Tufts of Heather, Vol. I (4)

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CHAPTER IV.


Come, all ye weary wanderers,
Beneath the wintry sky,
This day forget your worldly cares,
And lay your sorrows by.

CHRISTMAS SONG.


THE supper things were cleared away, the room was trimmed up and swept, the fire had been mended, and the guests were seated once more around the board with their glasses before them.  Pipes and tobacco lay about.  At the head of the table Giles sat, with an old-fashioned silver ladle in his hand, in front of a great bowl of punch, chatting cheerfully, as he served the steaming liquor out right and left.  At the other end "Jem o' th' Har-barn" presided over another bowl of the same inspiring compound.  "Bith heart, lads," said he, "this is a grand brew!  Talk about posies!  It's making my yure curl!  Here, Craddy, tak howd!  That'll tickle tho up, owd brid, — wi' thi rags, an' jags, an' tinkerin' bags!"

    "Now, lads," said Giles, rapping the table with his ladle, "as we're getten meeterly weel sattl't again, I propose that every mon round th' board oather tells a tale or sings a sung.  What say's yo?"

    "I'll agree to that," said Snip, who was a good singer; and "Agreed, — Agreed!" was the general cry.

    Turning to the shoemaker, who was a notable budget of country story, Giles said "Capstone, what says thou?"

    "Oh," replied the shoemaker, "I'm never again a good thing!"

    "Well, then," said Giles, "we couldn't do better nor start wi' thee!"

    "Nay, nay," replied the shoemaker, "let somebody else begin.  I'm noan at concert pitch yet."

    "Thou shall be, afore thou'rt mich owder," said Giles.  "Here, let's fill for tho.  Thou'rt hanging fire terribly.  Theeri, sitho.  Sup, an' then brast off."

    "Giles, I think thou should set us agate, thisel'."

    "Me! nought o' th' sort.  Rats afore mice!  Come, gi mouth, — an' bother noan."

    "Well, well," replied the shoemaker, "I've oft yerd that force were physic for mad dogs.  What is to be mun be, — there's nought else for it."

    And quietly trimming the bowl of his pipe, the old man began the tale of


THE WICK SECK.


"It's a bit of a crack o' mi' faither's," said he.  "I've yerd him tell it time an' time again, when I wur a lad; an, it isn't a week sin I wur tellin' it mysel, up at owd Mistress Taylor's yon, at th' sign o' 'Th' Trumpeter.' . . . It's about an owd farmer, known by th' name o' 'Judd o' Jers.'  He live't upo' Chadderton side, yon, an' he wur reckon't very weel off.  His wife had been deeod some time, an' he'd nought but hissel' an' an only daughter, — as hondsome a lass as ever stept shoe-leather.  Hoo wur th' pride o'th country side, an' hoo commonly went bi th' name o' 'Th' Rose o' Chadderton.'  Well, gentle an' simple, an' rich an' poor, theyr'n cockin' their hats at this lass of owd Judd's, on o' sides.  Two or three fine lads listed through her; an' I believe one poor divvle fro' Owdham drown't hissel' becose hoo'd ha' no truck wi' him.  It matter't nought to Mary who coom, — silk or fustian, — they had to fo' back, — every one on 'em but one, — an' that wur a limber, weel-mettle't yung farmer, co'd 'Dick o' Rattler's,' 'at coom out o' Thornham.  As fine a lad he wur, I believe, as ever bote off th' edge of a cake, — an' he turn't out as weel at th' end of o', — but he'd bin raither of a rackle turn up to that time.  Well, o' somehow, this lass of owd Judd's an' him geet terrible thick, an' come what would, hoo were like as if hoo couldn't bide to clap her een upo' nobody else nobbut him.  But owd Judd thought there were nought i' th' world good enough for his daughter; an' there were so mony ill tales flyin' about this Thornham cowt that he wouldn't yer tell on him at o', an' he swore mich an' moore, that if ever he catch't him about th' house again he'd tan his hide for him; an' he would ha' done, too, — for he wur a great strung chap, an' he'd a very strung temper.  Bull Ben o' Blakeley were a lusty fellow, an' as swipper as a kitlin; but owd Judd thrut him o'er th' hedge, one Middleton rushbearin', — just like a bit of a catch-bo'.

    Well, i' spite of o' 'at could be said an' done, this lad stuck to th' lass, an' th' lass stuck to th' lad, — for they were gradely fond o' one another, — an' th' moore they were sander't th' moore they crope together.

    Well, th' owd chap never wur rough wi' his daughter, but he wur anxious about her, — for hoo wur th' leet of his e'en, — an' he'd getten it into his yed that this Dick wouldn't behave weel to her; beside, he didn't like th' notion of his hard-getten brass bein' squander't bi a fast-gated spendthrift, sich as he thought him at that time.  So he talked to Mary about it again an' again; but hoo did nought nobbut fret; an' when hoo began o' cryin' th' owd lad couldn't ston it at o', an' he use't to walk off wi' a sore heart, for he lippen't o' nought but ill to th' poor lass. . . . Well, o' wur no use.  These two war so taken up wi' one another that they still met at by-times i' odd nooks an' corners, as they weren't allowed to meet i'th oppen; an' owd Judd couldn't go to noather market not fair, but, o' somehow, Dick geet to know on it aforehond.

    Well, things went on o' this ill fashion till, at th' end of o', Dick played one bit of a marlock 'at brought th' upshot on, an' put o' to reets.  It seems that he wur determined, if Mary couldn't get out o' th' house to him, he'd goo into th' house to Mary, o' somehow; so he made it up wi' two of his mates that they should put him into a seck, an' co' at owd Judd', wi' th' cart, just afore lockin'-up time, an' ax if they could lev it i'th kitchen till mornin'.  Well, they put a lot o' sawdust into th' bottom of a lung seck; an' then Dick geet into 't; an' they packed him nicely about wi' hay, so as to make it look round, an' shapely; an' they laft two or three peep-holes at th' top, so that he could get his breath, an' see what were gooin' on; and he'd a bit of a knife in his hond, so that he could let hissel out when th' time coom.

    Well, when neet coom on, Mary sit bi th' kitchen fire, mendin' stockin's, an' hearkenin' for th' sound o'th wheels, bringin' this seck of hers, — for hoo wanted to get it snugly in afore her faither coom whoam fro' th' market.  Well, it wur gettin' nee bed-time, an' still owd Judd hadn't londed. . . . But stop; I'm missin' my tale.  It seems that one o' these cronies o' Dick's had bin tattlin' at th' owd alehouse i' Chadderton Fowd, an' he'd letten cat out o'th bag; and somebry that wur theer happen't to leet of owd Judd at th' market th' same day, an' he towd him th' whole tale about this seck, what there wur in it, an' when it wur to lond.  Well, th' owd chap wur terribly put about; for he see'd that it wur no use strivin' ony lunger; and he went up and down th' market frettin' and mutterin' to hissel', 'I met as weel give in, an' let 'em have it to theirsels; and try to make a good job of an ill un. . . . But I'll sattle wi' yon seck this neet!'

    So he hung about later than usual, to gi' th' seck time to get londed.  Well, it wur gettin' nee bedtime when those cronies o' Dick's set off wi' th' cart wi' th' seck in it; an' they knocked at owd Judd's kitchen dur, and axed if they could lev th' seck till mornin', as they weren't goon' whoam.  An' Mary said: 'Ay; they could lev it an welcome;' an' hoo towd 'em to rear it up at th' side o'th owd clock, 'at stoode in a nook nearly out o' seet.  So they rear't it nicely up, an' then they bad her 'Good neet,' and crope out, sniggerin' an' laughin' to theirsels.  Mary watched 'em off, out o'th yard, an' down th' lone; an' then hoo barred th' dur beheend 'em.  Hoo hearken't a minute or two, till o' were still; an' then hoo went quietly up to th' seck, an' said, Dick!'  An' th' seck gave a bit of a wriggle, an' said 'Mary!'

    "'Eh, Dick,' said Mary again, talkin' to th' seck; 'this is quare wark!'

    "Th' seck stirred again a bit, an' said, 'Let mi yed out!'

    "'Stop a minute,' said Mary.  An' hoo went an' hearkened at th' dur.  O' wur still, an' there wur nought comin'; so hoo crope back, an' unteed th' seck mouth; an' out popped Dick's yed, wi' his yure full o' hayseeds.

    "'Wheer's thi faither?' said Dick.

    "'I expect him every minute.  Get in witho' till I've getten him to bed.'

    "'Give us a kussin'!'

    "An' hoo gave him one, an' hoo said, 'Eh, Dick, whatever man I do if my faither finds this out?'

    "'Thou mun do as I towd tho, an' let me put th' axins up.  Mon, th' owd chap 'll come to, if we getten wed. . . .Gi' mi another!'

    "'Eh, Dick, I wish he would let tho come into th' house, an' see one daicently.  I don't like this mak o' wark.  It'll come to no good.'

    "'Well, let's get wed, I tell tho!  He connot get o'er that!  An' I'll come where thou art as lung as I live, — if I have to come down a chimbley! . . . Come, give o'er cryin', lass!  I can ston aught but that!  I wish th' owd chap didn't think so ill on me, — so as things could go on straight-forrad an' gradely.  Wipe thi een, lass, an' gi' me another; or else thou'll ha' me cryin' too. . . . I wish my honds wur free! . . . Com a bit nar! . . . It's first time i' thi life thou ever clipt a seck, isn't it, lass?'

    "'Eh, Dick, pritho, don't talk!  I connote bide to think about it! . . . Husht! . . . Put thi yed in, put thi yed in!  Mi faither's comin'!'

    "Dick needed no moore tellin'.  Down went his yed; an' Mary's hands flutter't as hoo teed him up again.  Then hoo ran an' unbarred th' dur; an' hoo'd hardly getten nicely sit down bi th' fire to her stockin's again afore her faither walked in.

    "'Faither,' said Mary, 'yo're very late.'

    "'Ay,' said Judd, givin' a sly glent round th' kitchen; I've stopt too lung.'

    "'Win yo have ony supper?'

    "'Nawe.'

    "'Yo'd better ha' summat.  It's ready here.'

    "'Nay; I've no stomach for supper to neet.'

    "Well, th' lass felt soory for him; an' hoo could hardly help for cryin'; an hoo kept hur yed down at her wark.

    "Thou may go to bed, Mary,' said Judd; 'I'll lock up.'

    "'I've a lot o' stockin's to mend yet,' said Mary.

    "'Well, then,' said Judd, 'I may as weel have a bit of a smoke;' an' he lit his pipe, an' planted his cheer so that he could see o' round th' kitchen.

    "For th' next quarter of an hour there weren't a word spokken; but there wur three folk i' that hole that wur about as ill thrutched i' their minds as ony poor craiters i' Christendom could be, — partickilar th' seck.  That began o' wishin' it wur a whoam again.

    "In a a bit owd Judd knocked th' dust out of his pipe, an said, 'Well; I may as well be goin.'  Thou'll not be long, I guess?'

    "'Nawe,' said Mary, 'I'll not be long.'  But hoo never lifted her yed when hoo spoke.

    "Then owd Judd geet up, an stretched hissel', an' began o' saunterin' about kitchen, till he coom up to th' nook where th' seck wur rear't again th' clock, an' theer he made a full stop.  Mary tremble't from yed to fuut; an' th' seck began o' feelin' poorly.

    "'Hello,' said Judd what's this seck?'

    "Well, th' poor lass wur i' sich a flutter that hoo could hardly get a word out; but hoo managed to tell him that two o' Stakehill Robin lads had co'd wi' th' cart, at th' edge o' dark, an' axed if they could lev this seek till mornin'.

    "Owd Judd gav a surly sort of a grunt; an' he said, 'I think they'd better ha' takken it where it belungs, — or else ha' put it into th' shippon, yon.  This is no place for sich like things. . . . I wonder what there is in it?'

    "An' he gave a rough punce at th' seck, where it bulge't out a bit.

    "Th' seck jumped, an' said, 'Oh!', — an' weel it met, for th' owd lad had a sayrious fuut.

    "Mary dropt th' stockin's to th' floor, an' went as white as a sheet.

    "'It's happen barley,' said Judd; an' he punce't at th' seek again; an' th' seck jumped, and said 'Oh!' again, — for this time it let upo' th' shins.

    "Then Judd nipt up a knobstick, an' began a weltin' at th' seck as he said, 'to penk th' dust out on't a bit,' an' th' stick happen't to come across summat tender, for th' seck gav a grate yeawl, an' started o' swearin' like a drunken tinker.

    "'Hello,' said Judd, 'what han we agate now? This seck's of a feaw-mouthed breed!  There's some mak o' jumpin'-stuff in it too. . . . Here; I've shot mony a queer thing i' mi' time; and I'll have a bang at a seck, for once!'

    "An' he nipt th' gun down.

    "When th' seck yerd that, it tumble's out o' th' nook, an' began o' rollin' up an' down th' floor; an' it skrike't out 'Howd, howd!  D――― it, howd a minute!  Untee this bag, — an' let's have a chance for mi life!  Cut this bant; I'm noan beawn to dee in a poke!'

    "'Ifs ever seck deed i' this world,' said Judd, 'thou dees this neet!'

    "Well, th' seck roll't, an' wriggle't, and skrike't 'Murder!' an' Mary dropt on her knees, an' cried 'Eh, faither; for God in heaven's sake, don't shoot!  It's Richard!'

