Marlocks of Merriton (III)
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CHRISTMAS AT RINGWOOD HALL.

CHAPTER I.


THE present year was once young.  Not long ago we had the christening, when we gave it the name borne by a long line of forefathers, "Happy New Year!"  We welcomed the youngster at its birth with peals from a thousand steeples.  We shouted its name in the streets, and wished it all kinds of good wishes.  Notwithstanding that we had been disappointed in others, we had faith in this, and congratulated ourselves upon having lived to see its coming.  Wine flowed, and the roast ox sent up its incense from a million mahogany altars.  It was a right hearty, joyous welcome.  No one remembered ever seeing such a handsome "little stranger."  Its papa was an ugly brute in comparison.  What beautifully-rounded limbs; what sparkling eyes; what dimples everywhere!  How it laughed itself into fits when we poked its tiny ribs!  How it chuckled and crowed when we made donkeys' heads for it on the wall, or squinted at it through the saddle of its "dadins!"  We felt "cock-sure" the little fellow would never turn in his toes, or suck his thumbs like his naughty predecessors.  There was too much promise in those smiles which made the cradle luminous for us to doubt his future.  He would never poke his fingers into his nurse's eyes.  He would not have "tricks of his own" by which to break up the harmony of the playground.  He would never filch marbles, nor spite his playfellows' tops with wilful kicks.  The necessity of flogging him to school was out of all sane calculation.  He would rush to his letters as he would to his lollypop, and be too much engaged with his tasks to find leisure for cutting buttons from other boys' jackets, or smearing their faces with ink.  When grown to hobbledehoyhood, casting off his frills and breakfast bibs, he would enter upon a more responsible career with every grace and promise that could augur a bright and useful future.

    Has he fulfilled our hopes?  No, the scamp!  He has been as bad as the rest.  Don't you think so, friends, standing round his bed, listening for his last breath, and looking at the array of empty physic bottles, sent by doctors of all degrees and schools—Church doctors, State doctors, sanitary quacks, and red-coated phlebotomists—is he worth a single tear?  No; let him die; there is another year waiting for his shoes; and if this successor, now a-tiptoe on the threshold of his kingdom, be not more worthy of our acclamations than the immediate past have been, it will be quite time to lay by our drums and trumpets; give up our bells to the colonisation of spiders; and let the "wastrels" come and go as the uncared-for progeny of a disreputable race.

    Well, we will so far task our patience as to give this old reprobate "Christian burial."  But his shroud must be snow, his coffin the yule-log, and his funeral-chant "He is gone—let us rejoice!"  We will have holly and mistletoe in place of rosemary.  Our "serving cup" shall be wassail; and the reading of the will shall not be a ceremony of mock tears and disappointment-soured looks; for the rascal has left us nothing but his debts, his broken promises, and his vile example to succeeding years: but it shall be a merry and a festive time.  Our groans shall be caused by the weight of roast beef hidden beneath our waistcoats; our tears shall be pearls of laughter; and our mourning "vestments" the motliest that the wardrobe of "Old Daddy Christmas" can furnish.

    Go, fetch in whole groves of holly.  Strip every oak you meet with of his mistletoe garters.  Make a very bower of both hall and cottage; and light it so with yule-light that you will grow sick of sunshine when the morrow comes.  Make the "kissing-bush" as wide as the ceiling itself; nay, let it extend to the porch, that lips may meet on the threshold and never part more.  Whoever complains of cold, put them into a bath of wassail, and pour the liquid down their throats till their very souls are thawed.  No slippers must be fit for anything after to-night; and if the ragman does not turn up his nose at your muslin to-morrow, never whisper to anyone that you have enjoyed a merry Christmas.  Come, no side-long glances!  Let every look be frank and free.  Count us all brothers and sisters for this one night, and make the bond last till Christmas comes again.

    Where is that rascal of a fiddler?  Drunk already; or has someone greased his bow, that we hear not the music?  Bring him forth.  If he has not in reserve some half-dozen elbows, woe betide him! for "Sir Roger" alone would use up a joint; and look what a wearing and tearing of cat-gut comes before it!  Get thee on thy perch, thou drunken old loon!  Thy meerschaum of a nose is coloured enough already; so that thou need'st not be forever eyeing the seasoned lemon juice and smacking thy lips, as if thou wert afflicted with perpetual thirst.  Thou mayest expect to be hanged in thine own cat-gut, if thou permittest one foot to be still to-night.  There, now; "off she goes!"  Shake all the worm-dust out of these crazy timbers.  Let the windows accompany with their tinkling castanets, and make the whole house split its sides with rant, and roar, and revelry.

    Who cares about to-morrow?  Will that day ever come?  Who cares for the birth of the new year while the funeral of the old one is so jolly?  Is there not a whole eternity condensed into a few hours of such delight, that it matters not what our sublunary condition may be henceforth?  Who can think of every-day duties now?  What are they?  Who would sink himself so low as to dream of hoarding up wealth, with so much around him that wealth cannot buy?  Who remembers an unkindness?  Who thinks the world a bad one?  Who believes there is such a thing as misery in existence that there are shoeless feet and unclad forms anywhere that there are lips yearning to taste that which you cast aside, when that smoking, brandy-faced monster of a pudding is taking the very breath out of you?

    Hush! there is a childish wail at the door.  No; 'tis the wind whistling among the naked trees that beat their branches about the roof.  Listen again!  That matron there, helping the young folks to heaps of dainties, with which they are already surfeited, knows the sweetness of childhood's treble from any music that the wind, playing upon its favourite summer harp, may utter, and she pauses to listen.

    Open the door, and let in those rags made holy by much suffering.  Clasp kindly those little blue hands that shrink to feel your own soft, warm touch, as if they were familiar only with hard, ungentle natures, and the scars with which the world's rude pushings against such helpless reeds hath seamed them over.  Let not those chapped and frozen lips repel you from bestowing the kiss your kind heart prompts; for had you listened to the prayer which, last night, they uttered over a sick mother's wasting form, begging that God would send what man denied, you would have deemed them canonised by as pure a sainthood as ever claimed beatification by acts of love and mercy done in this our Christian land!

    Stir up the log.  Make the sparks fly upwards like messengers sent to heaven, to tell the angelic host that there are two souls yearning to be with them.  Make that couch so soft and impressible to touch that a breath would raise it into billows, and lay on it those bruised and prematurely hardened limbs, that they may feel for once they might have been plump and round and soft, if their path through life had been stripped of stones and thorns, and gentle hands had been held out to help them.  And more than all—let those lips partake of food such as they have not tasted since they drew from a mother's breast; and they shall bless you through the long nights' weary watchings, when the rewarding genius of kindly hearts bath shaken up your pillow, and infused the breath of enchantment into your sleep, that your dreams may be of the brightest things with which the enthusiast's world is peopled!

    Now depart, little wanderer, on life's dark and devious way!  Thy tender feet will surely induce the stones to cast off their roughness; and He who "tempers the wind to the shorn lamb," will as surely look down with pity on thy unfleeced form, and lull the buffeting winds, and take the sharpness from the pinching frost, that thy burden may not be borne by cramped and aching limbs to that last resting-place, where frost and snow, and the coldness of men's hearts, avail not.

    Gone!

    Not yet the dance.  Dry not up the fountains of pity too soon.  Let their streams well forth till the heart, discharged of its burden, lays down as upon a pillow; and its throbbings cease, as the wild music of the storm dies in the bosom of the succeeding calm!

    Peace!

    Now, fiddler, chirp upon thy anxious strings.  What, hast thou been weeping, too?  One would have thought thy old dim eyes had had their springs dried up long, long ago; for nightly thou hast kindled a fire beneath their sockets that would have made ashes of Vesuvius ere this.  Come, square thine elbow, and let us be off in earnest this time, for the clock is getting impertinent, and insists upon reminding us that Time waits for no man, but jogs on and on in Sorrow's path, and flies with lightning wings when Pleasure would have it stay.

    We are off at last.

    Oh, the feet that trip so lightly past, and whisper sweet nonsense to the listening floor!  Oh, the long silken tresses that lash our flattered cheeks with gossamer touch, and leave a wound where wounds are sweetest when they never heal!  Oh, the hands which press so softly, that you wonder whether they are hands or lips, and grow giddy with the doubt!  Oh, the whirling clouds of mazy web, from out the folds of which are twinkling such stars as the blue firmament above would place in choicest orbit, were they translated thither!  Oh, the smiles that make your heart a liquid by gentlest fusion, and mould it into a feeling akin to their own expression!  Oh, those settings of lily-buds among the scarcely-opened roses that met your lips beneath the magic bush!  Surely they will wake the slumbering hive, and make each bee a truant to his bed, thinking the summer blossoms are here already!

    Hush!  Stop the dance!  What sound was that, filling the startled ear with its magic resonance?  What, is the New Year come before its time, that the madcap-steeple is shaking its bells so merrily?  The youngster might have waited till we had poured enough wassail on his father's remains to have enbalmed a century of dead years, and we would have welcomed him most royally.  But let him come in, that we may "wet his head," and place on it the olive crown, symbolical of his peaceful advent.

    What old man thou who bring'st the stripling forth, swaddled in snow, his cap the brightest blue, studded with gems from heaven's own casket, and his robe a million worlds' enwoven rays, streaming from an eternal east?  This is no harvest time, that thou shouldst bring a scythe wrapped in thy wintry cloak. No hour-glass need we to tell us it is morn, when the bells are ringing so merrily. Begone, old man, and leave us to our mirth; nor cast thy shadow on the new-born year, that comest with such a princely smile to tell us he is king!

    Old Wap thought it was a dream, as he sat in the nook, wiping his glistening forehead after the tenth dance, in which the pearl buttons of his short kerseys had figured throughout.  "Ringwood Hall" had been a-blaze with light, and giddy with merriment for "ever so many" hours pending the coming of the New Year's morn.  Nobody ever heard such music as Twiner Joe executed on his four bars of cat-gut; now rosining his bow; now rosining his throat; his elbow working as though it had been constructed on the principle of an eight-days' clock, warranted not to stop till the weights had run down.  Nobody had ever calculated that Ringwood contained so much holly and mistletoe as made the dining-room of the hall look scarcely half its usual size.  Nobody ever dreamt that Merriton could have furnished such a bevy of damsels as made that winter garden appear as if it grew flowers in ready-made bouquets.  Nobody believed the crazy old house would stand such a romp; but it was built of oak cut from its native woods, and not of the flimsy material imported from abroad.  Nobody believed that old Wap's bailiff could have compounded such a mixture of roasted apples and savoury etceteras as smoked in that hissing caldron by the hall fire.  But "Jonas" had lived in smart families, and had learnt a thing or two which he was not bound to impart to everybody in Merriton.  And, lastly, if ever it could have occurred to anyone that "Nancy," the cook, could have appeared so fascinating as she did, when bringing in that miracle of a pudding, it would have been predicted by every gossip in the village that old Wap would have made her something beside a servant before the New Year had been a month old.

    Well, it was no dream.  It was a merry, unmistakable reality, as the dampness of Wap's chocolate napkin could amply testify.  The old boy turned on the group before him a longing eye, and wished he was young again as sincerely as ever he wished for anything.  There was Matty Charlesworth among the group—the pink, the queen, or whatever you will, of the whole of that animated flower-basket.  What would he not have given to have been the absent Bowley, returned from a brief sojourn abroad to claim the girl as his bride?  He would have braved all the boggarts of Fairy Bridge for youth renewed in the form he wished it.  Had the dancing made him drunk, that he felt so drowsy?  Or was it the wassail, and the occasional sly drop of something else taken with the fiddler?  Strange! his eyelids would close, in spite of all he could do to keep them open; and his chin (a double-barreled one) would go down upon his breast, no matter how he tried to keep his head on the balance.  Why did he yawn, he wondered, and how was it that the room grew dim, and the figures in it indistinct?  How was it that the whole scene appeared to change into a moonlit grove, through which a silver stream meandered, and in which fairies were holding their revels?  He could see his own shadow in the river, and behold—he was changed also.  He was now a comely youth, with a scarcely bearded chin, and limbs as light and supple as the unsubstantial forms now dancing around him.  He must have become the favourite of fairy fun and frolic; for the elves have taken the form of maidens, ripe and blooming, who beckon him with their eyes to follow—follow in Pleasure's track, over golden sands and velvet lawns, to arbours sweet of jasmine that only fairydom can grow.  Away, light of foot, light of heart, light of head, old man young again, to where love has made his home in the fairy bower!  There taste the nectar that filters through the leafy roof, and revel among the shadows which troop about, and leave warm kisses, fragrant of the breath of roses a thousand times distilled upon thy cheek; for "Mab" hath got thee in her airy train, and shows thee pleasures which can but live in the enthusiast's dreaming fancy!

