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CONTENTS

LOVE IN WAR'S CLOTHING

THE MANTRAP

THE LEGEND OF “TUMBLEDOWN” HALL

A NOBLE POACHER

THE SERGEANT’S RIVAL

THE ROMAN OF PEBBLE BANK

A LEGAL ADVENTURE

THE MYSTERY OF RUTH BECKETT

THE MAGISTRATE

NUT-CRACKING

THE WEDDING OF DOROTHY DILWORTH


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LOVE IN WAR’S CLOTHING


A good dinner at a cheery old inn in the ancient village of Ribchester sent me well pleased upon my way, I was exploring the charming valley through which the Ribble winds and wanders.  I had done my best to become familiar with the people who lived upon the banks of this beautiful stream.  I ate of their daily food and drank of their strong beer.  I also exchanged news of the whirling world from which I had come for the tales and legends that were on their ready tongues.

“How do, theer?  Yo’re fast now!”

This was true.  I had come to the mouth of a rivulet which fed the broader stream.  I could neither jump the swift waters of this rivulet nor ford them.  As I looked up the stream, wondering how far I must go to find a set of stepping-stones or a plank bridge, the above words reached my ear.  I looked across the stream, and found that the speaker was a man, apparently a native of the place.  His shoulders were saddled with a yoke like a small beam.  From this depended two large cans, and it was evident that he was coming for water to the rivulet.

“Yes, I am fast.  How can I get across?”

“I’ll show yo.  Bide yo’r time.”

The speaker slowly laid down his cans; then he motioned me to go a few yards up stream.  Then he pulled a large plank out of a clump of grass, where it had been hidden.  With the strength of a Hercules, he threw the plank across the water, and steadied it with his foot while I walked across.  While the man was filling his cans with water I improved the occasion by asking what the water-wheel, a little way up the rivulet, was for and whose house was that on the other side of the Ribble.

“Thad’s Mester Wingle’s heawse, sir.  Isn’d id a fine place?”

I admitted that it was a line home for a country gentleman.

“An’ thad wheel used to torn a circular saw an’ a lathe, an’ thad sooart o’ craft, i’ owd John Roper’s time.”

“Was old Roper a joiner, then?”

“A wheelwreet — a wheelwreet.  He thowt he were th’ best mon i’ these parts.  Bud they soon cleared his owd shop away when they’d getten ’im undergreawnd.”

“Was he an eccentric man, this John Roper?” I asked.

“Well, he were wod yo’d co a harbitrary sooart ov a chap.  Nubbudy never knowed nowt bud him.  He were olez reet.”

I thought the late John Roper and my informant could not have been very good friends.  The rustic water-carrier was well acquainted with the faults of the late Mr. Roper; and he delayed upon his way to tell me an incident in which the distinguished wheelwright had been clearly worsted.

The elder John had a son, whose name was also John, but whom all the neighbours called Jack.  The parents themselves did not care for this familiar style of addressing their son and heir, and took every opportunity of showing their disapproval of it.

One morning a stranger walked into the wheelwright’s shed and asked if the father of Jack Roper was in.

“No,” said the wheelwright, turning and confronting the strange gentleman.  “I have a son, but his name is John Roper.  The register at the Parish Church at Ribchester yon will prove that!”

The stranger took in the whole situation at a glance.  He just allowed Mr. Roper to see a large piece of silver before he slipped it back into his pocket.

“Ah!” he said, “it was Jack Roper who opened a gate for me when I was following the hounds yesterday.  He told me his name was Jack Roper from the Wheelwright’s.  I must have got to the wrong place.  Good morning.”

John nearly choked with vexation.  But before he could attempt to explain, the gentleman had left the shop.

When Jack grew up, however, he was not so much his father’s pride.  The parent looked upon him as upon a prodigal.  Both father and son wanted to be “top sawyer”; and many a bitter quarrel marked the period at which Jack began to forget that his father was an absolute monarch in his own house.

Jack could whistle.  Unfortunately he had learned to whistle some very slow tunes; and, worse still, he kept time to them with his plane or his saw.  The father would bear the dallying for some time, every now and then darting a glance, from his bench under the window, at his errant son in the opposite corner.

“Dang thud whistle! Id moks mi heyd watch,” said the old man, when he could stand it no longer.

“Why, yo used to whistle yorsel’ up to lately.”

“Aye, bud aw never whistled them snail-creepin’ tunes.  Aw like a good lively air, as’ll help tha through thi wark, an‘ nod send tha to sleep o’er id.”

“Aw dorn’d wark accordin’ to th’ music.  Aw wark accordin’ to th’ pay,” said Jack, as he carefully glanced along the edge of his saw, and resumed his whistling in a lower key.

“Pay be danged!  Thi teeth‘ll olez run through moor then thi honds will.  Theaw owt to be ashamed o' bein’ a burden on thi poor owd feyther — a strong young chap like thee.”

“Well, aw‘ll nod be i’ yer rooad no lunger.  Gi’e me a sovereign, an ’aw’ll be off to-neet, an’ find wark for misel.  Then aw shall be no mooar eawt o’ yor pockut.”

“Aye, an hev o’ th’ country sayin’ as aw’ve torned tha eawt!  Id‘d set every lazy tung i’ th’ parish waggin’.”

Jack knew that he earned more than twice as much as he received.  The run of his teeth, a few necessary clothes and a little ill-grudged spending-money, represented the wages of constant toil, and on the whole he was a very good son, and gave way to his father’s whims, excepting when they were carried into eccentricity.

These little tiffs soon arose, and were soon forgotten.  Jack worked away willingly at his father’s bench until he had attained his legal majority.  About that time, however, circumstance arose which caused more disturbance in the wheelwright’s household than anything which had preceded it.

John Roper, senior, came home one night with a flush of anger on his brow.  It was noticed that he muttered to himself in accents of wrath as he walked along.  John had heard from an authentic source that his son had actually commenced courting.  This would have been all very well if the girl in question had been heiress-apparent to a good sum of ready money, or even to one of those “weel plenished farms” which Burns considered so attractive in matters of this kind.

The girl had all in her favour but one thing. She was poor. This one crime blotted out all the good qualities she possessed, at least in the elder John Roper’s eyes.
She poor; her father was poor; and she had been brought up in an atmosphere notorious for its hopeless poverty.

Ruth Marsden's father was a handloom weaver. He, however, brought no subtle hand to his craft. He preferred out-of-door employment when he could get it, and
only took up the shuttle when the scythe and hoe were out of season.

The wheelwright had been home a little time when his son appeared upon the threshold.

“Aw’d like to know iv aw’ve to stert waitin’ up on tha every neet like this?” was the fatherly salutation.

“This is th’ fost time as no’ve done id," answered Jack.

“And id’s once too oft to my thinkin’.”

“Well, yo could ha’ gone to bed.  There’s nowt for yo to stop up for.  Aw con god in varra weel misel, iv yo'll leove th’ door unbowted.”

“Aye, aw darsay. An’ hev th’ heawse full o’ thieves afoor aw‘d getten upstairs.  Nowe, nowe!  Iv theaw conned pied hooam bi nine o’clock theaw mon stop eawt.”

“Nine o’clock’s too soon.  Ten o’clock’s soon enough for onybody to be i’ bed.”

“Aye, when they’n getten agate o’ wastin’ their time on wimmin.  Aw’ve heeard as theaw spends a deol o’ thine wi' thad greyt thriftless lass to’ Sam Mairsden’s.  Bud let mo toll tha as aw’ll hev no moor on’t; sooa tha con stop it.”

“Aw think aw should hev a word i’ thad,” said Jack, blushing.  He had never suspected that his father was acquainted with his love affairs.

“Nod iv tha stops here.  Aw’m nooan beawn to toyl an’ slave to keep a ne’er-do-weel rook as is just fastenin’ theirsels onto thee for th’ little bit as they thinkin’ there’ll be when aw gooa.  But aw’ll tell tha, once for o, as there is nowt —”

“Yo’ve towd mo thad mony a time.  An’ iv there is owt, aw dorn’d want id.  Aw dorn’d want nowt, nau’but wod aw work for.”

“Well. bud tha should do.  Iv tha wants to suit thi owd feyther, as hes browt tha up o’ these years, theaw’ll buckle to some lass as hes a bit o’ brass ov her own; i’ stead o’ pikin’ one eawt o’ th’ poorest family as there is i’ Ribchester.”

“Aw think as yo an‘ me ‘ll never agree on thad poynt.  Sooa we’d better drop talkin’ abeawt id!” said Jack, emphatically.

“We’ll stop at this,” said the father, striking his hand upon the table — “We‘ll stop at this, as iv ever theaw gooas near Ruth Marsden ageon, or hes owvt to do wi’ her, i’ ony way, shape, or form, thee an’ me ’ll hev to part.”

Having said these words, the wheelwright jumped from his chair and went upstairs.  Before he went to sleep he told his wife that he had finally disposed of Jack’s foolish match.  He felt convinced in his own mind that there would be no more between his son and Ruth Marsden.

But, of course, the old wheelwright was mistaken.  There was no interruption to the banned courtship; and the second scene between the father and son was worse than the first.  It ended in the son vowing that he would leave home and seek his fortune; while the father, who didn‘t believe his son would leave the Ribble Valley, emphatically bade him “go.”

Jack was absent all that night, and the night after; and the parents began to get alarmed.  Their idea of the repentant prodigal had not been fulfilled; and they feared that some ill-luck had befallen their only son.

On the sixth day after Jack’s departure, the quiet streets of Ribchester were enlivened by the appearance therein of a scarlet coat; and young Roper, attired in the uniform of a dragoon regiment, walked proudly along.  He was, of course, the admiration of all the schoolboys; but their elders shook their heads, and wondered what John Roper would say when he found that his only son had enlisted for a soldier.

Jack did not stay long in Ribchester proper.  His path led through the fields, towards his father’s shop; and early in the afternoon he found himself in his old home.  Mrs. Roper was busy baking; not so busy, however, but that her thoughts often turned to her missing son, when the latch of the door was lifted, and Jack walked into the cottage.

The mother looked up at the figure in uniform.  Then, raising her hands, gave vent to an exclamation of surprise.

“Eh, John!  Thad’s never thee, is id?”

“Id is, mother. I've come to bid yo’ good-bye.”

“Lord help us! W'od’s th’ meanin’ o’ thad?”

“Aw’ve bin an’ listed.”

“Theaw hesnd, rayly; hes ta?”

“Yigh. Mi feyther said he couldn’d ged on wi’ me. Sooa he’ll nev a chance o‘ tryin’ to ged on beawt me.”

“Eh! But theaw never should hev listed,” sobbed the old dame. “Thi feyther were nau-but i’ one ov his tantrums. He were as reet as cud be in an ’eawr’s time.”

At this point the door again opened, and the wheelwright came into the house. He started at seeing the uniform; and was even more upset when he found that the soldier was his own only son.

“Jack here’s bin an’ listed upo’ ceaunt o’ wod theaw said to him th’ other neet abeawt Ruth Marsden,” said the mother, by way of introduction, as she wiped her eyes.

“The deuce!  It’s nau’but lazy chaps as gooas for sowjers.  Tha doesn’d actually meon to say as tha’s tekken th’ Queen’s shillin’,” said the father, anxiously.

“I have,” said Jack, decisively.  At the same time he held himself proudly erect, to show that he was not ashamed of his colours.

“An’ id’ll tek a vast seet o‘ money to buy him off,” said the tearful mother.

“Id’s nod a matter o’ buyin’ off. Id’ too late for thad,” said the son.

“Nay, surely!” exclaimed the father, with a gasp.

“As I said afore yo coom in, I’ve come to bid yo’ booath good-bye.  We’re ordered off to India; an’ we sail next wick.”

Mr. Roper did not see the absurdity of saying that a recruit was about to be sent upon foreign service.  He only protested more solemnly that he would buy his son off, whatever the cost might me.  Jack, however, said that he liked the service better than the driving of nails and the sawing of wood; and affirmed that he should never consent to purchase his discharge.  It was bad enough to have a son a soldier; but when that son was sent to waste his life upon a foreign soil the very thought of such a catastrophe became unbearable.

“Yo’ dorn’d need to mek sich a meawthful on id,” said Jack.  “Iv yo hedn’d driven mo away, aw should never hev listed.”

“Aw dudn’d drive tha away.  Aw nau’but said as aw dudn’d think Ruth Marsden were th’ sooant ov a lass for thee. Bud aw’d sooner hev sin tha wed to hor a hundred times o’er, then theaw should hev gooan an’ thrown thisel away i’ this fashion!”

“Then iv aw were eawt o’ th’ army ageon beawt id costin’ yo owt-would yo let me hev mi own way abeawt id peaceably?” asked Jack.

“Aye, sure!” said the old man eagerly; and the mother wanted to know if it could possibly be managed.

“Well, aw’m nod so sure,” said Jack, meditatively.  “Aw’ll see when aw ged back to Fulwood to-neet.  Yo’ see, they dorn’d let ’em buy theirsel’ off when they’re ordered abroad.  An’ then they say’n as we’re gooin’ to hev war wi’ Russia, sooa they’ll want o’ th’ men as they con ged.”

Before Jack left home he promised that he would consent to be bought off from the army.  But, he added, in a dignified manner, that the money of which his father was so fond should never do it.  He said he had friends elsewhere and should not stoop to touch a farthing of his father’s money.

Jack had not gone far upon his way back to Preston when he met Ruth Marsden.

“Jack, Jack, is id true as theaw’s listed?”

“Nowe.”

“Well, wod’s them things for, then?” she asked, pointing to the scarlet coat and the round forage cap which the young man wore.

“Oh!” said he, with a laugh.  “Them’s for mi feyther’s benefit.”

“Wod does ta meon?”

“Look at ’em.  Do they look like new uniform?”

“They are nasty,” answered Ruth.

“Of cooarse they are.  Aw’ll tell thee th’ saycret, but theaw mun keep id to thisel.  Mi cousin Jack, as keeps th’ aleheawse at Longridge, put me up to buyin’ these fro’ an owd clooas shop i’ Preston.  They’re owd cast-offs.  Aw changed ’em i’ Wilson’s barn yon, an’ aw’ve left mi owd un’s theer.  But mi feyther thinks as aw’ve listed, an’ he says as iv aw’ll be bowt off he‘ll let me wed thee next week if aw like.”

“An’ tha will do, Jack!”

“Will aw?” — The remainder of the scene is not for publication; but it was, without doubt, a “guarantee of good faith.”


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THE MANTRAP


There was a deep shadow in the woods round Waterfield Hall.  But a deeper and more deadly shadow once lay across the life of the man who is now its proprietor.  The water carrier’s memory required a lot of refreshing before he remembered the beginning and end of the story; and he had to be helped out — with the story, not the refreshment — by some of the oldest inhabitants of Ribchester.

Once upon a time — these old people are very shaky in the matter of dates — Mr. Wingle’s gamekeeper smiled visibly as he left the hall.  It was the latter part of the year, and the leaves were falling fast around him, while the early frost had browned the grass through which he walked on his way to his home.

It was something wonderful to see a smile upon the features of this stolid old servant.  None of the Ribchester people had ever observed such a phenomenon. Indeed, a farm labourer who happened to catch a glimpse of Sam Ward’s countenance at once set out the report that the keeper was going out of his mind, and should no longer be trusted with a gun in his hand.

All the people of that part believed that Sam Ward was a sullen tyrant.  Sam himself had long believed that every male inhabitant of Ribblesdale was a born poacher, and he treated them accordingly.

About the time when the cotton famine was laying waste the industries of our country, the game upon Mr. Wingle’s estate began to grow less.  It disappeared every night.  Watchers were set on in vain.  Hares and pheasants were taken from under the keeper’s eye almost; and this — when the shooting season was at its height — couldn’t be tolerated for another day.

Sam Ward declared that he had tried every dodge — excepting one — to defeat the designs of the depredators.  This one remaining resort was so repugnant to Mr. Wingle’s ideas that for a long time he refused to listen to it.  He reminded his keeper that man-traps were illegal, and that any person caught in one could sue for heavy damages for his injuries.  Sam replied that no man caught in such a manner would dare to make the fact public. He remembered the time when the late Mr. Wingle was alive they always had a trap set in the lower croft.  One night a famous old poacher from Samlesbury fell into it.  It wasn’t a trap such as Sam wanted to set now.  Oh, no!  It was a real, right down “stunner” of a man-trap.  It had teeth as sharp as knives, and spikes three inches long!

Well, this Samlesbury man got into it, and his leg was caught in such a position that he was lamed for life.  And did he go about complaining of this shocking treatment, and let everyone know he’d been poaching?  Oh, no!  He just hobbled home, told his friends and relations that he’d got a drop too much; that he had fallen asleep in the road; and that a cart had run over him in the darkness.

