A DANGEROUS FLIRTATION
"OH, plague on't!
I never shall o'er-master it—never!" And the fiddle slipped
from under her dimpled chin and dropped to her side, whilst she sank
into an elbow-chair, raised her black brows, and puckered her
forehead, a picture of pretty, half-earnest despair.
And her teacher, standing at her side with a piece of resin
between his fingers, looked down upon her with hungry eyes.
Alas! that was all he could ever do when, as now, he was able to
watch her unnoticed; for though he was a very wise and sober young
man, who prided himself much upon his self-control, he lost nerve
and sense and everything else in the presence of this tantalising
And she knew it, and played upon it, and did as she liked
with him, and then sent him from her presence to grind his teeth and
teach himself to hate her; for though he was only her uncles'
apprentice, just out of his time, and she was an heiress in her own
right and the next owner of the business, and had been to London and
even to the Bath Wells, he felt himself as good as she was and far
cleverer; but at the same time he knew only too well that she would
scorn a mere journeyman, and was as ambitious in her way as he was
in his. Oh for a peep into that incomprehensible little heart!
They had grown up together. From the first week of his
apprenticeship he had been her slave; he had made and repaired her
"babies" (dolls), and smuggled gingerbread animals for her from the,
to her, forbidden fair. When she was quite big he had carried
her home from local routs, lest she should wet her dainty slippers
in the rutty, muddy lanes, and had compromised his own conscience by
surreptitiously purchasing for her contraband literature from the
travelling chapmen. Later still he had bought, out of his
scanty earnings, that wonderful new story book about a certain Mr.
Robinson Crusoe, and in the long winter evenings, when her uncles
were at the Hanover Arms, he had sat in the tall-backed chair in the
parlour and read to her.
Even after that ever-memorable visit to the capital she had,
after a while, returned to the old intimacy, though now, alas! it
was often interrupted by temporary, though very irritating,
assumptions of superiority, with quite as sudden and embarrassing
lapses into the old affectionateness. But for the last two
years they had been drifting further and further apart, for she was
more frequently "my lady," and he, warned by repeated snubs, was
learning to know his place.
Recently, however, after an unusually lengthy fit of
loftiness, occasioned, he suspected, by the attentions of a certain
young lieutenant home for a visit, she had become suddenly very
complacent, and had finally cajoled him into teaching her to play on
the fiddle, and this was her fourth lesson.
Hitherto the practices had been to Mark Rawson periods of
delicious misery, for, for the first time in his life, he had found
"young mistress" a dull scholar. She was clever, that he knew,
and could learn anything she gave her mind to, having acquired quite
a local reputation for her skill upon the harpsichord. But
upon his beloved violin she either could not or would not make any
progress, and so he was tortured with the suspicion that she was
only using the instrument as a means of bringing them together.
But if so, why?
Was she changing her mind about him now that he was free of
his apprenticeship and a full journeyman? or was she only consoling
herself with him because of the defection of the officer? He
would be no man's stopgap! Even this bewitching creature
should not make him forget what was due to himself. He was not
her equal quite, but he was a man, and free and ambitious, and she
should not play with him though she were ten times as enslaving as
These and many like thoughts were racing through his brain as
he stood looking down upon his fair pupil.
"Nay, mistress, try again. 'Twas but that the fingering
was wrong," he said at length, keeping the utmost restraint upon
himself as he spoke.
"Fingers! My fingers are cobbler's thumbs, methinks";
and, passing her fiddle-bow into the left hand, she held out the
other with a gesture of mock disgust, and displayed a dainty little
thumb and four pink fingers, a little too short for correct shape,
but soft and tender as a babe's.
Mark gazed at the gleaming digits and the slim wrist and
round little arm, bare to the elbows, and felt the teacher in him
giving way to the man.
"Naught's amiss wi' the fingers," he said a little
constrainedly. "Look at mine," and he stretched out a strong,
sinewy palm and held it within a few inches of hers.
"Oh, la! what a monster!" and with a gay little laugh she
rose to her feet and put her hand close to his to compare them; in
the comparison she touched his thumb with hers, and it thrilled him
to the toes. Then she dropped her fiddle-bow and held up her
other hand, to show that it would take both hers to equal his, and
as she touched him again Mark had to fight with a mighty impulse to
take the two pink-and-white morsels in his grasp. In his
struggle the tortured teacher sighed, which brought a quick glance
from the fair tormentor, and, letting her hands fall to her side,
she said in meek, almost apologetic tones:
"Let me try but once again," and turned and picked up her
instrument. For several bars he heard the lesson faithfully
reproduced, and then, just as he was glancing round the room, still
intent upon the music, there came a rasping discord and a petulant
cry of despair from the pupil.
"The wrong finger again! the wrong finger, mistress!" he
cried, raising his hands in deprecation.
"Well, well, I did as I was told. Look there!" and she
came close to him and showed him her finger still pressed on the
"Ah, but t'other finger, mistress."
"Nay, nay! the other, the third. Ah! but not there!"
Two or three times she changed her fingers, but still they
were not satisfactory.
"Why, do it thyself; put the fingers on the place thyself—put
them on. Thou art not afeared to touch them!"
And Mark bent over and took the fingers in his and adjusted
them to their places, whilst his own tingled, and he felt he was
blushing like a girl. It took a long time to arrange so small
a matter, for the lady either could not or would not understand, and
at length he put his hand under hers, as it clasped the neck of the
instrument, and, bending his finger over the strings, showed her
exactly how each finger was to be placed. The instruction was
carefully given, and the fair pupil showed such innocent
intelligence and apparent desire to learn that all Mark's doubts of
her melted away, and as she began gently to draw her hands from
under his, prudence and pride, and all things else, vanished; and,
grasping the little fingers in his, he raised them hastily to his
lips and kissed them passionately.
The fiddle slipped down upon a lambskin rug at her feet, and
Mark, glad to hide for a moment his burning face, stooped down and
picked it up. He dare not look in his mistress's face, and if
he had done he would have been no wiser, for her own feelings were
so divided at the moment that her only safety lay in keeping
expression out of it. But now he was raising his eyes to hers,
and so, to cover her thoughts, she burst out mockingly:
"So, so! our new journeyman is amorous! But I had
forgot, he is free now."
Mark winced at the cutting double meaning she put into her
"free," and, with dropped head and sullen Dutch courage, he
"I am not free, mistress."
"Not? How? Why this finger bussing, then?
Am I a cook-maid or a sewing-woman?"
Under this cruel cut Mark's great frame quivered in every
limb, but the long-pent-up feelings of his heart were now too near
his lips to be checked even by this, and so, with a painful effort
at self-control, he clenched his hands together, and said:
"Mistress, for my great liberty I humbly crave your pardon.
I could have worshipped you and loved you, and held my peace, but
you have not let me! You have encouraged me, and then flouted
me. You have been betimes kindly cruel and cruelly kind.
You have deceived me, you have tempted me; but now, by the great
God, you shall hear me! I love you, and I hate myself for
loving you. You have unmanned me; you have humbled and
enslaved me; you have bewitched me; but were I to become your equal
to-day, were you the only woman left in Britain, I would never,
never ask you to wed me!"
She was below the medium height, but as she drew herself up
and lifted her great brown eyes to his she looked a very empress.
She brushed back an unruly lock of hair with imperious gesture, her
lip curled haughtily, her bosom heaved under her lace tucker, and
she was just about to fling at him an annihilating retort, when a
sudden change swept over her, tears rushed into her eyes, her whole
body collapsed, and she would have sunk helplessly to the floor if
he had not caught her in his arms.
"Oh, what have I done? what have I done?" he cried
distractedly. But the limp little figure on his left arm
sobbed on. "Forgive me, dear mistress! oh, forgive me, I—I—
Oh, heavens! the master!"
In the side of the room there was a door leading into the
shop, in the upper panel of this door was a small window, and as
Mark lifted his head he caught sight of a round snub nose and two
chubby cheeks, surmounted by a pair of rolling grey eyes, flattened
against the glass.
The hitherto limp and sobbing maiden recovered herself with
startling suddenness, and with a sharp, scared cry rushed into the
extreme corner of the room, and darted off upstairs. Mark drew
himself together and turned toward the door. The jolly face
had disappeared from the window and the latch of the door rattled a
little significantly. Then there came a series of hardly
forced little coughs, followed by another movement of the "sneck,"
the door opened slowly, and in came the junior member of the firm
with whom Mark had just finished his apprenticeship.
He was a broad-set, middle-sized, comfortable-looking sort of
man, who only wanted a little more colour to suggest the old English
country squire. His brown wig was rather carelessly put on,
and showed some tags of red hair under its edges. He wore a
long-waisted, ample-skirted blue coat without the heavy collar that
was then "the mode," an equally large waistcoat plentifully
sprinkled with snuff, blue breeches and stockings, and buckled
shoes. He sauntered with slow, shy, apologetic manner into the
parlour, blowing the air of an old roundel through his still
well-preserved teeth, and ostentatiously ignoring the prostrate
violin and the disarranged furniture. Once or twice he pursed
out his lips and gazed up at the dark oak joists above his head, and
finally pulled out an enormous brass box of snuff, and helped
Mark, meanwhile, was trying to recover himself. He had
picked up the fiddle and hung it upon a nail between the window and
the cupboard, pushed away the elbow-chair so recently occupied by
his mistress, and was stooping down to poke the wood and turf fire
when Mr. Ebenezer turned to him, and, with an air of sudden
confidence, put his hand on his shoulder; and whilst Mark was
wincing in anticipation of some mild request for an explanation of
the recent scene, he said in low, serious tones:
"Mark boy, I've bottomed the Muggletonians."
