonderful find that he had
forgotten to ask his master for the invariable "sub," and it was
more than his place worth to follow him home. Drink was food,
shelter, friends, life, to Billy Stiff, and in a few moments the
prospect of a night without it had reduced him to a most pitiable
condition. He stared despairingly through the window, searched
and researched his pockets for at least one remaining coin,
inspected his clothes in the vain hope that there might be some
garment with which he could dispense, though that stage had been
passed long ago; and at last, in sheer desperation, he took a
stealthy glance around in search of something not his own, which he
yet might turn into cash. Billy had had an unusually trying
day, and had all the excuses of this additional strain to reinforce
the already almost irresistible longings within him; and for the
first time in his long stagger to ruin he would have taken what did
not belong to him. Power to resist his besetment had long
since left him, but he had never yet found dishonesty any
temptation. To-night, supported by maddening desires and the
clamour of exhausted nerves, the desire had gripped him
remorselessly, and was driving his last trace of manhood before it.
Unaccustomed now to resistance, he was frightened at the very
thought of internal conflict; but in spite of himself, and the
mental trickiness he had developed in his long downward course, he
now found himself in the very throes of a most terrible struggle.
He was weakly protesting, crying, glancing furtively round on the
tempting articles of furniture and groaning in helpless self-pity,
and in a few more moments would have been a thief. But as he
stood there helpless and craven, distressed more at the fact than
the nature of the conflict, there came floating across his muddled
brain a dim and struggling picture. Fading, freshening,
clouding, brightening, dissolving and reappearing, he saw betimes a
little hut-like, wayside cottage, a spotless fireside, a patched
arm-chair, and an old man with snuffy nose and eyes nipped tightly
together, kneeling on a red bundle handkerchief together in prayer,
whilst a chubby, comfortable old woman moaned responses at the edge
of the table. "Our erring brother," "Thy poor prodigal," "This
Poor lost sheep as Thou art seeking," seemed to sound again in his
ears; and as the poor drunkard stood stiff and still, as though
listening to sweetest music, the maudlin tear began to dry on his
pallid cheek, the chest ceased its convulsive liftings, the weak,
frightened look faded, and some faint suggestion of manliness,
almost of dignity, appeared on the feeble face. And as the
vision always moving began to pass, there came just for one moment
one fleeting glimpse of an old summer-house and a soft girlish face
set therein, and Billy lifted a long, tremulous sigh. But the
next moment a rush of relaxing, traitorous self-pity swept
everything away, and he was fast subsiding into the one emotional
luxury left to him, helpless, lachrymose self-commiseration.
Billy was experiencing the wholly unexpected and emotionally
intolerable resurrection of his long-lost manhood; and every jaded
nerve of his body, and every flabby, tyrannous passion within him,
was savagely protesting. Was not his manhood dead and buried?
Had not appetite and emotion established the right to rule by long,
unquestioned possession? Why then these useless, these
terrifying pangs, added to the already more than sufficient miseries
of his life?
There was a soft knock at the door, and Billy turned with a
caught-in-the-act guiltiness, and faced Jeff Twigg, the
bill-sticker. Billy could have sprung upon him and worried him
like a mad dog. To his own surprise, however, he stood
perfectly still and waited for the visitor to speak. Ever
since the night when Jeff and his wife had picked Billy half
unconscious out of the hedge-bottom and given him a home, the
bill-sticker, thankful that at last God had sent him a burden and a
cross, had been doing his very utmost to wean his protégée
from his besetment, but without success. He had provided
tracts on every conceivable aspect of the drink question, and had
listened with hopes all too unreliable as Billy himself had read
them out in the quiet summer evenings at the tollhouse door.
He had found him the garments he wore, and taken him again and again
to the little Bethel from which he drew his own spiritual
inspiration. He had obtained for him the shamefully paid and
precarious employment he now enjoyed, and had watched him early and
late to keep him out of temptation. Discovering that Billy
kept himself right during the day, but called at the first
public-house he could reach when he left the office, Jeff had taken
the precaution to lie in wait for him and conduct him home.
After the first two nights, however, Billy had always dodged him,
leaving the works by some irregular way, once, in fact, creeping
underneath the waterwheel and wading across the river to escape
capture. But the poor wreck had things about him that had laid
strong hold on the bill-sticker's simple affections, and Jeff, in
spite of many disappointments, was more intent than ever on his
almost hopeless mission.
The man of paste eyed his charge uneasily. The
bubbling, loquacious Billy, the blubbering, tearful Billy were
familiar to him, but Billy the grumpy was a novelty.
"She's made us some oven-bottom cakes for us tea," he
remarked; and as the appetising dainty did not produce the effect
desired, he added in unctuous, coaxing tone, "Buttered."
