A TRICK OF FATE
|Yielding to the pressing
invitation of a friend, though I confess that I required little
persuasion, I spent, a short time ago, a few days in the charming
district of Matlock. Almost twenty years had elapsed since I was there
before; and I was struck with the remarkable change which had taken
place in the interval. At that time I stayed at a very comfortable
hotel at Matlock Bath, situate on the hillside, from which a commanding
view of the valley could be obtained. The picture presented to one’s
gaze, from this point, was a memorable one. There, beneath one’s feet,
were the precipitous pathways along which were dotted, here and there,
small old-fashioned houses. Down in the centre of the valley was the
road leading in one direction to Marple Bridge, and, in the other, to
Cromford, and close beside ran the beautiful river, which was overhung
with rich blossom and delightful foliage. Beyond the river was the
charming Lovers’ Walk, quietly nestled on the side of the hill, and
exquisitely shaded from the rude gaze of the penetrating public, whilst
the craggy peaks of High Tor seemed to extend a sort of welcome
protection over the quiet village that rested so cosily and happily
From that time until a few weeks ago I cherished a particularly bright and cheerful recollection of a secluded, dreamy, and even reposeful spot. I felt that I should like again to dip my oars into its placid waters, in which the ﬁsh could be seen sporting about, and in which the reﬂections of the leafy branches above made the scene of an enchanting character.
But a good deal of its quiet fascination has disappeared. Instead of a solitary boat shooting under the overhanging boughs, the river is covered with a miscellaneous craft, and the air is ﬁlled with whistling, shouting and screaming. The country lane is converted into a busy thoroughfare where shops and “pubs.” vie with each other for the patronage of the visitor. The banks of the river are crowded with all manner of amusements, whilst the multiplication of petrifying wells and the discovery of new caverns verge on the miraculous. I stood near the “Fish Pond” watching the ever moving crowd, some of which going one way and some another, some riding in the cars which seemed to be always rolling to and fro, and some skimming along on that machine from which is supposed to be evolving the “new man” and the “new woman.” Whilst my attention was thus rivetted on the busy scene before me I felt a hearty slap on my shoulder, and, ere I could turn round to greet my assailant, my hand was grasped and a cheery voice exclaimed:
“Well! I never. Who’d ha’ thowt of us two meetin’ at a place like this? Heaw are yo’, Mesthur Jones, an’ whatever are yo’ doin’ deawn here?”
It was my old friend Penky, from Bobbin Cloof, who accosted me, and the sight of his face in that locality was as much a surprise to me as my appearance could possibly have been to him. I explained to him that I was merely on a short visit with a friend, and I was noting the changes that had taken place since my last acquaintance with the place. But I could not understand, I confessed, what had tempted him so far away from his native haunts.
“Well,” he said, “one never knows what or wheere he’ll get to, as little Juddie o’th’ Farm said when he slipped up to th’ neck i’th’ swill tub wi’ tryin’ to get at a sparrow neest. But yo’ see mon proposes an’ woman disposes. Though God forbid as aw should say owt again eaur Dinah. Eh! nawe! Hoo con dispose o’ me as hoo likes an’ aw’st never grumble. But that’s noane what aw wur goin’ to tell yo’, Mesthur Jones. Dinah, yo’ know, had a very roof bringin’ up, an’ what wi’ havin’ to go a moppin’ an’ weshin’ so mich for folks, it‘s noane surprisin’ that hoo neaw an’ then begins to feel a bit of an attack o’ rheumatism. It wur nowt so very serious, yo’ know, but aw thowt we met as weel tak’ it i’ time. It‘s no use havin’ brass if yo’ winno’ use it when yo’ need it. Aw’d yerd o’ this place though aw’d never seen it, so aw suggested to eaur Dinah ’at we should lock th’ heause up an’ spend a week or two deawn here. Hoo wur rayther back’art at comin’, becose hoo’d never been so far away fro’ th’ Cloof in her life before; but aw geet her i’th’ mind after awhile, an’ here we are. An’ what’s better, hoo’s as nimble as if hoo’d never known what th’ rheumatism wur; an’ as for me, well, every time aw goo in to mi meals aw feel as if aw could ate a mon off his hoss. Eh! It‘s a rare place is this! But come an’ look at us if yo’ve an heaur or two to spare.”
I assured him that I should be pleased to accept his invitation as my friend was engaged that evening.
“That’s reet. Shall we walk or ride?”
I remarked that I should prefer to walk as we should then be able to enter more freely into conversation.
