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´╗┐Title: Gold and Incense - A West Country Story
Author: Pearse, Mark Guy
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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GOLD AND INCENSE

[Illustration]

GOLD AND INCENSE

A West Country Story

by

MARK GUY PEARSE

[Publisher's mark]

Forty-seventh Thousand



London
Horace Marshall & Son

Butler & Tanner,
The Selwood Printing Works,
Frome, and London.



          Dedication

     TO SIDNEY HILL ESQ.
      OF LANGFORD HOUSE
           SOMERSET



_It may add to the interest of my story if I state that it is perfectly
true._



Chapter I


To think it is Jennifer Petch of whom I am going to tell--little
Jennifer. How she would laugh if she only knew of it, that shrill,
silvery laugh of hers. It was her great gift. Jennifer was a philosopher
in the matter of laughing; and philosophy is mostly a matter of knowing
how to laugh and when.

[Illustration]

And the village itself would wonder almost as much as Jennifer herself,
for very few of them could see anything to write about in her. Village
people do not see much in what they see always, and Jennifer had lived
among them all her days. There was a time when some of the younger folks
thought they owed her a little bit of a grudge. For Sam Petch was the
tallest, and straightest, and handsomest of the village lads; and the
maidens who strolled down the lane on a summer's evening would go home
with fluttering hearts and delicious dreams if Sam had chanced to come
that way, as somehow he generally did; and if he had loitered laughing
with them in the lane, as he never minded doing.

There was Phyllis, light of hair and blue of eye, light of step and
light of heart, and light of hand, as her butter showed--not one of the
lads had any chance with her so long as Sam was free.

There was Chloe, she of the loose sun-bonnet, with gipsy face and gipsy
eyes, who handled the rake so daintily, and drew the sweet hay together
with such grace that nobody wondered if Sam Petch found it a great deal
easier to turn his head that way than to turn it back again.

And on the Sunday night when the service was over, at the door of the
little chapel, which was the village trysting place, there were half a
dozen of the comeliest of the maidens, who found an excuse to linger
talking, until Sam had gone his way.

It came on them all with an amazement of surprise, especially as events
of that kind were always busily whispered abroad at the slightest hint,
and often without any hint at all--"Sam Petch was going to be married."

"Who to?" asked everybody, brightening with wonder.

After every likely lass had been guessed the voice fell, and the answer
was given almost with a sense of wrong, "Why, to little Jennifer!
Whatever he can see in her I can't think."

For that matter, no more could Jennifer herself. Round and short of
figure, red and brown of face, she had never so much as ventured to
look at Sam, or to think of him either. And even now she was almost
sorry for him that she was only plain little Jennifer, and not like
Phyllis or Chloe.

And because the village maidens could see no reason for it in her looks
they concluded that there must be some hidden wiliness, some depth of
craft for which they were no match. They talked it over as they milked
the cows, the white stream falling with its music into the pail. "She
knew what she was doing, Jennifer did, a regular deep one." It was told
in the lane with a laugh, as if each wanted to show that Sam was
nothing to them, of course.

But the older folks talked of it differently. The women stood in the
doorway of an evening with clusters of children about them, and
according to them it was Sam who was the deep one. He knew what he was
doing, did Sam. There were things, they said, and they spoke feelingly,
that lasted longer than good looks and were worth more. And as the men
came home with heavy steps from the day's work, with a smell about them
like the smell of a field that the Lord hath blessed, they said that a
little thrifty body like Jennifer was a prize for anybody to be proud
of, and Sam Petch was a lucky fellow, that he was.

It was plain enough, whatever Jennifer thought--and she kept her
thoughts mostly to herself--that Sam agreed with these older ones. He
could not do enough to show his pride in Jennifer, and but that she
refused all offers of finery, would have made his plain little
sweetheart as gay as Phyllis or Chloe. Never an evening passed but you
met them walking leisurely together, the declared sign of courtship,
which was also known as "keeping company." It was thus distinguished
from marriage, for which the accepted sign was that the wife kept three
yards behind.