    "What, what, what, a dozen pairs of gloves for as many kisses?  Out, you vixens!  Don't tell me I've been asleep.  Look at the clock.  It isn't two minutes since we were dancing."

    Thus reasoned old Wap, rubbing his eyes and blinking at a crowd of claimants for gloves he had forfeited during his brief sojourn in dreamland.  He could not believe that he had been asleep, and appealed to the fiddler for his testimony.

    "Have I been nodding, Joe?" he said, looking up at the half-somnolent "tweedledee," as the latter was in the act of rosining his throat.

    "I dunno' know whether yo'n bin noddin or not," replied Joe, smacking his lips and winking; "but yo'n bin snooarinlike a cote full o' Kesmas pigs.  I thowt yo'rn happen tryin to do th' bass to my fiddlin.  But yo' kept sich bad time."

    "And what have these girls been doing?"

    "They'n bin bussin yo' like house-o'-fire.  I tried for t' go t' sleep mysel; but nob'dy ud ha' takken any notice o' me if I'd slept till dayleet, beaut they'd wanted some moore music."

    "Joe, Joe, you're in league with these minxes.  I'll ask someone else."  And old Wap got up from his chair, and crossed the room to where sat a young, handsome cobbler, who could not take his eyes off Olive Makapenny, whether she was dancing or waylaying some swain who was unconsciously making straight for the kissing-bush.  The cobbler's testimony accorded with the fiddler's, with this difference, that he closed one eye when it came to Olive's turn, and could not exactly say whether the other had not deceived him.  But yonder sits Dame Charlesworth, fidgety and flushed from having been so mauled beneath the mistletoe by that "rapscallion" of a Sam Briggs, who has, on several occasions, given out hints that he has notions of sometime being landlord of the "Jolly Carter."  Old Wap would appeal to her as a last witness, when, if her testimony agreed with the rest, the gloves should be bought, and awarded to the fair claimants.

    "Ay," replied the dame to the question put; "an' if I'd ever worn glooves i' my life, I'd ha' won a pair mysel afore yo'd wakkent."

    The dame was buxom for her age, and of a fair, fresh complexion; and, as he looked at her, Wap could not help expressing a wish that the thirteenth pair had been forfeited like the rest.

    "But come," he says, with a gleeful chuckle, "I see I've lost.  The gloves shall be yours, lasses; only I wish I'd been awake when they were won.  And so you've been playing at 'two's and three's,' and 'shy widow,' while I've been snoring!  What, and 'silly old man,' too?  I'm a silly old man to have missed all that fun.  I hope the night has not been a dream altogether.  You're not fairies, are you, lasses?"

    No; for as old Wap in his half-bewildered manner went round from guest to guest, bestowing such greetings as were fitted to the receivers, he, somehow, got within the radius of the magic circle described by the shadow of the mistletoe; and next moment a dozen very substantial arms were struggling with each other about his neck; and as many kisses were so dotted about his face, that he declared it was like being in a snowstorm, where the flakes were warm and velvety, and melted as they fell.

    Oh, to have seen the old man's face all glow in the midst of that caressing, smothering group—the loved, the revered, the benefactor of Merriton!  Who would not, had they been pretty girls, have saluted his cheek till it had been blistered, for kindness dispensed among the suffering poor?  Ringwood Hall was everybody's home that chose to make it such.  Its doors were ever open; and its owner's hand was never closed but when it had a friendly palm within its grasp.  And how such a little body could contain such a big heart was a puzzle to all who understood not the anatomy of goodness.  A bachelor, looking beyond his sixtieth year towards a peaceful twilight not far in the distance, it had been his life-long care that there should be no clouds about his sunset; but that he might sink into the grave as serenely as the orb of day drops into the bosom of the west.  His very chin seemed to shake a purse at you as he passed, and bid you take as much as you might want.  And bless those legs, that could scarcely move along from children clasping them; and the coat that was never whole two days together, from urchins pulling and swinging at its tails, as they greeted him with their boisterous endearments

    Every Christmas, Wap assembled his neighbours at Ringwood Hall; and the butcher, and the grocer, and the farmer, the latter with his consignments of poultry, made louder noises at the "Jolly Carter" a day or two before, than anybody made during the rest of the year.  He had assembled them on this occasion; and the dinner never had been surpassed, nor ever would be; that was the conclusion everybody came to ere they had fairly tasted.  The wassail made their eyes wink and their ears tingle when they drank; and the dancing, nobody knew what it was like; only Sogger remarked, that "flyin wur a foo' to it."  Matty Charlesworth was one of the guests, as you know already, and so was Olive Makapenny.  And bustling among the juveniles might be seen she who was once Patience Armitage, the Jacobin's daughter, matronly and painstaking with her youthful clients.  And Jammie o' Tum's was there in pumps.  And Pincher, now left off blushing, had several times led Matty through the dance; and a whole forum of others were present, including the young "tachin-waxer," who had tricked old Makapenny; and Sam Briggs, otherwise Sogger, dancing a very quaint step with Dame Charlesworth, in a retired corner of the room.  And all "went merry as a marriage bell" from the first blink of the yule log to the first peep of dawn.

    But old Wap feared it was all a dream.  He had been too deep in the wassail cup to be thoroughly conscious of everything; and, as his eyes would sometimes close on the shortest notice, and his fancies wander to fairyland, he was puzzled to define which was the real and which the imaginary.

    "It is Christmas, isn't it?" he would ask between his nods.

    To be sure.  Look at the walls so hung with evergreens that not a spot of paint can be discovered anywhere.

    "We've had dinner; have we not?"

    Such a dinner that, were it to occur every day, not a waistcoat in the room would fit its owner.

    "And did not a poor, starved child call, begging?"  It did.

    "And did we turn it away without having fed it?"

    Did they?  No!  Was it not laid upon a sofa, before a bright, sputtering fire?  Did they not feed it with such dainties as the table contained?  Did they not wrap it in a warm woollen cloak, encase its shoeless feet in ample clogs, and dismiss it to its home with a blessing and something beside?  To be sure they did; many a tear attested the fact; but Wap's memory was not vivid upon the point.  He still fancied he was dreaming.

    "But I have lost a dozen pair of gloves; have I not?"  As many pairs of lips said he had.

    "Oh, that isn't a dream, at all events!  Talking of dreams reminds me of one I dreamt some years ago.  Such a funny dream it was!  Shall I describe it to you?"

    Everybody wanted to hear it.

    "Gather round, then, lads and lasses.  It wants just half an hour to morning.  When I have finished my story, we shall be ready to salute the Happy New Year.  Come, bring your chairs this way."

    The company gathered round their host, and taking pull at the fiddler's rosin cup, old Wap commenced his story.



CHAPTER II.


"I'M a great dreamer," said old Wap, as the company gathered round to listen.  "I'm sometimes puzzled to say which is reality and which is fancy.  But fortunately I'm not much afflicted with dreams of the horrible kind.  I sometimes find myself flying, sometimes swimming; and I've even experienced the sensation of having my head whipped off my shoulders by the sudden jerking of a noose made of horse-hair.  But such dreams have been exceptional, and have invariably occurred when I have neglected my pipe, or been eating roast pork.  The dream which I'm about to relate is one of so rare an order, and so utterly absurd in all its details, as to have impressed itself on my mind with the vividness of actual fact.  It occurred this way.

    "I had been down to Hazelworth one afternoon, and was returning home a little lively, when I met the parson, looking as hot and as thirsty as a haymaker.  It was summer time, and a very sultry day, I remember.  I could see he wanted an excuse for getting into the 'Bell and Corkscrew,' so I said—

    "'Parson, you're very fond of bacon, I believe.'

    He owned he was, especially when it came in the shape of tithe.

    "'Well,' I said, 'they've as pretty a pig hung up in the old "Bell" as ever you saw.'

    "He was delighted to hear that, and became thirstier than ever.

    "'If you're not in a hurry,' I said, 'we'll just step in and look at it.'

    "He took out his watch, and by very close reckoning made out that he could just spare ten minutes; but I must not press him to stay longer.

    "I knew his ten minutes meant about two hours, so we turned into the house, and got snugly seated in the bar, with the window open, and before us a tankard each of ale, as cold and as frothy as you could expect to find at that time of the year.  The pig was forgotten directly, and I began to have my doubts whether the parson would have cared to leave the 'nut brown' for the sight of a whole Smithfield of 'bacon trees,' he looked so happy after his second pull at the tankard.

    "An hour passed over with pipes and stories, and freshly filled tankards, and we had not yet seen the pig.  I hinted this fact to the parson, but he only gave a grunt, and said he could call another time.  The chair was so easy and the ale so good, and there was such a smell of wallflowers and honeysuckle coming in at the window.  He wouldn't mind about an ounce of a steak done on the gridiron, just to see what the flavour was like.  What did I think about it?

    "The very thing I could relish, even if the day was so hot, and I rung for the landlady.  As it happened, they had commenced cutting up the pig, so that we could be accommodated to our hearts' content.  Directly we had each a luscious lump of pork before us, more like a pound than an ounce; and the parson's knife and fork went at his portion like a pair of eccentric drumsticks, till the whole had disappeared.  After this, fresh tankards, fresh pipes, and the window opened a little wider.  What a blessing is ease after repletion! so the parson seemed to feel, for he had scarcely given a dozen puffs at his pipe ere his greasy chin fell on his breast, and his tobacco-ashes were powdering his gaiters.

    "Whether it was the heat of the weather, or the smell from the garden, or the strength of the ale that had such a soporific effect, I cannot say, but I no sooner saw the parson's head go down than I began to be oblivious of everything about me.  The last thing I remembered was fixing my eyes upon the tankard from which I had been drinking, and which, from its peculiar shape, reflected everything about it in an inverted position.  I appeared to be standing upon my head, and the trees in the garden behind me were growing with their roots uppermost.  The reason I give these particulars is, that I have since thought the strangeness of my dream may be accounted for by this topsy-turvy state of things; for the whole order of natural objects that presented themselves to my fancy after I had closed my eyes were changed in their relation to each other, as well as in their individual characteristics.  Thus a man played the part of a woman, a woman that of a man.  Birds ran upon the ground, while cats and dogs, cows and horses, sheep and pigs, flew.  Although the houses stood on their foundations, yet Merriton was as much changed in appearance as one might have expected had it been rebuilt centuries after its demolition.  Not a single dwelling was in its original place; and from the peculiar construction of every one, it seemed impossible that either access or egress could be effected without great inconvenience and difficulty.  The street doors were placed so as to communicate directly with the upper story, the occupants having to go downstairs to bed, and upstairs to their work.  The church had turned its back upon the west, and appeared to have dissolved partnership with the graveyard, the latter place being situated at the extreme end of the village.  The gravestones were turned upside down, so that anyone reading an epitaph would have to stand upon his head.  It struck me, I remember, that the dead, unless they were partial to lying, would not care much about that; for how few epitaphs reflect the real character of those about whom they are written!

    "It was Merriton wakes; the time—well, say forty years ago, for I was a young man of some five and twenty, with no disposition whatever to yoke myself to the matrimonial cart.  You may laugh, girls; but if you had known me at that age, you'd have seen in me a very modest fellow, so cold and indifferent towards minxes like you, that I avoided their society, rather than sought it.  Well, it was Merriton wakes.  The rushcart was drawn by flying horses; and a strange sight it looked, as you may imagine.  The morris-dancers were all girls; and it was amusing to see young men following, fastening their ribbons when they were loose, and blushing like one of you upon receiving the reward of a kiss.  Now comes the fun of it.

    "I, among the rest, was as shy as a love-struck dairy-wench.  My feelings were changed, as I supposed, to those of your own sex.  If a lass ogled me, I could not look her in the face.  If she winked, I was floored; and however much I might wish her to speak to me, I felt as though I would sooner have run round Merriton than listened to a word.  I began to sigh, and didn't know what for.  I looked in the glass to see if my cheek was pale.  I drank coffee grains to make my skin fair; and, upon an average, did one half I was set to do wrong.  I was in love; that is the long and short of it; but, as customs were reversed, I could not with propriety unburden my heart to the object of my affections.  I grew melancholy that very wakes day.  I got tired of the fun, and wandered out of the village for the purpose of sighing my heart away.  I am right, I suppose, when I say that lovers naturally select the prettiest spots in which to spend their languishing moments?  I chose the Fairy Bridge.  Don't blush, Matty Charlesworth—it was not night, but the hour just before sunset, when everything you see is so pretty.

