Marlocks of Merriton (I)
Home Up Spring Blossoms Ab-o'th'-Yate Vol. I. Ab-o'th'-Yate Vol. II. Ab-o'th'-Yate Vol. III. Waverlow Chronicles Yankeeland Short Stories etc. Site Search Main Index







DO you know Merriton, reader?  Not at all?  You shake your head as if you doubted there being such a place.  Oh, well, have your own "know," as a Merritonian would have said; call me dreamer, if you like, but I would not part with my recollections of what Merriton was thirty years ago for as much of your flimsy modern philosophy as it were possible to cram beneath the most capacious of beavers.  No, no; "hang up" that article, as Romeo would have said, had he been a Merritonian; and give me the ringing laughter, the sound sleep, and the unwarped conscience of that happy place and period; where Banting would have been lynched had he dared to preach leanness, and Christianity took that muscular form which developed itself in week-day jollity and Sabbath heart-worship; when hedge-backings were laced with blackberry brambles, and footpaths were not stopped by greedy landowners; when cans chinked at the well, and the broad village green buttled "round its cheap delights, in pitchers of home-brewed," innocent of any notion of inebriety.  Yes; give me back Merriton thirty years ago, and take all my share of modern frippery in return.  Take away my broad cloth, my "elastic sides," and "fast life," and restore me my corduroys, my clogs, my cold turnip, and contentment.

    Reader! if it were possible to "roll back the wave of time," as some long-necked "Parnassian" hath said, I would enjoin it to recede a distance of thirty years; and, with younger looks and younger feelings than our present (you need not smile, all your philosophy hath not yet taught you to prefer age to youth), we would journey together to Merriton.  Do you say it is possible (in our imagination it may be), and that you are willing to bear me company?  Very well; I'll take you at your word, so come along.

    "My foot is on my native heath" once more, "barring" that there are two inches of solid owler intervening betwixt the two; the sixth patch on my trousers' knees is showing signs of a disposition to follow its predecessors; there is but one button of an isthmus to connect the two continents washed by a sea of shirt at my waist, and my frill is at the very last stage of limpness and obedience to pins; my cap—but stop, that was a luxury I had no acquaintance with at the time—my hair, I ought to have said, is filled with hay-seeds, and well besmeared with treacle, and I am in nervous anticipation of a whipping.  Never mind, it is worth a blister or two to have been on old Wap's haymow; to have discovered the sliest of birds' nests secreted beneath a snowstorm of hawthorn blossom; and to have made such rings on the river's surface as were never made but by childish feet.  You see the bridge, there, its timbers shaky and rotten, and only awaiting a more copious flood than common to sweep it down the river?  If you don't find my initials—and such initials, too!—carved on the railing, vandalism has been at work.  Ah, here they are! "D" for Dolmey, and "T" for Turtingtower—my name, sir.  They don't make knives now-a-days such as the one employed in that carving.  I remember the knife well.  It had lost its spring and a portion of its haft before it came into my possession; and the blade was worn into the form of a hook.  God forgive me for my inhumanity! but I "swapped" a bird's nest, containing four young ones, for it—four gaping "chellopers," that cried for their absent parent and the expected meal of worms—alas! long looked for, but never to come.  When I see a group of children in the street crying for their mother, I think of that bird's nest, and sigh over the remembrance.

    We are now in Merriton; the river divides it from Hazelworth, which is almost such another village, though not quite: I am glad it is summer, for nature hath lavished her beauties on Merriton, and they are now in their prime.  Look at that orchard there, where many a time I have climbed to pluck the delicious fruit!  No; never surreptitiously.  Were it possible to dream of a gasworks being erected there; that the fragrance of those blossoms would ever be exchanged for the stink of lime fouled with tar; or that their beauty would be supplanted by clouds of steam, and wreaths of the blackest smoke?  My heart sickens at the prospect, distant as it may appear.  How gracefully the willows rest their branches on the bosom of the still water; and how proudly the roses peep down and look at their mirrored selves, making two bowers out of one!  I have often waded in the stream to pluck those roses, and as often sighed to think that I had spoiled the picture their presence made.  Well might the poet say—"a thing of beauty is a joy for ever," since beauty was then a joy to me, as I hope it may be now.  Ah! why do we seek to destroy it?  They say he is a benefactor who makes two blades of grass grow in the place of one; and I am sure he is equally a benefactor who converts a waste into a garden, instead of a garden into a waste.  If even you look at it from a utilitarian point of view, it is still the same; since beauty means health, and sweetness, and enjoyment; what the soul desires most—happiness.

    Did you observe that something dart through the water with the swiftness of a shuttle?  It was a trout.  The river abounds with that dainty fish; but they were ever beyond the reach of sport.  Often have I angled for them with hempen line and pin-hook, baiting with a worm; but never had the satisfaction of taking anything of greater piscatorial value than an unwary "Jack Sharp," or a deluded "Miller's-Thumb."  That pool there, where the water makes a circle before flowing over the shallow, was once thought to be the haunt of a river deity—an enemy to naughty children—named "Grindy-loaf."  We were all frightened of this monster, and avoided the pool as much as possible when evening came.  He had often been seen, it was asserted, with his shoulders raised above the water, and in the act of wringing his streaming locks, as a swabber does his mop, and grinding his teeth, as if longing for the bones of some disobedient urchin then undergoing the penalty of flagellation for preferring the bright green fields to the, dusky, unwholesome school.  It was said of him, also, that he was fond of good children; and such as he got into his power he would make fairies of, who live for ever in green, leafy dells, and fly about like moths at eventide, and drink honey-dew out of cups made of flowers, and dance in the moonlight to the strains you sometimes hear when earthly silence lets unearthly music come streaming through it.  One time a little child was found floating in that pool; and the jury who sat upon it were within a vote of bringing in the verdict, "Killed by 'Grindy-loaf;'" but years, and a guilty conscience-stricken mother, made another verdict easy to be arrived at.  That was a blot upon Merriton; and when people converse about it, they speak in whispers, as if they were afraid Heaven might be listening.

    But come with me a little farther.  What makes you pause; that beauty, yonder, airing her charms in the sun?  That is Matty Charlesworth—the prettiest, sauciest jade in the whole of Merriton.  The gossips predict of her that she will "come to no good;" but then gossips are always predicting something of somebody, and mostly hit wide of the mark.  They are not such as Matty who fall the easiest prey to villany.  They are the modest, the unsophisticated, the confiding, whom the vicious seize upon and destroy; and their fall makes not the rustle of the autumn leaf in that world by whom virtue should be protected, not ensnared.

    I will tell you a story about Matty when we sit down.  There is a snug little alehouse round the corner of the lane there.  Don't be shock'd, it is not one of your gin palaces, where people burn their lips till they are blue with liquid fire, and nightly go sotting home like a heap of filthy rags.  It is a sweet, wholesome little place.  You need not have what you are pleased to call drink, unless you are so inclined.  You can have a cup of milk, and such milk, too, as you don't get from a two-wheeled cow, after it has partaken of its usual libation at the pump.  Indeed, the place smells more like a dairy than an alehouse.  Here it is.  What, you cannot see the signboard?  I don't wonder at that, it is so hidden among the ivy and jasmine.  When you get opposite the door you may then behold the face of a "Jolly Carter," peeping out from his verdant stable, as he is in the act of raising a pot towards his lips, which never gets any nearer, as if he was suffering from perpetual thirst, the quenching of which was doomed to be perpetually deferred.  Listen!  There is no noise within.  The house is as quiet as an empty school, save now that there is the hum of a clock just striking the hour.  Not one of your flimsy skeletons of clocks, that require as much attention as a refractory engine, but a faithful, unobtrusive, sober-minded, steady-going case-clock, that was made before the era of trumpery, and intends lasting till trumpery has had its day.  Enter.  Do you wonder, now, that on Saturday evenings the song and jest should pass round the room, when industry has loosened its traces and feels frisky?  Do you wonder that nobody can pass by the house when they hear the merry laugh behind the window curtains, but turn in, call for their "gill," and when they rise to go home, express their astonishment that the hour should be so late?  Do you wonder, now, that in their earnestness to reclaim the world from the sin of drunkenness, such little nooks should have a charm in the eyes of some of these reformers that blots them out of their scheme, as the smile of a sometimes mischievous child saves it from chastisement?  No; I see you don't.

    In this house once—I am coming to the story about Matty Charlesworth—in this house, a few years ago, there lived a fine old landlady (the one who had just served us is no bad specimen), grandmother to the saucy beauty who so recently attracted your notice.  I remember her very well.  She had grace and music and motherly expression in her every movement.  The very sand looked refreshed after she had trod upon it; and the motion of her arms—always bare to the elbows—seemed to be guided by a spirit whose duty it was to watch over domestic comfort.  You should have seen her roll a muffin on a "baking day."  You would then have deemed it worth your while to get into Parliament, on purpose to introduce a Bill for the total abolition of public bakehouses.  Had you tasted one of those muffins, you would have kicked the next baker you had met, and bidden him seek more fitting employment.  There was a sort of matronly conservatism expressed in the very manner in which she dusted the rolling-board previous to laying on the dough.  You could not have induced her by any means to change the method of doing it, if it would even have saved her ever so much time.  She used no duster, as modern housewives do (the degeneracy of the sex!); but, taking the flour in her hand, she would riddle it through her fingers, with such a measured indifference to time, that I do not marvel at her living to a good old age.  After rolling the paste to the required thinness, she would take it on her palms, and place it in the oven as carefully as if she were putting a delicate child to bed.  Then, when the muffin was baked, and it came out of the oven smiling, with crisp brown cheeks setting off a deep white dimple in the centre, and the edges as even as the rim of a cup, and all looking so rich and wholesome; if you had not felt hungry at the sight of it, I should have pitied the condition of your liver.  It was quite a picture to see the array of such muffins placed edgeways on the dresser, and contemplated very longingly by a number of hungry boys through the window and doorway, who, as they counted them, and speculated as to their probable worth at shop quotations, wished all kinds of extravagant wishes, in which the possession of loads of muffins and mugs of treacle would most likely predominate.

    Matty Charlesworth was not like her grandmother at all.  She had "ways of her own," as the latter would sometimes say, and these were not of that amiable kind which partook so largely of the old dame's character.  Matty was rarely in a good temper.  Whenever she happened to be, it might have been fairly calculated on that someone was going to have the worst of it—for she was a "limb" at mischief—and if you had heard her silvery laugh come ringing from the vicinity of the "fowt yate," you might have felt sure the "dule" was abroad.  But Matty had some good womanly qualities in her nature for all that.  She was as clean, hard-working, and ready-fingered a lass as any in Merriton.  The clink of her pattens, as she cleaned the house on a morning, was sure to call the neighbours out of bed, and make them wonder that they had slept so long.  Her newly-washed clothes were always first on the hedge, and anyone who wanted a holiday-shirt making, and wished it to excel all others in the fineness of its needlework and the neatness of its fit, was certain to stammer out a request to Matty that she would undertake it.

    Notwithstanding her hasty and flighty temper, Matty was a wonderful disposer of that condiment called by the rustics "gaupe seed."  What, you don't understand the term?  Well, "gaupe seed" is the embodiment of that species of admiration which is more fascinated by outward show than by inward worth.  You buy it when you sit drinking for hours together on purpose to stare at a pretty barmaid.  You buy it when you go shopping, if you pay more attention to the oily tongue and oily locks of the shop-man than to the quality of his wares.  You buy it of the quack, fibbing in the market-place, when he persuades you that his scented pills would cure "all diseases incident to humanity."  The penniless tradesman sells it when he dazzles your eyes by the splendour of his bankrupt establishment.  The clergyman, who impresses his congregation more by the get-up of his person than by the eloquence of his tongue, or the quality of his sermon, sells it.  The poor aristocrat, trading on his pedigree, sells it; and the ambitious mother, who frequents balls and assemblies, and with her eye bids you admire the figure and gait of her daughter, as you would the symmetry and pace of a blood-daughter speculates largely in this wonderful kind of merchandise.  You know now what "gaupe seed" is, I presume.

    Well, Matty Charlesworth had a host of this kind of customers, from "Springer Jack," the champion dancer—who would never own to his being forty, but insisted that Time had given him up when he was thirty—down to the awkward, shambling, hobbledehoy, who blushed when a razor was named, and took sly "dubbings" of his slender beard when he was sure no eyes were upon him.  But no one, it was supposed, ever made an impression on Matty's heart, though Jack danced till he "dropped through his stockings," and the hobledehoy blushed till it was suspected he used paint.  She appeared to be a downright candidate for the shelf, and might look forward to the cobwebs of old maid-hood gathering about her person.