At length Mr. Wingle agreed that such a contrivance should be placed in the wood near to the hall.  It was only a mild-looking machine, compared with the old-fashioned traps; but contemplation of the fate of any man who might drop into it was what caused the keeper to smile as he went home to his tea.


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Two men stood at the door of a small house in one of the suburbs of Preston.  One was bareheaded.  The other had his hat on, and was drawing on his gloves, for the afternoon was cold.

“Do you think there is hope—any at all?” asked the first mentioned.  As he spoke his voice was almost choked by anguish and fear lest the answer should break the thread of hope upon which he had depended.

“Well, of course, you’re a man and I don’t want to deceive you,” said the doctor.  “There always is hope as long as there is life — the old proverb is a true one, and cases of this kind sometimes last for years.  But if there is anything at all that can be depended upon to prolong her life, it is nourishment and careful nursing.  Our only hope now is in those.”

After the doctor had said these words, he bade the other man “good afternoon” — as if it were not the worst afternoon he had ever experienced — and went upon his way.  The broken-hearted husband swallowed the lump that had been rising in his throat and returned to the side of the bed, upon which lay the frail form of his dying wife.

If her life was to be saved, nourishment was to save it. But where was that nourishment to be procured?  Their very subsistence depended upon the labour of the husband’s hands, and the scarcity of cotton in the town had stopped the mills, and taken the very bread from their mouths.

There was one resort still, but Robert Graham shrank from it.  Bad as had been his circumstances, and bitter his luck, he had refrained from applying to any of the friends who had known him in his earlier days.  He would sooner have died than have accepted from any of them the means to prolong his own life.  But his love for the woman whose wasted form lay before him was stronger than his love of life — stronger even than that pride which was the marrow of his bone and the surging life of his blood.

“What does the doctor say i?” asked the feeble voice from the pillow.

“Oh, he says that care and nourishment are all you require now.  We shall have you up and well again.”

“Oh, never!  Never again,” said the wife feebly.

“Yes, again, and soon.  Keep your heart up now; do for my sake,” said the husband, in a hollow attempt to hide the despair that wrung his heart.

All that night the husband sat by the bedside of his wife, watching her as she lay; wondering whether by some miracle the blush of health would ever return to her sunken cheek, and the blessing of strength to her wasted form.  Ever and anon, too, would recur to his mind the words and sentences in a letter which he had written that evening — words he could never have humbled himself sufficiently to write had the situation been one of less emergency.

In the afternoon of the following day the husband, with his hat in his hand, stood by his wife’s bedside.

“You are not going to leave me, are you?” the sufferer asked, lifting her feeble hand as if it still had the power to detain him.

“Only for a little time. I shall be back to-night.”

“Don’t go to-day.  Put off until to-morrow.  I may be better to-morrow,” pleaded the wife.

“I have appointed to-night.  If I fail to go to-night it may be worse for us.  She may not care to come another evening; and then where shall we be?  But I will put it off if you really wish me to do so.”

"No, Robert, perhaps you had better go after all. If I am better to-morrow I shall want you to stay and talk with me.  If I am worse I cannot bear you to leave me.”

“Don’t say worse," said the husband, pressing the wasted hand of his wife.  “I cannot bear to think that you will be worse.  Besides, the doctor says that with a little nourishment you’ll improve at once.”

“Well, go.  It is selfish of me to wish to detain you.  You are going for my sake.  You are always making sacrifices for me.”

“Not more than you have made for me,” said the husband.  And as he stooped to kiss the parched lips a tear fell upon her wasted cheek, and told the story he had laboured to suppress.

By-and-by, the only nurse whom the sick woman could afford came creeping slowly in.  She was a neighbour; and had volunteered to wait upon the patient in the intervals of her own household duties.  She had determined to sit up all this night with her charge, in spite of the protestations of the anxious husband.  The latter, poor man, was quite worn out by constant vigils.  Only the fear that he might break down at some critical moment, when his services were most required, induced him to consent to the kindly neighbour's proposition.

“I won’t be long away,” said Robert Graham, as he took down his overcoat from a peg behind the door.  “I have a little business to transact a few miles out of the town.  I am bound to go, or I should not.  I will get back as soon as I can.”

“All right, Mr. Graham.  Do come back early; for you need rest.  She seems to be a lot better, and we shall be able to spare you for a little sleep to-night.”

“Do you really think that she is better?” asked the husband, with dreadful earnestness, as he stood upon the threshold.

“Oh, yes, sir.  I have my hopes that she is taking a turn for the better now.”

This neighbour soon afterwards told another neighbour that she never in all her life bit her tongue so hard as when she told that lie to the despairing husband of her rapidly-failing patient.

Robert Graham saw no sign of friendly deceit on her kindly face.  He left his home with a lighter step; and walked briskly down the street.  The neighbour-nurse went back to the sick room.  There she drew down the blind, and then sat down in the worn armchair that had its permanent place by the bedside.

The furniture in the room was scant.  A common iron bedstead; a chest of drawers topped by a closed work-box; and a row of medicine bottles; a table with a few devotional books; a daily paper, and a basin upon it.  These, with three chairs, standing on the edge of a strip of worn carpet, comprised the whole furniture of the room.  It was quite evident that its tenants had not lately been in very good circumstances.  An oil lamp stood upon the low mantelshelf, but the untrimmed wick smoked; and the upper part of the glass chimney was thus rendered black and opaque.

The dismal room grew more dismal as the night went on.  One hour followed another into the dreary night.  The time passed at which Robert Graham was to return home; but he did not come.  Eleven o‘clock struck from the tower of the Town Hall, and the sufferer feebly called the name of her absent spouse.  “He’s nooan back yet.  He hasn’t bin gone long.  Try an’ sleep; it’ll do you good,” said the nurse.  Then she arranged the bedclothes more comfortably around the wasted form, and sat down again to endure the appointed vigil.

But there was no sleep for the sick woman — not yet.

The half hour chimed, and the anxious wife grew more restless.  The scarcely less anxious neighbour did all in her power to reassure her; but all to no purpose.  When the deep tones of midnight sounded over the town, the alarmed nurse saw that a great and fearful change had come over the face of her patient!

Oh, that the husband would come!  The feeble voice incessantly spoke his name, and the nurse’s ears were strained to catch the first sounds of his footsteps in the distance.  Still he remained away.  There was no response to the cries of the wife, and the persons in the street were all strangers, and passed by with hurried footsteps to their several homes.

“Robert! He is waiting for me somewhere.  I must go and find him,” said the sick woman, and she would have risen from the bed had not the frightened neighbour held her down, and in trembling tones assured her that her husband was coming, and would be presently a the door.

“He is calling me,” said the sick woman; “I can hear him.  He is, in distress, and I will go to him,” and sitting up in bed, she begged to be allowed to go in search of her absent husband.

While this paroxysm was on, however, the poor creature sank exhausted upon the pillow.

Still her parted lips breathed the name of the husband who tarried upon his journey while she seemed fast speeding upon her own.  Speeding without that tearful farewell that lingers in the memory when the lips that have spoken it are crumbled into dust.

It was nearly dawn, and still there was no sign of the missing husband.


*             *             *             *             *


“Well! Have you visited our man-trap this morning, Samuel?” asked Mr. Wingle of his gamekeeper.

“I did so last night,” said Sam, hobbling up to his master with great difficulty.

“Oh!  And did you catch anything?”

“Yes.  I caught a ‘death of cold,’ and something more.”

“The deuce,” exclaimed the Squire; “why, whatever’s the matter with you, Ward?”

“You may well ask, sir.”

“And you may as well tell me.”

“Well, sir, last night I was so suspicious that one of our oldest poachers would be caught that I really couldn’t help waiting about the trap a bit, just for the pleasure of seeing the ‘catch.’  I had waited till I was nearly tired, when I heard a sharp step ahead of me, and I knew that my man — whoever he was — was coming right into the trap.”

“He strode off towards the hall; and I have just found out that he went there by Miss Wingle’s invitation.”

“The devil he did!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, I know she’s a soft-hearted piece of business.  Humph!  I’d ask him to dinner if I was her.  I’ll see to this, Ward.”

When Mr. Wingle returned to the hall he met his only daughter, and at once asked her if it was true that she had brought a poacher into the house.

“Did you authorise Ward to set a man-trap?” asked the lady, sternly.

“Yes, I did.  We've lost game enough.  I was determined to put a stop to it.”

“Don’t you know that such traps are illegal?  You have made a sad mistake this time.  The man you would have caught is one whom you have wronged before; and now when the law will help him he will take his revenge upon you.”

“Oh, ho!  And what about my revenge upon him?  He was stealing my game.”

“He was not.  He is no poacher, and was not in search of game.”

“Then what on earth did he want there?  Tut, tut, he may impose on you with that tale; but he won’t impose on me.”

“He was there at my request.”

“At your request — what do you mean?”

“He wrote to me for relief; and as I didn’t want you to see him, I had to arrange to see him at the conservatory door last night.  He was coming across to the conservatory when he almost fell into the trap.”

“Who is it that dares to come begging in that clandestine manner?”

“I may as well tell you.  It is your own son Robert, whom you sent away from home for marrying beneath him, as you called it.”

“Good God!  I thought he was in Australia.”

“He has been back two years.  He says in his letter to me that he has been cashier at a mill in Preston; but the famine has reduced him to the point of starvation.”

“Is he badly hurt?”

“No.  But he was furious against you last night.  He said he would set the law against you if it cost him his life.  You have disinherited him, and had it not been for his own foresight your abominable trap would have kept him away from his dying wife.”

“His dying wife?”

“Yes, his dying wife. It was for her, and not for himself that he wanted help.  If it had depended on himself only, he’d have gone to the workhouse before he’d have come here.”

“Why didn’t you tell me of all this?”

“Because he enjoined me not to do so.”

“Is he here now?”

“No.”

“Then let him be found. Let him have everything he wants.  Let his wife be sent for — if she can be moved.  I will see him to-morrow — aye, to-day if possible.”


*             *             *             *             *


Back to the sick room again.  The doctor and the frenzied husband are bending over the wasted form.  Is it too late?  Ah, yes! . . . Nay, not so.  One feeble movement gives token of the lingering life; and the doctor moistens the pallid lips with a potent draught, which he keeps for such cases.  The eyes open.  The sight of the lost husband gives them a new light.  The Angel of Death leaves the humble household; and the once-despised wife of Robert Wingle lives, first to be welcomed, and afterwards to be mistress at Waterfield Hall.


――――♦――――

 
THE LEGEND OF “TUMBLEDOWN” HALL
 


There must be scores of ramblers in this picturesque old valley who have seen this dark stretch of wood, and who have yet no idea that it hides at building of any kind, much less a large hall.  Local guide books are silent about it.  The people who live near it take no interest in it; and you might pass within a stone’s throw of its walls without knowing that such a place as “Tumbledown” Hall was in existence.

I came upon the Hall quite suddenly.  I was wandering — in defiance of painted and printed notices — in the cool shade of the wood, when the sun was too hot for walking to be enjoyable in the open field.  I was pushing my way through tangled brier and matted brushwood, and at I the same time concocting in my mind some excuse that I might give if challenged by the guardian keeper.  Suddenly I stumbled across a broken wall.  This caused me to look up; and a fresh surprise was at hand; for in an open space, with the thick wood all round, stood the ruins of a large-sized house.

They were ruins.  There was no calling them by any other name.  The highest wall was not above eight feet high; yet it was possible to identify every part of the house.  The broken door posts lay across the moss-grown steps.  The walls were crumbling into sand.  The bits of woodwork still remaining were so rotten that they fell into pieces at the touch of the hand, and the whole place was a victim to the most relentless destruction.

Not only is the place unknown to most people, but it docs not appear to have a name.  The garrulous landlord at whose house I ate my tea-dinner had never heard the name of the place.  To my surprise, however, he had known the place when it was inhabited.  It never had a name, he said.  It was simply known as the big house, and when the last tenant left it it had been demolished by the landlord because it was situate right in the midst of his preserved lands.  This, I suppose, is the reason why so few people are aware of its existence; and this is certainly why the squire gave orders for its demolition.

Yet it is not unconnected with a story which once made the Ribble Valley famous for the traditional period of nine days.

On the banks of the Ribble — so close, indeed, that the waters seem to lick its walls when a few days’ rain has swollen them — stands a neat, whitewashed cottage.  It is quite a better-class house when compared with the other cottages in the neighbourhood, and has been tenanted at various times by retired grocers, bankers, and cotton manufacturers.  Still it is a cottage of no pretension, and its rent is probably under twenty pounds a year.

A few years since, the house was empty throughout one winter.  In the early spring two strangers took possession of it.  As no one knew them, and they didn't tell why they came, nor where they hailed from, public interest in them became at once aroused.  One of the new comers was an invalid man, who was seldom seen out of doors.  The other was a fine young woman, who might be the invalid’s wife or daughter, no one could guess which.

I can’t tell the exact date at which they came to the district.  Mine host of the “Flitch of Bacon” is not good at remembering dates.  He only remembers that it was in this year Dick Worston, of Balderstone, won three first prizes at the Whalley Show; and I am left to find further particulars in the records of the society.

The invalid gentleman and his lady attendant did not court the society of their neighbours.  Every fine day the gentleman made his appearance in a bath-chair.  The lady found it trying exercise to get the chair along the rugged roads; but she never had any assistance, and, excepting a charwoman, the Darnells got on without the help of servants.

The poor invalid had been at their Ribbleside home a few weeks, when “Tumbledown” Hall got a new tenant.  A van-load of furniture came into the house; and upon the day following a tall, middle-aged gentleman did the same.

This last addition to the population of the country was no recluse.  He didn’t mean to shut himself up away from society.  He hadn’t been in the place a week before all the neighbours knew him by sight.  They also knew that his name was Cumberstone, and most of them had heard from his own lips that he had lately retired from the hardware trade.

The geniality of this latter gentleman was a direct contrast to the frigid demeanour of the invalid.  The latter seemed to carry a chilly air about with him, which completely enveloped himself and the lady, and checked any familiarity which might ensue from the civility of the country people.

But Mr. Cumberstone was not overawed by this unsociable demeanour.  About a fortnight after his arrival he met the bath-chair in one of the roughest roads in the district.  The wheels had become encumbered by mud.  The many holes in the road were full of water.  The surface of the way had been scattered over with many-pointed limestone, and there were signs that the fair one’s strength was fast giving way under the efforts required to propel the chair and its occupant.

“Seems to me you’re in a fix, miss,” said Mr. Cumberstone.

“Oh, no, I think I can manage,” said the lady, making a brave but unsuccessful attempt to dislodge the wheel of the chair from a deep rut.

“Give me the handle,” said Mr. Cumberstone, an without waiting for the lady’s assent, he laid hold of the machine and pushed it forward into the middle of the road.

“Thank you,” said the lady, faintly, as she came forward to re-take her place at the back of the chair.

“Oh, I’ll shove it up to the top of the hill.  It’s on my way,” said Mr. Cumberstone, retaining his hold of the handle.

The lady blushed, and seemed to be much embarrassed.  She looked at the invalid as if for direction; but evidently reading assent in his passive eyes, she allowed Mr. Cumberstone to push the bath-chair to the top of the steep and rugged brow.

“I believe you live in that white cottage down at the waterside,” said Mr. Cumberstone, addressing the lady.

“Yes,” she feebly answered, glancing again at the face of the occupant of the bath-chair, who, however, made no sign or motion.

“Ah!  I thought so.  I’ve seen you go in there several times.  You see, we country people must take a little notice of each other’s goings and comings, mustn’t we?”

The lady assented with the same feeble “Yes,” an didn’t seem at all anxious to prolong the conversation.

“Been ill long?” asked Mr. Cumberstone, indicating the invalid, but again addressing the lady.

“Yes, a long time.”

“Ah, lameness?”

“Yes, complete lameness, and an incurable illness,” assented the lady, nervously.

“Very bad job for him.  He’s denied the pleasure of walking about the beautiful country,” said Mr. Cumberstone.

The lady again feebly gave an assent.

“Beg pardon, is he your father?” asked Mr. Cumberstone.

“Yes,” said the lady; and as they had now reached the top of the hill she advanced with evident relief to resume her labour of propelling the bath-chair.

“Well, I’ll go across the fields here.  It’s my nearest way home,” said Mr. Cumberstone.  “I’m the new tenant at the big house, as they call it.  I don’t propose to intrude on your privacy, under the circumstances; but I should be glad to see you any day up at the Hall.  Be sure to call soon.”

The lady again feebly muttered her thanks.  The invalid, who had never opened his mouth during the interview, did not answer Mr. Cumberstone’s cheery good day; and his lady companion seemed much relieved when the talkative gentleman skipped over a stile and disappeared.