    "Owd Judd grounded th' gun, as if he wur fair dumfounder't — though he knew o' about th' job — th' hare an' th' hare-gate.

    "Bi this time Dick had cut a bit of a hole i' th' seck, an' he'd getten his yerd out at th' top; an' theer he lee upo' th' kitchen floor, starin' up at Judd, an' Judd starin' down at him.

    "Mary had dropt into a cheer i'th corner, cryin' as if her heart would break.

    "When these two had stared at one another a while, Judd said, 'Well, an' what does to think o' thisel'?'

    "'I think I'm a ―― fo',' said Dick.

    "'Thou'rt as like one,' said Judd, 'as aught 'at ever I clapt een on.'

    "'I dar' say,' said Dick, hagglin' at th' seck to get hissel' out.

    "'Well, an' what dost to want here?' said Judd.

    "'Yo'n known that a good while,' answered Dick; 'I want yo'r Mary.'

    "Owed Judd gav a turn or two about th' kitchen; an' then he said, 'Here, I'll hae this job settle't afore thou comes out o' that seck.  I've gan thee th' bag mony a time, but thou's taen it thisel' at last.  An' now, I think we'n try what a noose 'll do for tho, — as there's nought else for't. . . . Here get out o' that seck, an' let's see what thou'rt like, for thou'rt a weary seet at present.'

    "Well, Mary weren't a minute wi' helpin' Dick to get out o' th' seck; and they sattle't th' whole concarn, straight off.  Dick went liltin' back to Thornharn that neet, as leet as a layrock; an' Mary crope off to bed i' better heart nor hoo'd bin for mony a year afore.  Well, about a month after that they geet wed at Middleton Church here; an' they live't wi owd Judd till he deed.  Dick wur a good-hearted lad, an' he turned quite stiddy; an' they'd as fine a family as ever sun shone on.  One o'th grondsons lives upo' th' same lond now; an' they han' th' owd seck by 'em to this day."


 
CHAPTER V.


I love a ballad but even too well, if it be doleful matter merrily set down, or a very pleasant thing indeed and sung lamentably.

CLOWN, IN THE WINTER'S TALE.


THE shoemaker's story was received with a buzz of approbation all round the board.

    "Well done, Lapstone," said Giles; "that's a good tale; an' thou's towd it weel! . . . Push thi glass here I'm sure thou'rt dry. . . . Now, lads; yon had a start.  Who's th' next? . . . But stop; afore we gwon ony fur, let's buttle out an' pipe up, an' have a bit of a chat.  Send yo'r tots up! . . . Now then; is there nobody at th' table 'at can give us a bit of a ditty, for a change? . . . Here, Snip; thou use't to be a good bond at a sung.  Brast off, owd brid!"

    "Well," said Snip, "I'm willin' enough; but my supper's noan sattle't yet, man; an' it's hard wark singin' through a pile o' beef.  Beside, I haven't a memory worth a hep now.  I know lots o' bits o' sungs.  They done weel enough for one to wortch to; but I don't think I could waggon through a sung of ony sort fro end to end.  Th' fact is, Giles, I known nought at o' about aught i' this world, nobbut bits."

    "Well, let's have a bit then," said Giles.  "Come, get agate; an' give o'er preachin'."

    "O' reet," said Snip; "I'll try my bond at Tum Pobs!"

    "Tum Pobs," said Giles, rapping on the table with his ladle.  "Snip's beawn to give 'Tum Pobs.' . . . . Now then, gi' mouth, owd brid!"

    With his pipe in one hand, and his glass in the other, Snip turned his face to the ceiling and began:—


Tum Pobs War a good-nature't sort of a lad;
He wove for his livin', an' live't wi' his dad;
He wur fond o' down-craiters, an' th' neighbours o' said,
That he're reet in his heart, but he'd nought in his yed.
                                                            Derry down.

Nan o' Flup's wur a lass that wur swipper and strung:
Hoo'd a temper o' fire, an' a rattlin' tung;
Hoo're as handsome a filly as mortal e'er see'd,
But hoo coom of a racklesome, natterin' breed.
                                                            Derry down.


    "Now, then," said Snip, "I towd yo I should be fast. . . . But, stop. . . . This Nan o' Flup's wur gettin' thirty year owd; and hoo thought it wur about time to look round, an' tak a chance o' some mak; so hoo began o' settin' her cap at this lad:—


An' hoo coodle't, an' foodle't, an' simper't, an' sken'd,
Till Tummy geet middle't clen up i' th' fur end.
                                                            Derry down.

He're so lapt up i' Nan, both i'th heart an' i'th yed,
That I doubt he'd ha' dee'd if they hadn't bin wed;
So at last they stroke honds, an' agreed to be one;
An' hoo trice't him to church, — an' poor Tummy wur done.
                                                            Derry down.

An' when th' news o' this weddin' geet down into th' fowd,
Folk chuckle't an' laughed, an' thought Tummy wur sowd
An' th' women o' said, "Nan's too mich for yon lad;
He'd better ha' stopped till he deed wi his dad."
                                                            Derry down.

But they buckle't together, for better an' wur;
An', at first, things wur reet between Tummy an' hur
An' they'rn meeterly thick, both by dayleet an' dark,
Till th' wayter o' life cool't 'em down to their wark.
                                                            Derry down.

Then Nan lost no time, but coom back to hersel';
An' hoo cample't, an' snapt, as no mortal can tell;
An' poor Tum o' Pobs soon fund out that his wife,
Though an angel at first, wur a divul for life.
                                                            Derry down.


    Here the singer stopped again, and hemmed, and coughed, and played with his pipe.

    "It's no use," said he, "there's another hole i' th' ballet."

    "Hark back," said Giles.

    "Rom a bit o' talk in," said Rondle o' Rogers, "an' get end-way."

    "Come, I'll try," said Snip, trimming his pipe again.

    "Well, Tum o' Pobs soon fund out that he'd dropt in for a boighlin-piece; but he determin't to make th' best on't so he gran' an' bode, fro' day to day; an' he'd a deeol to bide, for Nan went wur an' wur; till, at last, hoo hector't an' natter't o'er him to that degree that he hadn't a minute's comfort bi neet nor day.  But still Tum took it quietly; an' that made her wur nor ever, — for hoo'd bin brought up amung o' maks o' racket, — an' hoo couldn't ston a quiet life.  So, — to make ill wur, — hoo began o' hittin' him, and scrattin' his nose-end wi' forks, an' flingin' things at him:—


It wur sometimes a pitcher, an' sometimes a pon,—
Nan didn't care what, — if it let o' th' owd mon.
                                                            Derry down.

An' if that didn't vex him, — her temper wur sich, —
Hoo'd nip up a tough-lookin' lump of a switch;
An' sometimes it lapt round his yed wi' a bend,
An' sometimes it coom across Tummy's nose end.
                                                            Derry down.


    "An' so they tart't on, o' this ill fashion, year after year, till, at last, Nan wur taken ill,—


An' hoo flang no moor pots at owd Tum for a while.
                                                            Derry down.


    "Well, at th' end of o', Nan dee'd, — th' same as other folk, — an', o' somehow, poor owd Tum missed her just as mich as if hoo'd bin an angel; for, after o' 'at he'd gone through, Tum wur a good-nature't chap, an'


As Nan wur laid down he hove mony a sigh,
An', o' somehow, th' owd lad made a shift for to cry.
                                                            Derry down.


    "Theer," said Snip; "that's th' end o' mi sung.  It's been mixture of a trot and a canter; but I've done as weel as I could."

    "Thou's done very weel, Snip," said Giles, "but it's nobbut a bit, after o'.  I think thou should give us another bit of a stave, to mak up wi'.  Bang off again, — while thou'rt warm under th' saddle."

    "Here, here," replied Snip; "I'll have a bar's rest, if yo'n a mind.  Let Craddy try his hond.  He knows a ballet forty verses lung.  I'll come in again, at after he's done."

    "Forty verses, eh?" said Giles.  "By Guy, that'll last Craddy till to-morn at noon; for he al'ays sings as if he're at a funeral.  It'll tak' him hauve-an-hour to get through one verse. . . . Bi th' mass, he's asleep! . . . Come Craddy, my lad; let's see what thou'rt made on!"

    But Craddy had been boozing all day, and he was fast sinking into a state of maudlin helplessness; and flourishing his pipe in the air, he said:—

    "Ay, — fill it up! . . . Robin at th' Crowshaw Booth has a lad 'at can creep through a cat-hole!"

    "Here; I think we'n let him alone," said Giles.  "It's gettin' time for him to be gooin' up yon broo. . . . Come, Snip, owd lad; fill this bit of a gap up, an' then we'n co' o' somebody else."

    "Stop," cried Jem o' th' Har-barn, "we'n a volunteer at this end.  Rondle's beawn to give us a stave. . . .Silence! . . . Goo on, Rondle."

    And old Randle struck up,—


Bill o' Sheepsheawter's;
    Robin o' th' Dree;
Rondle o' Sceawter's;
    Twilter an' me;
We made Mall o' Sleet's
    Owd pewter pots ring;
That neet wur a neet
    To comfort a king!

Rondle sang keaunter;
    Robin sang bass;
Twilter sang o' maks
    O' comical ways;
Th' tenor wur fine—
    Bill took it up well;
An' th' tribble wur mine,—
    I sang it mysel'.

Th' first we'd a psaum,
    An' then we'd a sung;
An' then we sang glees,
    Till th' rack-an'-hook rung;
An' merry owd Mall
    Chimed in like a brid,
As hoo tinkle't to th' tune,
    Upo' th' owd kettle-lid.

"Weet yo'r whistles," said Mall,
    "It makes better chime."
"Stop, an' rosin," said Bill,
    "It's gettin' hee time."
"A tot-a-piece bring,"
    Said Rondle, "an' then,—
Like layrocks o' th' wing,
    We'n tootle again."

We tootle't an' sang
    Till midneet coom on;
We caper't down th' broo,
    Bi' th' shinin' o'th moon;
As we wander't o'er th' moss,
    Bill lap shoolder-hee;
An' "I'm fain at I'm wick!"
    Cried Robin o' th' Dree.


    "Well done our side!" said Jem o' th' Har-barn.  "Thi ballis-pipes are i' fine fettle, Rondle, owd lad; good luck to tho!"


 
CHAPTER VI.


Three-man-song-men all, and very good ones; but they are most of them means and basses; but one Puritan amongst them, and he sings psalms to hornpipes.

WINTER'S TALE.


THE clatter of applause which followed old Rondle's song woke up poor Craddy, who had been sitting in a kind of doze, with half-shut eyes.  He started to his feet; and waving his pipe in the air, he cried out,—


Reet leg, lift leg, under-leg, over-leg;
    Th' little bird sings in a mornin'!


    "Owd Ben, at 'Th' Mattocks,' had a daughter wed, an' a keaw cave't, an' a mare foal't, an' a cat kittle't o' in one day.  There, nought i' Englan' can lick that! "

    Then he dropt on his seat again, and closing his eyes again, his pipe fell from his fingers.

    "It's time for that lad to go whoam," said Jem o'th' Har-barn; "he con ston nought."

    "Poor Crad," said Giles; "he's hard wortch't an' underfed; an' he's noan o'er paid; an' when he comes to a hearty feed, an' a warm fire, he's sooner done up than sich as thee and me, Jem. . . . But he's asleep.  Let him rest a bit; an' we'n see how he goes on.  I'll see him safe londed."

    "Well, Giles," said Jem, rising from his chair, with his glass in his hand, "here's good health an' good hearts, — an' milk and meighl enough for us o'!"

    "Th' same to thee, Jem!" said Giles.  And the toast went heartily round the board.

    "An', now then, Giles," said Jem, "as I'm no hond at tellin' a tale, — if thou's nought again it, — I'll do a bit of a stave mysel'."

    "Bravo, Jem," said Giles, "get agate, owd lad I!" . . .

    "Silence," cried he, rapping the table with his ladle.

    And, in a deep but melodious voice, Jem o' th' Har-barn began this song:—


It's of three jolly hunters, an' a-hunting they did go;
An' they hunted, an' they halloo'd, an' they blew their horns also.
                                                            Look ye there!

An' one said, "Mind yo'r e'en, an' keep yo'r noses reet i'th wind,
An' then, bi scent or seet, yo'n leet o' summat to yo'r mind."
                                                            Look ye there!

They hunted, and they halloo'd, an' the first thing they did find
Was a tatter't boggart, in a feelt, an' that they left behind.
                                                            Look ye there!

One said it was a boggart, an' another he said "Nay;
It's just a drunken tinker that has gone an' lost his way."
                                                            Look ye there!

They hunted, an' they halloo'd, an' the next thing they did find
Was a turnip in a stubble-field, an' that they left behind.
                                                            Look ye there!

One said it was a turnip, an' another he said "Nay;
It's just a cannon-bo' 'at owd Noll Crummill thrut away."
                                                            Look ye there!

They hunted, an' they halloo'd, an' the next thing they did find
Was a cratchinly owd pig-trough, an' that, too, they left behind.
                                                            Look ye there!

One said it was a pig-trough, but another he said "Nay;
It's some poor craiter's coffin," an' that caused 'em much dismay.
                                                            Look ye there!

They hunted, an' they halloo'd, an' the next thing they did find
Was a jackdaw, lyin' cowd an' still, an' that they left behind.
                                                            Look ye there!

