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Title: Memoirs of a Surrey Labourer - A Record of the Last Years of Frederick Bettesworth
Author: George Sturt (AKA George Bourne)
Language: English
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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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MEMOIRS OF A SURREY LABOURER



     MEMOIRS OF A SURREY
     LABOURER

     A RECORD OF THE LAST YEARS OF
     FREDERICK BETTESWORTH

     BY
     GEORGE BOURNE
     AUTHOR OF "THE BETTESWORTH BOOK"


     LONDON: DUCKWORTH & CO.
     HENRIETTA STREET, COVENT GARDEN
     1907



_All rights reserved._



TO MY FRIEND

CHARLES YOUNG



INTRODUCTION


Bettesworth, the old labouring man, who in the decline of his strength
found employment in my garden and entertained me with his talk, never
knew that he had been made the subject of a book. To know it would
have pleased him vastly, and there is something tragical in the
reflection that he had to wear through his last weary months without
the consolation of the little fame he had justly earned; and yet it
would have been a mistake to tell him of it. His up-bringing had not
fitted him for publicity. On the contrary, there was so much danger
that self-consciousness would send him boastfully drinking about the
parish, and make him intolerable to his familiars and useless to any
employer, that, instead of confessing to him what I had done, I took
every precaution to keep him in ignorance of it, and sought by leaving
him in obscurity to preserve him from ruin.

Obscure and unsuspicious he continued his work, and his pleasant
garrulity went on in its accustomed way. Queer anecdotes came from him
as plentifully as ever, and shrewd observations. Now it would be of
his harvesting in Sussex that he told; now, of an adventure with a
troublesome horse, or an experience on the scaffolding of a building;
and again he would gossip of his garden, or of his neighbours, or of
the old village life, or would discuss some scrap of news picked up at
the public-house. And as this went on month after month, although I
had no intention of adding to the first book or writing a second on
the same lines, still it happened frequently that some fragment or
other of Bettesworth's conversation took my fancy and was jotted down
in my note-book. But almost until the end no definite purpose informed
me what to preserve and what to leave. The notes were made, for the
most part, under the influence of whim only.

Towards the end, however, a sort of progression seemed to reveal
itself in these haphazard jottings. His age was telling heavily upon
Bettesworth, and symptoms of the inevitable change appeared to have
been creeping unawares into my careless memoranda of his talk. I do
not know when I first noticed this: it probably dawned upon me very
slowly; but that it did dawn is certain, and in that perception I had
the first crude vision of the present volume. I might not aim to make
another book after the pattern of the first, grouping the materials as
it pleased me for an artistic end; but by reproducing the notes in
their proper order, and leaving them to tell their own tale, it should
be possible to engage as it were the co-operation of Nature herself,
my own part being merely that of a scribe, recording at the dictation
of events the process of Bettesworth's decay.

To this idea, formed a year or so before Bettesworth's death, I have
now tried to give shape. Unfortunately, the scribe's work was not well
done. Things that should have been written down prove to have been
overlooked; and although in the first few chapters I have gone back to
a much earlier period than was originally intended, and have preserved
the chronological order all through, the hoped-for sense of
progression is too often wanting. It existed in my mind, in the
memories which the notes called up for me, rather than in
Bettesworth's recorded conversations. Much explanatory comment,
therefore, which I should have preferred to omit, has been introduced
in order to give continuity to the narrative.

Bettesworth is spoken of throughout the book as an old man; and that
is what he appeared to be. But in fact he was aged more by wear and
tear than by years. When he died, a nephew who arranged the funeral
caused the age of seventy-three to be marked on his coffin, but I
think this was an exaggeration. The nephew's mother assured me at the
time that Bettesworth could have been no more than sixty-six. She was
his sister-in-law, having married his elder brother, and so had some
right to an opinion; and yet probably he was a little older than she
supposed. It is true that sixty-six is also the age one gets for him,
computing it from evidence given in one chapter of this book; but then
there is another chapter which, if it is correct, would make him
sixty-seven. Against these estimates a definite statement is to be
placed. On the second of October, 1901, Bettesworth told me that it
was his birthday, and that he was sixty-four; according to which, at
his death, nearly four years later, he must have been close upon
sixty-eight. And this, I am inclined to think, was his true age; at
any rate I cannot believe that he was younger.

At the same time, it must be allowed that his own evidence was not
quite to be trusted. A man in his position, with the workhouse waiting
for him, will not make the most of his years to an employer, and I
sometimes fancied that Bettesworth wished me to think him younger than
he was. But it is quite possible that he was not himself certain of
his own age. I have it from his sister-in-law that both his parents
died while he was still a child, and that he, with his brothers and
sisters, was taken, destitute, to the workhouse. Thence, I suppose, he
was rescued by that uncle, who kept a travelling van; and the man who
carried the boy to fairs and racecourses, and thrashed him so savagely
that at last he ran away to become Farmer Barnes's plough-boy, was not
a person likely to instruct him very carefully about his age.

The point, however, is of no real importance. A labourer who has at
least the look of being old: thin, grey-eyed, quiet, with bent
shoulders and patient though determined expression of face--such is
the Bettesworth whose last years are recorded in these chapters; and
it does not much matter that we should know exactly how many years it
took to reduce him to this state.



MEMOIRS OF A SURREY LABOURER



I


_December 7, 1892._--The ground in the upper part of the garden being
too hard frozen for Bettesworth to continue this morning the work he
was doing there yesterday, I found him some digging to do in a more
sheltered corner, where the fork would enter the soil. With snow
threatening to come and stop all outdoor work, it was not well that he
should stand idle too soon.

"Oh dear!" he said one day, "we don't want no snow! We had enough o'
that two winters ago. That was a fair scorcher, that was.--There! I
couldn't tell anybody how we _did_ git through. Still, we _got_
through, somehow. But there was some about here as was purty near
starved. That poor woman as died over here t'other day...."

Here he broke off, to tell of a labourer's wife who had died in giving
birth to twins, one of whom was also dead. Including the other twin,
there were seven children living. Bettesworth talked of the husband,
too; but presently working round again to the bad winter of 1889-1890,
he proceeded:

"I _knows_ they" (this woman and her family) "was purty near starvin'.
_I_ give her two or three half-bushels o' taters. I can't bear to see
'em like that, 'specially if there's little childern about. I give
away bushels o' taters that winter, 'cause them as _had_ got any had
got 'em buried away--couldn't git at 'em (in the frozen ground). Mine
was stowed away where I could git 'em."

Accordingly, anticipating hard times, I set Bettesworth to work in the
sheltered spot where digging was still possible, and left him. The day
proved sunny on the whole, with a soft winter sunshine, dimmed now and
then by grey fog close down to the earth, and now and then by large
drifts of foggy cloud passing over from the north. By mid-day the
roads were sticky, where the sunshine had thawed the surface, but in
shady places the ground was still hard. Here and there was ice, and
odd corners remained white with the sprinkling of snow which had
fallen two nights previously.

Towards sunset I went to see what Bettesworth had done. He had done
very little, and, moreover, he had disappeared. The air glowed with
the yellow sunset; the soft dim blue of the upper sky was changing to
hazy grey in the south-east; in the west, veiling the sunset, lay a
bank of clouds, crimson shaded to lilac. I turned to enjoy this as I
climbed the garden to find Bettesworth, where he was busy at his
yesterday's task.

"Well, Bettesworth, how are you getting on?"

"Oh, _cold_, sir."

Overhead, one or two wisps of smoky-looking cloud were floating
southwards. In the sunlight they showed amber against the soft blue,
but from their movement and their indistinct and changing form it was
plain that they belonged to the system of those larger clouds which
had all day been crossing ominously out of the north. I glanced up at
them, and remarked that I feared the snow was not far off now.

Bettesworth straightened up from his work.

"Ah, that's what everybody bin sayin'."

"Well, it looks uncommonly like coming."

"Ah, it do. Didn't it look black there, along about nine or ten
o'clock this mornin'? I thought then we was goin' to have some snow,
an' no mistake." He chuckled grimly and continued, "I dunno how we
shall git on if it comes to that. But there, we've had it before an'
got through somehow, and I dessay we shall git through again."

"It's to be hoped so. Anyhow, there seems to be no way of altering
it."

"No, sir; there don't. I 'xpect we shall have to put up with it. Bear
it an' grumble--that's what we shall have to do. We've had to do that
before now."

It was a blessing, I laughed, that we had the right to grumble; but we
hardly learnt to like the winter the better for being used to it.

"No; that don't make it none the sweeter, do it? Still, we can't help
that. As my old neighbour, Jack Tower, used to say, 'Puverty en't no
_crime_, but 'tis a great ill-convenience.'" The touch of epigram in
Tower's saying seemed to please Bettesworth, and his speech flowed out
with a smooth undulating balance as he repeated slowly, tasting the
syllables: "No, cert'nly, puverty en't no crime; but it is a very
ill-convenient thing, an' no mistake."


To the same period as the foregoing piece belongs an undated fragment,
which tells how news came to Bettesworth of a certain boy's being
bitten by a dog. "Have he bit'n _much_?" was the first eager
exclamation, followed by, "These here messin' dawgs! There's too many
of 'em, snappin' and yappin' about. I don't _like_ 'em!"

Then he went on, "I don't see what anybody wants to keep dogs for,
interferin' with anybody. Why, there's Kesty's dog up there--look at
that dog of he's! Why, that dog of he's, he've bit three or four of
'em. He bit the postman two or three times, till they sent to 'n from
the Post Office to tell 'n 'less he mind to keep his dog tied up he'd
have to send an' fetch his letters hisself.... Nasty sly sort o' dog
he is, no mistake. He goes slinkin' an' prowlin' about up there; he's
never tied up. And he don't make no sound, ye know. No, you'll never
hear 'n make no noise; but he'll have ye. And he en't partic'lar,
neither, about lettin' of ye go by, even if it's on the highroad,
onless he've a mind to. He'll come slinkin' round, an goo for ye, 's
likely as not."

"Odd," I suggested, "that a man should care to keep a dog like that."

Bettesworth shook his head.

"There's too _many_ of 'em about, by half. And I en't partic'lar fond
o' dogs, nowhen." He looked up, and a knowing look came into his grey
eyes as he continued, "I was workin' one time for Malcolms up here,
and they had a dog, and one day he stole a shoulder o' mutton,
indoors. Sort of collie, _he_ was. And he took this 'ere shoulder o'
mutton and run upstairs into one o' the rooms, and he wouldn't come
out for nobody. I was at work out in the garden, and the servant she
come runnin' out to me, to ast me if I'd come an' get 'n out. 'I dunno
s'much about that,' I says; ''ten't a job as I cares about.' I can
tell ye, I wa'n't partic'lar about _doin'_ of it. 'Oh,' she says, 'do
come an' get 'n out. We be all afraid. And you can have a stick,' she
says. 'No,' I says, 'I won't have no stick'--'cause, what good's a
stick, ye know? He'd ha' come for me all the one for that. So I
_catches_ up a 'and-saw...."

"A _hand-saw_?"

"I did. I took this 'ere 'and-saw, and I went upstairs to 'n, and he
come for me sure enough. But I give 'n two or three 'cross the nose
with this saw, and he didn't like that. He went off downstairs quick
sticks."

"H'm! I shouldn't have relished the job."

"No, sir; I didn't _like_ it. I was afraid of 'n. I drove 'n out, but
I was afraid of 'n all the one for that."


_January 7, 1896._--A task reserved for this winter's leisure was the
making of an arched way of larch-poles and wire to cover a short
flight of steps in the garden. Two briars at the top of the steps, one
on each side, had overgrown them, and these were now to be trained to
the new framework, which was to slant down at the same slope as the
steps.

Until we began the work, it seemed simple enough; but almost
immediately we plunged into bewilderment, owing to the various slopes
and slants to be considered. The steps go askew between two parts of a
zigzag path, and our archway, therefore, needed to be several feet
longer on one side than on the other. The consequence was that the
horizontal ties at the top not only clashed with all the gradients of
the garden, but converged towards one another, so that, seen from
above, they were horrid to behold. And then the slanting side-rails!
They agreed with nothing else in all the landscape save the steps
below them. Of course, when the briars covered these discrepancies,
all would be well; but just while Bettesworth and myself were at work
upon this thing, the farther we progressed with it the more distracted
it looked, as though we had gathered into one spot all the conflicting
angles of this most uneven of gardens, and were tying them up into one
hideous knot. The work became a nightmare, and for an hour or two we
lost our good spirits, and found it all we could do to keep our
temper.

However, we got the framework together somehow, after which the
straining of wires over it, being, as we fondly imagined, an easier
task, released our thoughts a little. Bettesworth paid out and held
the wire while I fastened it.

"Is that tight enough?" said he.

"That'll do," said I.

"Because," said he, "I can easy tighten it more yet."

"No," said I, "that'll do."

"Well, of course, if that'll _do_," he conceded; and then, not
finishing his sentence, he chattered on. "Only, I don't want to be
like ol' Sam Cook. He was 'long o' we chaps at work for Putticks when
they was a-buildin' Coswell Church. I was there scaffoldin', an' this
here Cook was s'posed to be helpin' of us. But we see as he never
pulled, an' so one day we got two ropes and fastened the ends of 'em
with jest black cotton. We made it look all like a knot, and he never
see what we was up to. An' when it come to pullin', there was he
makin' out to be pullin', leanin' back with his arms stretched out
a-gruntin' 'Ugh!... Ugh!' and all the time never pullin' a pound. Why,
if he'd on'y pulled half a dozen pounds, he'd ha' broke that cotton;
but it never broke. Mr. John Puttick hisself was there, and he says,
'Well, I never see the like o' that in all my time! Why,' he says,
'you wouldn't pull enough to pull a sausage asunder,' he says. Ye
see, he (Cook) always went by the name o' _Sausage_, 'cause his wife
used to make sausages, so Mr. Puttick says to 'n, 'Why, you wouldn't
pull a sausage asunder!' he says."

Too soon, unlooked-for difficulties presented themselves in our
wire-straining. We began to agree that we hardly felt as if we had
been apprenticed to the work, and Bettesworth muttered,

"I dunno as I should care much about goin' out to take a job puttin'
up wire."

To get the first wire tightly fixed between two posts was easy enough,
but, to our dismay, the tightening of a second wire invariably
slackened the first. Bettesworth was jubilating over his second wire.

"There, he's tight, an' _no_ mistake!"

"Ah, but look at the first one!"

"What! He _en't_ got loose, is he, sir? Oh dear, oh dear! That _do_
look bad! Never can let 'n go like that, can us, sir?" Gradually his
memory began harking back to earlier instances of our difficulty.
"'Tis like when I helped Mr. Franks puttin' wires up for he's
ras'berries. We had just such a bother as this. Fast 's we got one
tight we loosened another. We did git in a pucker over 'm, an' no
mistake. I remember I told Bill Harris down 'ere what a bother we'd
bin 'avin', and he says, 'Ah, I knows you must 've had a job.' He'd
had just such a bother hisself, on'y he had all the proper tools an'
everything. He borried Mr. Mills's wire-strainers, and when he got the
fust wire up--oh, he thought he was gettin' on capital. He seemed like
makin' a reg'lar good job of it. But when he come to put up t'other
wire--oh dear, oh dear!--he got in such a hobble. 'There,' he says, 'I
was ashamed for anybody to see it, and I come away an' left it.'"

I was in the humour to be glad of other people's perplexities, and I
laughed.

"Oh, he came away and left it, did he?"

"Yes. Don't ye see, 'twas a reg'lar fence, 'tween his garden an' the
next. An' he thought for to have it all jest right an' proper. But
everybody as come by could see, and he was that put out about it that
he come away an' left it."

"Bother the stuff! I hope we shan't have to go and leave this."

"I dunno how we be to do it. There, _'tis_ to be done, we knows that,
'cause I've seen it.... No, I en't never see 'em a puttin' of it up;
but I've seen the fences after it bin put up, an' very nice they looks
wi' the wire all as straight.... But how they doos it, I'm sure I
don't know."

We finished at last, after a fashion, and Bettesworth went on to train
and tie the briars. If work had not been scarce, it would have been
cruel to let him undertake such a job. To make up for his defective
sight, it was his way to grope out blindly for a thing just before
him, and find it by touch; and in dealing so with this briar, with
its terrible thorns, his hands got into a pitiable state. He showed me
them on resuming his work the next morning, saying,

"I shan't be sorry when I done wi' this customer. His nails is too
sharp for my likin'. When I went 'ome yesterday and washed my hands,
goo! didn't they smart wherever the cold water touched one o' they
scratches! My ol' gal says to me, 'What be ye hushin' about?' 'So 'd
you _hush_,' I says, 'if you'd bin handlin' they roses all the
aft'noon, same as me.' I tried with gloves, but they wa'n't no good.
You can't git to tie, with gloves on."


_March 26, 1896, 10.30 a.m._--There are deep cloud-shadows, and rapid
sun-glints lighting up the shadows like daffodils shining against
grass. And there is the roar of a big wind in the air, and majestic
clouds are sailing across, and beyond these the sky is a dazzling
blue.

All growing things seem busy. Everywhere on the land men are at work;
the swift sunshine glistens on the white of their shirts, and shows
them up against the darkness of the new plough-furrows or the freshly
dug garden-ground.

Bettesworth was sowing peas. Blustered by the wind, I went to him and
complained of the coldness of it. "A good touch of north in it," was a
phrase I used.

"Yes, sir; she (the wind) have shifted there since the mornin'. She
was due west when I got up--when that little rain come. She've gone
round since then, but she'll git back again to the south, you'll see.
I've noticed it many's a time. Right south she was at twelve o'clock
when the sun crossed the line o' Saturday (March 21), and that's where
she'll keep tackin' back to all through the quarter--till midsummer,
that is."

"Well, I don't know that she could do much better."

"No, sir. Strikes me we be goin' to have a very nice, kind spring. I
don't say she'll bide there all the time; but if she gits away, that's
where she'll come back to."

Again I expressed my dislike of this strong north wind. It would soon
make me sleepy, I said.

"_Would_ it, sir? Oh, I do like to hear the wind! To lay and listen to
it when I be in bed--it makes me feel so comfortable. No matter what
'tis like outside, I feels that _I_ be in the warm aw-right."


_March 31, 1897._--At six minutes to five this morning Bettesworth was
lacing up his boots. The day is the last of March, which, for
gardeners in this village, is the middle of the busiest time of the
year. The early seeds have been in the ground long ago; the beans are
up two inches; the first sowing of peas shows well in the rows; others
were put in last week. Shallots are sending up their green spikes;
there are a few potatoes already planted; and now every effort must be
made, and advantage be taken of every opportunity, to get the
remainder of the ground ready and the main crops planted at the
earliest possible time; for in this soil, as Bettesworth says, "you
can't be much too for'ard."

Late last night he and his old wife planted their potatoes in a few
rods of ground he has at the end of my garden. It was seven o'clock,
and dark, by the time they had finished; then they went home and had
supper--or, at least, the wife had, whose work had not been arduous
until the evening. She scolded her husband.

"There you goes slavin' about, and gets so tired you can't eat."

"It's true," Bettesworth confesses. "The more I works the less I
eats.... No, nor I don't sleep, neither. If I got anythink on my mind,
I can't sleep. I seems to want to be up and at it."

Supper over, he lit his pipe, had one smoke, then kicked off his boots
and said,

"Well, I be off to bed. 'Ten't no good settin' here, lookin' at the
fireplace."

The wife grumbled again in the morning, urging him to rest.

"But what's the use?" he said. "It got to be done, and I can't rest
ontil _'tis_ done."

So he got up at the time already mentioned, and came to rake over the
potato-ground.

It slopes down to the lane, this ground. Presently the man from the
cottage just across the lane came out for his day's work.

"Why, you be for'arder than ever this year, ben't ye, Fred?"

"No, I dunno as I be. I wants to git it done, though, anyhow."

Then the Vicar's gardener passed. He laughed. "Be you determined on
gettin' all your ground planted in March, then, Fred?"

Bettesworth laughed back. "I don't care whether 'tis March or April.
When I be ready it got to go in."

Others, going by, chaffed him. "You bin there all night, then?"

About a quarter past six he went back home, and met his neighbour
Noah.

"Hullo!" says Noah. "What? You bin at work?"

"Ah, and so you ought to ha' bin."

But Noah, who has lived in London, "sits up till eleven or twelve at
night readin' the paper. He can't git into the habit of gettin' up
early."

Gardening talk is now the staple conversation in the village, and the
public-house is the club-room where the discussions take place, the
times being Saturday night and Sunday.

"You don't find many there any other time," says Bettesworth.
"Cert'nly, after a man bin to work all day, when he gits home he's
tired, and wants to go to bed. But Saturday night and Sunday--well,
you can't bide indoors solitary, lookin' at the fire. If you do, you
never learns nothin'. But to go and have a glass and a pipe where
there's others--that sims to enlighten your mind."

The men compare notes, and give and take sage advice. "Where I had
that crop o' dwarf peas last year I be goin' to have carrots this,"
says one. Another answers, "Well, then, if I was you, I should dig
that ground up now--rake off the stones" (carrots being "a very tender
herbage"). "Then, if it comes rain, that'll settle it a bit. After
that, let it bide an' settle for about another fortnight, and then as
soon as you gets a shower shove 'em in as fast as you mind."

"Or else," Bettesworth explains in telling me this, "if you don't let
it settle the drill sows 'em too deep; it sinks in. Carrots is a thing
you wants to sow as shallow as ever you can."

Somebody informs the company that he had "quarter of a acre o' carrots
last year, and he made five pound of 'em." Or was it that he had five
tons, and sold them for thirty shillings a ton? This was it, as
Bettesworth at last remembers.

"I 'spose you'll soon be puttin' in some taters, Fred?"

"I got most o' mine in a'ready."

"_Have_ ye? I en't sowed none yet, but...."

So says Tom Durrant, the landlord.

"But cert'nly," as Bettesworth observes, "down there where he is it do
take the frost so--right over there in Moorway's Bottom. Up here,
though, we no call to wait. I likes to git taters in. You see, where
they lays about they spears so, and then the spears gits knocked
off--you _can't_ help it; or, if not, still, where you sees a tater
speared so, that must weaken that tater? About two foot two one way
and fifteen inches t'other--that's the distance I gen'ly plants
taters. Ten't no good leavin' 'em wider 'tween the rows. But old Steve
Blackman, up there by the Forest, I knowed he once plant some three
foot both ways. And law, what a crop he did git! 'Twas a piece o'
ground his landlord let 'n have for the breakin' of it up. And he
trenched in a lot o' fuzz--old fuzz-bushes as high as you be--and so
on. Everything went in. And such a crop o' taters as he had--no, no
dressin'. Only this old fuzz-stuff. _Regents_, they was. Oh, that was
a splendid tater, too! But you never hears of 'em now. They sims to be
reg'lar gone out. I got some o' these here _Dunbars_, down here. I
should like to see half a bushel o' they in this bit o' ground o'
yourn. Splendid croppin' tater they be. I ast Tom Durrant if he could
spare you half a bushel. He said he didn't hardly know. There's so
many bin after 'em--purty near half the parish. They be a splendid
croppin' tater, no mistake. He got 'em of some gentleman's gardener to
begin with, I reckon. Reg'lar one he is, you know, for gettin' taters
an' things, and markin' 'em and keepin' the sorts separate. He had
four to start with, an' they produced a peck. Then he got three bushel
out o' that peck. And last year he sowed 'em again--three bushel--and
he got thirty-nine bushel."



II


_May 13, 1896._--The Tom Durrant just mentioned was frequently spoken
of by Bettesworth, and always in a tone of warm approval. "A wonderful
quiet sort o' man," steadily "putting together the pieces," but not
assuming any airs, he managed his public-house well, and with especial
attention to the comfort of his older neighbours. "If any of the young
uns come in hollerin' about, 'twas very soon 'Outside!' with Tom.
'There is the door!' he'd say. 'I don't keep my 'ouse open for such as
you.'"

So Bettesworth has told me, more than once--perhaps not exactly in
those words.

But sometimes Bettesworth's talk was too thick with detail to be
remembered and written down as he said it in the time at my disposal;
whence it happens that I am able only to summarize an anecdote about
Durrant, which Bettesworth told with considerable relish. The publican
was the owner of two cottages which were supplied with water from a
good well--a precious thing in this village. These cottages had lately
been overhauled and enlarged--Bettesworth detailed to me all the
improvements, praising the new sculleries and sheds that had been
added--and then the tenants, as if stricken with madness, found fault
with the water-supply, and lodged a complaint with the sanitary
inspector. The inspector insisted that the well should be cleaned out.
Durrant thereupon examined the water, found it "clear as crystal,"
cleaned out the well as he was ordered to do, and--gave the tenants
notice to pay sixpence a week more for their cottages, or to quit. "So
they didn't get much by _that_," said Bettesworth approvingly.

After all, this was but a kind of parenthesis in a talk which, not
hurried, but quietly oozing out as we worked side by side in the
garden, fairly overwhelmed my memory with variety of subject and
vividness of expression. At one time it dealt with a certain road
which was to be widened--"all they beautiful trees to be cut down,
right from so-and-so to so-and-so"; at another, it discussed three
parcels of building land for sale in the vicinity, estimated their
acreage, and related the offers which had been already made for them.
From that, working all the while, Bettesworth would wander off to the
drought, and I would hear how long this or that neighbour had been
without water; how a third (whose new horse, by the way, "was turnin'
out well--but there, so do all they that comes from" a certain source,
where, however, "they works 'em too hard")--how a third neighbour was
obliged to keep his old horse almost constantly at work fetching
water, since he had twenty-two little pigs, besides other live
animals whose numbers goodness knows, and so did Bettesworth. At the
new schools, again, the water was failing; and how, and why, and what
the caretaker thought, and all about it, Bettesworth was able to
explain.

The receptivity of the man's brain was what struck me. One pictured it
pinked and patterned over with thousands of unsorted facts--legions of
them jostling one another without apparent arrangement. Yet all were
available to him; at will he could summon any one of them into his
consciousness. A modern man would have had to stop and sift and
compare them, and build theories and systems out of all that wealth of
material. Not being modern, Bettesworth did not theorize; his thoughts
were like the dust-atoms seen in a sunbeam. But though he did not
"think," still a vast common-sense somehow or other flourished in him,
and these manifold facts were its food.


_September 26, 1896._--Nor was it only of current topics that he could
talk with such fullness of detail. Getting shortly afterwards into the
reminiscent vein, he succeeded in paralyzing my memory with the tale
of things he had observed many years before in just the same
unsystematic yet thorough fashion. My hasty jottings, made afterwards,
preserve only a few points, and do not tell how any of them were
suggested. The talk was at one time of Basingstoke Fair, "where they
goes to hire theirselves for the year." Of "shepherds with a bit o'
wool in their hats, carters with a bit o' whipcord, and servant gals,"
and so on. "I went once," said Bettesworth, "when I was a nipper--went
away from Penstead; but I never got hired.... There's the place for
games, though! They carters, when they've jest took their year's
money, and be changin' 'racks,' as they calls it. 'You bin an' changed
your rack, Bill?' 'What rack be you got on to?' 'You got on for old
Farmer So-and-so?'... There they be, hollerin' about. And then they
all got their shillin', what bin hired...."