Mark, on whose face relief and amusement were struggling
together, replied with an overdone simulation of interest
"Ah! truly! that is good hearing, sir."
Mr. Ebenezer took another pinch of snuff, stared hard and
musingly at his employee, and then, as the puckers of a stern
conviction gathered on his brow, he said:
"Mark, Muggletonianism is balderdash!"
"Worse than the Aminadabs, sir?"
"Aminadabs!" And here Mr. Ebenezer's thoughts seemed
suddenly to take a wider range. "Mark boy, the Aminadabs are
sly and slow, but, rabbit them! they are mighty sure. Brag is
a good dog, but Holdfast is better. 'Fast bind, fast find,'
that's the Dabs, boy!—that's the Dabs!"
"'Tis you for nosing out heresy, sir," murmured Mark
"Heresy! Ah, that minds me," and putting down his
snuff-box on the table near him, he dived into the capacious
left-hand pocket of his coat, and produced two or three tracts
evidently fresh from the printer's, and in a few moments he and Mark
were deeply engrossed in discussing the titles; for in 1744
theological pamphlet literature was very abundant, and, of course,
The tracts, with their long, involved, and bellicose titles,
proved very interesting to one, at least, of the men who were
examining them; but just as Mr. Ebenezer had got engrossed in a
description of the bearings of a very fierce controversy with which
one of them was connected, the door leading from the shop opened
again, and in stepped Mr. Josephus, the senior partner of the firm,
and Mark was glad of an excuse to retire.
With a respectful salutation to the newcomer, he slipped
away, and was soon standing in the little back office with an
account-book opened before him. Once and again he dipped his
quill into the ink-pot, but on each occasion he paused, pen in air,
and stood staring hard and absently over the screen into the shop.
He was not exactly handsome, though his face was square and
clean-cut, and had an air of strength about it, but there was a
restlessness in his eyes and a tightness about the lips that
suggested constant internal conflict, and made those who watched him
uncomfortable. His masters were hatters, and had a slow,
old-fashioned business in the equally slow and steady-going market
town of Helsham, in the north Midlands. They were comfortably
off and lived simply, and had both reached that period of life when
men want to carry things easily.
Consequently, when, about two years before the time of which
we now speak, they had ascertained by actual testing that their
apprentice was a smart, trustworthy lad, they had brought him out of
the cellar workshop, and had placed him in the office, and, in
course of time, he had come to have the whole of the business of the
firm in his hands, and had, with the assistance of a salesman, set
his masters at liberty to pursue their own hobbies. For these
two old gentlemen were both faddists in their way. Ebenezer,
as we have seen, was a theologian, though of a somewhat eccentric
order, and Josephus was a politician and a town councillor.
Their niece was also their ward, and though she had been an
alarming addition to the bachelor family when first she arrived, she
not only easily established herself, but very soon became a wilful
tyrant, whose whims they would never cross themselves nor allow any
one else to cross if they could prevent them. She was, in a
small way, an heiress, and as she grew to womanhood had developed a
somewhat striking beauty.
That she must marry well the two old fogies had long since
settled, though they lived in painful uneasiness under the
consciousness that when it came to matrimony she would not be likely
to consult their wishes, except they should happen to coincide with
her own. But they had a duty to perform to their brother's
child, and in a dull sort of way they intended to do it.
And all this was known full well by their decently
enfranchised apprentice, and provided matter for meditation to him
as he stood reflecting in the little back office. He was not
likely to forget that he had become indispensable to his masters,
and that they could not carry on without him, neither did he
overlook the fact that tradesmen's daughters had sometimes been
known to marry their father's apprentices.
Overlook it? That was one of the things that
complicated the situation. It was one of the stalest of stale
jokes amongst apprentices and young journeymen, and the subject of
chaff in every pothouse frequented by their class in the country.
Hadn't he himself been teased about it times without count?
Was it not the most popular theme of the chapbooks and ballads
hawked and sung at country fairs? The thing had become a sort
of scandal, and a very sore point with all self-respecting
tradesmen; so much so that he knew it would make one of his greatest
difficulties, and he smiled bitterly as he imagined the scorn with
which the proud young beauty, before whom he had just bemoaned
himself, would receive any such idea.
In any case he would have had a difficult task, requiring
infinite care and long patience, and now, behold! he had spoilt his
chance for ever by losing control of himself and estranging his
mistress, perhaps permanently. But the bitterest thought of
all to this proud, sensitive fellow was that he had abased himself
in his own eyes. He had allowed passion and pride to carry him
away, and stood condemned at the bar of his own conscience.
Why was it that she had such power to unman him and make him
do what both self-interest and self-respect forbade? He had
acted like a baby, like an undisciplined cur; and as he thought of
it he jammed the feather end of his quill into his mouth, and gnawed
at it in bitterest self-reproach.
WHILST young Mark
was grinding his teeth and inwardly cursing his own impetuous folly
and pride in the shop-office, his two masters were fidgeting about
in the parlour, looking for signs of the evening meal. Mr.
Josephus, who was tall and thin, was dressed like his brother,
except that he wore a somewhat imposing bag-wig, and the
three-cornered hat he took off as he entered was more severely
cocked, as became a man of his public pretensions. The room
they occupied was a long, narrow apartment with a mullioned window
of exceptional width opposite the shop door. It was wainscoted
all round, and at one end was a wide fireplace with a florid Queen
Anne grate, whilst at the opposite one was a shelf-rack containing
pots of delph-ware and a few articles in china, and on the lowest
shelf a row of pewter plates.
Besides the door into the shop there was one near the window
that led down into the cellar kitchen, and another at the end of the
pot-rack that led to the upstairs rooms. The furniture was for
the most part heavy and ugly, and included several stiff,
high-backed chairs and an uninviting settee.
Mr. Josephus grew impatient, and stamped on the oak floor
under his feet as a signal to the maid to bring up the food.
Mr. Ebenezer was evidently uneasy also, but for a different reason.
He lifted his wig and scratched underneath it, took out his
snuff-box, and commenced to polish it on the knee of his breeches,
and glanced restlessly every moment or two in the direction of the
door through which his niece had so recently disappeared.
Presently Kerry, the maid, a stout, middle-aged woman, deeply
pock-marked and covered with perspiration, came in with an aggrieved
air and began to place the pewter plates on the table, and at the
same instant a step was heard overhead, and a moment later the young
mistress appeared. She looked none the worse for her fit of
crying, and though she shot a quick, inquiring glance at Uncle
Ebenezer, she put on a bright look and an easy manner, and drew up
to the table.
"Kerry, you draggletail! your hair's all a tousle. How
oft shall I tell you not to come before your masters i' that way?
Will you never be aught but a slut?"
"Slut I — fatkins!" and poor Kerry was almost crying in her
indignation. "Is't not the brew-day an' the fair-week? and
hesn't the racketing Peter been wi' the small coal, an' me wi' me
pore head lifting and lurchin' wi' the megrims?"
Mr. Ebenezer lifted his head with sudden interest.
"What, woman! again? Hast lost the hemlock out of thy
shoe? Plague take thee! I'll ha' thee blistered!
But here, wench, here, I've a new remedy." And, fumbling in
his capacious waistcoat pocket, he pulled out a bit of dried
horseradish, carefully screwed up in the page of an old tract.
"Go, powder that, woman! Powder it fine, mark thee; and then
snuff it up thy nose, and—here, here,"—for the overpowered domestic
had eagerly accepted the strange prescription, and was making off to
try it at once,—"when the pain passes, come and tell me. Dost
Kerry, mollified by her master's sympathy, and eager to
commence experiments, vanished down the stairs; and Uncle Ebenezer
drew up to the table and took a long pull from his pewter pot of
The food, which consisted of wholemeal bread, barley cake,
and salt pork, was consumed for some moments in silence; and then
the young mistress, who had evidently been preparing the question
she now asked, raised her eyes, and, glancing at her portly uncle,
"Well, uncle, has Peggy Dimmock's dream come true?"
"True! Ay, has it? She was brought to bed this
very morning at six o' the clock, an' it's twins that's what the
double primrose meant!"
"Bless us!" And then, after momentary hesitation: "But
the parson says dreams are all rubbish, Uncle Tebby."
"Parson!" and the old man's face expressed the loftiest
possible contempt. "What do parsons know about such great
matters?—dreams! What was't Mayor Astbury dreamed the night
Queen Anne died? What was the signification of Holam,
beholding lambs in harvest, when he slept in the stage waggon?
Didn't the Jacobites come forthwith? Not give heed to dreams!
Why, girl, what does Providence send 'em for?"
Young mistress appeared to be only half convinced, and, after
another moment or two of musing, she asked:
"What does it signify to dream of a funeral?"
And here for the first time Mr. Josephus joined in the
conversation, and both brothers answered promptly:
The elders were now watching her with quickened interest, and
waiting for the information they feared might be given.
"I dreamed of a funeral last night."
Uncle Ebenezer darted a quick glance at his brother, and that
worthy seemed to find difficulty in swallowing the food he had in
his mouth. But Mr. Josephus was not to be easily frightened,
and so, with a look that belied his light words, he said:
"Tut, tut! 'tis but a fond girl's whimsies."