    But to my story.

    One autumn Saturday evening, when the crops had been safely gathered, and the farmer, secure of his well-housed garner, no longer importuned the weather-glass, but growled about the anticipated prices of produce, when the shopkeeper increased his stock of candles, and laid up his sun-blind till the return of summer; when the careful housewife began to complain of the increased consumption of coal, and looked well after the outgoings and incomings of her daughters: when boys could not pass a hedgerow without looking out a faggot for the November bonfire; when sweetheartless girls had begun to wonder if long evenings were more favourable to love-making than the fine summer twilight—that a comfortable and lively "fender" were gathered round the hearth of the "Jolly Carter."  If you have never seen one of these fenders, you will hardly understand me.  But try to fancy to yourself a fire blazing up in the chimney, the glow from which lights up a semicircle of faces as no other light can; the man at the hob amusing himself with the poker, whilst his opposite neighbour, next the oven, has found a plaything in the tongs; and all the company are throwing back their heads, and laughing in "ready chorus," as some joke is made, or some story is progressing, and you may form as good an idea of what a "fender" really is as can possibly be obtained without actually seeing one.

    Well, this "fender" was enjoying itself so thoroughly that the cat could not help turning its back upon the fender proper, and licking its whiskers, as if it was sharing in the merriment.  Matty Charlesworth was waiting, and, for once during the week, was in as sweet a temper as any admirer could wish to see.  Her face was as bright as the cans which hung from the ceiling; and whether her bed-gown was a portion of the whitewashed wall (both always spotless) or was attached to her person, had to be decided, when she came in front of some darker object.  There was a change in Matty's personal appearance that no one could make out.  Was her hair "done up" different to usual?  Had she changed her necklace or earrings?  Was there a loop more or less about the neck of her bedgown? or had she washed her face in a solution of twinkles?  The latter appeared the most probable; for, turn her head which way she would, some portion of her face was sure to be smiling at you.  "Gaupe seed" was at a premium.  The unseasoned youngster, who could not yet drink his ale without being "fettled," followed Matty's figure as she swept to the fire, and wondered if there ever was such bright clog buckles as those which were then lighting up fifty furnaces in his breast.  The one who played with the poker hinted at the presence of a cinder somewhere about the bottom of her skirts, and a smell of fire as the consequence; but had not Matty possessed the neatest ankle in the village, she might have been consumed there and then with shovelfuls of imaginary cinders for aught he would have cared.  He who found companionship in the tongs, ceased making circles on the hearthstone, and expressed an opinion that something was burning in the oven.  Was it that he really thought so? or was it that the two tempting ringlets, which hung over the temple nearest to him, might touch his face, as their owner bent down to look?  He never confessed; he had no need; for the empty oven betrayed his motive, even if the jealous looks of the company had gone for nothing.

    Leaning his chair-back against the dresser, sat a peevish old bachelor, of the name of Sam Briggs; but better known by his sobriquet of "Sogger."  This man had professed to be in love with as many generations of young women as had grown up around him during the thirty years before; but he had never offered his hand to any one of them, till that hand had become too unsteady to aspire to other than widows, and those, too, of an uncertain age.  These he allowed to slip past him till he was out of date even for them; and as the children had begun to call him "owd Sogger," and "barfoot yead" (he had become bald, or had grown through his hair, as some would have expressed themselves), it was time to give up the idea of matrimony altogether, and make up his mind to remain a unit to the end of his days.  He now entertained himself with making matches between other people, or spoiling such as were made without his assistance, which latter was the more agreeable occupation of the two.  You may feel certain his advice was often sought by the uninitiated of his own sex; and the wonder was often expressed that he had not, when younger, ran away with some heiress or other, and made an excursion to that paradise of clandestine marriages —"Gretna Green."  (Of course, he might have, had he not preferred bachelorhood.)

    On this occasion it might have been observed that he plied his pipe more industriously than was usual, and that his head was constantly going into and coming out of a cloud of smoke; and that whenever his face was distinctly visible, his eye would strike you as being particularly luminous, as if borrowing its light from some project then kindling in his brain.  It might have been observed, also, that he was remarkably taciturn.  He had not yet told a single story, for a wonder, nor even attempted to let off the most harmless of jokes.  He was shut up within himself during a whole hour, with door locked and fast bolted.  At length, with a sly lifting up of his windows, and a glance at Matty as she was elbowing her way towards the fire on an ale-warming excursion, he came out—

    "Matty," he said, looking at the girl betwixt two looking irregular pillars of smoke, "how is it thou's ne'er begun o' chappin yet?"

    "What's that yo' sayn, Sam?" said Matty, without turning to her interrogator, as if the question did not interest her.

    "How is it thou's ne'er begun o' coortin?"

    "Nob'dy's ne'er axt me; that's how it is," was the ready and unexpected reply.

    The company stared at each other, then at Matty, and at each other again.  The girl, apparently unconscious that the matter was of such moment as to call for any further remark, tossed up the "warmer" on the chimney shelf, and tripped back to the little bar.

    There seemed to be a general challenge flashing round the room, if looks might be regarded as its indication.  Seats grew uneasy.  The youth with the poker commenced "scaling the fire, as if he was raking out his feelings whilst he with the tongs tilted back in his chair, and knocked his clogs together like one under the influence of St. Vitus.  The merriment which had been going on for a considerable length of time without flagging, fell off so suddenly that you might easily have imagined some accident had happened.  Several of the company drank up their "gills," with the evident intention of ordering fresh ones.  Others, with pots before them that had been standing empty, appeared undecided as to whether they should knock or shift their quarters; but at last gave in that they were just a gill (half-pint) short.  One or two might have been observed casting significant glances towards the bar, where Matty was humming snatches of a love song popular at the time.  All were bidding high for "gauge seed," as if bent on purchasing at whatever cost.  Sogger noticed these signs of an awakened interest, and his eyes kindled the brighter.  The smoke from his pipe made denser clouds, and almost screened him from the observation of his companions.  His mouth began to twitch nervously, and there was that in his whole demeanour that indicated a propensity to set as much mischief agoing as the opportunity could afford.  Glancing at the fire as he spoke, so that his remarks might apply to anybody or everybody present, he observed—

    "Lads are no' same as they'rn used to be.  I've seen th' time they'd ha' bin after sich as Matty like a pack o' hounds, if hoo'd gan 'em sich a challenge as hoo's gan now.  But what con we expect out o' folk ut ban bin browt up wi' a taepot, an' wearn dickies?  Pincher," he said, turning to a youth who was trying to fix his cap so low on one side of his head as to display a large field of stubble on the other, "if I'd th' makkins o' thee I'd mak better use o' my tongue nor thou does.  But onybody ut's fond o' keepin pigeons, same as thou art, 'll never mak mich out o' coortin.  Limber thy shanks up, mon, an' goo an' buzz a great word or two i' Matty's ear ut 'll mak her t' fly out o' her skin.  Oh, I see I mit as weel talk to an empty pot as to thee, for anythin ut 'll come out on thee.  Let's try someb'dy else."  And Sogger gave a glance round the room.

    If "Pincher's" face had been submitted to three or four coatings of cart paint, it could not have assumed a deeper red than was now spread over it.  He could not look at any of his companions, whilst there was "chaff" in every eye that glanced at him, and if Sogger's remark did not elicit the heartiest laughter, it was because no one felt himself secure from being the subject of similar taunts.

    "I'll tell thee what, Bowley," said the peevish Briggs, turning to a fellow somewhat the senior of Pincher, and whose chin had evidently suffered from the harsh treatment of a borrowed razor, and, consequently, had been untouched for several days, "if thou'd nobbut mow that three weeks' beart o' thine, thou happen mit stond a bit of a chance; but there's no woman ud tackle thee wi' that turf clod about thy face.  Goo an' gi'e Twiner Joe a penny, an' let him clear a road to thy mouth, an' then come back, an' let's see what Matty 'll say about thee. I did yer her say one day, hoo wondert if o th' gradly chaps had gone across th' bruck, for ther nobbut Bowley an' one or two moore wur fit to be looked at.  I wish I're twenty year younger, I'd stir some on yo' up.  Ther's Jammie o' Tum's yonder," he continued, motioning with his pipe towards the youth who had been playing with the tongs, "he'll be gettin as rownd-shoothert as owd Blutcher e'ennow, wi' hangin' o'er gates, countin potato drills i'stead o' makkin' better use of his time.  Ther's about fifty wenches now i' Merriton ut ud march straight to th' church wi' any one on yo; an' yo' ha' no' th' courage to pluck at ther bed-gowns, or say—'Wilt ha' me?' or, 'I like thee;' or owt o' that sort.  Eh, yore a numb lot."

    "Come, thou'st ha' thy pot filled, if thou'll nobbut husht," said Bowley, flinging a penny on the table.  "I know how to shut thy mouth.  Thou's bin praichin now for t' see whoa'll stond a gill for thee.  Here, Matty," he sang time out, at the same time giving a smart knock on the table, "bring Sogger a gill!"

    Matty made her appearance much sooner than was expected; for Bowley was just in the act of airing a boast that he could "hang his hat up i' that cote i' under a month," when he felt the girl's skirts brushing against him.  Had she been listening to all that had been said?

    "What is it?" she asked, placing her hand on Bowley's shoulder in such a familiar manner as to call forth jealous looks from other admirers.

    "Sogger wants his pot fillin," replied Bowley, evidently confused at Matty's sudden appearance.

    "An' art thou gooin t' pay?" said Matty.


    "Thou's less sense than I thowt thou had.  Here, come this road, I want thee."  And the girl took hold of Bowley's left ear, with a strong intimation in her manner that, if he did not wish his head to be disfigured, he had better follow.

    "What has yon owd barfoot-yead bin sayin about me?" demanded Matty, as soon as she had landed her admirer in the bar.  "I know he's been sayin summat."

    Bowley was completely disconcerted at finding himself alone with Matty, and would have passed the matter over as a bit of banter, had not a ringing laugh, coming from the taproom, caused him to regard his situation in a more serious light.

    "He's bin sayin nowt partikilar," replied Bowley, looking a lie all the time.

    "I know better—so tell me."

    "Well, he's bin darin everyone on us fort' speak to thee," admitted the youth, opening up a mine of courage that he did not think was in him.

    "Fort' speak to me—how?" said Matty.

    "How!—wheay—in a coortin sort of a way."

    "Has he dared thee?"

    Bowley's knees began to shake, and his heart to flutter.

    "Ay—a bit," he replied, catching a glance from Matty that he thought was encouraging.

    "Did he say thou're soft?"

    Now what was the young man to say to this?  Nothing.  He wished he was shaved; he wished he could utter a few grand words; he wished his arms did not feel so wooden, that they had been capable of winding themselves round the girl's waist, in imitation of "Burns and his Highland Mary," as delineated in the picture over the mantelpiece.  But neither his beard, nor his tongue, nor his arms would condescend to help one jot to get him over the difficulty.  What could he do but feel that he was soft?  Well, he did mutter something—he knew not exactly what; and Matty did not catch its meaning, if, indeed, it had any.

    Seeing her admirer stand like one who hardly knew where he was, or what he was doing, Matty came to the rescue.

    "Thou art soft, an' yo'r o on yo' soft; but thee speshly," she said, giving Bowleg a look out of the corner of her eye that made him feel as though it were impossible to retreat now without doing or saying something desperate.

    "Well," he said, screwing up his courage for a charge, "wilt have a walk wi' me?"

    "Why couldt' no' ha' axt me when I could ha' gone out?  Thou sees how busy we are now."  And Matty toyed with her apron string, and looked as if she was sorry she could not accede to Bowley's request.

    "Well, wilt go some neet else?" urged the latter, now grown as bold as Hector.

    Matty was silent for some moments, as if trying to remember what evening she would be most at liberty.  At length she said—

    "I'st ha' to go to th' parsonage wi' butter to'art nine o'clock, an' if thou 'll—

    "What, to-neet?"

    "Ay, to-neet; an' if thou'll meet me on th' fairy bridge"—

    "On th' fairy bridge?" and Bowley shuddered.

    "Ay, I con go round that road; but be sure thou gets theere th' fust, for I dar' no' stop by misel."