The invalid and his daughter did not avail themselves of the invitation to pay an early visit to “Tumbledown” Hall.  It was some time, indeed, before they were seen out again, and when they did venture forth the Darnells seemed to avoid Mr. Cumberstone.  Possibly his manner was too hearty to suit an invalid.  At any rate, whenever he was spied in the distance the bath-chair was turned into any ‘bye-path rather than that the Darnells should be forced to renew their acquaintance with Mr. Cumberstone.

The tenant of Tumbledown Hall considered that the invalid was very unsociable, even for an invalid, and he never dreamed of calling to see him.  But he could not help remarking that the lady was both young and pretty, and he thought it a pity that she should spend her time pushing a grumpy old invalid about a lonely country road.

One evening Mr. Cumberstone was standing near his garden gate smoking an after-dinner cigar when he heard footsteps, and in another moment Miss Darnell Came round the corner. She exhibited no sign of either surprise or annoyance at seeing him, and answered his good evening with a surprisingly calm “Good evening, Mr ― "

“Cumberstone,“ prompted the gentleman.

“Mr. Cumberstone.  I did not know your name before.”

“Oh, no, cumbrous sort of a name, isn’t it?” said he, at which feeble joke they both laughed aloud for half a minute.

“How is your father to-day?” asked Mr. Cumberstone.

“Much better to-day, thank you.”

“I thought so when I saw you in such good spirits.”

“Yes, but I have to be very careful when I am with him.  Invalids are so very queer sometimes, aren’t they?”

“Indeed they are,” assented Mr. Cumberstone.  “I’d as lief be a shoeblack as a hospital nurse.  My patience won’t draw out enough to make me a good attendant on the sick.”

“I confess that mine is almost exhausted sometimes.”

“I’m sure.  And you are taking a walk now to get a breath of fresh air, I suppose.  No time during the daylight, eh?”

“I haven’t much time, and I must hurry home.  Every minute I am away will seem an hour to my poor father.”

“Well, I won’t keep you away from him unnecessarily.  But don’t go all round the road.  Come through my garden and across the fields on to the bank of the Ribble.  You’ll be at home in half the time it would take you to go round the road.”

“With pleasure, if you’ll allow me.”

“Only too delighted,” said Mr. Cumberstone, turning and opening the garden gate.  Miss Darnell walked inside, and was conducted by the tenant through the garden, and to the path which still leads down to the bank of the river.  As they walked he was profuse in his invitations to Tumbledown Hall.  He pressed Miss Darnell to come up anytime; and bring her father and she, on her part, promised to try to persuade her parent to accompany her to the hall.

A few days after this Mr. Cumberstone and Miss Darnell met again at the garden gate.  Again Mr. Cumberstone conducted Miss Darnell through the grounds, so that’ she should not be delayed upon her homeward way.

When they came near the house Mr. Cumberstone stopped.

“Won’t you come inside, Miss Darnell," he said; persuasively.

“Oh, no; not to-night. I must hurry home.”

“It’s not much of a place outside, but I have made it as comfortable as I can inside.  You will be a welcome guest whenever you come.  Only,” he continued, with a laugh, “don’t come to-morrow night or I shall mistake you for a burglar.”

“Why to-morrow night more than any other night?”

“Because to-morrow night I shall have three thousand pounds in gold and notes in the house.”

“My word! what a rich man!”

“But it will be only for one night.  I daresay I shall sleep as soundly as ever I do — I sleep like a man with a clear conscience, Miss Darnell, — though all that money will be locked up in the bureau in my room.”

“Are you not afraid of robbers?”

“Not at all.  There are no thieves in these parts; not such as would deliberately break into a house, any way.  And, of course, I keep the possession of all this money a great secret.  No one but you and I know anything at all about it.”

Mr. Cumberstone bade Miss Darnell good evening at the head of the steep bank at the bottom of which ran the murmuring waters.

“I won’t delay you any longer, as much as I enjoy your company,” he said.  “And then, I always make it a point to be in bed at ten o’clock.  There’s nothing to stay later for in these parts.”

The following night, when the boom of midnight from the Preston Town Hall was wafted up the Valley, Tumbledown Hall lay in darkness and repose.  Not a light had been visible at any of the windows for the last two hours, and there was no sign of life about the premises.

Presently, however, there was a stir in the orchard at the back of the house.  Two figures then emerged from the shelter, and held a short conference beneath the wall.

“This is the window here,” said one.  “You get on this low wall.  It is broad at the top.  Then that bend in the spout will hold you until you get on the coping stone of the window.  You have your chisel — and the matches!”

The man who climbed the wall was an expert burglar.  In two minutes he was in the bedroom of Mr. Cumberstone, and in fifty seconds more his chisel was beneath the lid of the old bureau. He worked without any light, the bureau containing the cash having been easier to find than he expected. The lock was, however, a stubborn one, and it hadn’t quite yielded when —

A light suddenly shone in the face of the burglar; an at the same moment both his arms were gripped by strong hands.

“Don’t swear, Mr. Darnell; don’t swear.  I’m really very glad you’re so far improved that you can visit me as I invited you to.”

“Who the — are you?” shouted the burglar, with frantic but unavailing efforts to release his arms.

“I’m Mr. Cumberstone, of course.  I’m your host, and I welcome you to the hospitality of this ancient house.”

“Well, I came with very good intentions, as you will find to your cost if you insinuate to the contrary.  You — a retired business man — had no more sense than to tell my daughter — a girl you haven’t spoken to above half a dozen times in your life — that you had all this money on your hands.  I was going to get it, let you see your folly, then return it to you with a few words of advice.”

“Ah, ah! no doubt.  But to make a long story short, I’m not Mr. Cumberstone, and you are not Mr. Darnell.  You are Meldin, and I am Detective Sergeant Looksby.”

“The devil!”

“Oh, no! not so bad as that.  The fox, perhaps.  After that Liverpool aflair it was wise in you to bolt.  It took me quite a fortnight to find out that you were an invalid down in Ribblesdale here.  Good dodge, that invalid!  Better than the Southport boatman you were after the Peel-street sweep.  You see, I removed to here specially, and I concocted this little trap to defeat one of your favourite wiles.  We have you for this job until the evidence in the Liverpool affair is all complete.  See?  Oh, you needn’t trouble about your daughter.  Daughter!  Well, you’re a cute ’un.  She won’t wait for you to throw the cash to her.  She won’t get a copper — but the ‘Copper’s’ got her!"


――――♦――――

 
A NOBLE POACHER


“Joe Hardy.  He never waur born at o’.  He walked straight out ov a Sunda’ skoo’ book dud Joe Hardy.”

This modification of Topsy’s famous declaration was spoken within the shadow, almost, of Mytton Church.  The Joe Hardy referred to was a young joiner who then adorned that part of the country.  His virtues were many, and his vices were unknown.  He was a singer in the church, and a teacher in the Sunday School.  It was even said that he had never been known to swear — not a real, right down, earnest swear, such as an ordinary mortal resorts to when his temper is too sorely tried.

Still, Joe Hardy was not altogether a hero of the story-book kind.  He was not one of the good-for-everything young men who are so universally loved in fiction, and so universally despised in real life.  Joe was just comfortably good, and still not so saintly that his neighbours couldn’t associate with him for fear they would look black by comparison.  But as he never fell into a drunken brawl nor coveted his neighbour’s unprotected poultry, he was better than some people are.

When Joe left school with many honours and more than one prize, he was duly apprenticed to a wheelwright, who then did a flourishing trade in the locality.  When his apprenticeship was over, he, at the special request of his employer, re-engaged as a journeyman, and every day, wet or fine, found him at the bench.

At length, however, the time came when all the carts in the district were mended, and all the farmers who wanted new ones had been provided with them.  Work was slack in the Ribble Valley, and Joe, being unfortunately paid by the piece, found that his wages were on the backsliding scale.  He very soon tired of walking about the village.  The business-like rattle of the Ribble over its stony bed seemed to mock his idleness, and he arose one morning determined to seek fresh woods and masters new.

For some months Joe was absent from the village.  Then, when trade began to revive, he returned to the old bench; and while the idle cronies gathered in the workshed, the tap of Joe’s hammer punctuated his description of the wonderful places to which he had travelled.

About this time a certain gentleman had the audacity to remark that he had known a great many people leave Mytton, and when they came back they had all picked up a good deal that was bad, and never, by any chance, an atom of anything that was good.  The man who spoke these words was no youthful chatterer who had as yet to learn the weight of his words; but Ben Hudson, head gamekeeper to Colonel Firmantle.  To be sure, the Colonel’s land doesn’t come very near to Mytton.  But Ben is a native of the village, and when he wants to hear about certain notorious game annexers he always come with open ear and questioning tongue to this little border hamlet.

Ben Hudson was out of temper just at this time.  Lately his master’s game preserves had suffered considerable depletion.  As the sporting season was on, and a large party was expected from London in a few days, this was a serious matter; and it behoved Ben to find out the authors of this ill-timed mischief.

But Ben didn’t find it out.  He interviewed all the known poachers in the village.  He questioned, coaxed, and threatened, but in no case could he extort a confession from the suspected game plunderer.

There was one wily old poacher who had on former occasions made free with the fur and feather on Colonel Firmantle’s estates.  He happened to hobble into the inn kitchen while Ben was there; and the keeper, being persuaded that he had, at least, a hand in the job, even went so far as to ask the old poacher what he would take to leave the district for a time — to take a holiday for the benefit of his health until the shooting season was over.

“Eh, bless yo’, Ben,” said the old fellow, with tears of laughter in his eyes, “aw wish aw were as bad as yo’ tek me for.  But aw’ve bin laid up wi’ rheumatic neaw for a six wick.  Aw’ve never hed nowt to do wi’ liftin’ yo’r brids.”

Further investigation confirmed the truth of the old man’s assertion.  He was, for the time being, at least, a cripple, and thus his alibi was easily proved.

Still the game kept going, and as voluntary migration is not common among this species of the animal kingdom, it was clear that someone was assisting in the transfer.

Ben Hudson stayed all night in the woods, and patrolled the highways by day.  The polieman — here, as in most country places, a sort of deputy gamekeeper — went sniffing about the village street to detect, if he could, the smell of game cooking in any of the cottages.  The roads out of Mytton were watched.  Further on by the colonels estate no tramp carrying a bundle was allowed to pass without examination.  Still no game was found, and still it was disappearing.

The colonel was a man of fiery temper.  He reversed the proverb and usually spoke twice before he thought once.  He never came down, excepting in the shooting season.  His estate, though small, had long had the reputation of enclosing the best stocked preserves on the Lancashire-Yorkshire border.  Now that they threatened to be empty before a gun was fired over them, their owner was furious beyond measure.  He asserted that the keeper and the policeman between them were disposing of the game.  When convinced that this couldn’t be, he maintained that they knew who was taking it, and this circumstance caused the victims of the imputation to redouble their exertions to trap the real criminal in order that they might thus clear themselves from undeserved blame.

Still the poachers remained undetected, though the time for the great shooting party was drawing very near.  At length the colonel, full of wrath, declared that he, himself, would ferret the matter out, and night after night he went out into the woods.  On these excursions he was armed with a blundgeon, and was accompanied by a big dog, while a force of police and game watchers waited in ambush ready to rush out in a body the moment they heard the colonel’s warning whistle.

The third night the colonel missed his dog, and, re-tracing his steps, found it laid on the ground dead — poisoned.  This proof that the enemy was at hand filled him with frenzy rather than fear, and he rushed madly in and out among the trees, running against more than one trunk in the darkness of the night.

“Halt!”

The voice was close to his oar.  He could almost feel the breath of the man who had uttered the word!

“Don’t you blow that whistle, sir, because if you do you’ll be a dead man before the watchers hear it.  You’re liable to go as sudden as that dog did.  You can’t see me, but I can see you, and I can bring this gunstock down on your head before the whistle gets to your mouth!”

“Why, you infernal scoundrel — it’s you that are taking my game?"

“I won’t say no to that.  But I will say this — that I never took a hare or a pheasant, or any other game, away from its rightful owner in my life — and I never will.”

This sounded like a contradiction to the colonel, and he rejoined in hot blood —

“I’m not going to parley with you.  I don’t heed your threats.”

“Nowe, an’ I don’t heed yours, squire.  But I’ve a bit of a right to speak as I am speaking.”

“What right have you to steal my game?”

“Steal’s a harsh word, squire.  Steal’s a harsh word.  I’m ready to prove to you that I aren’t steylin’.”

“Well, I'm waiting to hear you!  But be sharp now!”

“Oh, well, you see it’s a longish tale.  I can’t tell it all in a minute, but if you’ll see me at your convenience to-morrow, sir, I’ll promise that no game shall go in the meantime, an’ if any goes after it’ll be your own fault.”

“Who are you?”

“I’m Joe Hardy — I’m a wheelwright, an’ I live in Mytton.  But don’t set the police on me, or I shall have to tell my tale at the court.  You’ll be sorrier for it if I do.”

“What the devil does the fellow mean?” muttered the Colonel.  But the fellow had vanished —vanished almost without a sound.


*            *            *            *            *


“Mrs. Campbell, I believe.”

The woman had got up from her sewing to answer his knock.  For a moment the visitor stared at her pale haggard face.  Then, extending his hand, he continued.

“Mrs. Firmantle, you know me, don’t you.  Fenley solicitor.  You surely know me?”

“Oh, Mr. Fenley.  Why have you sought me out here!”

“For your own good.  We never knew you were in Manchester until a day or two since.  Joe Hardy’s adventure revealed you.”

“Adventure.  Surely, they have never caught him!”

“Then you knew what he was doing?”

“I knew that he was taking the Colonel’s game.  He sold what he got and sent me the money.  It has kept me from starving.  He said the game was mine as much as the Colonel’s.  Tell me they haven’t caught the poor man?”

The imploring look upon the woman’s face induced the solicitor to tell the remainder of his story in a few words.

“The Colonel hasn’t caught Hardy, but Hardy has caught the Colonel.  The young man had an interview with him, and proved to him in his blunt fashion that you were his wife.  He said that the marriage may have been a youthful indiscretion, but so are most marriages.  The plea that he was married under a false name is as bad in law as it is in honour.  How Joe had got hold of his story, you will be able to say better than I can.  But he’s made the Colonel afraid.  He’s threatened to make the whole affair public if the Colonel doesn’t do something.”

“But I could never bear to meet the Colonel again,” said the lady.  It seemed as if whole years of suffering were summoned up in the look of anguish that passed across her face as she said these words.

“Oh, no.  He sent me here — his own solicitor mustn’t know the secret, it seems — to offer you a settlement of three hundred a year to keep the secret.”

“Thank God!”


――――♦――――

 
THE SERGEANT’S RIVAL


“Yonder house‘ wi’ o’ th’ roses in front on’t? Oh, yon’ where Inspector Deeby lives.  Yo’ll have heard of Inspector Deeby.”

I confessed that such was not the case.  My informant leaning on his crooked stick and looking straight into my face, said it was strange if I had not heard of Inspect Deeby.  I might, he said, have forgotten it, but I must have heard of him, as all the newspapers printed the wonderful story of Inspector Deeby.

There was a little country public-house at hand.  It looked, to my eye, like a big farm where drink was occasionally sold rather than a regular public-house.  The man with the crooked stick said that if I would wait until eight o’clock at night I should find people from all parts of Samlesbury there.  Not having any especial desire to meet so many specimens of the natives of Samlesbury, I did not stop until eight o’clock. I, however, took him of the crooked stick into the public-house; and the refreshment I put into him displaced the following story, for the accuracy of which my informant would vouch if he was dying.  As, however, he was not dying, I have only to rely on his assertion that every word of the tale is substantially true.

In his early days Mr. Deeby was a farm labourer.  In his third decade, however, he joined the police force.  Making use of the knowledge he possessed as to his companions’ habits, he secured some very important convictions.  He knew the ways of more than one gang of amateur poachers, and his stringent application of the game laws at once secured him the hatred of his neighbours and the favour of the County Bench.

After a short experience as a common constable, Deeby was made a sergeant.  About the time that he took this first step on the ladder of promotion Deebv followed the lead of ordinary mortals by falling very deeply in love.  The object of his affections was a girl named Alice Grey, the daughter of a small farmer who lived at Balderstone.  There is no doubt that his love was returned by the young lady; and there was, to all appearances, every prospect of the affair going on sweetly and smoothly to the desired end.

One evening the sergeant was returning from the residence of his sweetheart when he met with a very suspicious-looking fellow.  This person was loitering in a dark part of the road in the lonely hollow by Samlesbury Church.  The sergeant was in plain clothes, and the traveller came up and demanded to ‘know if he had any money about him.  The sergeant replied that he had, and, moreover, he was going to keep it.  The stranger required a few coppers for a night’s lodgings, and when the sergeant declined to supply them he grew insolent, and even threatening in his demeanour.