Mr. Ebenezer put his hand up hastily, as if to check him.
"Was it a mean funeral or a fine 'un?" he demanded seriously.
"A fine one, an' there was a white pall on the coffin."
"It is a wedding," and Mr. Ebenezer looked at his
brother with graphic significance. Was there aught on the
pall, flowers or the like?"
"There were nests, uncle."
Ebenezer's jaw dropped, a long soft sigh escaped him, and
after looking solemnly at his niece a moment or two he shook his
head, and said sadly:
"Thou'll be married, girl," but he did not add, as the omen
might have justified him in doing, "unfortunately" married.
Christiana, as she was called in honour of Bunyan's heroine,
laughed at her uncle's lugubrious tones, and then, lifting her
hands, cried in mock indignation:
"La! Uncle Tebby, you wouldn't have me an old maid, would
Ebenezer felt in his heart of hearts that was just what he
would have liked, and then, realising all at once what a selfish old
curmudgeon he was to desire such a thing, he blinked his eyes very
rapidly, nipped them tightly together, rubbed the end of his snub
nose, and stammered huskily whilst he gazed hard at his niece:
"Kinty love, thou must never leave thy poor old uncles"; and
then, with a sudden flash of illumination, he opened his eyes as
wide as he could, and, looking significantly into the laughing brown
orbs opposite to him, he added: "The young spark that wins thee must
take us too; he must live here, Kinty—here!"
The real inwardness of this communication was of course lost
upon the silent Josephus; but Kinty understood that it was her
uncle's way of signifying to her that if the scene of which he had
been the unintentional witness a little while before meant anything,
he for one would not oppose. And so, with a light blush and a
covering little laugh, she rose from the table and made for the
kitchen; whilst Uncle Ebenezer turned round and drew the
three-cornered elbow-chair up to the fire.
Mr. Josephus was already smoking, with his back to the shop
door, and as Ebenezer settled in the opposite corner and prepared to
follow his brother's example, he shot stealthy glances now and again
towards the senior member of the firm. Having lighted his
pipe, he took off his wig, and put it in the little recess where he
usually kept his tobacco and snuff; and then, settling down in his
chair, he sat watching his brother, and following out his own
confused reflections. What was the meaning of the scene he had
witnessed? It did not in the least surprise him that Mark
Rawson should aspire to the hand of his mistress, for though he knew
him to be perfectly trustworthy, he knew also that he was bold and
It would solve many awkward questions if Mark could succeed
to the business, but what a come-down it would be for their little
queen, and how all their friends would jeer about it! And what
about his niece? If she he was going to tamely give herself
away to a penniless apprentice, why then he was, and always had
been, entirely at sea in his estimate of her character? And
her act would be in absolute contradiction to the whole spirit of
her life and aspirations hitherto. In the many playful little
bantering he and she had had together on this always interesting
subject, it had been taken for granted that she would marry somebody
distinguished and be a great lady. And certainly it would be a
huge mistake if she did not, for she was in every way fitted, in his
poor judgment, for any position in life, however exalted, and would,
if he understood her, make herself and everybody about her miserable
if she had to be bound down for ever to the drudgery of a common
He felt his head beginning to ache; the working out of
problems was not at all in his way. Oh that he could tell
Josephus about it! And that brought up a further complication.
Would it be right to betray his niece and tell his brother? On
the other hand, would it be right to conceal so very important a
matter from him? If ever the matter was properly adjusted he
knew full well that his strong, silent brother would have to do it,
and, on the other hand, he knew that Josephus had very definite
ideas as to Kinty's future, and very ambitious ones too. He
was not accustomed to abstract reflection, his brother generally did
it for both of them; he feared to open his mouth lest he should make
matters worse, and yet he was too uneasy to be silent, and so he
finally took the weak man's policy and began to drift and talk.
"Bad dream, bad dream!" he muttered, looking hard into the
fire and solemnly shaking his head.
But Mr. Josephus did not take the bait; he simply looked
lazily at his brother through the tobacco smoke and puffed on.
Ebenezer glowered for a moment at the andirons on the grate,
then scowled, and looked round at his wig, brought his eyes back
uneasily to his brother, and then ventured:
"After sweet meat comes sour sauce, brother."
Josephus seemed to be still immovable, but after a moment's
pause he leaned as far back as the very straight back of his chair
would allow, and replied:
"As to common dreams, brother, pish! but this one is fair and
true; she has been bidded for this very day, no other."
"A-h!" and the clouds began to lift from Ebenezer's mind;
Mark had been speaking to Josephus earlier in the day, and the scene
of which he had been the accidental witness was the natural
sequence. Very right and proper. And he blew a long
wreath of smoke from his pipe, and sat meditating complacently.
"Well, brother," he said at last, with a sort of half-reluctant
contentment, "'a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,' after
all; but I reckon 'every man thinks his own geese swans.'"
Josephus scowled, and turned to his brother a look of
perplexed inquiry. But Ebenezer had already returned to his
favourite topic, and presently drawled out musingly:
"A Friday's dream on Saturday told
Will sure to come true e'er the day be old."
Josephus curiosity was allayed, and the two sat in silence
for some time. At last Ebenezer, with another small sigh of
"Well, he hath served us punctually and truly, and hath
earned the reward. Faith, 'tis like to Jacob and Rachel," and
then as his memory made a sudden effort he laughed, and added: "Gad,
but I nearly spoilt their bussing and clipping though, hang me!"
But Josephus had risen to his feet, wonder, perplexity, and
indignation expressed on his countenance. "Service? reward?
What has thy addle pate got in it now? Who was bussing and
Ebenezer began to fear he had made a terrible mistake, but
was now too curious to try to recover himself, and so he blurted
"Who? who but our man, Mark."
Josephus face was past all describing; he opened his tight
little mouth and gasped.
"Mark!" he shouted at length, "the beggarly apprentice!
Tch, thou art crazed, man. Mark!" and he looked round the room
in utter amazement and disgust.
And just at this point the door from the kitchen opened, and
in stepped one of the subjects of this tangled discussion.
"Niece, Niece Christiana, what's this billing and clipping
with a beggarly apprentice? Hast forgotten thyself, woman?"
Now Kinty made it a point always to stand up to Uncle
Josephus when he "hectored" her, and guessing at once that Ebenezer
had betrayed her, but done it unwittingly, she set herself at once
to defend him and herself as well.
"Why shout that fashion, uncle? I am not deaf, and I am
not a child."
"'Shout!' it would make the dumb shout. Hast no pride,
wench—no self-regard? Marry a dirty apprentice out of Tan-pit
Lane! Why, woman, I've been solicited for thee to-day by the
Mayor for his son."
The piece of information contained in the last outburst had
its effect at once on Kinty. It touched her vanity, though it
embarrassed her decision; and so to gain time and conciliate her
uncle, at any rate for the moment, she said:
"Uncle Josy, whether maltster, or hatter, or pedlar, the
precise choice rests with the woman, does not it?"
This clever reminder that the grand suitor he had got for her
was after all only a tradesman, like Mark, was the nearest to a
retort she dare venture upon just then; but it angered her uncle as
she, in the thirteen years she had lived with him, had never seen
him angered. He drew himself up, clenched his fists as if he
had difficulty in preventing himself laying hands upon her, called
her a baggage, an impertinent hussy, an ungrateful madam, and then,
with a sudden flash of resolution, darted forward toward the door
with the evident intention of bringing the offending apprentice to
"Uncle, let alone!" and stepping between him and the door,
she drew up herself to her utmost height, and flashing upon him a
look of proud defiance, she cried: "I can take care of myself, I
hope; but if you interfere, by Heaven, I will marry him!"
"Kinty woman, Kinty!" cried Uncle Ebenezer, with coaxing
"Well, uncle," and there slipped into her voice a little
tremor she knew but too well how to use, "I would not disoblige my
dear foster-fathers, but I am not a baby or a goose of a kitchen
Josephus, beginning to feel rather ridiculous, muttered
several vague threats of which his niece diplomatically took no
notice, but allowed him to slink back into his chair. Then she
drew nearer to him, and with a soft word or two tried to mollify his
wrath, and spoke in such a light, patronising way of Mark that he
was effectually hoodwinked. Presently she put her hand on the
arm of his chair, and after indirectly providing an opening for him
to speak of the offer he had had for her hand, she began to adjust
the bow of his wig with her fingers, dropping every now and again
some little word which encouraged him to discover all there was to
tell. And when he had given her all particulars, Josephus
began to inquire what she thought about the matter; but that did not
suit her cue at all just then, for she wanted time to think, and so
she fell to accusing them of wanting to get rid of her, made them
laugh by hinting that Uncle Ebenezer must be wanting to get married
himself, and then, having brought them into the most pliable humour
possible, she suddenly became pensive, was sure she was a great
trouble to them, vowed they were the dearest of dear uncles, and
that she loved them so much that he would have to be an "exquisite
pretty fellow" who would tempt her to leave them.
By this time Mr. Ebenezer's eyes were swimming, and his
chubby cheeks quivering with emotion, and even Josephus, who was
more vulnerable on the point of affection for his niece than any
other, began to clear his throat and rub his bare chin in a most
Whilst she had been talking Kinty had also been listening for
certain well-known sounds in the shop, and as she heard the shutters
put up one by one, and the great heavy bar placed across them, and a
few minutes later the front door banged, she knew that Mark had gone
home for the night, and was therefore out of her uncles' reach.