But when Sam and Jennifer were married they still went on "keeping
company;" even though his long stride needed three of Jennifer's short
steps, she was never behind, and Sam would have taken steps as short as
hers before she should be. And if it be true that light hearts make easy
travelling, they might well keep together, up hill and down. A glance
was enough to show that things were flourishing with them. Their
cottage stood on the top of the hill, all set about with a garden fair,
and at the side and back of the house grew "stuff" enough to send to
market. Sam had rented a bit of a meadow where a couple of cows gave
Jennifer the chance of showing her skill at clotted cream and butter.
There, too, a troop of fowls had their run, and away in a corner three
pigs added to the importance of Sam and to the cares of Jennifer. She,
thrifty soul, made enough out of her department to pay the rent; up
early, and always at work, her song only ceasing to make way for her
silvery laugh. The older folks repeated their opinion now as a prophecy
fulfilled, and took to themselves as much credit as if the prediction
had been the chief cause of the prosperity.

Before three years had gone Jennifer's department was increased by the
birth of two sturdy little sons. They were both the image of Sam, so the
women declared; but the men saw in each the image of their mother, and
counted it a pity that they were not girls, for the like of Jennifer
they reckoned scarce.



Chapter II


It was an evening toward the end of August, and the harvest was being
gathered in. The fields on every side were dotted with the tented
sheaves piled up as the custom is in the "catching" weather of the West,
one sheaf reversed on the top of the cluster, so as to form a kind of
roof. The long shadows of the shocks fell across the fields in
the evening light. All the country was beautiful with that rich
restfulness which comes in the autumn, as if the earth had finished its
work. The glories of the sunset gave the sky a hundred delicate tints of
gold and purple.

[Illustration]

Here and there the women brought the sheaves, whilst the men piled them
on the wagons. Away over the hill country in the east the great harvest
moon was rising.

Jennifer, busy as ever, had got her two little ones settled for the
night, and now was preparing a dainty supper for Sam's return; the
savoury smell of it filled the place.

[Illustration]

Then it was that, as to Job of old, one came breathless to the house
with sad tidings. Sam had slipped from the stack and fallen on his head.

"Is--he--dead?" gasped Jennifer.

No, he was not dead; but he had not spoken since his fall, and was quite
unconscious. A messenger had been sent for the doctor, and the men were
bringing Sam home, and would be here in a few minutes.

Up the hill came the group with the injured man in their midst, to all
appearance dead. A great hush fell on the village as they passed slowly
on, men in their shirt sleeves just as they had hurried in from the
harvest field. The women and children stood at the doors with faces full
of sympathy.

They bore him in at the little gate and through the garden and up the
stairs, and laid him on the bed.

       *       *       *       *       *

For weeks Sam lay on his bed, whilst day and night Jennifer waited on
him.

The neighbours stopped the doctor to ask about him, and the answer was
ever the same:

"He'll pull through; he'll pull through," and the doctor tightened his
mouth and nodded his head; "but he would have been a dead man long ago
if it had not been for that brave little wife of his."

Fracture of the skull and concussion of the brain, and a host of other
ills, made it a desperate fight with death. But Jennifer fought and
won. Even in his unconsciousness Sam seemed to know the touch of her
hand, and it soothed him; and the tone of her voice, and the moaning
ceased.

But bit by bit their little fortune was swept away. The savings of those
three or four years were quickly spent; the cows had to be sold, and the
meadow given up; the pigs and fowls were parted with.

The garden lay untended. And when, at last, the doctor had done with
Sam, it was only to leave him an imbecile--helpless as a baby, and a
great deal more troublesome--sometimes muttering to himself for hours
together a round of unmeaning words; sometimes just crying all day long,
and then again cross and peevish and perverse as any spoilt child.

The cottage was given up; they could not afford the rent of that.

Another was taken, the cheapest in all the village--one that was too bad
for anybody else.

Half a crown a week and a loaf of bread from the parish was all that
came in to supplement Jennifer's poor earnings of sixpence a day in the
fields.

       *       *       *       *       *

It was some few years after this had happened that I came to know
Jennifer.

There she sat in the little chapel, her round and ruddy face without a
wrinkle in it, all curves and dimples that were the settled homes of
good humour and thankfulness; a face snugly surrounded by a black
bonnet, set off with a clean white cap. Beside her were her two lads,
their faces as clean and shining as plenty of soap and hard scrubbing
could make them. You met her going home from the service, the short,
round figure wrapped in a thick black shawl, trotting along with her
hymn book in one hand and a big umbrella in the other, short and round
like herself. The happy little lads went bounding before her, the three
of them the very picture of gladness.