Then the tramp found out for the first time that his intended victim was a policeman, and that he himself was a prisoner.

It was a long time since the nearest magistrate had been bothered with a case; and, after sleepily pretending to listen to the sergeant’s evidence, he remanded the prisoner for a week.  In the meantime enquiries were to be made about his character.  At the end of the week the prisoner was brought up at the County Police Court.  Sergeant Deeby laid the complaint against him.  He described the encounter with the prisoner.  He told how his suspicions had been aroused by the man’s appearance; how he had replied to the demand for assistance; and how he had finally been compelled to take the prisoner into custody.

Asked if he had any questions to put to the witness, the prisoner addressed himself to Sergeant Deeby.

“Do you say I asked you for money? ”

“I do.”

“Will you swear it?”

“I will!”

“Tell the Bench what words I used when I asked you.”

“Well you said you wanted money for lodgings.”

“That wasn’t asking for it.  What else did I say?”

“You said you must get it from somebody.”

“What else?”

“Well, I said I wouldn’t give it you, and you wanted to know if I’d wrastle you for a shilling, and such like talk as that.”

“Did I ask you straight out for money?”

“Well, not straight-out. But you meant it!”

“How can you tell what I meant?” demanded the prisoner.  Receiving no answer, he addressed himself to the Bench.  He pointed out the weakness of the constable’s evidence.  He denied that he had either begged or threatened.  He gave a version of the occurrence entirely different from that supplied by the sergeant.  He declared that he was simply asking the way, when the officer commenced to abuse him.  When he replied to the policeman’s taunts the officer locked him up, and all he could say was that the sergeant was hard up for a case, and that he never had hold of a more innocent man in his life.

The superintendent said that nothing had, as yet, been heard of the prisoner’s antecedents.  But if the magistrates decided to send the prisoner to gaol on a charge of vagrancy, something might transpire before he came out again.

The Bench consisted of two magistrates.  They conferred in solemn silence for some minutes.  Then the chairman announced that they had decided to extend the greatest possible leniency to the prisoner, and with the object of giving him a chance to make a fresh start in life they would discharge him.

The clerk smiled, and the superintendent looked grave.  Sergeant Deeby rushed out of court and went through some terrible manoeuvres in an adjacent corridor; and the public in court agreed amongst themselves that Justice was still blind.

It certainly appeared to the sergeant that his ambition had received a check.  The flowery prospects pictured by his fancy were falling victims to the frosts of official callousness.

But Sergeant Deeby went on with his courting all the same.  The magistrates couldn’t stop that, and the sergeant was certain that nobody else could.  The sun always shone in one place, and one hour of its rays dispelled all the snows that chilled the sergeant’s everyday life.

A few days after that prisoner had been set free there came a telegram from Lincoln stating that he was an ex-convict, and was wanted there on three charges of house breaking.  Sergeant Deeby felt that that was his revenge.

Farming in the Ribble Valley is not the easiest way of becoming a millionaire.  Mr. Grey had long since found that it was not.  He was one Saturday evening reading the Preston Guardian to gather as many hints concerning farming as he could. When he had exhausted the agricrultural news he returned to the items of locall news. From this to the advertisements was but a step. He read over the lists of farms to be let, and wondered that there weren’t more of them. At length his eye alighted on an advertisement stating the requirement of a gentleman who a wanted country lodgings for the summer. He invited replies from farmers, and simply stated that the terms were to be moderate.

Mr. Grey thought that a few shillings a week would be a very nice addition to his somewhat limited income. He replied to the advertisement of “F.W.” He stated as low terms as he could afford, and in a fortnight Mr. Francis Hardwin was installed as a temporary inmate of Mr. Grey’s home.

Mr. Hardwin was a London gentleman, who wanted country air.  His health was not so good.  Mr. Grey thought it must be very bad to cause him to leave London and come to a place like Balderstone.  But Mr. Grey had never lived out of Balderstone, and was discontented with its dullness.

When Sergeant Deeby came again he was introduced to Mr. Hardwin.  He afterwards confided to Alice that he didn’t like the newcomer.  This was not at all likely.  The sergeant had always posed as an oracle wherever he went.  He was an authority on all subjects from the habits of moles to the policy of empires, and hitherto there had been none to contradict him.

At their first interview, however, Mr. Hardwin ventured to correct the sergeant several times.  The points were unimportant, but the officer’s reputation was at stake.  He burned with just indignation at the stranger’s uncalled-for interference, and privately told Alice what a pleasure it would have been to give the newcomer a good licking.

Alice sympathised with her lover, of course.  But when she found that as time went on the sergeant’s dislike of her father’s loger grew more violent, she felt herself justified in questioning the necessity of his objection.

“Well, I don’t like him,” said the sergeant.

“He’s a very nice man,” said Alice.

“Maybe you think so.  But he’s all talk.”

“It’s all he has to do.  And he’s been in so many places where we haven’t.  My father likes to hear his tales.”

“Then your father’s got a different taste from mine.”

“Perhaps so.  But I can’t see anything wrong with the man.”

“ No. I daresay you like to flirt with him.”

“I never flirt with anybody.  But I can’t dislike the man without cause.  He has been very nice to me.”

“Yes.  I understand his smirking and his smiles.  And you’ll understand them, to your sorrow, some day, if you don’t beware.”

“I think I am capable of looking after myself.  If you think that his smiles would have any effect on me you are mistaken.”

There was a show of temper on both sides.  While the sergeant wanted his own way, Alice didn’t like to be dictated to.  To tell the truth she didn’t altogether object to the attentions which the stranger had, undoubtedly, paid to her.  She thought that a little rivalry would rid the sergeant of his supercilious airs, and she didn’t mind his knowing that he was not the only Richmond in the field.

“So,” said the sergeant, when they met one Sunday evening, “You’ve been seen walking out with that London chap.”

“I walked down to church with him this morning.”

“I had rather you wouldn’t walk out with him at all.”

“And I would rather please myself about it.”

“I think I ought to have a say in the matter.”

“I don’t think so.  I’m not tied to you yet.”

“And you never will be if you flirt too much with the lodger.”

“Well, I can please myself.  If you don’t like it you can say so.  I don’t feel particularly anxious to bind myself to anybody yet.”

“You’ll repent those words before long,” said the sergeant.  But Alice only tossed her head, and with one of those smiles which Mr. Hardwin had told her were so enchanting, she bade the sergeant a haughty good evening.

There is no doubt that she was affected, if not entranced, by the polished mien of Mr. Hardwin.  He had addressed her in a manner more polite than she was accustomed to.  He had gratified her ears with lavish praises of her personal beauty, and he had even gone so far as to advise her never to throw herself away upon a “rustic hind” or a “country bred lout.”  For some time the sergeant did not meet his sweetheart.  He was waiting for her to “come to his way of thinking.”  Alice was waiting for the officer to soften his views towards Mr. Hardwin.  So it will be seen that instead of coming nearer to each other they were, in reality, drifting apart; and before long it seemed as if their engagement was at an end.

Alice was seen out, more than once, with Mr. Hardwin.  He had met her in odd corners and turns of the lanes when she was going errands for her parents.  He offered to accompany her in her farm duties.  He acted the cavalier in a hundred different ways; and yet no one was more surprised than Alice when the rumour got abroad that she had transferred her affections from Sergeant Deeby to Francis Hardwin.

The sergeant went on his daily round of duty as usual.  If he had any feelings he did not let them master him.  He took no one into his confidence, and what he thought and felt was locked as a secret in his innermost heart.

He heard that Alice Grey had been seen out walking with Mr. Hardwin.  He was not overcome by surprise at this news, and the person who had told it to him went away disappointed.

He was informed that Alice and Mr. Hardwin were engaged, or, at least, their bearing towards each other was that of an engaged couple.  At hearing this news he actually grinned, and it was even said that he made an abortive attempt to laugh.  Truly, Sergeant Deeby had his feelings well under control.

At length the church bore witness of Alice’s instability.  The banns between Francis Hardwin and Alice Grey were duly published, and preparations were being made for their speedy marriage.  The ceremony was to take place in an adjoining parish, where a distant relative of the Greys’ was curate.  People said that it was going to be a quiet affair, and that the happy couple were going at once upon a Continental honeymoon.  Someone told this to Sergeant Deeby.  He only smiled, asked if that was quite certain, and then changed the subject of the conversation.

The bells rang out right merrily upon the morning of the wedding.  The sun shone in all his splendour, making bright the path of the beautiful bride.  A crowd of country gossips and inquisitive idlers hung round the door of the church from an early hour, and the story of the bride’s chequered courtship was freely circulated amongst them.

At length a murmur of surprise ran through the crowd.  Every eye was turned in the direction of the gate; and more than one heart was chilled with unwelcome presentiment as Sergeant Deeby, in plain clothing, with another gentleman, walked up the yard and into the church.  There they sought a dark and retired corner, removed from the gaze of the inquisitive members of the crowd.  The latter, were, however, every now and then to be detected peeping in at the door, anxious to catch a glimpse of the unexpected guests.

The bells pealed forth a joyous note as the bride and her party appeared.  Alice’s unrivalled beauty rather seemed to adorn than be adorned by the tasteful raiment in which she was dressed; Mr. Hardwin looked haughty and proud, and the eyes that fell in admiration upon the bride assumed a look of incisive enquiry as they turned upon the statelier figure of the bridegroom.

The ceremony was got through in the usual fashion.  If the bride was nervous, it was only what brides usually are.  The bridegroom certainly showed no signs of trepidation.  To judge by his coolness, as he led his new partner away from the altar, wedding might have been an every day affair with him.  He was even well prepared for the shower of rice that greeted the exit of the party from the church; and, throwing a quantity of small silver amongst the youngsters assembled, he nimbly piloted the bride to the carriage that was waiting for them.

Mr. Hardwin handed his bride into the vehicle.  He had his foot upon the step, and was about to enter, when a hand was laid upon his shoulder.

“The other carriage, please,” said the owner of the hand.

Mr. Hardwin looked round.  It was Mr. Deeby who had spoken, and Mr. Deeby’s finger was indicating a cab that stood in the rear.

“No thanks,” smiled Mr. Hardwin.  “I’ll go in here.”

“No, just come to the rear one moment,” said Mr. Deeby.

“No.  Don’t bother me now,” said Mr. Hardwin to his rival.  “What is it you want with me?”

“I could have told you in private, but here will do as well for me if you prefer it.  I arrest you for bigamy, that is, for marrying Alice Grey while your former wife is still alive.”

Had a cannon ball dropped in the coach Mr. Hardwin could not have changed colour more quickly.  But by a powerful effort he regained his composure, and affected to believe that the matter was a jest.  He told the driver to drive on, and was jumping into the coach when the sergeant pulled him back.

“Here’s my authority,” he said, pulling out a paper.

“It’s a warrant for deserting your wife, and the charge of bigamy will go on top of that.”

There was great commotion among the assembled sightseers.  Mr. Hardwin swore that it was a case of mistaken identity, and that he would resort to the law for his revenge.  But, ultimately, he was got into the cab, and driven off from the presence of the fainting bride.

At the assizes, the judge wanted to know why the sergeant had not executed the warrant sooner, and so prevented bigamy.  In reply, the sergeant related the story of the tramp from Lincolnshire, and said he meant to be sure of his game this time.  Therefore he contrived a second string to his bow.

The prisoner was found guilty.  He had a long list of previous convictions against him, and it was some time before he was restored to his wife and family.

It may surprise young readers, but it will not surprise older ones, to learn that the fire of love, surviving the deluge of mischance, burned up into a brighter flame.  The officer and Alice were ultimately united, and together now enjoy the retirement that follows a life of faithful labour.


――――♦――――

 
THE ROMANCE OF PEBBLE BANK


When the man with the Crooked Stick had finished his story it was nearly closing time.  As I didn’t like to walk to Preston that night I arranged for a night’s lodging at the farm-like hotel.  When the house was closed I remarked that the story we had just heard was a very romantic one.  The landlord answered that it reminded him of one that was even more romantic.  It occurred in the place where he was brought up.  Where that place is I cannot with any certainty determine.  The landlord called it “Pebble Bank”, so I suppose that is its name.  The landlord is poor at his geography, and I can only conclude that Pebble Bank is near the Ribble, and that Clitheroe is the nearest town to it.  Pebble Bank does not appear to have been a very large place.  I gathered that two handloom weavers and a thatcher lived there, and that a number of agricultural labourers were their neighbours.

The policeman who figures in this story was a native of the district.  He was one of a family of seven.  When he got on the police force people said it would be his work to keep his brothers in order.  This was not said by friends of the family but by persons who pretended to be solicitous for the welfare of the whole rustic community.

When Andrew Tumbrill was appointed to the district in which Pebble Bank was situate, there was much dissatisfaction amongst the inhabitants, especially the lawless sort.  He had been their companion in many an escapade, and his knowledge of their habits would help him to make them his victims.  Now that Andrew Tumbrill was placed in authority (neither little nor brief), he made up his mind to use it as much as possible to his own advantage.  He knew that the first requisite for promotion was the favour of his superiors.  Accordingly he never saw anything wrong in the conduct of those upon whom his superintendent looked with favour while the common Jack, Tom, and Harry, who never had a sovereign to drop into the ready palm of the district inspector, found that they must walk both strictly and straightly if they would keep at peace with the law.

Observation taught Andrew Tumbrill that married men got the best places in the force.  Therefore, he resolved to marry.

The woman upon whom he had set his heart, or rather his eye, was the daughter of a cottager at Pebble Bank.  Lucy was her father’s only child, and Andrew didn’t fall in love with her until he had ascertained that her careful father had a good sum of money which he would one day leave to Lucy.

The girl had a lover, but she cast him off at the bidding of the promising young constable.  The rival did not care to take his dismissal very quietly, and hence an incident happened which made a dark blot on the hitherto untarnished history of Pebble Bank.

The farmer at Glebe Hall had for some time been missing quantities of his poultry.  A strict watch had been set, but no trace of the thieves could be found.  Andrew looked upon their capture as an important necessity, and spared no pains in his endeavours to discover the marauders.  Night after night he prowled about the house.  Hour after hour he lay concealed behind the fence.  Day after day he diligently traced the prints of the raiders’ feet.  For some weeks all these labours were in vain, but at length his patience met its reward.

The man who had courted Lucy Portland before she knew the policeman was named William Rye.  He was the son of a farmer, and his prospects were good.  Still, the constable succeeded in persuading Lucy that she would do better by marrying him, and then induced her to cast off her old and tried lover.

Lucy’s father did not altogether approve of the change in his daughter’s affections.  Indeed, after a while, Lucy began to show signs of repentance; and as Rye had not ceased to call at her father’s house there was a probability that he would soon oust his unwelcome rival.

Great was the surprise of all in Pebble Bank to find that it was William Rye who had taken the poultry from Glebe Hall.  No one could suspect him of felony.  It was the very last thing in the world of which he could possibly be guilty; and if Andrew Turnbrill hadn’t met him with a brace of newly-killed fowls in his possession it would never have been believed that he was the thief.

Of course, Rye was sent to gaol.  When he came out again he renewed his protestations of innocence.  He declared, as he had declared in court, that when the policeman met him and arrested him, he had no poultry in his possession; and that when the fowls were produced in court he saw them for the first time.

Even the culprit’s own father did not believe him, Mr. Rye senior at once packed his son off to America, there to begin life afresh.

Andrew Tumbrill was soon promoted to another district.  He married Lucy Portland, and took her away to a home in the Fylde.  Pebble Bank people seldom heard of them.  Correspondence with friends is not one of the arts that has been much cultivated amongst the poorer people of the Ribble Valley.  Once or twice Mrs. Tumbrill came over to see her father.  Once she had a baby with her — a beautiful child, of whom its grandfather felt very proud.  But in time Mr. Portland died and the memory of Andrew Tumbrill almost faded away from his old home.

At length, however, one spring morning, a new tenant came and took up her residence in Mr. Portland’s old cottage.  No one had heard that she was coming; and she endeavoured to make as little stir as possible, now that she had come.

However, it soon became known that Mrs. Tumbrill had come back to Pebble Bank again.  She had two fine children, but she was a widow, and she had her livelihood to earn.  She was quick with the needle, and willing at charing and washing.  She managed, by working late and early, to earn enough to keep body and soul together.  She had few visitors, and none of the neighbours seemed to gain her confidence.  The local clergyman called regularly upon her, but even his efforts to relieve her did not for some time meet with the success they deserved.

“It appears to me that if you go on like this you will soon work yourself to death,” said the parson to Mrs. Tumbrill.

“Ah, well! it can’t be helped.”

“But you must try to help it.  Think of the children.  What will become of them if you die before they are upgrown?”

“Ah! I don’t know,” said the widow, with a sigh.  For some moments nothing was heard but the sharp click of her needle and thimble.  Then the parson broke the silence.