I did not stop then to consider whether this hiring shilling, and the
token in the hat, might have any relationship, in the world of old
customs, to the "King's shilling" and the bunch of ribbons of the
recruit for the army. Bettesworth was talking; and presently it was
about a certain Jack Worthington, of a neighbouring village, who was
known as "Cunnin' Jack," and played the concertina at fairs, clubs,
and so on: "Newbury Fair, Reading Fair, Basingstoke Fair"--Bettesworth
essayed to catalogue them. Cunnin' Jack "learnt it all by hisself, but
I've heared a good many--travellin' folk and the like--say as they
never heared anybody play the concertina like him. He's the on'y one
's ever I heared play the church bells--chimes, an' fire 'em, and
all--wonderful! _Blue Bells of Scotland_, too--to hear him play that,
an' the chimes, jest exact! No trouble to make out what 'tis. Oh, he's
a reg'lar musician! He've trained all his sons to same thing. One of
'em plays the fiddle; another of 'em got a thing what he scratches
along wi' wires, sounds purty near like a fiddle.... 'Ten't no good
for 'n in a town, 'less 'tis a fair or summat o' that; but in any
out-o'-the-way place. 'Relse, if he gets to a fair, there'll be three
or four landlords about tryin' to get hold of 'n; and they'll give 'n
five shillin's and supper, and his drink an' a bed, an' what he can
pick up besides. Very often he'll make as much as five-an'-twenty
shillin's in a night(?). And when he comes 'ome, he bring p'r'aps a
gallon o' ha'pence along with 'n. Never no silver, o' course. Often,
when his wife thought he hadn't got nothing but a pound or so, he'd
chuck her five or six pound. Then in the winter he'd go
gravel-diggin', onless there come a fair, or anything o' the likes o'
that. At these pubs where they dances, too, he'd put round the hat
after every dance, an' if there was a good many stood up, p'r'aps he'd
pull in half-a-crown or so."

Cunnin' Jack had a contrivance of musical dancing-dolls, about which I
did not clearly understand. And I have quite forgotten how Bettesworth
spoke of the man's brother, a deaf-mute, who refused to work, and
"lived about at Aldershot, along o' the soldiers."

Afterwards another "dummy" was mentioned: "terrible big strong
feller.... Spiteful.... Goes gravel-cartin' with his father." At a
difficult place in the gravel-pit the father reached out and struck
his son's horse. The "dummy" springs on him, throws him on his back,
making a noise "'bu-bu,' like a calf.... Sure way to upset 'n--if you
was in the gravel pit, touch his hoss...."

Bettesworth had once seen "a dummy, talkin' with a friend of his," in
the finger alphabet. "Can't you understand it?" said the friend to
Bettesworth. "'No,' I says; 'how should I?' But, law! to see him! And
then write, too! Purty near as fast as you can talk. And all the time
his eye 'd be on ye, watchin' ye. But to see him write on his
slate--wonderful fast! and then" (here Bettesworth breaks into
dramatic action, licking his hand and smudging out slate-writing)--"and
then, when he'd rubbed it out, to see him write _again_! Spiteful,
though, _he_ was. So they all be, I s'pose." There was another dumb
man, for instance, who had been apprenticed to a shoemaker....

Unfortunately, I cannot reconstruct this instance. I only remember
that the man had become "a wonderful good shoemaker, but didn't sim to
care about follerin' it," and had "took to gardenin' now," instead.


_May 5, 1898._--On a morning early in May it was raining, quietly,
luxuriously, with a continuous soothing shattering-down of warm drops.
In the doorway of the little tool-shed I stood listening--listening to
the gentle murmur on the roof, on the long fresh grass of a small
orchard plot, and on the young leaves of the plum and the blossoming
apple which made the daylight greener by half veiling the sky.

Beside and beyond these trees were lilacs, purpling for bloom, small
hazels, young elms in a hedgerow--all fair with new greenness; and
farther on, glimpses of cottage roof against the newly dug
garden-ground of the steep hillside. Above the half-diaphanous green
tracery of the trees, cool delicious cloud, "dropping fatness,"
darkened where it sagged nearer to the earth. The light was nowhere
strong, but all tempered moistly, tenderly, to the tenderness of the
young greenery.

I ought to have been busy, yet I stood and listened; for the earth
seemed busy too, but in a softened way, managing its many businesses
beautifully. The air seemed melting into numberless liquid sounds.
Quite near--not three trees off--there was a nightingale nonchalantly
babbling; from the neighbourhood of the cottage came, penetrating, the
bleating of a newly-born goat; while in the orchard just before me
Bettesworth stooped over a zinc pail, which, as he scrubbed it, gave
out a low metallic note. Then there were three undertones or
backgrounds of sound, that of the soft-falling rain being one of them.
Another, which diapered the rain-noise just as the young leaves showed
their diaper-work against the clouds, was the all but unnoticed
singing of larks, high up in the wet. Lastly, to give the final note
of mellowness, of flavoured richness to the morning, I could hear
through the distance which globed and softened it a frequent "Cuckoo,
cuckoo." The sound came and died away, as if the rain had dissolved
it, and came again, and again was lost.

Framed by all this, Bettesworth stooped over his pail, careless of
getting wet. His old earth-brown clothes seemed to belong to the
moistened nook of orchard where he was working; so, too, did his
occasional quiet chatter harmonize well with the pattering of the warm
rain. And for a time the drift of what he said was so much a part of
our quiet country life that I took it as a matter of course, and let
it pass by unnoticed.

But presently he raised his head.

"Have ye heared 'bout young Crosby over here? He's gone clean off his
head. They took 'n off to the asylum at Brookwood this mornin'. Got
this 'ere religion. I s'pose by all accounts he went right into 't;
and that's what 've come of it."

I suggested that religious mania was often curable.

"Yes. I've knowed a many have it; and then they gets over it after a
time. Get 'em away--that's what it wants. If they can get 'em where
they can dummer somethin' else into 'em, then they be all right. Wants
to give 'em a change, so 's to get a little more enlightenment into
their minds."

He came to join me in the shed doorway, for shelter from a temporary
thickening of the rain, and standing there he continued,

"I was up to my sister's at Middlesham o' Sunday. She'd bin to
Brookwood to see her sister-in-law. If they hadn't let her" (the
sister-in-law) "'ome too soon that first time, she'd ha' bin all
right. Wherefore now she's there again, and jest like a post. If they
puts her anywhere, there she bides, and don't try for to do nothing.
'Relse, when she was there afore, they told my sister she'd work as
well as e'er a woman in the place. She see several there what she
knowed. Fred Baker's wife, what used to be signalman, for one. But
what most amused her was a old woman, when they was goin' out two by
two for their walk in the grounds, flingin' her arms about and liftin'
up her skirts an' dancin'.... She was havin' her reels and her capers
in highly deglee." The old man pondered a few moments, then concluded
pensively, as he stepped out to his work again, "What a shockin'
thing, this mind!" His accent on the last word sounded almost
resentful.


_May 6, 1898._--The next day he reported that the man Crosby was said
to have got "religious ammonium, is it? Some such name as that."

The talk of religion reminded him of a former employer, of the Baptist
persuasion, who, when annoyed with him, was wont to say impatiently,
"Bother your picture!" So, of a dead pigeon, from whose crop
seventy-two peas were taken, "Bother he's picture!" said the Baptist.
Another imprecation of this man's was, "Drabbit it!" at which,
however, Bettesworth used to expostulate, telling his master, "Look
'ere, you Baptists may lie, but you mawn't swear! And so he could lie,
too," he added--"no mistake. And once he said anything, he'd stick to
it."

A month or more passed, and I forgot all about poor Crosby, until one
delicious morning, when Bettesworth thought fit to tell me that he was
no better. A neighbour had cycled to Brookwood on Sunday to see him
and report about his family, Crosby's wife being in child-bed. But the
information quickened no interest.

"All he kep' on about was the devil. The devil kep' comin' and
botherin' of 'n. 'Tis a bad job. I s'pose he went right into
it--studyin' about these here places nobody ever bin to an' come back
again to tell we. Nobody don't know nothin' about it. 'Ten't as if
they come back to tell ye. There's my father, what bin dead this forty
year. What a crool man he must be not to 've come back in all that
time, if he was able, an' tell me about it. That's what I said to
Colonel Sadler. 'Oh,' he says, 'you better talk to the Vicar.'
'Vicar?' I says. 'He won't talk to me.' Besides, what do he know about
it more 'n anybody else?"


Early in the summer of 1896 Bettesworth had been immensely proud of
his peas, which were ready for picking quite a week before other
people had any. The fame of these peas had got abroad in the parish;
it had reached a youth--a new curate fresh from a theological
college--and had appealed to his fancy so strongly that he sent a
servant to buy threepennyworth of the precious crop. And Bettesworth
had chuckled.

"I bin a-laughin' to myself all the mornin'.... _Three penn-'oth o'
peas!_ I never heared talk o' such a thing! I told the gal to go back
and tell 'n to save his money till they was cheaper."


_June 13, 1899._--But three years later Bettesworth seems to have
changed his policy. On June 13 once more he had peas to boast of, and
already for some days his wife was itching to be at them.

"Look, there's a nice pea, and there," she would say, handling the
dangling pods.

But Bettesworth would answer, "Yes, they be; and you let 'em bide."

"For the sake of a shillin' now," he explained to me, "I en't a-goin'
to have that haulm spoilt, and lose two or three shillin's later on."

His brother-in-law agreed that he was right. It was all reported to me
in Bettesworth's own words.

"'I thinks you be right, Fred,' he says. 'You better get along without
that shillin' now, and have two or three later on.'"

Old Mrs. Skinner, too, commended him. She told of a neighbour who had
picked a few peas very early, and ruined his crop; for in the hot
weather the juicy haulm was sure to wither soon if bruised by
handling.

The weather was glorious just then, yet ill for our sandy gardens.

"As blue as a whetstone," said Bettesworth, in forecast of what the
cabbage crop would be, should rain not soon come. "And en't the grass
slippery and dry! _'Twas_ a hot day yest'day, no mistake! I was up in
my garden when Mrs. Skinner come up lookin' at my peas. She reg'lar
laughed at me. 'Well, Fred, you _be_ a purty picture!' There was the
sweat all trinklin' down my arms, an' the dust caked on.... But she
did admire they peas. Still, she reckoned I was right leavin' 'em. So
I says to my old gal, 'You let 'em bide.' So she'll have to, too. 'Tis
for me to give the word."



III


_October 7, 1899._--I have mentioned Bettesworth's neighbour Noah, the
young man who used to sit up too late at night reading the paper.
Notwithstanding this bad habit, he and Bettesworth had been on
excellent terms of friendship. It was to Noah that Bettesworth had
turned, for example, when I lent him those copies of the _Daily
Chronicle_ in which the first particulars of Nansen's voyage in the
_Fram_ were published. Unable to read himself ("I can't see well
enough," he said, "or else I be scholard enough"), he invited Noah and
Noah's wife to come on the Sunday and read to him the explorer's
narrative.

"We started," said he, "about two o'clock, and there they was, turn
and turn about, as hard as ever they could read up to half-past five."
The evening was spent in raising the envy of other neighbours. "They
wanted to borry the papers, but I says, 'No, they ben't mine to
lend.'"

The readers themselves seem to have conceived an intense admiration
for Nansen, whose bed of stones especially excited Bettesworth's
imagination.

"_I_'ve had some hard lay-downs in my time," he exclaimed, "but
_that!_ Gawd! what they poor fellers must ha' suffered!"

Not long afterwards, Noah was called in again to help enjoy a
seedsman's catalogue. It was read through from cover to cover.

Yet Noah proved to be a treacherous friend, after all. I have no
record of the occurrence, but I think it must have been in the summer
of 1897 that he began to covet Bettesworth's pleasant cottage, and by
offering the owner a higher rent succeeded in getting possession of
it. Bettesworth was obliged to quit. He took a cottage in a little row
at three-and-sixpence a week, where he was comfortable enough for
about a couple of years. At the end of that period, however, certain
difficulties over the water-supply became acute--a laundress next door
was pumping the well dry--and other discomforts arising, he began in
the autumn of 1899 to look out for another home.

It is a singular place, this parish. The narrow valley it occupies is
that of a small water-course commonly known as "The Lake," which in
summer is a dry bed of sand, but in winter becomes a respectable brook
of yellow waters which grow quite turbulent at times of flood. In
their turbulence through long ages they have cut deep into the
northern side of the valley, and now for some two miles that northern
side, all warm and sunny, slopes down towards the stream, and there
breaks off in precipitous sand-banks which in most places overhang
the stream and make it inaccessible. But not in all places. There are
various gaps in the sand-banks, where the rains and storms of
centuries have scooped out the upper slope into tiny gorges and warm
secluded hollows, down which footpaths wind steeply, or narrow bumpy
lanes, to some plank bridge or other thrown across the stream. In
these hollows the cottages cluster thickest; there they form little
hamlets whose inhabitants sometimes hardly know the other villagers.
Such, indeed, is my own case: hundreds of my fellow-parishioners half
a mile away are practically strangers to me. Hundreds, for it is a
large parish. The bluffs which separate the hollows are not unpeopled;
they have their cottages and gardens dotted over them without order at
the caprice of former peasant owners. All sorts of footpaths and
tracks connect these habitations, but there are few roads, and those
are deep in sand. For the labouring people do not interchange visits
and pay calls; they just go to work and come home again, each to his
own place. At home, they look out upon their own particular hollow,
and upon little besides; or, living high up on a bluff, they get
outlook upon the other side of the main valley, which is lower, tamer,
smoother than this. It begins--that other side--in narrow meadow or
plough land at the bottom, and so rises gently to a ridge fringed with
cottages. In addition to these dwellings, there are a few hovels down
by the stream itself, with their backs stuck into the sand-cliffs,
and with gardens between cliff and stream so narrow that a man might
almost jump across them. A second jump would take him over the stream
into the meadow-land just mentioned.

With a rapidly increasing population empty cottages are scarce, as
Bettesworth now found. Moreover, his choice was restricted. There were
reasons against his going to the upper end of the valley. It was more
newly peopled by labourers from the town, who had never known, or else
had lost, the older peasant traditions which Bettesworth could still
cherish--in memory, at least--here in the more ancient part of the
village. Of course, that was not how he explained his distaste; he
only expressed a dislike for the society of the upper valley. "They be
a roughish lot up there," he would say. The fact was, he did not know
many of them intimately, from which it may be seen how curiously our
parish society is disintegrated.

Besides, he wanted a cottage not a mile away, but near to his work, so
that he might go home to dinner and see how his wife was getting on.
If he was growing old, she was older; and what was worse, she was
subject to epileptic fits. There were days when he worried about her
all the time while he was at work, and went home uneasily, dreading to
find her fallen down in a fit. It was necessary, therefore, that if he
moved it should be not far away. His last move had been in the wrong
direction--from the adjoining bluff to a hollow further down
stream--and now he desired to get back.

One of the steep and narrow lanes mentioned above is that which runs
down beside this garden, where Bettesworth's work lay. It is
picturesque enough, beneath its deep banks and hedgerows and overhung
by my garden trees; but that is of no moment here. Within
Bettesworth's memory it afforded access even for a waggon right down
to "the Lake," and so over into the meadow opposite; but the last
hundred yards of it, from Mrs. Skinner's cottage downwards, have long
been washed out into a mere foot-track, deeply sunk between its banks,
swooping down precipitously to the stream-level, and scarce two feet
wide. So you emerge from the sand cliffs, and the valley is before
you. Then the footpath winds along to the left (eastwards), having the
cliff on one hand and the stream on the other, to a wider stretch,
until with this for its best approach you come to a little hovel of
three rooms and a lean-to shed, standing with its back walls close in
against the sandy cliff.

At the period we are dealing with, this cottage had a poverty-stricken
appearance, upon which Bettesworth himself had been wont to comment
severely, though the place was in reality no worse than others beyond
it and elsewhere in the parish. But it had suffered from utter neglect
under the previous tenant, a thriftless Irishman, while, after the
Irishman left, it stood empty for a time, and looked like falling
quite derelict. Then, however, the landlord had a few repairs done,
and at the end of September, to my amazement, I heard from Bettesworth
that he had taken it. He would save eighteen-pence a week by the
change: the new rent was only two shillings.

Ought I to have expostulated? Perhaps I should have done so, but for
the queer expression in the old man's face when telling me his
intention. There was some shame, but more of dogged defiance. "You
think what you like," so I interpreted it--"that's the place I'm going
to." He was armed, too, with testimony in favour of the cottage.

"Skinner" (the bricklayer) "says he don't see why it shouldn't make a
very nice little place for two. He done up the roof there t'other
week, and he ought to know." Later, the old man repeated Skinner's
opinion, and added, "I think _I_ can make it comfortable. Ye see,
there en't bin nobody to try before."

This was true enough. The Irishman's tenancy had not in any sense
improved the cottage. The place could not be worse used, and it might
conceivably be fairly habitable in more careful hands.

During the first week in October Bettesworth effected his removal. It
was an inauspicious time. He had been counting upon the stream-bed for
a roadway along which to cart his things, so as to avoid scrambling up
and down the devious pathways and tracks that led to the cottage, but,
unfortunately, the stream this week was in flood. A cart might,
indeed, have struggled along it, and one was, in fact, bespoken--Jack
Crawte's, to wit; but at the appointed time the cart failed to arrive,
and upon Bettesworth's going to inquire for it, he discovered that the
Crawtes were all gone into the town to the fair.

Next day they promised to come "by-and-by." Bettesworth accepted the
promise, but he also chartered two donkey-carts, which were really
more suitable for getting out from the first cottage into one lane,
and then round and about, up and down, to the head of the gully by
Mrs. Skinner's. Farther than that even donkey-carts were useless. For
the last and worst hundred yards nothing but a wheelbarrow or a strong
back could be of any use.

Fortunately (in these circumstances), poor old Bettesworth's household
goods were not many, nor yet magnificent; yet still they were enough
for him to manage. The main of them were shifted on the Thursday, and
I should not like to say how many times that day the old man slaved
down the gorge with loaded wheelbarrow and up with it empty; but Mrs.
Skinner witnessed his doings, and complimented him.

"Why, Freddy," she said--"why, Freddy, you'd kill half the young uns
_now_, old as you be."

There should have been a helper--one Moses Cook, familiarly known as
"Little Moser"; but little Moser was not a success. On the Wednesday,
promising to lend a hand "in five minutes," he delayed coming until he
had found time to get drunk and then arrived with the proposal that
Bettesworth should give him a pint to start with. "_Git_ out o' my
way!" was Bettesworth's reply. The next day the little man was
willing, but useless.

"Couldn't even git up there by ol' Dame Skinner's with a empty barrer!
I says to 'n, 'Git in an' let me wheel ye up!' I says. Made me that
wild! Why, I'd lifted a chest into the barrer all by myself--and _he_
must ha' weighed a hundred and a quarter, with what there was in 'n,
ye know--and wheeled 'n down. And then to see this little feller. 'You
be in my way,' I says. 'You better go 'ome and sit down, and then
p'raps we shall be able to git something done!' I _was_ wild. I told
'n, 'They says Gawd made man in His own image--you must be a bloomin'
counterfeit!'"

At one time there was a threat of rain, and Bettesworth "whacked all
the beddin' he could on to the barrer, and down and in with it."
Fortunately, the rain held off.

Towards night the cart came into action. It brought a load or two of
firewood--not along the stream itself, but beside it, through the
flooded meadow. The wood was tipped out on to the raised bank across
the stream, just opposite Bettesworth's new home, there to remain for
the night. But the old man could not rest with it there.

"I got all that across," he said, "and into the dry. Crawte couldn't
hardly believe it when I told 'n this mornin'. But I _did_. Fetched it
across in the dark." It was an almost incredible feat, for the night
was of the blackest, and the stream four or five feet wide. "And then,
when I got in, I had to put up the bedstead, with only the ol' gal to
help me. An' if you told her one thing, it only seemed to make her
forget to do something else. Talk about _tired_! I never had nothin'
all that time--not even half a pint o' beer. Ye see, there wa'n't
nobody I could send, an' I couldn't spare time to go myself, 'relse I
_should_ ha' liked a glass o' beer. But I never had nothin' not afore
I'd done. Then I had some tea, but I was too tired to eat. P'r'aps, if
I'd ha' been able to have half a pint earlier, I might ha' bin able to
eat; but, as 'twas, I couldn't eat. And now this mornin' my back and
shoulders aches--with wheelin' down that gully, ye know."

As it is not mentioned elsewhere, I may as well say here that
Bettesworth's endeavours to make this little place habitable and
respectable were for a time fairly successful. As it should have been
explained, after emerging from the gully the public footpath runs
close in front of the doorway of the place, leaving some eight feet of
garden between itself and the stream. Of old, in the Irishman's time,
this garden was an entanglement of weeds and stunted cabbages, while
the footpath was unswept, disgusting, and often blocked with a pail of
ashes or other household refuse. But now a spirit of order had
appeared on the scene. The cabbage-plot became comely; in due season
old-fashioned cottage flowers--pinks and nasturtiums--appeared in two
tiny borders under the windows on either side of the door, and the
mean doorway itself was beautified by a rough but sufficient arbour of
larch-posts before it, up which "canary-creeper" found its way.
Accordingly, I heard from time to time, but neglected to set down, how
this and that wayfarer had praised the old man's improvements. Did not
the Vicar himself say (I seem to remember Bettesworth's telling me so
with much gratification) that he would never have believed the place
could be made to look so well? Of the inside, perhaps, not so much
could be said; but even this was passable at first, before the old
wife's breakdown spoilt all. For several years, in fact, Bettesworth
was, I believe, very happy in this cottage. At any rate, it gave him
scope for labour, and he always liked that. He had hardly been in
possession a week before he was talking of an improvement much to his
mind.

"There's a rare lot o' capital soil in the lake under they withies
just against my garden," he said; and he proposed taking it out to
enrich his garden.

"It'll be good for the lake, too," I suggested.

"Yes," he replied, "it wants clearin' out. Why, in some places there
en't no lake, and half the water that comes down got to overflow and
make floods."



IV


And now, Bettesworth being settled in this hovel, his story begins at
last to move forwards. For a while, indeed, little, if any, change in
the man himself will be discernible. We shall be aware only of the
quiet lapse of time as the seasons steal over him, and leave him
older, or as the progress of public events is dimly reflected in
occasional scraps of his conversation. And even of public events not
much will be heard. Such things, which had never greatly concerned
Bettesworth, were less likely than ever to attract his attention now.
For five days in the week he rarely got farther from home than the
lower half of the lane, where it degenerates into the gully between my
garden and his cottage. On Saturday afternoons he journeyed into the
town to get a shave and do his shopping; on Sunday evenings he
generally went to the public-house; and as this was all he saw of the
world, it is no matter for surprise if his interests remained
extremely parochial.

And yet his ignorance of what was happening did sometimes surprise me.
Of course, I know that what was wanting was the opportunity of
enlightenment, and that he was not naturally deficient in the
instincts that make for it. His appreciation of Nansen's adventures
may be cited as a proof that he was ready and even eager to be
informed. But for all that, it is true that the affairs which excited
the rest of the world usually left him undisturbed, and the public
noise needed to be a great one to reach his ears. Mr. Chamberlain's
protectionist propaganda was not loud enough, incredible though that
may seem. As a peasant, Bettesworth had a theory which I have often
heard him affirm, that, for farmers to prosper, "bread never ought to
be no less than a shillin' a gallon," so that I expected to hear him
at least talk of "fiscal reform." But he never did. The proposal was
months old when I at last broached the subject to him, and all he said
was, "Oh dear! we don't want no taxes on food!" as if he had never
heard that such a thing was projected. And it is my firm belief that
to the day of his death he knew only what little I told him about it,
and would hardly have been able to say where he had heard the name of
Chamberlain. His home was down there by the stream bed; his work was
half-way up the lane. Walking to it, he might hear Mrs. Skinner
talking to her pigs; walking back, he could see Crawte's cows turned
out in the meadow at the bottom of the valley. He never read a
newspaper, and how should he have learnt anything about the political
ferment which was spreading through the towns of all England, and
engaging the attention of the whole world?

At the end of 1899, however, he had not long been in his new dwelling
before his attention was effectually arrested by the war in South
Africa; and my next note is a remark of his on this subject, which
shows him taking not quite a parochial view of the situation. He did
not approve of war. Several years previously, at the outbreak of the
Spanish-American affair, he had spoken uneasily of the consequent rise
in the price of bread, and his concern now may therefore be imagined.
Still, there was one bright spot.

"There's one thing I be glad of," he said: "all they reserves called
out. There never no business to be none o' they in the country."

His reason was that in time of peace the reserves, with their
retaining pay, had been wont to undersell the civilian workman in the
labour market, and that such competition was unfair.

This, of course, was soon forgotten in the interest of the war itself.
Our parish, so near to Aldershot, sent out perhaps a disproportionate
number of its young men to the front, men whom Bettesworth knew, whose
fathers and mothers were his good friends, and at whose deaths, now
and then announced, he would grimly shut his lips. Morning after
morning he asked, "Any news of the war, sir?" and listened gravely to
what could be told. But he did not so much think as feel about it all.
He knew nothing, cared nothing, about the policy which had led up to
hostilities; he was too ill-informed to be infected by the raw
imperialism of the day; his attitude was simply "national." "Our
country"--that was his expression--was in difficulties, and he longed
to see the difficulties overcome. Such was his simple instinctive
position, and it excused in him some feelings which would have been
less pardonable in a more enlightened man. At the close he would have
liked to shoot without pity President Kruger and the Boer Generals, as
the enemies of "our country."

But how ignorant of the facts he was at the beginning of the war! Of
our many talks on the subject I seem to have preserved only one, but
that is so strange that now I can hardly believe in its accuracy.


_December 16, 1899._--Dated the 16th of December, 1899, it states that
Bettesworth had heard the week's disastrous news from the seat of war,
and was letting off his dismay in exclamatory fashion. "Six hundred
missin'! Look at that. What do that _missin'_ mean?" His tone implied
that he knew only too well.

I said, "Most likely it means that they are prisoners."

And then he said, "Ah, prisoners--or else burnt."

It was my turn to exclaim. "Burnt? No, no! They are prisoners."

"But they burns 'em, some says."

Heaven only knows where he could have picked up such an idea. As the
war proceeded, he kept himself fairly up to date with its main events
by listening to other men's talk. He used, as we know, to go to the
public-house on Sunday evenings "to get enlightenment to the mind;"
and there is mention in the next fragment of another source of
information which he valued. To reach that, however, we have to enter
another year--the year 1900.



V


_February 13, 1900._--The winter was passing by, with the war, indeed,
to make it memorable to us, but uneventfully at home. January, like
December, had been mild--too mild, some people said, of whom, however,
Bettesworth was not one. February set in with more severity of
weather. On the third we had snow, and in the succeeding days frost
followed, and the roads grew slippery.

These things no doubt provided Bettesworth with topics for many little
chats I must have enjoyed with him, although I saved no reminder of
any of them. But about the middle of the month a circumstance came to
my knowledge which made his good-tempered gossip seem rather
remarkable. I could not but admire that a man so situated should be
able to talk with such urbanity.

He had been at the barber's the previous evening, where another man
was discoursing at large about the war. And said Bettesworth:

"I _do_ like to hear anything like that. Or if they'll read a
newspaper. There I could 'bide listenin' all night. And if anybody
else was to open their mouths, I should be like enough to tell 'em to
shut up. Because, if you goes to hear anything, _hear_ it. Same as at
church or chapel or a entertainment: _you_ goes to listen, an' then
p'r'aps four or five behind ye gets to talkin'. I always says, if you
goes anywhere, go and be quiet. You en't obliged to go, but when you
do go, behave yourself."

The talkers, I might have reminded Bettesworth, are not always "behind
ye"; there are those who take front seats who might profit by his
little homily on good manners. But he only meant that the discourtesy
is the more disturbing, because it is the more audible, when it comes
from behind.

He passed easily on to a discussion of the weather, and again his
superlative good sense was to the fore. On Sunday, he said, he had
tried to persuade his neighbours--working-men, like himself, only
younger--to bring their shovels and scatter sand on the path down the
gully, which was coated with ice. Already he had done a longish piece
of it himself, but much remained to do. Several men had "went up
reg'lar busters," and "children and young gals" on their way to church
had fallen down. It would be a public service to besprinkle the path
with sand. So Bettesworth made his suggestion to his neighbours--"four
or five of 'em. They was hangin' about: hadn't got nothin' to do." But
no. They shrugged their shoulders and walked away. It was no business
of theirs. They even laughed at the old man for the trouble he had
already taken, for which no one would pay him. And now, in telling me
about it, it was his neighbours' want of public spirit that annoyed
him. They had not come up to his standard of the behaviour meet for a
labouring man.