Yet it was almost wicked of Jennifer to look so comfortable, when all
the parish knew that there was not a poor body for miles around that had
so much trouble. She certainly had no business to be anything but the
most mournful and melancholy soul that ever went grumbling along the
highroad, if you can measure people's happiness by their circumstances.

Follow her as she turns down this narrow lane, skilfully picking her
way in the mud. At the end of the lane is her cottage. One half of it
has fallen, the cob-walls have given way, and the thatch hangs over the
ruins. It was a wonder that what was standing did not follow, for there
were cracks in the walls through which the wind whistled, and there were
broken places in the roof through which the rain dripped.

But within was a greater sorrow than any that you could find outside. As
Jennifer opens the door she hurries across the uneven floor to the rough
settle by the fire. There is her husband--poor Sam!

As now she comes near and lays her hand upon his shoulder, the dull face
is turned toward her with a smile. He tries to say something, but the
mouth only opens without a word, and the tears fill his eyes. Jennifer
bends and kisses him tenderly. "Poor dear," she says, as she gently
strokes the hands that hold her own. "Poor dear, was he wanting us home
again?"

Presently she slips the hand away so skilfully that her husband does not
seem to know it, and takes off her bonnet and shawl.

The lads meanwhile have set the things for the Sunday dinner. It did not
need much setting. On the rickety table was placed a knife--they had but
one. There were three slices of bread, a thick round off the loaf, and
on each slice a bit of cheese; "Double Gloucester" was, I think, the
local name of it. The one big mug was filled from a large earthen
pitcher.

Jennifer herself had set the kettle down by the wood fire, for if she
had a weakness it was her cup of tea. But there was not much promise of
any water boiling in a hurry; the tiny spark was almost lost in the big
fireplace, a hearth opening into the chimney, and so constructed that a
great deal more cold seemed to come down than heat went up.

The little family group stood and bent their heads in devout
thanksgiving to the heavenly Father, and then the hungry lads fell to.
As for Jennifer herself it seemed as if she never got her dinner at all.
All her concern was to try and tempt her husband's appetite with a piece
of bread and butter daintily cut; and there was for him, too, a drop of
milk. Yet even her hypocrisy could not manage to keep up her happy looks
on nothing.

[Illustration]

This was Sunday: a day indeed of rest and gladness. Other days she had
to be up and about early to get the little lads their breakfast; and to
make them ready for school; and to set her husband by the fire. Then she
herself was off with the dawn, and sometimes before, to work all day in
the fields. Her rough dress was stained earth colour from head to foot;
a sack was tied round the skirts which were tucked well up out of the
way. A big sun-bonnet protected her more often from the bleak winds and
bitter rains than from the sun. From dawn till dusk she worked for
sixpence a day; and then came home thanking God right heartily for the
three shillings a week. And on that Jennifer managed to feed and clothe
her household, and to pay the rent and to keep up her good looks.

The fact is, Jennifer was as we have said, a philosopher, and had made a
great discovery. It was certainly worthy to be set alongside of the most
famous inventions; and like many of them it had the one great defect--so
few knew how to use it. Jennifer had little, it is true. She was, so to
speak, but a moulting bird, half starved and shivering in the dreariest
and dullest of cages--that is, if you looked at what _was_. But
Jennifer found another world, in which she had a boundless freedom and
strength, and here she went soaring like an eagle right up into the sun.
It was what _wasn't_ that she made so much of.

You pitied her, and spoke mournfully about her husband, as if he were a
burden and worry. But Jennifer never seemed to hear it, and certainly
could not see it.

"Poor dear," she said, "I can mind the day he asked me to be his wife. I
did jump. And all the maidens in the parish would have liked him. When
they heard about it they all went wondering whatever he could see in a
poor little plain thing like me; but none of them wondered so much as I
did. I never could do enough for him when he was well, and now that I
have got my chance I should be ashamed if I did not make the best of it.
Poor dear, he is as much to me as ever, and more too--husband and child
all in one." And she said it over tenderly to herself, "Poor dear!"