“Well, Mrs. Tumbrill, if you’ll allow me to suggest, as one who wishes to do good for you and your children, you are not too old to marry again.”

A sharp cry from the widow’s lips.  She shook her head mournfully and said, “Never again.  My married experience has been too bitter.”

“May I ask in what regard?” said the clergyman, whose apparent curiosity was merely the effect of anxiety to alleviate, if possible, the sorrow of the friendless widow.

“I’ve never told the secret to anybody.  But somebody will have to know some day.”

Here the widow paused for a while.  Her friend did not know what was the right thing to say, so he held his peace.  The widow at length repeated her last remark.

“Somebody will have to know some day.  Still I dare not tell it now; I dare not tell it now!”

The parson felt that his interest in the widow was greatly increased.  He believed in striking whilst the iron was hot.  Accordingly he used his clerical influence to persuade Mrs. Turnbrill that if she had anything upon her mind which it would be a relief to communicate, he was ready and willing to advise her; and she might be satisfied that her story, if told to him, would be kept under the seal of the strictest secrecy.

“I don’t know but that the world ought to know it.  There’s been an innocent man sent to prison and looked on as a thief.”

“Oh, indeed! in what part of the country did that happen?”

“Here, in Pebble Bank.”

“Here, in Pebble Bank!” repeated the mystified parson.  He did not remember that anyone from Pebble Bank had ever been convicted of felony.

“Yes, sir,” answered Mrs. Tumbrill feebly.  “It was Will Rye.  He was convicted of stealin’ the hens from Glebe Hall.  Well, he never stole those hens.  The man who was afterwards married to me got him convicted.  Tumbrill was jealous of him.  He knew that he wanted me, and he had a spite against him.  But it was Tumbrill’s own brother that took the fowl.  Tumbrill caught him at it, and took them off him.  Then he didn’t know what to do with them, so he laid the robbery on Will Rye.  He told me that before he died.”

The widow afterwards confided to the parson that they were in great poverty when her husband died.  He had been struck off the police force for some time, having finally over-reached himself, and been detected in some act of villainy.

The parson inquired if Mrs. Tumbrill had any relative alive.  She had only one — an uncle who went to America a quarter of a century before, and was supposed to have made a fortune.  His last known address was in Chicago, and to this the good clergyman at once wrote, explaining the circumstances in which Mrs. Tumbrill was placed.  Within the month came a remittance for 50 dollars.  After this various sums of money were sent from the same source; but, strange to say, not a word — not a scrap of writing — accompanied any of the remittances.

At length, when the widow had received about a dozen different sums of money from the golden continent, she asked the clergyman to write to her uncle and tell him how grateful she was for all his kindness, and how the money sent had been a fortune to her, although it was probably only a drop out of the ocean of the uncle’s reputed riches.

No reply came to Mrs. Tumbrill, but the parson got a letter, with the Chicago postmark upon the envelope.  The communication written was as follows :—


“231, Ninety-Second Avenue, Chicago.


“Reverend Sir, — Your first letter addressed to Abraham Portland duly reached me — his executor. Abraham Portland died without a cent. over five years ago. The money I sent to Lucy was in memory of old ‘times. I have out-grown their cursed trick, whichever of them it was that planned it. Never let Lucy know but that her uncle is sending the money, and as long as I have an arm to earn it she shall have it. I rely on you to keep this letter a secret, and to let no one in Lancashire know where I am.—Yours sincerely,


“WILLIAM RYE.”


Lucy wonders why her uncle never writes.  She tells the parson that perhaps a millionaire is too proud to write to a poor widow.  But his money comes regularly, and is always acceptable.


――――♦――――

 
A LEGAL ADVENTURE


Readers of any experience will need no introduction to Mr. Brittle.  He is known to all his admirers as the smartest and cleverest lawyer in the district.

If you are in trouble with the law, go to Mr. Brittle.  If you have an enemy upon whom you wish to take a public revenge, go to Mr. Brittle, and be sure to go soon.  If you delay, your opponent will be certain to engage him, and then you case is as good as lost.

No humbug about Mr. Brittle!  No beating about the bush.  No asking of foolish and unnecessary questions.  Mr. Brittle commences the business with —

“Now, you tell me all th’ truth about it an’ I’ll put th’ rest in.”

Still Mr. Brittle is a lawyer with great respect for the immense power and importance of the law.

One morning he was sitting in his usual chair at the office, and opposite to him, in the client’s chair, sat a woman, whose dress and appearance plainly showed that she came from the country.

“Yes,” said the lawyer, commenting upon some information that had been given to him, “his name is Walmsley, and he — what did he do to you?”

“He took a keaw — an’ stuck to ’t.  Id were one as olez hed a trick o’ geddin’ wrang.  Last Tuesda’ mornin’ id geet into his field, an’ he drooave id into his own shippon.”

“Whew!  That’s felony.  What excuse does he give for this kind of proceeding?”

“Why.  He says as we ow’n him for some hay.  We never owed him for nooan.  My gaffer’s brother owed him for some, an’ went off to America beawt payin’ him; an ’now he wants to mek us th’ loyser on’t.”

“Did yor husband promise to be responsible for the debt?”

“Never i’ this world!”

“Then Walmsley is in the wrong.  And even if he were in the right, he can’t take the law into his own hands, and seize cattle in that style.”

“Oh!  Bud he dud do!”

“But he couldn’t do!”

“But he dud do.  He owns to’t,” said the lady, emphatically striking her fat fist upon the lawyer’s table.

“Well,” said Mr. Brittle, “I’ll see what we can make out of it; that’s all.  Where’s your husband?  The action will have to be brought by him.”

“Aw couldn’d persuade him to come; he doesn’d like law.”

“Sensible fellow,” muttered Mr. Brittle under his breath.  Then he drew himself to the table and remarked aloud, “Well, I’ll send a clerk down this afternoon to take his instructions.  Let your husband tell all the facts to him.”

The clerk went down.  For a long time the old farmer was obdurate, and firmly persisted that he “didn’t like law.”  At last, however, the clerk got all the information he required, every sentence of Mr. Warner’s statement being marked with a declaration that he “didn’t like law.”  Mr. Brittle’s clerk went down to try and persuade Mr. Warner to attend the court on the day of trial.  In this he was entirely unsuccessful.  Mrs. Warner, however, knew more of the facts than her husband did, and she was only too willing to be present at the trial to give the court the benefit of her evidence, and as much of her opinions as the court would listen to.

Such an event as a “law do” caused great excitement in the district in which the plaintiff and defendant resided.  It seemed as if everyone between Walton and Ribchester had a personal interest in the matter.  Farmer and ploughman, woodman and peasant, publican and sinner, exchanged opinions about the great dispute that was to be fought out in the Preston County Court.

A few persons sided with the defendant, and said that the debt for which he had seized the cow was a just one.  Most of them, however, agreed with Mrs. Warner that the seizure of the beast was nothing but a robbery.  They hoped that she would come off triumphant with the thirty pounds and all costs, and they expressed their wonder that the claim was not for sixty.

To be sure, the leaders of the society of the district lay still awhile until they heard on every hand that Warner was sure to win.  Then they became his best friends, and in many cases proffered pecuniary assistance.  Farmer Grey, for instance, deeply regretted that he hadn’t seen the occurrence, and therefore he could not be called as a witness.  But he would lend his shandry and horse to carry the Warners to Preston and back.  Being of a most enthusiastic turn of mind, Grey secreted a long-poled banner under the seat, resolving that the victorious Warners should literally come home with flying colours after the trial.

The day of trial came.  Mrs. Warner and her witnesses were up early in the morning.  They rode gaily off to town in Farmer Grey’s cart, while Isaac Walmsley performed the same journey on foot.

Why they started at such an early hour neither themselves nor anyone else can tell.  Like the bird who got up while it was yet too dark to see the worm, they found that they had made undue haste, and that the doors of the court would not open until fully a couple of hours after they got into town.

The case of Warner against Walmsley was to be tried by a jury, like all the great law cases that the papers tell us about.  It was afternoon before it was reached, and Mrs. Warner’s patience was well nigh exhausted when at last the high bailiff called the case.  The attorney for the other side, too, here for the first time put in an appearance.

He was a thin, spare man, with a weak voice.  He did not seem to be very well known in court; and his talent, like his body, was a midget in comparison with that of Mr. Brittle.

When the jury had been fully sworn to well and truly try the case, and had settled themselves as well as they could in the pen provided for them, Mr. Brittle rose to address the court.

In opening the case this popular lawyer reminded the court that he had practised there for very many years; before, indeed, some of his fellow-advocates had been born.  He ventured to assert, however, on the security of his own untarnished reputation, that never before had he been engaged in a case in which so little of the advocate’s skill was required.  He pledged his credit with the court and the jury that the case he should present would be unanswerable.  For the testimony of a person whose appearance would sustain the truth of her narrative he should call Mrs. Warner.

On being called forward, Mrs. Warner manifested a great desire to go backward.  It required all the efforts of the official in attendance to push her into the witness box.  Having at length, however, got her into the box, he stood on the step behind her, thus effectually preventing her untimely retreat.

Mrs. Warner bore out Mr. Brittle’s statement that she was the wife of the plaintiff, and that her husband was absent through indisposition.  She answered all Mr. Brittle’s questions about the capture of the cow in dispute.  She felt annoyed at her lawyer's persistently preventing her addressing the Court on the wrong that had been done by the defendant.  She emphatically denied that her husband owed a penny, or any greater or smaller sum of money, to the defendant; and emphatically denied that either the defendant or any other person had any right to take possession of the cow.

Mrs. Warner, having been got out of the box without having imparted to the Court the fragment of personal history which she was burning to disclose, was followed by a neighbour who had seen Walmsley seize the cow, and drive it into his own shippon.  He testified that he had expressed his surprise to Walmsley, and that the latter had sworn two oaths at him, and tersely directed him to attend to his own affairs.

As this witness went down, the defendant’s solicitor popped up.  He said he had declined to cross-examine Mrs. Warner, as he did not want to be the means of inducing anyone to commit perjury.  He admitted that the course adopted by his client in order to procure payment of the sum due to him was an irregular one.  Still, such a proceeding was not unusual in country places, and he trusted that the jury, when giving their decision, would weigh carefully the evidence he was about to evoke from his most respectable, conscientious, and truth-loving client.  In defence of Mr. Walmsley’s impetuous conduct, the lawyer maintained that some years ago his client sold a quantity of hay to the brother of the plaintiff.  The plaintiff became surety for the price of this hay; but when his brother ran off to America without liquidating the debt, he, the plaintiff, refused to fulfil his engagement, and the defendant had never been paid for his hay from that day to this.

After the defendant had backed up his advocate’s statements, Mrs. Warner was recalled by Mr. Brittle.  She denied that her husband had ever been surety for his brother’s debts, or any part of them; and declared that the statement to this effect made by the defendant was entirely destitute of foundation.

The Judge pointed out that in any case the defendant had no right to take the cow by force.  He remarked that such a proceeding was nothing if it was not cattle-stealing.  He summed up in a manner favourable to the plaintiff, and in conclusion directed the jury to put their heads together and find their verdict.

Whether this verdict was to be found in their heads or not, his Honour did not say; and the jury, not being used to the duty, were plainly puzzled.  But they forthwith put those same heads together — black, brown, grey, red, and bald, — while the Judge fell to polishing his eyeglasses, and the Registrar began the work of making a few cigarettes.

Black Head was foreman.  He at once suggested that they should find for the plaintiff.  The others agreed, with the exception of Bald Head, who proposed to find for the defendant.

“The law is on the side of the plaintiff,” said the venerable Grey Head.

“An’ justice on the side of the defendant!”

“If we find for the defendant the judge will overrule our decision” added the foreman.

“Then he can do his juryin’ hissel.’  What’s th’ good ov a jury if their word isn'd to be taken?” said Bald Head.

"Well said another, “I must be at a sale at Walton at four o'clock, so who wins. The majority is for the plaintiff.”

“An’ th’ minority’s for stickin’ eawt for defendant,” said Bald Head.

“This is a — herd seeot,” said Red Head.

“Well, let’s give in a verdict of some sort,” said the foreman.

“Or I shall miss that sale,” said Red Head, pulling out his watch.  “It’s three o’clock now!”

Eventually a wrangle ensued.  The jury debated the situation for a few minutes, and at length the foreman arose and Bald Head sat back with a smile.

The Registrar laid his cigarettes on the seat beside him, and enquired whether the jury found for the plaintiff or for the defendant.

“For the defendant!”

“For the defendant!” echoed the judge with a gasp.

“For the defendant,” persisted the foreman — and he was about to add that four-fifths of the jury heartily desired that his Honour would refuse to entertain the verdict, when a dangerous gleam in the judge’s eye paralysed his tongue.

His Honour muttered something about an intelligent jury.  Mr. Brittle said that he would be hanged, and added that if he wasn’t the jury ought to be.

Mrs. Warner rode home with the banner still under the seat, and the condolences of Farmer Grey fell upon dumb ears.

That same evening the bald-headed juryman sat in a certain bar parlour near to the Cemetery.  Calling the landlord, he said, in a voice thick with emotion and other liquors,

“John, theaw remembers thad sale at Samlesbury Dingle th’ tother week.”

“Aye, certainly.”

“Theaw remembers them pigs as aw wanted.”

“Aye, certainly.”

“Theaw remembers thad chap as kept biddin’ ageon mo an’ bowt ’em under mi nooas.”

“Aye, certainly.”

“Aw’ve played him his trick back to-day.  Aw were on th’ jury ageon him at the Ceawnty Cooart to-day.  Aw lost him th’ day.”

“O, aye.”

The landlord privately expressed his surprise that a scoundrel like Bill Winks should have been allowed upon the jury.  His fellow jurymen regretted, when it was too late, their part in the proceeding.  The only satisfied person is Mr. Walmsley, and Mr. Brittle says he’ll be brought to justice yet.

But not through Mr. Warner.  He asserts — more sincerely than ever — that “he doesn’t like the law,” and will have “nowt to do wi’t.”


――――♦――――

 
THE MYSTERY OF RUTH BECKETT


In a roomy old house at Sawley, surrounded by a guard of clustering elms, Gabriel Grant lived the pleasant life of a gentleman farmer.

Omitting servants, Mr. Grant’s family consisted of only two persons, himself and his niece; the latter being about eighteen years of age at the time of the commencement of our story.  Pleasant in countenance, as well as tall and shapely, Ruth Beckett still seemed unconscious either of the comeliness of her face or the symmetry of her figure.  Though by no means haughty, she was somewhat shy and reserved; and seldom sought the company of her neighbours.  Her manner, when once known, charmed the few who came in contact with her.  One reason for her comparative isolation was that Lonely Crags justified the name given it by standing at a distance of a couple of miles from its nearest neighbour, another farm, which shall be known as Heath Edge, and which was occupied by a farmer named Henry Barton.

It may be guessed that in her comparative loneliness Ruth’s thoughts often led her into realms of dreaming land surmise.  Among other things, she wondered where she had been born; for though her recollection carried her back to an ivy-clad house, close by the bank of a river, she did not know the name of the place, nor where it was situate, nor why she had been taken away from it.  Once or twice she made inquiry from her uncle, but the only reply she received was that it did girls harm to know too much, and that she had been carried away from home and brought out to Sawley in consequence of the loss of her father.  That her mother had died in giving her birth, and that her father had two years afterwards followed her to the grave, were all the particulars that Ruth could glean as to her past history; and her curiosity would certainly have prompted her to seek further information but that her uncle was invariably displeased at any reference to these matters.

Darkness had set in upon a late autumn evening.  The fires were made up, the blinds were drawn down; Ruth took her knitting, and her uncle carefully filled his long “churchwarden” pipe and settled himself comfortably in his arm-chair.  Thus the repose of the evening had commenced when the yard dog outside broke the silence with its bark, and a moment afterwards a knock was heard at the heavy oaken door.

“Whoever can it be at this time of night?” asked Gabriel, straining his ears in a vain attempt to catch the conversation in the porch.  In a minute the maid-servant came to say that a gentleman wished to see Mr. Grant.  From the emphasis which the girl laid on the word “gentleman,” it was plain that she regarded the visitor as somebody entirely out of the common; and it was with some surprise that Gabriel rose from his seat and went to confer with the stranger.

Ruth shared her uncle’s surprise; and her curiosity was aroused when she heard her uncle ask the stranger to come inside.  Gabriel led the visitor into the best parlour — the apartment where the old oaken chests, the uncomfortable, high-backed chairs, and the cold portraits of unknown and uninteresting gentlemen were displayed to the best advantage.

Half-an-hour passed, and at the end of that time foot-steps were heard in the wide lobby, the door opened, and Gabriel Grant entered, followed by a gentleman whom he introduced to his niece as Mr. Leigh, an old friend who had come to stay a few days with him.