One said it was a jackdaw, an' another he said "Nay
It's nobbut an' owd blackin'-brush 'at somebry's thrut away."
                                                            Look ye there!

They hunted, an' they halloo'd, an' the next thing they did find
Was a gruntin', grindin' grindlestone, an' that they left behind.
                                                            Look ye there!

One said it was a grindlestone, another he said "Nay
It's nought but an' owd frozzen cheese 'at somebry's roll't away."
                                                            Look ye there!

They hunted, an' they halloo'd, an' the next thing they did find
Was a bull-cauve in a pin-fowd, an' that, too, they left behind.
                                                            Look ye there!

One said it wur a bull-cauve, an' another he said "Nay;
I's just a painted jackass that has never larnt to bray."
                                                            Look ye there!

They hunted, an' they halloo'd, an' the next thing they did find
Was two young lovers in a lane, an' these they left behind.
                                                            Look ye there!

One said that they were lovers, but another he said "Nay
They're two poor wanderin' lunatics — come, let us go away."
                                                            Look ye there!

So they hunted, an' they halloo'd till the setting of the sun
An' they'd nought to bring away at last, when th' huntin' day was done.
                                                            Look ye there!

Then one unto the other said, "This huntin' doesn't pay;
But wean powler't up an' down a bit, an' had a rattlin' day."
                                                            Look ye there!


    "Jem, owd lad," said Giles, "thou's a rare voice, — an' thou al'ays had, — I've yerd it mony a time, when thou's bin after th' dogs, up i' Thornham Heights, yon; but, if I wur thee, th' next time I sang a sung I'd pike one 'at had oather some sense or some fun in it.  There is'nt mich o' noather on 'em i' that thou's just gan us."

    "I'll tell tho what, Giles," replied Jem, "I doubt this bit o' supper hasn't agreed wi' tho very weel, for thou'rt gettin' am'd as a crushed whisket; an' I think it's hee time thou tried thi' hond thisel.  Come, get agate, and let's see what thou can do!"

    "Thou has me theer, owd lad," said Giles; "but bide a bit, bide a bit, — I'll come in i' my turn, thou'rt see. . . . Come, chaps, buttle out; yo're doin' nought."

    "Ay, come," said Jem o' th' Har-barn, flourishing his ladle, "drink up, and no heel-taps.  Here, send yor glasses this road on.  Come, Henry, straighten that face o' thine; arto beheend i' thi rent, or is th' wool trade out o' flunters?  Cheer up, owd lad; all things has but a time.  It's a poor heart that never rejoices, mon.  Cheer up."

    "I'm o' reet, Jem," replied th' wool chap.

    "Well, then," said Jem, "what arto lookin' so rivven about?"

    "God bless thi life, Jem," said th' wool chap, "I'm noan rivven.  I'm as happy as a cat in a tripe shop; but I've bin watchin' owd Craddy theer, as he sits chunnerin' to hissel', wi' his e'en shut, till I feel as drowsy as if I'd bin hearkenin' a lung sarmon after a hearty meal."

    "He's sound asleep now, I see," said Jem.  "Thee wakken up, ony how.  Thou's sin a deal i' thi time: come tell us summat or another."

    "Nawe, nawe; I'll come in a bit fur on.  Try th' painter, here; he's as lively as a cricket, an' his tung's as limber as a lamb's tail.  Try th' painter."

    "Ay, ay," said Giles, at the other end of the table.  "Ay ay, an' nought but reet noather.  Come, Dabble, old craiter, get into thi looms.  Thou's generally a bit o' summat to say.  Thou mun oather sing or tell us a tale."

    "Well," said the painter, "I don't know many songs, but—"

    "Howd, howd a minute," said Giles.  "Don't sing, that's a good lad, — don't sing.  Now I remember th' ast time thou tried to sing i' this hole it stopt th' clock, an' turn't th' ale sour; an' it made us o' ill for a week after.  If I wur a house, an' thou tried to sing i' my inside, I'd fo' a-top on thou.  So, as far as singin' gwos, we'n let tho off."

    "Well," said the painter, "just as you've a mind; but I used to be reckoned a very fair tenor up at th' owd chapel yon."

    "Husht, Dabble, my lad," said Giles, "husht!  Not another word about singin'!  Keep thi tenor to thiser' this neet!  If they wanten it up at th' owd chapel, let 'em have it, an' welcome; but keep thi tenor to thysel' this neet, I pritho! . . Let's see, didn'to paint a sign or summate once, code 'Th' Turk's Yed'?  I remember some mak of a tale about it.  Tell us that."

    "Very well," said the painter, "if you think I'm not intrudin', I'll tell it as well as I can."

    "Come, come," said Giles, "get agate o' thi tale, an' don't make a barn-owl o' thisel'."


 
CHAPTER VII.

THE PAINTER'S STORY.


I wol yow telle a litel thing in prose,
That oughte like yow, as I suppose,
Or elles certes ye be to dangerous.

CHAUCER.


NOW, the painter was a natural genius in his art, although in other respects he was a man of no especial mark, and of very little culture.  Under an air of uncommon simplicity, he concealed great shrewdness in worldly affairs; and his conversation was a quaint mixture of artistic insight, cunning innocence, dry humour, and maundering inconsequentiality.

    "Come, Dabble," said Giles, "get forrad wi' thi tale."  The painter screwed up his mouth, as usual, and began with an air of school-boy hesitation.

    "Well, ye know, Giles, I've painted a good deal o' portraits in my time—"

    "Ay, ay," said Giles; "I know thou'rt a clivver chap, Dabble.  Get eend-ways wi' thi tale.  Thou talks as if thou'd a fish-hook i' thi tung."

    "Well, ye know, Giles," replied Dabble, "I'm not a man as has been used to talkin' among sich like glib-tongued people as you; so you must excuse me bein' so slow.  For my mother used to say when I was a boy—"

    "Get eend-ways, I tell tho," replied Giles; "or I'll fling th' ladle at thi yed! "

    "Very well, then," said Dabble, "if you'll promise not to fling th' ladle at me, I'll try to go on. . . . Well, as I wus saying, I've painted a good deal o' portraits in my time, ― that is, when I wasn't engaged in somethin' as had rather more weft in it. Though, — mind ye, — a man as has any power in him, he may put a good deal into a portrait, — if he likes, — for, mind ye, Giles, there's a great deal in the very commonest face as you can meet when ye come to consider it properly.  Sir Joshua Reynolds, now, he knowed all about that, as well as any man livin' . . . . Well but, this that I was going to tell about —.  But, stop.  You may fill this glass again, if ye please; an' then I can go on comfortably. . . . There; thank ye! Now, I'm all right! . . .

    "Well, I should happen to be about five-an'-thirty years of age when it happened.  I remember my birthday was on the fourteenth of November, owd style, at a quarter past three in the morning; an' both me an' my mother had a very hard time of it, I can tell ye.  But never mind that; we got over it in the end, an' that's more than some can say. . . .

    Well, at this particklar time I was livin' in a town not above a hundred miles from here, — but I'd better not tell ye where it was, or else ye might know the man.  His name was John something, — I forget just now, — but I remember that people as didn't admire him much used to call him 'Jove o' Blunders.'  He was very well off; but when you've said that you've done, for he hadn't much else about him, except his paunch; an' I can assure you, Giles, that that was a thing which would ha' made ye look at him a second time, — that is, if ye'd never seen his face; for, to tell ye truth, he was ugly enough to make into a corn-boggart.  The very dogs used to bark at him, an' then run away, when they met him on the street.  But never mind.  The fact is, Giles, at that time I had very little to stir on, an' I was right down glad of any sort of a job as would help to make both ends meet; for, don't ye see, Giles, I was a married man, an' there's always somethin' wantin' where there's a wife an' children about.

    "Well, one gloomy day, when I was sittin' by myself in my room, potterin' away at somethin' or another, the latch was lifted, an' all at once a great big ugly fellow comes walkin' right in, with a bandy-legged dog at his heels.  He didn't knock nor nothin', but he came right in; an' the look of his face made me shake in my shoes. . . . I remember I used to wear shoes at that time.  I wear boots, now, ye see.  Well, I thought at first that he must be a bum-bailiff; for he was the very cut o' one o' that breed; an' I began o' feelin' rather queer; for, don't ye see, Giles, I owed a little money at that time, an' when I looked at this surly-lookin' chap an' his dog, I thought to mysel, 'It's all over; I'm in for it now!'  But I thought it was best to keep a civil tongue in my head, so I said, 'How d'ye do, sir!  It's a fine mornin'!'

    "Well, ye know, I'm not generally given to lyin', — not as a rule, — but that was a sneezer for a start; for, between you and me, Giles, it was anything but a fine mornin'; for it was damp an' drizzly, an' as dark as a fox's mouth; but the fact is, Giles, I hardly knew what I was sayin' just at the time, don't ye see.  However, I might have been talkin' to a milestone, for he took no notice, but kept standin' there, i'th middle o' th' floor, with a cudgel in his hand, starin' round as if he was goin' to mark my goods for rent.  I didn't half like it, I can tell ye.  Besides, there was this ugly dog of his; it stood just behind him, lookin' through his legs, with its eyes fixed right on me, as if it was choosin' a spot to fly at as soon as the word was given.  I can assure you, Giles, that the general state of affairs made me feel bad in my inside for a minute or two.

    "At last I managed to pluck up my spirit a bit, and I asked him if he would take a chair.  Well, ye see, Giles, in the first place that was a queer thing to say to a bum-bailiff, to begin with.  Besides, it was wrong in another way, for I hadn't a single chair in the place.  The only thing I had to sit on was two three-legged stools.  I wonder now that the fellow didn't hit me with his stick.  But, however, as I was tellin' ye, I was in such a frustration that I pulled up one o' these stools and I said, 'Will ye take a chair, sir, if ye please?'  But it was no use, bless ye.  He still kept agate o' takin' no notice.  An', between you an' me, Giles, it was a good job; because the stool was such a little un that he wouldn't have been comfortable, for he was three times as broad as top o' th' stool, an' that leaves rather too much margin outside, ye know, Giles.  Don't ye think it would, now?"

    "I think nought at o' about it," said Giles.  "Get forrad witho, — an' get done witho, — for thou'rt makin' me as mazy as a tup. I doubt there's moore clout than dinner about this tale o' thine. . . . Here; grease thi wheels, an' start again."

    "Thank ye, Giles," said Dabble; and drinking off his glass he said, "Now then; I shall soon be at it, if you'll not hurry me.  When I was a boy at school, my mother used to say――"

    "Here, come, come," said Giles; "we'n ha' noan o' that.  Get forrad wi' thi tale, an' bother no moore about thee an' thi mother."

    "Stop a minute!" cried Jem o'th' Har-barn; "hadn't we better have a bit of a sung or summat, between; an' then he can go on again?"

    "Nawe, by th' mass!" said Giles; "we'n let him get it o'er, — if ever he will get it o'er!  Come; get forrad! . . . Silence, for Dabble!"

    "I'm ready," said the painter, trimming his pipe.  "Let's see; where did I leave off? . . . Oh! . . . Well, as I was sayin', this man as I took for a bum-bailiff stood a while in the middle o'th floor, lookin' round without takin' a bit o' notice of anything that I said to him.  At last he gave a surly sort of a grunt, and he said, 'I underston' thou'rt a sort of a painter.'

    "An' I said, 'Yes; I have painted a good deal in my time.'

    "'What mak?' said he.

    "'Well,' I said, 'some of my work's not so bad — though I say it myself.'

    "'That's nought to do wi't,' said he, groundin' his cudgel, with a bang; 'arto a sign-painter, or what mak o paintin' doesto do?'

    "An' I said, 'Oh all sorts.'

    "'Canto do faces?' said he.

    "'Of course I can,' said I.

    "'Doesto think thou could paint mine?'

    "'Certainly,' said I.  'Whereabouts?'  I saw, ye know, that one of his eyes was a great deal darker than the other; and having had a little experience in the art of restoring certain departments of the human countenance to the original tone of colour, which had been lost by the sudden application of injurious external influences, — ye know, Giles, — I began to think this was another job of the same kind, and so I gave him a bit of a smile, and I said to him again, 'Certainly, sir.  Whereabouts, please?'  Ye know, Giles, I didn't like to mention his eye, because I thought he mightn't like it.  'Whereabouts, please?' said I.

    "Whereabouts?' cried he. What arto bletherin' about? I want it paintin' all o'er!'

    "'Oh, I see,' said I; 'you're gooin' to a masquerade ball, or something.  All right.  I'll soon make ye so as nobody'll know ye.'

    "'Gooin' to what?' cried he.

    "'By the living jingo,' thinks I, 'I'm wrong again;' so I said to him, 'I hope you will excuse me, sir, but I thought perhaps you might be going to a masquerade ball, or something.'

    "'Bith hectum!' cried he, grappling his cudgel, 'ifs thou talks to me about masquerades I'll rub tho down wi' a wooden towel, tightly!'  And his dog began to grin.

    "Thinks I, 'This is goin' to turn out an ugly customer,' and I gave a sly look round; but there was no chance of escape, bless ye, for this fellow and his dog stood right between me and the door.  Well, you know, Giles, I saw at once that there was nothing for it but to keep as thick with him an' his dog as possible.  An' it made me sweat, I can tell ye, for I began to think that he was a lunatic, or something, don't ye see, Giles.  So I took my hat off; an' I wiped my forehead again; an' I said, 'Well, sir; I should be very glad to oblige ye in any way that I possibly can, I'm sure, — but, just now, I can't say that I quite understand what it is that you want exactly.'