    "I remember, I was leaning against the railings of the bridge, with my finger to my lips, sighing to the river, and the fishes, and the trees, and the birds just going to rest, when I heard someone approaching.  My heart went pit-pat; for the footstep was a light one; and I thought I must have sunk through the bridge, or have gone over the railing, when I saw the very girl I had set my heart upon coming tripping down the lane.  I turned my back towards her, and, in my confusion, tried to notch something—I don't know what—with my thumb-nail in the railing.  I never could call to mind anyone in the flesh that the lass resembled.  She was an 'airy nothing,' and had no paragon in Merriton.  She was nameless as well; but for the sake of identity I will call her 'Rose;' because she wore that flower in her bosom; and the evening, and everything about was rosy.

    "From the position in which I stood I could no longer observe my Rose's movements; but, somehow, I felt that she must be loitering near me.  She coughed; but it was not a cough that proceeded from any affection of the lungs.  It was a made cough, got up on purpose, as I supposed, to call my attention to her presence.  Would she speak, I wondered?  I did not wonder long.  I felt her dress touch me.  She passed, and, turning round, observed, in a voice tremulous with emotion--

    "'It's a fine neet.'

    "I did not respond, for my heart was in my mouth, and the maiden passed on, but, as I thought, unwillingly.  Oh that she would speak again! and yet I was afraid that she would.  She didn't, however.  She went clean out of sight, leaving me so full of wild emotion that I felt as though I'd rather have thrown myself into the river than have gone home that night.

    "But the next evening came, and it found my heart inclining towards Fairy Bridge again—if ever it had been turned away.  I was notching the railing with my thumbnail, and waiting anxiously for Rose to make her appearance; for though no appointment had been made, I somehow felt she would come, and again salute me with that sweet 'fine neet.'

    "I was resolving in my mind to give her some slight show of encouragement, if she allowed me the opportunity, when I observed her coming down the lane, as jauntily as if she was thinking over the dance of the day before.  I was all of a flutter in a moment.  Again she coughed; again she loitered; again I felt her dress touching my elbow; and again she observed—

    "'It's a fine neet.'

    "I was in two minds to have said it wasn't, for the sake of contradiction, as women sometimes do; but thought better of the proceeding afterwards, and replied in the affirmative.

    "'Hast' bin here ever sin' yesterneet?' she inquired, turning round and laying her hand on the railing.

    "I wondered if men put such silly questions to women when they were in the act of breaking similar ground.  Of course I said 'no' for the shortest; and the attempt at conversation languished for some time.  However, not to be balked of her purpose, Rose made another observation about the weather, which I did not clearly understand, only that it had reference to some extra demand for candles, when days got shorter.  Now, don't laugh, girls; I know it is very silly.

    "Feeling a desire to promote conversation, now that the ice had been fairly broken, I remarked that coals would be in greater need when the weather was colder.

    "'Ay,' she said, 'we brun a good deeal at our house when winter comes.  We dunno' brun mony now, it's so wot.  Feel at my hont, how it sweeats;' and she held out her hand, which I could not touch on the first attempt, both were trembling so.

    "I don't know whether her hand or mine was dampest; but our pulses were beating like a watch gone mad.  I was expecting the momentous question to follow close upon this advance, but it came not as yet.

    "'Thy hont's bigger nor mine,' she said, 'an' harder.'

    "It was, both.

    "'It ud tak a bigger ring for t' fit thy finger nor it would mine.'

    "I think she had hold of the fourth finger of my left hand.

    "It would; a much larger ring.

    "'How mich would they ha' to give for one ut would fit thine?'

    "I could not say; probably a guinea.  But why the question?  I suspected she was beating round, and would close in, shortly, with something more direct to the purpose.  As an advance upon her hitherto skirmishing tactics, she said—

    "I should like to buy thee one.'

    "'One what?'

    "'A ring.'

    "The murder was out at last; but somehow I would not understand her until she had made further confession.

    "She stood for some time with my hand enclosed in hers, trying to look in my face; but I wouldn't let her.  I daresay I was blushing like the sunset.  She asked me would I accept the ring if she bought one.  I think I said I would, but am not certain.  Well, I must have given consent, from what followed.  She squeezed my hand till I must have screamed, could anyone have heard me.  But what is the use of screaming when no one is near?  Oh, girls! I see by the glances you are exchanging, that you know it is of no use.

    "'It's nice stondin here, is nor it?' said Rose, after a prolonged attempt to extract a glance from me---a glance which I felt I should like to have given, but somehow dared not.

    "I acknowledged it was nice, very nice; but said something about the beauty of the evening having all to do with it.

    "'Ay, but I meean standing here by our two sel's,' she said, placing her cheek against mine—a liberty which I would have resented with a smack, only one hand was fast and the other reluctant.

    "I said nothing in return, preferring to wait to hear what other observations she would make.

    "Brushing her eyelashes against mine, and causing a thrill to go through me that I had never experienced before, Rose said—

    "'Eh, Wap!—I do like thee!'

    "I had the courage to say, 'Do you, Rose?' and yielded myself up to an embrace which I thought afterwards was very improper on my part on so short an acquaintance, yet had no wish to recall it.

    "'Ay, I do like thee,' she repeated, 'better than a choilt likes towfy.  Does thou like me?'

    "An instinctive prudence told me that I ought not to give expression to all I felt, without a great deal of urging.  Ha! I see by your laughing, hussies, you quite understand that.  Instead of replying at once, I began to play with my—I was going to say bonnet-strings—forgetting that I was a man all the time.  Well, I began to toy with my waistcoat buttons until such times as I might, with credit to my sex, acknowledge in words what my feelings already betrayed.

    "I counted forty—five buttons eight times over, you see—and thinking by that time my answer might be fairly reckoned due, I ventured to close my teeth with a loud snap; a sound which was understood by Rose to be an equivalent for yes.

    "It was all over.  I had yielded to my maiden lover's eloquent importunities, and I was hers from that moment.  I felt her arm creep gently round me.  Her lips touched mine; and during a minute, or an hour—I don't know which—I was revelling in a dream within a, dream, in which I thought how convenient was that ordinance which had changed the customs of life, and had made man the weaker instead of the stronger sex.

    "'Eh, whoa would ha' thowt it?' exclaimed Rose, after a round of tender demonstrations, in which she always led—' 'ut ever thou'd ha' had me, an' I should ha' had thee?'

    "I'm sure I had never thought it; and expressed myself as much.  But who can foresee what an accidental meeting may lead to—especially in a very pretty spot, on a beautiful summer evening?'

    "'Dost remember seein me among th' doancers at th' rushcart?' she asked.

    "I did remember seeing her among the dancers, and thought she threw up as pretty a foot as any one in the troop.

    "'I could hardly doance for thinkin about thee, when I see'd thy een catch mine,' she said; and I looked up, or rather down, into her face, and saw a smile upon it, which I thought would have been very amusing under any other circumstance.

    "'What didst think about my ribbins?  Wurno' they grand?'

    "Of course they were; quite a peacock's tail of fancy frippery.  But I thought otherwise then; that they were as chaste as Dian's wardrobe.

    "'But they were nothin to what my weddin dress shall be,' said the maid, with another smile, and another hugging of my shoulder.  'When shall I need it?'

    "I sighed to think that a day would ever come when such a garment would be required.

    "'Come,' said she, urging the question in a more pressing manner—'When shall th' weddin be?'

    "I had fully made up my mind to say 'never;' but checked myself, and said—'you're in such a hurry.'

    "'Hurry!' she exclaimed; and again I felt her eyelashes against mine—'why nobbut a month fro' now looks twenty year off, an' that's as soon as it could be.'

    "Say six months," I replied.

    "'A month,' she urged.

    "Say three.'

    "'Nawe, a month.'

    "'Two would be quite soon enough.'

    "'A month, or ――'

    "I was afraid she was going to add 'never;' so I said, before she had time to utter the fatal word—

    "'Any time you choose.'

    "Wasn't I foolish for giving in so soon?  I know you will say I was; but have some doubts as to your thinking so.  Oh, the insincerity of this world!

    "Well, the wedding-day was fixed for that day month and we talked over the preparations like two lovers who had kept each other's company as many years as we had hours.  We were to have a grand house, grand furniture, grand everything.  We were going to show the thousands who had missed their way, that there were at least one couple who could successfully unravel the mysteries of the matrimonial knot.  But the ring was the great cornerstone of our castle-building.  Rose produced one from her pocket—a toy ring it was—bought at the wakes the day before.  This ring she insisted upon trying on my finger, to get the exact measurement; and she took hold of my hand for that purpose.  Oh, what a sensation came over me as I felt the magic bauble encircling the end of my finger!  I was near fainting.  No kind of human effort could have got that ring over my knuckle.  My finger began to swell.  The pain it produced shot up my arm to my shoulder.  I was about to scream with agony, when—there goes the clock.  It is just three minutes in advance of the church; and my story is as near its end as is the year."



――――――――――――


    One, two, went the clock, all the hours up to twelve and Wap sat listening for the bells.

    "Yo' ha' no' finished yo'r tale," said Matty Charlesworth, rousing the old gentleman from an apparent reverie.  How did yo' goo on?  Did yo' get wed?"

    "Wed!" he exclaimed, in a startled manner.  "Do you think I slept for a whole month?  No, no; the pain produced by trying on the ring broke my dream.  I awoke, and found I had been squeezing my finger into the ring of my watch seal; and the joint was so swollen by the pressure, that I had some difficulty in withdrawing it.  The parson was snoring like a whole family of pigs; but whether, like me, he was dreaming of things being turned topsy-turvy, I could not tell.  But I shall remember as long as I live, eating pork steaks, and drinking tankards of ale on a hot summer's day.  You may think my dream absurd; but you have only to change the positions of the two principal actors in it to make the picture real."

    "It looks very queer, a woman makkin love to a mon," said Olive Makapenny.

    "It certainly does," replied Wap but there is this to be said, my dream serves to show by what silly nonsense young women's hearts are won.  Oh, I have sometimes thought, if there had been some other method than this, some rational standard of question-popping etiquette, I might not now have been a bachelor.  But there go the bells!"



――――――――――――


    Swinging, at first drowsily, as if they were not quite roused from sleep, but growing louder and quicker as they opened their eyes, the bells began their welcome to the New-born Year.  How they chased each other in the race of harmony!  The little ones sometimes tumbling over the big ones, the latter growling good-humouredly betimes at the eagerness of their forward companions, and putting in their ding-dongs like veterans who had rung-in many a New Year, and knew what it was to go about their work soberly.  But merrier still the young ones grew, and got so frolicsome in their madcap glee, that the old ones, as if resolving not to be outdone by their juniors, fling away discipline altogether, and lumber away in the race like giants at child-play.  Away they go, helter-skelter, little and big, old and young, light tones and deep, making such a row in that bedlam of a steeple, that the spiders, frightened out of their wits, retreat to the farthest nooks of their several lairs, and ponder over the remains of murdered flies that strew the floors of their airy charnel-houses.  The sparrows, thinking some supernatural invader hath come to drive them from their homes, pack up their bits of straw for a general flitting; but remembering that twelve months ago there was just such a noisy visitation, rearrange their mattresses, and, over an imaginary wassail-cup, chirp a peal of their own in honour of the year that is to bring them fresh harvest fields, groves of berries, and the warm summer sunshine.

    And what is going on at Ringwood Hall during this fussy time?  Nothing?  Are the revellers grown tired of their work?  No; they are toasting the New Year in right "Jone Bardsley" fashion; many other things coming in for their share of good wishes as the wassail goes round.  Old Wap drinks "The youngster's health; and may his coming of age be as auspicious as his birthday!"  Sogger wishes they might have a New Year every week.  Jammie o' Tum's, as if not wishing to appear too selfish, drinks his own health and Pincher, at a loss for any other form of toast, drinks "Success to Prosperity;" and fancies he has done the thing grandly.  The cobbler pledges "The lasses," and gets so hugged for his gallantry, that he wishes it were to do over again.  And the fiddler rings in his New Year's peal upon his fiddle, and feet begin to move again; and skirts begin to flutter; and hands take hold of each other; till the whirling, skipping, fluttering, and squeezing is going on as briskly as ever.  Nobody minds the clock.  It may wag unnoticed for ever, if the fun will only keep up so long.  Nobody cares for summer coming, unless it will be so prolific of mistletoe that the magic bush may hang from every ceiling all the year round.  Nobody cares for any other drink than wassail; and if ever music could be sweeter than that in which Twiner Joe and the church bells are striving to be merriest, old Wap would like to hear it—that's all.

    But the yule-log is burnt out.  The wassail-bowl is empty.  Daylight is peeping through the nicks of the window shutters; and faces begin to look as if they had been caught in a cloud of dust.  Nothing lighter than a sledge-hammer could waken the fiddler; and old Wap, over the last drop of Joe's "rosin," is wishing happiness to a century of New Years, and that everybody may live to see them.