The new comer was tall and manly.  He was not in appearance much above forty; but in a man of athletic training appearances are deceitful, and he might possibly have reached his fiftieth year.  His hair was of a rich brown colour, with only here and there an occasional streak of grey; but he looked a soldier all over, and Ruth felt from the first an uncommon interest in her uncle’s unexpected guest.

Mr. Leigh, too, seemed interested in Ruth; for as surely as ever she allowed her eyes to wander in the direction in which he was sitting so surely was he looking at her.  But the moment she caught sight of him he would withdraw his eyes, only, however, to let them again rest on her the moment she turned to her work again.  Mr. Leigh and her uncle now and then spoke; but the conversation was of short duration, and concerned matters of which Ruth knew nothing; consequently her own thoughts were her chief companions until supper time.

At supper Ruth ministered to the wants of her uncle and his guest, and the latter’s glances betrayed his admiration of the young lady’s dexterity.  Mr. Leigh had excuse for this apparently intrusive appreciation of Miss Beckett’s merits, for her uncle continually mentioned her domestic efficiency, praising her cooking, her economy, her method and her general worth, in a manner that brought blushes to Ruth’s cheek.  All retired to rest at an early hour; but to the maiden sleep did not come as quickly nor as easily as it was accustomed to do.  Whether it was because she saw few visitors, or because the erect carriage and bold, manly appearance of Mr. Leigh came up to her ideal of what a man should be, it was certain his presence affected her in a different manner from that of any other of her uncle’s friends.

The following morning Ruth was up early, as was her wont.  When her uncle came down he explained to her that the visitor was a gentleman whom he (Mr. Grant) had known years before he came to Sawley.  Mr. Leigh would, he said, spend a few days with them; but was not anxious to leave the precincts of the farmhouse: indeed, it was desirable that his presence there should be known to as few persons as possible.

Ruth was busied with her household duties during the day, while her uncle and Mr. Leigh walked about the orchard together.  Whenever Ruth caught sight of her uncle she saw by the expression on his face that the conversation was more like serious discussion than friendly chat.  Indeed, so moody and pensive did her uncle become that in the course of a week Ruth resolved to inquire from aim the cause of this unusual depression of spirit.

Ruth could not think that the stranger was the real cause of this unwelcome change in Mr. Grant’s demeanour.  He seemed to be such a gentleman that she would not, willingly, have heard a single word in his disfavour.  In truth, the longer Mr. Leigh stayed the more Miss Beckett saw to admire in him; though when she boldly asked herself the reason for all this her mind would suggest no answer to the inquiry.

Pure, gentle maiden!  In the sweet simplicity of her rustic nature she had never experienced love.  She was but a girl, and had but heard of love as the wondering child hears of the Indies or the Poles.  That it exercised a potent influence for good or evil she was aware; and when she felt the difference which Mr. Leigh’s presence in her home had already made, she asked herself if this curious and unfathomable attraction was in reality the thing they call love.

The days passed as slowly and uneventfully as they always had done at Lonely Crags.  Ruth’s duties occupied her so much during the day that she had little time for indulgence in vagaries of the imagination.

“Eh, lass,” said her uncle one morning, having come silently behind her as she was laying the cloth for breakfast.  “Eh, lass.  You’ve seemed to be lost in your thoughts a deal lately.  What’s the matter with you?”

“Nay.  What’s the matter with you?  I’ve noticed that ever since Mr. Leigh came into the house your manner has changed; and I have been wondering whatever the matter could be.”

“Would you like to know?” asked her uncle, seating himself in an arm chair and turning it towards her.

“Yes. I should very much like to know,” she answered eagerly.

“Well, if I tell you, you mustn’t ever breathe a word of it to anybody else now, lass.  For fifteen years I’ve kept the secret myself, and told nobody.  It won’t do you any good to know; but as you are curious, and I think I can depend on you, I don’t mind telling you.”

The niece promised that she would faithfully observe the condition of silence; and drawing near to her uncle listened as he told her in low tones the reason why he was so downcast at Mr. Leigh’s appearance.

“Mr. Leigh was one of my best friends, but he had stroke of very bad luck — very bad luck, indeed.  Mr. Leigh was an officer in the army — you can almost guess that by his looks — and a finer man never tasted bread.  But misfortune will come to us sometimes, however good we may be.  Mr. Leigh lost his wife, and before he had got over the shock that her death had caused him, he had to leave the country — to leave home and friends and everything.  It will be of no use to tell you why.  It was for an offence he did not commit.  It was because he had been too anxious to save a young man from the consequence of a very foolish — of a very dishonourable act.  It was to save a good family from disgrace that he went.  It was a mad act.  He should have stopped and faced the inquiry hat was made.  Certainly the real culprit would then have been brought to book, but that’s how it should have been.  If Mr. Leigh hadn’t been driven out of his mind by his wife's death he would never have gone off in the way he did.  And not to think too hardly of the man who really was guilty, I believe he would have refused to be shielded at Mr. Leigh’s expense; but that, almost straightway, word came that Mr. Leigh had died at Brussels, and until a very short time ago I really believed that was true.”

“Now,” continued Gabriel after a pause, “he has turned up in this country like a hiding culprit.  But it is too late to seek to justify himself, and Mr. Leigh must abide a lifetime by his rash act, though he did it out of the purest charity.”

This was all Mr. Grant had to say concerning the visitor, and from his manner when he told the story, Ruth easily understood how it was that the presence of his unfortunate friend had proved so depressing to her uncle’s spirits.  But Gabriel cautioned his niece again and again against ever allowing Mr. Leigh to suspect that she was aware of the mystery that shrouded his life, and Ruth was firm and faithful to her promise of silence.

After staying at Lonely Crags for three weeks, Mr. Leigh announced his intention of leaving.  The departure was carried out upon a Tuesday night, Mr. Grant driving his visitor to Chatburn to catch a late train.

The farewell between Gabriel and Mr. Leigh was private, and occupied all the afternoon; and the goodbye to Ruth was delayed until the last moment.

The vehicle that was to carry Mr. Leigh away from Lonely Crags stood at the door.  Uncle Gabriel, with heavy great coat and thick riding hat that folded down over the ears, paced the hall, whip in hand.  From time to time his eyes consulted the old case clock that ticked so regularly and monotonously in the corner opposite to the door.  By-and-bye Mr. Leigh came down the passage as Miss Beckett emerged from the silent precincts of the best parlour.  The stranger seized her hand, and, holding it, looked into her face with an earnest, wistful gaze, and, as he did so, two big tears coursed slowly down his cheek.

“Good-bye, Miss — good-bye, Ruth,” he said, and then, with an effort to hide his emotion, he quickly darted down the hall and jumped into the gig; and with another half-choked “good-bye” as they drove off, the stranger passed away into the darkness.

 “Never mind, you’ll come again before long,” were Gabriel’s consoling words, but the other seemed to heed them not; keeping sorrowfully silent until they were far on their way towards Chatburn.

And all this time Ruth sat in the small sitting-room, where the firelight and the shadows played with fantastic forms in the shady corners; and the silence was unbroken save for the distant, dull, methodical ticking of the clock in the hall beyond.  She was crouching on a low stool by the fender.  She was wondering what the meaning of Mr. Leigh’s short, but touching, farewell might be; and by no fanciful contortion of possibilities could she conceive that the misfortunes of Mr. Leigh, as related by her uncle, had inspired her feelings towards the visitor or the latter’s inexplicably affecting good-bye.

We have mentioned Heath Edge Farm as the nearest dwelling to Lonely Crags.  The owner, Henry Barton, had a son named John, for whom he had done his best to provide an education superior to that usually given to young men of his class.  When John returned from the Agricultural Technical School, where he had passed four years, he came determined to put his acquired theories to practice upon his father’s farm.  There was a party to celebrate the home-coming of the son and heir.  All the neighbours — that is, everyone who lived within half a dozen miles, were there; and the pranks that were played by the young folks, as well as the tales that were told by the old, made the occasion one to be remembered by all who were present.

Uncle Gabriel and Ruth were among the first to arrive, because anyone so popular as Uncle Gabriel was had to go through a long course of preliminary handshaking before even looking at the more essential enjoyments.  Ruth was the belle of the evening; acknowledged by young and old of both sexes, though the girls attributed her superior attractions to her boarding school education, a supposed benefit which they had never been allowed to acquire.  And so the old folks wagged their heads and told their tales, while the young ones essayed the bewildering motions of the mazy dance — so different, their elders said, from the staid, sensible dances of forty years before.  Without entering into particulars, we may say that several lifelong engagements dated from that night.  But it behoves us to confess that Ruth returned from the party with a feeling that love was not what she had suspected, and that Mr. Leigh, however much she might esteem and pity him, did not occupy her heart of hearts.

Jack Barton, the bluff, well-built, hearty fellow, persistently woed at Lonely Crags from that date; and before the spring time came he was engaged to Ruth Beckett.

The summer passed pleasantly and quickly; for the autumn was to see the realisation of their hopes.  The bachelor uncle was extremely anxious to further the happiness of his niece in even the most trivial details; and on the same principle Mr. Barton the elder decided before the fixed day of happiness arrived that the active days of his life were passed, and an arrangement was come to by which the newly wedded pair were to have and to occupy Heath Edge Farm.

And so when the harvest was over and the leaves were turning brown, the bells of the old Parish Church rang out their merriest welcome, and the neighbouring woods and hills re-echoed and resounded with the bridal melody.  Another happy home was established in our beautiful valley; and in less than two years time the birth of a boy confirmed the happiness of the affectionate pair.  The course of events, the love of a devoted husband, and the unceasing though light cares of her small household, had almost driven from Mrs. Barton’s mind all thoughts of Mr. Leigh; and when any recollection of him occurred to her she was too loyal to allow it to remain a moment in her breast.

The marriage was three years past when one morning John Barton entered and told his wife that she and he were bidden to Lonely Crags to spend that evening; and by way of averting any possible refusal on Ruth’s part, John added that a very old friend of her uncle was on a visit there.

Need it be said that this friend was Mr. Leigh, and that when she met his warm congratulations Ruth felt that though she had never loved him, yet to her he was not as other men were.  Her high sense of honour and of what was due to herself and her husband, caused Ruth to withdraw as much as possible from Mr. Leigh’s company.  During the succeeding fortnight they frequently met; chiefly at her uncle’s house, for when John Barton insisted upon his wife’s accompanying him thither, shehesitated to follow her own inclination, which was to refuse her presence while Mr. Leigh remained.  Why should she fear to accompany her husband?  Mr. Leigh had never spoken to her of love; not even in her maiden days, and now the news of her marriage was regarded by him as a matter for copious congratulation.

On a sweet summer morning Ruth opened the small latticed window of the little parlour to admit the scented air that came, with treasures of balm, from the incense-yielding meadows where the mowers were at work.  Before the house was an orchard, within the quiet shadow of which the birds were unsilenced by the sun, but for ever sang their hymn of praise.

Ruth was absorbed in contemplation of this scene until startled by the voice of her uncle, who had entered unobserved, and who said, in a breath, that it was a very warm day, that the walk had made him sweat, and that he had just-brought Mr. Leigh to say “good-bye” before he went away again.

Gabriel wanted to know where Jack was; and, being told that he was in the hayfield, at once went to fetch him home.  Mr. Leigh and Ruth were left alone; he sitting by the door, she standing before the opened window.

“I have put off saying ‘good-bye’ to you all until the very last moment, because this will probably be the last time I shall see you,” said Mr. Leigh.  “I don’t think I shall ever come again.”

In the innermost recesses of her heart Mrs. Barton felt an uncontrollable sorrow at this news.  With an attempt to stifle any external appearance of regret, she muttered a commonplace expression as to her uncle’s sorrow at his going away.

“He has not told you? — he should perhaps have told you — nay, better not to load your heart with the news,” said Mr. Leigh, with rising emotion.  “But enough.  I am going away, and never again shall I set eyes upon you, Ruth — my dearest Ruth!”

He had risen from his chair; and before she could discern his intention, he had taken her in his arms and printed a kiss upon her brow!  Then in an instant he was gone.

She felt a blush of anger and dismay as he set her down; and at that moment her bewildered eye caught sight of her husband standing just outside the window.

With a cry she fell fainting upon the floor; and unconscious of all that passed, she lay there until her husband and her uncle rushed into the room, when assistance was called for and the senseless wife carried off to her own room.

Ruth awoke in a high fever.  The attendant informed her that her husband had told them to call him in when she became conscious, but she wildly refused to see him.  She felt that no excuse would avail her in sight of her injured husband, and she dared not meet him.  She almost wished that she might die before the time when she should he compelled to face his just anger.  Day by day, as she lay weak and white, she pleaded one excuse and another in order to delay the inevitable hour of explanation; though she felt that every evasion served to strengthen the case against her.

At last one morning her uncle, whom she had feared would never have come near her again, walked into the room, and said in his good old cheery way,

“Now, Ruth, what’s th’ matter with you, lass?”

Ruth, turning her inflamed eyes towards him, asked if there were any other persons in the room.  Upon receiving his assurance that there were not, she told him the story, omitting no detail, and making of the whole an elaborate self-accusation that touched the old man deeply.

“Why, Ruth, lass!  I never thought it could be that!  It was my fault — my fault that I have never told you the truth.”

It was Mrs. Barton’s turn to look surprised now.  “The news will do you more harm than good; but there is no help for that now,” resumed Uncle Gabriel.  “You remember the tale I told you about Mr. Leigh’s misfortune?”

“I remember it well!” said Ruth, gazing up at her uncle as he stood by her bedside.

“And how he was once reported dead.  I believed it to be really the case.  But, as you know, he returned, though compelled to travel about in secret and under a false name.  Ruth, the man you call Mr. Leigh is your father!  This fact I was to keep secret from you, but under the circumstances I cannot.  It is, then, the kiss of a father, parting for ever from his child, that has brought all this trouble about!”

“And John — does he know?”

“Knows, yes!  Knows well enough!  And he has wondered how your father could be so cold to you as he thought he was.”

And now Ruth knows well the difference between the affection of a child and the love of a wife.



――――♦――――

 
THE MAGISTRATE


Our way lies where a turbulent stream, after turning a large and heavy wheel, rushes madly to disturb the more placid waters of the Ribble.  The water-wheel is old and green, and the waters career noisily over it, as if grudging the labour required to turn such an antique and cumbrous piece of machinery.

The shed that stands by the side of the waters is by day the scene of busy work.  Its owner combines the trades of a wheelwright and a carpenter.  He alleges that every wooden article required by man, from his cradle to his coffin can be made at this establishment.  The carts built here can traverse intact the rough roads that lie between here and Preston, can mount the Longridge Fells, or cross the treacherous fords in the higher reaches of the Ribble.

Nothing more could be said in their favour; and when we say that this good workmanship is only one sample of the thoroughness of Dan Wilding’s work, we shall readily be believed when we add that to his workshop come all the orders for anything made of wood required by anyone in the district.

At night, however, the scene is changed.  Business gives place to pleasure.  Dan Wilding’s workmen, with one or two of the village cronies, meet together in the spacious shed, and talk or sing or argue the evening away.

Many a grave political or social dispute, such as will occur in important districts like this, has been settled within the wooden walls of Dan’s shop; and the steps of many an accomplished rustic dancer have first moved to musical motion here amongst the shavings.

“Aw’ll tell yo wod, chaps: Aw’m noan so fond o’ yon keeper as they’n getten at th’ Ho,” said Dick Drawford.

“Nor me, nayther,” remarked another young man, seating himself upon the low bench.  “He looks at yo — when he meets yo — as if he wondered whether yo were gooin‘ a pooachin’ or comin’ back fro’ id.”

“He’s a surly-lookin‘ chap.  He’ll never be weel thowt on while he stops,” said Dick.

The other members of the company agreed with these conclusions.  None of them liked the new gamekeeper, who was such a different man, in disposition, from his jovial and neighbourly predecessor.

The little gathering had lacked a subject for conversation upon this particular evening.  The desultory remark in which Dick Drawford expressed his disapproval of their neighbour the gamekeeper supplied the deficiency; and if the keeper had only been listening in the vicinity of the shed he would have shared the proverbial fate of all listeners, for he would have heard nothing good of himself.

“Aw tell yo wod,” said Dick.  “Aw wish we could hev a bit o’ fun eawt o’ th’ keeper.  Could we nod freeten him some rooad?  He brags as nowt’ll freeten him.”

“Iv mi feyther hed been livin’ there’d hev bin some game,” remarked another.  “He once med up a ghost, an’ put id i’ th’ nook o’ th’ owd looan aside o’ Ribchester; an’ for a full week nobody dar pass id.  Id were th’ talk o’ th’ parish for mony a month.”