That point secured, she began to hum a little tune, and drew a low
stool near the fire and commenced work upon a sampler-frame, at
which sign her uncles rose and made off for the tavern, and she was
The premises stood some few steps above the street, and there
was a side entrance in a passage. As soon as she heard the
footsteps of her uncles die away down the entry, she paused; the
sampler gradually slipped from her knee to the floor, and she sat
musing over the events of the day.
Presently she rose from her seat and put the sampler away,
peered through the leaded window for a moment, drew the curtain,
stood wavering near the staircase leading down into the cellar
kitchen, and then, with sudden decision, turned and ran upstairs,
and in a few minutes reappeared with a large horn lantern in her
hand and covered from head to foot with a long, dark cloak.
IT was quite dark
when Kinty stepped gingerly out of the passage and down the steps
into the street, and she paused for a moment to get accustomed to
the change. Then it came over her that she was exposing
herself to serious risk, for though the night was young, and her
uncles' shop stood in the main street of the town, it was none too
safe for a young female to be out. She glanced back
hesitatingly at the outer or street door she had just closed, and
then turned to gaze through the darkness at the few dim sputtering
oil lamps that lighted that part of the town. Then she looked
musingly at her own lantern, and at last, with an impatient shrug of
her shoulders, she set off down the badly paved street.
Before she had gone many steps she uttered a startled little
cry as the lamplighter, darting from an entry down which he had
evidently come for a short cut, nearly ran against her. A
little farther on she had to pass the noisy Hanover Arms, in the big
back-parlour of which her uncles usually spent their evenings; and
there was a big round lantern stuck on a post standing before the
hostelry, and she had to cross to the other side of the road to
avoid being seen by any one who might inform her relatives.
Safely past this danger, she began to grow more nervous, for the
lights in the street grew fewer, and, except for an occasional gleam
from the lantern of some wanderer like herself, she seemed to be
going towards total darkness.
At the bottom of the street she took a quick turn to the
left, and entered a lane that seemed to lead out into the country.
There were still houses on each side of the road, and a feeble light
came from some of the windows; but the sounds of life that had
assured her in the High Street now grew fainter and fewer, and
except for the dull whirr of some spinning-wheel, or the click of
the shuttle of some belated weaver, she could hear nothing.
Still hastening on, she presently came to a number of
low-lying gardens, and here her heart began to beat more quickly,
and, holding up her lantern until it was nearly level with her eyes,
she broke into a run. A hundred yards or so farther on she
came to a cottage, a low, thatched building, standing some few yards
back from the road. She knew there was a puddle somewhere in
front of the cottage that sometimes assumed the proportions of a
pond, and so, lowering her lantern, she carefully picked her way to
There was no latch visible, but Kinty slipped her hand up the
inner edge of the jamb and took hold of a knotted string, which she
pulled, gently pressing forward with her elbow at the same time.
But the door did not open, and after giving the string another tug,
she rapped smartly, and held her breath to listen. She could
hear, away in the distance, the creaking and groaning of the heavy
baggage waggon due in the town that night, and which was now
evidently struggling down the steep hill into Helsham, but not a
sound of any kind came from the cottage within.
"Goody! Goody Wagstaffe, open! 'Tis a friend.
At first there was no response, but just when Kinty was
getting out of all patience—for she new that the occupant of the
cottage must be at home—there was a slow shuffling tread on the
inside of the house, a very deliberate sliding back of heavy wooden
bars, and then the door opened a little, and the visitor was bidden
"Bless me, Goody, how cautious you are! The footpads
would never trouble you."
"Five times, young mistress—five times in eighteen years have
they visited this little cot. But step in—step in and sit."
So saying, Goody Wagstaffe led the way into the cottage.
She was a very tall woman, with large, sharp features, a
long, skinny neck, greenish eyes, and a sullen expression. She
wore a coarse linsey-woolsey dress, with faded damask bodice which
evidently had not been made for her, and her abundant grey hair was
almost hidden under a large white cap adorned by a rusty black
ribbon. Save that her attire looked threadbare she had an air
of gentility about her, and her person and her house were
scrupulously clean. The room into which Kinty was now ushered
was small and low; the walls, where they could be seen, were
whitewashed, but they were covered for the most part with oddly
arranged shelves, or hidden behind pieces of furniture which
looked—like their owner —somewhat out of their element. Over
the open fireplace were shelves containing dried herbs, some in
paper and some without. There were similar packages on shelves
nearly all round the room, for Goody Wagstaffe was a somewhat noted
At the side of the disproportionately large fireplace stood a
spinning-wheel with hanks of wool and empty bobbins, and against the
wall behind them hung a large woman's hat, such as is now called
"Welsh," but which was a not uncommon head-covering amongst women of
the lower classes at the time of which I write.
There was no light in the room save what came from the fire,
but even that made Kinty's eyes blink as she accepted the dame's
invitation and came towards the centre of the room. The chair
that was brought out for her was evidently kept for such purposes,
for it was a specimen of the stiffest high-backed chairs of the
period, and was altogether out of keeping with the rest of the
furniture. As Kinty settled herself in this seat, her hostess
turned her back to her and became absorbed in the contents of a
large iron pot on the fire, from which were escaping a mixture of
strange odours, none of which could be said to be inviting.
"'Twas mighty dark as I came hither, Goody," began Kinty,
putting back her velvet hood.
"Too dark for a maid to be abroad," replied Goody gruffly,
and still keeping her back to her visitor, whilst she glowered
freely into the pot on the fire.
Kinty's face fell; this was not at all the reception she had
"Why, good dame," she cried, "what ails ye? I could but
come; I have something to ask thee, something great."
The dame gave another surly grunt, but did not turn round.
There was an awkward pause, during which Kinty's buckled shoe was
tapping uneasily upon the sanded flags. In a moment, however,
the dame turned half round, and, glancing suspiciously at her
visitor, she said:
"Ye never come in the daylight, mistress."
"The day! I cannot; I dare not!"
The dame looked Kinty over as she made this last assertion,
and then, suddenly turning to her bubbling pot once more, she
muttered up the chimney:
"What cannot be asked in the daylight shad' na be answered i'
Kinty was amazed; she had never found her friend in this mood
before. What did it all mean?
"Goody," she cried, "what's amiss? There's naught to be
"Nothing!" and here the wise-woman turned round upon her
visitor. "Nothing! Is the ducking-stool nothing? and the
stocks, and the town's lock-up, nothing? is the name of evil-eye and
"Tut, tut!" began Kinty, thinking to relieve the dame's mind
by making light of her apprehensions. But the old woman was
evidently in great distress.
"Tut!" she cried indignantly; "but when ye've been twice in
the goose-green pond, ye'll not say Tut!' When ye've been
thrice afore the bench for casting the evil-eye, ye'll not say
'Tut.' When the constable watches your door like a cat at a
mouse hole, ye'll not say 'Tut.' Ah, no, pretty mistress,
what's play to you may be death to me."
Kinty was aghast at this totally unlooked-for outburst from
one who had always been so tractable, and raised her brows at the
aspect of the case thus forcibly presented to her. She could
not question the fact that the wise-woman's reputation had of late
made her an object of suspicion, and, to do her justice, she was
shocked to think that any action of hers should bring her friend
But she was a very resolute little woman, and had no idea of
giving up the object of her visit; and so she dropped into a
sympathetic, soothing tone, listened attentively to the long and
tedious details the old woman entered into, and, when she judged
that the proper moment had arrived, she raised the skirt of her
dress, revealing a yellow-quilted, silk petticoat, and from a
hanging-pocket attached thereto she pulled out a small parcel of
real Bohea tea, and a little snuff-box well filled with the then
all-popular dust, and pressed them upon the dame.
Then she asked a number of politic questions about Mother
Wagstaffe's medicines, and at last came round to the real object of
her visit, and declared, with apparently adamantine resolution,
that, after what the dame had told her, she would never think of
pressing her or troubling her in any way. At this, as the
clever little schemer anticipated, the dame relented, and offered to
gratify her curiosity for this one last occasion. But no,
Kinty would not hear of it, and rose to go, and of course her
hostess could not reconcile herself to sending so generous a friend
away unsatisfied, and so made her sit down and say what she had come
to say. And so, though with a very pretty pretence of
reluctance, she told her dream, and affected the utmost astonishment
when the dame interpreted it much in the same way as her uncles had
Having now got the dame interested, she ventured to ask her
if there was any means of ascertaining whom she was to marry, and
when the wise-woman hesitated, she appeared not to care to have the
question answered. Next her hand was examined, and her eyes,
and a certain little mole on the lobe of her left car, and then she
was told that she had two lovers, both of whom were devoted to her,
and both of them exceedingly jealous in disposition, but that she
could not make up her mind which of them to take.
"But, Goody, I know all that; I want to know which of them I
shall take," she said, when the dame stopped.
"One is tall and strong and proud and—and poor, and the other
is short and slow and rich."
"Yes, yes," cried Kinty, following the old woman's
description with hasty nods of the head; "but which of them shall I
The wise-woman took her visitor's hand again and examined it
carefully; then, still bending over it, she crooned out in tones
that made her visitor thrill:
"What you would, that you will not;
What you would not, that you will."