    The "fairy bridge," lying at the bottom of a lonely dell about half a mile from the "Jolly Carter," was supposed to be haunted.  Lovers never made appointments to meet there; and rarely passed the spot, unless in company with others on the same business.  Many were the stories told of fairies being seen there—hanging on boughs of trees, turning somersaults on the bridge's railings, jumping over the brook on long slender poles, and indulging in other elfin pastimes.  Besides, it had been the scene of a murder, a lover cutting his sweetheart's throat through jealousy; and if a white fleecy cloud had swept over the sky on a calm moonlight evening—its folds resembling trailing garments—it was supposed by the superstitious to be associated with the spirit of the murdered victim, which occasionally visited the spot.

    Bowley's hair, short as it was, seemed to lift up his cap, as he speculated on the perils of the assignation Matty had suggested.  But "faint heart never won fair lady," and as others might be tempted into taking his place, if he allowed a white feather to show itself in his plumage, he resolved for once to bid defiance to fairies, boggarts, and every other species of hobgoblin, and betake himself to the place of "tryst" at the time named in Matty's proposal.  But stop!—the eve of All-Hallows was approaching.  The shadows of the other life which floats through the weird world might be rehearsing their mischievous orgies for their grand annual festival, and the bridge might be swarming with them at that moment.  He scratched his head, reflected, and hesitated.  But Matty's full eyes were beaming on him.  There was more witchery in them than beaming in the whole of fairydom, and Bowley's pluck, called to its office by the look of encouragement that ought to have dissipated all kinds of fear, he took the girl's hand, pressed it clumsily, and faltered out—

    "I'll be theere."

    "Thou'll no' mak a foo on me, wilta?" said Matty.

    "If I do—"

    "Dunno' swear.  I'll tak thy word.  Ther's someb'dy knockin—I mun goo.  It's hauve-past eight now.  I'll see what th' company wants, an' then I'll be off wi' th' butter.  My gronmother 'll ha' to wait on 'em while I'm away.  If thou tells any o' th' tothers about this, I'll never speak to thee again.  Now then—oh, ift' wants a buss, thou mun wait.  Let me come."

    Matty pushed herself past her lover, and went to attend to her customers.  She appeared as unconcerned when she entered the taproom as if no assignation had been arranged, or as if the fear of ghosts and fairies had never crossed her mind.  Not so Bowley.  He appeared not to know what to do with his arms and legs when he went to resume his seat.  His hand shook as he took up his pot to drink, and his face was as pale as death.  When his companions asked what was up with him, he made no reply; but sat like one entranced, gazing at the fire.

    So engaged were the company in trying to fish out the cause of Bowley's changed appearance, that they noted not the absence of another of their fraternity, until the latter's return to his chair in about as absent a state of mind as his predecessor.  Pincher had been away about ten minutes.  Nobody knew whither he had gone, or what was his errand; but if he had seen a ghost, he could not have appeared more unmanned.  His face was blanched, his hands trembled, and he sat upon his chair like one who is conscious of a powder mine having been driven beneath him.

    Presently a light cloak, the hood hanging down behind—a silk handkerchief falling gracefully over it—flitted past the bar door; and in response to the next summons from the company, the old grandmother came tottering into the room.  But where was Jammie o' Tums? where Pincher?  where Bowley?


THE half-round moon was looking with one eye down upon the "fairy bridge," as Bowley struck into the path leading directly to that haunted spot.  If ever there was witchery in its beams, they were full of it then; for wherever the light pierced the branches of trees, it traced a weird form upon the grass—sometimes an elephant changing into an alligator, or a dragon disconnecting its wings and tail, and transforming each member into a monkey, a goat, or a wild horse.  No star thought fit to hang out its lamp in the "bright immensity."  It would have burned to no purpose if it had; and that the whole host knew, and consequently slept or sulked till their sister had had enough of it.  The night was so still that it would have required a feather or a mirror to discover any action in its lungs; and the silence was so intense as to convey an imaginary tingling sound to the listening ear.  Look which way he would, Bowley could behold shapes that were not of this world.  The long-pole exercise was engaging spirited contention with the "lighter weights" of the fairy band.  Weasel-faced elves, in sugar-loaf hats and knee smalls, tripped around on the river's bank, dissolved in mist a while, and anon where seen whirling round the railings of the bridge like the "star-wheel" of a Christmas pantomime.  If our adventurer was terror-stricken at the sight of these elfin sports, the feeling must have been doubly enhanced when, on looking in the direction of a sloping coppice, the falling mist disclosed the presence of a giant army, marching to some unknown battle ground.  Silently moved these weird columns—ever advancing, yet coming no nearer; until the whole host sank into some mysterious gulf to be seen no more.

    Hush!  There is a sound as of footsteps approaching.  Nearer and nearer they come; and Bowley's pulse beats high.  There might have been magic in that sound, for every subject of fairydom disappears at once, as if at the bidding of some disenchanting power.  The long-pole exercise finds no competitors now; and the "starwheel" hath been closed in by a curtain of mist.  Hark!  The footsteps are getting nearer still; and there is a shadow moving down the path.  Bowley hastens to the bridge and waits.  Why had he been scared at things so unsubstantial, he wondered; for with the assurance that Matty Charlesworth was the person approaching, his pluck went up to the very tip-top of its register.  The footfalls were now so near that he could count each step; and the form of the person that produced them was so distinct that he fancied he could trace the outline of Matty's basket, and almost make out the colour of her handkerchief and cloak.  What interpretation would the company at the "Jolly Carter" put upon his absence, he wondered.  Would they have suspicions of his purpose?  Would they connect his going out with Matty's disappearance?  Were it possible that they should track the girl to the bridge, and determine upon interrupting the interview?  Bowley did not care.  If the fairies were to recommence their antics, and the army of giants to resume their march—nay, if even the ghost of the murdered girl was to present itself on the bridge in all its "gashed horrors," he could look on without betraying the slightest fear, now that Matty Charlesworth—the flower of Merriton—the flame that had burned holes in the hearts of the whole village youth—would in less than one minute be in his arms.

    Bowley was puzzled as to what he ought to say first.  "Oh, thou'rt com'd, arta?"  That would do for a beginning.  But what could he find to talk about during the whole of the time they would be together?  Oh, he would descant upon the magnitude of certain "expectations" involved in the death of a rich old uncle somewhere in Shropshire, or upon his own qualifications for undertaking a new kind of work, the difficulties of which had frightened most weavers in Merriton.  Either of these subjects, properly set forth, and coloured with the bright tints a lover's tongue had at its command, would so tickle Matty's fancy, that her heart would bump down at his feet like a football.  And now for the first observation—


    This exclamation was caused by the appearance at the stile of a cap, on a very stubbly head, and set off by a face that was fit to compete with the harvest moon for size and redness.  Over the stile came a pair of feet that were too heavily shod to cause any flutter in Bowley's breast; and when the whole figure confronted him, in all its repulsiveness of white apron and fustian jacket, the two stood staring at each other with an expression of amazement in their looks that was exceedingly comical.

    "What art thou dooin here, Pincher?" demanded Bowley, with a menace in the tone of his voice, as well as in the jerking of his arms.

    "What art thou dooin here?" echoed the other, in whom we see the blushing youth we so recently met at the "Jolly Carter."

    "I'm boggart huntin," replied Bowley, thinking by that little diversion to hoodwink his companion.

    "So am I," was Pincher's rejoinder; and they both laughed at the transparency of the lie they each had adopted.  "Hast seen any?" said Bowley.

    "Nawe; has thou?"

    "Ay, I've just letten one slip.  It said it couldno' tarry no lunger; it wur wanted somewheere else."

    "What sort o' one wur it?"

    "A two-legged un; as mich like a woman as owt ever thou see'd."

    "Could it talk?"

    "Ay, an' to some tune, too.  It's promised to meet me every neet; but not here."

    "How wur it donned?"

    "It had a grey cloak on, an' a red napkin teed round it yead, an' it carried summat like a basket with it."

    "By th' mass!" said Pincher, looking very earnest, "that's summat like one I've just met, ut I thowt wur a' woman, an' I spoke to it."

    "Dost know anybody it favvort?" said Bowley.

    "Well, it wurno' unlike Matty Charlesworth.  I thowt it wur her at fust, or else I shouldno' ha' spokken."

    "What did it say to thee back?"

    "It said it had promised to meet thee on th' bridge here, just for t' see how long thou'd wait for nowt, an' I mit come an' tell thee ut it hadno' thowt thy ears had bin quite th' length they are."

    "Thou'rt tellin a dampert lie!" exclaimed Bowley, griping his fist, and looking very savage at his companion.

    "Well," said Pincher, with apparent unconcern, "just ax it, next time thou sees it, whether I am or not."

    Bowley's countenance fell, and he bit his lip as if he intended making a supper of it.

    "By ――, I'm sowd," he exclaimed, after a good deal of gnawing at his lip.  "It wur Matty hersel ut thou met."

    "Well, I thowt it wur," said Pincher.  And he set up a laugh, loud enough to frighten all the fairies away from their haunts.

    "Thou thowt, behanged!  Thou knew it wur her.  I da'say hoo towd thee o about it afore I coome."  And Bowley ground his teeth preparatory to another attack upon his lip.

    "Well, if it hadno' bin for what hoo said to me, I should not ha' bin here," said Pincher.

    "Hoo'll tell o Merriton t' morn."

    "Ay, that hoo will."

    "An' I'st be jawed by everybody.  But I'll be straight wi' her, mind if I dunno'."  And Bowley smote the rail with his fist, inwardly wishing that Matty's head had been betwixt the two.

    "I think we may booath poo at th' same rope."


    "Becose hoo's sowd me too."

    "The deuce hoo has!"

    "Yigh, an' th' brass counted."

    "Is not hoo a snicket?"

    "Caps the very owd lad."

    "I wouldno care if Jammie o Tum's didno' know on't; but he'll blether an' talk about o winter."

    "It's odds but he'll be brunt wi' th' same stick."

    "If I thowt so, we'd have a skit out on him ut be wouldno' forget for a two-thri rent days; for ther's nob'dy i' Merriton ut's as boggart-feart as he is.  What's yond?" said Bowley, pointing towards the path along which they had both come.

    "It's oather a mon or a cow," replied his companion.  And they both held their breath and listened.

    "If it isno' Jammie o' Tum's," said Bowley, in a hurried whisper, "I'll ate my yead.  I con tell him by th' rickle of his clog buckles.  Poo thy apporn off, Pincher."

    Pincher took off his apron, which was a white linen one, such as were mostly worn by handloom weavers.  Bowley had a similar apron, which he also took off, and he fastened the two together by the strings, making a long white scarf, which lie wrapped round his body.

    "O'er th' hedge wi' thee, Pincher," said the latter, placing himself so as to command the bridge, "an' mak as dismal a noise as thou knows how, when he gets here.  If thou wur t' start o' singin I da'say it 'ud be as dismal as owt thou could do.  I'll stond here as still as a gate stump; but if he offers to run—an' that's very likely—we mun after him, but tak care not to catch him, till we'n run him fairly down.  Now then, he's here."

    In another moment Pincher had cleared the fence, when, placing himself behind the bole of an old oak, he prepared his lungs for the reception of his boon companion.  Presently the figure which had been descried on the path was seen mounting the stile.  The head and shoulders were distinctly visible, though the figure, from some cause or other, had paused in its ascent; yet so much could be observed as to induce Pincher to give one long, hideous howl, that made even Bowley shake in his clogs.  The silence which followed this effort of Pincher's lungs made the stillness more still; and the figure on the stile might have been mistaken for a stump, it was so motionless.  At length it made bold to speak.

    "Is that thee, Matty?" he said, clearing the stile, and approaching Bowley.

    The latter spoke out.

    "Never mind that cow makkin a noise (alluding to Pincher's howling), it winno' touch thee.  How long has thou bin waitin?"

    "Ever sin' I'd my throat cut," replied Bowley, in a deep sepulchral tone of voice.

    The figure started back.

    "Jammie o' Tum's," continued Bowley, "what dost want here?"

    "I want nowt," replied Jammie; for Bowley had made a right guess, as the figure turned out to be Jammie o' Tum's.

    "What art dooin here, then?  If thou tells me a lie, thou'll sink up to th' neck i' blue fire and boiled traycle; an' ift' offers to stir a foot, th' owd lad 'll have howd on thee; for he's waitin at back o'th' edge theere now.  Come, what art after? "

    "A young woman promised hood meet me here," replied Jammie, terrified into a disclosure of his purpose.

    "Whoa is hoo?"

    "Matty Charleswo'th.  Hoo lives at th' 'Jolly Carter."'