    "'Well, then,' said he, 'thou'rt a leather-yed.'

    "I was going to say, 'Thank you, sir,' but I thought I'd better not, because it might vex him; so I only grinned a little, and wiped my forehead again.

    "Well, he gave another look round the place, and he said, 'Hast nought to sup i'th hole?'

    "And I said, 'No, sir, I have nothing at all in the place in that line except some copal varnish, and a little drop o' ginger cordial, that I take now an' then when I'm seized with a pain in my inside.  Will ye try a little?  You're quite welcome.'

    "He grunted again, an' he said, 'I'd as soon ha' tone as tother.  But I'll ha' noather on 'em; mix 'em together, an' sup 'em thisel'. . . . But come,' said he, 'I didn't want to stop botherin' here o' day.  Didto never yer tell of a portrait?'

    "'A portrait!' said I; 'Oh, that's it, is it?  Ah, well, — now I begin to comprehend.'

"'Thou's bin a good while about it,' said he.

    "'Well, yes,' said I, that's true.  But it's better late than never, ye know, isn't it!'

    "'I don't know whether it is or not,' said he; it just depends.'

    "Well, ye know, Giles, I thought I'd better not contradict him; so I said, 'Oh! a portrait is it!  Ay, very well, sir.  See ye, take this chair, please;' and I pushed the stool towards him again.

    "Well, he just gave the stool a touch with his foot, an' away it went spinning to the other side of the room.

    "'Thou met as weel gi' mi a fire-potter nob to sit on as that,' said he.  'Haste nought bigger?'

    "'Well, ye see, sir,' said I, 'I'd not overstocked with furniture; but, if ye like, I'll clear the things away from this table; and, judging by the naked eye, I should say that would be about the size required for your convenience.'"

    "'Let thi bits o' tanklements stop where they are,' said he; 'I can stop.'

    "'Very well, sir,' said I, 'and what size d'ye think as you would like this portrait of yours to be?' said I.

    "'Oh, th' yed,' said he; 'nought nobbut th' yed, I don't think tother's worth botherin' about.'

    "And between you and me, Giles, he was right there; for though he was a tremendous size of a chap, at the very least three parts of him was paunch, and such like; and he was terribly knock-kneed, and he was a queer shape altogether.  He looked like a pack-sheet full o' tripe badly tied up.  And yet, ye know, Giles, he would have made a very striking picture, in a certain sense, for he was what ye may call beautifully-ugly from top to toe.  But, however, he seemed to have taken a particular fancy to his own face, — some people, do, you know, Giles, — his face he would have, an' nothin' else, — an', God knows, that wasn't handsome.  However, it was no business o' mine; an' it was a thing that couldn't be helped; for the man wasn't his own father, — nor I wasn't his father; and, between you and me, Giles, I should have been sorry if I had been.  I dare say his mother thought him nice, once, — women do get such things into their heads, — but I question whether anybody else would think so that had good eyesight.  I remember an old rhyme that says:—


Although I'm feaw, despise me not,
    The truth to you I'll tell;
I'm of another's hondy-wark,
    I didn't make mysel'.


And it's quite true.  Beside, if he had made hissel', it's just possible that he might have been uglier than ever.  But that's neither here nor there.  Let every tub stand on its own bottom, say I.  The man was as God made him, — and he was a customer, ― and that was enough for me.  So I spoke him fair, for this dog of his was keeping its eyes on me all the tine.

    "'Very well, sir,' said I; 'you want just the head, and nothing else. . . . Kit Cat, I suppose?'

    "'Kit what?' said he.

    "'Kit Cat,' said I.

    "'I noather want Kit Cat, nor Kit Dog,' he said.  'I want a gradely pickter!'

    "'Well, sir,' said I; 'ifs you'll leave the thing to me, you shall have a gradely pickter.'

    "'Well; get agate o' thi paintin', then,' said he; 'get agate o' thi paintin'.  Brass is no object to me.'

    "Well, ye see, Giles, I was a bit flurried, so I said, that it was no object to me neither.'

    "He took me up in a minute, and he said, 'That's o' reet, then.  Thou connot begin to soon.'

    "Thinks I to myself, 'This'll not do;' so, for fear of any further mistakes, I said, 'Well, sir, you'll excuse me, but I've noticed several times in the course of my checkered existence that money comes in very handy when one wants to buy things; and, as one's always needin' something or another, perhaps it would be as well to name a price, if you've no objections.'

    "Then he banged his cudgel on the floor again, and he said, 'How leets thou didn't say so at first?  Come, what's it to be?  Oppen thi mouth, an' done wi't.'

    "So at last we agreed that this portrait was to be ten pounds; and when we had struck the bargain, he said, 'But mind, it mun be a good un, or else I'll not have it.'

    "'Well, sir,' said I, 'when the portrait's finished, if you don't like it, I'll leave it to any respectable judge to decide the matter.'

    "Well, then,' said he, we'n lev it to this dog o' mine.  If it wags it tale at it I'll pay for it; but if it barks at it you'll have it thrut o' thi honds.'

    "'Very well, sir,' said I, 'agreed.  I'll leave it to the dog.'  It was a foolish thing to do, ye know, but I did it.  Beside, ye see, though I didn't like th' dog, nor th' dog didn't like me, I thought it couldn't object to a genuine work of art; for I've noticed, Giles, that, as a rule, dogs are as good judges of these thing as the ordinary run of Christians are, though they don't say as much about it.'

    "Well, to make a long story short, we agreed. . . . But before I go any further I must tell ye that this customer of mine had a great wart playfully planted on the left side of his nose, and it was a very unsightly thing.  So I laid my finger on my nose-end, and I said to him 'Well, but how about the wart?  I hope you'll not consider me impertinent, but you'll not have that in, will ye?'

    "'Wart,' cried he; 'what business has thou wi' th' wart?  It's noan o' thine!  I'll have it in!'

    "'Well, my friend,' said I, 'I hope you'll excuse me; but if you was to touch it every morning with a little vitriol, it would be gone in a few days.'

    "'Vitriol!' cried he; 'put thi vitriol into thi porritch!  I'll ha' no vitriol!  I've had this wart ever sin' I wur born, an' I'll not part wi' it now!  I'll have it in!  I shouldn't look like mysel' beawt it!'

    "So I hinted to him that, taking everything into consideration, perhaps it mightn't be an advantage to look like one's self sometimes."

    "Well, that made him roar again; and, grappling his cudgel by the middle, he cried, I'll have it in, I tell thou!  It's my own, an' I'll have it in!'

    "'Very well, my friend,' said I; far be it from me to infringe upon the rights of private property.  It's your own, as you say; and you shall have it in. . . . Be content, my friend,' said I, laying my hand on his shoulder like that, — just to quieten him, ye know, Giles, — 'be content, my friend, you shall have it in, an' I'll put another on the opposite side, if you like, just to make an even balance.'

    "Well, that set him roaring worse than ever, and he made such a din that this dog of his seemed to get it into his head that we were fighting, and all at once he made a dart at me, and got fast hold of the calf of my leg.  I hadn't much of a calf, to be sure, but it made free with what there was, I can tell ye.  Well, ye see, Giles, that set me agate o' roarin' too, and I danced up an' down a bit, wi' th' dog hanging to my leg, and I kept cryin' out 'Take' it off, — tak it off!'  Well, he was in no hurry about the matter.  To tell ye the truth, Giles, he seemed rather to enjoy it.  However, he did take it off at last, and the moment I got loose I jumped on to the table, and I said, 'My friend, are you the proprietor of that animal?'

    "And he said, 'Ay; I've had it sin it wur a pup.  There isn't a better dog i'th town for varmin?'

    "'Oh, thank you,' said I; 'then I suppose you take me for varmin, do ye?

    "'Well,' said he, 'this dog's noan a bad judge about sich like things as that.'

    "So I thanked him again.

    "'Come off that table,' said he.  'What arto' doin' up theer?  Arto beawn to sell up, or summit?'

    "'I'm much obliged to you, my friend,' said I; 'but I prefer my present position, so long as that dog's in the room.'  Then I rubbed my leg again, and I said, 'What d'ye feed it on, as a rule?'

    "'Shin o' beef, an' garbage,' said he.

    "'Ay, then,' said I, 'I suppose the brute takes me for a stock you've been layin' in.'

    Here Giles rapped the table with his ladle.

    "Stop, stop, Jemmy," cried he.  "How long's this maunderin' nominy o' thine gooin' to last?  I can make noather top nor tail on't.  Thou's bin agate o' buzzin' for this last hauve hour, like a hum-a-bee in a foxglove, about dogs an' pickters, an' warts, an' warts, an' pickters, an' dogs, till I'm gettin' as mazy as a tup.  Thou'rt as ill as a maut-mill — wuzz, wuzz, wuzz, grind, grind, grind.  Cut it short!  What the dule, thou'll have us o' asleep.  Thou's done for 'Bonny Mouth,' a good while sin.  Look where he is, theer, ― wi' his een shut, an' his mouth wide oppen, as if he wur catchin' fleas.  An' Craddy's noan so mich better; he keeps droppin' off, an' startin' up again, — like a goose wi' a nail in it yed.  Cut it short, I pritho, ― or else drop it o'together, ― an' let someb'dy else start.  By th' mass, I'd as soon be at a berrin', as sit hearkenin thee. . . . Come, lads; wakken up!  Jem; nudge owd Bonny, — he's a mouth like a breast-hee coalpit."

    "Here; I'll wakken him," said Jem.  "Now then!  Come, Bonny Mouth!  Wakken up, my lad!"

    Bonny Mouth gave a great yawn; and then, looking round with half-wakened eyes, he said, "O' reet! has he getten it o'er?"

    "Not quite," said Jem.

    "Well then," said Bonny Mouth, dropping his chin again, I'll have another bit of a nap, yo can wakken me up when he's done."

    "Here, here," cried Giles; "we'n ha' no sleepin'!  Beside, thou snoors like a reawsty trindle!  Prop thoose foggy e'en o' thine a minute or two, till we se'en what he's for doin'."

    Then turning to the painter, he said, "Now, Jemmy, my lad, thou's had a fairish do, — an' it's knockin' us o' up.  How long's this tale o' thine beawn to last?"

    "Well, Giles," said the painter, "if you keep stoppin' me this way, it'll last till about three o'clock i'th afternoon o' New Year's Day; but if you'll let me go on in my own way I'll wind it up in a few minutes."

    "Then wind it up, — an' soon!" said Giles; "wind it up, — that's a good lad!"

    "Ye know, Giles," said the painter, "you set me goon' yourself."

    "Come, come," said Giles, "let's ha' no preichment!  Get end-ways!  I know I set thee gooin'.  I've that to answer for, among th' rest o' mi sins.  But, never mind, get endways, an' get it o'er."

    "Very well, then," said the painter, "I will get it over. . . Let me see.  Where was I?  Oh, the dog. . . . Ah, well; I'll say no more about that.  But the end of the thing was that I painted this portrait; but when it was finished I couldn't get him to say whether he liked it or he didn't like it.  All that I could get out of him was, 'Wait a bit till I see what th' dog thinks about it.'  Well, he set a day; and he brought his dog to criticise the portrait.  And, mind ye, Giles, I've seen worse art critics than a dog in my time.  But, as it happened, this turned out rather unfortunate for me, and it was this way.  He took th' dog in his hands on th' floor, and he said, 'Now then; set th' pickter i'th front on't, and let's see.'  Well; I reared the portrait up against the table, in what I considered a good light.

    "'Now then, Pinch,' said he to the dog, 'doesto see that?'

    "'Now for it,' thinks I; death or glory and I kept myself ready for action; for ye know, Giles, I had a lively remembrance of the animal's last visit to my leg; and I thought it just possible that it might take a fancy to another mouthful.

    "Now, Pinch," said he, doesto see that?'

    "Well; the dog began to snarl savagely, the very first thing and put me into such a sweat, that I knocked a bottle over and then th' dog darted straight at me.  But I was on th' table again in a jiffy; and there I stopt till the whole thing was ended.

    "Well when the dog began to snarl, he said, 'Come, that sattles it!'

    "'My friend,' said I, 'you don't give the picture a fair chance.  If you'll let the dog alone, it'll be quiet enough.'

    "Th' dog noather likes thee nor thi pickter,' said he, 'so thou may keep thi pickter, an' I'll keep mi dog.'

    "And away they went together.

    "Well, the end of it was that I had this portrait left on my hands for months; and it was a dead loss, for I didn't know what to do with it.  But 'it's a long lane that never has a turn,' yo know, Giles; an' one fine morning, when I was sitting at my work, a man came in and said that he wanted me to paint him a sign for his public-house.  And so I asked him what sign?

    "'Th' Turk's Yed,' said he.

    "Well, I was turning over in my mind whether to accept the job or not, for I didn't half like it — though I'd hard strugglin' at that time to make ends meet.  Well, while I was turning the thing over in my mind, the man stood in the middle of the floors, looking round; and his eyes happened to light on this rejected portrait, that had been reared up i'th corner so long.

    "'Hollow,' said he, 'what's this?'

    "So I told him the whole tale about this portrait.

    "'Oh, I know him,' said he; 'Owd Jone o' Blunder's. . . . Ay, an' it's like him, too — he's as feaw as a fried dromedary.'