    It is all over.  The young year is on his trial.  May his life be such, that when the time comes that he shall be gathered to his fathers, old Wap, and his friends may again meet in Ringwood flail, and congratulate each other that they welcomed him so heartily!


――――♦―――

 
RED WINDOWS HALL.

CHAPTER I.


"HE'S dying!"

    And the day was dying too; but the latter closed its eyes with a serenity that, had it made its peace with all the world, and left the world in peace, could not have been more tranquil.  Not so the last moments of a being who had watched the shadows of the window-pane creep over the reddened wainscoting, that caught the sunset's richest tints, and threw them on his shrivelled face.  No! his leaving this world was a struggle to remain—if but for a moment—to utter one word; for his last breath had stricken down a fond and duty-loving child, and he wished for power to revoke the sentence it had conveyed.  But the hour-glass had spent its last grain of sand, and the grim reaper was ready.  Swift as lightning-flash went the scythe, and the harvest of mortality, that had sprung in pride and ripened in avarice, was at his feet.

    Why bent not the heir of this wretched old man to listen to the faint articulation to which the last breath of his dying kinsman had given more shape than utterance?  Because the word would have dispossessed him, and the rich estates, that extended from the Black Moss to the Haunted Clough, would have passed from the testator to the next of kin—the only son of the proudest yeoman in Lancashire.  The will was cancelled before Heaven, but man heard it not; and the lips that at the last moment would have righted a great wrong were closed for ever.

    The scene was "Red Windows Hall," the death that of Squire Winwood, its owner, the eldest representative of a haughty and hard-fisted race.  This man had lived for himself alone.  A morbid fear that he should end his days in the workhouse had induced him to employ means, unsanctified of right, by which to acquire wealth, and his two children, Geoffrey and Alice Winwood, were little more to him than the blue-petticoated, corduroy-breeched dependants upon the scanty munificence of a parochial rate.  He was not a father in that sense of the word which implies more than mere progenitor.  He was anything but that in its most sacred bearings.  His nearest approaches to parental kindness were stiff, formal, rigid, to a semblance of indifference.  Early neglect had begotten estrangement, and the poor children were more frequently in the society of the stranger than in that of their natural protector.

But that


There is a tear for all that die
A mourner o'er the meanest grave,


Squire Winwood might have departed unwept.  His neglect, however, could not more than chill the love it was his duty to have cherished.  A breath of real kindness would have made it glowing as the noontide of that summer's sun which had now set on him for ever.  But this was not to be.  There was a barrier opposed to such a flood of tenderness, in the person of Richard Holmroyd, the nephew and cousin of the Winwoods.

    This aspirant to the fortunes of Red Windows Hall was the "Dead Sea apple," so to speak, of that family tree—fair on the outside, but ashes at the core.  His smiles, his suave manners, the craft to which his penniless condition had given the force of instinct, had made him such a favourite with his uncle, that it absorbed in the latter all the regard he possessed for that worthless claimant of his consideration—human nature.  He entered with him into all his schemes of money-getting; flattered every meaner purpose of his life; saved him once from what would have been a rash speculation, involving the loss of many thousands; and had intimated that when his devotion to his uncle's interests had rendered him worthy of such a distinction, he should be proud to become more than nephew, if the hand of his fair cousin was not hopelessly out of his reach.  As for his cousin Geoffrey—the Winwood estates would be nothing to him.  His presumed easy nature was not fitted to such an important trust as their possession implied.  They would be frittered away, or rendered valueless, in a few years' time, if left to him, and the family-tree would be denuded of its brightest foliage, and the promise of after fruitfulness.  It was represented that the young fellow cared for nothing but a moderate independency, to give him ease and comfort, untrammelled by schemes for further augmentation; and in this belief, and in the faith that his nephew would be the most eligible successor to fortunes it was presumed he had helped to make, Squire Winwood made his will.

    But Geoffrey stood at the bedside, a noble looking young fellow the last rays of the sun lighting up his fair forehead, that had traces upon it of one the old man had seen with other eyes than those which were fast losing their brightness and this presence caused a tumult in a breast that was thought to be rapidly sinking into repose.  Had the youth's hair been parted like his mother's once was, and his tears aught but manhood's tears, they would have given vividness to a remembrance that was haunting the dying man's memory like the faint resuscitation of a long-faded dream.  Whereas his eyes strained as if death was snatching from their gaze something too dear to be relinquished.  His features worked convulsively.  His lips moved as if with an effort to speak; but no sound issued therefrom.  A shadow passed into the light.  It was that of the weeping Alice.  Why had the sun sunk so low that only her face had distinctness?  It was a face that was all her brother's was not: yet the two made one, the sight of which caused the dying man's eyes to light up with unearthly brightness, and his lips to quiver with a stronger effort to speak.  It was a last struggle.  The lips closed, and the arms, held out, it was thought, to embrace the shadow conjured up by the presence of the two forms he had last gazed upon, fell, unrequited, by his side.

    "He's dying!" sobbed Alice Winwood.

    "He's dead!" said Richard Holmroyd, with an air of satisfaction in his manner that belonged not to the solemnity of the death chamber.

    Geoffrey made no observation, but placed his fingers on his dead father's eyelids, and closed them.

    It was a painful moment; for both Geoffrey and his sister felt that, from the last gasp of their parent, they were in the house of the stranger,—that even the dusky form of the notary, sitting in a darkened corner of the room, appeared more at home than they.

    "It is all over, Mr. Tact," observed Richard Holmroyd, going up to the notary with even a jaunty step.

    "Then I'm no longer required," said Mr. Tact, rising, and folding up the document that custom sometimes errs in calling will.  "Sad affair!"

    "Very," was the response, given in a tone somewhat out of harmony with the import of the observation.

    "You will call at my office on Monday morning," said Mr. Tact.

    "I shall not fail," said his client, blandly.  "In the meantime I must consult with my cousins about the funeral."

    "He leaves you all his possessions," said Mr. Tact in an undertone.

    "Everything; I am quite aware of that."

    "Of course, you will see your cousins provided for?"

    "Of course."

    "Very kind of you.  They take it hardly, poor things.  Then you'll call upon me on Monday?"

    "Expect me about eleven."

    "Very well.  Good-bye!"

    The notary shook Richard by the hand, but felt he could not approach Geoffrey and Alice.  He was conscious that the two, suffering from bereavement and wrong, were in too deep grief to be disturbed by civilities that under such circumstances are mere forms, repulsive as they are hollow.  So he bowed and retired.

    The notary gone, Richard approached Geoffrey, and whispered something to him.  The latter started, as if waking up from a troubled dream.  He looked at his cousin a moment, and whispered something in reply; then folding the sheet over his dead father's already shrinking face, withdrew from the bedside.  Alice followed abstractedly, still weeping; and as the last gleam of sunlight faded from the wainscoting, the heir to Red Windows Hall first opened the door that was to cast forth his bereaved and disinherited kindred upon the world.


-――――――――――――


CHAPTER II.


SEATED upon an eminence that commanded a front view of the hall, and watching the sun's last rays flicker over the windows, which a few minutes before they had lighted up with a red glare, was a man who had not only watched, but wondered at the same phenomenon many years before.  He appeared to be about the middle time of life, of fresh complexion, and prepossessing features that at one time had been—nay, still were—handsome.  His form was rather stooping for his years, as if from the effects of excessive toil, though his dress, from its quality and texture, bespoke him to be one who had long abandoned the grosser labours of life, and taken an easier road to fortune.  Merriton was his native village, which he had left poor and, as he thought, friendless many years before.  But he was not to be alienated from his early home.  He loved to listen to its bells, to scent the fragrance of its new-mown hay, and linger about the stiles he had climbed when a boy.

    Every summer Dolmey Turtingtower visited Merriton, but without making himself known to his old associates.  At first he came meanly clad, for Dame Fortune had not yet smiled upon him.  As years went on, however, his dress improved, and to such a degree that, had he made his appearance in the taproom of the "Jolly Carter" at a time when the house was most crowded, no one would have recognised him.  From a weaver he had risen to be a master manufacturer, and had made his thousands.  His name was as good on the Manchester Exchange as were the Watts's, the Philips's or the Mendel's—names implying princes of the mercantile community; and his hopes ran upon a time when he might close his ledger, hand over his business to a successor, and, in the calm retirement of his native village, do good to the end of his days.

    The sunset glow had scarcely left the hall windows, when Dolmey Turtingtower rose to depart.  He gave a last look at the venerable mansion, and sighed over a reminiscence that one might have thought time had obliterated from his memory.  But he remembered how hopelessly he had loved; and that there was still beneath that roof a being upon whose image the inner light of his soul would set only in death.  That being was Alice Winwood.  Though younger by several years than Dolmey, she had occupied a place in his affections from his earliest manhood.  But he a poor weaver, and she the daughter of a wealthy squire, how could he hope that his love would ever be reciprocated under such disadvantages?  Whenever he contemplated the extent of the gulf which the conventionalities of life had interposed between them, and the possibility that, bridging over all this, the love might be all on one side, Dolmey's heart would sink within him, and he would feel like a self-convicted criminal, whose sins the world was on the point of finding out.  But he could love in secret, and with the consolation that, though his passion might never be requited, it was not fixed upon an unworthy object.  He might worship without approaching the altar; and, if not permitted to take orders in love's priesthood, could be a humble and an earnest adorer outside the temple.  He had been this for many years.

    Just as Dolmey was taking his last look at the hall, the blinds went down over every visible window.  He paused, and looked again.  What was the matter, he wondered, with a fearful foreboding.  Someone dead?  Not Alice, no; yet it might be.  Notwithstanding that he had heard of her not many days before, and that she was then in blooming health, and as beautiful as ever, yet some frightful malady might have seized her, and—but he stayed not to indulge in such gloomy speculations.

    Taking the path which led direct to the village, Dolmey Turtingtower made the best of his way to the nearest point of inquiry.  This happened to be the "Jolly Carter" alehouse, which, being Saturday, had been put in its neatest trim.  Our friend glanced at the familiar signboard—the ivy and honeysuckle surrounding it; and for a moment youthful reminiscences shared his thoughts with the hopes and fears that were in alternate occupation.

    Dame Charlesworth, the landlady—no jollier ever polished a tankard—was just finishing baking; and it being summer time, the usual company had not yet begun to drop in.  There was the tranquillity so characteristic of a village alehouse when the forms are empty, and the clock is going on its humdrum business unobserved.  In fact, so quiet did the place seem, that the clank of the oven door made Dolmey start; and when the landlady raised her head, and confronted him with her spectacles, the temporary confusion which the circumstance created appeared to be mutually felt.

    "Yo're someb'dy, I reckon?" said the dame, dusting her hands, which were whitened over with flour, and giving her visitor a keen look.

    "I suppose I am," replied Dolmey, anxious to put the inquiry as to what had taken place at Red Windows Hall.

    "Well, if yo' wanten owt to sup," said the old woman, apologetically, "win yo' just wait till our Matty comes in?  Hoo's nobbut just gone across th' lone to th' well, an' hoo conno' be aboon a minit.  Yo' seen I'm fast wi' my bakin, an' I'm late; for I've had to go up to th' Ho yonder, wi' some sweet yarbs fort' put in a sick chamber, an' it's backent me."

    "Is there someone dead at the hall?" Dolmey asked, with an eagerness that startled the landlady.

    "Well," she replied, with a hesitancy in her manner that drew considerably on the patience of her listener, "it's not for me to say what is, nor what is not, beaut I know for sartinty.  But I should say, fro' what I have to judge by, ut if th' owd Squire's alive now, it's as mich as may be expected, an' moore nor I do expect."

    "Thank you," said Dolmey, feeling greatly relieved feeling by the information.  "Has the old gentleman been ailing long?"

    "Well, he's ne'er bin gradely sin' he fell off his hoss i' Whissun-week.  He hurt his inside, an' at his time o' life, if they getten out o' flunter, they're no so soon getten reet again.  But yo' thanked me same as if yo're fain he're deead.  Are yo' fain?"

    "Not I, indeed; why should I be?"

    "Well, I dunno' know, but o' somehow ther's never mich gradely frettin when someb'dy like th' Squire dees."

    "How like the Squire?"

    "Wheay, ut's plenty o' brass, an' has not enoogh."

    "I suppose you think people are too anxious to get into his shoes."

    "What dun yo' meean by that?"

    "Eager to get possession of his property."

    "That they are; that they are.  Yo'n said it now.  See yo', I wouldno' be weel off if I could ha' brass for wishin for.  I should never ha' no comfort with it if I had, for folk 'ud be pooin at me fro' o sides, an' happen wishin I're deead."