    "Matty Charleswo'th!" said Bowley, with a shake of his head.  "Hoo isno' to be won by fair coortin.  Ther's too mony chaps after her; but ther's one mon ut if he'll do as I tell him, he may carry her off to th' church any time ut he's a mind."

    "Whoa's he?"

    "It's thee, Jammie o' Tum's."

    "I'll do it," said Jammie, "if it's nowt ut'll oather break my skin or rent my clooas."

    "What hast i' thy pocket, then?"

    "I've nowt nobbut a shillin, an' some copper, an' a knife, an' a bit o' clewkin" (string).

    "That knife 'll cut thy sweetheart's throat, an' that clewkin 'll hang thee, if booath are no' charmed.  Poo 'em booath out, an' put 'em under a stone.  Th' fairies 'll come at ten o'clock an' doance round th' stone; an' i'th' mornin booath th' knife an' th' clewkin 'll be charmed."

    Jammie did as he was bidden.

    "Now," continued Bowley, "poo out thy brass, an' put it under th' same stone.  Come again i'th' mornin, an' thou'll find it changed—th' shillin into a gowd weddin ring, an' th' copper into four an' sixpence, just th' price o'th' weddin."

    Jammie took out his money, and deposited it along with the knife and string.

    "Now, then," continued Bowley, "goo back to th' 'Jolly Carter.'  Matty winno' come here—hoo never intended dooin.  Goo back to th' house; but dunno' goo in at th' dur.  Th' kitchen chimdy's wide, an' safe to travel.  Goo down that.  A bit o' soot 'll be nothin to what thou 'll get for thy labbor.  When thou'rt safely londed, claim thy prize; an' Matty 'll tumble in thy arms like beef in a wallet.  Now, then, thou may goo.  My throat's gan o'er bleedin, so ut I mun goo too.  Off wi' thee afore th' ground oppens an' swallows thee up."

    In a moment Jammie's heels were flying about his coat tails as rapidly as if they had been under the influence of steam.  Over the stile he went like a big sod hurled by a strong hand.  Up the path he flew, and was soon lost in the mist that gathered about the valley's ridge—the sound of his clogs continuing long after his shadow had disappeared.  No doubt Pincher's repetition of his hideous howl somewhat accelerated Jammie's speed, for the sound made such echoes in the valley that, had the gossips heard it, they would doubtless have concluded pandemonium had been let loose.

    The howling, however, was nothing to the laughter that followed.  The very moon appeared to close the only eye visible, and indulge in a fit of hearty cachinnation; and if the fairies did not join the chorus, it was because they were voiceless shadows that had no communion but by gesture, and by the various forms they could assume.

    "Come, Pincher," said Bowley, as soon as he could get his breath from laughing, "we mun be off after Jammie, or else he'll be down th' chimdy afore we getten theere, an' we munno' miss th' fun.  Didt' think he'd bin sich a yorney as he is?"

    "Nawe, I didno'," replied Pincher.  "But what winno' a mon do ut's getten a wench in his yead, an' th' owd lad at his back?  They are no' mich o' their own person then."

    "Wes't be about square wi' Matty when this job's sattled," Bowley observed, with a feeling of the deepest satisfaction.  "If Jammie doesno' break his neck i'th' chimdy, we'st ha' sport ut'll last for a week or two.  Tak this apporn, an' let's be off."

    The two, full of anticipation of what was likely to be the issue of Bowley's counterplot, left the vicinity of the fairy bridge, and made all the haste they could in the direction of the "Jolly Carter," first taking care to possess themselves of the little pocket property Jammie o' Tum's had invested in the fairy bank, and which Pincher observed would afford them a "quart or two for t' wash th' soot down."

    The "Jolly Carter" was as noisy as a little Bedlam when Bowley and Pincher entered the taproom.  Both feigned to be as scared as new-started hares, and they looked wildly round the room.

    "What's up now," stammered out Sogger, whose face had become indicative of a close acquaintance with his pint pot.

    "Where's Jammie o' Tum's?" demanded Bowley.

    "He crope out about an hour sin'," replied Sogger.  "What dost want to know for?"

    "Well, me an' Pincher here han bin after a hare ut's bin seen about th' fairy bridge; an' we'd just gan th' hunt up, an' wur comin this way, when we seed a mon ut wur as like Jammie as two twins are to one another, stondin talkin to another ut I didno' like th' seet on."

    "What sort of a mon wur this tother?"

    "He wur like someb'dy ut thou's had some deealins with Sogger."

    "Whoa con that be?"

    "Him down theere;" and Bowley pointed significantly towards the floor.

    "Dost mean owd Sooty?"

    "Th' same chap.  I seed his hurn as plain as I see that candle now; an' Pincher said he seed his tail swingin about like a clock pendulum.  Beside that, ther a smell o' brimstone enoogh for t' stifle a neest o' wasps."

    You might have heard a cinder fall from the firegrate, so quiet had the company become.

    "Could yo' yer what wur said between 'em?" Sogger inquired.

    "Ay," replied Bowley, and he spoke in a whisper.  "He said ther a wench he'd a notion on; but hoo'd ha' nowt to say to him; so he wanted th' owd lad for t' help him a bit.  Th' owd lad said it wur a bargain; but he should want Jammie to goo a-livin wi' him when he'd done aitin porritch here.  'I'll give her to thee,' he said, 'an' I'll fotch her afore twelve o'clock this very neet.'  Then he went off like a flue o' powder, an' we seed nowt no moore o' noather him nor Jammie."

    Although Matty Charlesworth had been bustling about the house as unconcerned as if she had not made fools of three of her "gaupe seed" customers, she could not help wondering at the sudden silence of the company, and the apparent interest with which they were listening to some story that was evidently being told.  Leaving the bar, she crept to the taproom, and had just placed herself in the shadow of Bowley's still erect form, in time to listen to the conclusion of his narrative.  She turned pale on hearing what was likely to be the issue of her silly freak; and uttering a word of comment on Bowley's story, or without hinting that she bad been listening to it, crept as much as back to the bar, for the moment an altered girl.

    "Thou's physicked Matty, yonder," observed Pincher, aside to Bowley.  "Hoo's getten a dose hoo winno' forget o at once.  Hoo favvors hoo'd getten a snift o'th' brimstone pot o ready."

    "Howd thy noise, Pincher; we'st be straight afore th' net's o'er.  I da'say Jammie's upo' th' house now.  We'st be yerrin summat on him afore long.  Husht!"  And Bowley set his head to listen.

    The company had just concluded that they had given audience to a "thumpin lie," and were rating the two adventurers upon the transparency of their inventions, when they heard a loud scream coming in the direction of the kitchen.  The scream was repeated, and a low moan followed.  Up jumped the whole crew, with the profoundest consternation strongly depicted in their countenances, and an evident desire on the part of most of them to make a bolt through the window, as the most convenient method of escape.  Bowley and Pincher, obviously the boldest of the lot, made straight towards the kitchen, and encouraged the rest to follow.  But not a foot would they stir in that direction; urging as a motive for their apparent cowardice, that it was no use their interfering, "th' owd lad wur sure to have his own."

    Bowley was the first to enter the kitchen, where a spectacle was presented to his vision that, had he not been able to account for it, would have overwhelmed him with fright.  There was Matty, pale as death, struggling to free herself from the embrace of—who, or what?  The old "gronny" swooning on the couch-chair, had just breath sufficient to exclaim, "The dule!" ere she became as rigid as a corpse.  The company, with two exceptions, would have concluded it to be the same, for the figure that held Matty in an embrace, which, in comparison with the girl's struggles, appeared to be Herculean, was as black as the blackest of old Pluto's establishment.

    "Do, Mesther D—I, spare me this time, an' I'll never do so no moore!" entreated Matty, between her screams.  But the individual whose mercy was thus invoked held her the more tightly in his loathsome embrace, and enjoined her in accents partaking more of the human than the infernal, to set aside all regard for more favoured suitors, and throw herself in the arms o' Jammie o' Tum's.

    "Oh, dunno' ax me to do that?" entreated Matty.

    "What for?" demanded the ――.

    "Becose he's so feaw" (ill-favoured).

    The face of the man in black grew darker at this; and as he caught Bowley's eye, squinting in feigned terror, whilst the rest of the latter's physiognomy was endeavouring to check the development of a grin, he began to speak more fiercely and desperately.

    "Thou mun oather ha' Jammie or nob'dy," he growled.

    "Then I'll ha' nob'dy," was the girl's timid reply.

    "Ay, but thou'll awter o that; for when thou sees him again, he'll be as nice a lad as ever donned a pair o' shoon; as different he'll be to what he wur when thou seed him last, as black is to white."

    "If he're as pratty as paint, I wouldno' have him."

    "What, nor if he'd brass?"

    "Nawe, nor if he'd brass."

    "Then prepare thysel for gooin wi' me."

    Matty set up another scream.

    "Mesther Sattin, if yo'd rayther be co'ed that, do let me off this time!" she begged.  "I've sinned, I know; but I'll sin no moore."

    "Thou mun go wi' me!" shouted the ――.
    "Is ther no punishment beside that yo' could put me to, and lemme tarry here?"

    "Yigh; oather say thou'll ha' Jammie o' Tum's, or else i' twenty-four hours fro' now thy face 'll be covered wi' wrinkles, thy nose 'll turn up like a pump-stang, thy yure 'll be as grey as thy gronny's, and thou'll sken wur nor a wicket full o' new-pupt whelps."

    "Oh, Mesther Blackymoor, I'll have anybody before I'll goo wi' yo' or be feaw!" screamed Matty, in the utmost terror.

    "Thou'll ha' Jammie, then?"

    "Ay, if he axes me t'morn, I'll tell him so."

    "Mind—no runnin off th' bargain."

    "Nawe, if yo'n lemme goo."

    "Well, Jammie's waitin at th' fairy bridge wheere thou promised to meet him.  I mun goo an' tell him th' news; so good-neet!  Jammie 'll be here afore long, an' claim his bargain."  So saying, the sable visitor, preferring an easier mode of egress than an ascent of the chimney, coolly opened the back door, and disappeared.

    Matty exhausted by her recent struggles, sank terrified and bewildered on the nearest chair.

    Bowley approached her.

    "Matty," he said, taking the girl's hand, "thou sees what thou's browt on thee by makkin foo's ov o th' young lads about.  Thou's sowd thysel now to one thou'll never like as long ast' lives."

    "Ay, I know that," responded Matty, tears following her confession.

    "Thou's made a foo o' me to-neet," pursued Bowley, "an' I know thou'd rayther ha' me nor Jammie."

    Matty was silent.

    "I should think they'd be no hurt i' tellin th' truth, if thou has had dealins wi' th' owd lad," Bowley continued; "an' if thou wur to speak thy mind now, thou'd say thou'd rayther ha' me nor fifty Jammies o' Tum's; wouldno' thou?"

    "Ay, that I would," replied Matty; "but it's too late now, thou sees."

    "Nowt o'th' sort."

    "But a bargain's a bargain; is it not, Bowley?"

    "Yigh; but chettin th' owd lad's better nor sarvin him."

    "How could I do that an' be safe?"

    "I'll just show thee," replied Bowley; and he took from his pocket the knife, and string, and money that Jimmie o' Tum's had deposited under the stone at fairy bridge.  "Look at these," he said, "they should ha' bin charmed.  I've had 'em fro' th' fairy bridge, an' they belong to Jammie o' Tum's.  I yerd a ghost or summat order him fort' put 'em under a stone, an' th' fairies 'ud doance round it, an' by mornin they'd ha' power booath to cut love an' bind it.  This knife 'ud cut love fro' o th' world but one, and this bant (string) 'ud bind it for ever to that one.  But when Jammie had gone away, an' followed his mesther into th' cloof, I took em fro' under th' stone, an' spoilt th' charm.  Here they are, thou sees.  Th' owd lad's no power o'er thee now."

    "Art quite sure o' that?"

    "Ay, as sure as I'm o'er th' yead an' ears i' love wi' thee.  Now, then, wilt ha' me?"

    "I happen could no' do better," sighed the girl.

    "Thou 'rt no' makkin a foo on me this time?"


    Nobody heard these confidences and pledges but themselves; for Pincher had returned to the taproom, to inform his companions of the sable visitor's departure; and the old woman still lay as if asleep on the couch-chair.