“Just my opinion to a T,” said Penky. “There’ll be lots o’ folk on th’ road, but we’st be quieter an’ moore comfortable nor if we wur squozen up i’ thoose herrin’ boxes.”
So we turned our steps, somewhat leisurely, in the direction of Matlock Bridge, my companion, in the meanwhile, extolling the beauty of the scenery around us. On arriving at the “Bridge,” we found a tramcar waiting to convey passengers up the steep hill which led to where Penky was staying. “Neaw then! Mesthur Jones,” he said, “What dun yo’ say to a ride neaw? This is a gradely stiff broo aw con tell yo’! They tell me ’at i’th’ winter time, when th’ frost an’ snow han ta’en possession o’th’ greaund, ‘at th’ folks ’at live at th’ top han to tarry up, if they value their necks, till there’s been a lung thaw.”
I agreed to ride, but I could not conceal my surprise at the extraordinary gradients of the line.
“Yo’ve no need to be feeart,” said Penky, “though aw must say ’at aw wur rayther nervous th’ fust time ’at aw coom up. But yo’ should ha’ seen eaur Dinah. Hoo grabb’d howd o’ mi arm, an’ shut her e’en, an’ ne’er oppent ’em again till th’ car stopp’d at th’ top.”
I assured him that I was in no way alarmed, and we chatted merrily until we reached the terminus, where his wife stood waiting for him.
“Dun yo’ see who that is, Mesthur Jones? Eh! bless her, we met be on eaur honeymoon, hoo looks after me so weel. Whenever aw come up on that car hoo’s sure to be waiting for me, as if hoo wur feeart ’at there’d be some accident. Dost see who there is here, Dinah? He’s com’n o lookin’ at eaur new lodgin’s, an’ he’s beawn to have a bit o’ supper wi’ us.”
“Aw’m glad to yer it,”said Dinah, “but aw hope he isno’ comin’ becose he ails owt.“
“Eh! dear, nawe; he’s as weel an’ hearty as thee an’ me, an’ that’s sayin’ a good deeal, isn’t it, Dinah?”
“Yigh, it is,” she said, “an’ it‘s a blessin’ ’at we owt to be thankful for. But here we are, Mesthur Jones. Come in.”
I went in. Supper was already being served, and, after an introduction to the proprietor, I was invited to take a seat next to my two friends.
“Neaw then, Mesthur Jones, what dun yo’ say to a good mess o’ porritch? Its noane so oft yo’ getten th’ chance o’ porritch like this. Would yo’ believe it, they start o’ boilin’ th’ porritch for th’ supper at th’ breakfast time, an’ that for th’ breakfast they start o’ boilin’ at th’ supper time. Neaw what will yo’ have to it, thraycle or milk? Yo’ can have oather or booath.“
I partook of the meal heartily, and stole a cursory glance round the room. There was a large company present, including men and women of all ages: young people and children, too, were there, but whether all were invalids, or not, I could not say until the supper was over and they rose from the tables to proceed to the sitting room for evening prayer. Then I noticed with what difﬁculty some of them walked, whilst many had to be assisted across the room. As I watched them my friend said: “We’re nobbut a cratchety lot after o, are we, Mesthur Jones? Yo’ seen that big chap theere ’at con hardly point a foot? He thowt he’re as strong as a lion once, an’ nowt could ever touch him. But we sarve under a just Mesthur, an’ if we break His laws He’ll fettle us for it sooner or later. It‘s a pity to see some o’ these folks at times, an’ its amusin’ to see others. Aw’ll tell yo’ a bit of a skit ‘at happent th’ other week. It wur a remarkable case. But let us have a bit of a walk eautside wheere we’st have a bit o’ fresh air an’ a bit moore elbow reawm.”
I assented, and, as I did not expect to return, I bade good night to Mrs. Marshall, and soon my friend and I were enjoying a delightful walk in the lovely twilight.
“Well, as aw wur tellin’ yo’,” said he, “we had a rayther remarkable case, a sort of miraculous cure. Neaw yo’ needn’t be feeart; aw’m noather advertisin’ Pink’s Pills nor Warner’s Safe Cure. Aw dunno’ think ‘at oather on ’em wur a patch at th’ side o’ this ‘at aw’m tellin’ yo’ abeawt. An’ aw dunnot think ’at it wur owin’ otogether to th’ baths an’ porritch, though aw darsay ‘at they’d a bit o’ summat to do wi’ it. Nawe, they wur helped on wi’ two o’ th’ mooist peawerful things i’ human nature — fear and love. Yo’ seed that yung couple ‘at sat opposite us at supper?”