But this was Jennifer's sentiment, and her sentiments were sacred and
kept mostly for home use. It was the philosopher that met you more
commonly. You spoke to her pitifully of her husband's affliction, and
were almost startled at the tone of her cheery voice.

"Yes, 'tis sad. But bless you, think of what _might_ ha' been. If he was
in racks of torments all day long, and me at his side doing nothing else
but poulticing and trying to give him a bit of ease! Or if we was both
like he is--me and he, too, a-setting by the fire and never able to do
anything for each other, whatever should us have done then? Only to
think of it. And there--it might ha' been; of course, it might ha' been.
What a mercy!" And Jennifer lifted up her hands. "What a mercy!"

You complained of the miserable cottage. But Jennifer was ready to point
out its advantages, until the tumble-down place seemed to grow quite
considerate and kindly.

"Well, you see it isn't half so bad as it _might_ be. The cracks don't
let the wind blow in where we do sit to. And the rain don't drip in
where we do sleep to. _That_ would be bad. And it _might_ ha' done; of
course, it _might_ ha' done. What a mercy!" And again Jennifer's hands
were uplifted.

You began to pity her for the children's sake. But a merry laugh cut
that short in a moment.

"Yes, I often think about that," laughed Jennifer, "_there might ha'
been fourteen of them_. And, bless you, whatever should I ha' done if
there had a-been fourteen!" And Jennifer lifted up her hands and laughed
again, and then slapped them down upon her knees. "Fourteen of them!
Why, where should us all have slept to? And think of the eating all
round, and the clothes and all. Fourteen! And it _might_ ha' been. What
a mercy!"

[Illustration]

You talked pathetically about her work in the fields--the dreariness of
it and the weariness, bending with hoe from morning to night; or
kneeling at the weeds till all the limbs ached. But Jennifer was more
than a match for you. "Ah, that's it. That's what I always say. To think
that it should be such hard work and all that, and that I should have
the strength for it. Now, if I was one of them sort that is always
ailin' and failin', instead of being so strong as a horse! And I _might_
ha' been; of course, I _might_ ha' been. What a mercy! Why, there's some
as couldn't walk there and back, for 'tis sometimes three miles there
and three miles back, and there's some as couldn't do it when they got
there, for the weeds be terrible strong sometimes. And there's some as
couldn't bear it, east wind and rain and snow. And I _might_ ha' been
one of them sort. What a mercy!"

This was Jennifer's philosophy.



Chapter III


Now it chanced one day that the little village in which Jennifer lived
was stirred by the ambition of the congregation to build a new chapel.
The old place was not good enough; not even large enough. A great
meeting was held, and the sluggish life of the place was quickened by a
sermon from a stranger in the afternoon, followed by a public tea
meeting. At night stirring speeches were made and various promises
given. The well-to-do and generous layman who acted as the father of a
group of village chapels in the district would give fifty pounds. One of
the farmers would cart the stones. Another would give the lime. Others
made promises that ranged down to a pound. There the line was drawn.
Those who could do less than that did not count.

Jennifer managed to get to the meeting and sat delighted at the promises
of one and another, neither envying any nor even wishing that she could
do some great thing.

"I will do what I can," she said, as she shook hands with the chairman
at the close of the meeting.

"I am sure you will, Jennifer, your heart is good enough for anything,"
said he tenderly, thinking within himself how much the least gift would
cost her.

The next day Jennifer was off to the fields, and as she hoed the lines
of turnips she was talking to her self of the proposed new chapel.

"Silver it must be, I am afraid; but it isn't the colour for Him. I
should like to give the Lord a bit of gold. If it isn't _that_ it must
be the biggest bit of silver there is."

Then Jennifer went on hoeing the weeds to the tune of the hymn that she
hummed to herself:

    "Kings shall fall down before Him,
      And gold and incense bring;
    All nations shall adore Him,
      His praise all people sing."

The tune rang out cheerily on the breeze as she went on, and the words
got deeper down in her soul. For Jennifer boasted that she could sing.
"If I can't do anything else I can sing," she said. There was very often
a hymn on her lips and always one in her heart. She had her philosophy
about singing. "I am not going to be beat by the birds, and we are
nothing but a sort of creeping thing till we can sing. What's the good
of the blue sky above us if we can't fly up into it? And singing is
wings to my thinking."

       *       *       *       *       *

Eight months had gone by, and the time had come for the opening of the
new chapel.