The enigmatical nature of this preposterous and evasive
prediction was exactly to the mind of the maiden who received it.
It was paradoxical and mysterious, and would provide much food for
speculation; and so, after repeating it over two or three times to
make sure she had got it correctly, she turned to go.
"'Tis lonely for you living thus, Goody," she said
sympathetically, as she picked up her lantern.
"Ah, mistress, mistress, I'm the most solitary woman alive,
and what have I done—what have I done to merit it?"
The poor old Goody seemed strangely moved by the light words
of her friend, and her tones were so pathetic that Kinty turned to
look at her, and then, with an impulsive little movement, suddenly
put her arm round the lonely woman's neck and kissed her.
"Bless thee, pretty mistress! Heaven bless thee for
that," cried Goody, the tears suddenly springing into her eyes; and,
with a quick change of manner, she drew her visitor back into the
little cot, and, taking her two hands in hers, she said solemnly:
"Pretty maid, the heart that spoke in that kiss is a sure heart; in
the storm that is coming follow that; with lovers and friends and
enemies alike, follow that; thy heart is thy fortune, thy heart is
thy safety. Oh, pretty maid, follow that, follow that!"
And still murmuring "Follow that, follow that," she gently
pushed her visitor to the door, and then, slipping back, snatched
her tall hat from its peg, and, catching up Kinty at the edge of the
pond, she drew her down a back lane, and conducted her by a shorter
Meanwhile Mark Rawson had gone home with a sore heart and an
aching brain. The events of the day had tried even his strong
nerves, and he felt dejected and irritable. Nothing would have
relieved him so much just then as a hearty, satisfying quarrel with
some one. But it was an additional grievance to him that there
was no chance for that in the home to which he was hastening.
His sister, though as spirited and proud as himself to all
the world, was sweetness and docility to him. She worshipped
him, in fact, and though young enough to have ambitions of her own,
forgot everything personal in her intense devotion to the interests
of her only brother; and it was the ideas instilled and sedulously
nurtured by herself which had begotten the ambitions that now so
powerfully influenced his life and thoughts.
But of late she had become afraid of her own success.
Mark was too proud to be very communicative, but she had not studied
his every whim and change of mind all these years for nothing, and
what she saw of her brother gave her very serious misgivings lest he
should be led to overreach himself.
She was a sewing-woman, and during Mark's apprenticeship had
acquired a fairly good connection amongst the tradesfolk of the
town. Since he had become "free," however, she had somewhat
curtailed her labours, and as her brother now came home every day,
instead of as beforetime on Sunday afternoons only, she devoted all
her spare time to his comfort. For some days now she had been
very uneasy about him; she had divined his affection for Mistress
Kinty, and, whilst she had no selfish wish to keep him to herself,
she was frightened at the idea of his casting his eyes so much above
himself. She had told him, when he was but very young the
wonderful story of Dick Whittington the London apprentice, who
became Lord Mayor, and since then she had purchased every chapbook
offered to her which told a similar tale. Her efforts had been
only too successful, and she began to tremble for the results.
As Mark entered the cottage and took off his small,
three-cornered hat, she saw at once that he was unusually depressed,
and forgetting everything else set to work to comfort him. She
was "turning" a bright-coloured waistcoat for him, and as he strode
past her and threw himself disconsolately upon the settle in the
open fireplace, she lifted her head from her work, and smiled.
"Tired, laddie?" she asked with gentle sympathy. And
when he did not respond she went on: "Take heart; there's heavier
troubles than tired bones."
Mark gave an impatient twist; even sympathy was irritating
"Boneache is easier than heartache, an' sooner cured also."
Mark sighed heavily, and wondered to himself what she would
say about those who were afflicted with both these calamities.
"'Tis not poor workers only who suffer; their masters smart
sometimes. There are heavy hearts under silk garments in this
very town to-night."
A gleam of interest shot into the listener's eyes, and he
raised his head from his breast and looked inquiringly at his
"I've been to a great house to-day, an' talked to a proud
woman, an' I came away thanking God I wasna her."
Mark seemed determined not to be interested, but common
decency seemed to demand that he should say something, and so he
"Where hast been?"
"To Widow Gatts, the currier's, an' both the young masters
were drunk in the house, and that before noon. She was that
distraught she couldna direct me, and when she spoke of 'them young
masters,' an' 'them young masters,' with a tear in her voice, I
thanked God for a good brother, though only a journeyman as yet."
There, the little compliment she had worked up to was out at
last, and though she blushed as she uttered it she glanced up
wistfully into Mark's face, and was disappointed to note how little
effect it had upon him. He caught, however, at her last word.
"Yet," he cried, "yet! Oh, Nance, drop that! 'Tis
a dream, woman, a will-o'-the-wisp. What I am that I shall
be—a journeyman!" And then, turning his head away with
something very like a sob, he groaned: "A common journeyman."
Nancy was now seriously alarmed; there was evidently
something more than common the matter with her brother.
"Nay, nay," she cried. "Take hope, laddie. Rome
was not built in a day." And she stepped up to the side of the
settle and put her hand on his forehead. But her touch seemed
like a sting to the tortured lad. He flung away her hand and
jumped to his feet with something very like a curse, and then, as he
looked at his sister's pained and flushing face, a gush of tender
penitence came into his heart. He dropped down on the bench
again, and, burying his head in his hands, groaned out a sob that
shook his whole frame.
Relieved by the outburst, and keenly ashamed of his manner
towards the sister who doted upon him he felt constrained to explain
himself. Vaguely and hesitantly at first, but presently little
by little the whole of his recent experiences were told, and in a
few moments Nancy knew all there was to know. And the telling
relieved them both. Henceforth there would be no need of
concealments and evasions, and each could speak openly to the other
upon any aspect of their struggle that might present itself.
Nancy was not only comforted, but encouraged; she had feared
something worse, and there were incidents in the story just narrated
which to her were of the most promising character. At any
rate, there was no reason to give up the project so dear to them
both. Mark must rise; and though the way they had chosen was
beset with difficulties, they were young and accustomed to
sacrifices, and she saw no reason why they should not succeed.
"Young mistress is thy quarry, lad; to it with her, and let
naught stop thee," she said, as a sort of summing up of the whole
Mark sat for a moment musing, whilst the light of the little
candle shone dimly upon his face. Presently he replied with a
regretful shake of the head:
"'Twas my runagate tongued that did my business. She'll
hate me for't—she can but hate me."
"Tut, man! care not for that; women love a masterly man.
To her, and good luck to thee."
Mark sighed again, and stooped down to unfasten his shoes,
and Nancy turned away to prepare the supper.
Kinty was paying her clandestine visit to the wise-woman, and Mark
was discussing his difficulties with his sister, Mr. Ebenezer was
enjoying his invariable pipe and glass at the Hanover Arms.
This ancient hostel, which stood about a hundred yards lower down
the High Street than the hatter's shop, was a sort of local
posting-house which had fallen on evil times. The
stage-coaches to and from the north used to pass through Helsham;
but some few years before the time of which I write the route had
been changed, to avoid the great hill on the side of which the town
stood, and so the tavern had lost much of its importance.
In those good old times, also, it had been known as the
Bull's Head; but though there still remained some dim outline of a
fabulous bovine monster on the creaking signboard that swung on a
bracket over the door, the title had been changed in honour of the
reigning house. The front of the inn was paved with cobble
stones, and the tavern itself stood one step below the level of the
The first room to your right as you entered was called the
parlour; and it was here that Mr. Ebenezer and his cronies, and, in
fact, many of the notables of the town, usually foregathered.
It was a dark and low apartment, the walls of which were plentifully
adorned with out-of-date notices of "cocking," stage-coach bills,
lotteries, and the like, relieved here and there by badly drawn and
clumsily framed pictures of famous long-distance coaches.
As it was still winter, the latter end of February, in fact,
there was a bright log fire burning at the far end of the room, and
at the side nearest the window a long table occupied nearly the
whole length of the apartment. Mr. Ebenezer, being a leisurely
sort of person, was generally one of the first to arrive; and when
he entered on the night in question the only persons present were
the vicar of the parish, who occupied the three-cornered chair at
the end of the table, and a stranger, who sat meditatively consuming
a meal of havercake, cheese, and small ale.
"Ha, parson, you've beat me again," cried Ebenezer cheerily,
and, dropping into a seat near the fire, he took a long, careful
scrutiny of the stranger. The parson at the other side of the
fire deigned no answer; his head was thrown back and his chin
projected, and he was evidently lost in thought. Three others
entered now, one of whom was Mr. Josephus. Each man, as he
looked round for a seat, saluted the minister; but that individual
might have been a statue for any apparent impression the greetings
made upon him; and Mr. Ebenezer, as he made room for his brother at
the fire, leaned forward, and, jerking his fat thumb parsonwards,
Mr. Josephus raised his brow at this signal, and a quiet
smile played round his mouth, for there was sure to be entertainment
when the parson was in this mood. The other newcomers glanced
at the cleric and then at each other, took huge pinches of snuff to
conceal their grins, and then began to call loudly for the drawer
Large quart tankards of ale having been served, Mr. Ebenezer,
without speaking, pushed his towards the minister; but that official
did not condescend to notice the friendly offer, and still kept his
head in the air. He was a short, spare man, with red, bibulous
face and twinkling grey eyes. He wore a grey wig, slightly
powdered, neat bands, and neat, but somewhat threadbare, clothes.