Who would have imagined that, while he was telling me this, and for
days previously, he was in a state of severe mental distress,
aggravated by bodily fatigue? I had no suspicion of it, and was
surprised enough when told by a third person. But it was true--too
true. He admitted it readily when I asked him. His wife was ill again,
worse than she had been for three years, since the time when she fell
down in an epileptic fit and broke her wrist. She had had many minor
attacks during the interval, but this was serious now.

As I have already told the poor old woman's story, or at least this
part of it, in another place, I may not repeat it here; but for the
sake of continuity the episode must be summarized. Three years earlier
Bettesworth had obtained an order for his wife's admission to the
workhouse infirmary. Hateful though the merest suspicion of benefiting
by parish aid was to him, there had been no other course open at that
time; for what could he do for an old woman with a broken limb, and a
malady that made her for the time half-witted? And yet, owing to
overcrowding at the infirmary, amazed and indignant he had brought her
home again on the fourth day, because she had been lodged and treated
as a common pauper. Consequently I knew that he must be at extremities
now, when it came out that he was deciding again to send the old lady
to the infirmary. But he was at his wits' end what to do for her. He
could not afford to stay at home from work; yet while he was away she
was alone, since her condition and temper made neighbours reluctant to
help. Sometimes the fear haunted him that she would meet a violent
death, falling in a fit on to the fire, perhaps; sometimes he dreaded
that he would have to put her finally away into an asylum. What he
endured in the long agonizing nights when her fits were upon her, in
the silent winter evenings when he sat for hours watching her pain and
wondering what to do, no one will ever know. As best he could, he used
at such times to wash her and dress her himself--he with his fumbling
fingers and dim eyes; and wanting sleep, wanting the food that neither
of them could prepare, alone and unknown, he struggled to keep in
order his miserable cottage. Almost a week must have passed like this
before I heard of the trouble, and asked him about it. Then he laid
his difficulties before me, and asked for my advice.

To men in Bettesworth's position it is always an embarrassment to
comply with the formalities of official business. They do not see the
reason, and they feel keenly the wearisomeness, of the steps which must
be taken to gain their end. Bettesworth now seemed paralyzed; he had
forgotten how to go on; moreover, he could not be satisfied--although
there was a new infirmary--that his wife would be more decently
treated there than in the old one. If only he could be sure of that!
But of course he was not important enough to approach, himself, anyone
so important as a guardian; and, accordingly, I undertook to make
inquiries for him.

It is indeed a tedious business--I experienced it afterwards too--that
of getting a sick person from this village into the local infirmary.
It seemed that Bettesworth must lose at least a day's work in
arranging for the removal of his wife. She could not be admitted to
the house without a certificate from the parish doctor, who lived in
the town, a mile and a half away. But the doctor might only attend
upon Bettesworth's presenting an order to be obtained from the
relieving officer, two miles away in the exactly opposite direction.
The medical man would then come as soon as he found convenient, and
Bettesworth would be provided with a certificate for his wife's
removal to the infirmary. But he might not act upon that alone. With
that in his possession, he would have to wait again upon the relieving
officer, to get an order upon the workhouse master to admit the
patient, and to arrange for a conveyance to take her away.

We talked it over, he and I, that afternoon, not cheered by the wild
weather that was hourly worsening. If all went well on the morrow,
Bettesworth would have some twelve miles of walking to do; but it was
most likely that, between relieving officer and doctor, two or even
three days would elapse before the desired relief would be
accomplished. However, the immediate thing to do was clear enough: he
must make his first visit to the relieving officer as soon as
possible.

I forget on what grounds, but we agreed that it was useless to attempt
anything that night; and since the officer would be off at eight in
the morning for his day's duty in other places, Bettesworth proposed
to be up betimes, and catch him at his office before he started. It
would be just possible then, by hurrying, to get back over the three
or four miles to the town, and find the doctor before he too should
leave for the day. Otherwise there would be a sickening delay.

The whole thing was sickening already, in its inevitable mechanical
clumsiness. Still, there was no help for it. The weather meanwhile was
threatening hindrance. A small driving snow had set in in the
afternoon, and was inclined to freeze as it fell; and for some time
before dark the opposite side of the valley had become all but
invisible, blotted out by the dreary whiteness of the storm. At
nightfall, the weather seemed to turn wicked. Hours afterwards, as I
sat listening to the howling gusts of wind, which puffed the smoke
from out of my fire, and brought the snow with a crisp bristling sound
against my window, I could not get out of my head the thought of
Bettesworth, alone with his crazy wife down there in that cottage, or
the fear that deep snow might prevent his morning's journey. And then
it was that recollection of his recent quiet conversations came over
me. So to have talked, keeping all this trouble to himself, while he
listened to the war news, and did his best to make the footways
passable--there was surely a touch of greatness in it.

And it makes no difference to my estimate of him that, after all, he
did not go to the relieving officer the next morning. On the further
progress of Mrs. Bettesworth's illness at this time my notebook is
silent; but, as I recall now, she took a turn for the better that
night, and by the morning was so improved that thought of the
infirmary was given up.



VI


For eight months after this the account of Bettesworth's sayings and
doings is all but a blank. There was one summer--and perhaps it was
this one of the year 1900--when he joined an excursion for his annual
day's holiday, and made a long trip to Weymouth. Need it be said that
he enjoyed the outing immensely? He came back to work the next day
overflowing with the humour and interest of what he had seen and done.
Had not old Bill Brixton lost his hat out of the train? And some other
old chap sat down on a seat on Weymouth front, and stayed there all
day and seen nothing? Bettesworth, too, had sat down, and had a most
enjoyable conversation with a native of the place; but he had also
taken steamer to Portland, and there got a drive to the prison and
seen the convicts, and had a joke and a laugh with the driver of the
brake, and a drink with a party of excursionists from Birmingham, who
appreciated his society, and called him "uncle," and whose unfamiliar
speech he imitated well enough to make me laugh. And then he had
persuaded a seaman to take him out to the fleet and show him over a
man-of-war; and finally had enlivened the homeward journey by chaffing
old Bill, and sharing with him "a quarten o' whisky," which he
carried in a medicine bottle.

This, I am inclined to believe, was an event of 1900, but I cannot
verify it, and in any case it accounts for but one day. The dimness of
the remainder of those eight months is but faintly illuminated--and
that, it may be, for me only--by two memoranda mentioning Bettesworth
as present at certain affairs, and by one all too short scrap of his
own talk. He was speaking of Irishmen, no doubt in reference to some
gallant deed or other in South Africa, and this is what he said:

"Ye see, they makes as brave soldiers as any.... All I got to say
about Irishmen is, when you be at work with 'em, you got to think
yourself as good as they, or a little better. 'Relse if they thinks
you be givin' way they'll trample on ye. 'Xcept for that, I'd as lief
work with Irishmen as Englishmen.... I remember once when I was at
work on a buildin' for Knight, a Irishman come for me with his shovel
like this." Bettesworth turned his shovel edgeways, raising it high.
"He'd ha' split me if he'd ha' hit me; and as soon as he'd missed me I
downed 'n. Little Georgie Knight come down off the scaffold to stop
us; I'd got the feller down, an' was payin' of 'n. '_I'll_ give 'n
'Ome Rule!' I says; and so I did, too. He'd ha' killed me if he'd hit
me. I s'pose I'd said somethin' he didn't like."

A March note, this last. As there is nothing else, I take it that the
daily conversation was of the usual kind, about being forward in
sowing seeds, and allowing enough room for potatoes, and so on.


_June 10._--A note of June names Bettesworth among other interested
spectators of an event no less singular than the death of a donkey. To
me, the name of him on the page of my journal, coupled with one of his
dry remarks, brings back vividly the whole scene: the glowing Sunday
afternoon, the blue loveliness of the distant hills, the look of the
grass, and all the tingling sense of the far-spread summer life
surrounding the dying animal. But the narrative has little to do with
Bettesworth, and would be out of place here. It just serves as a
reminder that one more summer was passing over him; that, among the
strong men who felt the heat in this valley that season, he was still
one.

Carry that impression on, through the harvest time, and yet on and on
until the end of September, and you may see him (or I, at least, may)
one dark night, entering, all dazzled by the naked lamp, a little room
where the Liberals have summoned an "important meeting of Liberal
workers." He has come, like the present writer, in the expectation of
hearing some "spouting," as he said afterwards. But though he is
disappointed, and finds himself,--he, the least fanatic of men--the
witness only of excited efforts to arrange for canvassing the district
in readiness for the approaching election, still, conforming to his
own rule of "behaving," he sits respectfully silent, though looking
disconsolate and "sold," and his grey head, the home of such steady
thoughts, has a pathetic dignity in its dark corner, and surrounded by
the noisy politicians.



VII


So cramped-in as it was between sandbank and stream, Bettesworth's
garden had no place for a pigsty; and as his wife could not be happy
without "something to feed," he had bought her a few fowls to amuse
her. With stakes and wire netting he made a diminutive "run" for them,
which really seemed to adorn the end of the cottage, being stuck into
the corner made by the whitewashed wall and the yellow sand-cliff. The
fowls, it is true, had not room to thrive; but if Bettesworth made but
little profit of them, they afforded him much contentment; and the
afternoon sunshine used to fall very pleasantly on the little
fowl-pen.

Needless to say, he was not exempt from the common troubles of the
poultry-keeper. I remember smiling to myself once at his gravity in
mentioning that one of the hens had begun to crow. He did not, indeed,
own to thinking it a sign of bad luck, but his looks seemed to suggest
that he was uneasy. As everyone knows, a crowing hen, if it does not
portend death, is neither fit for gods nor men; so Bettesworth
realized that he must kill the ill-omened bird, "as soon as he could
find out which of 'em 'twas." Another time there were some little
chicks, and his cat became troublesome; and, worse still, there came a
rat, which had to be ferreted out.

And were there marauders besides these? I have stated that beyond
Bettesworth's own cottage there were others of the same class, one of
which was inhabited for a little while by a family whose honesty was
not above suspicion. Would these people interfere with his fowls? It
was a point to be considered.

He considered it--it was on a day in October, 1900--and so strayed off
into a rambling talk of many things. The ill-conditioned neighbours
(he comforted himself by thinking) would leave his fowls alone,
because depredations of that kind were an unheard-of thing in our
parish.

"There, I will say that," he observed, "you never no fear o' _losin'_
anything here. If a man leaves his tool--a spud or anything--in the
ground, there 'tis. Nobody don't touch it. Up there at (he named a
near village) they say 'tis different. But here, I should think there
never was a better place for that!"

For a certain reason I took up this point, and hinted that Flamborough
in Yorkshire must be an equally honest place. The Flamborough people,
I had been told, never lock their doors at night, for fear of locking
out the spirits of relatives drowned at sea.

Would Bettesworth take the bait, and tell me anything he might know
about ghosts? Not he. The interruption changed the course, but not
the character, of his talk. He looked rather shocked at these
benighted Yorkshiremen, and commented severely, "Weak-minded, _I_
calls it." Then, after a momentary silence, he was off on a new track,
with reminiscences of Selsey fishermen whom he used to see when he
went harvesting into Sussex; who go about, "any time o' night,
accordin' to the tides," and whose thick boots can be heard "clumpin'
along the street" in the dark. All men at Selsey, he said, were
fishermen. The only regular hands employed by the neighbouring farmers
were shepherds and carters.

He had got quite away from the point in my mind. But as I had long
wondered whether Bettesworth had any ghost stories, I harked back now
to the Flamborough people, egging him on to be communicative. It was
all in vain, however. He shook his head. The subject seemed foreign to
him.

"As I often says, I bin about all times o' the night, an' I never met
nothin' worse than myself. Only time as ever I was froughtened was
when I was carter chap at Penstead. Our farm was down away from
t'other, 'cause Mr. Barnes had two farms--'t least, he had three--and
ourn was away from t'other, and I was sent late at night to git out
the waggon--no, the pole-carriage. I set up on the front on the
shafts, with a truss o' hay behind me; and all of a sudden she" (the
mare, I suppose he meant) "snarked an' begun to turn round in the
road. The chap 'long with me--no, he wa'n't 'long with me, 'cause
he'd gone on to open the gate, and so there was I alone. And all
'twas, was a old donkey rollin' in the road. She'd smelt 'n, ye know;
an' the nearer we got, the more froughtened she was, till she turned
right round there in the road. 'Twas a nasty thing for me; they hosses
with their legs over the traces, and all that, and me down atween
'em."

He was fairly off now. A tale followed of stumbling over a drunken
man, who lay all across the road one dark night.

"Wonder's 't hadn't broke his ribs, me kickin' up again' him like
that. I went all asprawl; barked me hands too. But when he hollered
out, I knowed who 'twas then. 'Twas old...."

Well, it doesn't matter who it was. There were no ghost stories to be
had, so I related a schoolday adventure, of a glow-worm picked up, and
worn in a cap for a little way, and then missed; of a glimmer seen in
the ditch, which might be the glow-worm; of a groping towards the
glimmer, and a terrified leap back, upon hearing from behind it a
gruff "Hullo, mate!"

Bettesworth did not find this silly, like my Flamborough story. It
opened another vista of reminiscence, down which he could at least
look. Unhesitatingly he took the chance, commenting,

"Ah! porchers, very likely, lurkin' about there for a meetin, p'r'aps.
They do like that, sometimes. I remember once, when Mellish was keeper
at Culverley, there was some chaps in there at The Horse one night
with their dogs, talkin' about what they was goin' to do. Mellish, he
slips out, to send the word round, 'cause all the men at Culverley was
s'posed to go out at such a job, if need be. So he sends round the
message to 'em--Bromley, an' Dick Harris, an' Knight, an' several
more, to meet 'n at a certain place, where he'd heard these chaps say
they was goin' to work. And so they (the poachers) set in there
talkin' about what they was goin' to do; and at last, when they come
away, they went right off into the town. While they'd bin keepin' the
keeper there a-watchin' 'em, another gang had bin' an' purty well
cleared the place out. _Bags_-full, they must ha' had. Mellish told me
so hisself. While he was expectin' to have they, they was havin' him.
He never was so sold, he said. But a clever trick, I calls it."



VIII


_October 17, 1900._-Two words of Bettesworth's, noted down for their
strangeness at the time, restore for me the October daylight, the
October air. He was discussing the scarlet-runner beans (I can picture
now their warm tints of decay), and he estimated our chances of
getting another picking from them. The chances were good, he thought,
because in the sheltered corner where the beans stood, uplifted as it
was above the mists that chilled the bottom of the valley, "these
little snibblin' frostis that we gets o' mornin's" would not be felt.
"Snibblin'" was a new word to me, and now I find it associated in my
mind with the earliest approaches of our English winter.

Near the beans there were brussels sprouts, their large leaves soaked
with colour out of the clouded day. Little grey swarms of "white fly"
flitted out as I walked between them; and, again, Bettesworth's name
for that form of blight--"they little minners"--brings back the scene:
the quiet vegetable garden, the sad rich autumn tints, the overcast
sky, the moist motionless air.

To this undertone of peace--the peace you can best absorb at labours
like his--he was able to discourse dispassionately of things not
peaceful. In a cottage higher up the valley there was trouble this
October. I may not give details of it; but, in rough summary, an old
woman had died, her last days rendered unhappy by the misbehaviour of
her son--a young labourer. Talk of his "carrying on," his late hours,
his frantic drinking, and subsequent delirium, crept stealthily up and
down the lanes. He was "a low blackguard," "a scamp," and so forth.
The comments were excited, generally breathless, once or twice shrill.
But Bettesworth kept his head. An indignant matron said spitefully,

"'Ten't every young feller gets such a good home as that left to 'n."

"Well, and who got a better right to 't?" was Bettesworth's calm
rejoinder.


_November 10._--A month later a ripple of excitement from the outside
world found its way down the lane. Saturday, November 10, was the day
when General Buller, recalled from the war, arrived at Aldershot, and
for miles around the occasion was made the excuse for a holiday by the
working people. It was a point of honour with them not to desert their
favourite under a cloud. They left off work early, and flocked to
Aldershot station by hundreds, if not thousands, to make sure that he
had a welcome. On the following Monday Bettesworth, full of
enthusiasm, gave me an account of the affair as he had had it from
numerous eyewitnesses. For, in truth, it had been "all the talk
yesterday"--on the Sunday, namely. Young Bill Skinner, in particular,
had been voluble, with such exclamations, such staring of excited
eyes, that Bettesworth was reminded not without concern of the
sunstroke which had threatened Skinner's reason two summers
previously. Nevertheless, the tale was worth Bettesworth's hearing and
repeating; "there never was a man in England so much respected" as
Buller, Skinner supposed. On alighting from the train, the General's
first act had been to shake hands with his old coachman--a deed that
touched the hearts of all these working folk.

"And there was never a sign o' soldiers; 'twas all
townspeople--civilians, that is; and the cheerin'--there! Skinner said
he hollered till he was hoarse. He ast me" (Bettesworth) "how 'twas I
didn't go over; but I said, 'Naw....' Not but what I _likes_ the old
feller!"

Bettesworth made no answer but that expressive "No" of disinclination,
but I can amplify it. He was not now a young man, to go tearing off
enthusiastically for an eight-mile walk, which was sure to end in a
good deal of drinking and excitement. His days for that were gone by
for ever. Prudence warned him that he was best off pottering about in
his regular way, here at home.

There was another reason, too, to restrain him. It brings us swiftly
back for a moment from war incidents and the public excitement to the
very interior of that hovel down by the "Lake," to learn that poor old
Lucy Bettesworth was once more ill at this time. Her brother calling,
and exhibiting an unwonted kindliness, had thrown her into sudden
hysteria ending in epileptic fits. Even had Bettesworth felt inclined,
he could not have left her. He told me the circumstances, and much,
too, of her life history--the most of which has been already
published, and may be omitted here. The illness, however, was not so
severe as to engage all Bettesworth's thoughts. It allowed him to take
interest in Buller's return, and on the same day to discourse of other
outside matters too, in which all our valley was interested through
these months.

Word had reached him somehow of the proposals just then announced for
the higher training of our soldiers; and he foresaw increased
difficulties in recruiting on these terms. There was too much work to
be had, and it was too well paid, to make young men eager to join the
army; and the service certainly did not need to be rendered less
attractive than it was. Bettesworth, it seemed, had already been
discussing this very point with his neighbours. As to the disturbance
of the labour market consequent upon the war, he viewed it with no
favour. The inflated prices of labour seemed to him unwholesome; they
were having an injurious effect upon young men, giving them an
exaggerated opinion of their true worth as labourers. And this was
particularly true, since the building of the new camp at Bordon had
begun. "Old Tom Rawson," he reported, had "never seen the likes of the
young fellers that was callin' theirselves carpenters an' bricklayers
now. Any young chap only got to take a trowel over to Woolmer (by
Bordon), and he'd be put on as a bricklayer, at sixpence a hour. And
you mawn't stop to show 'em nothing. If the clurk o' the works or the
inspector come round, 't 'd be, 'What's that man doin', showin' the
others?' Tom said he wa'n't _goin'_ to show 'em, neither. Why, at one
time nobody ever thought of employin' a man, onless he could show his
indentures. But now--'tis anybody." "The foreman" had lately come to
Tom Rawson "askin' him jest to give an eye to some young chaps," and
promising him another halfpenny an hour. And Bettesworth commented,
"But dessay he (the foreman) was gettin' his bite out o' the
youngsters."

Not Bettesworth, not even that hardened old Tom Rawson, would have
countenanced such things had they been appealed to; but tales of this
kind only filtered down into Bettesworth's obscure nook, to provide
him with a subject for five minutes' thought, and then leave him again
to his homely occupations. What had he to do with the War Office and
inefficiency in high places? From this very talk, it is recorded, he
turned appreciatively to watch the cat purring round my legs, and by
her fond softness was reminded of his rabbits--six young ones--which
the mother had not allowed him to see until yesterday. And he spoke
wonderingly of her mother-instinct. The old rabbit was "purty near
naked," having "almost stripped herself" to make a bed for these young
ones, so that the bed was "all white fluff before they come," and now
she "kep' 'em covered up." "Everything," said Bettesworth, "has their
_nature_, ye see."

In this fashion, with these trivial interests, the year drew on to its
close in our valley. December gives glimpses of trouble in another
household--that of the Skinners, Bettesworth being cognizant of all,
but saying little. It did not disturb the peacefulness of his own
existence. Events might come or delay, he was content; he was hardly
in the world of events, but in a world where things did not so much
"happen" as go placidly on. He worked, and rested, and I do not
believe that he was often dull.



IX


_January, 1901._--The winter, which so far had been mild and open,
began to assume its natural character with the new year; and on the
first Monday of January--it was the 7th--we had snow, followed by hard
frost. The snow was not unexpected. Saturday--a day of white haze
suffused with sunlight--had provided a warning of it in the shape of
frozen rime, clinging like serried rows of penknife blades to the
eastern edges of all things, and noticeably to the telegraph-wires,
which with that additional weight kept up all day a shiver of
vibration dazzling to look at against the misty blue of the sky. Then
the snow came, and the frost on top of that, and by Tuesday it was bad
travelling on all roads.

Bettesworth grumbled, of course; but I believe that really he rather
liked the touch of winter. At any rate, it was with a sort of gloating
satisfaction that he remarked:

"I hunted out my old gaiters this morning. They en't much, but they
keeps your legs dry. And I do think that is so nice, to feel the
bottoms of your trousers dry."

I suppose it is, when one thinks of it, though it had never struck me
before. But then, I had never had the experience which had shown
Bettesworth the true inwardness of this philosophy of his.

"I've knowed what it is," he said, "to have my trousers soppin' wet
all round the bottoms, and then it have come on an' freezed 'em as
stiff as boards all round."

That was years ago, during a short spell of piecework in a gravel-pit.
Now, secure in his gaiters and in his easier employment, he could look
back with amusement to the hardships he had lived through. One of a
similar kind was hinted at presently. For the roughness of the roads,
under this frozen snow, naturally suggested such topics.

"What d'ye think of our neighbour Mardon?" he exclaimed. "Bin an'
chucked up his job, and 's goin' back to Aldershot blacksmithin'
again. He must be in want of a walk!"

"Regular as clockwork," Mardon, be it explained, had walked daily to
his work at Aldershot, and then back at night, for upwards of twenty
years. The day's walk was about ten miles. Then suddenly he left, and
now for six months had been working as bricklayer's labourer, at a job
about an equal distance away in another direction, to which he walked
as before every day, wet or fine. This was the job he had "chucked,"
to return to his old trade in the old place. He might well give it up!
Said Bettesworth,

"How many miles d'ye think he walked last week, to put in forty-five
hours at work? Fifty-four! Four and a half miles there, and four and a
half back. Fifty-four miles for forty-five hours. There's walkin' for
ye! And through that enclosure, too!"

The "enclosure" is a division of Alice Holt Forest--perhaps two miles
of it--on Mardon's way to his now abandoned job. And Bettesworth
recalled the discomforts of this walk.

"I knows what it is, all through them woods in the dark, 'cause I used
to go that way myself when I was workin' for Whittingham. 'Specially
if the fox-hounds bin that way. Then 'tis mud enough to smother ye.
There was a fancy sort o' bloke--a carpenter--used to go 'long with
us, with his shirt-cuffs, and his trousers turned up, and his shoes
cleaned. We did use to have some games with 'n, no mistake. He'd go
tip-toein' an' skippin' to get over the mud; an' then, jest as we was
passin' a puddle, we'd plump one of our feet down into 't, an' send
the mud _all over_ 'n. An' with his tip-toein' an' skippin' he got it
wuss than we did, without that. An' when we come to the Royal Oak,
'cause we gen'ly used to turn in there on our way home, he'd be
lookin' at hisself up an' down and grumblin'--'Tha bluhmin' mud!'
(this in fair imitation of Cockney speech)--'tha bluhmin' mud! Who can
_stick_ it!' Same in the mornin' when he got there. He'd be brushin'
his coat, an' scrapin' of it off his trousers with his knife, an'
gettin' a bundle o' shavin's to wipe his boots.

"But a very good carpenter! Whittingham used to say he couldn't wish
for a better man. But he'd bin used to bench-work all his life, an'
didn't know what to make of it. An' we used to have some games with
'n. If there was any job wanted doin' out o' doors, they'd send for he
sooner 'n one o' t'others, jest to see how he'd go on. And handlin'
the dirty timber, an' lookin' where to put his saw--oh, we did give 'n
a doin'. But 'twas winter, ye know, and I fancy he didn't know hardly
where to go. We had some pantomimes with 'n, though, no mistake.

"There used to be another ol' feller--a plumber--when I was at work
for Grange in Church Street; Ben Crawte went 'long with 'n as
plumber's labourer. Ben had some pantomimes with he too. He'd git the
handles of his tools all over dirt, for he to take hold of when he
come to use 'em. Oldish man he was--old as I be, I dessay. And he'd
pay anybody to give 'n a lift any time, sooner 'n he'd walk through
the mud. We never knowed the goin' of 'n, at last...."

I, for my part, do not remember "the goin'" of these queer
reminiscences. They are like the snows of the past--like the snow
which actually lay white in our valley while Bettesworth talked.

As to his heartless treatment of this unhappy carpenter, those who
would condemn it may yet consider how that gang of men could have
endured their miserable journeys, if they had admitted that anyone
had the least right to be distressed. Among labourers there is such
peril in effeminacy that to yield to it is a kind of treason.
Bettesworth had nothing but contempt for it. I more than once heard
his scorn of "tip-toeing," and shall be able to give another instance
by-and-by.



X


During this year 1901, until the last month or two, not much
additional matter relating to Bettesworth was recorded; it just
suffices to show his life quietly passing on in company with the
passing seasons.


_February 1, 1901._--We have already had a glimpse of the winter. And
now, although it is only February, there comes, as in February there
often will, a day truly springlike, and Bettesworth's talk matches it.
The first morning of February was clear and shimmering, the roads
being hard with frost, the air crisp, the trees hung with the dazzling
drops into which the sunshine had converted the rime of the dawn. Most
of these drops appeared blinding white, but now and again there would
come from them a sparkle of flame-red or a glisten of emerald, or,
best of all, a flash of earnest burning blue, as if the morning sky
itself were liquefying on the bare branches. The grass, although under
it the ground was frozen, had a brilliancy of colour which certainly
was no winter tint. It suggested where, if one looked, one would find
the green spear-points of crocuses and daffodils already inch-high out
of the soil. The spring, in fact, was in the air, and the earth was
stirring with it.

In Bettesworth's mood, too, was a hint of spring. All through the
winter many hours which would otherwise have been lonely for him in
this garden had been cheered by the companionship of a robin. How
often he remarked, "You may do anything you mind to with 'n, but you
mawn't handle 'im"! For the bird seemed to know him, and he used to
call it his "mate," because it worked with him wherever he was turning
up the soil.

And now on this gay morning, as we crossed the lawn together, he said,
"Little Bob bin 'long with me again this mornin', hoppin' about just
in front o' my shovel, and twiddlin' and talkin' to me.... Look at 'n!
There he is now!" on the low bough of a young beech-tree at the edge
of the grass. And as we stood to admire, "_There's_ a little chap!" he
exclaimed exultantly. Then he took up his shovel to resume work near
the tree, and "Little Bob" hopped down, every minute picking up
something to swallow. I could not see what tiny morsels the bird was
finding, and, confessing as much, felt snubbed by Bettesworth's
immediate reply, "Ah, _he_ got sharp eyes." Presently, however, the
robin found a large centipede, and suddenly--it was gone alive and
wriggling down the small throat. "He must ha' got a good bellyful,"
said Bettesworth.