“Aye.  Aw recollect id,” said another.  “Id were just after thad owd woman were mordered — owd Ann Walne — an’ fooak’s nerves were a bit upset.”

It was unanimously decided that a “lark” at the expense of the unpopular gamekeeper would be a desirable variation of the colourless life of a country village.  The house, therefore, resolved itself into a committee of ways and means to decide in what manner the resolution was to be practically carried out.

To report the debate, with its numerous interjections and frequent personalities, would be nearly impossible and entirely useless.  In the end a logical decision was arrived at.  Dick Drawford, being a noted scarecrow builder — for he possessed a reputation as a constructor of those hideous guardians of the orchard and cornfield — was deputed to make the projected “boggart.”

“Aw dorn’d know as aw con,” said Dick.  “Aw’m nau’but used to them sooart as freetens throstles an’ crows.”

“Wod’ll freeten a crow ’ll freeten a keeper,” said another of the committee.

“Well, this keeper’s nooan so unlike a crow, roostin’ yon i’ th’ middle o’ th’ wood,” added Dick.

Various suggestions were made by other members of the company.  Some wanted fireworks, to add piquancy to the infernal nature of the “boggart”; and all were highly elated at the prospect of such a great practical joke.

Of course, every member of the committee was pledged to secrecy.  Amongst young men of their age a high code of honour frequently exists, and to break a solemn promise of this sort is to bring down upon one’s self a lasting disgrace.  Anyhow the boggart was finished.  Night had fallen and the moon was struggling to peep through a mass of inky clouds when four village youths, carrying a cumbrous parcel, left the highroad and struck across into the wood.  Walking in Indian file, they passed down to the bank of the Ribble.  The water was very low, and thus the party were enabled to walk along the shingles below the bank of the stream.  Had this not been possible it is doubtful whether they could have found their way to that thickness of the forest in which was the keeper’s lonely home.

We confess our inability to see why all this trouble was taken.  The village lads, however, with the spirit of mischief strong in them, looked at the affair in a different light.  They evidently were quite sure that this midnight game was worth the candle.  They found the path rough and the burden heavy, no doubt, but the spectacle of the horror of the keeper, when he emerged from his lonely hut and met his terrible visitor, would amply repay them for all their trouble.

They were all quite sure that the gamekeeper was superstitious.  They did not take his double-barrelled gun into the reckoning, nor did they suppose that a charge of small shot might possibly put an end to the evening’s amusement.

When the keeper’s cottage was reached, the real “lark” was only just begun.  The great requirement now was absence of noise.  A cough, a whisper, or the cracking of a twig under the foot might have ruined the whole affair.

We will spare our readers’ nerves, and will not inflict upon them a description of the “boggart” as it stood.  Suffice it to say that it reflected all the ideas of the horrible which were possessed by these four young men combined.  Set up in that lonely place, it would have startled the coolest sceptic; and gamekeepers as a class are not always cool and not often sceptical.

Dick Drawford was beginning to drape the ghastly figure when his arm was violently seized, and “Now, chaps, what’s your business here?” rang through the cool night air.

In a moment Dick’s three companions were likewise seized from behind, and then the rough voice of the keeper inquired:

“What are doing here, I asked you?”

“We’re — we’re nau’but hevin’ a bit o’ gain,” faltered Dick.

“A bit o’ game.  I’m glad you’ll own it.  Is it ground game or birds you’re after to-night?”

“Nowe, nowe!  Id’s only id’s only a lark,” said Dick.

“A lark!  Poachers don’t go after larks.  I suppose it’s a pheasant you mean,” said the keeper, with a laugh.

“We’re not pooachin’, aw’ll assure yo,” said another of the surprised party.

“Oh, dear!  A likely tale!  What else could bring you here at this time o’ night?”

“We — we’re just puttin’ a bit ov a boggant up.  Id’s here!” said Dick, holding up the scarecrow.

“Oh, yes; I understand you.  You just match a man I once knew that was always taking important letters to the Hall, and another that had a habit of losing his way — accidentally, of course — every time he went out for a walk.  He was a ‘stranger’ after he’d been five years in the district.  But they were all your sort.  They were all poachers!”

“We’re nod poachers, aw con assure yo, gaffer.  We o’ work at Dan Wilding’s, th’ wheelwreet’s!”

“That may be.  If you try to make a magistrate believe that, I’m afraid it’ll go harder than ever with you.  Have you chaps there got hold of his accomplices?”

The three watchers who had Dick’s companions in custody brought their prisoners up, and all listened to what the gamekeeper and his assistants had to say.

“Neaw, we’ve catched yo fairly this time.  We’n bin watchin’ yo ever sin’ thoose traps were set theer, between thad little plantation an’ th’ river,” said one of the watchers.

“Aye,” said the gamekeeper, “I daresay you thought you would have me fast in the house here while you took up your spoil.  I’m not a bragging chap, but I think that the diamond has cut the diamond this time.”

“We’n fairly letten eawrsels in this time,” said Dick.

“Well, you’ve had a long run.  Several thousand head of game of one kind and another have been taken lately.”

“But we’n nod tekken ’em.  We’n no need.  We’re o’ i’ regular work at joynerin’,” said Dick.

“Aye, of course.  I know you’re all innocent.  I think we’ve summoned nearly all the innocent people there are in the country.  If I were to let you chaps go home now, you would soon bring evidence to prove that you were never in this wood at all tonight.  You would get half a dozen of your friends to swear at court that you were all sound asleep in your beds before nine o’clock tonight.”

“We should never try nowt o’ th’ sooart on.  We own to bein’ here, bud we’re here for an innocent purpose.”

“Oh, aye.  When I was at my last situation in the South, we found a man hidden in the plate closet one night.  Of course, he was there for an innocent purpose.  He said so himself.  I think the judge didn’t hear him, though, or, of course, he would have let him go instead of giving him five years.”

“Yo’ll nod summons us, will yo’?”  Dick asked tremulously.

“No.  I’ll just keep you while I’ve got you.  I’ll not let you go to collect false evidence.  There’s a magistrate just now staying at the Hall, and I’ll bring you all before him this very night.  If you can persuade him to let you off, well and good.  You had better bring that ‘boggart’ with you.  Maybe his worship will believe that you came into the wood at dead of night just to put that up.”

The gamekeeper said these last words in such a sarcastic manner that the four prisoners at once saw that this piece of evidence would go against them rather than in favour of them.  But off to the Hall they had to go, and they did not take with them out of the wood the same high spirits they had brought into it.

The gamekeeper avoided the main avenue, and led his captives round to the back of the house.  There they were admitted by a side door.  Dick and his companions were surprised to find the house so much alive at this time of night.  They had certainly hoped that the magistrate would be in bed, and that they would have escaped, for this night at least.

“Is Mr. Clarke in his room?” asked the keeper.

“Yes,” answered one of the servants; “shall I call him?”

Mr. Clarke was not the master of the house.  He was a visitor — the J.P. of whom the gamekeeper had spoken.  The owner of the hall seldom comes there, excepting just in the shooting season.  Then he comes and goes at irregular intervals, and no one in the district ever knows for certain whether the squire is at home or not.  He comes without notice; brings perhaps one or two friends from town; stays a few days, and then as suddenly disappears, to return, perhaps, at the end of six or seven months.

“What’s the charge against these men?” asked Mr. Clarke.

“Night poaching, sir.  I caught them at it in the wood, about a quarter of a mile away from here.”

Mr. Clarke sat in an easy chair at the head of a long table.  At the right of this table the keeper stood while giving his evidence, and at the lower end, opposite to the magisterial chair, stood the prisoners.  One of the game watchers kept the door of the room.  On the table were some books very likely various useful books of law, to which Mr. Clarke made reference during the hearing of the case.

“What is the evidence?” asked Mr. Clarke.

“Well, your worship, there’s been a deal of game taken lately.  I suspected these men, but haven’t been able to get at them till to-night.  About half an hour ago I saw them leave the high road, cross preserved lands, and go in the direction of some snares that were set during last night.  On the way they stopped opposite the door of my hut.  They appeared to be holding a consultation about me.  I had no doubt that they intended to employ violence against me if they could find me.  So I got those watchers together, and pounced on the prisoners.  I arrested them and brought them right up here.  If your worship will order a remand, we can have the prisoners searched, as they may have some poaching implements about them.”

“Yo con search us neaw!” said Dick Drawford.

“Hold your tongue!” peremptorily commanded Mr. Clarke, who had evidently not been a magistrate long, and was burning to vindicate the majesty of the law.  “If the facts are as this witness says, no remand is necessary.  The case is clear enough without any further proof.  What have you to say to clear yourself from this charge?”

Being now permitted to speak, Dick commenced to tell the story of the boggart.  At its recital the gamekeeper smiled incredulously.  Dick had got far enough to deny any knowledge of the snares or of the person who set them, and to assert that he and his companions were simply bent upon a practical joke, when Mr. Clarke interrupted him —

“That’s an old tale.  We’ve heard it scores and scores of times.  Have you nothing but that to tell us?”

“It’s gospel truth.  Thad’s o’ as aw con say.”

“Have any of you other prisoners anything to say for yourselves?”

The other prisoners, thus addressed, muttered their inability to vary the statement of their spokesman, Dick Drawford.

Mr. Clarke closed his book with a bang.  “I believe you to be a most dangerous gang of ruffians,” he said.  “This part of the country is infested with poachers; and I feel it to be my duty to make an example of you.  I, therefore, sentence every one of you to be imprisoned in Preston Gaol for six months!”

“But, sir,” Dick was beginning.

“Silence!” exclaimed Mr. Clarke.  Then, turning to the gamekeeper, he told him to keep the men in safe custody all night.  Then he was to get sufficient assistance from the county police to remove the prisoners to Preston, there to serve the term of imprisonment to which they had been sentenced.

Grumbling at this hole and corner manner of administering injustice, the unfortunate men were led off down a long passage.  At the end of this passage was an open door.  Through this door blew the cool air of heaven, — an air that surely never seemed so sweet to Dick and his friends as now, when they were likely to lose it for a time.

“You needn’t grumble, chaps.  You’ve browt o’ this on yorsels,” said one of the game-watchers to the prisoners.

“We’re as innocent as lambs,” said Dick.

“Are you sure?” the gamekeeper asked, smiling.

“We are for sure!” exclaimed Dick, energetically but mournfully.

“Well, how do you fancy your six months?”

“It’s too bad!” said Dick.

“Well, but you see how it might have been.  You were caught in the wood.  Your story wasn’t believed; and if Mr. Clarke had been a real magistrate, you would have been off to Preston in the morning.”

“What dun yo meean?” asked Dick eagerly.

“I mean just this,” said the keeper, taking Dick by the buttonhole of his coat, and earnestly addressing him, — “There’s an old saying that the frighteners generally get frightened.  Next time you construct a boggart to terrify a sulky keeper, just you take care that the sulky keeper is not behind the wall, listening to all you say.  I have as good a right to play a joke as you have.  I am not afraid of ghosts.  If I had met a hideous thing like that you were setting up, I should have sent a charge of shot through it, and another into the bushes where its owner was hiding — waiting to see the fun.”

“Bud six months is too bad,” began Dick.

“Don’t I tell you there’s no six months about it.  Mr. Clarke is no magistrate; and if you hadn’t been fools you would have seen it.  He is the butler from the master’s London house.  This beautiful joke is of his own inventing, not mine.  But if you don’t mind your own business, and leave me alone, I may joke with you yet.”

As he said these words the keeper shifted his gun from one hand into the other in a menacing manner. Then he continued: —

“Now, you see that door.  Well, good night, the four of you.  I’ll see you down the avenue, though; and his worship will no doubt wave his handkerchief from the front steps.  Now, if I were you, I would remember — every one of you that a joke is a joke when both sides enjoy it.

“You enjoyed it first.  I am enjoying it now, and, if it were not so late at night, I would ask you to a bite and sup just to keep the fun going.”

If the departing guests heard a loud laugh behind them as they left the house, perhaps they also enjoyed it, and inwardly blessed the “magistrate.”


――――♦――――

 
NUT CRACKING


“Well, aw dornd know wod things is comin’ to i’ this waurld, aw dornd for sure!  We’s be at a bonny pass iv we gooan on at this rate.”

The speaker was a stout farmer, the clear, healthy bloom on whose cheek was marred by the same ill-tempered look that spoiled his expression.  As he said the words quoted above, he was entering the snug at the Borough Arms, Blackburn, to warm himself with a special Scotch, while the ostler put his horse up in the stable.  The old man drives to Blackburn from Samlesbury every Wednesday morning; and if you have often been in Preston New-road about nine in the morning, you are sure to have seen his quaint little “turnout” and his unmistakable figure.

“What’s up, William?” asked the only other occupant of the snug.

This latter gentleman was a festive traveller for a local tailor; and when William Skipson entered, he was busy placing a few of his master’s circulars on the mantelpiece and the still vacant tables.

“What’s up, William?” the commercial gentleman asked, again interrogating his agricultural friend.”

“Why, aw’m in a gradely bad humour this mornin’.”

“What’s the matter with you?”

“Aw fun’ eawt as there’s one o’ these hanky-panky cawnter jumpers after eawr Polly.”

“Well.  An’ what does Polly say?”

“Hoo’s foo’ enough to bother wi’ him, id seems.”

“Well, if they’ve made up their minds to have one another, I’m afraid you can’t do anything.”

“Corn’d be fiddled!  Aw’ve put a stop to it o’ready — or at least aw will do to-morn at neet.”

“Not going to commit a murder, I hope.”

“Aw dunno yet.  Aw’m beawn to do a bit o’ nut crackin’ — aw’m beawn to let th’ new year in for sumbry wi’ a wallop!”

“Where?”

“See yo’.  Read this, an’ id’ll tell yo’.”

Mr. Skipson took a letter from his pocket, and handed it to the other gentleman.  The latter perused it, and then handed it back to the farmer.

“Well, wod does id say? ”

“It just says that the writer never could persuade her father to let her be married, but she’ll not delay the ceremony on that account.  It says also that she’ll meet someone — as that someone has requested — on the footpath that leads near Samlesbury Old Hall at seven o’clock tomorrow night, to talk this important matter over!”

“Oh! well, thad ‘someone’s’ beawn to ged his nut cracked, an id’s to be done on thad same footpad at seven o’clock to-morn at neet.”

There was silence broken only by the click of a sugar crusher against the side of Mr. Skipson’s glass, and then Mr. Skipson proceeded with his explanation.

“Yo’ sin, aw thowt there were some’at o’ this sooart afoot; an’ aw set eawr Bill to watch — he’s a cute youngster for his age, is Bill — there isn’d a dog i’ th’ country bud wod knows him, an’ he knows id.  Well, last neet he coom to me, an’ he says, ‘ Feyther,’ says he, ‘Eawr Polly’s gi’en mo this letter to pooast.  Hoo’s towd mo nod to tell yo’ upo’ no acceawnt.  See yo’, id’s directed to a chap?”

“Aw’m nowt of a scholar misel’, sooa aw rent th' letter oppen, an’ med eawr Bill read id — he’s a rare scholar is that lad.  He read id just as yo’ read id.  Aw dar’say he’ll meet her, but id’ll be th’ last time.  He’ll want a cure for a sooar heyd o’ Frida’ mornin’.”

A distinguished local poet, who is, however, accused of “cribbing” from Burns, says: —


“Oh, would some power the giftie find us,
 To squint one e’e an’ see behind us.”


Had Mr. Skipson possessed that power he would have looked through the window, and would most certainly have seen a young man making towards the busy yard of the hotel.  This young man was no other than the maligned lover of Polly Skipson.

The young fellow walked in and out amongst the resting traps and gigs, until he came to the one owned by Mr. Skipson.  Waiting, then, until there was no one at hand, he took up the loose seat and turned it over; finding, as he evidently expected, that there was an inscription in chalk on the underside.  He read the writing over several times, and then obliterated it with his pocket handkerchief.

Those persons whose business or pleasure takes them frequently to Samlesbury will know “Crooked Oak” Farm very well.  They will have noticed that a little further on than the farm a narrow road runs between two arboreal nurseries.  In this lane Polly Skipson and her lover met on the first Thursday evening in the year.

“Is your father at home?” asked the young man.

“No.  I’ve sent him an errand!”

“You have?”

“I have.  You’ll smile when you hear it.”

“Let me hear it now, then.”

“Well, I told you that my father was having us watched, didn’t I?”

“You said that your youngest brother was playing the spy on us.”

“Yes.  Well, I wrote a letter, and gave it to him to post.  It was addressed to you, and promised that I would meet you near the Old Hall at seven to-night.  I knew my brother would take it straight to my father, and he did so.  While they were reading it, I was chalking that message under the seat of the gig, where you said you’d look for it.”