"All Papists ordered to leave London, gentlemen; traveller
upstairs just brought the tidings!" cried the landlord, opening the
door and closing it again after he had delivered his announcement.
For the next ten minutes this choice and exciting piece of
intelligence was discussed in all its bearings, and more than one
present cast a suspicious glance at the stranger still quietly
consuming his supper.
"Did not I tell you that would come next?" demanded the
black-wigged haberdasher, who sat with his back to the stranger.
"I could see what was coming by that last packet of tracts my
merchant sent me."
"T-r-a-c-t-s!" sneered a rusty voice on the other side, and
as the company turned round the parson was seen with his nose buried
in Mr. Ebenezer's pewter.
They waited for the minister to continue, but he only wiped
his lips with the back of his hand, and throwing back his head
"Those printers print nothing but tracts these times," said
Mr. Josephus; and his stout brother, seeing an opportunity for a
quotation, chimed in:
"'Of making of books there is no end.'"
The tankard, which was again being raised to the minister's
lips, stopped on its way, a wrathful frown appeared on the parson's
face, and, rising to his feet pot in hand, he stepped into the
middle of the room, crying indignantly:
"Books, Mr. Tebby! You don't call tracts books, surely?
Tracts are to books what black dogs [false coin] are to honest
shillings. Tracts sir! tracts are the scum of literature.
Fiery darts of the wicked! Grub Street fleas come out into the
country to take the air."
Here the irate parson strode the length of the room, shaking
his wig in righteous indignation and still holding the pot in his
"They hit the Church cruel hard sometimes, truly, sir,"
observed Swigge, a mild little tailor, with a melancholy eye and a
drooping, pensive nose.
This remark was intended to be sympathetic and to have a
mollifying effect; unfortunately, it had the very opposite, for the
clergyman, who had just reached the door in one of his
perambulations, suddenly whisked round, and, glaring fiercely at the
"Church, sir! hit the Church, sir! And why not? they
are only following the country. Any stick is good enough to
beat a dog with. They are in the mode, sir, in the very pink
o' the fashion. Hit her, sir! The Government hits her,
and the nobility hit her, and the common people hit her, and why
shouldn't the lousy Grub Street ink-flingers hit her, too?
She's down, sir, and every dirty scullion may give her a kick."
The little tailor looked as though he were about to demur to
this very violent condemnation, but thinking better of it he simply
helped himself to a pinch of snuff and solemnly shook his head; in
which non-committal sort of response he was joined by Mr. Ebenezer.
By this time the vicar, for such he was, had finished his
ale, and holding up the pewter to the candle, he carefully
scrutinised the empty vessel, and then put it down on the table with
a significant bang. Accepting the hint, two or three of his
companions called for the "drawer" and had the pot refilled, upon
which the minister, with a grunt of acknowledgment, took the vessel
in his hand, and, pulling out a chair that stood against the table,
he turned it round and drew up to the fire between Mr. Josephus and
the haberdasher. Then he pulled out a little black pipe, upon
which he was offered tobacco by both the haberdasher and Mr.
Ebenezer, and, having carefully charged and lighted, he stretched
out his black-stockinged legs to the fire, and fixed an injured,
protesting gaze upon the picture of a main of fighting cocks over
"Gentlemen," he said, puffing out great clouds of smoke and
wagging his head with half-drunken solemnity, "the country's doomed,
the Church is doomed, and we shall all go to the Pope and the
"Nay, master vicar," remonstrated the tailor diffidently,
"not so bad as that; there are some true Christians left yet."
And then, glancing round the company to invite corroboration, he
continued: "We are all good churchmen here."
The vicar burst into a scornful, sardonic laugh.
"Churchmen, ha! ha! yea, verily"; and then, bending forward, with a
fierce scowl, he demanded: "Friend Swigge, when was you last at
The little tailor's face suddenly fell, and he glanced
somewhat uneasily at his friends; but they, being in no better case
than himself with respect to their parson's accusation, turned their
eyes away and smoked on in stubborn silence.
"Churchmen!" laughed the vicar again. "Ha, yes; we are
all churchmen, true loyal churchmen, but we never go to church!
The country is full of Protestants, loyal Protestants; but the
tithes are not paid, and the churches are empty, and the people are
become jackasses and—and pagans!"
"There's the meeting-houses, sir—"
But the tailor was not allowed to proceed. The vicar
jumped to his feet, and his red face became almost purple.
"What!" he shouted, "flout you me with meeting-houses!
Pest-houses, sir! puritanical sink-pots, sir! papistical Guy Fawkes
conspiracy-holes, sir! Meeting-houses!" he went on with
growing indignation. "The country's got a plague of 'em, sir;
they are blotches on the face of the country, they are pock-marks on
the social body. Pockmarks," he continued, as the full fitness
of his simile opened out to his excited mind, "that's what it is to
a nicety; the country's got the meeting-house pox, i' Gad, an' by
the Lord it's got it bad."
As the parson finished this tirade, which was furious even
for him, Mr. Ebenezer shook his head at the tailor to warn him not
to pursue the dangerous topic, and the rest, taking the hint, held
their peace, whilst the cleric settled himself in his chair and
continued his complaint in somewhat milder tones. The subject
of meeting-houses was evidently a sore one with him, and in a moment
or two he was denouncing the two "conventicles" existing in the town
in his sternest tones. The buildings themselves were
anathematised as "rat holes," "heresy shops," "soul traps," and the
people who frequented them dubbed "Schismatics," Windbags, Fanatical
Enthusiasts, and Creeping Jesse.
Mr. Ebenezer, who was a sort of religious connoisseur, and
amused himself by patronising every new belief that came under his
notice, seemed a little uneasy under the parson's sweeping abuse;
but presently the angry man passed on to other grievances, and
became more serious and depressed as he proceeded. At this
point, however, the landlord sauntered into the room; but,
perceiving that his spiritual adviser was on his high horse, he
quietly slipped into a seat by his side and commenced to twiddle his
thumbs, every now and again turning over a huge quid of tobacco in
his mouth, as the minister's words stimulated his thoughts.
The vicar scarcely deigned to notice the newcomer, but went
on to enlarge upon his own hardships and the awful degeneracy of the
times. People couldn't come to church, and when they did come
they fell asleep and snored like grampuses, or got up and went out
when the sermon was reached. As for Holy Communion, it was a
"Cockings, sir!" he cried, turning hastily upon the landlord,
who had been whispering something to Mr. Josephus—"Cockings, sir!
Oh, yes, we can go to cockings any hour of any day, or bull-baits
either, or spring fairs; and as to hearing, we can stand by the hour
to listen to some pickle-herring of a quack in the market-place; but
when it cometh to worshipping, we are employed—we are detained.
Ah, yes; surely, surely."
Then it came out that all this moralising had originated in a
discovery the good man had made that very day, which was that at Nat
Bagshaw's, the Blue Lion in Rosemary Lane, they had on the preceding
Sabbath held a cock-fight.
"What are we coming to, neighbours?" he demanded. "A
Sunday cocking! A gathering of dirty, swearing tinkers and
gamblers and pimps and blacklegs in Helsham on the Sabbath day!
Why not hold the fair on Sabbath, an' be done?"
But again the vicar caught some of the landlord's whispered
words to Mr. Josephus, and, leaning sideways over the arm of his
chair, seemed anxious to hear more; and, in fact, he was so intent
upon listening that he forgot the subject upon which he was holding
forth, until a sudden hiatus in his language, and glances of
surprise from his hearers, brought him back to himself, and he
plunged off once more, though not now with the same vigour as
previously. As he mourned over the gambling, the immorality,
the drunkenness of the times, the poaching and smuggling and illicit
dealings in spirits so prevalent just then in the country, his voice
grew solemn and then pathetic, and the company began to watch him in
the expectation that this sermon would end as others delivered under
similar circumstances had ended, in a maudlin burst of tears.
But as they watched him they observed that he was once more
listening eagerly to the conversation going on in an undertone
between Mr. Josephus and the landlord, and as he listened and leaned
further and further over his chair-arm his words grew more and more
disjointed, and all at once he jumped to his feet.
"What, man!" he shouted, glaring at the landlord; "the scurvy,
bandy-legged cocks of Harewood beat ours! Let them come on!
Bring them up, I say; we'll show them what the genuine old Helsham
Shakebag can go! Two guineas on the old shakebag! and no
villainous foreign spurs, neither."
With an indulgent smile at the suddenness with which the
sportsman had overcome the divine in their vicar, the rest of the
company, rather thankful for the diversion, turned their attention
to the business in hand, and were soon engaged in a discussion about
a challenge which had been sent to the landlord to fight a main of
cocks with the men of Harewood. For the Hanover Arms possessed
the largest cock-pit in the town, and the gentlemen present, the
parson included, were chief patrons thereof.
In the midst of a discussion which soon became very animated,
the stranger, who all this time had been sitting unnoticed in the
far corner, rose to his feet, and after looking for a moment at the
scene before him, and then ostentatiously clearing his throat, he
stepped up to the fireplace, put his hand on the vicar's arm, and
"Sir, are not you the vicar of this parish?"
The clergyman, who was deeply interested in the sporting
question under discussion, turned round somewhat impatiently, and
when he saw that his questioner was a stranger he made a low bow,
"The same, sir, and at your commands."