Then it was that Jennifer came cautiously to her friend and asked to
speak to him privately. They went down the road together, and as soon as
they were past the houses of the village she stopped and took carefully
from her pocket a little piece of paper which she put into his hands.

"There," she said, "that is for the new chapel."

He opened it and found a half sovereign. "I am so glad to give a bit of
that colour, sir," and Jennifer's face beamed with joy.

But the good man started, quite frightened. "I cannot take it, Jennifer.
Really I must not. Half a sovereign from you? No, it would not be
right."

Jennifer pushed back his hand as he held it out to her. "Not take it!"
she cried. "But you must take it, sir; 'tis the Lord's."

"But really you cannot afford it. It is very good of you."

"But I _have_ afforded it, you see," she laughed; "and I am going to
afford another before I have done."

He held the coin reluctantly in his hand. "It really hurts me to think
of it; and you so poor as you are."

"Well, I am sorry to hurt anybody. But there's no need to be hurt about
it a bit. I thought when I rang out that half sovereign that it was the
prettiest music I ever heard, or shall hear till I get up among the
angels. And they don't have a chance of anything like that, I expect."
And she laughed again.

"Well, Jennifer, I suppose I must take it," and he opened his collecting
book to enter the subscription with her name, but she checked him
instantly.

"No, sir, no. You must put it in the box. I did not mean to let anybody
know, but I could not tell how to manage it. If I put it in the box my
own self, why some of them might see me, and then I was afraid they
might be after stopping my half a crown a week and my loaf of bread,
thinking that I had come into a fortune all of a sudden." And she
laughed again.

"No, Jennifer; we must have it down among the subscriptions, and it
ought really to head the list. I will call it _Anonymous_, you know."

"Oh, that's much too fine a name for Jennifer Petch. Call it '_Gold and
Incense_.' I _do_ know what that do mean, if anybody else don't," and
Jennifer laughed again.

And so it was entered, and so it was duly announced. Jennifer blushed
and laughed so much when it was read that any suspicious person might
have found out her secret after all. But no one dreamed that this was
Jennifer's assumed name.

It was not long before her good friend met with Jennifer again.

"I can't get over that half-sovereign of yours, Jennifer," he began. "I
am really quite curious to know how you managed it. You will tell me,
won't you?"

"Well, I s'pose I must," said Jennifer shyly; "but I meant to keep it
all to myself, you know. Nobody knows about it but you."

"Well, then, I may know all, mayn't I?"

Little by little it all came out. And this was Jennifer's story:

"Well, it was the day after the meeting that I was singing to myself
the words,--

    "Kings shall fall down before Him,
      And gold and incense bring,"

when it seemed to me like as if I could see them coming like Solomon in
all his glory, and laying down their gifts at His dear feet; but, there,
you will be getting all my secret out of me. It must come, I s'pose.
Well, the tune and the words were sort of ringing in my head when I
turned round out of the wind for to--to---- You mustn't be hard on me.
It was to take a _pinch of snuff_."

"Oh, Jennifer!"

"It was only a penn'orth a week, sir," she pleaded, "And it did seem to
sharpen me up a bit out in the cold. Well, while I was taking it I
laughed to myself. 'That's the nearest to _incense_ that I can think
of,' I said. 'I will give that to the Lord.' And, bless you, sir, would
you believe it? I got to turning round out of the wind to make believe I
had it, and it did every bit so well.

[Illustration]

"The next Saturday, instead of giving the penny to a neighbour to get
the snuff into market, I put the penny into an old broken teapot, and
put it on top of the dresser, and I said, 'There's a nest egg, then.'
Well, I quite longed for the next Saturday to come, and then there was a
penny more. And in three weeks there was a threepenny bit. I did think
that was a prettier colour for the Lord, but, bless you, I liked the
three pennies better.

"That tiny little threepenny bit in that great teapot! I was most ready
to cry for it in there all by its lonely little self. I couldn't help
thinking about it till it came to be almost like when I had to leave the
baby home and couldn't think of anything else, and thought I heard it
a-crying whenever so much as a lamb would bleat or a horniwink go crying
overhead.[A]

[A] A horniwink is in that dialect a green plover or lapwing.