    The night was a merry one after the occurrence of these incidents.  Bowley, now fully ingratiated in Matty's favour, betook himself to the taproom, and placing upon the table a shilling and some copper, declared there was "curn i' Agypt" yet, and qualified his declaration by ordering "a gallon to wesh down owd Sooty, an' sweeten the house o' th' stink he'd made."

    When the company were about the height of their merriment, the door opened, and in walked Jammie o' Tum's, dressed in his "Sunday best," and with his face apparently newly washed.  There was a shout as he entered; for Bowley and Pincher had so far explained the mystery of that night's business as to make the company eager for Jammie's reappearance.  The latter looked round at the circle of grinning faces, and suspecting that the secret of his escapade had got abroad, would have retreated, had not Sogger seized him by the arm, and begged that he would partake of a "droit o' charmed drink."

    "How are things gooin on at th' fairy bridge?" shouted one of the company.

    "Has that murdert woman bin walkin about to-neet?" shouted another.

    "A shillin an' some copper's very useful when th' drink score's up," said a third.

    "Soot's good for cleeanin teeth wi', isnor it, Jammie?"

    "By th' mass, Jammie!" said Bowley, "thou lifted thy shanks merrily when thou're runnin away fro' me at th' fairy bridge.  How dost think that charm's gooin on?  I reckon thou'll be lookin after it i'th' mornin?  It'll be no use, I con tell thee.  We'n had this gallon o' ale out on't, an' rare an' good it is."

    "What dost think about my singin?" said Pincher, with a wink at Bowley.  "Dost think thou con tell th' difference between it and a cow mooin?"

    To each of which questions Jammie responded with an emphatic "Gullook!" as the readiest way of evading further badgering.

    Loudly Matty Charlesworth laughed as she listened to these observations; for the girl was now herself again, and was attending to the wants of the company with an apparent unrestraint that evinced little consciousness of her having been in such questionable society half an hour before.  Jammie o' Tum's slunk into a corner, and sulked the night out; and whenever Bowley rallied him about the "bran new looks" he was to have assumed the morning following, he turned upon his tormentor with a ferocious grin, and vowed he would "have a reckonin wi' o th' lot afore long."

    The sequel to this "marlock" requires little telling.  From that night Matty Charlesworth and Bowley were looked upon as an affianced pair.  They had been seen on moonlight nights strolling together in the direction of fairy bridge; and it was even rumoured that the banns had been ordered to be put up at church.  No doubt the affair would have ended in marriage, had not an unexpected event completely cut off all chances of such a consummation taking place.  The year following Bowley disappeared.  No one knew whither he had gone, but it was supposed he had enlisted in the army, for a person answering his description had been met with in the East Indies, where he had married a native.  Matty Charlesworth never would believe this story.  She had faith in his again turning up, "free and willing," and was determined to wait until the last hope had disappeared.  Fate hath not yet ordained that her hope should be realised.  Bowley is still absent, and she is still single—and as saucy as ever.



I SOMETIMES wonder why people should grieve at the decline of summer, as if they were never tired of sunshine, or as if tailors, umbrella-makers, and coal-dealers were not entitled to consideration.  After all, it is but an agreeable change from sweltering heat and a monotonous glare of light, if the season be a genuine one, to invigorating breezes, cloudy skies, and evenings that suggest gossip, whist parties, cheerful firesides, and pleasant story-telling.  There is no longer any anxiety about the harvest; bluebottles have ceased to buzz about your ears, and dogs no longer put you in fear of madness, by lolling out their tongues.  As with outward nature, so our inward being undergoes a change.  Our feelings, our desires, and our tastes become wholesomely modified.  The hoiden, who has played croquet on her father's lawn till her hands require an extra size of glove, or "promenaded" on the seabeach till she is as brown as a gipsy; who has flirted with shabby, foreign-looking beaux till she fancies she is going to be made the heroine of a three-volume novel, full of mystery, murder, and matrimony, gets sobered down to simple tastes and desires; condescends to read sensible books; pleads guilty to a passing remembrance of a much-neglected needle; grows fashionably fond of old paintings, and does not object to the prosaic advances of the bacon-eating, hard-handed, scrubby-haired son of the village squire.  The youth who has dipped himself in the pool till his skin ought to be scaly, and basked in the noontide sun till he is half broiled, now dusts his chessboard, rubs up his foils, and thinks Scarboro' isn't half so jolly as a run with the hounds on a crisp morning, or an evening romp with his fair cousins in the nursery.  Oh, the sweet winds; the starlight; the glistening frost; and the rustle of the falling leaves!  Oh, the cheerful fire; the shadows on the wall; and the tempest howling round you!  Oh, the black night; the driving rain; and yourself warm and cosy in the nook, listening to some fairy legend, the latest "warlock," or to your neighbour's song of the brave and the fair of old!

    It was this sort of night, some years ago, when old "Makapenny" stood in his porch, with his toes scarcely out of the rain, watching the clouds drift over the sky.  He had seen a "stranger" on the bar of the firegrate, and, expecting the appearance of the foreshadowed in person ere the night was advanced, looked inquiringly up and down the lane to see which way he might come.

    Makapenny was a retired shopkeeper, who had amassed a considerable fortune by dispensing flour, cheese, and bacon to hungry Merritonians.  He was a sordid old wretch, never particular about adulterating his goods, or the adjustment of his scales and weights.  In fact, the habit of weighing his thumb had so grown upon him, that, if he had been weighing against himself, he would have given the scales a fillip that might tell considerably against his profits.  His god was "brass."  His lips were shaped to say "brass."  The one article of his faith was—"I believe in brass."  Heaps of "brass" were always present to his imagination.  The fear of losing sight of it had induced him to become his own banker; concealing his hoard in some out-of-the-way corner that might defy the cupidity of even the cleverest thief to discover.  He had an only child, a daughter, who had of late given him considerable uneasiness by her supposed partiality for the society of a certain "scamp of a tachin-waxer," meaning a young fellow who had much to do with the clogging and shoeing of Merriton.  He had noticed the two steal glances at each other when at church.  He had been told they were frequently seen standing together at the lane end, which was a favourite meeting-place with couriers.  If he could once make sure of the fact of this illicit intimacy, no consideration for his own flesh and blood would prevent his applying a stout walking-stick to the shoulders of both offenders.

    Olive Makapenny, though not quite so pretty as Matty Charlesworth, was by no means a plain-looking girl.  She was of a quiet and submissive disposition.  Could not say "No" for the world, except when her father threatened to marry her to some grey-headed monster, who had been, like himself, a "gatherer of gear."  He had mentioned the names of one or two elderly bachelors and widowers whom he represented as eligible candidates for her hand; but the girl would not listen to these hints, protesting she would die an old maid in preference to forming an alliance with such loathsome consorts.  Old Makapenny, however, was inexorable.  No fellow, he swore, must squander in youthful extravagance the wealth he had been so many years, and at such pains, in accumulating.  No; he would invest it in Chancery first, for the benefit of "blackgeawned, hoss-yure-wigged lawyers."  And he hated them worse than so many cheese-purloining rats.

    If thou's owt any moore to do wi' yon scamp of a tachinwaxer," he would sometimes say, with a fierceness of purpose grimly lowering beneath his shaggy eyebrows, "I'll cut thee off wi' a shillin—mind that.  Ay, thou may whimper, an' look as if thou're gooin to be poorly; but I'st stick to my text, ift' melts like wax.  So mind thy housekeepin, huzzy, an' ventur' out ift' dar!"

    Olive would make no reply to these objurgations, but wait till the old man rolled his head against the side of his coal-scuttle-backed chair, gave out a sound, long-drawn snore, and let his half-smoked pipe fall upon the fender, when she would steal out of the house, wrap her elbows in her apron, and be at the lane end before he had taken out a tithe of his accustomed "forty winks."

    This evening old Makapenny had made several journeys from his "snoozing crib" to the door, looking out at the storm, and scanning the road, as if it was possible the expected visitor might be hurled from the clouds, and pitched to within hailing distance of "Candlewick Cottage."  No one, however, presented himself at the gate, and the night was getting on.  It was already nine o'clock by the old "'larum."  In another hour it would be bedtime for people who had nothing to do but to eat, drink, sleep, and save money.  It was too late now for anyone to come.  The flake of soot on the bar must have been a false foreshadowing, as dreams of gold mines had been to his longings for the possession of untold wealth.  There was one satisfaction, however, to balance this disappointment—the cobbler would not venture out on such a night as that; therefore, he was secure from any annoyance from so troublesome a neighbour.  But why was his daughter in such high spirits?  Had dampness no influence over them?  No matter how the rain pelted against the windows, it found no sympathy in Olive's disposition.  She sang over the ironing; tripped over the floor as if performing some figure in a dance; sent enough fire up the chimney to boil the clouds; and was so beside herself in her general demeanour that old Makapenny's chair-back was found too hard for him even to obtain an odd wink upon.  What was her girl up to?

    The pelting of the rain against the window had given place to a scarcely audible pattering; the wind had exhausted its bellows, and one link-boy of a star had obtained permission to present his torch at a rent in one of the ragged, moth-eaten clouds.  But there was a warmer light twinkling at a certain window over the way.  The "Jolly Carter" had "mended th' fire wi' a cob," by which he sought to throw out a tempting gleam to the dripping traveller, and draw him to the fender.  Old Makapenny was no traveller, but he could, at times, manage to be as thirsty as anyone.  He was thirsty then, notwithstanding the night had been so wet.  He could drink a "pint," smoke a pipe, fall out with a neighbour upon the old sore (to him) of unequal poor's-rate assessments, after which he would be in a condition for mounting the stairs, drawing on his nightcap, and plunging himself into dreams of gold mines, reams of parchment, and hosts of troublesome cobblers.  Putting on his hat, and taking his stick out of its corner, he made another journey to the door.

    "I'st be back before thou's done smoothin," he said to the daughter, who did not appear to have the slightest objection to his going out.  "Mak me a bit o' posset, and put it i'th' oon again I come.  Dunno' mak it too sweet un' mind it isno' lumpy.  Thou may gratter a bit o' nutmeg in it, just for a change.  See ut th' sheets are weel aired, an' draw th' curtains nicely round th' bed, but not too close.  Now, then."

    After delivering himself of these instructions, old Makapenny closed the door, banged the gate, and shambled down to the "Jolly Carter."

    Instead of finding a room full of company, as he had expected, the retired grocer met with no one at the tavern, except a solitary stranger, who sat blinking his eyes at the fire, and nursing the remnant of a "gill" that appeared to have forgotten when it was drawn.  This stranger was a man apparently much older than himself, with long flowing white hair, white furry eyebrows, a beard that was marvellously fine and woolly, and a form that was surprisingly erect for his age.  He appeared not to notice old Makapenny as the latter entered; but sat with his back partially turned towards him, and his eyes still intent upon the "rack-an'-hook" hanging in the chimney.  He was respectably, if not well dressed, Makapenny observed, surveying the stranger from head to foot.  There was not an article of his clothing that, from its make and texture, could be less than forty years old.  He had not wasted a fortune in the purchase of frippery; that was evident.  What he possessed had been carefully husbanded, even to the buttons, not one of which was missing.  What position in life were it possible he could occupy?  A wealthy farmer, perhaps; or a drover from the grazing countries.  Wealthy, he must be, and miserly.  Makapenny would like to feel the weight of his "old stocking."  It would be a "wapper," he was sure.  This conclusion led him to wonder if the stranger was a—well, if he was unmarried.  His linen was good; that made the matter doubtful; and his hose was nicely darned; that was another bad sign.  He would sound him with a question, such as one stranger might put to another, and see what the issue would be.

    "We'n had a rooghish sort of a day," he observed, seating himself at the opposite hob to that which the stranger occupied.

    If the latter heard the remark, he gave little sign of feeling any interest in it; for the most he did was to bring his eyes from the rack-an'-hook to the topbar, and give sundry winks at the sputtering coal.

    "We'n had a rooghish sort of a day, I say," Makapenny repeated, in a louder tone of voice than before, and accompanying the observation with a rattling of his iron-shod stick on the hearthstone.

    The stranger brought his eyes from the topbar to his shoes; gave a succession of low growling coughs, and returned to his contemplation of the rack-an'-hook.

    "What the d—l does he meean?" the grocer muttered to himself, feeling somewhat nettled at his failure in attracting the stranger's notice.  "Is he as deeaf as owd Noll, I wonder, ut could yer nowt nobbut what he shouldno' do?  Let's try him wi' summat else.  Win yo' have a pint wi' me, owd mesther?" he said, in a voice scarcely so loud as when he first spoke.