    "'Well,' said I, he certainly isn't handsome.'

    "'Hondsome,' said he; 'nawe, bi th' heart — he's noather hondsome face nor hondsome ways! . . . But, by th' mass, I'll tell tho what,' said he, 'thi pickter of owd Jone's would come in grandly for my sign, with a bit o' touchin' up.  An' it wouldn't need much, noather, — for he's as ugly as ony Turk i' this wide world, — an' as savage.'

    "Well, to make a long story short, I agreed to touch his portrait up, and make it into the sign of 'The Turk's Head.'  I put him a turban on, and I made him a black beard, and I put rings into his ears; and a very good Turk he made, I can tell ye.  It was a kind of a godsend to me, for the man was pleased with his sign, and he paid me a good price for it. . . . Well, this sign hadn't been up a week before the whole story had got out about Jone o' Blunder's portrait being turned into the Turk's Head sign; and from that day to this, Jone has gone by the name of 'Th' Owd Turk.'  But, mind ye, before the sign had been up a month it disappeared one dark night, and was never heard of afterwards. . . . And that ends my tale."

    "That's reet, my lad," said Giles.  "Here; let's fill thi tot again.  I'm sure thou'rt dry."

    "An' now then, Giles," said the painter, "the next time you ask me to tell a tale I'll either sing a song, or stand on my head, instead."

    "Well, my lad," said Giles, "oather 'll do, — though thou'rt nobbut a poor bond at singin' — but oather 'll do."

    "I know you think I'm very simple, Giles," said the painter.

    "Thou knows nought o'th sort, Jemmy," replied Giles; "thou knows nought o' th' sort; for I think thou'rt as deep as th' north star.  If onybody bruns thee for a foo', James, they'd waste their coals.  But never mind, my lad, thou's done as weel as thou could, an' that's as much as one can expect i' this world, — an' a good deal moore than we getten' sometimes.  Here, let's gi' tho another thimbleful."
                    .                                 .                                 .                                 .

    "Come, lads," said Giles, "time's gettin' on.  It'll be Kesmass Day afore we known where we are.  Let's be gettin' on.  Here, Harry, old buzzart, keep th' backstone warm.  What arto dremin' about?  Thou looks as if thou'd bin stonnin' o' one leg under a pump o' day for a wager.  Wakken up, an' keep th' backstone warm!  Thou's done nought yet.  What conto give us?"

    "I'll be there when I'm wanted, Giles," said th' wool chap, smiling.

    "Now's the time, then," said Giles, rapping the table with his ladle.  "Order, for th' wool chap. . . . Now, Harry, what's it to be?  Arto for singin' or doancin', or tellin' a tale?"

    "I think I'll try an old song, Giles."

    "That'll do, my lad.  Pipe up, an' good luck to tho. . . Silence, for an owd sung!  Goo on, Harry."

    And Harry struck up at once, in a melodious voice, and like a man who had been used to that kind of thing:—


If I live to grow old, for I find I go down,
Let this be my fate in a country town:—
May I have a warm house, with a stone at the gate,
And a cleanly young girl to rub my old pate;
May I govern my passions with absolute sway,
And grow wiser and better as strength wears away,
Without stone or gout — by a gentle decay.
                                C
HORUS.—May I govern my passions, &c.

In a country town, by a murmuring brook,
With the ocean at distance, on which I may look
With a wide green plain, without hedge or style,
And an easy pad nag for to ride out a mile.
                                C
HORUS.—May I govern my passions, &c,

With Horace and Plutarch, and one or two more
Of the best wits that lived in the age before;
With a dish of roast mutton, not venison or teal,
And clean, though coarse, linen at every meal.
                                C
HORUS.—May I govern my passions, &c.

With a pudding on Sunday, and stout humming liquor,
And scraps of old Latin to welcome the vicar;
And a hidden reserve of good Burgundy wine,
To drink the King's health in as oft as I dine.
                                C
HORUS.—May I govern my passions, &c.

When the days are grown short, and it freezes and snows,
May I have a coal fire as high as my nose;
A fire which, when only stirred up with a prong,
Will keep the room temperate all the night long.
                                C
HORUS.—May I govern my passions, &c.

With courage undaunted may I face my last day;
And when I am dead may the better sort say—
"In the morning when sober, in the evening when mellow,
He's gone, and he leaves not behind him his fellow."
                                C
HORUS.—May I govern my passions, &c.


    The wool chap's song was received with a clatter of applause.

    "By th' mon, Harry," said Giles, "thou's a gowden throttle, owd brid!  Good health to tho!"

    "Good health to th' wool chap!" cried Craddy, who had wakened up again by the din; "good health to th' wool chap!


'Bravo — bravo — very well sung;
 Jolly companions, every one.'"

                    .                                 .                                 .                                 .

    "To order! cried Jem o' th' Har-barn; "to order, lads.  We'n plenty to go on wi'. . . . Giles, we'n another sung at this end if thou'll keep 'em quiet a bit."

    "Good again!" said Giles.  "Order for another sung. . . Here, let's buttle out first. . . . Now then, Jem, we're o' ready.  Who's beawn to sing?"

    "Well, I'll try another bit of a ditty mysel', Giles; if thou's nought again it."

    "Then tootle away, old layrock; till th' welkin rings!  Silence, lads, Jem's gettin' his top-lip ready.  Brast off, Jem!"


Now, since we're met, let's merry, merry be,
    In spite of all our foes;
And he that will not merry be,
    We'll pull him by the nose.
                                    C
HORUS.

Let him be merry, merry there,
    And we'll be merry, merry here;
For who can know where he shall go,
    To be merry another year?
                            Let him be merry there, &c.

And he that will not merry, merry be,
    With a generous bowl and a toast,
May he in Bridewell be shut up,
    And chained unto a post.
                            Let him be merry there, &c.

And he that will not merry, merry be,
    And take his glass in course,
May he be obliged to drink small beer,
    Without money in his purse.
                            Let him be merry there, &c.

And he that will not merry, merry be,
    With a lot of jolly boys,
May he be plagued with a scolding wife.
    To confound him with her noise.
                            Let him be merry there, &c.

And he that will not merry, merry be,
    With his sweetheart by his side,
Let him be laid in the cold churchyard,
    With a head-stone for his bride.
                            Let him be merry there, &c.


    "Bravo, Jem," said Giles.  "By th' mass, thou'rt i' grand fettle.  Thou mends as thou gets owder."

    "Stop a minute," said Jem, "we'n another volunteer at this end. . . . To order! . . . Goo on, Snip!"  And Snip began:—


Wassail! wassail! all over the town
Our toast it is white and our ale it is brown
Our bowl it is made of a maplin tree;
And we are all good fellows — I drink to thee!

Here's to our horse, and to his right ear,
God send th' owd lonlort a happy new year;
A happy new year to thee and to me;
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee!

Here's to our mare, and to her right eye;
God send th' owd mistress a Kesmass pie;
A good Kesmass pie as hoo ever did see;
With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee!

Here's to th' owd cow, and to her long tail,
And God send that th' maister never may fail
To brew us good beer; I pray you draw near,
And my wassailing song you soon shall hear.

Send hither a maid — you're sure to have one —
That'll not leave us here in the cold alone;
Come hither, fair maid, an' trole back the pin,
And we'll sing you a song when we do get in.

Come, butler, and bring us a bowl of the best,
And I hope that your soul in heaven may rest;
But if you do bring us a bowl of the small,
I care not if butler and bowl do fall.


    "Well done, Snip!" cried Giles; and, lifting his glass, he said, "Come, lads, chorus:—


With my wassailing bowl I drink to thee!"


    Then each man took his glass in his hand; and again and again the blithe burden rang in every nook and corner of the Old Boar's Head that wintry night.
                    .                                 .                                 .                                 .

    "Giles," said Lapstone, "did'n yo ever yer tell o' Sam o' Boar-cloof an' his stuffed hare?"

    "I've yerd summat about it; but what it is I connot justly remember.  Let's have it."

    "Well, yo known that he wur a top-mark shooter?"

    "I know that he thought so; but he were terribly wrang.  If he wur to aim at a hay-stack he'd be sure to hit oather a church or a coal-house.  I durst let him shoot at me for a shillin'.  There isn't a brid i' this part o' the country that would stir a peg for him, if he wur to boke (point) his gun at it a whole day."

    "Well, he wur noan quite as ill as that, but he wur terrible fond o' bein' thought a sportsman; an' he're al'ays botherin' wi' guns, an' wearin' leather gaiters, an' shootin' jackets, wi' as mony pockets in as would howd a seck o' potitos.  Well, thoose 'at knew th' owd lad knew that he wur moor of a freetener than a killer; an' they used to play bits o' warlocks wi' him. . . . Well, one day, two or three mischievous cowts i'th fowd yon, geet a hare skin, an' stuffed it nicely wi' fithers an' bran, an' sich like, an' stitched it up a bit, an' then they went an' planted it slyly in a bush at the bottom o' Sam's garden, so that it showed itsel' a bit fro' th' back window. . . . So far so good. . . . When they'd done that, they crept to th' back o'th trees to see th' gam; an' they sent a lad in at Sam's front dur, wi' th' news o' this hare i' the garden.  'Sam,' said th' lad, 'there's a hare under th' fayberry tree, at th' bottom o' yo'r garden, — yo' mun be sharp;' an' off he darted back again.  Well, th' whol house wur up in a second.  Reitch that gun,' cried Sam.  'It's gwon to th' mendin',' said his son Joe.  'Then run, thee, like a red-shank up to owd Dick's, an' borrow his gun.  Be sharp, now!'  An' th' lad darted off to owd Dick's.  'Keep still, every one on' yo'.  I see it yon.  I'll have that hare if I'm a livin' mon.  What the dule's yon lad after 'at he's so lung?  I could ha' bin at Rachda' an' back bi now.  Keep off that back dur, I tell yo.  I see it!  It's yon yet.  We'n ha' that divulskin jugged to-morn, if y'o'n be quiet a bit.  Howd, — it's off!  Nay, it's theer yet!  What the hectum's yon lad doin'?'  Th' owd'st daughter looked through th' front window, an' hoo said, 'I see him!  He's comin' down th' brow, yon, full pelt, wi' th' gun on his shoulder.'  'O' reet,' said Sam, rubbin' his bonds; o' reet.  Keep still.  This is a grand do.'  In coom th' lad, pantin' for breath, wi' th' gun in his bonds.  'Make a less din,' said Sam, givin' th' lad a souse on th' yed, 'an' gi's howd o' that gun.  If thou speaks a quarter of a word for this next five minutes, I'll shoot thee wheer tho stons.'  Well, Sam charge't gun, an' o' th' time he wur doin' it he kept sayin', 'Don't stir, now.   Keep still. . . . Now then, oppen that shut gently, an' I'll teich yon divvle for comin' into my garden.  Ston' fur, o' on yo.  Now then, my lad, thou'll height no moore cabbich after to-day.' . . . Bang went th' gun, an' bran an' fithers flew i' o' directions; an' Sam ran to pike th' hare up; but afore he'd getten theer these chaps 'at had been watchin' him began o' shoutin' ―――."

    "Howd!" cried Jone o' Gavelock's, striking the table with his fist; "I'll not yer another word said against Sam o' Boarcloof, bi never a mon 'at stept shoe-leather.  He's own cousin to me."

    "Well," said Lapstone, "an' if he is own cousin to thee, he's no better for that."

    "Better or wur, it's theer; an' he owes thee nought."

    "Nawe, he doesn't," said Lapstone; "an' I'll take good care 'at he never does do, noather.  Doesto yer that, owd lad?"
                    .                                 .                                 .                                 .

    "Come, come, lads; let's ha' no fratchin'!  Jone, thou'rt gettin' terribly rivven o' at once.  Arto potter't i' thi inside about summat?"

    "Not I.  But I don't like to yer folk co'de beheend their backs."

    "Who wur co'in' him beheend his back?" cried Lapstone.

    "Why, thou wur," replied Jone; "and I know how it is, too.  It's o' because thou made him a pair o' shoon 'at didn't fit, an' he thrut 'em o' thi honds."

    "I'd as soon make a pair o' dancin' pumps for a camel as make shoon for him at ony time; for his feet arn't both of a size; an' his yed's wur to fit than his feet."

    "Come, come, lads; drop it!" said Giles.  "We'n ha' no foin' out to-neet, but what I do mysel'!  Keep your tempers, an' sup again!  Wean ha' no fratchin', — not till Kessmas is o'er as how 'tis. . . . Here, Lapstone, as thou didn't finish th' tother, thou'd better give us a bit o' summat else."

    "I'm willing," said Lapstone.

    "Let hur went, then!" cried Giles; "let hur went! as th' Welshman said."

    "Well," said Lapstone, "didn't yo ever yer a tale about Dan o' Nelly's, — better known bi th' name o' Scutterslutch, — ridin' fro' Owdham to Bill o' Jacks, i' Saddleworth, in a coach beawt horses?"

    Here Jone o' Gavelock's struck the table again, and sprang to his feet.

    "I'll ston this no lunger!" cried he.  "That's another cousin o' mine!  He's doin' this o' purpose; an' he's no casion, for his gronfather wur hanged for sheep-steighlin'! — let him crack that nut! Dan o' Nelly's is own cousin to me o' th' mother's side; and I'll not yer a word said again him bi mortal mon!  Now, what have I towd yo?"