At intervals Bob would pause, look straight at us, and "twiddle" a
little song in an undertone which, for all one could hear to the
contrary, might have come from some distance behind or beside us, and
could only be identified as proceeding from the robin by the
accompanying movements of his ruddy throat.

"Sweet little birds, I calls 'em," said Bettesworth, using an epithet
rare with him. "And it's a funny thing," he continued, "wherever a
man's at work there's sure to be a robin find him out. _I_'ve noticed
it often. If I bin at work in the woods, a robin 'd come, or in the
harvest-field, jest the same.... Hark at 'n twiddlin'! And by-'n-by
when his crop's full he'll get up in a tree and _sing_...."

The old man did a stroke or two with his shovel, and then: "I don't
hear no starlin's about. 'Relse, don't ye mind last year they had a
nest up in the shed?"

I hinted that my two cats might have something to do with the absence
of the starlings, and Bettesworth's talk flitted easily to the new
subject.

"Ah, that young cat--_she_ wouldn't care" how many starlings she
caught. "_She's_ goin' to be my cat" (the cat for his favour). "Every
mornin', as soon as the servant opens the door, she" (the cat) "is
out, prowlin' all round. And she don't mind the cold; you see, she
liked the snow--played with it. Now, our old Tab, as soon as I be out
o' my nest she's in it. Very often she'll come up on to our bed,
heavin' and tuckin' about, to get into the warm."

What a gift of expression the old man had got! But almost without a
pause he went on, "The postman tells me he brought word this mornin'
to all the pubs, tellin' 'em they was to close to-morrow" (Saturday,
the day of Queen Victoria's funeral), "out of respect to our Queen's
memory. 'T least, they're requested to--en't forced to. But so they
ought to show her respect. Go where you will, you can't hear anybody
with a word to say against her. 'Tis to be hoped the new King 'll be
as worthy of respect."

Again, without transition: "How that little tree do grow!" He placed
his hand on the stem of a young lime. "Gettin' quite a body. So-and-so
tells me he put them in overright Mr. Watson's forty-five years ago,
and look what trees they be now! They terrible wanted to cut 'em down
when they made that alteration to the road down there, but Watson said
he wouldn't have 'em moved for any money.... I likes a lime; 'tis such
a bower."

So the pleasant chatter oozed out of him, as he worked with leisurely
stroke, enjoying the morning. With his robins and his bowers, he was
in the most cheerful spirits. At one time there was talk of the
doctor, whom he had seen going down the lane on a bicycle, and had
warned against trying to cross the stream, which the coming of the
mild weather had flooded; and of the doctor's thanks, since he
disliked wading; and of Bettesworth's own suggestion, laughingly
assented to, that the doctor's "horse" was not partial to water.

It was all so spontaneous, this chatter, so innocent of endeavour to
get the effect it produced, that a quite incongruous subject was
powerless to mar its quality. He told me that, two days ago, he had
bespoken at the butcher's shop a bullock's head, and that when he went
to get it on this same glistening morning the butcher commended him
for coming early, because "people was reg'lar runnin' after him for
'em." So early was he that the bullock had not been killed an hour,
and he had to wait while they skinned the head and "took the eyes
out," Bettesworth no doubt looking on with interest. And he had
brought this thing home with him--was going to put it in brine at
night, "and then to-morrer into the pot it goes, and that 'll make me
some rare nice soup."


_March 1, 1901._--I am reminded, however, that this was not real
spring, but only a foretaste of it. As yet the birds were not pairing,
and before their day came (according to Bettesworth, St. Valentine's
is the day when the birds begin to pair) there was more snow. But
observe the advance the spring has made when March comes in. On the
first afternoon of March I noticed Bettesworth's "mate" with him
again, "twiddlin'," as usual; but I fancied and said that he looked
larger than before, and Bettesworth suggested that perhaps he was
living better--getting more food. Then I thought that the robin's
crest seemed more feathery, and was told at once, "That shows the time
o' year. Wonderful how tame he is!" exclaimed the old man. He added,
shaking his head, "But he goes away courtin' at times. He loses a lot
o' time" (from his work with Bettesworth). "Then he comes back, and
sets up on the fence an' _sings_ to me.... But he loses a lot o' time.
I tells 'n I shall 'ave to 'ave done with 'n."


_April 19._--Six weeks go by, during which the lawn grass has been
growing, and by the middle of April Bettesworth is busy with the
lawn-mower. There was a neglected grass plot, never mown before save
with the scythe, over which he tried this spring to run the machine.
But failing, and explaining why, he used an old word so oddly that I
noted it, whereby it happens that I get now this minute reminder of an
April occupation.

"She," he said, meaning the machine, would certainly refuse to cut
some of the coarser tussocks of this grass. "Why, even down there
where I bin cuttin', see how she took they cuds in her mouth and spet
'em out--like a old feller with a chew o' baccer--he'll bite and
spet...."

The "cuds" to which he referred were little tufts of grass, which only
persistent rolling would reduce to a level meet for a lawn-mower.


_June 22._--Omitting one short reference to somebody else's family
history, and one yet shorter observation on horses and their eyesight,
we skip right over May, nor stop again till we come to the longest
days. Here the record alights for a moment, just long enough to show a
wet mid-June, and Bettesworth keenly alive to the duties of husbandmen
in it. He glanced down towards the meadow in the bottom of the valley.
An unfinished rick of hay stood there, waiting for the remaining
grass, which lay about on the ground, and was losing colour. And
Bettesworth said,

"Bill Crawte 'll play about wi' that little bit o' hay down there till
'tis all spoilt."

In truth, it should have been taken up the previous day, as I ventured
to suggest. Then Bettesworth, contemptuously,

"He told me he heared it rainin' this mornin' at three o'clock, and
got up to cover his rick over. _He'd heared_ it _rainin'_. Why, he
might ha' bin asleep, an' then that rain would ha' gone down into that
rick two foot or more."

That is all. There is no more to tell of the old man's summer, nothing
for July and August. But in September we get a glance back to the past
harvest, a glance round at the earliest autumn prospects, and a
strange suggestion of the first-class importance of these things in
the life of country labouring folk. In brief compass, the talk runs
rapidly over many points of interest.


_September 6._--For if "the fly" was not on our seedling cabbage, as
we were inclined to fear, it had certainly ruined sundry sowings of
turnips, both in this garden and down there where Bettesworth lived.

"We can't help it," so he philosophized, "and I don't care if we get
enough for ourselves, though I should ha' liked to have more." But
"Hammond says _he's_ turnips be all spiled, and Porter's brother what
lives over here at this cot" (the brother, that is, of Porter, who
lives over here), "he bin down to Sussex harvestin' for the same man I
worked for so many years. Seven weeks. But then he bin hoein'.... He
was tellin' me his master down there sowed hunderd an' twenty acres o'
swedes, and never saved twenty of 'em. Fly took 'em all, and he had to
drill again with turnips. Swedes, and same with the mangol'.

"He says they've had it as hot down there as we have here. But, straw!
There was some straw, by all accounts. Young Collison what lives over
opposite me was 'long with 'n. Seven weeks he" (which?) "was away, but
it seems he had a bit of a miff with his wife, and went off
unbeknownst to her. She went to the relievin' officer, and he told her
_they'd_ find 'n, if she'd go into the union. He was off harvestin'.
He told me o' Sunday he thought 't 'd do her good."

"Who was she?"

"Gal from Reading. He was up that way somewhere for 'leven year, in a
brick-works. And she thought very likely as he was gone off into some
brick-works again; but he was down in Sussex, harvestin'."


_September 21._--Though only two weeks later, there is distinct autumn
in the next fragment, and yet perhaps for me only, because of the
picture it calls up. I remember a very still Saturday afternoon, a sky
curtained by quiet cloud, the air motionless, a grey mist stealing
into the lane that leads down into the heart of the valley. Certainly
it was an autumn day.

As he always did on Saturdays, Bettesworth had swept up the garden
paths with extra care, and on this afternoon had taken the sweepings
into the lane, to fill up a rut there. Upon my going out to see him,
he chuckled.

"You'd ha' laughed if you'd ha' bin out here wi' me at dinner-time. A
lady come up the lane, wantin' to know who you was. 'Who lives here?'
she says." He mimicked a high-pitched and affected voice. "'Mister
Bourne,' I says. 'Iss he a gentilman?' she says. 'You don't s'pose
he's a lady, do ye?' I says. 'What a beastlie road!' she says, and
went off, tip-toein' an' twistin' herself about--dunno how to walk nor
talk neither."

I asked who the lady was.

"I dunno. Strangers--she and a man with her. 'Iss he a gentilman?' she
says. I can't _bear_ for people to be inquisitive. What should she
want to know all about you for? Might ha' knowed you wasn't a lady.
There, I was _bound_ to give her closure, askin' me such a silly
question!"

"What were they doing down here?"

"They was down here hookin' down blackberries with a stick. And then
come askin' me a silly question like that! _Silly_ questions! I don't
see what people wants to ast 'em for. She went off 'long o' the man,
huggin' up close to him, an' twistin' herself about. Dunno how to walk
nor yet talk! 'Iss he a gentilman!'"


_November 10, 1901._--Two odd words--one of them perhaps newly coined
for the occasion, the other misused--were the reason for my preserving
a short note which brings us to November, and shows us Bettesworth
proposing to himself a task appropriate to the season. The sap was
dying down in the trees; the fruit bushes had lost their leaves, and
stood ready for winter, and their arrangement offended Bettesworth's
taste. He would have had the garden formal and orderly, if he had been
able.

"I thought I'd take up them currant bushes," he said, "and put 'em in
again in rotation"--in a straight row, he meant, as he went on to
explain. "They'd look better than all jaggled about, same as they be
now."

And so the currant-bushes, which until then were "jaggled," or
zig-zagged about, were duly moved, and stand to this day in a line. At
that time he could still see a currant-bush, and criticize its
position.


_November 22._--Towards fallen leaves, it is recorded a little later,
he preserved a constant animosity. His patient sweepings and
grumblings were one of the notes of early winter for me--"the
slovenliest time of all the year," he used to say.

He even doubted that leaves made a good manure, and he quoted
authorities in support of his own opinion. Had not a gardener in the
town said that he, for his part, always burnt the leaves, as soon as
they were dry enough to burn, because "they be reg'lar poison to the
ground"? Or, "if you opens a hole and puts in a bushel or two to form
mould, they got to bide three years, an' _then_ you got to mix other
earth with 'em." As litter for pigs, he admitted, dead leaves were
useful; yet should the cleanings of the pigsty be afterwards heaped up
and allowed to dry, the first wind would "purl the leaves about all
over the place.... And that makes me think there en't much _in_ 'em,"
or surely they would rot?

But unquestionably leaves make good dry litter. "My old gal" (so the
discourse proceeded)--"my old gal used to go out an' get 'em," so that
the pig might have a dry bed; in which care the "old gal" contrasted
nobly with "Will Crawte down 'ere," who had little pigs at this time
"up to their belly in slurry." They could not thrive--Bettesworth was
satisfied of that. His wife, in the days of her strength, would "go
out on to the common, tearin' up moth or rowatt with her hands--her
hands was harder 'n mine--and she'd tear up moth or rowatt or
anything," to make a clean bed for the pig.

I suppose that by "moth" he meant moss. "Rowatt" is old grass which
has never been cut, but has run to seed and turned yellow. With regard
to rowatt, it makes a good litter and a tolerable manure, said
Bettesworth; with this drawback, however, that "if you gets it wi' the
seed on," however much it may have been trampled in the pigsty, "'tis
bound to come up when you spreads the manure on the ground."



XI


A timely reminder occurs here, that with all its rustic
attractiveness--its genial labours in this picturesque valley, its
sensitive response to the slow changes of the year--Bettesworth's life
could not be an idyllic one. For that, he needed a wife who could make
him comfortable, and encourage him by the practice of old-fashioned
cottage economies; but Fate had denied him that help. From time to
time I heard of old Lucy's having fits, but I paid little heed, and
cannot tell why I noted the attack by which she was prostrated at the
end of this November, unless that again it was borne in upon me how
Bettesworth himself must suffer on such occasions.


_November 24, 1901._--On Sunday, November 24, the trouble was taking
its ordinary course. There had been the long night, disturbed by
successive seizures, in one of which the old woman could not be saved
from falling out of bed "flump on the floor"; there was the helpless
day in which Bettesworth must cook his own dinner or go without; there
were the dreadful suggestions from the neighbours that he ought to put
his wife away in an asylum; there was his own tight-lipped resolve to
do nothing of the sort, but to remember always how good to him she had
been. It was merely the usual thing; and if we remember how it kept
recurring and was a part almost of Bettesworth's daily life, that is
enough, without further detail.

To get a clear impression of his contemporary circumstances is
necessary, lest the narrative be confused by his frequent references
to old times. Tending his wife, working unadventurously in my garden,
loving the succession of crops, humbly subservient to the weather or
gladdening at its glories, as he went about he spilt anecdotes of
other years and different scenes, which must be picked up as we go.
But the day-to-day existence must be kept in mind meanwhile. He
gossipped at haphazard, but the telling of any one of those narratives
which so often interrupt the course of this book was only the most
trivial and momentary incident in his contemporary history. He spoke
for a few minutes, and had finished, and his day's work went on as
before.


_November 26._--Thus, around the next glimpse of an exciting moment
forty odd years ago, one has to imagine the November forenoon, raw,
grey with pale fog, in which Bettesworth was at some pottering job or
other, slow enough to make me ask if he were not cold; and so the talk
gets started. No, he was not cold; he felt "_nice_ and warm.... But
yesterday, crawlin' about among that shrubbery after the dead
leaves," his hands were very cold. Yesterday, I remembered then, had
been a day of hard rimy frost, so that it had surprised me, I said, to
see "one of Pearson's carmen" driving without gloves. Bettesworth
looked serious.

"You'd have thought he'd have had gloves for _drivin'_," he said.
Then, meditatively, "I don't think old _Wells_ drives for Pearsons
much now, do he? You very often sees somebody else out with his horse.
He bin with 'em a smart many years. He went there same time as I lef'
Brown's. That was in 1860. Pearsons sent across the street for me to
go on for they, but I'd agreed with Cooper the builder, you know."

From amidst a confusion of details that followed, about Cooper's
business, and where he got his harness, and so on, the fact emerged
that the builder had the use of a stable in Brown's premises, which
explains how Bettesworth's former master makes his appearance on the
scene presently. For Bettesworth had still to work at this stable,
though for a new employer.

"Cooper had a little cob when I went on for 'n. His father give it to
'n--or no, 'twas the harness his father give 'n. One o' these little
Welsh rigs. Spiteful little card he was. I knocked 'n down wi' the
prong seven times one mornin'. When I went in to the stable he kicked
up, and the manure an' litter went in here, what he'd kicked up. In
here." Bettesworth thrust forward his old stubbly chin, and pointed
into the neck-band of his shirt.

I said, "There would have been no talks for me with Bettesworth if he
had touched you!"

"No. He'd have killed me. I ketched up the fust thing I could see, an'
that was the prong, and 't last I was afraid _I'd_ killed _he_. A
bad-tempered little card he was, though. They be _worse_ than an
intire 'orse.... They be worse than an intire _'orse_."

He was dropping into meditation, standing limply with drooping arms,
and fixing an absent-minded look upon his job. For his memory was
straying among the circumstances of forty years ago. Then suddenly he
straightened up again and continued,

"While I'd got the prong, Brown heard the scufflin', and come runnin'
down. 'What the plague's up now?' he says. 'I dunno,' I says; 'I shall
either kill 'n or conquer 'n.' ... But he _was_ a bad-tempered one. He
wouldn't let ye go into the stable to do 'n. I had to get 'n out and
tie his head to a ring in the wall, high up, an' then I could pay 'n
as I mind to. Brown says at last, 'That's enough;' he says, 'I won't
have it.' But Cooper says, 'You let 'n do as he likes.' And I says,
'If I don't have my own way with 'n, you'll have to do 'n yourself.'
But a _good_ little thing on the road, ye know. Quiet! And wouldn't
touch no vittles nor drink away from home, drive 'n where you mind.
Never was a better little thing to go. I think Cooper give eighteen or
twenty pound for 'n. But a _nasty_ little customer--wouldn't let ye
go near 'n in the stable. They jockeys thought _they_ was goin' to
have 'n. They all said they thought he'd be a rum 'n, and so he was,
too.

"One time Mrs. Cooper come into the yard with a green silk dress on,
and he put his head round and grabbed it" (near the waist, to judge by
Bettesworth's gesture), "and tore out a great piece--a yard or more.
Do what I would, I couldn't help laughin', though she was a testy sort
o' woman. And she did fly about, the servant said, when she went
indoors.

"But I thought I'd killed 'n that time with the prong. Sweat, he did,
and bellered like a bull; and 't last I give 'n one on the head. I
made sure I'd killed 'n. _I_ was afraid, then. I thought I'd hit too
hard. And I sweat as much as he did then."



XII


_December 2, 1901._--In view of the hatred in which Bettesworth had
previously held the workhouse infirmary, and which he was destined to
renew later, it is interesting to observe how favourably the place
impressed him about this time, when he visited a friend there.

The friend, whom I will rename "Tom Loveland," had been taken to the
infirmary in October, suffering with the temporary increase of some
obscure chronic disorder which to this day cripples him. Bettesworth
had gone to see him on Sunday afternoon, December 1, in company with
Harriett Loveland, the man's wife.

The patient still lay there, "on his back," I heard on the Monday.

"On Saturday they took off the poultices. Seven weeks they bin
poulticin' of 'n; but Saturday the doctor thought there was 'a slight
change.' But, law!" Bettesworth continued, in scorn of the doctor's
opinion, "they abscesses 'll keep comin'."

"There was two more died, up there in that same room where he is, o'
Saturday." This made six deaths since Loveland's admission. "One of
'em was a man I used to know very well--that 'ere Jack Grey that used
to do" so-and-so at where-is-it. "They sent for his wife, an' she got
there jest two minutes afore he died. Loveland says, 'I tucked my head
down under the blankets when I see 'em bring in the box' (the coffin)
'for 'n.' 'What, did ye think he was for you, Tom?' I says. But he
always was a meek-hearted feller: never had no nerve."

But it was in the appointments of the place where Loveland lay that
Bettesworth was chiefly interested. He was almost enthusiastic over
the whiteness of the sheets, the beeswaxed floor ("like glass to walk
on. I says to Harriet, 'You must take care you don't slip up'"), the
little cupboards ("lockers, they calls 'em") beside each bed; the
nurse, who "seemed to be a pleasant woman;" the daily attendance of
the medical men; and other advantages. All these things persuaded
Bettesworth that the patients were "better off up there than what they
would be at home." And out in the grounds, "You'd meet two old women,
perhaps, walkin' along together; and then, a little further on, some
old men," which all appeared to be very satisfactory.

Were there any circumstances to give offence? Yes: "There's that
Gunner, what used to live up the lane, struttin' about there, like
Lord Muck, in his fine slippers. He's a wardsman. And Bill Lucas,
too." (This latter is a man who lost good work and a pension by giving
way to drink.) "_He_ books ye in an' books ye out. 'I s'pose this is
your _estate_?' I says to 'n." In fact, Bettesworth would seem to have
been publicly sarcastic at this man's expense; and other visitors, I
gathered, laughed at hearing him. "'You be better able to work than
what I be,' I says; 'and yet we got to keep ye. It never ought to be
allowed.'"

To those in the infirmary "You may take anything you mind to, except
spirits or beer. Tea, or anything like that, they may have brought."
And so Bettesworth, having gone unprepared, gave Loveland a shilling,
"to get anything he fancied."



XIII


As yet Bettesworth's cottage by the stream still suited him fairly
well, but he had not lived there for two years without finding out
that it had disadvantages. Of these perhaps the worst was that the
owner was himself only a cottager--an old impoverished man who never
came near the place, and was unable to spend any money on repairing
it. Difficulties were therefore arising, as I learnt one Monday
morning. The reader will observe the day of the week.


_December 9, 1901._--"Didn't it rain about four o'clock this mornin'!"
Bettesworth began, with an emphasis which provoked me to question
whether the rainfall had amounted to a great deal, after all. But he
insisted: "There must ha' bin a smartish lot somewhere. The lake's
full o' water, down as far as Mrs. Skinner's. When the gal come after
the rent yesterday...."

This day being Monday, I exclaimed at his "yesterday." Did he mean it?

"Yes, they always comes Sundays. She says, 'Gran'father told me I was
to look to see whether you'd cleaned out the lake in front of the
cottage.'"

In fact, a fortnight previously a message from the owner had reached
Bettesworth requesting him to do this. The answer given then was
repeated now: "You tell your gran'father he may come an' do it
hisself. I shan't."

"'Oh,' she says" (I continue in Bettesworth's words), "'Mr. Mardon'"
(the tenant of the next cottage) "'said he'd do some.'"

"'He may come and do this if he mind to,' I says. ''Twon't flood
_me_.'" Mardon's cottage was certainly in danger of flooding, should
there come prolonged rain.

"Then I said to her, 'How about our well, then? We en't had no water
ever since I spoke to you 'bout it before.'

"'Oh,' she says, 'they come an' looked at the well Saturday. But
gran'father says 't 'll cost too much. 'T 'll want a lot o' bricks an'
things. If he has it done, he says he'll have to put up your
rent--yours and Mr. Mardon's--'cause you be the only two as pays
anything. En't it a shame?' she says. 'There's that old Mileham--he
earns good money every week, and never pays a ha'penny.'"

At this point I foolishly interrupted, and being told how Mileham
"won't pay, and poor old Mrs. Connor, she en't _got_ it to pay," I
interrupted again, not understanding.

"Hasn't _got_ it to pay? How do you mean?"

"Why, what _have_ she got, sir? All the time her husband was alive,
drawin' his pension, the rent was paid up every pension day. But now
she en't got nothin' comin' in, and that lout of a boy of hers don't
do nothin'. So there's only me and Mardon pays any rent."

I laughed. "It's a fine encouragement to you to be asked to pay more."

"Yes. I says to her, 'Then we two got to pay for four? You tell your
gran'father he may put it up, but I shan't pay no more for this old
hutch. And I shan't pay what I do, as soon as I can find another place
to go to. If he mind to let we get the well done, and we take it out
o' the rent,' I says, 'I'll agree to that. Not pay no more rent till
we've took it all out.' But she wouldn't say nothin' to that. Or else
generally she got plenty o' gab."

"Who is she?" I asked.

"He's grand-daughter.... That young Mackenzie was her father. She've
got plenty o' gab. 'You 'alf-bred Scotch people,' I says to her
sometimes, 'talks too much.' I tells her of it sometimes. She don't
like me."

It seemed unlikely that Bettesworth would long continue to be a tenant
under such a landlord. The change, however, was not to come yet.

As yet, indeed, difficulties like these were but trivial incidents of
the life in which Bettesworth continued to take an interest as virile
as ever. He had dealt with landlords before, and had no qualms now. It
might be that the great strength of his prime was gone, but his health
seemed unimpaired, and I believe he still felt master of his fate as
he went quietly about his daily work.

It is true that my very next note of him contains evidence of a
digestive weakness which, having not much troubled him hitherto,
though he had always been subject to it, was growing upon him, and
beginning to undermine his forces. But it was for another
reason--because of a curious word he used--that I then recorded what
he told me.


The entry in my journal, bearing still the date December 9, is to the
effect that "on Friday afternoon" a horrid pain took him right through
the midriff, from front to back. "I begun to think I was goin' to
croak," he said afterwards, when telling me about it. "And I reached,
and the sheer-water run out o' my eyes an' mouth. I didn't know where
to go for an hour or more, I was in that pain. I 'xpect 'twas stoopin'
down over my work brought it on. I'd had a hot dinner, ye see--bit o'
pickled pork an' pa'snips. And then stoopin' down.... But that
sheer-water--you knows what I means--run out o' my mouth." I did not
know what he meant, until the next day, when I asked how he felt. He
was "all right," but, repeating the story, said, "and the water run
out o' my mouth, jest like boilin' water."

During the last year or two of his life I think he seldom went a week
without a recurrence of this pain of indigestion, the disorder being
doubtless aggravated by the breakdown of his domestic arrangements.
But this is looking too far ahead. At the period which now concerns
us, he was far from thinking of himself as an invalid. He could joke
about his passing indispositions as he could defy his landlord. This
particular attack, unless I am much mistaken, was the subject of a
flippancy I remember his repeating to me. A neighbour looking in upon
him and seeing his serious condition said genially, "You ben't goin'
to die, be ye, Freddy?" And he answered, "I dunno. Shouldn't care if I
do. 'Tis a poor feller as can't make up his mind to die once. If we
had to die two or three times, then there might be something to fret
about." In relating this to me, he added more seriously, "But nobody
dunno _when_, that's the best of it."

Knowing now how his attitude changed towards death when it was really
near, I can see in this sturdy defiance the evidence of the physical
vigour he was still enjoying. There was no real cause for fretting
about himself, any more than about his affairs; and so he went through
this winter, garrulous and good-tempered, even happy in his way.

Accordingly, taking my notes in their due order, they bring before my
mind, as I read them again now, pleasant pictures of the old man. I
can see him at work, or taking his wages, or starting for the town;
often the very weather and daylight around him come back to me; and
the chief loss is in his voice-tones, which I cannot by any effort of
memory recover.


_December 10, 1901._--One such mind-picture dates from December 10.
The short winter afternoon was already closing in, with a mist--the
forerunner of rain--enveloping the garden between the bare-limbed
trees. Over our heads sounded the roar of wind in a little fir-wood;
but down under the oak-trees by the well, where Bettesworth was
digging, there was shelter and stillness, or only the slight trembling
of a few leaves not yet fallen. It was "nice and warm," he assured me,
and then paused--himself a dusky-looking old figure in the oncoming
dusk--to ask, whom did I think he had seen go down the lane just now?
It was no other than his former neighbour, "old Jack Morris's widow."

And once again his talk shows how far he was, that afternoon, from
thinking of himself as an infirm person, or an object of pity. I am
struck by the contrast between his later view of things and this which
he professed, when still in good health. For, speaking appreciatively
of Widow Morris as "the _cleanest_ old soul as ever lived," he went on
to say that, though he did not know what she was doing at that time,
she had been in the workhouse. It puzzled him how she lived, and
others like her. And when I said, "She ought to be in the workhouse,"
he echoed the opinion emphatically. "_Better_ off there than what they
be at home, sir." So with Mrs. Connor. "It's a mystery how she lives.
And there's that son of hers, mungs about with a short pipe stuck in
his mouth," and by sheer idleness had lost several jobs, at which he
might have been earning eleven shillings a week. "And that poor gal,
he's sister, got to starve herself to keep her mother and that lout.
Cert'nly, she ought to keep her mother," but, for the lout,
Bettesworth's politer vocabulary was insufficient.

So we talked in the gathering winter dusk, able, both of us, in the
assurance of the comfortable evening before us, to consider the
workhouse as a refuge with which neither of us would ever make
personal acquaintance. If I was unimaginative and therefore callous,
so was Bettesworth. It was he who said, "I reckons that's what they
places be for--old people past work, and little helpless childern."
But as to the able-bodied, "That stoneyard's the place for they, _I_'d
put it on to 'em, so's it 'd give 'em sore hearts, if it didn't sore
hands."

And then he told of a tramp--a carpenter--who had earned his tenpence
an hour, and now was using workhouses to lodge in at night, while all
day he was "munging about" (or "doing a mung"), cadging a few
halfpence for beer.

"And that 'ere bloke down near we, he's another of 'em. Earns
eightpence-halfpenny, and his son sixpence. But they gets it all down
'em." They had not paid Mrs. Skinner for the pork obtained from her
the previous week; indeed, they paid nobody. "Never got nothing, and
yet there's only they two and the old woman."