"You have been speaking, sir, of the prevailings in and
wickedness of the nation and of this parish."
The vicar paled a little; he did not at all relish the
"Well, sir, and what of it?" and he put on a defiant air.
The stranger paused a moment, looked the cleric up and down
deliberately, and then, fixing him with his eyes, he said in slow,
"Well, sir, if God is the Heavenly Father of all this nation
and all the people in this parish, and if Jesus Christ did
wrestle and agonise and die for us all, and if He be our daysman and
advocate, then, sir, He must at this moment be raging against you
like a lioness robbed of her cubs."
Every eye in the room was now fixed upon the speaker.
He was a tallish man, with a long, large-featured face and soft,
pleading eyes. He was dressed in a respectable dark-brown suit
in the fashion of the period, with grey stockings, plain shoes, and
a bob-wig; and as he stood, still looking at the parson, that worthy
went red in the face, and began to bridle with indignation.
"And who might you be, sir, that speaks thus to your
betters?" he demanded angrily. "Some babbling conventicler
just out o' Bedlam, I'll warrant me."
"Sir, I am a poor sinner, a brand plucked from the burning.
I have no learning, sir, and no gifts; but if I had your position,
sir, and your talents and your influence, it should go hard with me
but I would stop some poor sinner going down to the pit, and win
some little trophy or other for my great Redeemer's crown."
Mr. Josephus had drawn himself up, and with his back to the
fire was looking at the speaker with veiled contempt, whilst his
brother had pushed his way to the front of the little group, and was
gazing at the stranger with wondering, even admiring, eyes.
The rest of the company were looking at the vicar as if they were
sorry for him; and as if he understood their feeling and resented
it, the parson threw up his sharp chin, and, surveying his
questioner loftily, replied:
"I am an English clergyman and an honest man, sir, and when I
want instruction or assistance from such as thee I'll ask for it,
and until I do stick thou to thy conventicle and thy whining."
The stranger seemed to have difficulty in finding his voice;
he never took his eyes off the vicar, however, and at length,
speaking in low, restrained tones, he said:
"Good sir, if I have spoke unadvisedly with my lips, I pray
your pardon; but you have spoke of the sin that abounds in your
town, of the Sabbath-breaking, and the gambling, and the
godlessness. For two days now I have walked about here myself,
and have seen the ignorance and deadness and sin and misery, and my
heart hath burned within me. I have yearned over these lost
souls with the spirit of the travailing Redeemer, and as I hearkened
to your words just now I thought I saw the Saviour of the world
stretching out His hands over this good town and crying 'Woe is Me
for My hurt! My wound is grievous. My tabernacle is
spoiled, and all My cords are broken: My children are gone forth of
Me, and they are not. For the pastors are become brutish, and
have not sought the Lord,'" and taking off a low-crowned,
broad-brimmed hat, he made a stiff bow and left the room.
The vicar stood staring at the closed door for some time
after the departure of the stranger, and presently, with an awkward
laugh but a much soberer expression of countenance, he turned to the
landlord and demanded to know what the "impertinent Jack-pudding "
meant. The host could only state that he had stayed in the
house since the day before, and declared himself as much perplexed
as his reverence as to what was the man's business in Helsham.
Mr. Ebenezer was confident that the fellow was a Muggletonian, and
the little tailor was sure that he belonged to some of the
schismatical sects. The landlord thought that he was more
probably an Anabaptist, but as the company were familiar with people
of that creed the suggestion was not very helpful and lacked the
element of novelty, and just when speculation was getting exhausted
the vicar sprang to his feet, and cried:
"What a muddlehead am I! Why, certainly, certainly!"
As this exclamation was not particularly informing the
company waited until the parson should become more explicit, and so,
after looking from one to the other of them, as though inviting
confirmation for a statement he had not yet made, but was sure they
would endorse, he finally stepped over to Mr. Ebenezer as the one
most likely to be interested in the announcement, and said:
"Why, Mr. Tebby, he is a Methodist!" And before
any one could ask who and what a Methodist was, they heard a ringing
voice crying in the street outside:
"God willing, John Snaith will preach the Gospel in the
market-place to-morrow morn at eight of the clock."
AN OLD-TIME FAIR
"P-A-R-S-T nine and a clear night," broke on
Mistress Kinty's ears as she hurried down the backyard towards the
kitchen door. A soft little cry of alarm escaped her, for she
realised that her uncles might just be returning home, and would be
scandalised to discover that a young female had been abroad alone at
that late hour, and so she hastened indoors, and ran upstairs into
the parlour, and thence to her own bedroom.
But even then she must have been caught but for the fact that
the watch had detained her uncles at the end of the side-passage,
and was giving them the details of a recent capture of a footpad,
who was now in safe custody at the watch-house. The candle she
had left lighted when she went out had burnt itself away, and was
now filling the room with its characteristically evil odours as she
entered, and she had to make haste and light a second one, which she
had provided, lest the maid, who would follow her, she knew, in a
moment, should discover that she had been guilty of the wastefulness
of leaving a burning candle for two hours.
She had got all this put right, however, and was just
settling down into a chair when Kerry came up with the warming-pan,
which she industriously rubbed between the sheets of the great bed
to the accompaniment of a tune which she hissed, ostler-like,
through her teeth. Kinty grew impatient, for she wanted to be
alone; but it was only after the third bidding that the servant took
herself and her sulphur-flavoured pan away.
But even then Kinty found it very difficult to collect her
thoughts. This had been a very eventful day, far away the most
momentous in her life hitherto, and now that she came to the end of
it, she was perplexed to know what was likely to be the outcome of
it all. She knew the mayor's son well enough, and liked him,
and was not greatly surprised at the offer which had been made, for
he had shown her very particular attention at occasional routs at
which they had met during the winter.
He was rather above her in station, and very well-to-do, and
it would be a match such as she might be proud of. And she was
proud of it; and her eyes sparkled again as she thought of the envy
of certain young lady friends of hers when her engagement became
known. She would of course have a grand wedding, and that
pleased her too, and in a few minutes she was absorbed in a vision
of a pretty house on the outskirts of the town, with at least two
domestics, and perhaps even a page-boy. Yes, it was in every
way a most desirable match, and she could see no reason whatever why
she should not be very happy.
"Thy heart is thy fortune; follow that, follow that."
"Oh, gracious! what was that?"
Kinty was no more superstitious than any other girl of her
age and class at that time, but she started, shrank back into the
low chair she was occupying, glanced nervously around the room, and
then smiled as she remembered those were the words the wise-woman
had spoken with such strange earnestness a little while before, and
that it was but an odd trick of her memory that brought them back so
strikingly at that moment. But why had they come back just
then, and with such alarming distinctness? And she drew her
elbows closer to her side and checked a tendency to shiver.
In a few moments her thoughts had carried her away again, but
this time she was thinking about her visit to Goody Wagstaffe.
Why, if her acceptance of the mayor's son was so easy and
satisfactory a thing, had she ever gone to see Goody at all?
And then she thought of Mark, and a smile played about her little
He was really a "very pretty fellow," only so terribly real
and earnest about everything. She greatly enjoyed their
dallyings and little flirtations together, and she had no greater
pleasure in life than to work Mark up to making one of those rash
and terribly vain speeches of his, and then bring him to her feet in
abject repentance again.
But the smile died away as she realised all at once that
these delightful little entertainments would now have to cease if
she accepted the young maltster. She could see Mark's face,
with his stern brow and flashing eyes, when he learnt that she was
engaged, and there crept into her heart something as near to fear as
she had ever felt in her life. And the more she thought of
this aspect of the case the less she liked it, and at this moment
the wise-woman's words came back to her with most troublesome
"Follow thy heart, pretty maid; follow that, follow that."
Kinty twisted impatiently in her chair and petulantly
shrugged her shoulders. It really was very disturbing, and,
after all, she could not, no, she could not give up her intercourse
with her journeyman lover. Questions of right and wrong began
to arise very awkwardly in her mind, but she put them back and
returned to what had hitherto been the chief rule of her life, her
likes and dislikes.
Of course she could not think seriously of marrying Mark; but
she liked him, or, at any rate, she liked his attentions, and it was
a real hardship to have even to think of giving them up. She
wouldn't give them up, and she rose with a pettish jerk and
began to undress. It was a real hardship to be interfered with
in this manner. Why hadn't the young maltster waited a little?
Why was her Uncle Josephus so very anxious to get her married?
Of course, she would not do anything really bad or foolish, but it
would be much better to let her go her own way; and with that she
slipped into bed and buried her head in the big feather pillows,
still protesting against her unpleasant situation.
Well, neither her uncle nor the young maltster should have it
all their own way; she would lead them a dance yet, though of course
she would have to yield eventually, but for the present she would
enjoy herself—but then she heard once more with a distinctness that
made her start up and draw the bed-hangings:
"Follow thy heart, pretty maid; follow that, follow that."
As she was dosing off to sleep, Kinty remembered that next
day was the fair, and that suggested to her an idea for another
delightfully risky after-dark excursion, which, whilst it would
gratify her own dear whim, would also provide her an opportunity of
pleasing Mark, and with these comforting reflections she fell
In the morning she was awakened by the sounds of voices
engaged in angry altercation. Listening a moment, she became
aware that Uncle Josephus was scolding Mark in the shop, and so,
with all possible haste, she dressed quickly and made her way down
into the parlour.