I answered that I had noticed them, and had been wondering whether either of them was in any way aﬂlicted.
“Nawe, they ail nowt neaw, as onybody con see, but aw believe ‘at they wur bad enoof when they coom at th’ ﬁrst. They could noather on ’em walk gradely, an’ they had to be daded booath upsteers an’ deawn. They could hardly toddle, beawt assistance, into th’ sittin’ reawm, an’ when they geet sit deawn theer they had to stop till someb’dy help’d ’em up at th’ next meal time. They wur quite strangers to each other, an’ as they’d nowt else to do nobbut read novels an’ look i’ one another’s een, they began o’ lookin’ wi a softer expression day by day. Once he ax’d her if hoo’d ever read ‘The Heavenly Twins,’ an’ hoo blush’d an’ said hoo never read owt abeawt sich things. He said ’at he’re sure ‘at hoo misunderstood him, an’ he offer’d to land her th’ book. Of course hoo wur only too glad to have summat fresh, so hoo accepted it, an’ hoo lant him one o’ Ian Maclaren’s to be readin’. These fund ’em a bit o’ summat to talk abeawt for a day or two, an’ then he lant her ‘Trilby,’ an’ they wur fairly ta’en up wi’ one another i’ discussin’ the characters of Little Billee, an’ Svengali, an’ Trilby. Another thing ’at wur soon noticed wur ’at no matterheaw far off one another these two wur laft when they wur ta’en into th’ reawm, it wur noane so lung afore they managed to get at th’ side o’ one another. It wur suggested ‘at they should be laft i’ th’ dinin’ reawm, by accident, an’ see if they could walk eawt the’rsel, but they did it, an’ they wurno’ lung before they started o’ walkin’ eawt a bit together, especially at neet. Aw met ’em a time or two up th’ road, an’ aw wur surprised heaw softly they could get o’er greawnd. Of course he had to howd her up a bit wi’ his arm, an’ hoo had to lean her yed a bit on his breast, but barrin’ that they walked as straight as me. Everybody could see as it wur a done job wi’ ’em, but nob’dy thowt ’at they’d get wed as soon as they did. Heawever, one afternoon, just when we’d getten sit deawn after baggin’, Ben Mills, for that wur his name, geet up an’ said as he’d ordered a bit o’ summat extra for breakfast th’ next mornin’, as him an’ Esther Randles wur goin’ to be wed i’th’ forenoon, an’ he invited as mony on us as thowt ﬁt to th’ weddin’.
Well, yo’ know, everybody wur surprised ’at two o’th’ patients at sich a place should get wed like that, an’ ther wur a good deeal o’ talk abeawt it aw con assure yo’. Some said as it owt to be stopped, as it nobbut meant bringin’ moore misery i’th’ world, but, bless yo’r life, they met just as weel ha’ spit eawt. Nob’dy thinks abeawt these things when they’re gettin’ wed. If they wur breedin’ brids, or dogs, or hosses, they’d look up the’r pedigree a bit, but as its nobbut human bein’s it doesno’ matter. So nob’dy could interfere. Someb’dy, heawever, did write to Ben’s mother, an’ to Esther’s fayther, tellin’ ’em what wur i’th’ wind, an’ to thoose at wur i’th’ secret some lively times wur expected. But nowt turned up to spoil th’ breakfast, an’ th’ weddiners started off witheawt a hitch havin’ occurred. Yo’ll happen wonder what th’ owd folks wur doin’ o’ this time. Well, they wur comin’ on th’ road as fast as th’ train would bring ’em. Jim Randles wur in a ﬁne stew when he geet his letter, an’ he swore what he’d do at theer Esther when he geet howd on her. If hoo wur weel enoof to get wed hoo wur weel enoof to work, an’ he’d see whether hoo’d stop theer idlin’ her time away gallivantin’ wi’ chaps. It wur lucky as nob’dy else geet i’th’ same compartment at Clegg Street Station, or else they’d ha’ thowt ’at th’ chap wur beside hissel. When he changed trains at Guide Bridge he wur noan so fortunate, as he fund that he had as a travelling companion a middle aged woman, whose sharp glances from reet to left, and whose compressed lips show’d ’at hoo wur vainly tryin’ to keep deawn a risin’ temper within her. At last hoo said, “Are yo’ sure, mesthur, ’at this train’s gooin’ to Matlock?”
“I hardly think it is,” replied Jim, “At leeost yon porter said ’at it wurno’.”
“Well, an’ he towd me ’at it wur; peevish good-for-nowt. Aw wish aw had him here neaw, aw’d ring his ears for him.”