    "There may be some truth in that."

    "Truth?  Eh dear, mesther!  One sees it welly every day, oather i' one shap' or another.  It is no' mony weeks sin' an owd felly dee'd i' this lone; an' it wur thowt by everybody ut he're very poor, an' nob'dy nobbut one or two neighbours cared owt about him; but when ther a lot o' suvverins fund lapt up i' owd rags, relations flocked fro' o parts; an' ther sich fo'in out an' feightin as wur a shawm to be seen.  If it hadno' bin ut he'd laft this brass, th' parish would ha' buried him, an' we should ha' yerd nowt about any relations."

    "What was the old man's name?"

    "Well, fort' tell yo' th' truth, I dunno' think he ever had a gradely name; but we coed him Tummy Trotter."

    "Indeed! is old Tommy dead?"

    "Why, did yo' know him?"

    "I did.  He was a good friend to me at one time."

    "An' so he's bin to mony a one, in a little sort of a way.  He used to write letters for young folk ut couldno' write thersels, an' charged thrippence apiece, an' fund his own papper.  They sayn ther summat between him an' th' owd Squire ut never wur cleared up.  An' now they're booath deead, I reckon it never will be."

    "Let me see, Mr. Winwood leaves behind him a son and a daughter, does he not?"

    "Ay; Geoffrey, at wur kessunt after his gronfeyther, an' Alice, ut wur kessunt after her mother.  I dunno' think they're oather on 'em ony better off for bein akin to their feyther."

    "Why so?"

    "Well, if o be true one yers—but gospel's a very scarce thing, if we look for it anywheere but i'th' Owd Book—but if o be true one yers, he's never done to 'em as if they'rn his own chiller.  An' how he should be owt different for a feyther I dunno' know, for Geoffrey's as gradely a lad as ever stepped i' shoe leather; an' if ther's any better hearted, or prattier lass i' this country nor Alice is, I should like to see her.  It ud be good for sore een, I'm sure."

    Had Dame Charlesworth been as curious as the generality of her sex are reputed to be, she might have observed her visitor's countenance change at the mention of Alice Winwood's name.  And she might have wondered at the colour that came and went, and at the nervous working of his lips and hands.  She, however, did not notice these indications of an agitated mind, but went on with her gossip, like one who fully values its importance in the business of life.

    "I dunno' know how it is," she continued, "but it does look strange ut a lady like her, ut ud be fit for a king's wife, has never made it up wi' no young gentleman afore now.  But ther's one thing to be said—hoo's never made a buzzert of hersel', but aulus bin plain an' whoamly, an' fine folk dunno' catch at sich like.  An' then they sayn hoo'd a sort of a disappointment, if yo' known what that is—when hoo're very young, an' ut hoo's never looked up fro' it."

    "A cross in love," observed Dolmey, with as much calmness in his manner as the racking of a thousand jealous fears would allow.

    "Just so," replied the dame.  "Poor folk hardly known sich like things.  They are no' fine bred enoogh.  Somehow they sidle'n t'gether in a soft sort of a way, un coorten a year or two, by th' way of a trial.  If o's reet, they getten wed, an' makken an eend on't.  If it isno' reet, they part'n, an' go'n oitch ther own way, as if ther never had bin nowt between 'em."

    "A very philosophical method of disposing of their love affairs," remarked Dolmey; "but the other is certainly more romantic.  Did you ever hear who it was that Miss Winwood had—had—set her mind on?"

    "Nawe, for th' good reeason ut hoo never towd nob'dy whoa it wur.  An' however it is ut a woman con ha' summat on her mind so long, an' never tell it, caps me; that it does.  Hoo must ha' bin closer nor anybody else I know.  Here's our Matty comin at last.  If anybody wur t' spake to her in a coortin way, o th' country ud know about it afore th' middle o next week."

    The entrance of the girl in question, whom the reader must understand was the granddaughter of the landlady, and a pretty, saucy jade into the bargain, put a check to the conversation, and reminded the elder damsel that there was something burning in the oven.

    "Matty," said the latter, as she turned over the cakes in the oven, "that gentleman wants—eh, but I'd forgotten, he hasno' co'ed for nowt yet."

    "A glass of ale," said Dolmey, amused at the old lady's simple artifice.

    "Ay; yo' mun think nowt at it," she enjoined, with a forcible apology in her manner.  "I wurno' just thinkin mysel, an' I'd quite forgotten whether yo'd coed for owt or not.  I am sich an owd niddyhommer betimes; but when a body's browt up two or three families, an' lived to see 'em scattert about like clock-flowers blown wi' th' wynt, they winnot ha' mich yead tackle laft ut's good for owt.  Matty (turning to the girl), dunno' stond theere starin at th' felly as if here a fayberry show.  Goo thy ways an' fetch him his drink."

    To Matty Charlesworth there must have been a strange fascination about the visitor's person, for she had no sooner relieved her head of the water-can, than she fixed her eyes upon him with a stare that might have been deemed rude, had it been given anywhere else than in a country alehouse.

    The girl withdrew her eyes, and blushing with evident confusion, turned, and left the room to attend upon the customer.

    "You've been a fine woman in your time, Mrs. Charlesworth," observed Dolmey, to the landlady, as her granddaughter quitted their presence.

    "Well, I may ha' bin meeterly," was the response, given not without a little show of modest pride.  "When I're th' age o' yon lass, I're as straight as a pickin-peg.  But now, yo' seen, I'm as croot as a huzzet (Z).  I could o'erjump mony a lad o'th' same age then, an' could a' thrown my stockins up wi' th' best cow wench i'th' country in a race across a fielt.  I've known th' owd Squire, ut may now be deead an' gone, stop at our gate when I've bin hangin th' clooas out ov a weshin day, an' say if he'd a pair o' arms like mine he wouldno' hoide 'em in a tub as mich as I did."

    "You once put a rough fellow through the window, didn't you?"

    "I did,—I did.  But how come yo' to know about it  How did yo' know my name?"

    "Why, isn't your name over the door?"

    "Ay, but yo' couldno' see it; for it's groon o'er wi' ivin (ivy), an' has bin mony a year.  Set it down, Matty, beaut any moore starin, an' give him change out o' that shillin.  Thou'll find some copper in a pint pot on th' shelf i' th' bar."

    The latter sentences were addressed to the granddaughter, who had returned with the stranger's beer.

    "This wench's feyther," continued the dame, "wur my owdest lad.  He deed after a week's illness, through gettin cowd wi' mowin weet graiss."

    "I knew him," said Dolmey.

    "Wheay, we'st be knowin yo' e'ennow.  If it wurno' for bein thowt brazent, I'd ax yo' whoa yo' are.  Not ut I want to know; but women, yo' known, han their bits o' queer ways.  Here's someb'dy comin now ut'll know yo', if anybody about here does."

    Dolmey turned towards the door, which was open to admit as much light into the apartment as the spent day could afford.  This light, he saw, was temporarily shut out by the shadow of an old acquaintance, whom he remembered so well that his hand was involuntarily held out to the other's grasp.  Without noticing this movement, the new-comer "sidled" across the room, and sat himself down close to the oven.


-――――――――――


CHAPTER III.


HE is an old man whom the reader is now introduced to; very grey, very crooked, but very jolly for his years.  No one, excepting himself, remembered the hat he wore being a new one, and the face its slouching brim partly obscured was a model of tan and wrinkles.  From his chin to the topmost button of his waistcoat was a frontage of bold red lines, with deep indentations between, that gave his neck and breast the appearance of having been carved out of a block of mahogany.  He wore what were supposed to be knee-smalls, but which were getting so near to his ankles that they might have been mistaken for trousers, had not the buttons and ribbons at the extremities prevented their identification with the contemptible substitutes that the degeneracy of modern taste had introduced.  His coat was as old as himself, having been worn by his father during the latter's declining years, and was a sort of cross between the one worn by a Chelsea pensioner and the "swallow-tail" of the Regency.  There was but one patch on its whole surface, and that was where a hind button had been torn away during a taproom scuffle, many of which the old man bad been a prominent actor in.  He had a way of disposing himself on the chair he occupied that brought his head in close proximity to the top bar of the firegrate; and as he held his hands to the fire, as if the chill night air was too raw for them, he grunted out a salute to the company.

    "It's bin a niceish sort of a day," he observed, raising his head a little, and giving a glance at Dolmey.

    The prevailing darkness, however, prevented any recognition of the latter's person, and the old man's head subsided to its former position, and the hand-warming was resumed with determined briskness.

    Dolmey agreed that it had been a "niceish" day, and paid a compliment to the evening that was somewhat flattering to an English summer.

    "Yon's th' owd squire has shut his book," said the old man.  This time he spoke without raising himself, as if he did not think the event communicated was of as much importance as the condition of the weather.

    "What dun yo' meean by that?" asked the landlady.

    "Gan up his spoon," was the reply.  "Takken his wark whoam," was added, to give lucidity to the speaker's meaning.

    "Dun yo' meean he's deead?"

    "Deead as a hommer."

    "Lord bless us!" exclaimed the landlady.

    "It's one narr our turn, Tabby," observed the other, with a chuckle, as if the approach of death was something to be hailed with delight.

    "Lord bless us!" the landlady repeated.

    "He's takken middlin care o' thee, or else thou'd ha' had thy nose to a daisy root afore now, owd crayther."  And again the old man chuckled, at the same time raising his head, and looking from under his hat at the person he was addressing.  "They say'n th' owd squire has deed o'th' heart disorder," he continued; "but I've some deauts about that."

    "Why?"

    "Becose I think they'd ha' to turn him inside out a time or two afore they'd find owt o'th' sort as a heart.  He're an arrant owd rascal, deead an' gone as he is.  I reckon they'n be boxin him off in a day or two, an' then we'st be gradely shut o'th' owd lad, if th' worms dunno' turn uptheir noses at him, an' say they winnot ha' sich a wastrel i' their kitchen.  Eh, this rheumatis!" he exclaimed, rubbing his legs and grunting.  "I reckon I'st ne'er be cured on't till they putten me in a pair o' wooden stockins, same as thoose th' owd squire 'll be doancin in next week.  What say'n yo', mesther?"  Again turning to Dolmey, and again indulging in a series of chuckles.

    "With respect to the rheumatism or the old squire?" Dolmey asked.

    "That's a voice I've yerd afore, somewheere, but I con hardly tell wheere," the old man remarked, with eager curiosity expressed in his manner.  "I reckon," he said, turning to the landlady, "thou doesno' think we're wo'th a bit o' candleleet, as I've coed for nowt to sup yet.  Fotch me a drill o' jink, an' dunno' froth it up till ther's moore soul nor body in it."

    "I wish yo'd talk gradely, an' say a gill o' drink, same as other folk, yo' owd oddity" said the landlady, getting up from her chair, and hauling the old man away from the oven, as though he had been a sack that she had temporarily placed in front of it.  "I'll tak these moughfins out o'th' oon, an' then I'll fotch yo'r 'leawance, an' a candle, too.  Sit yo' furr, Sam, if yo' dunno' want roastin."

    "Thou should ha' said so before thou knocked me into th' nook, owd crayther," said Sam, apparently delighted with his situation.  "When we getten owd, yo' seen," he said, addressing Dolmey, "they knocken one about like a piece o' lumber, ut wants oather brunnin or drownin.  Well, well—I've seen th' day, ha' not I, Tabby?"

    "Ay, an' yo'n see another day afore long," was the landlady's rejoinder, as she took the muffins out of the oven, and commenced placing them edgeways on a corner table.  "It'll be bad times wi' th' worms when they getten howd o' yo', beaut they can mak a dinner off booans an' ballisleather."  After uttering these depreciatory comments she waddled out of the room, but was not long ere she returned, bringing with her a lighted candle and Sam's "drill o' jink," as he called it.

    No sooner was the candle placed upon the table than the old man commenced a close examination of Dolmey's face and person.  Sometimes he "humphed," as if in doubt; then his face would brighten up, and the hat would seem to raise itself on his forehead.  At last he said, after having made a desperate lunge at the contents of the "gill" pot, which must have acted as a polisher to his memory—

    "It isno', is it?"

    "Who?" said Dolmey, smiling.

    "Wheay, Dolly."

    "You don't suppose my name's Dorothy, do you?"

    "Nawe, nawe, nowt o'th' sort.  I meean Dolmey—Dolmey Thruttinteawer, ut used to live o'th' tother side o'th' green yonder, an' ut went off out o'th' country, an' made a men o' hissel."

    "I believe I'm the person you mean," said Dolmey; "and you are Sam o' Ducky's, if I mistake not."

    "Th' same owd porrito," said Sam, rising to a full display of hat, coat, smalls, and even his face.  "Eh, owd lad! how arta?  I'm fain t' see thee,—that I am," he said, extending his hand to receive the other's grasp.