    And the old man sat down again, foaming with passion.

    "By th' mass! Jone," said Giles, "thou seems to be akin to o' th' foo's o'th country side."

    "Well, then," replied Jone, "thee an' me should be relations, Giles; an' I didn't know it afore."

    This raised a general laugh round the board; in which Giles joined as heartily as the rest.

    "Thou had me theer, owd lad," said he.  "Well, well, — come, never mind.  I'm content to be a cousin o' thine amung th' rook.  As far as foolishness gwos, I doubt we're o' sib-an-sib, rib-an'-rib.  But bridle your tempers, lads; an' let's get on as weel as we con."

    "Gi mi thi hond, Giles!" said Jone o' Gavelock's; "Gavelock's; mi thi hond! I've nought again Lapstone, theer, if he'll let mi relations alone.  Blood's thicker nor wayter, thou knows, Giles, — blood's thicker nor wayter,"

    "Ay, ay; it is, owd lad," said Giles an' a great deeol dirtier, too, sometimes."

    This raised another laugh among the company; and they melted into jovial amity again.

    "By th' mon," said Jone o' Gavelock's, thumping the table, "I've a good mind to tell a tale mysel'."

    "Do, owd brid," said Giles; "an' I'll let tho off for o' 'at ever thou did again mi i' thi life!"

    "It'll he about th' Owd Volunteers," said Lapstone to Snip, in a whisper, "It'll be about th' Owd Volunteers, for a crown.  He generally tells that about this time at neet.  Husht! he's coughed twice; he'll be ready directly."

    "Ay, but he'll sup first," said Snip.

    "That's sartin," said Lapstone, taking hold of his glass; "an' so will I."


 
CHAPTER VIII.

THE KING AND THE VOLUNTEER.


"I wol yew teller as wel as eny kan,
A litel jape that fell in our cite."

CHAUCER.


"NOW, Jone, my lads," said Giles, "what arto beawn to give us?"

    "If yo'n wait a minute, till I've charge't this pipe, I'll gi' yo' summat, yo'st see," said Jone.

    "That'll do, my lad," said Giles, "but mind thou mentions nobry's relations this time."

    "Come, come, Giles," cried Jem o' th' Har-barn, "we'n had enough o' that!  Thou'll not let 'em be quiet when they are quiet."

    "It's o' reet, this time, Giles," said Jone, trimming the bowl of his pipe with his finger, "it's o' reet this time.  This is about mysel'."

    "Thou couldn't do better," said Giles, "off witho!"

    "Well, then, here goes," said Jone. . . ."When I wur i' th' Volunteers,—"

    "Didn't I tell tho?" said Lapstone to Snip.  "Didn't I tell tho it would be 'th' Volunteers?'  He's sure to begin that about this time at neet."

    Jone overheard the half whisper on the other side of the table, and, stopping in his story, he looked mazily round, as if searching for the speaker, and said, "Here, come; if we're o' gooin' to talk at once, like Rossenda' churchwardens, I'll wait a bit till there's a better chance."

    "Silence," cried Giles, "silence for Jone!  We'n not have a word fro' nobry till th' owd lad's done his do! . . . Start again, Jone, my lad," said Giles, "I'll keep 'em quiet."

    "Well; I'll try again, then," said Jone. . . . "When I wur i' th' Lancashire Volunteers we wur summon't up to Lunnon to a review, an' we geet a bit of a glent at a different mak of life while we were theer.  An' mind yo, they were a lot o' th' swipper'st, stark'est lads in Christendom, wur th' Lancashire Volunteers.  They'd'n a foughten a lion a-piece for a quart of ale!  Well, th' King were very fond of us Lancashire chaps; an', when he were at a loose end, he passed as mich time wi' us as ever he could spare.  Him an' me geet terribly thick, an' when he'd knocked off for th' day, we powler't up and down Lunnon together, i' o' maks o' nooks an' corners; an' this is how I let on him first of o':— We lee down at Chelsea at that time, an' one day when I wur walkin' th' sentry, a fattish owd chap coom up to th' gate, wi' a ash plant in his hond; an' he wur walkin' straight in, beawt sayin' a word.  But I stopt him wi' mi gun, an' I said, 'Here, owd mon, keep o' thi own side!  Thou munnot go in here!  We can do beawt thee when we're busy!'  Wi' that, he up wi' his stick, an' he said, 'Thee keep thi gun to thisel, an stop out o' mi gate, or else I'll tak tho a-top o'th nob once or twice!  I'll hae thee to know I'm th' maister o' this cote!'

  Well, wi' that, I brast out a-laughin', an' I said, 'Come, that's a good un!  Thou's done it this time, owd brid!  Who arto, if I mun be so bowd?'  'Well,' he said, 'I'm th' King, — that's o'.'  Well, that made me oppen my e'en a bit, yo known, so I said, 'What, thee a king!  By th' mon, I thought thou'd been hawkin' stockin'-yorn!  Arto reet i' thi yed, thinksto? . . . Wheer's thi crown?'

    "'Well,' he said, 'I haven't it on to day, becose it's off at th' mendin.'  I happen't to lev it upo' th' table one day th' last week, while I went out for a bit o' bacco, — er Charlotte wur busy wi' th' weshin', — an' th' childer geet hold on't, an began o' rollin' it up an' down th' floor, till th' revits coom out.  I had to send it off to owd Ben, th' whitesmith.  He promised to have it done bi yesterday, at baggin-time; an' he said he'd send it down bi th' lad; but I doubt he's getten upo' th fuddle again.  Th' last time it went to th' mendin', he pops it; an' er Charlotte had to go four or five times afore hoo could get th' ticket out on him; an' then hoo had to go an' get it out for me to go to church in o' Sunday.'

    "Weel, yo known, when I yerd that, I began o' pooin' my horns in; an' I put my gun o' one side, an' I said, 'Well, thou may go in, owd lad, as it's thee.  But, if I wur thee, I'd al'ays ha' mi crown wi' me, or else nobry'll know'at thou'rt a king.' . . .

   "Well, at after that th' owd lad an' me geet thicker nor ever; an' he wur like as if he never were comfortable but when we wur together.  Well, time went on a bit; an' one day, when us lads were upo' th' parade, th' sarjan' comes up to me, an' he says, 'Howd that gun straight!'  An' I said, 'I am howdin' it straight!'  An' he said, 'Thous artn't howdin' it straight!  An' I said, 'Thous lies, I am hawdin' it straight!'  An' wi' that, he knocked th' gun straight out o' my hond; an' then he said, 'Pike that gun up!'  An' I said, 'Nawe, I'll not pike it up! It is wheer thou's put it, an' thou'll ha' to pike it up thisel'! '  An' he said, 'Pike that gun up, or else I'll ha' tho put i'th guard-house!'

    "Well, I towd him 'at I didn't care for noather him nor th' guard-house!  An' that set him agate o' bletherin' an' gosterin' up an' down like mad.  An' while he wur agate of his din, who should come up, bi' th' mass, but th' king hissel'; an' when he see'd th' gun lyin' upo' th' floor, he said, 'Jone, is that thy gun?'  An' I said, 'Ay, it is, owd lad!' An' then he said, 'What's it doin' upo' th' floor?'  An' I said, 'Th' sarjan' theer's just knocked it out o' mid' hond, an', with that, he up wi' his foot an' punce't that sarjan' up an' down th' yard till he skriked like a jay; an' if I'd spokken hauve a word to owd George just then, I could ha' had him shot; but I thought I'd see how he went on? . . .

    Well, th' king an' me geet thicker than ever; an' one day I axed him up to his baggin'; an' he coom.  Our Betty an' th' childer wur up i' Lunnon wi' mo, an' we had er baggins together.  Well, th' king kept lookin' at these childer of ours, an' he said, 'I'll tell tho what, Jone, thou's a lot o' th' finest, fresh-colour't childer 'at ever claps e'en on.  Mine are o' as yollo' as marigowds.  What dun yo feed 'em on?'  An' I said 'Porritch.' 'Porritch, — porritch,' he said; 'what's that?'  'Why,' I said 'haste never had noan?'  An' he said, he'd never yerd tell on 'em afore.  'Come,' I said, 'Our Betty's make us a pon-full.'  So hoo made 'em, an' we o' fell to, an' when th' owd lad had taken two or three spoonful, he said, 'By th' mass, Jone, I'll tell tho what, — this is grand stuff!  If our Charlotte knowed how to make these, we'd have 'em regilar!'  'Well,' I said, 'ifs thou's a mind, our Betty's go down an' larn her!'  An' he said, 'Agreed on, owd lad!  Gi' us thi hond!  Agreed on!'

    So we set a time, an' our Betty went down; an' owd Charlotte an' her wur up an' down th' kitchen a whole day, among this porritch; an' I believe that, fro' that day to this, they'n never had a meal i' that house but they'n had a bowl o' porritch upo' th' table.  An' when th' Lancashire Volunteers left Lunnon, th' owd lad coom a-seeing me off, an' he made me promise to send him a stone or two o' gradely meighl fro' whoam, an' he'd send th' brass at th' end o' th' month, when th' pay-day coom.  An' I sent him a lot, an' he sent th' brass in a week or two after bi a chap 'at wur comin' down to Manchester a-buying a bit o' fustian for a suit o' clooas for th' Prince o' Wales.  I've never sin him sin', but he's sent word now an' then; an' I believe thoose children o' th' king's han never looked beheend 'em sin' they started o' aitin' porritch. . . . An' that's o'."

    "Jone, owd lad," said Giles, "thou's towd us a tale, an' its a good un o' th' mak.  Lads, here's to Jone o' Gavelock's an' owd King George!"

    The health was drunk with boisterous glee.

    "An' now," said Giles, rising from the table, "that clock's just upo' th' stroke o' twelve.  It'll be Kesmass Day in a twothre minutes, an' afore we parten, I should just like — Hush!  What's that?"
                    .                                 .                                 .                                 .

    It was a sweet, childlike voice, that seemed to hover about them in the air, singing―


Long time ago in Palestine,
    Upon a wintry morn,
All in a lonely cattle shed,
    The Prince of Peace was born;
His parents they were simple folk,
    And simple lives they led,
And in the way of righteousness
    This little child was bred.

                    .                                 .                                 .                                 .

    The last stroke of twelve rang out from the clock before these words were ended.  Up struck the bells of St. Leonard's church upon the hill in front of the house; and from a band of "waits," who had gathered beneath the window of the inn, there arose into the starlight wintry air the glad old carol of the day:—


Christians, awake! salute the happy morn,
Whereon the Saviour of this world was born.


    Giles ran and flung open the door.  "A Merry Christmas to yo, lads!" cried he.  "Come in out o' th' cowd!"


 
CHAPTER I.


Now fades the glimmering landscape on the sight,
And all the air a solemn stillness holds.

GRAY.


ONE cold afternoon in the fall of the year, I came I through a lonely clough in the forest of Rossendale.  It had been a shady place in summer; but sere leaves lay thick that day upon the footpath which wound up to an old village upon the northward hill-top.  It is not unlikely that some rude settlement of man looked round from that bold height when King Alfred was fighting with the Dane.  A little stream ran down the hollow, hidden in some places between lofty banks, and over-bowered here and there by trees in summer; but the leaves were fast falling away, and the wild flowers that once nodded to the water as it frolicked by, were nearly all dead.  The little brook still wimpled on, but there seemed to me a touch of tender complaining in its song, as if it felt lonely.

    Whilst wandering through these withering woods, I felt something of that contemplative mood, in which "pleasant thoughts bring sad thoughts to the mind."  There was a solemn charm in the tempered harmony of autumnal hues that clothed the scene; and there was something unusually chill and hushed in the appearance of the sky, where streamy cloudlets, wild as a Druid's hair, were gliding southward, with subdued motion, as if impressed with the thought that they, too, were drifting — they knew not whither.  The thinning trees had a starved look, and all the landscape was preaching the funeral sermon of the year.  The bleak hills stood like mourners round the scene, and the finger of silence lay upon the lip of nature as in the chamber of a dying man, save that now and then a low wind came with dirge-like sough through the glen, bringing down another shower of dead leaves from "bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang."

    Trailing my solitary way through these rustling relics of the summer's green I came up from the clough just as twilight was beginning to dusk the woodland hollows into deeper gloom.  As I crossed the sloping field near the old church the chimes rang out sweet and distinct upon the evening air.  The thin crescent of a new moon was bright in the sky; and, between flying clouds, the evening star looked down with steady gleam upon them folding world.  The old church wore an unusually solemn aspect at that contemplative vesper-hour.  I lingered a few minutes in the graveyard.  The tenants of that silent ground were sleeping soundly, "after life's fitful fever."  Here was a storied monument; there, a pauper's undistinguished mound; but the closing event, that comes to all alike, had laid them side by side in the peaceful companionship of common decay at last.  They had crossed the edge of the great forest, — "the undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveller returns."  I tried to read some of the epitaphs upon the gravestones, but the shades of night had begun to shroud those brief records of the poor inhabitants below, so I took my way out by the great gate, where withered leaves from the trees about the entrance rustled audibly around me in the fading light.