“So that your father brought the message, and yet he thinks that we shall meet up near the Hall?”

“Yes.  He’s gone there half an hour ago.”

“Capital!”

“I wonder how long he’ll wait for you.  You’d better not go near that footpath to-night.”

“I don’t see how he can recognise me.  I’m not aware that he ever knew me.  Shall we walk in that direction, and see if he is really waiting?  It may all be a threat meant to frighten you.”

“My father isn’t a man of that kind.  He’s usually more bite than bark.  But we’ll go towards the Hall, and see if we can catch sight of him at a distance.”

The young couple walked arm-in-arm down the road, and then along the footpath that led towards the place where the vengeful father was waiting for the expected suitor.

Before they got in sight of the place where Mr. Skipson had stationed himself, the girl and her lover became aware that some unusual commotion was going on at that point of the footpath which lies nearest to the Hall.  Someone was shouting for help; and then there arose the sound of mingled angry voices.

“There’s somebody having a row, yonder,” said the young man.

“Yes; I hope my father isn’t in it.”

“Perhaps the gamekeeper’s mistaken him for a poacher.”

“Nay, he knows my father too well for that.”

“They’re getting more furious.  Let’s push on and see what the matter is.”

The two young people hurried on, and soon found that the noise came from the next field, in which two men were struggling in a fierce contest.

“I think it’s a‘ poacher who has attacked the keeper,” said the young man.  “You walk back a little, while I go and give the keeper a hand.”

“No, don’t.  He may attack you.”

“It’ll be two of us to one if he does,” was the reply, as the speaker hurried off towards the scene of strife.

When he got there, the young fellow found, to his surprise, that the man upon the ground was Mr. Skipson, and that he was being belaboured by a tall lump of a man, around whom the despised counter-jumper at once threw his arms.

“Hold!  What are you hitting him for?”

“He hit me first!  He jumped out on me as I was walking along.”

“Aye.  He coam after eawr Polly after aw’d forbidden her to hev owt do wi’ him.”

“I don’t know your Polly.  And if she’s anything like her father, by jingo, I hope I never shall!”

“You’ve got the wrong man,” said Mr. Skipson’s rescuer.  “I’m the man you expected to meet here.”

“You are? Yo?” — And here there was a very long pause.

“Yes, I am; and if I hadn’t come just now, you’d have been in for it.”

“I thought he was a garrotter,” said Mr. Skipson’s adversary.

“Bi gum! but tha’s sorm’at abeawt tha, seem’ly,” said the farmer, ignoring the previous remark, and extending his hand to Polly’s lover.  “Aw mut as weel be ‘thick’ to tha.  An yo, too, mayster.  Come on an’ hev a bit o’ supper, an’ we’ll o’ be ‘thick’ together.”

The Wedding is fixed for Whitsuntide.


――――♦――――

 
THE WEDDING OF DOROTHY DILWORTH


The man with the crooked stick will probably stare very hard when he sees this story in print for the first time.  For it is, we believe, his strong impression that he has told us every interesting tale of which his village can boast.  He has, however, not told us the following little gem of sylvan Samlesbury, for which we are indebted to an old lady who now resides at Hoghton, but whose mother was a native of the former village.  Our informant is now in her seventieth year, and she was only quite a girl when she first heard the tale told by her mother, and then it was told in an undertone, and prefaced by the remark — often heard in those days, but seldom in these — that “little pigs have big ears.”  The reader will thus see that the story is sufficiently venerable, whilst the fact that our friend of the crooked stick has never heard of it will be, on the other hand, a guarantee that it is not also stale.

In the second decade of the present century, there dwelt in the vale of Samlesbury a maiden, who, for our present purpose shall be called Dorothy Dilworth.  She was admitted to be one of the finest young women in the district at that time, for she possessed not only a full share of the beauty which usually belongs to her sex, but a goodly share of the two qualities which are supposed to belong in a more especial manner to the male species — to wit, strength, and courage.  Dorothy also possessed a further recommendation in the eyes of most of her admirers, and this consisted of the fact that she was well provided with this World’s goods.  She had inherited money from her maternal grandfather, whose favourite grandchild she had been, and she was the only child of her long-widowed and independent father, over whose home she presided.  Thus situated, Dorothy had plenty of suitors, and whilst she had far too much common sense to be easily deceived by an ordinary money grabber, she had still experienced great difficulty in classifying and analysing, as it were, the affections of her numerous lovers.  At twenty-four years of age, however, she made up her mind that it was time to weed out these rustic swains, whose attentions had so long been troublesome; and after long and thoughtful consideration, for she was a young woman whom over attention had not by any means turned into a flirt, Dorothy cut down the number of her “recognised” lovers to two.  Arrived at this stage, she experienced almost as much difficulty in her own mind as ever; for whilst she was captivated by the quaint but hearty gallantry of Harry Hetherington, she was deeply impressed with the shrewdness and worldly-wisdom of Peter Calvert, whose administration of a neighbouring farm was praised by nearly everybody in Samlesbury.  In giving attention to Peter’s carefulness, it must not be supposed that Dorothy was looking to that alone, for she had the kindest feelings for him, as well as for Harry, and could hardly make up her mind, even at the last moment, which of them should claim her love, and which her friendship only.

Eventually, however, she decided in favour of Peter Calvert, leaving poor Harry Hetherington to a state of loneliness, which was apparently too much for him; for having no near relatives left in Samlesbury, he, on the failure of his suit, took himself off to the Fylde, where he remained for several years, trying to live down his unrequited love.

“Eh, Dorothy, mi bonny lass! aw could welly jump o’er th’ moon.”

“Howd thi din, tha silly thing; there is no moon to-neet.”

“It’s no waur for thad, noather,” said Peter Calvert, as his arm stole round the waist of the charming damsel whom the following morning was to make his wife.

“Tha’rt ter’ble cracked to-neet,” she said, taking his embrace with composure.  “Aw’ve ne’er bin use’ to tha bein’ so silly.”

“Aw’m silly because aw’m fain.  Just fancy!  Afoor to-morn tha’ll hev getten kessend o’er ageeon, an’ aw s’ hev getten tha for mi own for ever.”

“Tha’ll happen wish tha’d ne’er sin mo some day.”

“Nay indeed aw!”

“Tha corn’d tell.  There’s quare things ihappens i’ this waurld, but’ dornd swagger.  Tha’s nooan getten mo yet.  There‘s mony a slip between t’ cup an’ t’ lip.”

“Ah! but aw’s nod let thee slip, lass.”

“Aw dornd think tha will, Peter.  Aw dornd keer iv tha’rt olez as fain to be wi’ mo as tha art to-neet.”

“Never fear, lass!  Aw like tha to’ weel to leeave tha for a single day.”

“An’ tha olez will do?”

Peter’s reply to this question was not expressed in words, and we will not trouble the reader with further details of a conversation which, however interesting it may have been to the two individuals who took part in it, may seem trivial and even foolish to others.

It was the eve of the wedding, and Dorothy and her intended husband were on their way home from Preston, where they had been buying the ring for the great event.  Dorothy had been surprised to see Peter so elated, for he had not been hitherto very demonstrative in his affection, though he had bought her more than the usual number of the plain and simple lovers’ presents which were in vogue in those days.

The couple parted at Dorothy’s home, and as she closed the door after her lover’s departure, she fully intended to betake herself in the course of half an hour to that rest which the toil and excitement of that eventful day had rendered doubly necessary.  The fates, however, were against her, for her father, having been busy in her absence, had been unable to go down to the house of his friend the village tailor for the bran-new suit he was to wear upon the morrow.  He would have gone himself, but Dorothy, seeing him apparently more tired than herself, insisted on going, especially as she could have the company of her bosom friend, Mary Allinson, who had been assisting in the preparations for the wedding, and who lived near the tailor.

So the two young women set out together full of conversation about the arrangements for the morrow.  As often happens with friends of their sex, the two damsels took each other almost home several times after leaving the tailor’s establishment, chatting away all the time and finding something fresh to say as often as they were on the point of parting.

“Husht!” exclaimed Dorothy.  “There’s somebody hearkenin’.”

“Aye.  They’re laughin’, hear tha,” said Mary quietly.

“Let’s be quate a bit, an’ see whooa they are.  Aw could’nt like ’em to hev heeard o’ as we’ve bin sayin’.”

“Nowe. Whisht a bit.”

The two young Women had stopped talking at a wayside stile which gave entrance from the main road to a footpath across some fields, and as they stood listening, after uttering the above sentences, they found that the laughter of the supposed listeners came from the other side of the high hedge where ran the footpath across the field.  The damsels soon satisfied themselves that the mirthful people behind the hedge were not listening to them, but were apparently quite ignorant of their presence.  Thus assured, they would probably have left the stile without a moment’s delay had not Dorothy’s quick ear recognised, first, the voice of her affianced husband, and secondly, that of his brother, Thurston Calvert.  Thurston was a “ne’er-do-weel” of the most unsatisfactory sort, and she had supposed him to be absent from England, he having had to quit the country some years previously for a serious offence which it is not worth our while to detail.  Here, however, he was, and in apparently friendly converse with the brother who had sworn never to speak to him again on account of the disgrace which he had brought upon his name.  Under these circumstances who could help listening?  Certainly not Dorothy Dilworth.

“Hear tha bod, Mary,” she whispered. “It’s Peter an’ their Thurston.”

“Their Thurston!  Wodever con thad good for nowt be doin’ here?”

“Whisht!  That’s wod aw want to know.  Dorn’d stor, for thi life.”

Thus adjured, Mary, like her friend, almost held her breath to listen.

To their mutual horror, they were repaid for their curiosity by the following dialogue:—

‘An’ is id really true as tha’s to be wed to her to-morn?”

“It is thad.”

“Tha’s played thi cards better than me, owd lad.”

“Dudn’d aw olez say aw would?  Aw wer never as simple as thee.  Theaw’s tried to better thisel’ bi unlawful means, an’ tha sees wod it’s browt tha to.  But aw’ve worked in a different fashion.  There’s nobody but thee an’ me an’ th’ lawyer knows abeawt th’ mortgage on th’ farm; but hoo will hev to know ’at after.  Hoo thinks just this minut — and sooa does her fayther an’ everybody abeawt — as aw’m one o’ th’ steadiest an mooast weel-to-do chaps i’ Lancashire.”  And Peter laughed the same low laugh that the two girls had heard before.

“An’ wod,” asked Thurston, “will hoo say when hoo does find id eawt at after?”

“Hoo can say wod hoo likes.  Id’ll be to’ late for th’ brid to think o’ flyin’ when aw’ve getten her i’ th’ cage.”

“An’does ta meean to say as tha’rt geddin’ wed on them terms?”

“To be sure aw am.  Aw’m not weddin’ hor; aw’m just weddin’ her brass, thad’s wod aw’m dooin’.”

“Well,” said Thurston, “aw’ve bin a bonny dule i my time, but tha’ll lick me yet.  Come on here; let’s be off.”

The feelings of Dorothy and her companion may be better imagined than described.  Both felt for some moments too much stunned to utter a word.  Mary, indeed, though not immediately affected by the base scheme of which both had just heard, seemed ready to drop to the ground as the two men walked away in the darkness; whilst Dorothy, the bride-expectant, of a few moments ago, felt as if the darkness of the night were as nothing compared with the darkness that had fallen upon her own hopes and affections.

“Come on,” said Mary, at length, as she dried the tears that had risen to her eyes, “aw’ll gooa hooam wi’ tha an’ tell thi father.  Tha mun go nooan to Samlesbury Church i’ th’ mornin’.”

“Thad’ll just depend,” replied Dorothy, in a strange voice.

“But, then?”

“Aw know wod tha’rt beawn to say, Mary, but aw’ll save tha th’ trouble. Aw think tha’s known mo long enough to be able to trust mo to look after misel’.”

“Aye, aw know tha’s a good pluck in tha; but for goodness sake dornd clod thisel’ away.”

“There’s mony a one would goo an’ dreawn theirsel’ for less than this, but tha sees, Mary, aw’m nod beawn to shorten mi days for sake ov a wastrel.”

“A’m gradely fain to hear tha say sooa.  But dornd change thi mind after aw’ve left tha.  Tha’rt happen disavin’ mo.”

“Nay, nay, Mary.  But aw’s disave yon af-oor aw’m mich owder, iv tha’ll help mo.”

“Help tha!  Aye, will aw, iv aw con oather do or say owt to keep tha eawt o’ danger.”

“Tha’ll nayther hev to do nor say.  Tha con help mo th’ best wi’ sayin’ nod one word abeawt wod tha’s heeard to-neet.” "

“Aw’s nooan keep quate unless aw know wod tha’rt beawn to do.”

“O, aw’ll tell tha neaw.  Aw con trust thee, heaw’t be.”

The wedding morning rose bright and sunny, and Mary Allinson almost wondered, as she looked upon the radiant face of her friend, whether the discovery of the previous night was a dream or a reality, but as she saw Dorothy come up the church attired in the spotless but plain dress which in those days was considered good enough for a wedding, one little peculiarity settled her doubts.  After the fashion of the time, Dorothy wore over her dress a white apron, and this apron she carried, though with much grace, in a way which showed a careful observer that something was concealed in it.  Up to the rails went the bride-elect, accompanied by Peter Calvert, whose face betokened the satisfaction with which he regarded the ceremony which was to bind him and Dorothy together for life.

The service began; the parson commenced the asking of the usual questions.  When asked if he would take “this woman” for his wedded wife, Peter answered “I will” with a voice that rang through the church, and gave token that he was more than well satisfied with his bargain.  But when the question was put to Dorothy, the parson did not catch her answer, though he was considerably annoyed and perhaps shocked at the peculiar manner in which she tossed up her dainty apron, and thereby caused a jingling sound which did not by any means accord with his ideas of the solemnity of the ceremony.  However, thinking she had not understood the question, he repeated it, with great emphasis,  “Wilt thou have this man to be thy wedded husband,” and so on to the end.  Again was observed the strange act of tossing up the apron, and again was heard the jingling sound that seemed, curiously enough, to be caused by it.  Still more annoyed and shocked, as well as bewildered, the parson said, “My good woman, why do you not answer the question; how can I proceed with the marriage if you do not answer?”

“Nay,” said Dorothy, “It’s nod for me to answer; it’s for mi ‘brass” to answer, an’ id hes answered, twice o’er.”

“What do you mean?”

“Aw meean,” replied the blushing damsel, “that this mon’s nod weddin’ me, he’s weddin’ mi brass; for he said sooa his-sel’ last neet, an’ aw heeard him wi’ mi own ears.  So iv th’ brass is o as he wants, let him wed id, an’ let th’ brass speyk for idsel’.”

If these words had been the signals of an approaching earthquake, they could not have had a more instantaneous effect upon Mr. Peter Calvert.  He gave one wild look at Dorothy, whose face glowed with a strangely mingled light of humour and revenge, and another at the parson, who was looking round the corner of his left spectacle glass to try and hide his own bewildered feelings; and then, like a hunted hare, he, the bridegroom that should have been, fled from the church.  He was followed by the crowd of sightseers who had come to witness the wedding, and who now longed to get out of the sacred edifice in order to give free scope to their feelings.  Off Peter flew, and off the crowd followed; and never did hunters follow the chase with greater zeal than those men, women, and children followed the unlucky Peter.  But the pursuers were not so fleet of foot as the pursued; and with a desperate bound he gained the little boat that lay at the ferry, crossed the Ribble before the crowd reached its bank, and was soon lost in the recesses of the neighbouring woods.  The indignation of the crowd that watched his escape was tempered with jubilant satisfaction at the way in which the plucky girl had exposed the treachery of the scheming adventurer; and she was now, more than ever, the favourite of the village.  It is related that, far from being heart-broken by the treatment she had experienced at Peter’s hands, Dorothy preferred to look upon the matter in the light of a Providential escape, and was heard to express mock sympathy for her “brat full o’ brass,” which she laughingly remarked was now in the sorrowful position of a “widow-bewitched.”

So greatly was the story talked about that, without either telephone, telegraph, or railway to spread it far and wide, it speedily reached the Fylde, where Harry Hetherington was toiling as Adam toiled before Eve came to relieve his loneliness.  He waited what seemed to him to be a respectable length of time after the “bereavement,” and then contrived to meet Dorothy in Preston, and to accompany her home, one glorious Saturday evening when the moon was shining, and the stars looked down upon his peaceful native village.  Need we say that he asked Dorothy to be his wife, that she consented, and that in less than a year after Peter Calvert’s flight, Harry leased the deserted farm from the mortgagee-in-possession and took Dorothy there, after all, as its proud and plucky mistress?  The parson must have felt greatly obliged to Mr. Hetherington for thus enabling him to complete that strangely-interrupted task — the Wedding of Dorothy Dilworth.


――――♦――――
 

 


 

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