What a contrast were these wasters--that was the idea of Bettesworth's
talk--with those two poor old widow women, whom he could afford to
pity in his strength and comfort!


_December 24._--The next note brings us to Christmas Eve. The weather
on the preceding day had changed from rimy frost to tempestuous rain,
which at nightfall began to be mingled with snow. By his own account
Bettesworth went to bed soon after seven, although even his wife urged
that it was too early, and that he would never lie till morning. He
had heard the tempest, and the touch of the snow against his bedroom
window, and so had his wife. It excited her. "Ben't ye goin' to look
out at it?" she said. And he, "That won't do me no good, to look at
it. We got a good fire in here."

Such was his own chuckling account of his attitude towards the storm
when I stood by him the next morning high up in the garden, and
watched him sweeping the path. He discussed the prospects for the day,
rejoiced that the snow had not lain, and, looking keenly to the south,
where a dun-coloured watery cloud was travelling eastwards, its edges
melting into luminous mist and just hiding the sun, he thought we
might expect storms. The old man's spirits were elated; and then it
was, when the western end of the valley suddenly lit up as with a
laugh of spring sunlight, and the radiance came sweeping on and broke
all round us--then it was that Bettesworth, as I have elsewhere[1]
related, stood up to give the sunshine his glad welcome.

A narrative followed which helps to explain his good spirits, or at
least discovers the powers of endurance on which they rested. I said,
"We have passed the shortest day--that's a comfort." He stopped
sweeping again, to answer happily, "Yes. And now in about four or five
weeks we shall begin to see the difference. And that's when we gets
the bad weather, lately."

He stood up, the watery sunshine upon him, and leaning on his broom,
he continued, "I remember one winter, after I was married, we did have
some weather. Eighteen inches and two foot o' snow there was--three
foot, in some places. I'd bin out o' work--there was plenty o' work to
do, but we was froze out. For five weeks I 'adn't earnt tuppence. When
Christmas Day come, we _had_ somethin' for dinner, but 'twa'n't much;
and we had a smartish few bottles o' home-made wine.

"Christmas mornin' some o' the chaps I'd bin at work with come round.
'What about that wine?' they says. So we had two or three cupfuls o'
wine; and then they says, 'Ben't ye comin' 'long o' we?' 'No,' I says,
'not 's mornin'.'" Here he shut his mouth, in remembered resignation,
as if still regarding these tempters. "'What's up then?' they says.
'_Come_ on!' 'No,' I says, 'not to-day.' 'Why not?' 'Cause I en't got
no money,' I says. 'Gawd's truth!' they says, 'if that's it...' and I
raked in six shillin's from amongst 'em. I give four to the old gal,
and I kep' two myself, and then I was right for the day."

He made as if to resume sweeping, but desisted to explain, "Ye see,
they was my mates on the same job as me; and they knowed I'd ha' done
the same for e'er a one o' they, more 'n once.

"My old mother-in-law was alive then, over here" (he looked across the
hollow to the old house), "and they wanted we to go and 'ave the day
with they. But my temper wouldn't have that. I says to the old gal,
'None o' their 'elp. We'll bide away, or else p'r'aps by-'n-by they'll
twit us.' I'd sooner ha' gone without vittles, than for they to help
and then twit us with it afterwards, talkin' about what they'd done
for us at Christmas."

FOOTNOTE:

[1] Author's note. "The Bettesworth Book" (second impression).



XIV


One of Bettesworth's swift short tales about his neighbours interested
me considerably at this time, as illustrating the half-sordid,
half-barbarous state of the people amongst whom he had to hold his own
when not at work. I did not suspect that the same tale would put me on
the track of a curious discovery relative to his own past history.


_January 23, 1902._--It was a quiet, windless morning, and the sound
of the knell reached us through the still air. Bettesworth said, "I
s'pose old Jerry's gone at last, then."

"Old Jerry?" I asked.

"Ah, old Jerry Penfold. We always called 'n Old Jerry. He bin dead
several times--or, 't least, they thought so. Rare ructions there bin
over there, no mistake. They got to sharin' out his kit. One come an'
took away his clock, and another his chest o' drawers, and some of his
sons even come an' took away his tools. But the oldest son got the
lawyer an' made 'em bring it all back."

"Rare ructions"--yes: but Bettesworth used the word "rare" as we
should use "great," and did not mean that the affair was very
unusual. He was not scandalized so much as amused by it. For my part,
knowing nothing of the family, who dwelt in another quarter of the
parish, I sought only to identify Old Jerry. Some years previously an
old man who walked along the road with me one night had interested me
with a tale of his shepherding and other labours on a certain farm. I
had never learnt his name, nor had seen the man since; but now it
occurred to me that perhaps he was old Penfold. I asked Bettesworth.

Bettesworth decided in the negative. Old Penfold had never been a
shepherd, or worked for the farmer I named.

Yet another old man then came into my mind: a diminutive man, upwards
of eighty, who was still creeping honourably about at work. Frequently
I met him; but he seemed so shut up in himself that I had never cared
to intrude upon him with more than a "Good-day" when we met. But now I
named him to Bettesworth: old Dicky Martin. Could the missing shepherd
have been he?

Bettesworth shook his head emphatically. It turned out that he and old
Dicky were chums in their way: they knew all about one another, and
with mutual respect. "Couldn't ha' bin old Dicky," said Bettesworth.
"He never worked anywhere else about here 'xcept in builders' yards.
Forty-four year ago he started for Coopers, and bin on there ever
since. He was a sailor before that. He come out o' the navy when he
come here."

Out of the navy! And to think I had been ignorant of such a thing as
that! I had not found my shepherd; but to have discovered a sailor was
something. Scenting romance, in the foolish superficial way of
outsiders, I resolved to improve my acquaintance with old Dicky,
little dreaming that the sailor was going to show me a soldier too;
little supposing that Bettesworth's information about this old man
would be capped by information from him, quite as surprising, about
Bettesworth.

How I fell in with old Martin, early in February, is of no moment
here. He talked very much in Bettesworth's manner, and especially
about cruising in the Mediterranean sixty years ago. But when I said
at last, believing it true, "I don't suppose there is another man in
our parish has travelled so far as you," his reply startled me.

"No, I dessay not--without 'tis your man, Fred Bettesworth."

"He? He never was out of England."

"Yes he was. He bin as fur as Russia and the Black Sea, at any rate."

"You must be wrong. I should have heard of it if he had."

"I dunno about that. P'raps he don't care to talk about it, but 'tis
right enough. I fancy he did get into some trouble. He was a soldier
though, in the Crimea."

Old Dicky was so convinced that I held my peace, though far from
convinced myself. A vague sensation crept over me of having heard some
faint rumour of the same tale, years ago; but what might have been
credible then seemed hardly credible now. I thought that now I knew
all there was to know about Bettesworth's life; and I could not see
where, among so many episodes, this of soldiering was to find room.
Besides, how was it possible that, in ten years or so, during which
Bettesworth had prattled carelessly of anything that came uppermost in
his mind, no hint of this had escaped him? It would have slipped out
unawares, one would have supposed; by some inadvertence or other I
should have learnt it. But, save for that forgotten rumour, nothing
had come until now. Now, however, the man who spoke of it spoke as
from his own personal knowledge. It was very strange.

One thing was clear. If there were truth in this tale after all,
Bettesworth's silence on the subject must have been intentional. Was
there something about it of which he was ashamed? What was that
"trouble" to which old Dicky so darkly alluded? Eager as I was to
question Bettesworth, I was most reluctant to hear anything to his
discredit. And the reluctance prevailed over my curiosity. Feeling
that I had no right to force a confidence from him, I tried to dismiss
the subject from my mind; and for a time I succeeded.



XV


_April 17, 1902._--We pass on to April, when bird-notes were sounding
through all the gardens.

"Hark at those starlings!" I said to Bettesworth. And he, "Yes--I
dunno who 'twas I was talkin' to this mornin', sayin' how he liked to
hear 'em. 'So do our guv'nor,' I says. I likes 'em best when there's
two of 'em gibberin' to one another--jest like 's if they was talkin'.
An' they lifts up their feet, an' flaps up their wings, an' they
nods." The old man's words ran rhythmically to suit the action he was
describing; and then, dropping the rhythm, "I likes to hear 'em very
well. And I don't think they be mischieful birds neither, like these
'ere sparrers and caffeys" (chaffinches). "They beggars, I shouldn't
care so much if when they picked out the peas from the ground they'd
eat 'em. But they jest nips the little green top off and leaves it.
Sims as if they does it reg'lar for mischief."


_April 28._--This sunny, objective side of Bettesworth's temperament
may be remembered in connexion with some other remarks of his on a
very different subject. There was at that time a man living near us
whose mere presence tried his patience. The man belonged to one of
the stricter Nonconformist sects, and had the reputation of being
miserly. "Looks as miserable, he do" (so Bettesworth chanced to
describe him), "as miserable as--as sin. I never see such a feller."

At this I laughed, admitting that our neighbour certainly did not look
as if he knew how to enjoy himself.

"He _don't_. Don't sim to have no pleasure, nor 'sociate with anybody.
There! I'd as lief not have a life at all, as have one like his. I'd
do without, if I couldn't do no better'n that."

Bettesworth's judgment was possibly in error; for there is no telling
what mystical joys, what dreams of another world, may have illuminated
this man's inner life, and made him suspicious of people like
Bettesworth and me. But if there were such compensation, Bettesworth's
temperament was incapable of recognizing it, and the point is
instructive. His own indomitable cheerfulness was of the objective
pagan order. The field of his emotions and fancies had never been
cultivated. His thoughts did not stray beyond this world. From such
deep sources of physical sanity his optimism welled up, that he really
needed, or at any rate craved for, no spiritual consolation. Like his
remote ancestors who first invaded this island, he had the habit of
taking things as they came, and of enjoying them greatly on the whole.
He half enjoyed, even while he was irritated by it, the odd figure
presented by this Nonconformist.


_May 7._--A week afterwards he exhibited the same sort of aloof
interest, annoyed and yet amused, in a jibbing horse. A horse had
brought a ton of coal a part of the way down the lane, and then
refused to budge farther; and Bettesworth could not forget the
incident. It tickles me still to recall with what a queer look on his
face he spoke of the noble animal. The expression was the result of
his trying to say his word for _horse_ (not _'oss_, but _'awss_),
while a facetious smile was twitching at the corners of his mouth.
This was several days after the event. At the time of its occurrence,
someone had remarked that the horse had no pluck, and Bettesworth had
rejoined indignantly, "_I'd_ see about his pluck, if I had the drivin'
of 'n!" But after a day or two his indignation turned to quiet gaiety.
"Won't back," he said, "and he won't draw."

I suggested, "Not bad at standing still."

Then came the queer expression on Bettesworth's face, with "'Good
'awss to _eat_,' the man said." Truly it was odd to see how
Bettesworth's lips, grim enough as a rule, arched out sarcastically
over the word _'awss_.

And it was in a temper not very dissimilar that he commonly regarded
our Nonconformist neighbour. The man amused him.

A pagan of the antique English kind, ready to poke fun at a bad horse,
or sneer at a fanatic, or be happy in listening to the April talk of
the starlings, Bettesworth had quite his share too of the pugnacity
of his race. Years ago he had said that a fight used to be "just his
clip," as a young man; not many years ago he had promptly knocked down
in the road a baker who had got down out of his cart to make
Bettesworth move his wheelbarrow out of the way (I remember that when
the old man told me of this I advised him not to get into trouble, and
he pleaded that it "seemed to do him good"); and now during this
spring--I cannot say exactly when--the fighting spirit suddenly woke
up in him once more.

The circumstance takes us out again from the peace of the garden to
the crude struggle for life in the village. Looking back to that time,
I can see our valley as it were sombrely streaked with the progress of
two or three miserable family embroilments, squalid, weltering,
poisoning the atmosphere, incapable of solution. And though
Bettesworth was no more implicated in these than myself, but like me
was a mere onlooker, he was not, like me, an outsider. He was down on
the very edge of these troubles, and it was the momentary overflow of
one of them in his direction one night that suddenly started him
fighting, in spite of his years.

I may not go into details of the affair. It is enough that during this
April and May our end of the parish was looking on, scandalized, at
the blackguard behaviour of a certain labourer towards his family and
especially his own mother. Of powerful build, the man had been long
known for a bully; and if report went true, he had received several
thrashings in his time. But just now he was surpassing his own record.
He was also presuming upon the forbearance of better men than himself,
and could not keep his tongue from flouts and gibes at them. Speaking
of him to me, Bettesworth expressed his disapproval and no more.
Others, however, were less reticent; and there came a day when I heard
of a quarrel this man had tried to fix upon Bettesworth at the
public-house one evening. He was summarily ejected, my informant said;
and something--I have forgotten what--caused me to suspect that the
"chucker out" was old Bettesworth. That was not explicitly stated,
however. Nor did Bettesworth himself tell me at the time any more than
that there had been a disturbance in the taproom, the man being turned
out, after insulting him.


_May 15._--But, alluding to the affair some time afterwards, he
placidly continued the story. "I cut 'n heels over head, an' when he
got up, and made for the doorway and the open road, I went for 'n
again. They got round me, or I should ha' knocked 'n heels over head
again. I broke my way through four or five of 'em. 'If I was twenty
years younger,' I says to 'n, 'I'd jump the in'ards out of ye.' Some
of 'em says, if he dares touch the old man they'd go for 'n theirself.
'All right!' I says, 'you no call to worry about me. I can manage he.'
And they told 'n, 'You got hold o' the wrong one this time, Sammy.'"



XVI


During these months, the story of Bettesworth's having been a soldier
in the Crimea remained unverified. I was watching for hints of it from
him, and he gave not the slightest; for opportunities of asking him
about it without offence, and not one occurred. And slowly the tale
receded from my mind, and my belief in it dwindled away.

By what chance, or in what circumstances, the mystery suddenly
recurred to me is more than I can tell now. But one rainy May
afternoon--I remember that much--the old man was in the wood-shed,
sitting astraddle on one block of wood, and chopping firewood on
another block between his knees. He looked careless enough,
comfortable enough, sitting there in the dry, with the sound of rain
entering through the open shed door. What was it he said, or I, to
give me an opening? I shall never know; but presently I found myself
challenging him to confess the truth of what was reported of him.

And I remember well how at once his careless expression changed, as if
he had been taxed with a fault, and how for some seconds he sat
looking fixedly before him in a shamefaced, embarrassed way, like a
schoolboy who has been "found out." For some seconds the silence
lasted; then he said reluctantly, "It's true. So I was." And the
circumstantial talk that followed left me without any further doubt on
the point.

It was at the Rose and Crown--a well-known tavern in the neighbouring
town--that he 'listed. His "chum" (I don't know who his chum was) had
already enlisted at Alton, and "everybody thought," as Bettesworth
said, that he too had done so at the same time, for he had the
soldier's belt on, there in the Alton inn. But he had not taken the
shilling there. He returned home to his brother Jim, "what was up
there at Middlesham, same job as old Stubby got now--seventeen year he
had 'long with the charcoal-burners up there"--and Jim urged him to
"go to work." Bettesworth, however, was obstinate. "No," he said, "I
shall go to Camden Fair." "Better by half go to work." "No, I shall
git about." "And I come down to the town" (so his tale continued),
"and there I see my chum what had 'listed at Alton day before. 'Come
on,' he says; 'make up your mind to go with we.' ''Greed,' I says. And
I went up 'long with 'n to the Rose and Crown...."

"How old were you then? It must have been before you were married?"

"Yes; I was sixteen. I served a year and eight months."

"Ah." I looked out at the May foliage and the kindly rain, and thought
of the Crimean winter.

"You saw some cold weather, then?"

"No mistake. Two winters and one summer." He was, in fact, before
Sebastopol, and now that the secret was out, he hurried on to tell
familiarly of Kertch, the Black Sea, the Dardanelles, so glibly that
my memory was unable to take it all in. What was most strange was to
hear these places, whose names to stay-at-home people like myself have
come to have an epic sound, spoken of as the scene of merely trivial
incidents. As it was only of what he observed himself that Bettesworth
told, this could hardly have been otherwise; yet it is odd to think
that Tolstoi, writing his marvellous descriptions of the siege, may
have set eyes on him. To this harum-scarum English plough-boy,
ignorant, rollicking, reckless, it was not the great events, on a
large scale, that were prominent, but the queer things, the little
haphazard details upon which he happened to stumble. Through the
narrative his own personality was to the fore; just the same dogged
personality that I was to know afterwards, but not yet chastened and
made wise by experience.

It was here in the Crimea that, carrying that letter to post to his
brother, as already told in "The Bettesworth Book," he met his "mate,"
and, opening the letter, took out the "dollar" it contained, and spent
it on a bottle of rum, tossing the letter away. "In those days," said
he, "I could drink as much rum as I can beer now. We had rum twice a
day: rum and limejuice. That was to keep off the scurvy. Never had no
cups nor nothing. We had knives, same as that old clasp-knife I got
now, and used to knock off the necks o' the bottles with they."

He remembered well the hard times, and the privations our troops
endured. "Sixteen of us in one o' they little tents. We had a blanket
and a waterproof sheet--not the fust winter, though; and boots that
come up to your thigh, big enough to get into with your shoes on.
There was one little chap named Tickle, he got into his boots with his
shoes on, and couldn't git 'em off again. He was put under stoppages
for 'em. Fifty shillin's for a pair o' they boots. You got into
'em--they was never made to fit no man--and bid in 'em for a month
together--freezed on to ye."

Again, "It was starvation done for so many of our chaps out there.
Cold an' starvation. I've bin out on duty forty-eight hours at a
stretch; then march back three mile to camp; and then some of us 'd
have to march another seven mile to fetch biscuit from the sea. And
_then_ you only got your share, same as the rest.... Sometimes the
biscuit was dry; and then again you'd on'y git some as had bin trod to
death by mules or camels.... That was the way to git a appetite....
But there was plenty o' rum; good rum too; better 'n what you gits
about here." The system of pay, or rather the want of system, appears
to have made this abundance of rum a more than usually doubtful
blessing. The men went sometimes "weeks together without gettin' any
pay; and then when we got it, it was very soon all gone." Sixpence a
day--four and twopence a week--(Bettesworth figured it out)--a very
handy sum was this week's pay, I gathered, for buying rum by the
bottle. The price of a bottle of stout was half a crown.

Reverting to the terrible weather, Bettesworth told how he had seen
"strong men, smoking their pipe," and four hours afterwards beheld
them carried by on a stretcher, to be buried. Ill-fed, I inferred,
they succumbed thus suddenly to the fearful cold. Green coffee was
provided, and the men had to hunt about for roots to make a fire for
cooking it. And then, just as they had got their coffee into their
mess-tins, they would be called out, perhaps, to stand on duty for
eight hours together.

The dead were buried "in their kit," with their clothes on. Sometimes,
Bettesworth hinted, money would be found on them and appropriated from
their pockets, but "we wan't allowed no plunder," he added. As for the
graves, "I've see 'em chucked into graves eighteen inches or two foot
deep, perhaps--just a little earth put over 'em; and when you go by a
fortnight or so after, you might see their toes stickin' out o' the
ground. You never see no coffin." The only coffin that Bettesworth saw
was Lord Raglan's. "That was a funeral! Seven miles long...."

At the close of the war Bettesworth came home "among the reductions,"
yet not for several months, during which he was employed on "fatigue
parties" in collecting old metal--guns, ammunition cases, and so
forth--for ballast to the ships in Balaclava Harbour. He described the
Harbour: it was "like comin' in at that door; an' then, when you gets
inside, it all spreads out...." Storm in the Black Sea overtook the
troop-ship, where were "seventeen hunderd of us. Three hunderd was
ship's company.... And some down on their knees prayin', some cursin',
some laughin' an' drinkin', some dancin'.... And the troop-ship we
come home in--might 's well ha' come in a hog-tub. She'd bin all
through the war, and he" (the captain) "reckoned 'twas great honour to
bring her home, and he wouldn't have no tugs. Forty-nine days we was,
comin' home. And she leaked, an' then 'twas 'all hands to the
pumps....' Great pumps...."

Yes, of course he remembered the pumps. It was Bettesworth all over,
to take a vivid and intelligent practical interest in anything of the
kind that there was to be seen. He had had no observation lessons at
school, and had never heard of "object studies"; he simply observed
for the pleasure of observing, instinctively as a cat examines a new
piece of furniture, and if not with any cultivated sense of
proportion, still with a great evenness of judgment. On one other
occasion, and one only in my hearing, he reverted to his Crimean
experiences; and as will be seen in its proper place, the narrative
again showed him observing with the same balanced mind, never
enthusiastic, but also never satiated, never bored.

But what of the "trouble" into which he was alleged to have fallen? I
may as well tell all I know, and have done with it. From Bettesworth
himself no breath of trouble ever reached me. But his avoidance of
this period as a topic of conversation often struck me as a suspicious
circumstance; so that I was not quite unprepared for a statement old
Dicky Martin volunteered when Bettesworth had been some three weeks
dead. He had been "rackety," and had been punished: that was the
substance of the tale. "He got into trouble for goin' into the French
lines after some rum--him an' two or three more. They never stopped,
he told me, to ask 'n no questions, but strapped 'n up and give 'n two
or three dozen for 't."



XVII


I suppose that Bettesworth's Crimean reminiscences occupied in
narration to me something less than fifteen minutes of his life, so
that obviously the space they take up in this volume is out of all
proportion to their importance. For my theme is not this or that
recollection of his, but the way in which the old man lived out these
last of his years, while the memories passed across his mind. It is of
small consequence what he remembered. Had he recalled the Indian
Mutiny instead of the Crimea, it would have been all one, by that wet
afternoon of May, 1902. He would have sat on his block dandling the
chopper just the same, and the raindrops from trees outside would have
come slanting into the shed doorway and splashed on my hand as I
listened to him.

And as they are disproportionately long, these day-dreams of
Bettesworth, so also they become too solid on the printed page, side
by side with the reality which encompassed them then, and is my
subject now. They provoke us to forget the old man, alive and talking.
They take us back fifty years too far. From the hardships of the
Crimean War it is a wrench to return to the reality--the shed in this
valley, the patter of the rain, the old gossipping voice. But all
this, so impossible to restore now that it too has become only a
reminiscence, being then the commonplace of my life as well as of
Bettesworth's, was allowed to pass by almost unnoticed. I let slip
what I really liked, took for granted the strong life that alone made
me care for the conversation, and saved only some dead litter of
observation which was let fall by the living man and seemed to me odd.

Need I explain how of this too I was gradually saving less and less?
The oddness was wearing off; only the more exceptional things seemed
now worth taking care of. Unless there was something as surprising to
hear as this talk of the Crimean War--and such exceptions of course
appeared with increasing rareness--I hardly took the trouble, at this
period, to set down in writing any of Bettesworth's daily gossip. The
naturalist, having noted in his diary the first two swallows that do
not after all make a summer, has no record save in his brain of the
subsequent curvings and interlacings in the summer sky; and I,
similarly, find myself with little besides a vague memory of
Bettesworth's doings in this summer of 1902. In fact, it is not even a
memory that I have. There is only an inference that day by day he must
have done his work in the warm weather, and I must have talked to him.
But I am unable to restore this for a reader's benefit. "Imagine him
going on as usual," shall I say? Why, it is more than I can do myself.
A row of asterisks would serve the purpose equally well.

So there is a void for two months--nay, with one exception, for more
than three, from the middle of May to the end of August; in which one
surmises that the summer flies buzzed in the garden, and Bettesworth
did his hoeing and grass-cutting, and was companionable. The one
exception, fortunately, has the very life in it which I am regretting.
It is but a short sentence of six words, yet they are as if spoken
within the hour, and are the clearer for the void around them.

On the afternoon of July 15, the grape vine on the wall near my window
was being attended to by the pruner. He stood on a ladder, which was
held steady by Bettesworth at the foot; and presently through the open
window the old man's voice reached me, complaining of the recent
blighty weather: "There en't nothin' 'ardly looks _kind_."

"No; not to say _kind_," the pruner assented.

That is all. But precisely because there is nothing in it, because it
is a piece of normal instead of exceptional talk, it has the accent of
the season. Bettesworth's voice reaches me; the light falls warm
through the vine-leaves; the lost summer seems to come back with all
the accompanying scene, almost as distinctly as if I had but just
written the words down.


_August 28, 1902._--The harvest, of course, could not go by without
remark from him. From the garden we could see, beyond the meadow in
the bottom of the valley, a little two-acre cornfield, which had stood
for several days half reaped--the upper side uncut, the lower side
prosperous-looking with its rows of sheaves. Then there came a morning
when it was all in sheaves, and Bettesworth said,

"Old Ben" (meaning Ben Turner) "done it for 'n" (the owner) "last
night. Made a dark job of it."

I realized that in his cottage down by the lake, Bettesworth, going to
bed, had been able to hear the reaping in the dark, across the meadow.

He proceeded, "Ben took his hoss and cart down into Sussex a week or
two ago, to see if he could get a job harvestin'. Was only gone three
days, though: him an' four or five more. But I reckon they only went
off for a booze--I don't believe they made e'er a try to get a
job...."

"Our Will" (his brother-in-law) "says down there at Cowhatch they had
a wonderful crop of oats. But he reckons they've wasted enough with
the machine to ha' paid for reapin' it by hand. Stands to
reason--where them great things comes whoppin' into it over and over,
it shatters out a lot. Will says where they've took up the sheaves you
can see the ground half covered with what they've wasted."

Not knowing what to say, I hesitated, and at last muttered
simultaneously with Bettesworth, "'T seems a pity."

"It's what I calls 'pound wise,'" added he, misquoting a proverb which
possibly was not invented by his class, and was foreign to him.


_September 20, 1902._--I turn over the page in my note-book, but come
to a new date three weeks later. Quiet autumn sunshine, the entry
says, had marked the last few days, breaking through with a limpid
splash in the mornings, after the mist had gone. Amidst this, under
the softened tree-shadows, Bettesworth was cutting grass with his
fag-hook.

And "Ah," he said, "it's purty near all up with charcoal-burnin' now."

This was in allusion to the indifferent crop of hops just being picked
and the consequently small demand for charcoal; but it was a
digression too. We had begun talking of a wasp sting. From that to
gnats, and from gnats to a certain tank where they bred, was an
obvious transition.

And now the tank suggested charcoal. For, according to Bettesworth, a
little knob of charcoal put into a tank is better than an equal
quantity of lime, for keeping the water sweet. Further, "If you got a
bit o' meat that's goin' anyways wrong, you put a little bit o'
charcoal on to that, and you won't taste anything bad. I've heared
ever so many charcoal-burners say that. And meat is a thing as won't
keep--not butcher's meat; partic'lar in the summer when you sims to
want it most--something with a little taste to 't." So, charcoal is
useful; but "Ah! it's purty near all up with charcoal-burnin' now."

A good deal that followed, about the technicalities of
charcoal-burning, has been printed in another place, and is omitted
here. One point, however, may now be taken up. It is the curious fact
that all the charcoal-burners of the neighbourhood are congregated in
one district, and the numerous families of them rejoice in one
name--that of Parratt.

"I never knowed anybody but Parratts do it about here," Bettesworth
said; and the name reminded him of a story, as follows:

"My old brother-in-law Snip was down at Devizes one time--him what
used to travel with a van--_Snip_ they always called 'n. And there was
a feller come into the fair with one of these vans all hung round with
bird-cages, ye know--poll-parrots and all kinds o' birds. So old Snip
says to 'n, 'Parrots?' he says, 'what's the use o' you talkin' about
parrots? Why, where I come from,' he says, 'we got Parratts as 'll
burn charcoal, let alone talk. Talk better 'n any o' yourn,' he says.
'You give 'em some beer and _they'll_ talk--or dig hop-ground, or
anything.' Lor'! how that feller did go on at 'n, old Snip said!"