    A little street, mostly of old-fashioned cottages, with gardens in front of them, led from the church gates into the village.  There was a quaint irregularity about this little street.  It looked pretty and picturesque, and full of sweet, nest-like simplicity.  The houses seemed to have each a story and a will of its own.  On both sides they stood a little in and out, here and there; some leaned forward, some backward, and one or two had got a a paralytic twist, that threw the gable end curiously out of the line, as if the window round the corner was trying to see what time it was by the church clock at the end of the street.  They were a "good deal out of drawing," as painters say; but there was a clean, cosy air about them, that was pleasant to the eye.  Taken altogether, with the bit of trailing greenery about the doors and windows, they looked like two lines of old people advancing to each other in a country dance at holiday time, with three or four smart young sprigs, more gaily dressed, joining in the fun, and eyeing the wavering string of ancient taperers with a kind of patronising admiration.

    Many of the doors were open.  Pot-plants peeped through almost every window; and here and there I saw bright utensils winking upon the walls inside.  In one cottage I heard a cheerful jingle of tea-things; in another a lad sat near the open door playing "The Sicilian Mariner's Hymn" upon an accordion.  At the threshold of the next there stood a comely woman, wearing a clean white cap and a print bed-gown, and with suds upon her stout arms, as if she had just left the washing-mug.  Her cap-strings fluttered in the wind as she leaned with one hand against the door-cheek, calling her children in from play, in a shrill, long-drawn cry, that rang all over the neighbourhood.  "Martha! . . . Mary! . . . Come in this minute! . . . 'Lijah!  Come in to thi porritch!  Eh, I'll warm thee, gentleman, — I will!  Look what a seet thae's made o' thi clooas!"  She gave the ruddy lad a motherly love-tap as he ran by her into the house, and then she closed the door upon her little fold.  I knew that these cottages were the homes of working-people, most of them weavers, and, in addition to their handicraft, some of them students of science, — botany, music, or mathematics.

    A grey-haired man, with his shirtsleeves rolled up, and stocking-legs drawn upon his arms, leaned upon a garden gate, smoking, and looking drowsily round.  The village gossips were gathering to their old lounging-place at the far corner of the street; and I met tired workmen sauntering homeward with their cans and dinner-baskets.  A bright fire filled the front room of "Billy Wimberry's" ale-house with a cheerful glow.  The "Duke o' York's March" rang merrily from the hand-bells inside; and an old weaver was sidling up to the door with his hands in his pockets, and looking slyly round, with a face as innocent as a kitling, ― the first drop before the shower of nightly revelry came on.

    The evening grew wilder as daylight died away; and a little further up a swing sign creaked rustily in the wind in front of the "Old Bull."  "Blind Jerry," the fiddler, had taken his seat in the tap-room corner for the night; and as no customers had yet arrived, he was playing "Roslin Castle" for his own pleasure.  The beautiful wail streamed forth upon the moaning wind in fine accordance with the hour and the whole mood of nature outside.

    The "Bull" was one of the homeliest inns a mortal man could put his head into.  An old wood-and-plaster house — but sound and substantial still — like a good constitution well preserved.  Many a fine oak fell to supply the timber for that quaint-gabled hostelry.  It had an inviting look, even outside.  Something frank and generous beamed through those checkered walls and diamond-paned lattices, that warmed the whole neighbourhood.  The white and black that distinguished the wood from the rest of the building were clean white and clean black.  The windows, the blinds, the clean pavement in front, the well-filled watering-trough, the old horse-block, and everything about the open doorway, hinted that all was right inside.  A good old-fashioned inn, glowing throughout with genuine comfort.  There was neither stint, nor extortion, nor dirt, nor disorder of any kind, allowed therein. Some of its rooms were wainscotted with black oak.  It was full of cosy nooks, too; and stored with many a rare piece of furniture, inlaid cabinets, and carved oak chairs and tables, that shone like dusky looking-glasses.  On the shelves of the bar there were several quaint gilt vases, and two mighty old China punch-bowls, which were only taken down three times a year, on certain red-letters days, when the "Old Bull" was alive from the cellar to the ridging with the flowing revel of some annual holiday, long and regularly "kept up" under that many-chimneyed roof.

    The kitchen, too, had a charm of its own.  Its snowy walls glittered with bright dish-covers, warming-pans, ladles, and other shining metal utensils.  The vast firegate was always clean, and hardly ever cold.  The grand oak clock in the corner beat time with slow and solemn sound, as if it had authority to keep order in that place.  The delf-rack was full of crockery, and the thick plane-tree top of the long dresser was as white as scouring could make it.  And then, the ceiling!  Ah! the ceiling of that bright little kitchen world was a firmament studded with cheerful things!  It was hung with great hams and flitches; and rounds of spiced beef, sewed up in brown holland; and bundles of dried herbs; with here a copper kettle, and there a brass pan for boiling preserves.  In the middle there was a large stringed frame, or "brade-fleigh," covered with crisp oat-cakes, the ends of which hung down in inviting curls, — free to all hands.  "It snowed of meat and drink in that house," as Chaucer says; and a good deal of that snow, like the snows of heaven, fell quietly upon the poor; for the old landlady and her daughter had womanly hearts within them, and were always glad to do a good turn to the needy; and they liked to have people of the same disposition about them. . . .  But who can tell how many famished wanderers may have halted at meal times, and looked wistfully in at that cheerful doorway for a moment, and then crawled forward into the cold world beyond, unknown to the kind hearts within those quaint walls. . . . On one of the beams an antique halbert hung; and on another there was a long fowling-piece — a cherished relic of the landlord, who had been laid at rest, many a long year since, in the churchyard.

    Everything in the "Old Bull" betokened long-continued care and successful housekeeping.  Ay, even the cats in the kitchen, so portly and sleek, and so magnificently lazy, that they looked as it they had to lean against the wall to mew.  They glided about with a slow, serene majesty, as if they had no need to be in a hurry about things.  They had made a position in the world, and you could see at a glance that they knew it.  Their bread was baked.  There was a full-fed, self-satisfied calm about them, as if they had been aldermen a good while, and were going to be mayors next year.  They looked as if they owned a good deal of valuable scrip, and subscribed to things, and had "two coats, and everything handsome about them."  It was very clear that they had long since retired from the mouse line, or, at least, that the business was now managed entirely by junior partners.  They had nothing to do but to sign cheques, and eat and drink, and doze, and be grand.  If ever cats aspired to a pedigree, and coats of arms, and things, these were the cats.  I could almost imagine them taking a bath every morning, and then ringing the bell for breakfast and the newspapers. . . .

    The poultry in the yard, too, were all well off.  They were plump, comfortable-looking fowls, who had less scratching to do than their neighbours.  Their plumage was rich and clean, and glossy with good living.  They slept soundly o'nights, and they rose in a morning with minds at ease about the day's peck.  In fact, everything about the "Old Bull" seemed healthy and prosperous, and well-cared for ay, even to the loud-chirping crickets on the hearts. . .

    At the rear of the house there was a pretty little parlour, with a bow-window, that commanded a view of the clough and the hills beyond.  It was pleasant to sit by that open window on a summer evening, when birds peeped in and sang; when the roses, clustering by the wall, filled the room with a sweet smell; and when the voices of the bowlers at play upon the old green came clear upon the air.  I thought of this little parlour as I drew near the door of the "Old Bull" that cold night, and — I went in.

    As I walked up the lobby, crooning to the sound of Jerry's fiddle, the house seemed to me unusually still.  I peeped through the bar-window.  There was nobody in; but I met the landlady's daughter, Mary, coming from the kitchen with a cup of tea in her hand.  She was in haste, and I thought she looked anxious.  Pointing towards the little parlour, she said, "You'll find the doctor in there, sir.  My mother's not well."  And then she ran upstairs with the tea.

    I was glad to hear that the doctor was in.  It was a pleasure and a benefit to meet with him, for he was a fine old man, — a gentleman in heart and thought; and a man of rare cultivation.  In youth he was an active politician; but his whole life had been marked by a catholic respect for all shades of sincere opinion, even whilst warmly advocating his own.  Singularly child-like in his trustful simplicity, there was yet a natural dignity about him, arising from the goodness of his heart and the noble tone of his mind — a dignity that could bear the shock of free contact with his kind, and needed no outworks of frigid mannerism to defend it from impertinent familiarity.  He was a genial man, too, and could crack his joke with the best, at the right time.  Strongly attached to his profession, the long practice of it had brought him into contact with a great variety of human life, and his sympathies were wider even than his experience.  The poor loved him well; and they had a good reason for it.  I found him sitting by the fire, with the Times in his hand.

    "Good evening, doctor," said I.

    "Good evening, sir," replied he.  "I'm glad to see you."

    "Thank you," said I, shaking his offered hand.  "Mary tells me that her mother is unwell.  Do you know what's the matter, doctor?"

    "Well," replied he, "the old lady has had an excellent constitution, but she has reached that time of life when nature begins to whisper to the best of us that the inevitable hour is not far off.  She is seventy-five, and a very sensitive person by nature; and she has had a great shock to-day.  Have you heard of the accident?"

    "Not a word.  What is it, sir?"

    "Oh, a very sad thing," replied he, taking a pinch of snuff, and laying his old tortoise-shell box upon the table:―

    "For the last twelve years I have attended the family of a labourer of the name of Greenhalgh, but better known among his neighbours as 'Solid Jimmy.'  I never knew a more comfortable couple, in their humble way, than Greenhalgh and his wife.  I don't think his wages averaged more than seventeen or eighteen shillings a week, the year round; but they managed to pay their way, and live respectably upon it; and their little cottage was as sweet a nest as any poor man need wish for.  They have had nine children, too.  The youngest is not quite ten months old, and Matty's in what country folk call 'th' expectin' way' again.  Jenny, the eldest, is about eleven, and she lies dangerously ill of inflammation.  I called to see her this forenoon; and, as I was about to leave the house, Matty took me aside, and said, 'Doctor, eawr James axed me to go wi' his dinner to-day, an' tak word heaw Jenny's gooin' on.  He's quite unsattl't abeawt her.'  So I told her that I was going partly the same way, and, if she was ready, we would walk together.  She seemed pleased, and she began to hurry the dinner things into her basket; and it was touching to see her flutter about the house, as if half loath to leave it.  Pointing to a young woman, who was busy about the fire, she said, 'This is my sister Nelly; hoo's comed to look after th' childer while I'm away.'  Then she went to the cradle, where the youngest child lay asleep, and, tucking the clothes in tenderly, she croodled over it in a dove-like way, as only a mother can do.  They had brought a bed down into the next room for the girl who was ill.  The door was open, and the child lay there watching her mother as she went to and fro.  Matty went to her bed-side, and softly smoothed the pillow; and, as she straightened the clothes about her, she whispered, 'Neaw, my lass, I'm gooin' wi' thi father's dinner.  I'll not be long.  Thae mun lie still, an' thae'll soon be weel, thae'll see.'  Then, as she closed the door in coming away, she looked back again into the room, and said, 'Thi faither 'll bring tho some posies when he comes fro his wark.' . . . When we had got a few yards away from the cottage, Matty gave a great sob, and she said, 'Eh, doctor, I'm fleyed we're gooin' to lose her!'  But I reassured the poor woman as well as I could; and when I parted with her at the corner of the orchard she was in good spirits again, and she went forward up the road with her husband's dinner.  It was then about ten minutes to twelve."

    "And now," continued the doctor, taking another pinch of snuff, and ringing the bell, "'Lame Jonas,' the old servant man here, can tell the rest of the story better than I can, for he saw more of it."

    "Fanny," said he, when the servant entered, "if old Jonas is at liberty, send him here for a few minutes."

    She closed the door, and I heard her tell a lad in the lobby to fetch " Owd Jonas."

    "What Owd Jonas?" inquired the lad.  "Is it Limper?"

    "Yes.  He must come directly."

    Away went the lad shouting through the back yard, "Limper's wanted i'th bar this minute!"

    The house was so still that we could hear the old man reply gruffly from the stables, "Hello!  What arto makin' that din abeawt?  I'll may thee limp if I get howd on tho!"

    In a minute or two he came stumping up the lobby.

    "Neaw, then," said he to Fanny; "what's to do again?"

    "Th' doctor wants yo i'th parlour, Jonas."

    "Oh," replied he in a softer tone, as he rolled down his shirt sleeves in a hurry.  "Bobby, go thee fot my jacket eawt o'th kitchen.  Be slippy!"

    In another minute he stood in the doorway, with an old crushed milking hat in his hand.  "Dun yo want me, doctor?"

    "Yes," replied the doctor; "if you've time, I want you to tell us about the accident to-day.  Sit down, Jonas.  How's your leg? "

    "Well," said Jonas, "it gi's bits o' steawnges neaw an' then; but it's no wur, upo' th' whol."

    "Well," said the doctor, "before you begin, Jonas, what will you have to drink?  I know you don't like to sit dry-mouth."

    "A saup o' rum, if yo plezzen, doctor," said Jonas.  "It's good for th' rheumatic, isn't it?"

    The old doctor smiled, and rang the bell.

    When the rum came, Jonas laid his hat upon the windowsill, and sat down.  "Ay, ay," said he, stirring his glass thoughtfully; "it's a bad job for sure — very. . . Come, here's yo're good health, doctor;" and then, nodding sideway to me, he said, "an' yors an' o'."  And then, settling down in his chair, with his glass in his hand, he began.


 
CHAPTER II.


And will he not come again?
And will he not come again?
Ah, no, he is dead;
Go to thy death-bed;
He never will come again.

HAMLET.