    The stranger took hold of his pot; looked into it; put it to his lips, and slowly drank its contents.  Then, replacing the pot at his elbow, said, without looking at Makapenny—

    "I don't mind if I have."

    "I'm done, by zounds!" exclaimed Makapenny, making his stick dance again on the hearthstone.  "Whoa would ha' thowt he'd bin such a sly owd codger as that?  If he catches me again, I'll put him i' my will for a little hundert or two; that I will."  With that he raised his stick, and gave three or four raps on the table, that made the nails almost shrink in their holes.

    Dame Charlesworth came tottering in at this summons, and, shaking her head in a manner that implied reproof, said—

    "Yo' mit be knockin for a whul barrel, wi' yo'r noise."

    "Well, bring two pints, owd craythur," said Makapenny, "an' let it be so ut we con blow th' top off, like a hontful o' shavins."

    "Two pints?"

    "Ay, two; an' be as sharp as thy owd limbs 'll let thee, for I'm as dry as that rack-an'-hook."

    "Good lorjus, Mak!" exclaimed the old dame, apparently surprised by the magnitude of the order she had received; "has someb'dy laft thee a fortin as thou'rt emptyin thy pockets at that rate?"

    "Nawe; but this owd rascal has won a toss off me," replied the grocer; "an' I da'say he desarves o he gets out o' me.  Bring in 'em in."

    The landlady returned to her bar, and presently reappeared, bringing in two white-topped pints, that winked with gleeful anticipation of a thirsty throttle.

    "Theigher, Tabby! this is a regilar snowdrift," said Makapenny, taking hold of one of the pots, and raising it to "half-cock."  "Come, owd Meaudiwarp," he exclaimed, turning to the stranger, "here's luck to thy deeafness."

    The old Meaudiwarp took hold of the other pint, and responded—

    "Here's towards you!" he said.  And he looked triumphantly at Makapenny as he swallowed the toast.

    "Wur yo' ever here before?" the grocer inquired, quite bent upon knowing something about the stranger before they separated.

    "Eh?" said the other, placing his hand to his ear.

    "Yo'r deafness is a queer sort," said Makapenny, again raising his voice.

    "Very queer, very queer," the stranger admitted.  "My ears open and shut like two mousetraps.  They'll only catch when they're baited."

    "By owd Sam, yo're reet!" muttered the grocer to himself; "but I'st bait wi' no moore pints, whether yo' catch owt or nowt."  Then he repeated aloud—

    "Wur yo' ever here before, I said."

    "I think I've been once or twice," was the reply.

    "Han yo' come far?"

    "Not very."

    "Yo'r no' for tellin me mich," said Makapenny to the other's shoes.  "He'll want a corkscrew for t' draw him out, I con see.  Come, let's try what a bit o'th' owd leaven—self-interest—'ll do.  If yo're a farmer, or a cattle deealer," he said, aloud, "I think I con tell yo' summat ut 'll be wo'th yo'r yerrin."

    "Well, what is that?" asked the stranger, eagerly.

    "Th' weather's bin very bad for cattle lyin out lately," Makapenny replied.


    "Ther's likely to be a rise i' beef an' mutton."

    "No doubt there is."

    "An' i' pigs."

    "Yes; and in pigs as well, as you say."

    "If yo'n a good stock uppo' yo'r honds, an' con afford to keep 'em out o'th' market a while yo' may mak a hundert or two extry afore Kesmas."

    "Well, I've a pretty good stock of fat cattle, and I'm not disposed to trade just at present.  I'll take your advice, and wait till the market goes up."  The stranger thrust one hand into a capacious pocket as he spoke, and appeared to be turning over handfuls of gold.

    "I have him on th' hook," thought the grocer, inwardly complimenting his own ingenuity.  "Let's see if I con lond him beaut breakin th' line.  Dun yo' farm fifty acre?" he said.


    "A hundert?"

    "More than a hundred."

    "I reckon," said Makapenny, coming in to a nice point of his inquiry, "yo'r owd woman looks after the farm when yo'r away?"

    "I have no old woman," the stranger replied.

    "Never had?"


    Makapenny's eye twinkled, and he looked steadfastly at the stranger.

    "I wish he'd bin a year or two younger," he would have said had his thoughts found utterance; "he'd just ha' suited our Olive.  But he does look rayther younger than he did at th' fust.  If he'd shave that wool off, an' get his yead powed (hair cut), it 'ud take him twenty year off.  Let's see: our Olive's twenty-five, and he's happen—hum!  I'll ax him.  "What age dun yo' co yo'rsel?" he shouted, thinking the question one that would require the highest pressure of his lung-power.

    "I'm not so old as I look," replied the stranger.  "What age would you take me to be?  Fifty?"

    "Well, I should ha' said about forty-nine."  Makapenny told a lie; he was thinking sixty-nine all the time.

    "Ay, well; you've guessed nearer than I'd have supposed.  I'm nearer forty-nine than fifty."

    "It's strange yo'r toppin bein so white at that age," observed Makapenny, greatly encouraged in his inquiry.

    "Yes; sudden luck, like sudden misfortune, will turn your hair white in a few hours' time," and the stranger made his pocket jink like a ring of toy bells.

    "Are yo' stoppin i' this neighbourhood o neet?" Makapenny asked, growing quite interested in the stranger.

    "If I can get anywhere to stay; if not, I must go on to the next town;" and the stranger took out a very barrel of a watch, and compared it with the old case-clock in the nook.

    "It'll be late for yo' to go far," said the grocer, "an' it's a very lonely road, whichever way yo' turn.  If yo'n any brass on yo' yo'd better stop wheere yo' are."

    "But I couldn't stay at this house."

    Makapenny admitted he couldn't, and looked thoughtful for a minute or so.  At length he said, with the confidence of one who thinks he has hit upon the best thing possible, "Yo' con stop at my house, if yo'n a mind.  I've a bed ut's never short o' airin.  What sayn yo'?"

    "You overpower me with your kind offer," said the stranger.  "I hope it will be no inconvenience to you."

    "Oh, what's a bed an' a bit o' supper?  I'm never within noather one or th' tother."

    "Have you a family?"

    "Ther's me an' a dowter; that's o."

    "Is your daughter young?"

    "Twenty-six; will be next birthday."

    "Is she pretty?  But I need not ask that; she must be."

    "Well, hoo's not as pratty as a waxwork angel, nor happen quite as feaw as a empty cubbort.  Hoo's a bit above passable.  What hoo's short on i' beauty, hoo maks up i' goodness an' wark."

    "A careful housewife, I suppose."

    "Eh, bless yo' ther's noane like her nowheere.  If hoo'd nobbut a shillin a week comin in, hoo'd save sixpence out on't.  But yo' mun goo an' see her."

    "I've waited thirty year for such a one to be my wife, but never found her.  Is your daughter engaged?"

    "Well, hoo purtends to be; but if hoo doesno' break it off I'll break her back.  Now, then, sup up yo'r pint, an' let's be off.  Hoo'll be wantin to go to bed."

    The stranger did as he was bidden, and buttoning up his coat, intimated that he was ready and anxious to go.  Makapenny followed the example, and the two newly-attached friends immediately left the taproom of the "Jolly Carter."

    Olive Makapenny was singing like a lark that has mistaken candlelight for daylight, when her father and his venerable guest entered the house.  "What's up now?" thought the girl, taking leave of "The flaxen-haired plough-boy" in the middle of a verse, and turning her eyes upon the stranger.  (The latter had taken off his hat, and was bowing most politely to his hostess.)  "Is he com'n a-stoppin, I wonder.  I wish he'd sit down, and no' keep starin at me so."  Then she placed herself against the dresser, took considerable pains over the crimping of a nightcap, and waited for a proper introduction from her father.

    "Olive," said Makapenny, offering his guest a chair, and seating himself in his coal-scuttle, "I've browt thee a lodger.  Thou mun mak yon spare bed up' an' air th' sheets weel."  Then turning to the stranger, said, "Are yo' onyways troubled wi' th' rheumatic?"

    "Not much," the latter replied.

    "Nowt like havin plenty o' red flannel lapt about yo'r limbs," observed Makapenny, rubbing his right knee, as if he felt a twinge of his old enemy shooting through the joint.

    "There's a better remedy than red flannel," said the stranger; and he glanced at Olive, who was taking a couple of sheets out of a drawer.

    "What's that?" inquired Makapenny, following his guest's eyes, as if he fancied they were directed to some curative treasure concealed in the pot shelf.  He caught a look from Olive—a disdainful, contemptuous look; and he wondered if the stranger had been winking at her.  That would have been a familiarity which not even "brass" could justify.  "Oh, I see," he said, an idea striking him at the moment.  "Ay, ay; very good, very good," and he laughed until the coal-scuttle creaked in accompaniment.

    The stranger had grown marvellously youthful by this time.  The lines about his forehead appeared to be filling up; and a healthy glow was mantling over his face.  But for his white hair, he might have passed for a much younger person than his host took him to be, even then.  And now his eyes followed Olive as she glided about the house; and how he sighed when she disappeared to make up his bed for the night!  He was in love with the girl; that was certain; as deeply smitten as a pair of eyes could penetrate; and Makapenny took care that the wound should not heal all at once.

    "Well, what dun yo' think about her?" said the latter, as soon as his daughter was out of hearing.

    "She's a very fine girl," was the reply.

    "Tak's of her mother in her looks, an' me in her notions o' what's what.  Yo' known what I meean."  And Makapenny tapped his pocket slyly, which drew a faint "brassy" sound therefrom.

    "If she hadn't been engaged," said the stranger, "I might have"—

    "Engaged!" exclaimed the grocer, half rising from his chair, and stamping with one foot, to the utter disregard of his corns; "let her say hoo is engaged, an' I'll use her back same as I would a dusty cooat.  Engaged, marry!"

    "Well, as I was saying, if she hadn't been engaged," repeated the other, "I should have been most happy to have proposed to her.  I've not seen another girl that comes up to my notions of what a wife ought to be."

    "Then yo'st have her, by"—

    "Don't swear," entreated the stranger; "I should be sorry to take the girl against her inclinations."

    "Well, if yo're so partikilar about it, court her like house o' fire.  Yost ha' plenty o' chances; an' if yon cobbler comes about I'll mak his yead int' a lapstone."  Makapenny smote his knee with his fist as he said this, and made the coal-scuttle creak as if it was bent upon dissolution.

    "Must I understand by that that I have your consent to become your son-in-law?" the stranger asked.

    "To be sure," replied Makapenny, with an emphatic grunt; "an' th' day ut yo'r wed, ther's a thousant pound for yo', ut owes nob'dy nowt."

    "That is to be understood

    "Tak me at my word."

    "Well, then," said the stranger, slowly, as if calculating the extent of his possessions, "in return for your kindness, I will settle the whole of my property on your daughter the day she becomes my wife."

    "Brayvo!" shouted Makapenny.

    "And the thousand pound shall be applied to the increasing of my stock," the stranger continued.  "Brayvo!" the grocer repeated.  "Now, then, hoo's here," he said, as Olive returned from her duties upstairs.  "I'll tak my pipe to th' dur a bit, an' give yo' a chance o' makkin things reet with her."  Saying which, he rose from his chair, and taking his pipe from the rack, lighted it, and went to look out upon the night.

    The stranger made his politest bow to Olive as soon as her father had disappeared, and intimated by a movement of his hand that he wished to speak to her.

    "You've a nice place here, Miss—a—"

    "Makapenny," said the girl, snappishly.

    "Makapenny—yes, to be sure; how strange I should forget!"  And the stranger coughed a not very asthmatical cough, which loosened his memory wonderfully.  Following up the observation, he said, "Your father has given me to understand that you are not particularly engaged."

    "What dun yo' meean by that?"

    "Why, that you've no sweetheart that you care much about."

    "I dunno' see ut it's owt to him whether I have or not nor to nob'dy else, noather."

    "You may think different before long."  And the stranger looked slyly in Olive's face.  "Come," he said, as if preparing himself to receive a blow, "give up this young shoemaker, and I'll make you as good a husband as you'd find in all Merriton."

    "Not if yo' wur to turn into gowd this minit."

    "But your father has promised you a thousand pounds for your dowry."

    "He may keep it for me."

    "Then you're quite determined not to give up the shoemaker?"

    "Quite."  And the girl closed a drawer as if she was shutting her heart against all the world but one.

    "Well, if that be the case," continued the stranger; "I have no desire to step betwixt you; and shouldn't have gone even so far had not your father misled me.  But there is one word I wish to say to you before I retire, or before your father returns to us."