    "I'm quite well, thank you," replied Dolmey.

    "Ay, thou looks so,—thou looks so.  I should hardly ha' known thee if thou hadno' spokken; thou'rt so awtert;" and the old man gave Dolmey's hand a shake that was not the genteelest possible.

    "Am I much changed, do you think?" said Dolmey.

    "Well, thou'rt a bit owder than thou wur th' last time I see'd thee; an' if spiders ha' no' begun o' buildin i' thy yure, same as they han i' mine, thou'rt no' quite as limber as thou wur when thou used to beg cockle-broth for thy supper.  An' ther's another thing, too, ut it doesno' tak long fort' find out, thou'rt noane sich a ragged cowt as thou used to be."

    Had Dolmey been a stranger to the old man's peculiarities, he might have been offended at the latter remark; but knowing there was no offence intended, he passed it off with a smile.

    The landlady had gone to the door for the purpose of closing it; but stayed outside a short time to look about her.  Presently she returned, leaving the door still open, and towards which she gazed, as if fascinated by some object in the immediate distance.  A footstep was heard on the pavement.  The doorway was again darkened—not this time by the stooping figure of "Sam o' Ducky's," but by the erect and handsome form of Geoffrey Winwood.

    The young squire was never regarded as other than a boy when he was a boy, and as a man when he was a man.  Class distinctions, somehow, could not attach themselves to him.  His instincts, capacities, and aspirations were common to the rest of mankind, as represented in the little world of Merriton.  He was a fine-looking fellow, but not the only one in the village.  He would run and wrestle, but had many competitors; and at "book-learning," many a pupil of "Tummy Trotter's" could beat him.  Of pedigree he had nothing to boast that was worth boasting of, for the squiredom of Red Windows Hall had never been celebrated for the brilliancy or exemplariness of its offshoots.

    And yet Geoffrey Winwood had, by some quality or other, so endeared himself to all with whom he came in contact, that there was not an urchin in Merriton who would not have run an errand, or done other menial work, for the pure love of serving him, and not at all because he was the young squire, and entitled to service on that account.  It was not his being over-munificent in his rewards for personal service that encouraged these attentions, because his allowances from the paternal purse were too small to permit of even a limited display of patronage.  But he had ways of thinking and speaking, so charming in their originality, and so recommendatory to minds untrammelled by received notions of political economy, that must have made him a favourite with all democratic societies.  He held ideas of right and wrong that are seldom, if ever, attributed to aristocratic intellect.  He could not see why everybody did not possess large estates like his father; or that the least deference should be paid to a man on account of his superior social position.  What was wealth for but to bless mankind?  Why should money be hoarded when so many pockets were empty?  Why were people hostile and cruel towards each other, when the face of heaven and earth taught such lessons of peace and loving kindness?  These were questions that often suggested themselves to the young man's mind, when he saw how people were being worried, and ground, and despoiled by the old squire and his less merciful agent.  Thrift, if it meant the pushing against and elbowing of men, was a word not to be found in his vocabulary; hence the shorter roads to wealth, if he cared about wealth at all, were closed against him; and probably it was a knowledge of these scruples, and the loose philosophy of which they were the fruit, that led Squire Winwood at his death to consign his property to firmer hands than those of the rightful heir.  But the latter did not lose everything by this unnatural proceeding.

    When a boy, Geoffrey Winwood was the idol of the village green.  He did not play as young squires played in old story-books.  He was thoroughly of boyhood's commonwealth; assumed no airs; nor arrogated to himself privileges that one might suppose to be sanctioned by our social conventionalities.  He was a right down good-hearted, open-handed follow, above any meanness, and, withal, so humble in the display of any particular virtue or qualification with which he might be endowed, that not the slightest shadow of envy ever darkened the countenance of the most intractable of his associates.  There was no one to bully him into fighting; so that his play-life was peace.  He had a way of disarming his antagonists before they could get properly into choler; and boyish resentment is never too sound a sleeper.  On one occasion, however, he narrowly escaped getting into trouble.  He had accidentally splashed a boy's pinafore, and the atmosphere of the playground was getting sultry and threatening in consequence.  But he dispelled the warlike elements at once, by submitting his own person to be splashed in return, after which the sunshine of the green came out as resplendent as ever.

    A youth possessing these instinctive ideas of equity is sure to be beloved by the many.  But there are natures that cling to such with a feeling even more devoted than love.  They worship.  One of these devotees had Geoffrey Winwood.  A poor, half-starved rat of a fellow he was, who would almost have skinned himself to save his friend.  Whenever the young squire "set a back" Dolmey Turtingtower was sure to be first over it; and if the little fellow had come to grief, as he often did—bear witness his scarred nose and forehead—his comrade's handkerchief was more potent to heal the wounds than all the salve the village Esculapius ever compounded.

    Dolmey was the elder of the two, but had a sort of ancient boyish look with him, even when his beard was getting too strong for the scissors, that made him look younger.  This old-fashioned juvenility was attributed to starvation, a remedy against the encroachments of time that would hardly be understood in these days of good eating and drinking—when boys have a shilling for pocket-money where it used to be a penny, and the smell of tobacco is strong in clothes that at one time would have been redolent of mint lozenges and lavender.  Whenever Geoffrey Winwood received the weekly shilling allowed him by a maiden aunt, Dolmey Turtingtower was certain to come in for a good share of it, which he would spend, not as other boys spent it, in fruit or sweetmeats, but in something that would give unction to the meagre slice of dry brown bread that sometimes had to serve him for a dinner.  It was what would then have been termed "hard cheese" with the poor fellow at the best of times; and his gratitude toward the young squire for favours that would now be sneered at by the youngest errand-boy out of livery, mounted to such a feeling that, if Geoffrey had set himself up as a live "Juggernaut," Dolmey would have been first to throw himself under his wheels.

    But a day came when there was a reserve between the two companions.  Geoffrey often wondered at, but could in no way account for Dolmey's shyness; and it often pained him to meet the other, and observe his awkward manner, and his evident desire to avoid him.  This apparent coldness grew upon Dolmey, until at length he became estranged altogether, and his friend sighed to think that there might have been some little inadvertence on his own part that had given offence; but so long as he knew not its character, there could be no explanation offered.  Dolmey seldom showed himself on the green, and when he did chance to make one of a party to "hunt the hare," or play at "knock up," he never went heartily into the sport, or seemed to care about playing at all.  He might sometimes be found strolling in the quiet lanes by himself, or seated upon the eminence where we found him at the commencement of the preceding chapter, and which commanded a front prospect of Red Windows Hall.  But he was never seen near the hall, where his merry laugh used to be heard in the woods, or among the farm offices attached to the estate.  He no longer looked like a very boyish knight receiving the reward of his chivalry at the hands of the "Queen of Beauty," when little Alice gave him an apple or a plum, and smiled with such an angelic expression, that for the moment he felt himself too near heaven ever to be drawn back to earth, or be again associated with mundane things.  For years he was all but solitary, during which he grew up to be a man—pensive, thoughtful, and timid to the very cowering under the least searching glance; and we need not wonder that, taking these circumstances into account, it should get whispered abroad, and the rumour confirmed at the "Jolly Carter," that "Dol Thruttinteawer," as he was mostly called, was "off at a side"—clean gone mad.

    From being rarely seen, our young friend disappeared altogether; and it was a long time supposed that an old coalpit in the neighbourhood contained the secret of his disappearance.  But his mother's face was one morning seen to brighten after the postman had gone his rounds; for that messenger of weal and woe had left her something that, from the little she could make out without the assistance of Tummy Trotter, assured her that her son was still in the land of the living.  Tummy said, when he came to read the letter, that he could have told as much before; and laughed till his wicked old waistcoat was all over a dance of buttons.  But Dolmey was mad, after all, so that the "Jolly Carter" was right, as it always must be—he was mad—mad with the hopeless, never-to-be extinguished love of Alice Winwood.  And now we are brought to that link in the narrative dropped at the commencement of this chapter.


――――――――――――


CHAPTER IV.


"GOOD evening!" said Geoffrey Winwood, taking off his hat, and looking alternately at the landlady and Sam o' Ducky's.  He had not yet noticed Dolmey Turtingtower.

    No one made any observation in response.  They were so taken with Geoffrey's sudden and unexpected appearance, that they could do nothing but stare in return.

    The young squire seated himself, still retaining his hat in his hand, and looked dejectedly at the floor.

    "You've heard what has happened, I suppose?" he observed, addressing no one in particular.

    "Ay, we han," said Dame Charlesworth, shaking her head, and disengaging a white cloud of dust from her flour-besmeared arms.  "Bad news doesno' goo on crutches, an' nob'dy stops it on th' road.  Sam, here, towd us yo'r feyther wur deead.  I reckon yo'r sister tales it hardly?"

    "She does, poor girl!—almost broken-hearted," said Geoffrey, afraid of saying more, lest his emotion should prove too demonstrative.

    "Well, it's what we'st o ha' to come to sometime," observed the dame reflectively; "an' I dunno' see ut ther's so mich good i' this wo'ld ut we needn fret o'er leeavin it."

    "I'd as lief live my time out, too, owd crayther," said Sam o' Ducky's, with a grunt, expressive of a great amount of satisfaction with things as they were.

    "I daresay you can guess what my errand is, Mrs. Charlesworth," said Geoffrey to the landlady.

    "Nay, no' beaut it's a layin away," was the reply, given not without a thought that she had hit the mark.

    "You have guessed already," said Geoffrey.  "You attended upon my dead grandfather, and it is my wish—I may say ours—that you should lay out my father."

    "I'm gettin welly too owd for a job o' that sort; but as long as folk are satisfied wi' me, I'm willin to be at their sarvice," said the dame, surveying herself as if she thought a little more tidiness in dress would be essential to her propitiation in the good opinion of the squire's friends.

    "You consent to go, then?"

    "Ay, if yo'n wait till I've getten shut o' this batch o' bread, an' put on summat dacent, I'll go with yo'.  Our Matty can mind th' house, I dar say, for we shanno be so thrung while th' weather's so fine.  Ther's a gentleman at th' back on yo' theere, ut I dar say yo' known; so I'll leeave yo' to lait up owd acquaintance a bit while I get ready."  The old girl looked important as she said this, and raising her hand towards her shoulder, as if the movement was intended to point out Dolmey Turtingtower, she turned round, and waddled out of the room, taking along with her as many loaves as she could conveniently carry in her arms.

    Geoffrey rose from his chair, and, looking towards the person indicated by the hostess, and who was sitting in the shadow of the "speer," uttered an exclamation of surprise at the sudden recognition, in the stranger, of an old friend.

    "Dolmey Turtingtower—if I'm not mistaken!"

    "It is, Geoffrey Winwood," replied Dolmey, rising and extending his hand, which the other warmly grasped.

    "At another time I might have said how glad I was to see you," said Geoffrey, still holding his friend's hand; "but this trouble, my father's death, and my—but we'll talk of that when it will be more in season.  Are you well?"

    "Never in better health," replied Dolmey.  "I hope you are the same; though I fancy I've seen you looking better."

    "Oh, Dolmey! you know not what I've suffered since I saw you last; and I cannot tell you here.  Some other time."  And Geoffrey turned his face from the light, and allowed a sigh to escape him.  "After all, Dolmey, I must own I am glad to see you.  It is a relief in my troubles to meet with an old companion; and I think I may claim you as one, though you will pardon me when I say that I never could account for your leaving Merriton, and the coldness you showed me before you left.  I have had more uneasiness about that than you may suppose.  But I have no doubt you had a motive."

    "I had certainly a motive for leaving," replied Dolmey, looking considerably embarrassed, "and a cause for seeming distant towards you.  But if it can be any satisfaction to you, my dear friend, believe me—you were not that cause."

    "I do not understand you."

    "You will when the time comes that I can explain all, and if there then be any unworthiness apparent, it will prove to be on my part.  Let that suffice you for the present."

    "Yon turmits i'th' Hawve Acre looken very weel, Geff," grunted Sam o' Ducky's, as if wishful to join in, or give a turn to the conversation.

    "I could not think what I had done to you, Dolmey," said Geoffrey, without bestowing the slightest attention to the remark with which the old weaver had sought to interlard the discourse; "and when I named it to my sister"―

    "Ay, well, well—but I've seen th' time yo'r teeth would ha' itched at th' seet of a good white turmit," put in the old fellow, as if with a pertinacious desire to introduce his observations edgeways.

    "Be quiet, Sam," said Dolmey, giving an impatient glance at the interrupting party.  Then—"You were speaking of your sister," he said, turning to Geoffrey.