Billy gave his shoulders a contemptuous shrug. What
were cakes, however buttered, to a man whose whole soul was on fire
"She's bought t' County Times about that there murder,
and she's just dyin' to hear about it."
Gallant and loyal to the other sex, Billy was exceedingly
fond of old Thomasina Twigg, but at this moment he was measuring
distances with his eye, and calculating the possibilities of a
spring and a bolt. Jeff, observing nothing, went on
"She—she—we both like your readin', an'— an company."
But there was the crash of a stool against a desk, a spring,
and in another instant Billy would have escaped. As it was,
the big bill-sticker, more alert than he appeared, made a sudden
sideway dart, caught the flying clerk round the waist, and, lifting
him clean off his feet, folded him, with an involuntary exclamation
at his lack of weight, to his breast, as a mother might take a
rebellious child, and as he did so, he cried in choking tones—
"Oh, my lad, my lad, we'll save thee! We'll save thee
Quivering all over with baffled rage, Billy struggled to his
feet, and retreating to the further corner of the room, he glared
and grinned like a wolf at bay.
"Curse your saving! Curse your snivelling prayers!
Give me drink, drink!"
"Oh, man, man!—"
"Drink, I say! Drink is my god; drink is my heaven, my
all!"—and then, breaking suddenly down; he dropped upon his knees,
and snatching at poor Jeff's hand he cried in piteous, pleading
tones: "One drop! One little, little drop!"
The bill-sticker stood there looking down on the poor
grovelling wretch, with a heart that would have given him the last
thing he had on earth; every other feeling was forgotten in tender
fellow-feeling. The resolute lines about his mouth were
relaxing, his hand was already moving waveringly towards his pocket,
and in another moment the suppliant would have carried his point.
But, in this, the least likely of all moments, there was a change in
the drunkard himself; he had sprung to his feet and snatched at
Jeff's arm. There was fear, anxiety, desperation in his
haggard face; the frenzied fingers with which he gripped the other's
arm drove into the flesh as though they had been iron tools.
"Now, now, this instant! Take me home! The nearest way,
the safest way. Oh, for God's sake, take me whilst it lasts!"
It took nearly an hour, and more than one weary chase, to get
the drink-ridden man to the tollhouse, and once there the quiet
little home became a sort of pandemonium. Billy snatched at
the wonderful cakes like a ravenous beast, and then spat the food
out and yelled for drink. Twice he had to be dragged from the
door by main force, and twice he collapsed in hopeless tears.
He cursed the drink in language that made his keepers shudder, and
then cursed them for keeping it from him. He coaxed, and
pleaded, and promised, and then laughed, and mocked, and swore.
He called Jeff all the tragedy names he could remember, and made
slobbering, demented appeals to his wife as the "angel of the
bower." He grew suspiciously quiet, and decided to go to bed;
but when he realised that Jeff proposed to accompany him to the
little sleeping-room across the way, he decided to sit up and make a
night of it. When Jeff got him across the room and the door
locked, he pleaded and coaxed with such plaintive earnestness that
Jeff quaked for himself, and was intensely thankful when the fit
passed. A little after midnight he grew still, and Jeffrey,
lying by his side, felt his own eyes drooping. But then,
without the slightest warning, the madman sprang out of bed, mounted
a chair, and there, with the moonlight streaming upon his pallid
face through the little window, went through the whole of Mark
Antony's oration on the death of Caesar.
"Words? Words? Let us have music! A song, sirs, a jolly
song!" cried the crazy fellow, and, jumping down from his elevation,
he began to drag Jeff out of bed to sing. The bill-sticker was
at the end of his patience; but, reminding himself that this was his
cross, he quietly got out of bed and prepared to do as he was
bidden. He groaned, rubbed his eyes, picked his bare-footed
way to the corner of the room selected by the imperious and crazy
stage-master, and stood there, trying vainly to remember some song
of other days, his tormentor spreading himself on a chair and trying
hard to play the audience in most approved gallery style.
Jeff's memory worked slowly, and an overpowering sense of the
ridiculousness of the scene did not help him. He started again
and again, in the vain hope that the words would come with the tune;
and presently, standing there the picture of weary misery, he had a
sudden inspiration, a new and, he always afterwards asserted,
divinely suggested notion took possession of him, and, clearing his
voice, and silently lifting his simple heart in prayer, he began:
"Oh, have you not beard of that beautiful
That flows from the river of life?
Its waters so free are flowing for thee
Oh, seek that beautiful stream!"
The "audience" stared, frowned, gasped, and suddenly became
still as death. The singer was old, his voice unmusical, and
his notes harsh; but the hearer, as a rule fastidious enough where
music was concerned, listened spellbound; and a moment later Jeff
experienced the greatest amazement of that amazing day, for he found
a man clinging to his bare legs and sobbing, not with the whining,
drunken bathos of other occasions, but in deep, solemnest
earnestness, sobbing as only a man can sob.