"My heart sort of went out to the poor little threepenny bit. 'You shall
have company, my dear,' I said to myself, 'that you shall, before very
long.'

"That night when I got home I was just going to get my cup o' tea, when
it came to my mind, 'There's company for the poor little thing.' At
first I tried to put away the thought, for I did dearly love my cup o'
tea. Coming home tired and wet and cold, it was wonderful how it used to
cheer and refresh a body. So I tried to think of something else. But the
more I tried the more I couldn't. At last I sat down by the bit of fire
and had it out with myself before I went to bed.

"'You know,' I said to myself, 'a penny a week--what's that? Why, a
whole year will only come to less than a crown piece. Gold and incense
indeed, they are a long way off at that rate.' Then I got down the
broken teapot and looked in. I had to turn it round and round before I
could so much as see it. And when I did I was fair ashamed of myself.
'Poor little thing,' I said, 'and to think that you must wait three
weeks for company! No, you shan't.'

"Well, I put it back again and then screwed up my courage to see what I
could make believe for tea. At last I thought I would toast some
crusties till they were nice and brown. Then I would pour the boiling
water on them. 'The colour will be right enough,' I said, 'but what
about the taste, I wonder? However, taste as they mind to, there's
threepence a week!' So I went to bed, and that night I dreamed that the
broken teapot was so full of sovereigns that I was quite frightened and
woke all of a tremble.

"I dare say it didn't taste exactly right at the first going off. But
very soon I came to like it just as well. And I really do believe,
after all said and done, 'tis more strengthener and more nourishinger
than the tea.

"So the next Saturday, instead of asking a neighbour to bring home an
ounce of tea, I put the threepenny bit in the broken teapot. And there
was fourpence a week. And I changed it into a shilling; and then it grew
into a half-crown; and last of all it came to _half a sovereign_.

"I was glad to have a bit of that colour. It was years since I had so
much as seen one of them. 'Tis the only colour that is good enough for
Him. And I haven't done yet, please God. In eight months' time there
will be another, and that will make a whole sovereign. It isn't like
doing the thing at all to do it by halves. That is what I have set my
heart upon. That will be '_Gold and Incense--One Pound_.'"



Chapter IV


For days after hearing it her good friend could think of nothing but
Jennifer's story. His own gifts to the new chapel and that of the others
seemed poor and little beside her offering--it was the mite which was
more than they all had given. He felt that he could not rest until he
had found for her something better than the ill-paid toil in the fields.
As he rode on his way he chanced to see a notice announcing the sale of
a coppice of some twenty acres, freehold. Here was the opportunity of
serving Jennifer, and at once he made haste to avail himself of it. The
bit of ground was bought, coppice and all. Then he made his way to her
house.

[Illustration]

It was seldom that any one passed her cottage, and when he saw it he was
distressed and ashamed that he had not done anything for her before.

Jennifer had just got home, tired and wet and cold. He came into the
cheerless place and sat down.

"I had no idea that your cottage was in such a wretched state, Jennifer;
I wonder you could live in it," he began.

"Well, 'tis wonderful how comfortable we do get on in it, sir." And
Jennifer spoke as cheerfully as ever. "I s'pose if it was better we
should have to pay more, so we must set one thing against another, you
know."

"Well, I am going to build you another--a new one; I have made up my
mind to that. And look, Jennifer, you shall have it for your own as soon
as I can get it up, and you can pay me for it."

"I daresay, sir," laughed Jennifer, and she wondered that her friend
could seem to joke on such a subject.

"But I mean it," said he, "and, of course, I am going to put you in the
way to do it."

"Thank you, sir," said Jennifer, quite unable to see any meaning in the
promise. "You see, there's the Guardians, what will they say and all if
I do go living in a fine new house?"

"The Guardians! Oh, you must go and tell them that you don't want any
more of their money or their loaf either."

"But, sir," said Jennifer, trying to laugh, yet almost too bewildered to
succeed, "half crowns and loaves of bread won't grow out of a new house
any more than an old one, you know."

"Well, Jennifer, that is what I have come to see you about. Your boys
are growing up quite big lads now. What are you going to do with them?
What are they--twelve or thirteen years old at least?"

"Just about, sir. I have given them so much head learning as I can. I
suppose they must be going out for to do something; but there, 'tis
terrible hard for to think about their going away."