"WELL, doctor," said Jonas, still stirring his rum and water, and looking thoughtfully in the glass, "I hardly know heaw to begin my tale, I didn't see it fro' th' first exactly; but I'll tell yo what I did see, as weel as I con:—

    "Eawr mistress sent mo this forenoon wi' a bottle o' red port an' some bits o' nourishments for Owd Hannah, th' mangle-woman, that's bin lyin' ill so lung.  Th' poor owd lass ― hoo's had a weary time on't; but hoo's welly done wi' this world.  Well, as I coom back, I stopped a minute or two at th' side o'th main-soof 'at they're makin' up i'th road, yon.  They'n cut happen three yard an' a hauve deawn; an' Jimmy Greenhalgh, fro' th' Birches, — him 'at they co'n 'Owd Solid,' — wur wortchin deawn at the bottom.  I didn't know who it wur till he looked up, an' axed me what time it wur.  I tow'd him that it had just gone a quarter to twelve; and he said, 'It's bin a long forenoon, Jonas; but it's drawin' to an end.  I wish eawr Matty'd come.  We'n one o'th childer ill, an' I want to yer haw hoo's gettin' on.'  I axed him which it wur, an' he said it wur their Fanny.  An' I don't wonder at Jimmy bein' consarnt abeawt her, for there's summat moor nor common abeawt that lass; an' I know that hoo's olez bin a sort of a nestle-brid at their heawse.  But I didn't like to say nought no fur to him at th' time, for he's a very feelin' mon, is Jimmy.  So, he went on wi' his wark, an' I coom deawn whoam.  When I geet into the heawse, eawr mistress said, 'Well, heaw's yon poor owd woman?'  But hoo'd hardly getten th' words beawt of her meawth afore we yerd a fearful skrike o' women set up, and a strange hurry agate o'th street an' folks' feet clatterin' by th' front dur at a terrible rate.  I felt a bit of a cowd crill, for summat towd mo that there wur misfortin' afoot.  Eawr mistress dropped her knittin' to th' floor, an' hood said, 'Eh, Jonas, there's somebory run o'er!'  An' hoo tremble't fro yed to foot.  I would ha' gone beawt to see what were to do, but hoo said, 'Nawe, nawe; stop here till eawr Mary comes!'  An' hoo rang th' bell.

    "There wur a lot o' carters i'th tap-reaum, and two riders-eawt i'th bar; but they wur off in a minute, an' th' servants an' o' went flutterin' deawn th' lobby.  Then somebory in a leet geawn ran by th' bar window, an' th' mistress said, 'Yon's eawr Mary!  Let's go an' see what's th' matter!'  An' hoo laid her hond o' my shoolder, an' we followed to th' front dur.

    "When we geet theer, folk wur hurryin' fro' o' sides up to the new soof, and theer they stoode, in a greight welter, lookin deawn into th' hole, wi' faces as pale as my shirt.  I would fain a-gwon up to th' spot, but th' owd woman wouldn't let me stir a peg.  Well, in a minute or so, there wur a cry set up for 'Moor spades!' an' some ran one gate, some another.  Little Jerry, th' stable lad, coom hurryin' up to th' dur, beawt o' breath, an' he said, 'Th' soof's fo'n in!  There's a chap smoorin'!  I'm beawn for some spades!' an' he dashed through to th' back yard.  Owd Sprint, th' taylior, wur runnin' deawn th' middle o'th road, beawt hat, an' I beckon't on him, but he cried eawt that he wur gooin' for a doctor, an' he couldn't stop. . . . It wur a terrible thing to see th' folk cluster't abeawt that soof. . . . Onybody 'at's yerd that low buzz 'at a lot o' men makes when there's aught sayrious agate, — they may tell it again as long as they liven. . . . Well, th' next thing, Mary coom to us, and begged of her mother to go into th' heawse; an' hoo said that hoo sent Robin up to see heaw they wur gooin on, an' he'd be back directly.  So we helped her into th' parlour, here; an' some an' ill hoo wur, I con tell yo.

    "We wur just talkin' abeawt gettin' th' owd woman upstairs, when Robin coom in wi' th' news.  'Eh, mistress,' he, said, 'it's poor Jim Greenhalgh!  I've sin sich a seet!  Just as it stroke twelve, his wife coom off at th' corner o'th road wi' his dinner.  Owd Suzy, th' wesherwoman, wur wi' her, an' they seam't to be talkin' very comfortably together.  It would ha' been better if somebory could ha' stopped 'em afore they'd gettin' to th' place; but hoo wur too near.  When Matty see'd th' creawd, hoo walked up, quite unconsarnt, an' axed a chap 'at stoode at the eawtside what there wur to do.  He wur a stranger, and breek-maker bi th' look on him, — an' he onsor't her very snappish, an' said, 'There's somebory kilt i'th soof;' an' then he towd her to mind her own business.  But summat seam't to strike her o' at once, on' hoo gripp't him by th' arm an' said, 'Oh, what's he code?'  The chap stare't at her white face; but afore he could say a word, somebory beheend sheawted eawt, "It's Jimmy Greenhalgh, at th' Birches an' then, in an instant, th' dinner-basket dropped to th' floor, an' her arms shot up, an' hoo gav a wild skrike 'at startle't th' folk i'th street, like a flash o' leetenin'.  They just catch't her afore hoo fell to th' greawnd like a lump o' wood.  The neighbour women coom runnin' reawnd when they yerd her cry; an' as first one then another looked at her, they said, 'Eh, it's Matty!  It's his wife!  Eh, poor thing!' . . . An' they geet howd on her, and carried her into Sally Grimshaw's, an' laid her upo' th' couch theer, as dateless as a stone! "

    "An' neaw, doctor," continued Jonas, "I've towd th' tale as far as I con, bwoth what I seed, an' what Robin seed.  I dar say yo can tell th' remainder better nor me."

    "Well," said the doctor, taking another pinch of snuff and wiping his eyes, under pretence of cleaning his spectacles, "perhaps I can, Jonas.  I have seen a good deal of sorrow in my time, but the circumstances connected with this accident have certainly touched me a little.  It is very sad.

    "I was standing by the sewer, when old Sally Grimshaw came and said that I was wanted in her house directly.  I had only just learnt that the poor fellow they were extricating from a living grave was the man whose sick child I had visited about an hour before; and it did not strike me at that moment that his wife was on her way to the spot with his dinner.  But when I saw that pale face, as she lay there insensible, I knew her at once.

    "She was slowly recovering, when a lad shouted into the house, 'They're gettin' him eawt!'  Old Sally closed the door quietly, just as the poor woman opened her eyes.  Looking vacantly from face to face, and then at the walls, she put her hand to her forehead, and said 'Wheer am I?'  But when she saw the dinner-basket on the table, she sank down insensible again.  Just then I heard an increased bustle outside, and I looked through the window.  They were lifting the body up to the bank of the sewer, and two men were coming down the street with a bearing barrow and a sheet.  Leaving some instructions with old Sally, I went out, and found the poor fellow quite dead.  I directed the men to bring the body down to this house, where they laid it upon the tressle-table in the club-room.

    "By this time my friend Dr. Lord had arrived, and leaving him with the body, I was hurrying back to the cottage, when I saw a little company of women coming down towards this place.  I knew at a glance what was the matter.  It was poor Matty, and the women I had left with her at Sally Grimshaw's.  They were trying to persuade her to turn back; but it was useless. 'I mun go,' she said; 'oh, I mun go to him!' and her countenance looked fearfully pale and wild.  She carried the dinner basket on her arm, too, and would not let anybody else touch it.  I made no attempt to hinder her, but turned back with them to the room where he was lying. . . Poor Matty!  She walked calmly up to the table, and, taking off the cloth that covered the things in the basket, she lifted the bowl out containing the dinner, and set it down with the bread, and knife and fork, beside the dead man.  Then she looked at his cold face, and said 'Jim!' as if inviting him to eat.  I began to fear for the poor woman's reason.  She sat down by the table, and all was silent for a minute or two.  The stillness seemed to wake her from this fearful calm.  She got up, and looked steadily at the dead man's face again for a few seconds, and then the flood-gates of nature were mercifully opened, and she burst into a passionate fit of tears.  I was glad to see this, for I knew it would relieve her.  It was a touching scene.  Everybody was moved to tears.  She kissed his pale face, and shading the hair away from his brow, she said, 'Oh! my poor lad!  He'll never speighk to me again! — never! — never!'  And then she sat down again, and moaned and sobbed bitterly.  As she sat thus, rocking herself to and fro, old Sally touched her arm, and whispered to her; but the poor creature seemed to take no notice of her.  She rose, and looking at her husband's face again, she said, 'He towd me to be sure an' come at twelve o'clock. . . . Oh, Jim! — Jim! — my poor lad!  What mun I say to thi childer?'  And then she sank down upon the seat again, in a kind of stupor.  Whilst she was in that state, I ordered a coach into the yard.  Mary and old Sally led her passively into it; and by the time we got down to her own cottage, she seemed more dead than alive, — in fact, I fear that her life is in great danger.  They got her to bed as quietly as possible.

    "The news had reached the cottage before we got there.  The door was open, and poor Matty's sister was moving about the melancholy house in silence, with tearful eyes.  Two neighbour women from the village had brought the news; but I was glad that they had not told it to the poor girl who was ill, although she had asked several times if her mother had come back.  A kind widow lady here, in the village, had provided for the rest of the children in her own house, for the present, till their relatives arrived, who lived at some distance.

    "I stayed at the cottage till Dr. Lord arrived at five this afternoon, and I promised to relieve him at half-past eight.  I see it is half-past seven now.  It is very likely I may have to remain there through the night, for I fear, from the symptoms, that premature labour may ensue; and, if so, it will be a very dangerous case.  I don't know what is to be done with that family of little children.  Poor creatures!  When I think of this day's business, I pray, as I have often prayed, that I may never forget the unfortunate.  The old lady here, too," continued the doctor, "will need careful attention.  I must see her before leaving," and he rang the bell.  When the landlady's daughter entered, he enquired how her mother was.

    "She is sound asleep, sir," said Mary.

    "Then don't disturb her on my account," replied he.  "But you know where I am going?"

    "Yes," said she, "and if you happen to want anything we have in the house, doctor, somebody will be up all night to attend you.  Will you take any supper before you go, sir?"

    "Well, I may stop all night.  I'll take a few biscuits with me, and a little port wine in one of your small flask bottles."

    She brought the biscuits and the wine, and the doctor stowed them away in his pocket.  As he rose to go, I told him that, as it was on my way home, we could walk together, if he had no objection.  He accepted the offer with pleasure.  I was helping him on with his great-coat, when somebody knocked at the door.

    "Come in."

    It was old Jonas, with a thick red muffler tied round his neck.

    "Win yo ha' th' lantron, doctor?  I've nought else to do.  Mary sent me to ax you."

    "No, no; thank you," replied the doctor; "it's a clear night, and this gentleman is going the same way."

    "Well," said Jonas, following us down the lobby, "If yo chancen to want a bit of an arran or ought doin i'th neettime, yo'n nought to do but to send somebory, and tell 'em to ring at th' front dur here.  I'll beawnce eawt in a minute, for I'm nobbut a leet sleeper.  But there's to be somebory up i'th kitchen o'neet, I believe, so yo'n no 'casion to be fleyed o' disturbin' us."

    "Thank you, Jonas; thank you," replied the doctor.  "I'll not disturb you unless there be serious reason for it, you may depend."

    "Eh, never yo mind, doctor," said Jonas.  "We're noan tickle at a time like this.  I'll go an' sit up o' neet wi' yo, if I can be of ony sarvice, — an welcome."

    "No, thank you," answered the doctor; "I'll send up if there be any need, and I shall be glad to have your assistance.  Good night, Jonas."

    "Good neet to yo!" said Jonas, looking round.  "It is starleet, I see."  And he stood in the doorway, watching us as we walked down the road.

    "Poor old fellow!" said the doctor.  "He is a kind-hearted, faithful creature.  And, simple as he looks, he is a shrewd, clear-headed man; and his life has been marked by strange events, and more suffering than falls to the common lot of mankind.  To me he is a very interesting character, and, when he is in the mood, I am always glad to listen to his artless tales and quaint comments upon persons and things.  In fact, I have found all through life that, if one had only the eye to perceive it, there is a charmed circle of good around every man one meets, however humble or obscure, within which he is unique in his service to mankind, ― a new volume of that great library of human life that fills the world with interesting variety."

    There was a solemn grandeur about the night.  The stars shone out in unusual numbers and brilliance.  The wind was wild and cold, and moaning sounds came up from the woody clough, like the changing surge of the sea, as heard in the distance at midnight.  As we drew near the dead man's cottage, the blinds were all down, and lights shone in every window; but not a sound was audible outside.  As I parted with the doctor at the door I caught sight of women moving to and fro, and heard a sound of sobbing.  The door closed, and I stood for a minute gazing at the windows where ghostly figures flitted now and then between the lights and the white blinds.  The sacred atmosphere of sorrow enveloped that little dwelling, over which such an unexpected change had come since the morning.  "No man knows what a day may bring forth."  And it is no wonder that, as I walked home in the starlight that night, those noble words should occur to my mind which commend to the fatherly goodness of heaven "all those who are any ways afflicted or distressed in mind, body, or estate, that it may please Thee to comfort and relieve them, according to their several necessities, giving them patience under their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions."


――――♦――――





JOHN HEYWOOD, Excelsior Printing and Bookbinding Works, Manchester.

 


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