“Yo’ happen misunderstood him,” suggested Jim.
“Heaw could aw misunderstond him when he co’ed eawt, ‘Matlock train’?”
“Well, aw believe ’at he meant that thoose ’at wanted to go to Matlock must go by this train, but aw think yo’ll ha’ to change at Marple.”
“An’ shall we ha’ to get eawt an’ wait of another train?”
“Aye, aw’m afraid yo’ will.”
“Eh, dear,” hoo sighed, “aw’m sure aw’st be too lat’ neaw. Eh! if aw’d nobbut howd o’ yon porter, he’d never co’ eawt Matlock train ony moore. Aw’d sooner ha’ gan ﬁve peaunds, see yo’, nor ha’ been too lat’. Eh, whatever mun aw do?”
“Yo’ mun ha’ some very important business if it’s worth o that,” said Jim.
“P’rhaps it’s moore important nor yo’d think,” hoo onswert. “Yo’ seen aw’m nobbut a lone widow, an’ it’s a question o’ my only choilt. It’s hard, mesthur, when yo’n had a big family, an buried ’em o, obbut one, an’ then to lose him i’ this fashun, an’ just when he’re gettin’ into sich a nice yung felly, too, an’ wur likely to bring me a bit o’ summat in.
“Well, what’s to do?” ax’d Jim. He’s noane beawn’t t’ be hung, is he?”
“Nawe, but he met as weel be, very nee,” an’ th’ woman wur welly sckroikin’. “Yo’ happen dunnot know what it is to be bother’d wi’ a rook o’ poorly childer. Well, aw do, an’ what’s moore, they o deed obbut this one before theyowt like kept the’rsel. This has been a good lad, an’ aw’ve been a good mother to him, an’ neaw he’s payin’ me off. Aw sent him to Matlock a twothri weeks sin’ beoose he’d getten a touch o’th’ rheumatic, an’ neaw, when aw thowt he’re beaun t’ come whoam an’ fotch up a bit for what aw’d laid eawt on him, aw yer ‘at he’s gooin’ to be wed. But aw’ll give him gettin’ wed, an’ her too, brazent snicket as hoo is, if aw con nobbut get theer i’ time. Aw’ll straighten her curls eawt for her if aw get howd on ‘em. Wenches are gettin’ too forrud neaw-a-days. They con read a novel or ride a bicycle a lot better nor what they con mak’ a good potato pie, or mend a pair o’ stockins, or put a petch on an owd pair o’ breeches. But aw’ll give her ticin’ eawr Ben on, see if aw dunnot?”
“Well, yo’ know, th’ woman kept rattlin’ on i’ this road, an’ Jim hardly knew what to say. They’re booath on one arrand, dunno’ yo’ see, an’ it began to dawn on him that it met be his own dowter ‘at woman wur carryin’ on abeaut. In a bit th’ train stopp’d at Marple, an’ they had to get eawt. Jim felt as if he’d like to be free fro’ th’ rest o’ th’ journey, but when they wur walkin’ along th’ platform, th’ woman axed him if he wur gooin’ to Matlock, an’ when he said ‘at he wur, hoo said:—
“Eh, I am glad. Aw hope we’st get i’ th’ same carriage again, mesthur, becose aw like yo’r company.”
“Of course, Jim had to put up wi’ th’ inevitable, an’ when they geet sit deawn i’ th’ train again, hoo said ‘at hoo hoped ‘at his business wur of a moore pleasant character nor her’s. Well, Jim hardly knew what to do, but at last he eawt with it, an’ said: ‘Well, Missus, aw’m feeart ‘at it isn’t, an’ if aw mun tell yo’ what aw think, we’re booath on th’ same arrand.’”
“Yo’ never say! An’ wur yo’ gooin’ to stop yo’r dowter fro’ bein’ wed to my son?”
“Aye! Aw must confess ‘at aw wur.“
“An’ what for?”
“Nay, aw dunnot know, only, aw suppose, for th’ same reason as yo’ wur gooin’ to stop yo’r son fro’ bein’ wed to my dowter.”
“Why, is hoo yo’r only dowter, an’ are yo’ a widower?”
“Aye,” he said.
“Well, aw’m sorry aw said owt again yo’r dowter, becose if hoo’s owt like yo aw’m sure hoo’ll mak’ eaur Ben a good wife,” an’ th’ woman put her handkicher to her e’en as if hoo wur beawn to skroike.