"Oh, but I don't think they need go away, Jennifer. I have come to tell
you that I have bought that piece of coppice over there. Now, what I
have been thinking is this. You and your boys can cut it all down, and
make up the faggots with the underwood, and sell it for what it will
fetch. That shall go toward the new cottage. And when the land is
cleared I will let it to you, and the boys can turn it into potato
ground."

Poor Jennifer sat down without a word. She could not take it all in so
suddenly and it bewildered her. Clinging to the old ways of her life,
and satisfied with the simple round, she shrank from so large a venture,
involving so many changes.

"Well, what do you say?" asked her friend, somewhat disappointed that
she did not see all the advantages which were so plain to him.

"I don't know what to say, sir. 'Tis very kind of you. But----"

"But what, Jennifer?"

"I was going to say, if you don't mind, I should like one day more in
the fields to think it all over. 'Tis a wonderful place for thinking
about anything. And nobody but the heavenly Father to talk to."

"Yes, Jennifer, take a day by all means." And he rose to go. "Only
remember that you will make out of the coppice more in a month than you
can make in the fields in a year; and be your own mistress, too, and
come and go as you like."

"In a month!" she said gravely. "Then I am afraid I should be putting my
heart in the broken teapot, instead of my money."

However, the next day's thought in the fields showed her a hundred
advantages for the boys in the proposal, whatever it might mean for her
husband and herself. And the cottage, too; the very suggestion of a new
one seemed to make the cracks bigger and the leaks worse. Something
would have to be done if she stayed there. So it was settled, yet not
without a sigh. This was to be her farewell of the fields.

The sun was setting as she took up her hoe and turned homeward. At the
gate she stayed a minute or two, as if to say good-bye. To her eyes the
scene was almost sacred. There were the fields with all the young growth
of the early spring, and beyond this was the rough outline of the hedges
where the rabbits played. There were the hills where the brown trees
reached up to the firs, and from beyond which there often came the roar
of the ground swell when the great Atlantic breakers thundered on the
shore. The very birds had been her company and friends, and she loved
them every one--the lark that went soaring upward with an evening hymn;
the thrush and the blackbird that piped from the tree top; the rooks
that went slowly homeward, a very cloud in the sky, all had come as if
to solace and gladden her, and she blessed them all. Her heart went out
in thanks to God, as the memory of a thousand mercies rose within her.
She took the old worn mittens from her rough, red hands with a sigh,
and shut the gate as if she were shutting that chapter of her life.



Chapter V


But Jennifer found that it was more than a new chapter in her life--it
was a new world into which she stepped at once: a world where everything
was so much more than she ever dared to ask or think, that half the time
she was like one in a dream, and shook herself, as she said, to see if
she were really awake. Before she could get to her door, the lads came
rushing out to meet her with the news that a pair of leggings had come
for each of them, and a couple of billhooks; and there in all their
pride they stood, ready to go forth at once and cut down all the forests
of the world, if they had but the chance. And they must needs take their
mother, hungry and tired as she was, away to the edge of the coppice, to
show her the place that was cleared for their new cottage. Poor Jennifer
sighed a prayer that the Lord would keep her humble; worthy of it all
she felt she never could be.

At dawn the next day the boys were up--men in the estimate of
themselves, and more than most men in their eagerness to get at the
work, sweetened as the thought of it was by the fact that every stroke
was to make the coming cottage their own. Breakfast to-day was a duty
somewhat begrudged. They were impatient of its delay. At last they were
off and at it, coat and waistcoat flung aside.

An old labourer had been sent on that first day to direct them in the
work, for there are two ways even of cutting down a coppice--a right and
a wrong--and of tying faggots. But he got there only to find a good
half-day's work had somehow already been got through.

But Jennifer herself never did so little. To her it was all so new and
strange that she could scarcely steady herself to do anything. In place
of the silent fields there came the cheery voices of her lads, and the
hacking of the billhook; then the bending of the tough boughs was new to
her, and the binding of the faggots.

And underneath all was a certain glow of gladness that disturbed her.
She was so near home, and was now her own mistress too, that she could
not resist the temptation of going off to look after her "poor dear," as
she called her husband.