    "Well, when I named the matter to Alice," the young squire resumed, "she said she was afraid she had given you offence by once making a thoughtless allusion to your poverty."

    Dolmey Turtingtower blushed a deep scarlet.

    "But she assured me," continued Geoffrey, "that the remark was not intended to wound you, and would have apologised, but she never saw you from that time.  You remember the verses you once wrote to her?  Of course you meant nothing by it."

    "She surely did not think them worth preserving."

    "But she did.  She set them to music—an old tune that my mother used to sing.  I've heard her hum them over many a time.  But, of course, as I said, the sentiment went for nothing."

    "To be sure.  A boyish tribute only to what he regards as perfection," said Dolmey, with a nervous utterance.  "Does she know that I am still living?"

    "She does.  Some weeks since she saw your name in the newspaper; and remarked that it was strange to see esquire at the end of it."

    "Did she make any other remark?"

    "Well, she did just say you must have got on in the world."

    "It would be too much to ask if she seemed glad of it."

    "Well, it is more than I can say.  If she felt glad, she had a strange way of showing it; for either that or something else made her quite melancholy.  I think that love affair upset her."

    "I never heard of it," said Dolmey, starting, and almost choking with emotion.

    "Ah, you have been away so long, you see.  You can't wonder at not hearing of our little bits of affairs down here.  You know my cousin, Dick Holmroyd?" said Geoffrey.

    "Yes; but it couldn't be he."

    "I didn't say it was; but it was he who caused all the bother.  He stepped between them, you see—put in his own claims, and"――

    "Who was the other?"

    "We never knew—never could get to know.  It was a mystery to everybody.  I have sometimes suspected that it must have been no real person, but the hero of some romance she had read when at school.  At all events, we hear nothing of him now.  She must have forgotten him."

    "Hoo wouldno' ha' forgotten him if he'd gone th' reet road about it," commented the weaver, supplementing his remarks with a chuckle.  "When I framed up to our Sal at th' fust, hoo drew her nails down th' side o' my face, like harrowin a curn fielt; so I up wi' my fist an' gan her a bat between th' e'en, an' towd her I should leeave her nowt owin o' that sort.  Hoo whimpert and cried at this like a hauve-weeant babby.  But when I geet my arm round her an' towd her we'd seen one another th' wust side out, an' should booath mend as we geet better, hoo gan me a smack of a buss yo' met ha' yerd across a fielt."

    "Eh, how thour't lyin!" exclaimed the landlady, who had just made her reappearance, "donned up," as she said, and ready to accompany the young squire.

    Sam chuckled with such an evident determination to choke himself, that Dolmey Turtingtower was within an ace of slapping him on the back to give him relief.  But he persisted in advising all love affairs to be conducted on the principle he had just laid down.

    "Are you ready?" said Geoffrey Winwood to the landlady, at the same time rising and putting on his hat.

    "I shall be as soon as our Matty has gotten th' lantern ready.  I couldno' find th' road back again so weel beaut a leet."  And the dame proceeded to pin up her dress, to prevent its being "dagged," as she expressed herself, in the dew.

    "You've not been long," said Geoffrey.

    "Eh, dear, lad! folk han to be wakken now-a-days, or else they're be laft beheend.  I tell our Matty, sometimes, ut if hoo stonds so long starin i'th' looking-glass when hoo's donnin hersel, hoo'll find hoo's gettin int' an owd maid afore hoo knows gradely where hoo is."  And the dame laughed, as if she had forgotten the errand she was going upon.

    "I am sorry to leave you, Dolmey, so soon after our meeting," said Geoffrey, holding out his hand.  "But you must know I cannot stay any longer."

    "Make no apology, Geoffrey," said the other; "I shall be going myself shortly.  The night's getting on, and I've a long walk before me."

    "Does your way lead past our place?"

    "I could go that way if you"—

    "I should be glad of your company, if it would not be too much to ask.  I've not told you all I could wish.  You might cross by the corner of the orchard.  There's no one to prevent you.  What do you say?"

    "Thank you.  I'm ready when you are."  And Dolmey rose to rejoin his friend.

    "Didt' ever know sick dry weather as this, Tabby?" said Sam o' Ducky's to the landlady, at the same time looking down into the empty pot at his elbow.

    "It's very dry, sartinly," Tabby replied, but without seeming to take the hint the old man had thrown out.

    "Hum! an' it's as dusty as th' Desert o' Jerusalum, if t' knows wheere that is."

    Tabby had heard of deserts, but thought there were none near Jerusalem.

    "Blows clouds o' sond up theere, ut makes a chap's een favvor two stone marbles afore he con wink."

    "Really!"

    "Ay; an if he doesno' shut his mouth, it make him int' an egg-timer straight forrad."

    "Well, I never!"

    "Just so; an' if he's sweeatin at th' time, he gets so peppered o'er, ut, if th' Indians catchers him, they strippen his skin, an' makken sond-papper on't for t' polish theer bows and arrows, an' sharpen their teeth wi'."

    "Thou never says! "

    "How wouldt' like to be theere, owd crayther, an' no alehouse about?"

    "I shouldno', Sam."

    "Nawe; nor thou wouldno' like to see me made int' an egg-timer, wouldta?"

    "Not I, marry!"

    "Nor sond-papper, noather."

    "Eh, dear me! nawe."

    "Well, I'm feeart I'st be oather one or th' tother, if I ha' not another potful."  And Sam gasped, and blowed, and sputtered, as if his mouth was already filling with desert sand.

    "An' has thou gone o round by Jerusalum for th' sake of a pot'l o' drink?" said the landlady.

    "Ay, an' quite far enoogh, too," was the reply.

    "Well, thou'st have a gill, then, chus how 'tis."

    "Let him have a quart," said Dolmey Turtingtower, putting down payment for the quantity ordered.

    "Eh, Dolly, owd lad!" said Sam, looking as thirsty as a lime-kiln—"thou'lt ha' me dreawnt."

    "Nay, thou'll noane be dreawnt wi' ale, beaut thou tumbles in a cooler," observed Dame Charlesworth, in a fit of antiquated facetiousness.

    "I should ha' to tumble in a bigger nor thine, if I did then," was Sam's rejoinder.

    "Had thou ever i' thy life a pint too mich?"

    "Ay, when I've bin at a club dinner."

    "However could that happen?"

    "I've had nowheere to put it, beaut I'd temd it int my clogs, I've been so full o' summat else."

    "An' when thou'rt witchert* wi' summat ut should ha' gone down thy throat, it'll be when thou's mistakken thy clogs for thy mouth, an' that's no' likely to happen for a bakin-day or two."

    "True, O king!  Second chapter i'th' third book o' Isseral, five hundert an' fifty-first verse, short metre.  I've bin made to stond o' my yead while I've read that, an' counted forty beside, for playin th' truint i' haytime, when I went to Little Napper Skoo i' Hazelwo'th."

    Sam's quart and the lantern were brought in at the same time.  The latter was to be lighted, although it was scarcely dark: and the old weaver set about drinking the former in a manner so systematic that one might have safely calculated that the last drop would be descending his throat as the hour of eleven was being struck, provided there were no sign of the jug being refilled.

    "May yo' have a cow-gate to heaven!" he exclaimed, putting the vessel to his lips, and setting the mahogany carving about his neck in motion, as if the whole had been put together in sections, like the "Florentine Venus."

    "Amen!" someone responded.  And the little party prepared to set out upon their journey.

    "We shall have no occasion for the light, going, Mrs. Charlesworth," said Geoffrey Winwood, as the landlady proceeded to ignite the candle in the lantern.  "It won't be dark for an hour or so."

    "But we'd better ha' too much leet than noane at o," replied the dame, with a cautious shake of the head.  "Th' mists may rise, an' th' neet thicken before we getten far; an' o' what use are an' owd woman's e'en then, beaut hoo's a leet fort' guide her?"

    The candle was lighted, and the shadows that the lantern threw upon the walls might have been the forerunners of deeper shadows that lay across the path of Geoffrey Winwood.

* Witchert (wet-shod), a local term for being wet on the feet.


――――――――――――


CHAPTER V.


THE party, after leaving the "Jolly Carter," struck into the road that had so recently been traversed alone by Dolmey Turtingtower.

    It was that most hallowed time when the day yields up its sceptre to the queen of night.  There was a soft grey glimmer in the western sky, pierced at one point by the sharp outline of Red Windows Hall, and the rooks in the clump of wood by the wayside had "cawed" the last story of their day's adventure, "Eve's one star" had mounted its watch-tower, and the haze of retreating twilight was dimly revealing the outposts of heaven's cherubic hosts as they threw themselves over the azure field.  No sigh of the departing hour shook the most sensitive leaf on the sky-pointing poplars, and the spirit of Sound seemed to have sought its airy chamber, and laid itself down to sleep.  Everything around, with the silent tongue of night's priesthood, preached sleep; from the vaulted roof of nature's grand cathedral, to the lowly, trembling mist, which rose like a timid spirit to woo tranquillity—ay, to that dark chamber where Death had stamped his lesson of mortality on the blanched and shrivelled corpse that lay therein—the still, solemn voice of Time whispered—sleep, sleep, evermore!  Oh, that the shriek of distress should ever have disturbed such tranquil slumber!

    "How beautiful, and how quiet!" exclaimed Dolmey Turtingtower, looking around on the dim landscape.

    Geoffrey Winwood was silent, and the lantern-bearer was too busy minding her steps to notice anything that was said by her two attendants; for now and then a frog would startle her, as it took a curved leap in the dancing light, and she would give a faint scream at the sight of such an ugly apparition.

    Dolmey turned to his friend.  If tears were not streaming down the latter's face, the faint light, which was rapidly becoming fainter, must have been deceitful.

    "Come, my dear friend," said Dolmey, in a tone of voice that was meant to afford consolation, "bear up.  Your father could not have lived long, if he had been allowed the allotted time of life."

    "If I could feel sure that he had died happily there would be some comfort left for me.  But I cannot," Geoffrey said, putting his handkerchief to his eyes.  "Do not think that because he has disinherited me"—

    "What, disinherited you!" Dolmey exclaimed, pausing in his step, and looking earnestly at his friend.

    "I had forgot I had not told you that; but all the property is willed to my cousin, Dick Holmroyd.  But I don't care so much as you may suppose—not for the loss of it, as for the loss of my father, and the breaking up of a home which, if it has not been one of the happiest, was always dear to me."

    Dolmey Turtingtower had fallen into a thoughtful mood, and the two paced on in silence.  Dame Charlesworth by this time had come up with them, and the rays of the lantern were making long shadows of their stalking figures.

    Suddenly Dolmey stopped, and put himself in a listening attitude.

    "What was that?" he exclaimed, laying his hand upon his companion's shoulder.

    "I heard nothing," Geoffrey replied and he, too, paused to listen.

    "Eh, bless yo'! it's nobbut me," said the old woman, who had just given one of her faint screams, which the sight of a peregrinating frog occasionally drew forth.

    "I thought I heard a cry of some kind coming from a distance," said Dolmey.  "I might have been mistaken."

    "Perhaps a hare caught in a poacher's gin," Geoffrey suggested.

    "Perhaps."  And they again strode on.

    "You were speaking of your disinheritance," said Dolmey, taking up the thread of the discourse where it had been so suddenly dropped.

    "Yes; but I was not complaining," replied Geoffrey.  "I shall now have an opportunity of being, what I have often wished it had been my lot to be, self-dependent."

    "You will have an opportunity—with a vengeance!" said Dolmey, in a tone expressive of deep commiseration.

    "Well, I know it is late for me to make a start; but when I reflect what an idle fellow I've been all my life, it makes me sad to find I have been so useless.  If I could by hard struggling obtain a little above bare living, I should be satisfied; and surely I may hope for that."

    Geoffrey said this with an earnest belief that the rougher roads of life were not so hard to travel but that tender feet might tread them.

    "Poor fellow!" sighed Dolmey, "you are a child even yet.  You little know the world you are going into."

    "True, I don't know much of it, but if it was not for my sister I would know more."

    "Of course she is provided for?"

    "No!"

    "What?"

    "She is not."

    They had now reached the corner of the orchard, whence the sound of retreating wheels could be distinctly heard; but as Geoffrey said they might belong to the doctor's carriage, only a momentary alarm was created by the circumstance.

    "Do you mean to say your sister is left unprovided for said Dolmey, when the sound of the wheels had died away.

    "Almost," was the sorrowful reply.

    "What! nothing left her?"

    "Nothing worth naming.  That is my greatest trouble.  She is such a gentle, loving spirit," said Geoffrey, tears breaking forth afresh.  "If I could only conjure up a father for her, it would take a great load off my heart."

    "Thank God!" Dolmey exclaimed, raising his hands and face to the sky.