    "What is it?"

    The stranger said something in a whisper that made Olive start.  There was, besides, something so talismanic in the words, that she allowed his arm to creep round her waist, and offered not the slightest resistance when he put his white beard close to her smooth and dimpled chin.

    "Will you have me now?" he said, drawing the girl nearer and nearer to him.

    "My feyther's comin," she said, making a faint effort to disentangle herself from the old suitor's embrace.

    "Well, will yo?"

    "Ay; give o'er!  Who'd ever ha' thowt at this?  Eh, Sam?"

    Sam, Sam!  Why, that was the shoemaker's name.  Was it the name only that she was in love with?

    There was a slight shuffling on the hearthstone; a cough at the door, when old Makapenny returned from his contemplation of dripping trees and scarecrow clouds, to find, what he little expected, his daughter and his guest as loving as a pair of turtle-doves.

    "What, what, what!" he exclaimed, doubting whether his eyes were not making a fool of their owner; "is o reet; is o reet?"

    "I didn't think you'd have returned so soon," said the Stranger, apparently confused.  "But your daughter has consented that I should marry her, on one condition."

    "What is it? what is it?" demanded the impatient father.

    "That we each sign an agreement to-night concerning the marriage settlement."

    "That I'll do at once, if you will.  Han yo' sich a thing as a stampt note?"

    "I am never short of those instruments," and the stranger took out his pocket-book, and produced a paper.

    The agreement was drawn up; the signatures of the consenting parties attached, with this difference, that Makapenny sketched a very rude cross opposite his name, which the stranger had written, and affirmed upon an imaginary oath that such a proceeding would not be disputed, even in "Chancery."

    "But stop," he said, turning to the stranger, "what is yo'r name?"

    "There it is," replied the other, pointing to his signature on the still wet document.

    "Ay; I see; but I conno' read writin—never could."

    "But your daughter can."

    "Ay; well, well; if hoo's satisfied, I am."

    "That's right," said the stranger.  And he folded up the paper and put it in his pocket.  "You are quite satisfied, I hope?"


    "So am I."  Then taking off his wig and beard, the stranger stood—the now undisguised shoemaker—confronting the amazed shopkeeper.

    "What, by Owd Harry!" exclaimed the latter, as if taking down every shutter from his eyes, "is it thee, thou—but I'll say nowt.  I see thou's done me as brown as a jannock.  This is thy hundert acres, an' fat stock, is it?  Well, tak her, an' do th' best thou con with her, for thou desarves her, an' thousant pound too.  Come, we'n have a sope o' whisky at th' top o' this marlock, chus how 'tis.  Olive, put th' kettle on.  I think thou needs go no furr wi' airin yon bed.  He'st have a neetcap of another sort.  Well, I'll be sunken if this doesno' cap o!"

    In half an hour after this discovery had been made, the eyes of old Makapenny had begun to have a dreamy appearance; the second "tot" of whisky had been "bottomed," and under its influence the father and intended son-in-law were shaking hands together, like two old cronies at the remembrance of "lang syne."




YOU would notice a clump of cottages standing on the brow-side, a little beyond the bridge.  Rickety, tumbledown things they are now, as though they had got into the "lean-and-slippered-pantaloon" stage of their existence.  But I remember them when they were nearer their prime, ere they had begun to shrink and bend; when their eyes were not bleared, their cheeks hollow, and the whole frame had not begun to totter.  I will tell you a story with which those cottages are connected.

    We had just got through a long and severe winter, and spring burst upon us like a pageant, heralded in its coming by the little trumpeters of wood and sky.  The sudden transition from a season of frost and snow to one of sunshine and flowers, lifted men's hearts to worship, and all nature appeared to rejoice at the change.  But the old people of Merriton said they had seen brighter skies, gathered sweeter flowers, and felt softer breezes when the world was younger.  Still they rejoiced.  The matronly river, with its family of tiny brooklets that were beside themselves with joy, smiled, and swept on its course—winding here, as if it wished to return to the sweet heathery bed it had left that morning—spreading out there, and murmuring a song of resignation—then dashing recklessly onward, as if it felt the present hour to be a mere shadow of the past, and had resolved to seek oblivion in the eternity of ocean.  The thatch that roofed some cot you might have tumbled over ere you had seen it, appeared wishful to be green again, as if it remembered its younger days, with a strong yearning to return to them; and, instead of sermonising the beardless stalks that were shooting up in the fields around it, by saying, "Ah, you will be thatch some day," thought only of the "good old time" of its own—that golden period of the world's history which the agèd of every generation look back upon as if there never had been nor ever would be another.

    Everything appeared to be dreaming up old memories.  The withered thorn was telling its neighbour of happy kankings "beneath its own shade; and how, when but a slim, tender sprout, shooting out over the field-path, it had been brushed against by the happiest of lovers—lovers such as there were not now-a-days.  "Blossoms then were blossoms," it seemed to say; "and the haws mellowed in the fall like drops of amethyst, and formed long purple borders round each meadow and garden."  The oaks, that in the race of verdure come among the last, woke up from their winter's sleep, and shook a few shrivelled remnants of their last year's clothing, and put forth shy nibs of green, as an earnest that they would sometime be as gaily dressed as the prodigal bits of shrub that knew nothing of the grand old time when the wild boar ate their fruit, and the men of the "merrie greenwode" strung up the deer upon their spreading boughs.  Even the church—fine old structure, that had survived most of its neighbours, and was itself fast losing its memory in the dotage of years—seemed as though it would like to cast its grimy skin; polish its vane and points, and rub up its spectacles of windows for another hey-day.  (Vain old pile!  Thou hast no merry-makings now to jingle thy noisy bells among, and shake thy madcap steeple as if thou wert made for mirth and holiday, and not for solemn teaching.  They are gone with the "good old time" that strewed thy floor with rushes, and hung thy pillars with garlands, and made a silly Merry-Andrew of thy sacred self.)

    It is a Sabbath morning, and the village is out of doors.  Clean white pinafores, covering scantily skirted frocks, are flashing at almost every cottage door.  Remnants of little posies of field flowers, that yesterday made childhood happy, are scattered here and there, as if there were more solemn things now wherewith to make holiday.  The lane is discharging a thin stream of blue-coated men, and grey-gowned women; the latter with bonnets that look like mill-hoppers, and in which your heart would be ground to powder if you ventured too near the setting of dimples and rosebuds that twinkle deep down in the centre.  Here are burly farmers mounted on clumsy-looking nags, their wives pillioned behind them.  And simpler in their modest gait, the weaver's family a-foot, walking reverentially, as if they were conscious of being in the presence of the Most High.  And simpler still, the grey-cloaked village "granny," who cannot count her brood; but prays for the whole human family, that none of her own may be deprived of the blessings she invokes.

    It is a going to church that you see not now-a-days.  There is no flashing of parasols; no tossing of jewelled and beribboned heads; no flouncing of rustling silks; no glitter of gilt hymn-books; no sneering at those stupid people who seem to think of nothing but God, leaving fashion, and pride, and other greatnesses for the morrow.  Neither is the road scandalised by the immodest displays too often attendant upon outrageously expanded skirts.  If high-heeled shoes be in fashion, none know it except the wearers; and whether the stockings worn are black, or white, or red, matters not to the swain who, lounging along the road, looks up at the sky, abroad on the freshening fields and blossoming hedges, listens to the bells, the soft winds breathing among the trees, and to the service the lark is chanting nearer to heaven than he.

    This was a Sabbath morning in one of those years immediately succeeding the French Revolution of "ninety-three," when "Jacobinism" was supposed to be rampant in the minds of such men as read books, studied mathematics, and drew political lessons from the events which history recorded.  Merriton, as a village, was an unsympathiser with the objects of revolutionists.  It was a stand-still village; content to remain where it was; pay its taxes without grumbling; forget who was on the throne; say "God bless him," whether he was an Alfred or a Nero; pray for confusion to all politics; hold up oatmeal porridge as an institution great as Magna Charta, and let those nations "progress" that wanted to run headlong to destruction.

    As a matter of course, Merriton had its prejudices and superstitions.  It believed in boggarts and witchcraft, as we have seen before; in the potency of spells and charms, and the truth of fortune-telling.  It took its heroes from the mythology of the nursing-stool, and planted Paradise, and the abode of giants and dwarfs in some undefined country beyond the slight ridge of upland that fences off one extremity of its liberties.  It had inherited such a store of traditional wisdom, that modern science was regarded as the vicious folly of men who would drive the world as they would a top, and mar it by excess of whipping.  It would not look upon or listen to an innovation of any kind; especially new inventions in machinery, and new forms of church observance.  If a mangle had been introduced, it would have been destroyed at once; or had an attempt been made to propitiate Divine favour through the aid of organs and bass fiddles, the parsons' orthodox would most likely have been rectified by an administration of the correcting influences of the ducking-stool.  It therefore sang its hymns and psalms in the simplest and most primitive manner; got up its linen without the aid of "soap powder" and wooden rollers, and flattered itself that if corn and potatoes would grow, cows give milk, and lambs yield fleece, it might bid defiance to all those anxieties that are attendant upon a more refined state of civilisation.

    One of the most thorough-going of these "anti-progressionists" was old Sam Suddleworth, or "Sam o' Suds," as he was mostly called.  It was this wiseacre's boast, that he never knew a single letter of the alphabet, could not tell the time of day by looking at the clock, and that he did not consider that it reflected upon his loyalty to either the Church or the Throne if he slept through a sermon or cheated the excise.  Our conscientious friend had in his younger days been a weaver; but his eyes failing him as age crept on; and as windows in those blessed days of social perfection were mere eyelet-holes, he gave up the loom, and took to the more genial occupation of road-mending.  He could now hear the birds sing in summer; sniff the fragrance of the hawthorn and the new-mown hay; hum snatches of such songs as kept their popularity for centuries, and enjoy a dinner of brown bread, sopped in buttermilk, with a satisfaction and a relish that an alderman over turtle might have envied.

    It was a study to see him at work.  Seated on a wisp of hay that he had twisted and coiled into a cushion; a girdle of the same material laid on a large flat-surfaced stone in front of him; a large hammer laid by his side, and in his hand a smaller one, with which he would now and then peg away, as if in the act of breaking Jacobins' heads by the score; a visor of wire-cloth suspended over his face, to prevent splinters of stone from flying into his eyes; an old blue jacket, that at one time had been a coat, looped over a red plush "singlet" of perhaps twenty or even forty years' wear; his almost hairless sconce bared to the sun, from which it had received an imperishable coating of tan, he was an object that few would pass without hailing with observations, either concerning the weather, or the crops, or the idle gossip of the time.

    Strange!  This Sunday morning the old fellow was at work—busily, merrily at work.  The church bells seemed to swing in time to the song he was trolling; and the lark that would poise itself over the patch of wrinkled tan as if it had been a note-book, sang in a strain that made the hammer quicken in its descent; and the splinters of stone would be threshed out of the girdle till the tawny patch would be as pearled over with dew as were the fields around.  Suddenly he paused to take wind.  He wiped his shining sconce with a tattered napkin, and raised his visor to look about him.  How still and serene and Sabbath-like were the old road-mender's reflections, as he contemplated the quiet and sunny landscape before him—"meetily" Sabbath-like!—and he listened to the bells again.

    "What is ther up at th' church this mornin!" he asked himself, wiping his face, and listening again.  "Is some foo or other gettin wed, I wonder?  Ay, I dar'say; ther's aulus someb'dy thinkin they con mend other folk's wark; it's th' natur of a foo."  And down went the visor with a jerk; "click" went the hammer, and showers of splinters flew out of the girdle as he sang—

Young Robin at th' smithy a-cooarten did go,
With his heigh smithy ballis, an' onvil an' o!
He wur one score an' nothin, just th' age for a foo',
But owder wur Kit by a hay-time or two.
                                         Singin derry down, Robin.
                                         No sighin nor sobbin
Will e'er tee a love-knot 'tween Kitty an' thee.

Neaw Robin be begged, as he stood i'th' heause porch,
Ut Kitty ud let him just tak her to th' church;
But Kitty said, "Nawe, lad, no church yet for me;
For a yer or two lunger aw meean to be free."
                                         Singin derry down, ditty,
                                         A snicket wur Kitty;
Her heart wur as hard as a weightstone, aw'm sure.