[Illustration]

And instead of hurrying back, she stayed to wrap him up, and then must
needs bring him out along the lane and over the thick bed of dead leaves
and through the rough undergrowth of the coppice to sit on the first
faggot that she had bound. And there she sat beside him, while the sun
peeped in at them between the young leaves; and the bold robin hopped up
to look at them in wonder; and all the birds sang to them, and the sweet
breath of things came with its benediction. Presently, as if ashamed of
herself, she hurried off to join the busy sons. Yet before long there
was Jennifer,--the hardest-working woman in the parish at other
times--creeping slyly over to have a cheery word with her husband, and
trying to amuse him by her skill in this craft, until her happy laughter
rang out upon the silence, and even he tried to join. In a day or two,
however, both mother and sons had got into the mysteries of the art; and
went on steadily clearing the place, amazing themselves and everybody
else at the speed with which the work was done. No hour seemed too early
to begin, and none too late to leave off.

Soon there arrived the man who had bought the wood and faggots, and then
began the further mystery of accounts, each faggot duly entered and
each payment recorded. And Jennifer's pride found a new subject in the
cleverness of her sons, for the minutest matters seemed to require the
two heads to settle it.

But now it was that there came Jennifer's great trouble. Such joy could
not fail to bring with it some bitterness somewhere.

Three pounds an acre was the price to be given for the clearing. And
twenty acres came to nothing less than _sixty pounds_.

To Jennifer, who had not seen a bit of gold for years until she had
given the half sovereign to the new chapel, it was really a terrible
thing to have to do with so much money. The little broken teapot looked
full, and the top of the dresser was no safe place in which to keep such
treasures. She could not sleep at night, but must needs get up and go
fumbling about to feel if it was all right. She dreaded to leave home,
and went back three or four times to see to her husband, she said; but
even he had to wait until she had looked at the teapot. The little that
she spent upon the household was a mere nothing. She feared to carry so
much all at once to her good friend to whom it was to be paid toward
the new cottage. At last the lads were sent off to him with a message
entreating him to come as soon as possible. "I shall go out of my mind
or into the 'sylum," Jennifer declared, and began to wish once more for
the sweet simplicity of the fields and her sixpence a day. However, that
trouble was soon done with, and time, the kindly healer of our griefs,
made even this tolerable.

[Illustration]

The work was by no means done when the coppice was cleared. Roots and
stumps had to be dug up, and the ground to be cleared for planting the
potatoes, and the seed had to be bought; in all of which her good
friend took as much interest as if it was his own, and more. And here
was a new lot of accounts to be duly recorded. Jennifer was glad to
leave all that to her boys, who sat every evening figuring away until
it seemed to her, as she looked over their shoulders, that they did more
business than all the rest of the world put together.

[Illustration]



Chapter VI


It was five or six years afterwards that I saw Jennifer again. At that
time the coppice and cottage were her own freehold. The cottage was
covered with creepers: the little garden was full of fruit trees and
flowers. A row of beehives was ranged across one side of it. At the back
there strutted and clucked a great host of fowls. Farther away a dozen
pigs lay in their sties, and grunted their satisfaction with the best
possible of worlds.

[Illustration]

The potato ground was wonderful; no such potatoes grew anywhere else.
The soil, enriched by the decay of the woods for years, yielded
prolifically, and the first potatoes of the district that came to the
market were Mrs. Petch's, as they called her now. But Mrs. Petch herself
was just the same dear old Jennifer, as simple as of old. Her husband
had passed away; without pain he had sunk to rest. The lads were big,
broad-shouldered fellows who walked beside their little mother with more
pride of her than ever.

At every collection now there is a bit of gold from somebody, and if it
ever has to be announced, it still is read out, "Gold and Incense." But
even gold has lost something of its charm to Jennifer, and on special
occasions she whispers, "No other colour is good enough for Him, except
it is a five-pound note."

But there is one matter in which Jennifer sticks to her opinion and will
yield to nobody.

"You may say what you mind to, after all said and done, crusties is more
nourishinger and strengthener than tea. I've a-tried both, and do know
_that_."


Butler & Tanner, Frome and London.



       *       *       *       *       *



Transcriber's note:

    Every effort has been made to replicate this text as faithfully
    as possible, including non-standard spelling.

    The line
        "Oh, Jennifer"!
    was changed to
        "Oh, Jennifer!"





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