Bettesworth knew something of charcoal-burning by experience, but he
owned himself ignorant of its inner technical niceties. Moreover, he
felt it right to respect a trade "mystery," explaining, "'Tis no use
to be a trade, if everybody can do it. 'Relse we should have poor
livin' then."


_October_ 31, 1902.--A memorandum of October 31 gives just a foretaste
of the approaching winter, and just a momentary searching back into
the experience gained when Bettesworth worked at a farm. For there
must have been hoar-frost lingering on the lawn that last morning in
October, to evoke the old man's opinion, "the less you goes about on
grass while there's a frost on it the better" for the grass. "If
anybody goes over a bit o' clover-lay with the white frost on it you
can tell for a month after what course they took."


_November 11._--Amid some personalities which it would be difficult to
disguise and which had better be omitted, I find in November another
reference to the harsh social life of the village, and it is in
connexion with that same bully whom Bettesworth had previously
chastised. As before, details must be suppressed; I only suggest that
in these dark November nights the labourers in want of company of
course sought it at the public-house. There, I surmise, the bully was
boasting, until Bettesworth shut him up with a retort brutally direct.
Even as it was repeated to me his expression is not printable.
Bettesworth was no angel. He seemed rather, at times, a hard-grained
old sinner; but he always took the manly side, whether with fists or
coarse tongue. In this instance his fitting rebuke won a laugh of
approval from the company, and even "a pint" for himself from one who
was a relative, but no friend, of the offender.


_December 16._--One dry, cloudy day in December Bettesworth used his
tongue forcibly again, but in how much pleasanter a connexion! A
little tree in the garden had to be transplanted to a new position, on
the edge of a bed occupied by old sprouting stumps of kale. One of
these stumps was exactly in the place destined for the tree, and
Bettesworth ruthlessly pulled it up, talking to it:

"You come out of it. There's plenty more like you. If you complains,
we'll chuck ye in the bottom o' the hole for the tree to feed on!"



XVIII


The Old Year, so far as my notes show it, had run to its close without
event for Bettesworth, just as the New Year was to do, excepting for
one big trouble. Yet he was not quite the man at the opening of 1903
that he had been at the opening of 1902. The twelve uneventful months
had, in fact, been leaving their marks upon him--marks almost
imperceptible as each occurred, yet progressive, cumulative in their
effect. On this day or on that, none could have pointed to a change in
the old man, or alleged that he was not so the day before; but as the
seasons swung round it was impossible not to perceive how he was
aging. It is well, therefore, to pause and see what he had become by
this time before we enter upon another year of his life.

There was one silent witness to the increasing decay of his powers
that could not be overlooked. The garden gave him away. People coming
to visit me and it were embarrassed to know what to say, or they even
hinted that it would be an economy to allow Bettesworth a small
pension and hire a younger man, who would do as much work, and do it
better, in half the time. As if I needed to be told that! But then
they were not witnesses, with me, of the pluck--better worth
preserving than any garden--with which Bettesworth sought to make
amends for his vanished youth. His tenacity deepened my regard for
him, even while its poor results almost wore out my patience. He who
had once moved with such vigour was getting slow; and the time was
coming, if it had not come, when I had to wait and dawdle while he
dragged along behind me from one part of the garden to another. A more
serious matter was that with greater effort on his part the garden
ground was less well worked. I don't believe he knew that. He used a
favourite old spade, worn down like himself, and never realized that
"two spits deep" with this tool were little better than one spit with
a proper one; and he could not make out why the carrots forked, and
the peas failed early.

But the worst trial of all was due to another and more pitiful cause.
I could reconcile myself to indifferent crops--after all, I had
enough--but exasperation was daily renewed by the little daily
failures in routine work, owing to his defective sight, which grew
worse and worse. There were the garden paths. With what care the old
man drew his broom along them, working by faith and not sight, blindly
feeling for the rubbish he could not see, and getting it all save from
some corner or other of which his theories had forgotten to take
account! Little nests of disorder collected in this way, to-day here,
to-morrow somewhere else, surprising, offensive to the eye. Again, at
the lawn-mowing, never man worked harder than Bettesworth, or more
conscientiously; but he could not see the track of his machine, and
seams of uncut grass often disfigured the smoothness of the turf even
after he had gone twice over it to make sure of perfection. It was
alarming to see him go near a flower border. He would avoid treading
on any plant of whose existence he knew, by an act of memory; but he
could not know all, and I had to limit his labours strictly to that
part of the garden he planted or tended himself.

What made the situation so difficult to deal with was that his
intentions were so good. He was himself hardly aware that he failed,
and I rather sought to keep him in ignorance of the fact than
otherwise. I felt instinctively that, once it was admitted, all would
be over for Bettesworth; because he was incapable of mending, and open
complaints from me must in the end have led to his dismissal. For that
I was not prepared. He would never get another employment; to cut him
off from this would be like saying that the world had no more use for
him and he might as well die out of the way. But I had no courage to
condemn him to death because my lawn was ill cut. With one exception,
when I sent him to an oculist to see if spectacles would help him (the
oculist reported to me that there was "practically no sight left"), we
kept up the fiction that he could see to do his work. And his
patient, silent struggles to do well were not without an element of
greatness.

But though the drawbacks to employing the old man were many, and such
as to set me oftentimes wondering how long I should be able to endure
them, it must not be thought that he was altogether useless. If he was
slow, he was still strong; if he was half blind, he was wholly
efficient at heavy straightforward work. During this winter, in making
some radical changes which involved a good deal of excavating work,
Bettesworth was like a first-rate navvy, and eagerly put all his
experience at my disposal. There was a trench to be opened for laying
a water-pipe. With a young man to help him, he dug it out and filled
it in again, in about half the time that the job would have taken if
it had been entrusted to a contractor. In one place a little pocket of
bright red gravel was found. This, of his own initiative, he put aside
for use on the paths which he was too blind to sweep clean. But, in
truth, a sort of sympathy with my desires and a keen eye to my
interests frequently inspired him to do the right thing in this kind
of way. He had identified himself with the place; was proud of it;
boasted to his friends of "our" successes; and like a miser over his
hoard, never spared himself where the good of the garden was
concerned, but with aching limbs--his ankle where he had once broken
it pained him cruelly at times--went slaving on for his own
satisfaction, when I would have suggested to him to take things
easily.

I have said that there were those who considered him too expensive a
protégé for me. There were others, I am sure, to whom he appeared no
better than a tedious old man, opinionated, gossiping, not over clean.
Pretty often--especially in bad weather, when there was not much he
could be doing--he went on errands for me to the town, to fetch home
groceries and take vegetables to my friends, and all that sort of
thing. At my friends' he liked calling; they owed to him rather than
to me not a few cookings of cabbage and sticks of celery, for which
they would reward him with praise, and perhaps a glass of beer or the
price of it. Afterwards I would hear lamentings from them how long he
had stayed talking. Once or twice--hardly oftener in all these
years--I had to speak to him in sharp reprimand for being such a
prodigious long time gone; for the glass of beer and the gossip where
he delivered his cabbages did not always satisfy his cravings for
society and comfort: he would turn into a public-house--"Dan
Vickery's" for choice--and come back too late and too talkative. It
was a fault, if you like; but the wonder to me is, not that he
sometimes drank two glasses where one was enough, but that, with his
wit and delight in good company, he did not oftener fall from grace.
Those two or three occasions when he earned my sharp reproofs, and for
half a day afterwards lost his sense of comfort in me as a friend,
were probably times when his home had grown too dreary, his outlook
too hopeless, even for his fortitude. Some readers, no doubt, will be
offended by his taste for beer. I hope there will be some to give him
credit for the months and years in which, with these few exceptions,
he controlled the appetite. Remember, he had no religious convictions,
nor did the peasant traditions by which he lived afford him much
guidance. Alone, of his own inborn instinct for being a decent man, he
strove through all his life, not to be rich, but to live upright and
unashamed. Fumbling, tiresome, garrulous, unprofitable, lean and grim
and dirty in outward appearance, the grey old life was full of fight
for its idea of being a man; full of fight and patience and stubborn
resolve not to give in to anything which it had learnt to regard as
weakness. I remember looking down, after I had upbraided a failure, at
the old limbs bending over the soil in such humility, and I could
hardly bear the thought that very likely they were tired and aching.
This enfeebled body--dead now and mouldering in the churchyard--was
alive in those days, and felt pain. Do but think of that, and then
think of the patient, resolute spirit in it, which almost never
indulged its weaknesses, but had its self-respect, its half-savage
instincts toward righteousness, its smothered tastes, its untold
affections and its tenderness. That was the old man, gaunt-limbed, but
good-tempered, partially blind and fumbling, but experienced, whom we
have to imagine now indomitably facing yet another year of his life,
and a prospect in which there is little for him to hope for. Nay,
there was much for him to dread, had he known. A separate chapter,
however, must be given to the severe trouble which, as already hinted,
overtook him in the early weeks of 1903.



XIX


While the advance of time was affecting Bettesworth himself, another
influence had begun to play havoc with his environment. A glance in
retrospect at this nook of our parish during this same winter of
1902-3 shows the advent of new circumstances, of a kind full of menace
to men like him. Things and persons of the twentieth century had begun
to invade our valley, where men and women so far had lived as if the
nineteenth were not half through.

The coming of the new influence was perhaps too subtle for Bettesworth
to be conscious of it. Perhaps he marked only the normal crumbling
away of the old-fashioned life, by death or departure of his former
associates, and failed to notice that these were no longer being
replaced, as they would have been in former times, by others like
them. Of our old friends close around us four or five were by this
time dead, and others had moved farther afield. We missed especially
old Mrs. Skinner. Since her husband's death in 1901 her domestic
arrangements had not been happy, and in the autumn just past she had
disposed of her little property, and was gone to live across the
valley. But note the circumstances. Only some ten years previously her
husband had bought this property--the cottage and nearly an acre of
ground--for about £70. He may have subsequently added £50 to its
value. Now, however, his widow was able to sell it for something like
£220. The increase shows what a significant change was overtaking us.

I shall revert to this presently. For the moment I stop to gather up
some stray sentences of Bettesworth's which, perhaps, indicate how
unlikely he was to accommodate himself to new circumstances.

The purchaser of Mrs. Skinner's cottage was a man named Kelway--a
curious, nondescript person, as to whose "derivings" we speculated in
vain. What had he been before he came here? No one ever discovered
that, but his behaviour was that of an artisan from near London--a
plasterer or a builder's carpenter--who had come into a little money.
I remember his telling me jauntily on one occasion that he should not
feel settled until he had brought home his American organ (I was
heartily glad that it never came!), and on another that he had made
"hundreds of wheelbarrows" in his time, which I thought unlikely; and
I cannot forget--for there are signs of it to this day--how ruthlessly
he destroyed the natural contours of his garden with ill-devised
"improvements." He pulled out the interior partitions of the cottage,
too, wearing while at the work the correct garb of a plasterer; and
it was in this costume that he annoyed Bettesworth by his patronizing
familiarity. "He says to me" (thus Bettesworth), "'I suppose you don't
know who I am in my dirty dishabille?' 'No,' I says, 'and if I tells
the truth, I don't care nuther.' _He's dirty dishabille!_... He got
too much old buck for me!" Shortly afterwards he asked Bettesworth to
direct him to a good plumber. "'I can do everything else,' he says,
'but plumbing is a thing I never had any knowledge of.' So I says, 'If
I was you I should sleep with a plumber two or three nights.'"


_January 27, 1903._--Again, in the end of January, Bettesworth
reported: "That man down here ast me about peas--what sort we gets,
an' so on." (Remember that he had nearly an acre of ground.) "So I
told 'n, and he says, 'What do they run to for price?' 'Oh, about a
shillin' a quart,' I says; and that's what they _do_ run to. 'I must
have half a pint,' he says. I bust out laughin' at 'n. An' he says he
must have a load o' manure, too! He must mind he don't overdo it! I
was _obliged_ to laugh at 'n."

Of course, such a neighbour would in no circumstances have pleased
Bettesworth. I believe the man had many estimable qualities, but they
were dwarfed beside his own appreciation of them; and his subsequent
disappointments, which ultimately led to his withdrawal from the
neighbourhood, were not of the kind to engage Bettesworth's sympathy.
Indeed, he had no chance of approval in that quarter, coming in the
place of old Mrs. Skinner, with her peasant lore and her pigs.

But if this egregious man was personally offensive to Bettesworth, he
was not intrinsically more strange to the old man than those who
followed him or than others who were settling in the parish. There
were to be no more Mrs. Skinners. Wherever one of the old country sort
of people dropped out from our midst, people of urban habits took
their place. These were of two classes: either wealthy people of
leisure, seeking residences, and bringing their own gardeners who
wanted homes, or else mechanics from the neighbouring town, ready to
pay high rents for the cottages whose value was so swiftly rising. The
stealthiness of the process blinded us, however, to what was
happening. When Bettesworth began, as he did now, to feel the pressure
of civilization pushing him out, neither he nor I understood the
situation.

Right and left, property was changing hands. A big house in the next
hollow, but with its grounds overpeering this, had been bought by a
wealthy resident, and was under repair, already let to some friends of
his. There went with it in the same estate the hill-side opposite this
garden, with two or three cottages visible from here; and everybody
rejoiced when the disreputable tenants of one of these cottages had
notice to quit. It was hoped that the new owner was sensible of the
duties as well as the rights attaching to property.

Meanwhile, Bettesworth's hovel, too, was in the market, the landlord
of it being lately dead; and in the market it remained, while
Bettesworth clamoured in vain for repairs. At last he gave up hope. By
the beginning of 1903 he had resolved to quit his old cottage as soon
as he could find another to go into.

He waited still some weeks, however--property was valuable, cottages
were eagerly sought after--and then what seemed a golden opportunity
arose. The cottage with the disreputable tenants has been mentioned,
adjoining the grounds of the big house. It must have been early in
February when the whisper that it was to be vacant reached
Bettesworth, who forthwith announced to me his intention of applying
for it. Too big, perhaps too good, for him and his wife I may have
thought the place; but there was no other in the neighbourhood to be
heard of, and it was not only for its pleasantness that the old man
coveted it. With his wife there he would be able to keep watch over
her while he was at work here, and there would be almost an end to
those anxieties about her fits, which often made him half afraid to go
home. I remember the secrecy of his talk. He wanted no one to
forestall him. The thing was urgent; and I had no hesitation in
writing a recommendation of him as a desirable tenant, which he
forthwith took to the owner. Why, indeed, should I have hesitated?
Between Bettesworth's punctiliousness on such matters and my own
intention of helping him if need be, there was no fear as to the
payment of the rent. And the improvements he had made to that place
down by the stream argued well for the care he would take of this
better cottage.

My recommendation did its work. Bettesworth was duly accepted as
tenant; he gave notice to leave the other place, and began
preparations for moving; and then, too late, it dawned upon me that
perhaps I had made a mistake. I had forgotten old Mrs. Bettesworth. I
had not set eyes on her for months; for much longer I had not been
inside her dwelling, to see the state it was in. I only knew that
outside the walls were whitewashed, the garden and paths orderly.

The first doubts visited me when I saw that repairs to the new abode
were being done on a scale too extravagant to fit the Bettesworths.
The next resulted from an inspection I made of the cottage at
Bettesworth's desire. He was beyond measure proud to have a place into
which he could invite me without shame; and he took me all over it,
and described to me his plans for improving the garden, without
suspicion of anything amiss. Probably his eyes were too dim to see
what I saw. Some of his furniture, already heaped on the floor in one
of the clean new-papered rooms, had a sooty, cobwebby look that filled
me with forebodings of trouble. However, it was too late to withdraw.
There was no going back to that abandoned place down in the valley.
There was nothing to do but hope for the best.

Hope seemed justified for a week or two, while Bettesworth's new
garden, heretofore a wilderness, assumed a new order. He had sowed
early peas--probably other things too--having actually paid a
neighbour to help him get the ground dug; and he was extremely happy,
until a day came when he said, cautiously and bitterly, "I thinks I
got a enemy." He went on to explain that some one, he suspected,
wanted his cottage, and was trying to get him out of it. I have
forgotten what raised his suspicions. He did not even then realize
that himself, or rather his wife, was the only enemy he had to fear.

That was the miserable truth, however. Down in that other place,
secluded from the neighbours, the old woman had grown utterly squalid,
though Bettesworth had not seen it. And now the owner of the new
cottage, perhaps from the grounds of the large residence destined for
his friends, had caught sight of old Lucy Bettesworth, and had been,
as anyone else would have been, horrified at her filthy appearance.
But he did not act on that single impression: it was not until kindly
means had been taken to ascertain the truth of it that he first
expostulated, and then told Bettesworth that he could not be permitted
to stay. Nay, I was allowed to try first if persuasion of mine could
remedy the evil.

Unfortunately, remedies were not in Bettesworth's power, or he would
by now have employed them, being alarmed as well as indignant. He
listened to my hints that his wife was intolerably dirty, but (I write
from memory) "What can I do, sir?" he said. "I knows she en't like
other women, with her bad hand and all." (She had broken her wrist
some years before, and never regained its strength.) "But I can't
afford to dress her like a lady. I told 'n so to his head: 'I can't
keep a dressed-up doll,' I says." Neither could he, being so nearly
blind, see that his wife was going about unwashed, grimy, like a
dreadful apparition of poverty from the Middle Ages. To her it would
have been useless to speak. Her epilepsy had impaired her intellect,
and any suggestion of reform, even from her own husband, seemed to her
a piece of persecution to be obstinately resented.

So there was nothing to be done. The prospective tenants of the big
house near by could not be expected to endure such a neighbour; the
cottage itself, which had cost £20 for repairs, the owner told me, was
no place for such a tenant. The Bettesworths therefore must go. They
received formal notice to quit; then, as nothing appeared to be
happening, a more peremptory notice was sent limiting their time to
three weeks, yet promising a sovereign as compensation for the work
done and the crops planted in the garden. In the meantime they had
probably done more than a sovereign's worth of damage to the cottage
interior, with its new paper and paint.

But though nothing appeared to be happening, the two old people were
secretly in a state near to distraction. The reader will remember the
peculiar topography of this parish, with the tenements dotted about
for a mile or more on the northern slope of the valley. All up and
down this district, and then on the other side, where he was less at
home, Bettesworth hunted in vain for an available cottage within
possible reach of his work: there was not one to be found. And now he
realized his physical feebleness. Years ago, miles would not have
mattered; he could have shifted to another village and defied the
demands of our new-come town civilization; but now a walk of a mile
would be a consideration. His legs were too old and stiff for a long
walk as well as a day's work.

For several days--and days are money, especially to a working-man--he
searched up and down, his despair increasing, his dismay deepening, at
every fresh disappointment. I began to fear he would break down. He
could not sleep, nor yet could his wife. She had been crying half the
night--so he told me after the misery had endured the best part of the
week. "She kep' on, 'Whatever will become of us, Fred? Wherever
_shall_ we go?'" and he, trying to reassure her that they would "find
somewhere to creep into," seemed to be face to face with the
workhouse as his only prospect. So they spent their night, and rose to
a hopeless morning.

It was time, evidently, for me to take the matter up. Besides, the old
people's trouble was getting on my nerves. Across the valley there was
an empty cottage--one of a pair--which the owner had refused to let on
the strange plea that the tenants who had just left had been so
troublesome and destructive that he was resolved against taking any
others. Such a dry, whimsical old man was this landlord that the story
was not incredible. A retired bricklayer, and a widower, he lived by
himself on next to nothing, not from miserliness but from choice, and
his chief object in life seemed to be to avoid trouble. He had,
however, worked with Bettesworth in years gone by, and was, in fact, a
sort of chum of his, so that it seemed worth while to try what
persuasion would do to shake his resolution of keeping an empty
cottage. And where Bettesworth had failed, I might succeed.

So, one fine morning--it was near the middle of March by now--I hunted
up this old man--a man as genial and kindly as I wish to see--and made
him a proposal. He showed some reluctance to entertain it. Why? The
truth came out at last: he did not want the Bettesworths for tenants;
he knew the indescribable state of the old woman; it was to her that
he objected; and it was to spare his old chum's feelings that he had
invented that story about being unwilling to let the cottage at all.

But the case was desperate. How I pleaded it I no longer remember, nor
is it of any importance. I think there were two interviews. In the end
the cottage was let, not direct to Bettesworth, but to me with
permission to sublet it to him; and two, or at most three days
afterwards, Bettesworth was in possession, and the other cottage once
more stood empty.

So the squalid episode was over. After such a narrow escape from the
workhouse, it was as it were with a gasp of relief that the old couple
settled down in their new abode, safe at last. The place, though, was
not one which Bettesworth would have chosen, had there been a choice.
Down there by the meadow where he had come from, though the cottage
might be crazy, the outlook had been fair. He had been peacefully
alone there; in summer evenings he had heard the men mowing; on winter
nights there was the wind in the withies and the sound of the stream.
But from this time onwards we have to think of him as living in one of
a mean group of tenements which exhibit their stuccoed ugliness
nakedly on a bleak slope above the meadow. As to the neighbours--some
of them resented his coming, for of course the scandal of his wife's
condition was public property by now. With a certain defiant shame,
therefore, he crept in amongst them. Fortunately, the people in the
next-door cottage--an unmarried labourer and his mother--knew
Bettesworth's record, and regarded him as a veteran to be cared for;
and not many weeks passed before the old man felt himself established
in their good-will, and was trying to persuade himself that all was
for the best.

Of course, he was only partially successful in that endeavour.
Occasional bitter remarks showed that he still harboured a resentment
against the owner of the cottage from which he had been turned out,
and, in fact, there were circumstances which would have made it
difficult for him quite to forget the affair. Perched on one of the
steepest of the bluffs, high above the stream, the cottage in which he
was not good enough to live stood beside the path he now had to travel
to and from his work every day. Often, as his legs grew weary and his
breath short with ascending the footpath, he must have felt tempted to
curse the place. Often it must have seemed to taunt him with his
unfitness. Even when he was at work, there it was full in sight. In
bad weather, and as he grew feebler, it stood there on its uplifted
brow, not sheltering the wife to whom he wanted to go at dinner-time,
but like an obstacle in his way. Instead of being his home, it cut him
off from his home; and he took to bringing his dinner with him,
wrapped in a handkerchief; poor cold food which he frequently left
untasted, preferring a pipe.

Yet it was not his nature to be embittered. When the peas he had sown
came up, though for another man's benefit, he looked across at them
from this garden and admired them. They were a fine crop and
remarkably early. If, however, they made him a little envious, he was
generous enough to be pleased too. Perhaps the sight comforted him,
proving that he would have done well there, at least with the garden,
if they had let him stay. And certainly he was flattered when the new
tenant, wholly grateful, asked him what sort of peas these were.
"Earliest of All," he replied, giving the name by which he had really
bought them. And by-and-by a joke arose out of the answer, because the
other man would not believe that the peas were really so called, but
thought Bettesworth was "kiddin' of 'n" with a name invented by
himself. The old man had many a chuckle over this piece of
incredulity. "I tells 'n right enough," he laughed; "but he won't have
it."



XX


As may be imagined, the troubles through which Bettesworth had thus
come did nothing to rejuvenate him. On the contrary, they openly
convicted him of old age, and made it patent that he was no longer
very well able to take care of himself. In fact, the man's instinctive
pride in himself had been shaken, and though I do not think he
consciously slackened his efforts to do well, his unconscious,
spontaneous activity was certainly impaired. It was as though the
inner stimulus to his muscles was gone. He forgot to move as fast as
he was able. Sometimes he would, as it were, wake up, and spur himself
back into something like good labouring form; but after a little time
he would relapse, and go dreamily humming about his work like a very
old man. In these days, my own interest in him reached its lowest ebb.
I found myself burdened with a dependent I could not in honour shake
off; but there was little pleasure to be had in thinking of
Bettesworth. Only now and again, when he dropped into reminiscence,
did he seem worth attention; only now and again, in my note-books of
the period, does he re-emerge, telling chiefly of things the present
generations have forgotten.

To the earliest notice of him for the year an irony attaches, since it
begins by recording with extreme satisfaction the first of those
summer rains which were to make 1903 so memorable and disastrous. How
little did we guess, on that June 10, what was in store for us! My
note describes, almost gloatingly, "one of those gloomy summer
evenings that we get with thundery rain. There is scarcely any wind;
grey cloud, well-nigh motionless, hangs over all the sky; the distant
hills are a stronger grey; the garden is all wet greenness--deep
beyond deep of sombre green, turning black under the denser branches
of the trees. Now and again rain shatters down into the rich
leafage--a solemn noise; and thrushes are vocal; but these sounds do
not disturb the impressive quietness."

So the entry proceeds, noting how stiff and strong the grass was
already looking after a threat of drought; how the hedgerows were
odorous with the pungent scent of nettles; how the lustrous opaque
white of horse-daisies starred certain grassy banks; and at last, how
all my neighbours who have gardens were as well pleased as myself with
the weather.

And so the note comes round to Bettesworth. He too, with his head full
of recollections of past summer rains, and of hopes of rich crops to
result from this present one, was glorying in the gloom of the day.
As the old wise toads crept out from hole and wall-cranny and waddled
solemn and moist-skinned across the lawn about their affairs, so
Bettesworth about his, not much regarding a wet coat. He had theories
as to hilling potatoes, or rather as to not hilling them until the
ground could be drawn round the haulm wet. And here was his chance. In
the afternoon he took it, joyfully, and the earth turned up rich and
dark under his beck.[2]

The tool set him talking. For hilling potatoes he reckoned, a beck is
much better than a hoe: "leaves such a nice crumb on the ground." He
was resolved to have his "five-grained spud" or garden fork turned
into a beck--the next time he went to the town, perhaps, "'cause it
wouldn't take 'em long, jest to turn the neck, and then draw the
rivets an' take the tree out an' put in a handle. 'T'd make a good
tool then--so sharp!

"This old beck I'm usin'," he went on happily, "I warrant he's a
hunderd year old. He belonged to my wife's gran'father afore I had 'n;
and _I_'ve had 'n this thirty year or more.... He's a reg'lar
hand-made one--and a good tool still. That's who he belonged to--my
old gal's gran'father.

"He" (the grandfather) "had this place over here o' Warner's--'twas
him as built that, you know." The property mentioned is a large
cottage and garden, adjoining that from which Bettesworth and his
wife had so lately been turned out. "And he was the one as fust
planted Brook's Field. He had Nott's, down here, and Mavin's, and
Brook's Field--and a _purty_ bit that was, too! He was the fust one as
planted it. Dessay he had a hunderd acres. Used to keep a little team,
and a waggon shed--up the lane here, an' come down this lane an' right
in there...."

But we need not follow Bettesworth into these topographical details.
Returning, in a moment, to the prosperity of his wife's grandfather,
he hinted at the basis of it. The man was a peasant-farmer, producing
for his own needs first, and enjoying certain valuable rights of
common.

"He used to keep two or three cows," said Bettesworth. "Well, moost
people used to keep a cow then, what _was_ anybody at all. Ye see, the
commons was all open, and the boys what looked after the cows used to
git so much for every one; so the more (cows) they could git the
better their week's wages was for lookin' after 'em.

"They _was_ some boys too, some of 'em--when there got two or three of
'em up there in the Forest together, 'long o' the cows!" The old man
chuckled grimly. "I rec'lect one time me an' Sonny Mander and his
brother went after one o' the forest ponies. There was hunderds o'
ponies then. Deer, too. And as soon as we caught 'n, I was up on his
back. I didn't care after I got _upon_ 'n. I clung on to his
mane--his mane was down to the ground--and off he went with me, all
down towards Rocknest and"--well, and more topography. "He tore
through everything, an' scratched my face, and I was afraid to get off
for fear he should gallop over me.... And they hollerin' after 'n only
made 'n worse. He run till he was beat, afore I got off.

"_Purty_ tannin' I got, when I got 'ome! 'Cause me clothes was tore,
and me cap was gone.... Oh, _I_ had beltinker! They had the news afore
I got 'ome, 'cause so many cowboys see me."