“Neaw, dunnot put yo’rsel’ abeaut,” said Jim, “for aw thowt as bad abeaut yo’r son as yo’ did abeaut my dowter if aw didn’t say it. But aw shanno’ say a word neaw, becose aw’m satisﬁed ‘at if he’s owt loike yo’, he’ll mak’ her a good husband.”
“Aw think we met as weel turn back neaw?” said th’ woman.
“Nay, let’s go forrud neaw,” answered Jim. They said nowt onymoore for awhile, an’ then th’ woman whimpered “I hope they’ll be happy, but aw’s feel so lonely by misel’,”
“Aye, an’ so shall I,” replied Jim. “But never mind. If th’ childer han conﬁdence i’ one another, why should’nt parents have too? What dun yo’ say? Will yo’ try yo’r lot wi’ me?”
“Really, this is so sudden. Aw dunnot even know yo’r name.”
“My name’s Jim, Jim Randles, an’ if yo’ll tak’ me for better or worse, aw’ll guarantee it shall be o better as far as aw con mak’ it.”
“Aw believe it will,” hoo said; “an’ aw’ll risk it.”
“That’s reet,” said Jim. “Shall we turn back neaw?”
“Nay, we’ll go to th’ fur end neaw,” hoo replied.
“But what are yo’ co’ed,” said Jim. “It’s a bit of a capper gettin’ a wife afore yo’ know her name.”
Well, yo’ know, hoo said ‘at hoo didn’t know ‘at th’ name matter’d so much, but hoo wur co’ed Alice, Alice Mills, an’ after that they began a talkin’ more softly, an’ cooin’ like, an’ they wur at Matlock Bridge before they thowt they wur th’ hauve road.
“Eh! are we theer be neaw?” inquired Alice. “Th’ train must ha’ come very fast to’ard th’ ﬁnish.”
“Aye! It has,” said Jim, “but th’ time awlus seems to ﬂy when yo’r goin’ through beautiful scenery.”
“Very likely that’s it,” replied Alice, though to tell yo’ th’ truth hoo’d hardly seen a bit o’ th’ scenery of o th’ road. “But aw shouldn’t ha’ minded ridin’ a bit fur.”
“But heaw abeawt bein’ too lat?” queried Jim.
“Oh, never mind ’em. Aw couldn’t stop th’ weddin’ if aw would.”
“An’ theau wouldn’t if theau could, eh?”
“Ger off wi’ thee.”
They made their way eawt o’ th’ station, an’ when they geet to th’ bottom o’ th’ hill, Jim proposed havin’ a ride up, an’ as Alice said it wur no use o’ bein’ parted so soon hoo agreed to ride too. When they’d getten abeawt th’ hauve road up they seed a lot o’ folks come eawt of a chapel, an’ Alice said, “Seethi, aw’ll be bund yon are th’ weddiners. We’re too lat’ if we’d ha’ wanted to stop ’em. Hello, yon’s eawr Ben. Here, owd mon,” hoo co’ed eawt to th’ car driver, “stop that hoss.”
Well, yo’ known, th’ other passengers laughed becose the’r wur no hosses, so Jim whispered summat to her.
“Never mind, hoss or no hoss, tell him to stop it. Ben!” hoo shouted, “Ben!”
Hoo’d thowt o’ stondin’ up, too, so as theer Ben could see her, but hoo’d lik’d o’ fo’n back’ards. Jim managed to help her off the car, an’ then they set off after th’ weddin’ party. By this time th’ two principal actors had fund it eawt who it wur, an’ they wur off up th’ broo as fast as the’r legs could carry ’em. Talk abeawt th’ rheumatic! They met never have had it sin’ they wur bom. It wur th’ ﬁnal cure, an’ it beat th’ porritch an’ baths into ﬁts.
When th’ fayther an’ th’ mother catch’d up wi’ th’ party they wur booath eawt o’ wynt, an’ could hardly spake, but yo’ could see ‘at they wur surprised at th’ childer had ﬂown. Heawever, they fund ’em soon after, an’ then it wur childer’s turn to be surprised when they yerd that ‘isted o’ one weddin’ bein’ stopp’d they’d been th’ means of arrangin’ another. We persuaded ’em to get wed at Matlock, an’ th’ owd mon geet a special licence, an’ made us o a regular good do at th’ wedding day. Neaw, what dun yo’ think o’ that, Mesthur Jones, wur it a trick o’ fate or what?
“I do not know,” I answered. “But it is a curious story. Permit me to thank you heartily for it, and to bid you good night.”
“Yo’r welcome to it, Mesthur Jones, but dunno’ put it i’ th’ Record. Good neet!”