    "How—why—what do you mean?" demanded Geoffrey, confounded by the other's manner.

    "Thank God!" Dolmey repeated, as earnestly as before.  "Something tells me your sister will find a father; and the voice of that oracle never yet deceived me.  Good night, my dear friend!  Good night, Mrs. Charlesworth!  When the funeral is over I will see you again.  Good night!"  With that he took a hurried shake of Geoffrey's hand, and disappeared in the copse.

    "He met ha' shaked honds wi' me," said the landlady; breathless from her extraordinary pedestrian efforts.  "If I'd bin a young woman, I dar'say he would ha' done, an' happen bin a bit impident.  Well, well, he'll be owd hissel some day, if he lives long enoogh."

    Tabby held out her lantern to the young squire, who was fastened to the spot where he stood by other chains than those which the surrounding darkness had furnished.

    "Thanking God for our misfortunes!" Geoffrey muttered as he turned away.  "A friend, too!  It is inexplicable!  And how suddenly he vanished!  There is something so strange about this, that I must see further into it before I can rest.  Is he really mad, as was supposed?  It would almost seem so.  Never mind the dog, Mrs. Charlesworth.  He won't harm you so long as I'm with you.  It's only the light that scares him.  Down, Baron!  Down, old fellow!"

    This was said as the party approached the back entrance to the Hall, which was guarded by a stout mastiff, that leaped up, and whined to its master, as if it, too, was in trouble.


――――――――――――


CHAPTER VI.


THE old clock at the "Jolly Carter" had, with much groaning and wheezing and stammering, growled out the hour of ten, and still Sam o' Ducky's sat alone in the chimney-corner.  No man in the world could have been such company as Sam was to himself.  Set before him a "pot'l" of his favourite beverage; make him a fire up in the chimney, even if it be midsummer, and the sun-heat blistering; give him to understand that he may entertain himself as he likes, and who so merry as he?  Let the candle blink and sputter; let Matty Charlesworth go to sleep over her needle; let the world outside go mad with care; but so long as Sam o' Ducky's can polish his mahagony by applications from the "Jolly Carter's" pint pot, there will be a bright place, a lively company, and a happy soul somewhere.  Sam could talk for himself, and at one time could dance for himself; but as his "yard-wide" days were over, and his capering machinery anything but limber, he had now to confine himself to the other two sources of amusement.

    "Come, good health, Sam!" he would say to himself, raising the quart jug and hiding one half of his face in the interior, by which process the handle and spout would be brought to within an inch of his ears.

    "Do, owd crayther!" he would respond; and his hat, which by some mysterious agency always raised itself as the jug approached his lips, would fall to its accustomed resting-place on his nose.

    "Thou could do wi' another quart, couldtno', Sam?"

    "Ay, I could, owd brid!"

    "Well, knock, then."

    "That I will, lad."

    He would then give a series of the faintest possible raps upon the table; but as no one attended to such a summons, he would console himself by the remark, "I con aulus do beaut that I conno' get howd on."

    Our old friend, on this occasion, had, by a protracted process of self-flattery, got into such good humour with himself, that there was nothing in this world he would not have done to oblige that person.  Let him ask for a song, he would sing it—a tale, he would tell it, only just wait until he had "wet his whistle" another time.

    "What mun it be? a sunk?" (song) he would say.

    "Ay, let's have a sunk," he would reply.

    "Hem!—hem!—hem!—Rowdy, dowdy, dow."

    "Brast off!  Thou's a pipe like a nightingell yet, owd crayther!"

    "Well, what mun I sing?"

    "Let's ha' that sunk thou used to sing at th' haymakkin suppers,—'Fotchin th' keaws up.'"

    "Ay, I've sung that for owd Tabby mony a time till hoo's uncorked an extry bottle.  Let's try what it'll do now," and without further self-coaxing, and as if the room bad been full of company, instead of his being the solitary listener to his own music, Sam o' Ducky's sang—

 
FOTCHIN TH' KEAWS UP.


              One summer e'enin
              When the screenin
Cleauds drew o'er the settin sun.
              Madge went trippin
              Eaut o'th' shipp'n, —
Fotchin th' keaws, as oft hood done.
              In th' owd lane
              Hoo met a swain,
Pluckin blossoms from the spray.
              "Madge," said he,—
              "It's strange to see
Thee fotchin th' keaws so late i'th' day."

              Madge said nowt,
              Yet truly thowt
Ther summat wicked in his e'e,
              But when her waist
              He tightly pressed
Heaw could hoo longer silent be?
              Hoo said—"Jim Dawson,
              Eh, theau fause un,
What dost' think my mam'll say,
              If hoo sees thee
              Offer t' squeeze me—
Fotchin th' keaws up late i'th' day?

              "Let me goo, Jim;
              Neaw, then, do, Jim—
Aw've no time for stoppin here."
              But the youth,
              To tell the truth,
Wi' cobweb could ha' held her theere;
              Then the gate
              Was not too strait
For two to pass, an' goo ther way;
              But who could pass
              A bonny lass,
When fotchin th' keaws up late i'th' day?

              "Madge," said Jim—
              Whilst hoo to him
As closely clung as he to her—
              "It's strange if time,
              I'th' summer's prime,
An heaur to lovers conno' spare.
              If th' owd sun's gone,
              Ther's th' young moon yon,
Stringin silver beads on th' hay;
              An' thoose bits o'
              Leet that flit so,
Are keaws hoo's fotchin late i'th' day.

              "Two cleauds, meetin,
              Neaw are greetin;
See 'em kissin as they pass!"
              Madge, not thinkin
              Ill, said, shrinkin,
"Which is th' lad, an' which is th' lass?"
              "That," said Jim.
              "Ut's greet and slim,
Must be the lass, neaw on her way,
              Spreadin charms
              O'er heaven's farms,
Whilst fotchin th' keaws up late i'th' day."

              ' T' had been a wonder,
              An' a blunder,
Had the skies their lessons lost;
              If two cleauds, meetin,
              Did o th' greetin,
Why did Jim the maid accost?
              But oh! the kisses,
              And the blisses,
That took Madge's heart away!
              Neaw hoo's fain
              Hoo met a swain
When fotchin th' keaws up late i'th' day.


    Sam was about to repeat the last stanza, in response to a flattering encore given by himself, when the landlady hurried down the fold, and burst upon the singer in a most abrupt and unaccountable manner.

    "What's up now, Tabby?" said the latter, somewhat scared at the other's appearance.  "Hast blundered upo' th' neetmare i' thy travels, or what?"

    "Eh, Sam!" was all the old woman could yet utter by way of reply.

    "It is behanged as like!" said Sam, with mock surprise expressed in voice and manner.  "Thou never says, surely?"

    "Eh, Sam!" the dame repeated, "that ever I should ha' lived to see this day!"

    "Wheay, it's bin a nice un; raytherish dry if it mattered owt."

    "But what dun yo' think, Sam?" said the landlady, placing the lantern upon the table and dropping herself on the nearest chair.

    "Ay, thou says summat now.  I mit ha' gone whoam, thou sees, an' never known nowt about it, if thou hadno' towd me straight forrad."  And Sam chuckled in his quiet manner, and retired behind the shadow of his hat brim.

    "I've towd yo' nowt yet, yo' seely owd foo'," said the landlady, snappishly.  "I axt yo' what yo' thowt.  Did not I?"

    "Ay, ay—an' a good thing, too, noather.  What does it matter what I think?  Just empty thy crop, if ther's owt in it, an' let's yer what uncos there is stirrin."

    "Well, for one thing, Alice Winwood's lost."

    "What has hoo lost."

    "I say hoo is lost.  Hoo went down th' stairs after her feyther dee'd, an' nowt's bin seen or yerd on her sin', tho' they'n sowt her everywhere, hee an' low."

    "Hoo hadno' wings, had hoo?"

    "Han' yo' wings, yo' owd ferret?"

    "Nawe, if I had I'd goo an' polish th' moon up a bit, an' put her a new pair o' spectacles on again th' next wakes-time.  But I meean to say ut if Alice Winwood hadno' wings, an' flown away, hoo mun be somewheere or somewheere else.  That's as plain as thirteen let-downs makken one swig, three swigs one bally-droight, fifteen bally-droights one fuddle; or else Little Nopper towt me wrong 'rithmetic, an' I paid him a penny a neet, an' fund my own candles.  Goo on wi' thy news, owd crayther."

    "Well, I say, Alice Winwood's lost."

    "Ay, so thou's towd me afore."

    "Ay, they'n sowt for her hee an' low."

    "Th' second time o' axin.  If anybody's owt to say why these two leatheryeads should spoil another couple, let 'em say it now, or for ever after howl their peeace, an' keep their mouths shut till they conno' oppen 'em!  Weddin axins.  Goo on, Tabby."

    "Geoffrey's welly crackt about it, poor lad!

    "That belongs to th' breed.  His feyther never wur so sound about th' nut-shell."

    "An' his cousin Richart's rennin about th' place like summat ut wur off at a side."

    "Ay, is Dicky a bit gan that way?  But I reckon he's moore put about wi' his uncle deein nor owt else.  He'll ha' played his gam' up, I should think."

    "Well, yo' thinken wrong, for th' owd squire has laft him o ut he had."

    The old weaver's hat rose upon his forehead; and the jug, which he was in the act of raising to his lips, was put down untasted.

    "What," he said, "has th' owd sinner sent his soul to wheere ther's no frosty weather by sich an unnatural doment as that?"

    "Yo'n find it's true what I've towd yo'.  Geoffrey knew when he coome here."

    "Well, may his owd stockins"—Sam checked himself at this point of what would appear to be the introduction to a savage imprecation, and became thoughtful.  The hat, which by this time had returned to its accustomed resting-place, again rose; and the countenance of the old weaver emitted a gleam of mental sunshine.

    "I'll tell thee what, Tabby," he said, becoming all at once unusually sedate in his manner, "it ud be an awkwardish sort of a thing, if it should turn out ut th' owd squire had nowt to leeave ut wur his own; would nor it?"

    "Ay, it would.  But how could that be?" said Tabby, who had as much faith in the stability of the Winwoods as in the solvency of the Bank of England.

    "Look thee here," said Sam, leaning over, and making a hook of his forefinger, "thou knew owd Tummy Trotter?"

    "Sartingly."

    "Well, thou'll never know him again; that's as sartin.  But if he could rise up out o' yon bit o'th' sod-hole i'th' churchyard, an' come an' have an' odd gill or two here, we should happen get summat out on him ut he hasno' towd everybody; speshly if he'd yerd how th' squire had misbehaved hissel."

    "Why, dun yo' know summat?" asked the dame, with a very inquiring and eager glance.

    "Does thou know what Little Nopper used to tell us at th' skoo?"

    "Not I, marry!"

    "Well, but he used to say, ut if a mon ud keep his mouth shut, an' his ears oppen, nob'dy ud be th' wiser for owt he had to say.  Dost understood?"

    "Ay; if yo' meean to say if yo' known owt yo' winno' tell.  Is no' that it?"

    "That's just th' length an' bradth on't to th' mickleth of a yure.  Thou couldno' ha' come nar it if thou'd shaved it wi' a two-edged razzor.  An' now, then, as th' owd grunter i'th nook says it's bedtime, I'll be creepin toart yon cote o' mine.  It's very lonely, too," he said with a sigh.  "Sometimes I think I see owd Tummy Trotter creepin about th' pleck, wi' a rowl o' summat in his hont ut looks like thin bacon wi' writin on it.  But thou doesno' believe i' boggarts, I reckon?"

    "Eh, yigh I do."

    "Well, I shouldno' wonder if ther's one seen up at th' Ho afore long, an' ut winno' be laid wi' noather charms nor speeals, nor no sort o' bibbery-bobbery.  Good neet, owd wench.  Never pray for thysel beaut prayin for other folk; so ut when thou goes up th' long cow-lone to th' better place, thou may have a chance o' gettin an odd gill wi' someb'dy thou's helped on th' road."

    Sam o' Ducky's had risen from his seat; and having assured himself that he had left nothing in the jug for fairies and elves to dip their thirsty lips into, grasped firmly his stick, and took a reluctant leave of the "Jolly Carter" and its amiable hostess.

    Night had now fairly hung its sable drapery; and the dim shadow of Red Windows Hall in the distance presented to the old weaver the appearance of a huge bier over which the pall of a darker darkness was descending.  He paused for a moment to contemplate the silent and dim world around him, in which the stately mansion and its dusky woods were objects of absorbing but melancholy interest.  He shook his head as he turned away, and, conjuring up in his fancy a vision which the scene had suggested, walked on—with the ghosts of "Tummy Trotter" and Roger Winwood stalking by his side.


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