Smiling, Bettesworth resumed work with his ancient beck, by dexterous
twist now right and now left turning the dark wet earth in to the
potato haulm.


It was about this time that, our talk working round somehow to the
subject of donkeys, Bettesworth remarked, as if it were a part of the
natural history of those interesting animals, and indeed one of their
specific habits, "Moost donkeys goes after dirty clothes o' Monday
mornin's." I suppose that is true of the donkeys kept by the numerous
cottage laundresses in this parish.

From this he launched off into a long rambling narrative, which I did
not understand in all its details, of his "old mother-in-law's
donkey," named Jane, whom he once drove down into Sussex for the
harvesting. "She drinked seven pints o' beer 'tween this an'
Chichester. Some policemen give her one pint when we drove down into
Singleton. There was three or four policemen outside the public
there," Goodwood races being on at the time; and these policemen
treated Jane, while Bettesworth went within to refresh himself. "That
an' some bread was all she wanted. I'd took a peck o' corn for her,
but she didn't sim to care about it; and I give a feller thruppence
what 'd got some clover-grass on a cart, but she only had about a
mouthful o' that." In short, Jane preferred bread and beer. "Jest
break a loaf o' bread in half an' put it in a bowl an' pour about a
pint o' beer over 't.... But she'd put her lips into a glass or a cup
and soop it out. Reg'lar coster's donkey, she was, and they'd learnt
her. Not much bigger 'n a good-sized dog--but _trot_!"

How she trotted, and won a wager, against another donkey on the same
road, was told so confusedly that I could not follow the tale.

In Sussex, Jane was the delight of the farmer's children. "'May I have
a ride on your donkey?' they'd say, twenty times a day. 'Yes,' I'd
say, 'if you can catch her.' And she'd let 'em go up to her, but as
soon as ever they got on her back they was off again. 'You give her a
bit o' bread,' I'd say; 'p'raps she'll let ye ride then.' And they
used to give her bread," but she would never suffer them to ride her.

People on the road admired the donkey--nay, the whole equipage.
"Comin' home, down Fernhurst Hill, I got up--'cause I rode down
'ills--I walked all the rest--and says, 'Now, Jane, there's a pint o'
beer for ye at the bottom of the hill.' So we come down" to the inn
there, named by Bettesworth but forgotten by me, "and three or four
farmers there says, 'Here comes the man wi' the little donkey!' And I
called out for a pint, and she thought she was goin' to have it; but I
says, 'No, this is for me. You wait till you got your wind back.'"

We spoke afterwards of other donkeys, and particularly of one--a
lady's of the neighbourhood--which, as Bettesworth had been told, was
"groomed and put into the stable with a cloth over him, jest like the
other horses.... Law! if donkeys was looked after, they'd _kill_ all
the ponies (by outworking them), but they don't get no chance."


The harvesting expeditions into Sussex, and the keeping of cows on the
common, were parts of an antique peasant economy now quite obsolete.
In August of this year a further glimpse of it was obtained, in a
conversation which, I grieve to say, I neglected to set down in
Bettesworth's own words.


_August 21, 1903._--There was a time shortly after his marriage, and,
as I guess, between forty and fifty years ago, when he rented a
cottage and garden quite close to this house. The price of wheat being
then two shillings the gallon, he used to grow wheat in his garden;
and his average crop was at the rate of fourteen or fifteen sacks to
the acre, or nearly twice as much as local farmers now succeed in
growing.

In making this use of his garden he was by no means singular. Many of
his neighbours at that date grew their own corn; and it was Mrs.
Bettesworth's brother (a man still living, and now working a threshing
engine) who dibbed it for them. The dibber ("dessay he got it now")
was described by Bettesworth--a double implement, made for dibbing two
rows at a time. It had two "trees," like spade handles, set side by
side, each of which was socketed into an iron bent forwards like a
letter L. On the under-side of each iron, four excrescences made four
shallow holes in the ground, "about like a egg"; and a rod connecting
the two irons kept the double tool rigid. Walking backwards, the man
using this implement could press into the ground two rows of
egg-shaped holes at a time, as fast as the women could follow with the
seed. For it seems that two women followed the dibber, carrying their
seed-corn in basins and dropping one or two grains into each hole. The
ground was afterwards rolled with a home-made wooden roller; and as
soon as the corn came up the hoe was kept going, the rows being about
eight inches asunder, until the crop was knee high.

Is it wrong to give so much space to these haphazard recollections?
They interrupt the narrative of Bettesworth's slow and weary
decline--that must be admitted. Yet, following as they do so close
upon his wretched experiences in contact with more modern life, they
help to explain why he and modernity were so much at odds. He had been
a labourer, a soldier, all sorts of things; but he had been first and
last by taste a peasant, with ideas and interests proper to another
England than that in which we are living now.

In course of time, but not yet, a good deal more was to be gleaned
from him about this former kind of country existence. I shall take it
as it comes, and, while Bettesworth is losing grip of life, let the
contrast between him dying and the modern world eagerly living make
its own effect. As now this detail, and now that, is added to the
mass, perhaps a little of the atmosphere may be restored in which his
mind still had its being, and through which he saw our time, yet not
as we see it.


Meanwhile, there is one reminiscence which stands by itself and throws
light on little or nothing, but is too queer to be omitted. Having no
place of its own, it is given here because it comes next in my
note-book.


_October 24, 1903._--It was the weather that started our talk.
Bettesworth could not remember anything like this year 1903 for rain.
But there! he supposed we should get some fine weather again
"somewhen?"

Now, I had just been reading some history, and was able to answer
with some confidence, "Oh yes. There have been wet years before this."
And I mentioned the year after the Battle of Waterloo.

Then Bettesworth, "Let's see. Battle of Waterloo? That was in '47,
wa'n't it?"

I chanced to be able to give him the correct date, which he accepted
easily, as if he had known all the time. "Oh ah," he said. "But there
was something in eighteen hunderd and forty-seven--some great affair
or other?... I dunno what 'twas, though, now.... Forty-seven? H'm!"

What could it have been? No, not the Mutiny. "That come after the
Crimea. 'Twa'n't that. But there was something, I know."

I could not imagine what it could have been; but Bettesworth still
pondered, and at last an idea struck him. "June, '47.... H'm!... Oh, I
knows. Old Waterloo Day, that's what 'twas! There used to be a lot of
'em" (he was hurrying on, and I could only surmise that he meant
Waterloo veterans) "at Chatham. I see one of 'em there myself, what
had cut one of his hamstrings out o' cowardice, so's he shouldn't have
to go into the battle. So then they cut the other, too, an' kep' 'n
there" (at Chatham) "for a peep-show. He wa'n't never to be buried,
but put in a glass case when he died.

"He laid up there in his bed, and anybody as mind could go up an' see
'n. They used to flog 'n every Waterloo Day--in the last years 'twas
a bunch o' black ribbons he was flogged with. He had a wooden ball
tied to a bit o' string; and you go up, and ast 'n about the 71st (?),
and see what you'd git! 'Cause one of the soldiers o' the 71st went up
there once, an' called 'n all manner o' things. O' course, when he'd
throwed this ball he could always draw 'n back again, 'cause o' the
string.... And every mornin' he was ast what he'd have to drink. They
said he was worth a lot, and 't'd all go to a sergeant-major's
daughter when he died, what looked after 'n.

"He was worth a lot o' money. Lots used to go up to see 'n--I did, and
so did a many more, 'cause he was kep' there for show, and everybody
as went up he'd ast 'm for something. He'd git half a crown, or ten
shillin's, or a sovereign sometimes. But lots o' soldiers used to go
an' let 'n have it.

"Ye see, he couldn't git up. He cut his own hamstring for cowardice,
so's he shouldn't go into battle, and then they cut the other. 'Twas
the Dook o' Wellington, they says, ordered it to be done, for a
punishment. And, o' course, he never was able to walk again. That done
him. There he laid on the bed, with waddin' wrapped all round to
prevent sores. And in one part o' the room was the glass case ready
for when he died, for 'n to be embarmed an' kep'--'cause he was never
to be buried. Fifty year he laid there! I shouldn't much like his bit,
should you?"

FOOTNOTE:

[2] A tool of which the iron part resembles that of a garden fork, the
handle, however, being socketed into it at right angles, as in a rake.



XXI


_November 4, 1903._--One morning--it was the 4th of
November--Bettesworth said, "I got a invitation out to a grand dinner
to-night, down in the town. Veterans of the Crimea. But I shan't go.
I'd sooner be at home and have a bit o' supper an' get to bed
early.... No; it don't cost ye nothin'--an' plenty _of_ everything;
spirits, good food, a very good _dinner_. Still, you can't go to these
sort o' things without spendin' a shillin'. And then be about half the
night. I don't care about it. If I was to go, 't'd upset me
to-morrer."

All this bewildered me. For one thing, it was plain that the fact of
Bettesworth's having been a soldier was no secret after all. As he now
went on to tell me, he had actually attended two previous dinners. Who
were they, then, who knew his record, and got him his invitation? Who,
indeed, was giving the dinner? Rumours of some such annual
celebration, it is true, had reached me; but it was no public
function. Even by name the promoters were unknown to me; and yet
somehow they had known for several years before I did that my man had
been a soldier in the Crimea.

At the moment, however, it was Bettesworth's refusal of the invitation
that most surprised me, although his alleged reasons were very good.
He so loved good cheer, and he had so few opportunities of enjoying
it--the Oddfellows' dinner was the only other chance he ever had in
any year--that I immediately suspected him of having been swayed in
this instance by something else besides prudence. He sounded
over-virtuous. And presently it struck me that there might have been
something offensive to him in the way the invitation was given.

It had been received on the previous evening. He had just got round to
the public-house, "'long of old White," when "a feller come in,"
inquiring for him. Bettesworth did not know the man; it was "somebody
in a grey suit." "Stood me a glass of hot whisky-and-water, he did,
and old White too." And, referring to Bettesworth's military service,
"'What was ye?' he says. 'A man,' I says. He laughed and says, 'What
are ye drinkin'?' 'Only a glass o' cold fo'penny,' I says." And
Bettesworth seems to have said it in a very meek voice, subtly
insinuating that "the feller" might stand something better.

I inferred, further, that Bettesworth's conscience was now pricking
him for some incivility he had shown in declining the invitation. At
any rate, he made a lame attempt, not otherwise called for, to prove
that a self-respecting man would not humble himself to anyone upon
whom he was not dependent. He had evidently been the reverse of
humble; and possibly the invitation was patronizing, and raised his
ire.

"Or else," he concluded, "I be purty near the only veteran left about
here. There used to be Tom Willett and"--another whose name I have
forgotten--"in the town, but they be gone, and I dunno who else there
is. And I knows there's ne'er another in this parish. Dessay they'll
get a few kiddies from Aldershot. 'Cause there's any amount o'
drink...."

Well, Bettesworth did not go to the dinner, and I never quite
understood why. Possibly he really felt too old for dissipation, even
of a decorous kind: still more likely, he dreaded being at once
under-valued and patronized, among the "kiddies" from Aldershot. He
certainly did well to avoid their company. Long afterwards, when for
other reasons I was making inquiries about this dinner, I learnt that
the behaviour of some of the guests had been scandalous. Some had been
carried away, drunk. Others had taken with them, hidden in their
pockets, the means of getting drunk at home. So I was told; but not by
the promoters, who had shortly afterwards left the neighbourhood.


On this same date (4th November, 1903) Bettesworth informed me of
another circumstance which affected him seriously. It was that he had
lately been superannuated from his club, which he had joined in July,
1866. At that distant time, when he was still a young man, and a
strong one, how should he look forward to the year 1903? By what then
seemed a profitable arrangement, he paid his subscription on a lower
scale, on the understanding that he would receive no financial help in
time of sickness after he was sixty-five years old. He had now passed
that age. Henceforth, for a payment of threepence a month, he was to
have medical attendance free, and on his death the club would pay for
his funeral.

He was mighty philosophical over this. For my part, it was impossible
to look forward without apprehension to the position he would be in
during the approaching winter. A year previously he had shown symptoms
of bronchitis. But what was to become of him now, if he should be ill,
and have no "sick-pay" upon which to fall back?



XXII


I think it must have been during the winter we have reached that the
village policeman stopped me in the road one night to talk about old
Mrs. Bettesworth. He told me, what I vaguely knew, that she was
increasingly ill. Once, if not oftener (I write from memory), he had
helped get her home out of the road, where she had fallen in a fit;
and a fear was upon him that she would come to some tragical end. Then
there would be an inquest; Bettesworth might be blamed for omitting
necessary precautions; at any rate, trouble and scandal must ensue.
The policeman proposed that it would be well if a doctor could see the
old woman occasionally, and suggested that through my influence with
Bettesworth it might be arranged.

Although I promised to see what could be done to carry out so
thoughtful a suggestion, and meant to keep my promise, as a matter of
fact no steps towards its performance were ever taken; and the thing
is mentioned here only as a piece of evidence as to the conditions in
which Bettesworth passed the winter. In the background of his mind,
there stood always the circumstances which had inspired apprehension
in the policeman. I never noted down his dread, because it was too
constant a thing; and for a like reason, he seldom spoke of it; but
there it always was, immovable. The policeman's talk merely shows that
the reasons for it were gathering in force.

Save for one or two other equally vague memories, that winter is lost,
so far as Bettesworth is concerned. We had some cold though not really
severe weather--nothing so terrible as an odd calculation of his would
have made it out to be. "For," said he, "we _be_ gettin' it! The
Vicar's gardener says there was six degrees o' frost this mornin'....
And five yesterday; an' seven the mornin' before. That makes eighteen
degrees!" So he added up the thermometer readings; and, associated
with his words, there comes back to me a winter afternoon in which the
air had grown tense and still. Under an apple-tree, where the ground,
covered with thin snow, was too hard frozen for a tool to penetrate,
the emptyings of an ash-bin from the kitchen lay in a little heap; and
a dozen or so of starlings were quarrelling over this refuse, flying
up to spar at one another, and uttering sharp querulous cries. A white
fog hung in the trees. It was real winter, and I laughed to myself, to
think what a record Bettesworth might make of it by the following
morning.

Seeing that every winter now he was troubled with a cough, I may as
well give here some undated sentences I have preserved, in which he
described how he caught cold on one occasion. "If I'd ha' put on my
wrop as soon 's I left off work," he said, "I should ha' bin aw-right.
'Stead o' that, I went scrawneckin' off 'ome jest's I was, an' that's
how I copt it." The word scrawnecking, whatever he meant by it,
conjures up a picture of him boring blindly ahead with skinny throat
uncovered. He took little care of himself; and considering how ill-fed
he went now that his wife was so helpless, it was small wonder that he
suffered from colds. They did not improve his appetite. They spoilt
many a night's rest for him, too. At such times, the account he used
to give of his coughing was imitative. "Cough cough cough, all night
long." A strong accent on the first and fourth syllables, and a "dying
fall" for the others, gives the cadence.

Beyond these memories nothing else is left of Bettesworth's
experiences during those three months--December, 1903, and January and
February, 1904. Coming to March, I might repeat some interesting
remarks of his upon an affair then agitating the village; but after
all they do not much concern his history, and there are strong reasons
for withholding them. And suppressing these, I find no further account
of him until the middle of May.

The interval, however, between the 3rd of March and the 16th of May,
was sadly eventful for Bettesworth. I cannot say much about it. As
once before when his circumstances grew too tragical, so on this
occasion a vague sense of decency forbade me to sit down and record in
cold blood his sufferings, perhaps for future publication.

What happened was briefly this: that some time in March one of the
colds which had distressed him all the winter settled upon his chest
and rapidly turned to bronchitis. If his wife's condition is taken
into account, the seriousness of the situation will be appreciated. At
his time of life bronchitis would have been bad enough, even with good
nursing; but poor old Lucy Bettesworth was far past devoting to her
husband any attention of that sort. Even in her best state she was
past it, and she was by no means at her best just now. She needed care
herself; had a heavy cold; was at times beyond question slightly
crazy; and, to aggravate the trouble, she was insulting even to the
two or three neighbours who might have conquered their reluctance to
enter the filthy cottage and help the old man. For perhaps a week,
therefore, he lay uncared for, and none realized how ill he was. Only
the next-door neighbour spoke of hearing him coughing all night long.

The old woman received me downstairs when I went to make inquiries.
She sat with her hand at her chest, dishevelled and unspeakably dirty.
And she coughed; tried to attract my sympathy to herself; assured me
"I be as bad as he is"; looked indeed ill, and half-witted. "You can
go up and see 'n," she said. I stumbled up the stairs and found
Bettesworth in bed, with burning cheeks and eyes feverishly bright.
The bedding was disgusting; so were the remains of a bloater left on
the table beside him, so much as to give me a feeling of nausea. As
for nursing, he had had none. He had got out of bed the previous night
and found a packet of mustard, of which he had shaken some into his
hand, and rubbed that into his chest, dry; and that was the only
remedy that had been used for his bronchitis, unless--yes, I think
there was a bottle of medicine on the mantelpiece; for he was still
entitled to the services of the club doctor, who had been sent for.
But in such a case, what could a doctor do?

The next day the old man was worse, at times wandering in his mind.
And, as there was no one else to take the initiative, and as he looked
like dying and involving us all in disgrace, I interviewed the doctor
and--but the story grows wearisome.

To finish, then: the workhouse infirmary was decided upon, as the only
place where Bettesworth could get the nursing without which he would
probably die. Fortunately, he received the proposal reasonably; he was
ready to go anywhere to get well, as he felt that he never would at
home. He merely stipulated that his wife must not be left. A walk to
find the relieving officer and get the necessary orders from him was
to me the only pleasant part of the episode. It took me, on a
brilliant spring evening, some three miles farther into the country,
where I saw the first primroses I had seen outside my garden that
year. It also enabled me to see how parish relief looks from the side
of the poor who have to ask for it, but that was not so pleasant.
However, the officer was civil enough; he gave me the necessary
orders; we made all the arrangements, and on the following day the two
old Bettesworths were driven off miserably in a cab to the workhouse.

How fervently everybody hoped, then, that Bettesworth would leave his
wife behind, if he ever came out of the institution himself alive! And
yet, though it's true he was dependent on me for the wherewithal to
keep his home together, how much nobler was his own behaviour than
that we would have commended! Once in the infirmary, he recovered
quickly; and in ten days, to my amazement (and annoyance at the time),
word came that the old couple were out again. They had toddled feebly
home--a two-mile journey; they two together, not to be separated; each
of them the sole person in the world left to the other. The old woman,
people told me, was amazingly clean. Her hair, which had been cut,
proved white beyond expectation; her face was almost comely now that
it was washed. Had I not seen her? What a pity it was, wasn't it, the
old man wouldn't leave her up there to be took care of, and after all
the trouble it had been, too, to get 'em there!

I believe it was on the day before Good Friday (1904) that they
returned home. When Bettesworth got to work again is more than my
memory tells me. I suppose, though, that I must have paid him a visit
first--probably during the following week; for I remember hoping to
see the old woman's white hair and clean face, and being disappointed
to find her as grimy as ever--her visage almost as black as her hands,
and her hair an ashy grey.



XXIII


_May 16, 1904._--"It is long," says a note of the 16th of May, "since
I wrote down any of Bettesworth's talk; but it flows on
constantly--less vivacious than of old, perhaps, for he is visibly
breaking since his illness in the spring, and is a stiff, shiftless,
rather weary, rather sad old man; but his garrulity has not lost its
flavour of the country-side; and many of his sayings sound to me like
the traditional quips and phrases of earlier generations."

This was apropos of a remark he had let fall about a certain Mr.
Sparrow in an adjacent village, for whom Bettesworth's next-door
neighbour Kiddy Norris had been labouring, until Kiddy could no longer
endure the man's grasping ways. Stooping over his wooden grass-rake,
Bettesworth murmured, as if to the grass, "Old Jones used to say
Sparrows pecks." Then he told how Sparrow, deprived of the services
not only of Kiddy, but of Kiddy's mate Alf, was at a loss for men to
replace them; and, "Ah," Bettesworth commented, "he can't have 'em on
a peg, to take down jest when he mind to." The saying had a suggestive
old-world sound: I could imagine it handed about, on the Surrey
hill-sides, and in cottage gardens, and at public-houses, over and
over again through many years.

Presently Bettesworth said casually, "I hear they're goin' to open
that new church over here in Moorway's Bottom to-morrer. Some of 'em
was terrifyin' little Alf Cook about it last night" (Sunday night;
probably at the public-house), "tellin' him he was goin' to be made
clerk, and he wouldn't be tall enough to reach to ring the bell."

"Little Alf," I asked, "who used to work for So-and-so?"

"Worked for 'n for years. The boys do terrify 'n. Tells 'n he won't be
able to reach to ring the bell. They keeps on. Why, he en't tall
enough to pick strawberries, they says."

"He's got a family, hasn't he?"

"Yes--but they be all doin' for theirselves. Two or three of 'em be
married. _He_ might ha' bin doin' very well. His old father left 'n
the house he lives in, and a smart bit o' ground: but I dunno--some of
'em reckons 'tis purty near all gone."

"Down his neck?"

"Ah. They was talkin' about 'n last night, and they seemed to reckon
there wa'n't much left. But he's a handy little feller. Bin over there
at Cashford this six weeks, so he told me, pointin' hop-poles for they
Fowlers. He said he'd had purty near enough of it. But he poled, I
thinks he said, nine acres o' hop-ground for 'em last year. He bin
pointin' this year. He says he might do better if 'twas nearer
home--he can't git rid o' the chips over there; people won't have 'em.
If he'd got 'em here, they'd be worth sixpence a sack--that always was
the price. He gits so much a hunderd for pointin'; and he told me it
was as much as he could do to earn two-and-nine or three shillin's" (a
day). "Then o' course there's the chips, only he can't sell 'em.
Cert'nly they'd serve he for firin'; but that en't what he wants."


_May 20._--"There's a dandy. You lay there." Bettesworth chose out and
put on one side a dandelion from the grass he was chopping off a green
path. "I'll take he home for my rabbits," he said.

A sow-thistle in the near bank caught my eye. "Your rabbits will eat
sow-thistles too, won't they?" I asked.

"Yes, they likes 'em very well. They'll eat 'em--an' then presently I
shall eat they."

I pulled up the thistle, and another dandelion, while Bettesworth
discoursed of the economics of rabbit-keeping. "'Ten't no good keepin'
'em for the pleasure.... But give me a wild rabbit to eat afore a tame
one, any day. My neighbour Kid kills one purty near every week. He had
one last Sunday must ha' wanted some boilin', or bakin', or
somethin'."

"What, an old one?"

"Old buck. I ast 'n, 'What, have ye had yer teeth ground, then?' I
says. He's purty much of a one for rabbits."

I was not so wonderfully fond of them, I said.

"No? I en't had e'er a one--I dunno _when_. Well--a rabbit, you come
to put one down afore a hungry man, what is it? He's mother have gone
an' bought one for 'n at a shop, when he en't happened to have one
hisself--give as much as a shillin' or fifteenpence. 'Ten't worth it.
Or else I've many a time bought 'em for sixpence--sixpence, or
sixpence-ha'penny, or sevenpence. And they en't worth no more."

During all this he was sweeping up his grass cuttings. The children
came out of school for afternoon recess, and their shoutings sounded
across the valley. "There's the rebels let loose again," said
Bettesworth. From where we stood, high on one of the upper terraces of
the garden, we could see far. The sky was grey and melancholy. A wind
blew up gustily out of the south-east, and I foreboded rain. "We don't
want it from that quarter," Bettesworth replied. "That's such a _cold_
rain. And I've knowed it keep on forty-eight hours, out o' the
east.... I felt a lot better" (of the recent bronchitis) "when she"
(the wind) "shifted out o' there before."

Meanwhile I had pulled up one or two more dandelions, to add to
Bettesworth's heap; and now I espied a small seedling of bryony, which
also I was careful to pull out. The root, already as big as a man's
thumb, came up easily, and I passed it to Bettesworth, asking, "Isn't
that what they give to horses sometimes?"

He handled it. "I never _heared_ of anybody," he answered, perhaps not
recognizing it at this small stage of growth. "Now, ground _ivy_!
That's a rare thing. If you bakes the roots o' that in the oven, an'
then grinds it up to a powder, you no need to _call_ yer horses to ye,
after you've give 'em that. They'll foller ye for it. Dandelion roots
the same. Make 'em as fat! And their coats come up mottled, jest as if
you'd knocked 'em all over with a 'ammer. They'll foller ye about
anywhere for that. _I_'ve give it to 'em, many's a time; bin out,
after my day's work, all round the hedges, purpose to get things for
my 'osses. There's lots o' things in the hedgerow as is good for 'em.
So there is for we too, if we only knowed which they was. We shouldn't
want much _doctor_ if we knowed about herbs.

"Old Waterson, he used to eat dandelion leaves same as you would a
lettuce, and he said it done 'n good, too. Old Steve Blackman was
another. He used to know all about the herbs. If you went into his
kitchen, you'd see it hung all round with little bundles of 'em, to
dry. _He_ was the only one as could cure old Rokey Wells o' the yeller
janders. Gunner had tried 'n--all the doctors had tried 'n, and give
'n up. He'd bin up there at the infirmary eighteen months or more,
till old Steve see 'n one day and took to 'n. And he made a hale
hearty man of 'n again.

"That 'ere Holt--Tom Holt, _you_ know, what used to be keeper at
Culverley--_he_ got the yeller janders now. He's pensioned off--twelve
shillin's a week, and his cot and firin'. Lives in Cashford Bridge
house--you knows that old farmhouse as you goes over Cashford Bridge.
He lives there now. If old Steve's son got his father's book now,
he'll be able to cure 'n. He used to keep a book where he put all the
receipts, so 't is to be hoped his son have kep' it. They says Holt
've got the yeller janders wonderful strong, but if...."


_May 24._--In Bettesworth's opinion, an important part of the training
of a labourer relates to getting about and finding work. The old man
was at the Whit Monday fête with a man named Vickery, of whom he
talked, imitating Vickery's gruff voice with appreciation.
Vickery--sixty or seventy years old--came (I learn) from a village out
Guildford way--"that was his native," says Bettesworth--but was
adopted by an aunt in this parish, who left him her two cottages at
her death. All this, if not interesting to us, was deeply so to
Bettesworth. And Vickery, it appears, has worked all his life in one
situation, at Culverley Park. He began as a boy minding sheep. As a
man, he managed the gas-house belonging to the mansion; and when the
electric light was installed, he took over the management of that,
making up his time with chopping fire-wood, and so forth. And, says
Bettesworth, "They'd ha' to set fire to Culverley to get rid of 'n. He
never worked nowhere else. That's how they be down there. Old Smith's
another of 'em. He bin there forty year. He turned seventy, here a
week ago. Never had but two places, and bin at Culverley forty year.
Why, if they was turned out they wouldn't know how to go about. Same
when Mr. John Payne died: there was a lot o' young fellers turned off.
They hadn't looked out for theirselves; their fathers had always got
the work for 'em, and law! they didn' know where to go no more than a
cuckoo! But I reckon that's a very silly thing."



XXIV[3]


_June 1, 1904._--A cool thundery rain this first of June drove
Bettesworth to shelter. As usual at such times, he busied himself at
sawing and splitting wood for kindling fires.

At the moment of my joining him he was breaking up an old wooden
bucket which had lately been condemned as useless. "Th' old bucket's
done for," he said contemplatively. "I dessay he seen a good deal o'
brewin'; but there en't much of it done now. A good many men used to
make purty near a livin' goin' round brewin' for people. Brown's in
Church Street used to be a rare place for 'em. Dessay you knows
there's a big yard there; an' then they had some good tackle, and
plenty o' room for firin'. Pearsons, Coopers"--he named several who
were wont to make use of Brown's yard and tackle. I asked, "Did the
cottage people brew?" But Bettesworth shook his head. "I never knowed
none much--only this sugar beer."