    "He should ha' gan her a whizz i'th' earhole, an' axed her how hoo liked that," commented the singer, raising his hammer and bringing it down with a force that made more fragments than were intended.  "Nowt like a good hommerin for a saucy besom ut wants so—husk!—so mich trouble makkin on her," and again the stones flew out of the girdle, and again the road-mender took up the strain—

Her lover had waited a twelvemonth or more,
An' neetly he'd striven her heart to get o'er;
But seein at last ut hoo laafed as he spoke,
His pluck dropt so low ut he're ready to choke.
                                         Singin derry down, Robin,
                                         Theau's done too mich sobbin,
Cock thi hat o' one side, an' goo whistlin whoam.

"Aw'll see thee once moore," young Robin be said,
"An' ax thee agen if theau means to be wed;
An' if theau says nawe, theau may go to th' owd lad,
For Margit o' Peter's is toyert of her dad."
                                         Singin bravely spoke, Robin,
                                         That's better nor sobbin;
Hoo'll smile no moore yet at th' breet side ov her een.

    "Ay, that trick onswers sometimes.  Try some other wench on—somb'dy they care no' mich about.  It'll be as straight forrad as hay makkin i' good sun and wynt.  Then th' tother 'll come round like midsummer, or a rent day; an' be as whinin an' as fain as a new-byetten hound.  Ay, ay; better nor churnin ee-wayter, an' pooin a face as long an' as feaw as a milestone ut's had th' smo'-pox.

Next time he went armed wi' a peawer he'd ne'er tried,
An' owd oak back-spittle* he'd slung by his side,
Ut wur chalked o'er wi X's, hauve moons, an' reaund O's,
Wi' a lot o' straight strokes ut wur set eaut i' rows.
                                         Singin derry down, Robin,
                                         Theau's entered a job in
Ut'll be murder to Kitty an' hangin to thee.

    "Owd Nanny i'th' fowt used to reckon up her shop-scores o' that fashion.  A X stood for a farthin; a straight stroke for a penny; a hauve moon for a sixpence, and a reaund O for a shillin.  Hoo'd every inch o' wood i'th' shop chalked o'er once for brass ut wur owin; an' when they nowt else tit 'ud howd a figger hoo began o' scorin upo' their Ned's back, till th' lads about coed him th' walkin shopbook.

"Well, does theau say nawe yet?" young Robin he said.
Kitty made him no onswer, but threw up her yed.
"Then look here at this—pay me o ut theau owes."
An' he flourished th' owd back-spittle under her nose.
                                         Singin derry down, ditty,
                                         A floorer for Kitty,
Wur th' X's, straight strokes, an' reaund O's, an' hauve moons.

    "He should ha' laid it on her back till her stays ud ha' skriked out.  I would ha' done.

"This is what aw wore on thee last yer," Robin cried,
"For a fippunny pincushion t' hang bi thi side;
Two link of a necklace, a pin for thi geawn,
An a new fleawered huzzif aw browt eaut o'th' teawn."
                                         Singin derry down, Robin,
                                         Theau's set Kit a-sobbin;
Theau'll have her i' fits if theau reads any moore.

"Then aw took thee to th' fair," Robin said, with a sigh,
"An' bowt thee some nuts an' a gingybread pie;
Some porter aw paid for at th' 'Skewer an' Cop,'
An' two eaunces o' towfy at owd Nanny's shop."
                                         Singin derry down, Kitty,
                                         Thy Robin's no pity,
Or else he'd wipe th' score off an' set thi hont free.

    "Th' next byets cock-feightin.

Kitty sighed, and said "Robin, aw'll pay thee thi shot;
Wilt have it i' money, or papper, or what?"
But, before he could spake hoo'd her arm reaund his neck,
An' th' owd oak back-spittle wur wiped to a speck.
                                         Singin derry down, ditty,
                                         Neaw Robin an' Kitty
Han chalked up a score ut'll last 'em for life.

    The road-mender had just finished his song, and had raised his vizor for another breathing, and another look at the beauty of the morning, when he was somewhat startled by observing the person of the vicar standing before him, and gazing at him with a look of mixed reproof and perplexity.  Touching his vizor to the worthy parson, our old friend, in a tone and a manner that betrayed no consciousness of having been caught in a forbidden or unseemly act, remarked that it was a "fine mornin."

    "A very fine morning, Sammiwel," returned the vicar, still more perplexed at so much apparent audacity on the part of his parishioner, "but that is no reason why you should be at work, and singing that profane song I heard just now."

    "Why not, why not?" demanded the other, laying down his hammer, and dusting his clothes with his hands, as if preparing to engage in a lengthy discourse.  "Should I nobbut work i' weet weather?  I dunno' think yo'd find it so comfortable praichin in a sheawer, if yo' hadno' a bit o' thatch or summat o'er yo'r yead.  I'll have yo' t' know ut a mornin like this fits my owd limbs like a new suit o' clooas; not ut I've tried any this twenty year, an' happen never mun do again."

    "Well, but don't you know what day it is?"

    The road-mender doffed his visor, and laid it on the stone before him; then scratching his forehead in a thoughtful manner, as if he was not quite certain that he could answer the question, replied—

    "It's Setherday, is nor it?"

    The muscles of the vicar's face relaxed; the buttons of his waistcoat began to dance; and it was only a respect for his calling, and the restraint imposed upon him by its duties, that prevented him from bursting into a fit of laughter.

    "Saturday!" he exclaimed, as soon as he durst trust himself with speech; "how do you make that out?"

    "Well," replied the other, at a loss to imagine what could be the source of so much amusement to his usually sedate pastor; "th' day afore yesterday wur owd Nanny's bakin day, an' hoo aulus bakes ov a Thursday; so it mun be Setherday."

    The vicar could no longer contain himself, but, exploding with a charge of merriment that already made his rosy countenance a purplish crimson, exclaimed—

    "Why, Sammiwel, you've lost a day."

    "Lost a day!" echoed the perplexed "Sammiwel," again applying his finger nails to his forehead; "how con that be?  Has th' owd sun bin marlockin, an' slippin through his wark beaut lettin one know?  I've had as mony days this week as other folk, ha' not I?"

    "To be sure you have," replied the vicar; "but how have you spent them?  What have you been doing since Thursday?  Fuddling, eh?"

    "I'd rayther no' tell yo' if it matters nowt," said the road-mender, in as penitent a tone as if he had been before the confessional.

    "What, you've been at the 'Jolly Carter,' have you?  Oh, Sammiwel, you'll never mend."

    The road-mender looked down, looked sideways, at anything except his interrogator; but obliged to say something, he replied—

    "Well, I'd a pint or two oather yesterday or th' day afore.  If it's Sunday to-day, it must ha' bin th' day afore yesterday; but if it's Setherday, it must ha' bin yesterday."

    "Then you went to bed, and slept a day and two nights."

    "What, wi' a woman's tongue i'th' house?  Nay, I con hardly believe that.  Beside, I've summat else to go by.  I con aulus tell when it's Sunday mornin, if I've lost my reckonin; an' at my time o' life one lets a deeal slip for till want of a good howd."

    "You might have known it was Sabbath by the church bells ringing, and your neighbours being dressed up."

    "Well, I thowt th' bells wur happen ringin for a weddin; an' as for folk bein dressed up, that's no' mich to go by; for ther's very little difference now between ther Sunday an' ther warty clooas.  Ther happen will be when Tum Paine's hanged.  It's summat else I ha' to go by."

    "And what may that be, Sammiwel?"

    "Yo' known Johnny Armitage, I reckon?" observed the road-mender, with some doubts in his mind as to its being proper to mention such a name on the Sabbath-day.

    The vicar's face assumed a gravity of expression that contrasted unfavourably with the open and exuberant smile it had worn but a moment before; and to the question asked by his friend, he falteringly replied—

    "I do; I do—what of him?"

    "A strange chap, that, Mesther Gadsley," commented the road-mender; "but, as I're gooin to tell yo', he howds a sort ov a sarvice every Sunday mornin, Jacobin as he is; an' he sings, an' his wench sings; but whether he prays or not, I conno' tell.  Happen if he does, it's to th' owd lad for he's deealin with him, if o be true one yers said."

    The vicar was silent, and the stone-breaker continued—

    "At anyrate they sing, an' nicely too; but this mornin I never yerd a cheep; if I had I shouldno' ha' bin here; I should ha' known it wur Sunday."

    The vicar, though he had serious misgivings as to the character of the "sarvice" thus alluded to by his simpleminded parishioner, nevertheless resolved within himself to make inquiries concerning it; and also into the more private doings of the individual whose conduct was so much criticised and contemned by his neighbours.

    The church bells had dropped off their ringing to a slow ding-dong, giving intimation to the vicar that service time was at hand.  The road-mender had risen from his seat, and was busy redusting himself for a more decent appearance in the village, when the reverend gentleman, laying his hand on the shoulder of his friend, said—

    "Watch your neighbour closely.  If there be the least hope of converting him to godliness it will give me great joy.  Does he ever speak to you?"

    "Ay, sometimes—when I spake to him.  He spoke to me yesterday—I meean o' Friday, if yesterday wur Setherday."

    "Does he speak freely and kindly? "

    "Ay, he's as gradely spokken a men as ever I knew.  He talks fine, too, same as yo' done, an' as th' young squire did, when he coome back fro' th' college skoo, wheere they said he larnt nowt nobbut cock-feightin."

    "That girl of his is very pretty they say."

    "Pratty as a pictur'."

    "What a pity she has such a father!"

    "Ay, I reckon it is; but I think ther's worse folk than he is."

    "You do?"

    "I do, Mesther Gadsley."

    The vicar had begun to stride hurriedly on towards the church, for the bells had ceased ringing, and not a straggler of the congregation was to be seen outside.  He spoke not another word until they reached a point where the lane joins the main road, and which brought them so near to the scene of his ministrations that the clerk's "Amen" might have been heard, had he been giving it.

    "I must leave you here, Sammiwel," he said, pausing in his gait, and again assuming his thoughtful manner.  "Tell your neighbour I would like to speak to him.  If he would allow me to pay him a visit I should be very happy to do so."

    "I'll do that for yo', as soon as I've weshed mysel," said the road-mender.  "He's axt me a time or two for t' goo an' sit with him; but I'm feeart o' seein or yerrin summat I shouldno' do."

    "Thank you, Sammiwel.  See that you are at church in the afternoon.  Good morning!"  And the vicar strode towards the church gates.

    "Sammiwel" sped down the road much more hastily than he had gone up; now and then casting an uneasy glance behind him, as if expecting the constable and churchwardens to be following in his wake.  These functionaries not making their appearance, our friend paused opposite his neighbour's dwelling, and wondered if he ought to deliver the parson's message previous to entering his own house.  He decided that he would, and took steps accordingly.

    The reputed Jacobin lived at the first of the two cottages fronting the bridge, and the road-mender lived next door.  The latter now looked over the railing of his neighbour's garden at the display of flowers which became so sweetly that glorious Sabbath morning, and at the nicely-folded white curtains that draped the small, but neatly-arranged, window-place.  He fancied he could hear voices; but the sound might proceed from the interior of his own domicile, which did not enjoy such an immunity from certain forms of human articulation as did Crusoe's island.  He leaned over the garden gate, and listened.  The gate was locked, he noticed.  That was strange.  Was there no one at home, he wondered.  Yes; somebody there must be; for he saw a blink of firelight reflected against the window, and—hush! there was the sound of one voice at least.  Not his old woman's this time, but that of a younger person.  What if he strode over the fence and tried the door?  He would do so at once; so over the fence he went.

    Placing his hand upon the latch, the door gave way, and the road-mender entered the house.  (It was not the fashion to knock in those days.)  There was no one in that he could see; yet the fire was blazing brightly, and the breakfast things stood upon the table.  Hush!  What sound was thing?  Listen, breaker of stones, and would-be breaker of images, to that voice going up to the throne of the Most High.  Listen to the "Jacobin;" the "infidel;" the scoffer at the morals of the age; the reputed believer in Tom Paine;" and if devotion more pure emanates from the hearts of the millions now kneeling before Heaven, surely grace will abound on earth in time.  Listen; it is the utterance of solemn and earnest prayer!

* A fiat shovel, used for turning oatcakes during the process of baking on a "backstone.'

[Next Page]



[Home] [Up] [Spring Blossoms] [Ab-o'th'-Yate Vol. I.] [Ab-o'th'-Yate Vol. II.] [Ab-o'th'-Yate Vol. III.] [Waverlow Chronicles] [Yankeeland] [Short Stories etc.] [Site Search] [Main Index]