She arrived on the scene just as her uncle was coming into
the room, with his small, thin face still red with anger and the
lips of his little mouth pursed out indignantly. His
countenance changed as he saw his niece, and as it was not his cue
just then to quarrel with her he gave her a pleasant greeting and
drew up to the table. And just then Mr. Ebenezer entered, full
of the preaching which he had just attended, and of the wonderful
sermon he had heard from the mysterious stranger of the night
His mind was greatly exercised also, because the preacher had
shown signs of hoarseness, and he commenced an animated discussion
with Kinty as to whether rubbing the soles of the feet before the
fire with garlic and lard, or the taking of powdered nettle-roots,
was the best specific for this particular disorder.
As the fair day meant a busy time in the shop, the two
brothers knew that their services were required at home, at least
for a time; and so, though Mr. Josephus mentioned twice over that
the "cocking" between their town and Harewood would commence at
eleven, Mr. Ebenezer did not take the hint, but gave every
indication of his intention of attending to business. Mr.
Josephus wanted him out of the way, the farther the better, that he
might have his niece to himself whilst they discussed the important
subject of the offer for her hand; but Ebenezer either could not or
would not take the hint, and though he went into the shop again and
again, he returned in a moment or two, so that his brother could not
get his business opened.
Kinty, however, understood it all, and knew that Uncle
Ebenezer was lingering about of set purpose to protect her, and felt
grateful to him.
A few minutes later Mark came into the parlour to call first
one and then the other of his masters to the shop to assist in
serving an unusual rush of customers, but they were soon back again,
and Mr. Josephus, as the hour stole round towards eleven, went again
and again to the far end of the room and scrutinised the hanging
clock. Both brothers were as fidgety as they could well be,
and at last, with a grunt and an impatient gesture, the elder one
snatched his cocked hat from the peg near the shop door, and darted
off to the popular sport.
Mr. Ebenezer, who was in the shop as his brother passed
through, returned to the parlour almost immediately, and after
pacing about the floor and chuckling to himself as if he had
accomplished something, he nodded his head significantly at Kinty
and made off to the cock-pit.
When Mark came in about noon to snatch a hasty meal, Kinty
found him exceedingly sulky and taciturn. She plied him with
all the special dainties which Kerry had provided for the
fair—raised pork-pie, salt beef, white bread, and preserved
gooseberry tart, with watered sack to wash them down. But he
ate on in surly silence and answered her questions in laconic
monosyllables. One thing, however, she discovered, that the
scolding she had heard him receiving from his master had no
reference to herself, and that Mark knew nothing of what was
Later in the day, as the business slackened, the young hatter
came into the parlour with excuses for so doing that were not too
serious, and so Kinty ventured to open her attack upon him.
She inquired into the causes of his morning's disgrace, and
expressed, both in word and manner, a quite unusual resentment
towards her uncle for his unfairness. And this opened the way
for a few delicately hinted, but very effective compliments upon
Mark's business abilities.
Then, as she watched him thawing under the process, she put
her elbows upon the table and, propping her chin with her hands, she
hinted to him that she would very much like to see the fair, but
that she was like nobody else, she had no one to take her about, and
her uncles would, as she well knew, not return home till late.
When he comprehended what she really meant, Mark's brows went
up and he shook his head very seriously. Then he shot at her a
glance of wondering surprise, and though she felt the implied
reproach, she was only the more determined on that account to carry
her point, and so she talked steadily on. Her voice grew
softer and lower as she spoke, and there presently crept into it a
coaxing cadence which Mark found it very difficult to resist.
A helpless sense of drifting came over him; he was under a
spell and could not help himself. One or two stock objections
about her uncles and their anger if they ever found her out, as they
easily might, and about the questionableness of her presence in such
a scene as they both knew they would witness, were advanced by him;
but the irresistible force of her almost humble pleadings and her
bewitching personality bore down all before them, and when he
returned to the shop he had consented to be her escort on this risky
and compromising excursion.
It was none too safe to have the windows exposed after dark
on the fair night, and so Mark had to put the shutters up an hour
earlier than usual, and by the time it was quite dusk he was waiting
in the passage next to the shop for his fair companion, who,
however, exercised the privilege of her sex and kept him there for
some time. Presently she appeared, covered from head to foot,
as on the previous night, with a dark cloak and hood, so that Mark
breathed a little sigh of relief as he saw that she would not be
It was a strange scene into which the two now plunged.
The narrow main street of the town was ablaze with light from a long
row of gay stalls which stood along one side, and the upstairs rooms
of the business houses were also illuminated, so that it was fairly
easy to see one's way. But even then Kinty stumbled into a
great hole in the cobble-stone pavement, and before she had
recovered from the shock a country clown, with a drunken female on
his arm, came staggering out of a byway and sent her reeling into
the arms of her companion.
Uttering a little cry of dismay, Kinty paused, and then, with
a coquettish little gesture, put her arm into Mark's, and he, with
his blood all at once coursing madly through his veins at her
confiding little action, hugged the trembling limb close to his side
and moved briskly and boldly along.
The street seemed full of drunken people, and the taverns as
they passed them sent forth streams of blasphemy which made Mark
shudder, pagan though he was, and he glanced apprehensively down at
the little hooded figure at his side.
The street opened out below the Hanover Arms and formed an
irregular square. On one side of the square was the
court-house and market-hall, now in darkness, and on the other was
the fair-ground, crowded by a struggling, screaming, swearing mass
of humanity. And here Mark pulled up, hoping that the
whimsical little beauty at his side would be intimidated by the
spectacle and wish to return. But, with an imperious "Go on!
art frightened?" she pushed him forward, and the next instant they
were in a ring of evil-smelling country joskins, who were listening
to, and evidently hugely enjoying, the singing of some ballads.
The few words Mark caught were so obscene and filthy that he jerked
his companion away, whether she would or no; and she, in resentment,
stopped before a man who in raucous tones was trying to sell
chapbooks whose very titles were sufficient to make Mark blush.
In trying to escape from this scene they found themselves
blocked by a couple of men who were pushing their way recklessly
through the crowd with raree-shows slung round their necks, and a
moment later they arrived, breathless and sore, before a booth, on
the outside stage of which a man, holding a lighted link in his
hand, was inviting the public to see a real "Blackamoor" walk the
Thinking this was as innocent an entertainment as they were
likely to find, and anxious to get his companion into a quieter
place, Mark suggested that they should go and see the rope-walker;
but Kinty curled her lip and glanced across to where some performers
in tawdry finery were announcing that the most diverting play at the
fair was to be performed.
On their way thither, however, they found their path blocked
by a couple of quacks who were evidently in fierce competition, each
worthy being assisted by a bawling "pickle-herring" (clown) who was
out-shouting his master. One was extolling the virtues of a
wonderful cure brought from the West Indies by an old mariner, and
the other was offering a magic face-wash that was warranted to
remove every trace of pockmark; and before they could get through
the crowd of half-drunken rustics who were listening open-mouthed to
these men, there was a bustle behind them, and they were thrust
back, as the constable came along, assisted by two or three men
carrying long halberts, and who were dragging a woman to the
watch-house who had been discovered surreptitiously selling short
scraps of lace and remnants of velvet upon which no duty had been
This episode, however, drove them into a corner, where the
tide of struggling, reckless life rolled past them, and they could
stand and look on.
Mark would probably have spent his evening amongst this
roistering crowd if he had not been attending upon his mistress, and
would have thought nothing of it; but somehow her presence gave him
a new delicacy, and he glanced down upon her in the hope of finding
some sign in her face which would have encouraged him to propose a
But though the woman in Kinty was asserting itself very
vigorously just then, she turned away her face, and he saw nothing
but the overhanging flap of her hood.
And so the two stood there and looked round on it all.
The noise was deafening, drums beating, fiddles and
Lancashire bagpipes screaming, and voices of every tone and
character blending with the other sounds, making a perfect Bedlam.
"Let us go," said Mark, at last; and as his companion made no
reply, he began to force his way through the crowd. Before
they had gone many steps, however, Kinty stopped again before a
puppet-show, on the outside stage of which a fantastically dressed
posture-master was going through some startling acrobatic feats.
Kinty was evidently interested; but a querulous little cry escaped
her, as two great rough countrymen in smock-frocks came along and
blocked her view, and Mark felt a strange impulse to snatch her up
in his arms, and lift her high enough to see. But at that
moment the acrobat stopped his antics, and turned a scared face up
towards the sky. The eyes of the company around followed him,
the music at some of the other booths ceased, a great, awful hush
fell on that cursing crowd, and all eyes were turned upwards.
For a moment Mark could not make out what it all meant; but
just as a series of shrieks burst from the rough women near him, he
caught sight of a light in the heavens, and there, careering
majestically across the darkened sky, was a great blazing
For a moment or two Mark scarcely realised what was taking
place; but as the silence spread over all that multitude, and he
glanced round at the sea of white, upturned faces, an icy chill
crept down his spine, and his heart rose into his throat as if it
would choke him. The fiery messenger in the heavens seemed to
be casting on him a fearful spell, and he stood riveted to the spot.
The crowd about him was affected even more than he was; the
only sounds that could be heard were low, smothered moans; and, just
when the tension of horror was highest, a man pushed hastily past
him, and a moment later the awful silence was broken by a deep,
ringing voice crying in tones that seemed to pierce every heart:
"Behold! the Bridegroom comet. Behold the Bridegroom