"But they grew hops?" I asked.

"Oh yes," Bettesworth assented, "every garden had a few hills o'
hops. But 't wa'n't very often they brewed any malted beer. Now 'n
again one 'd get a peck o' malt, but gen'ly 'twas this here sugar
beer. Or else I've brewed over here at my old mother-in-law's, 'cause
they had the tackle, ye see; and so I have gone over there when I've
killed a pig, to salt 'n."

A suggestion that he would hardly know how to brew now caused him to
smile. "No, I don't s'pose I should," he admitted.

I urged next that nearly all people, I supposed, used at one time to
brew their own beer. To which Bettesworth:

"And so they did bake their own bread. They'd buy some flour...."

I interrupted, remembering how he had himself grown corn, to ask if
that was not rather the custom.

"Sometimes. Yes, I _have_ growed corn as high as my own head, up there
at the back of this cot.... But my old gal and me, when hoppin' was
over, we'd buy some flour, enough to last us through the winter, and
then with some taters, and a pig salted down, I'd say, 'There, we no
call to _starve_, let the winter be _what_ it will.' Well, taters, ye
see, didn't cost nothin'; and then we always had a pig. You couldn't
pass a cottage at that time that hadn't a pigsty.... And there was
milk, and butter, and bread...."

"But not many comforts?" I queried.

"No; 'twas rough. But I dunno--they used to look as strong an' jolly
as they do now. But 'twas poor money. The first farm-house I went to I
never had but thirty shillin's and my grub."

"Thirty shillings in how long?"

"Twal'month. And I had to pay my washin' an' buy my own clothes out o'
that."

The point was interesting. Did he buy his clothes at a shop, ready
made?

"Yes. That was always same as 'tis now. Well, there was these round
frocks--you'd get _they_"--home-made, he meant. And he told how his
sister-in-law, Mrs. Loveland, and her mother "used to earn half a
living" at making these "round" or smock frocks to order, for
neighbours. The stuff was bought: the price for making it up was
eighteen-pence, "or if you had much work on 'em, two shillin's."

Much fancy-work, did he mean?

"The gaugin', you know, about here." Bettesworth spread his hands over
his chest, and continued, "Most men got 'em made; their wives 'd make
'em. Some women, o' course, if they wasn't handy wi' the needle, 'd
git somebody else to do 'em. They was warmer 'n anybody 'd think. And
if you bought brown stuff, 'tis surprisin' what a lot o' rain they'd
keep out. One o' them, and a woollen jacket under it, and them yello'
leather gaiters right up your thighs--you could go out in the rain....
But 'twas a white round frock for Sundays."

At this point I let the talk wander; and presently Bettesworth was
relating perhaps the least creditable story he ever told me about
himself. In judging him, however, if anyone desires to judge him after
so many years, the circumstances should be borne in mind. The farm-lad
on thirty shillings a year, the young soldier from the Crimea where he
had been rationed on rum, marrying at last and settling down in this
village where the rough eighteenth-century habits still lingered,
might almost be expected to shock his twentieth-century critics. Be it
admitted that his behaviour on the death of his father-in-law was
disgraceful; but let it be allowed also that that father-in-law, the
old road-foreman, was a drunken tyrant--at times a dangerous
madman--at whose death it was natural to rejoice. However, I will let
Bettesworth get on with his story.

The "white round frock on Sundays" reminded him of his father-in-law's
costume-frock as described, tall hat, and knee-breeches; and this
recalled (here on this rainy June day where we talked in the shed) how
tall a man he was; and how, lying on the floor in the stupor of death,
just across the lane there, he looked "like a great balk o' timber."
Confusedly the narrative hurried on after this. A cottage was
mentioned, which used to stand where now that resident lives who could
not endure the Bettesworths for his tenants. This was the maiden home
of Bettesworth's mother-in-law; and to this the mother-in-law would
flee for refuge, in terror of being murdered by her husband in his
drunken frenzies. Then would the husband follow, and "break in all
the windows"; for which he was "kept out" of the owner's will, and
lost much property that would have been his. Particulars of his
suicide followed: the man cut his throat and lay speechless for eight
days before he died. But at the first news Bettesworth, being one
son-in-law, was dispatched to a village some five miles distant, to
fetch home another. He borrowed a pony and cart; found his
brother-in-law, "and," he said, "we both got as boozy as billyo on the
way home.... ''Arry,' I says, 'the old foreman bin an' done for
hisself.'" At every public-house they came to they had beer, treating
the pony also; and finally they came racing through the town at full
speed. "We should ha' bin locked up for it now. No mistake we _come_,
when we did get away. And when we got 'ome, 'Arry stooped over to
speak to 'n, an' fell over on his face. I didn't wait for _my_
lecture: I had to get the pony home. It was runnin' off 'n, when I got
'n down to his stable, with the pace we'd made, an' the beer he'd had.
We should ha' got into trouble for it if 't had been now. The old
woman come out, an' begun goin' on about it; but the old man says,
'You might be sure they'd travel, for such a job. And he won't be none
the worse for it.' We put 'n in the stable, an' give 'n another pint
o' beer, and rubbed 'n down an' throwed two or three hop-sacks over
'n; an' next mornin' he was as right as ever."

"How long ago?" I asked.

"I 'most forgets how long ago 'twas. A smartish many years. His
wife--she bin dead this--let's see--three-an'-twenty year; and she
lived a good many years after he."

She had property--her husband's, no doubt--which her son Will
(Bettesworth's wife's brother, remember) inherited, yet only by the
skin of his teeth. For if some infant or other had breathed after
birth, that infant's relatives would have been the heirs. On this sort
of subject people like Bettesworth are always most tedious and
obscure. As to the household stuff, it was to be divided; "and when it
come to our turn to choose," Bettesworth said, "my old gal and me said
Will could have ourn. We'd got old clutter enough layin' about, and
Will hadn't got none, ye see, always livin' with his mother. So he had
the stuff an' the cot. They" (the rival party) "had two or three tries
for it; but 'twas proved that the child never breathed. My wife's
sister Jane thought _she_ was goin' to get it. But I says, 'No, Jane;
you wears the wrong clothes. That belongs to William.'"

Bettesworth ceased. In the ten or fifteen minutes while he had been
talking we had got far from the subject of peasant industries; and yet
somehow the thought of them was still present to both of us, and when
he grew silent I nodded my head contemplatively, murmuring something
about "queer old times." "Yes," he returned, "a good many wouldn't be
able to tell ye how they _did_ bring up a family o' childern, if you
was to ast 'em." And so, with the rain pattering down upon the shed
roof, I left the old man to his wood-chopping.


_June 11, 1904._--The twentieth century is driving out the
old-fashioned people and their savagery from the village, but here and
there it lets in savagery of its own. Into that hovel down by the
stream, which Bettesworth had vacated, there had come fresh tenants,
as I knew; but that was all I knew until one morning Bettesworth told
me something, which I lost no time in hurrying down on to paper, while
his sentences were hot in my mind, as follows:

"Ha' ye heared about our neighbours down 'ere runnin' away?"

"No! Where?"

"Down here where I used to live. Gone off an' left their little
childern to the wide world."

"Well, but ... who...?"

"Worcester they _calls_ 'n. But I dunno what his name is."

"Where did he come from? I don't seem to know him."

"No, nor me. I dunno nothin' about 'n. He bin a sojer an' got a
pension. He bin at work down at this Bordon. But his wife bin carryin'
on purty much. Had another bloke about there this fortnight. An' then
went off, an' give one of her little childern a black eye for a
partin' gift. He come 'ome o' Sunday, and didn't find nobody about
there; and took all there was and his pension papers and was off. And
there's them two poor little dears left there alone wi' nobody to look
after 'em or get 'em a bit o' vittles."

Of course I exclaimed, while Bettesworth went on,

"Ah ... I reckon they ought to be hung up by the heels, leavin' their
childern like that. I always _was_ fond o' childern, but if 't 'd bin
older ones able to look after theirselves I shouldn't ha' took so much
notice. But these be two little 'ns ben't 'ardly able to dress
theirselves: two little gals about five or six. Poor little dears,
there was one of 'em went cryin' 'cause her mother was goin' away, and
her mother up with her hand and give her one. Law! somebody ought to
ha' bin there with a stick and hit her across the head and killed her
dead!

"There they was all day and all night. Mrs. Mardon went to the
policeman about it. He said she better take care of 'em. 'But I can't
afford to keep 'em,' she says. 'No,' he says, 'cert'nly not. 'Ten't to
be expected you should. But you look after 'em for a week, an' we'll
see if their parents comes back. And if they don't, we'll see the
relievin' officer, an' pay you for your trouble; and the children 'll
be took to the workhouse, and then we shall very soon _have_ 'em'"
(the parents). "And so they will, too. They says he's gone to
Salisbury. But they'll have 'n. Old soldier, and a pensioner, and all:
they'll find 'n."

"What's his name, do you say?"

"They _calls_ 'n Worcester: we dunno whether 'tis his right name, or
only a nickname. He ought to _ha'_ Worcester! He's like 'nough to cop
it, too!"

FOOTNOTE:

[3] The earlier portions of this chapter have already appeared in
_Country Life_.



XXV


_June 20._--On the afternoon of June 20th, once more Bettesworth was
at work among the potatoes, yet not in the circumstances of last year,
when we were rejoicing in the rain. According to my book, this was "a
real summer afternoon--Hindhead showing the desired dazzling blue;
soft high clouds floating from the westwards; a soft wind occasionally
stirring the trees." Blackbirds, it seems, were flitting about the
garden to watch their young, warning them, too, with an incessant
"twit-twit, twit-twit"; and no doubt, besides this June sound, there
was that of garden tools struck into the soil.

And yet, for me, rather than the far-reaching daylight or the
vibrating afternoon air, another of the great characteristics of
English summer clings to this and the following few fragments about
Bettesworth. I might look away to Hindhead and rejoice in the sense of
vast warm distance; I might admire the landscape, and practise my
æsthetics; but he was becking in amongst the potatoes, and it is his
point of view, not mine, that has survived and given its tinge to
these talks.

Forgetful, both of us, that the same subject in almost the same place
had occupied us a year ago, we spoke of his work; and first he admired
the potatoes, and then he praised his beck. "Nice tool," he said. I
took hold of it: "Hand-made, of course?" "Yes; belonged to my old
gal's gran'mother. There's no tellin' how old he is."

He went on to explain that it was a "polling beck," pointing out
peculiarities hardly to be described here. They interested me; yet not
so much as other things about the tool, which it was good to handle.
From the old beck a feeling came to me of summer as the country
labourers feel it. This thing was probably a hundred years old.
Through a hundred seasons men's faces had bent over it and felt the
heat of the sun reflecting up from off the potatoes, as the tines of
the beck brightened in the hot soil. And what sweat and sunburn, yet
what delight in the crops, had gone to the polishing of the handle! A
stout ash shaft, cut in some coppice years ago, and but rudely
trimmed, it shone now with the wear of men's hands; and to balance it
as I did, warm and moist from Bettesworth's grasp, was to get the
thrill of a new meaning from the afternoon. For those who use such
tools do not stop to admire the summer, but they co-operate with it.

The old man took his beck again, and I saw the sunlight beating down
upon his back and brown arms as he once more bent his face to the
work. Then our talk changed. Soon I fetched a tool for myself, so as
to be working near him and hear his chatter.

He touched on scythes for a moment, and then glanced off to name a
distant village (a place which lies on a valley side, facing the
midday heat), and to tell of a family of blacksmiths who once lived
there. "They used to make purty well all sorts o' edge-tools. And they
earned a name for 't, too, didn't they? I've see as many as four of
'em over there at a axe. Three with sledge-'ammers, and one with a
little 'ammer, tinkin' on the anvil." "And he is the master man of
them all," I laughed. Bettesworth laughed too--we were so happy there
in the broiling sunshine--"Yes, but I've often noticed it, the others
does all the work." To which I rejoined, "But he keeps time to the
sledges; and it's he who knows to a blow when they have done enough."
"There was one part of making a axe," said Bettesworth, "as they'd
never let anybody see 'em at." What could that have been? We agreed
that it had to do with some secret process of hardening the steel.

Another shifting of the talk brought us round to his
brother-in-law--that accomplished farm-labourer, who was then,
however, driving a traction engine, with one truck which carried three
thousand bricks. "That must do away with a lot of hoss hire," said
Bettesworth. "And yet," I urged, "there seem more horses about than
ever." "And they be dear to buy, so Will Crawte says," added
Bettesworth.

"How many load," I asked ignorantly, "do you reckon three thousand
bricks? More than a four-horse load, isn't it?"

Bettesworth made no effort to reckon, but said easily, "Yes. They
reckons three hunderd an' fifty is a load, of these here wire-cut
bricks; four hunderd, of the old red bricks; and stock bricks is five
hunderd. And slates, 'Countess' slates--they be twenty inches by
ten--six hunderd o' they goes to a load."

Wondering at his knowledge, I commented on the endless variety of
technical details never dreamt of by people like myself; and
Bettesworth assented, without interest, however, in me or other people
or anything but his subject. "That's one o' the things you wants to
learn, if you be goin' with hosses--when you got a load. Law! half o'
these carters on the road dunno whether they got a load or whether
they en't. I've almost forgot now; but I learnt it once."

"How do you mean 'learnt' it? Picked it up?"

"No. 'Tis in a book. You can learn to reckon things.... If you be
goin' for a tree, or a block o' stone, or bricks, you wants to know
what's a load for a hoss, or a two or a three hoss load. A mason told
me once, when I was goin' for a block o' stone. He put his tape round
it, an' told me near the matter what it weighed. He said you always
ought to carry a two-foot rule in your pocket; and then put it across
the stone--or p'r'aps 'tis two or three bits you got to take...."

As there is nothing in the talk itself to give the impression, it must
have been my working in the sunshine when I heard of these details,
that now makes them--the glaring stone-mason's yard, the village
smithy, the engine hauling bricks along the high road--seem all
sun-baked and dusty, in the heat which men like Bettesworth have to
face, while I am admiring the summer landscape.


Twice in the early days of July the old man's homely rustic living is
touched upon. By now, in the cottage gardens, the broad-beans are at
their best; and he desires, it is said in one place, no better food
than beans, served for choice with a bit of bacon. But there are peas
too; and one day he tells me simply that he "had peas three times
yesterday. There's always some left from dinner, and then I has 'em in
a saucer for my supper."


_July 29._--As July ran to its close, the weather, though still warm,
turned gloomy, and showers came streaking down in front of the grey
dismal distance. "They gives a _poor_ account of the harvest," says
Bettesworth. "What? have they started?" I ask; and he, "Yes, I've
heared of a smartish few."

I supposed he meant in Sussex; but it appeared not. "No," he said, "I
dunno as they've begun in Sussex, but about here. Lent corn, oats,
an' barley, an' so on. There's So-and-so"--he named three or four
farmers reported to have begun cutting, and went on, "But 'tis all
machine work, so there won't be much" (extra work). "But the straw
en't no higher 'n your knees in some parts, so they says.... 'Twas the
cold spring--an' then the dryth. But it don't much matter about the
barley. I've heared old people say they've knowed barley sowed and up
and harvested without a drop o' rain on it fust to last. Where you
gets straw" (with other crops, I suppose, is the meaning) "there en't
no fear about the barley: 'tis a thing as 'll stand dryth as well as
purty near anything."

He had "heard old people say"--things like these that he was now
saying. And Bettesworth's phrase will bear thinking of, for its
indication of the topics which the progress of the summer months had
always been wont to renew in his brain year by year.

Unhappily, about this period something less pleasing was beginning to
force itself upon his attention.



XXVI


Into the peacefulness of Bettesworth's last working summer a
disquieting circumstance had been slowly intruding; and now, with
August, it developed into a subject of grave fears. I do not know when
I first noticed a small sore on the old man's lower lip, but I think
it must have been in May or early June. On being asked, he said it had
been there since his illness in the spring, and "didn't seem to get no
worse." Certainly he was not troubling about it.

Weeks passed, perhaps six weeks, in which, though the ugly, angry look
of the thing sometimes took my attention, I forbore to speak of it
again, being unwilling to arouse alarm. Then it occurred to me that if
I was too fanciful, Bettesworth was not fanciful enough. In his robust
out-door life he had never learnt to be nervous and anticipate
horrors; and he might not be sufficiently alive to the dreadful
possibilities which were presenting themselves to my own imagination.
I urged him accordingly to see his club doctor.

He did so, not immediately, though after how long an interval I am
unable to say, since none of this affair got into my note-book. The
doctor no sooner saw the sore than he said it must be cut out. "Do
you smoke?" was one of his first questions; and "Where is your pipe?"
was the next. Bettesworth produced his pipe--an old blackened
briar--and was comforted to learn that it was considered harmless. But
he must have the sore removed, and his two or three remaining teeth
near it would have to come out. When could he have it done? the doctor
asked. Bettesworth said that he must consult me on that point, and
came away promising to do so.

Considering how sure he must have been that I should put no obstacle
in his way, I incline to think that by now he must himself have begun
to feel alarm. He waited, however, about a week, and then one morning
off he went again to see the doctor, half expecting, I believe, to
have the operation done then and there, before he came home.

An hour afterwards I met him returning, looking worried. The doctor
was just setting off for his holiday, and could not now undertake the
operation, but advised him to go to Guildford Hospital. Perhaps
Bettesworth would have liked me to pooh-pooh the suggestion--he little
relished the idea of leaving his wife and his work, and taking a
railway journey to so dismal an end; but even as he talked, I was
watching on his lip that which might mean death. So I sent him off
straightway to the Vicarage, where he could obtain a necessary letter
of introduction to the hospital.

Of what immediately followed my memory is quite blank. I only recall
that the old chap started at last all alone on his journey to
Guildford, not knowing how long he would be away, or what was likely
to happen to him. A niece of his had provided him with a stamped
addressed envelope and a clean sheet of note-paper, in case he should
need to get anyone at the hospital to send a message home.


_August 6, 1904._--So he disappeared for a time. Three or four days,
we supposed, would be the extent of his absence; but the days went by
and no word came from him. For all we knew he might never have reached
the hospital; and it began to be a serious question what would become
of his wife, and whether she would not have to be sent to the
workhouse for want of a protector. At last, I wrote for information to
the matron of the hospital. Her answer, which lies before me now, and
is the only piece of evidence I have preserved of the whole business,
is dated August 6th. On that day, it stated, Bettesworth was to be
operated upon, and, if all went well, he would most likely be able to
leave the hospital in ten days or a fortnight.

Unless I mistake, the ten days or a fortnight dragged out to nearly
three weeks, in which I had the old wife on my mind. A visit to her
one Sunday morning reassured me. Poor old Lucy Bettesworth! I did not
anticipate, then, that I should never again see her alive. Dirty and
dishevelled as ever, alone in the squalid cottage, she received me
with a meek simplicity that in my eyes made amends for many faults.
She was more sane than I had dared to hope I should find her, eager
for "Fred" to come home, but contented, it seemed, to wait, if it was
doing him good. She did not want for anything; she ate no meat, and it
cost her nothing to live. Would I like a vegetable marrow? There was a
nice one in the garden that "wanted cuttin'."

Perceiving that she desired me to have the vegetable marrow, I allowed
her to take me out into the garden to get it. "Could I cut it?" Of
course I could, and did. Then a qualm struck her: perhaps I shouldn't
like carrying it! But she might be able to wrap it up in a piece of
newspaper....

To that, however, I demurred. There was no harm in being seen with a
vegetable marrow on Sunday morning; and I took it, undraped by paper,
aware that the despised old woman had done me the greatest courtesy in
her power. And that was, as it proved, the last time I ever saw her.

Bettesworth, meanwhile, in the hospital, was not quite forgotten. His
niece has been mentioned who gave him the stamped envelope which he
had not used. We shall hear a good deal of her, later on--a helpful
but delicate woman, who was Bettesworth's niece only by marriage with
a nephew of his, of whom also we shall hear. These two on that Sunday
morning--it being a quiet, half-hazy, half-sunny August day--walked
over to Guildford, and brought back news that the old man was doing as
well as could be hoped. They proposed to repeat the visit the
following week. It made a pleasant Sunday outing.

But before that week was ended Bettesworth was suddenly home again,
unannounced. An odd look about him puzzled me, until I realized that
he had grown a beard--a white, scrubby, short-trimmed beard, which
gave him a foxy expression that I did not like. His lip was in
strapping, a little blood-stained, but he reported that all was going
on well. The surgeons had carved down into his jaw, and believed the
operation to have been quite successful. Satisfied as to this, I could
endure his changed appearance.

Something about his manner was less satisfactory. Looking back, I
think I know what was the matter; but at the time a sort of levity in
him struck a false note. Besides, he seemed not to realize that his
wife might have suffered by his absence, or that others had put
themselves about on his behalf. He struck me as selfish and
self-satisfied. I forgot what a lonely expedition his had been, and
how he had had to start off and face this miserable experience without
a friend at hand to care whether he came through it alive or not.

Left to himself (it is obvious enough now) and determined to go
through the business in manly fashion, he had rather overdone it--had
over-played his part. In refusing to admit fear, he had erred a
little on the other side, and he still erred so in telling his
experiences, perhaps because he was still not quite free of fear. By
his account, his stay in the hospital had been an interesting holiday.
Everything about it was a little too good to be believed. He had
jested with the doctors and the nurses. They called him "Dad," and "a
joking old man," and he felt flattered: they had had a "fire-drill,"
and from his bed, or his seat under the veranda among the
convalescents, he had entered into the spirit of the thing. Grimmer
details, too, did not escape him: the arrival of new patients in the
night--"accident cases" brought in for immediate treatment; the
sufferings he witnessed; the hopeless condition of a railway porter,
and so forth. All this was told in his own manner, with swift
realistic touch, convincingly true; with a genuine sense of the humour
of the thing, he mentioned the operating-room by the patients' name
for it--"the slaughter-house"; but none the less his narrative had an
offensive emptiness, an unreality, a flippancy, unworthy, I thought,
of Bettesworth.

A little more sense would have shown me the clue to it, in his
behaviour just before the operation. He was dressed in "a sort of a
white night-gown," waiting for his turn; and, he said, "I made 'em
laugh. I got up and danced about on the floor. 'Now I be Father
Peter,' I says." Then the nurse came to conduct him to "the
slaughter-house." "'Old Freddy's goin' to 'ave something now,' they"
(the nearer patients) "says. I took hold o' the nurse's arm. 'Now I be
goin' out for a walk with my young lady,' I says. 'We be goin' out
courtin'.'" And in such fashion, over-excited, he maintained his
fortitude, with a travesty of the courage he was all but losing. He
never confessed to having felt fear. The nearest approach to it was
when he was actually lying on the operating-table. Left quite alone
there (for half an hour, he alleged and believed), "I looked all
round," he said, "and up at the skylight, and I says to myself, 'So
this is where it is, is it?'"

With these tales he came home, repeating them until I was weary. By
and by, however, he settled down to work, although one or two visits
had to be paid to the hospital, for dressing the lip; and as he
settled down, his normal manner returned. For some weeks--nay, for
longer--his friends were not free of anxiety about him. There were
pains in his jaw, and in his lip too, enough to draw dire forebodings
from those of pessimistic humour. But Bettesworth owned to no fears.
So it went on for a month or so, when that occurred which effectually
banished from his mind all remembrance of this trouble.



XXVII


_September 19, 1904._--Because they can so little afford to be ill, it
is habitual among the very poor to neglect an illness long after other
people would be seriously alarmed at it; and the habit had been
confirmed in Bettesworth with regard to his wife's maladies, by her
having so many times recovered from them without help. It was almost a
matter of course to him, when about the middle of September, and less
than a month after his return from the hospital, she became once more
exceedingly unwell. So she had often done: it was not worth
mentioning, and was not mentioned, to me. I knew of no trouble. If I
had been asked about his welfare at that time, I should have said that
the old man was rather unusually happy. I should have said so
especially one Monday morning (it was the 19th of September); because
on that day we were picking apples, and his conversation was so
delightfully in harmony with the sunshine glinting among the
apple-boughs. He told of cider and cider-making; and then of shepherds
he had known on the Sussex Downs, and of their dogs, and their
solitary pastimes upon the hills. Hearing him, no one, I am sure,
could have supposed that at home his wife had been dangerously ill for
nearly a week, and that consequently his own comfort there had for the
time ceased to exist.

Later on that Monday his wife's condition (not his own) was somehow
made known to me. I suppose Bettesworth consulted me on the step he
was contemplating, of going to the relieving officer to-morrow to get
an order for medical attendance for old Lucy. At any rate, by Monday
night that is what he had resolved to do, and I knew it and approved,
remembering what the policeman had said to me. It seemed a wise
precaution to take, but evidently it could not be urgent. Bettesworth
was choosing Tuesday, because on Tuesday mornings the relieving
officer is in attendance in the parish, and the order could therefore
be got without a five-mile walk for it.

From various circumstances it may be inferred that the early part of
Tuesday was an unhappy time for Bettesworth: a time of fretful
watching for the dawn, perhaps after a wakeful night; of impatience to
come and begin his day's work, and then of impatience for eleven
o'clock to arrive, and of brooding obstinate thoughts, until at eleven
he might go and get the miserable interview over. For it made him
miserable to have to sue in the form of a pauper, and he was prepared,
as poor folk generally are, to find in the relieving officer a bully
if not a brute. I may say at once that he was agreeably deceived, and
said as much afterwards--he was treated humanely and with
appreciation; but the relieving officer's account of the interview
sufficiently proves that the old man went to it in but a surly temper.
I imagine him standing up as straight as his crooked old limbs would
let him, rolling his head back defiantly, with tightened lips and
suspicious eyes, and answering as uncivilly as he dared. A compliment
was offered him, on his haste to get away from the infirmary in the
spring. "_I_ en't no workhouse man!" he answered brusquely. And he did
his best to persuade the relieving officer that he would never want
relief for himself, asserting that he belonged to a club, and
concealing the fact that he was a superannuated member of it, no
longer entitled to benefit from the club funds.

And then, the interview over, and the order obtained, his cheerfulness
for the rest of the day is suggestive of an ordeal successfully
passed. True, I have lost record of how he pottered through the
afternoon--it was, of course, useless to go to the parish doctor at
that time of day--but he seemed to have suddenly lost the weakness
still lingering from the operation in the hospital; and being short of
money, he proposed an extra job for the evening. He wanted to clear
out a cesspit in my garden. I urged that he had better rest, and take
care of himself as well as of his wife. "_I_ be gettin' bonny!" he
said happily.

He carried his point, too. As if he had no wife ill at home, at about
eight o'clock, which was usually his bed-time, he came back and began
his self-imposed task, with a young labourer to help. And he must have
been in merry spirits, for he kept his mate amused, so that from the
house I could hear the man laughing, in frequent bleating outbursts of
hilarity, at some facetious saying or other. One of these sayings I
heard, on going out to see how the work was progressing. "He must be a
greedy feller as wants more 'n one or two whiffs o' this," Bettesworth
remarked; and his companion let out another good-tempered laugh. From
the old man's manner I argued that his wife must be doing well; but
probably it indicated only a reaction from the moody temper of the
morning. The job was finished at about half-past nine, and conscious
of a good day's work done, Bettesworth once more crept over the hill
and across the valley, home.

But not to go to bed, or to sleep. While he was at work in the
moonlight and making his friend laugh, I did not know, but he did,
what was in store for him. Having no spare bed, he began his night
downstairs and dozed for a while in an easy-chair; then roused and
went out into the moonlight to smoke a pipe; and so he got through the
night. Tobacco was his solace. He smoked, he told me, a full ounce in
the ensuing twenty-four hours. At seven in the morning--his usual
hour--he was here beginning work: at nine he left off, to go into the
town and present his order at the doctor's.

That journey on the Wednesday morning proved the beginning of a period
of intenser wretchedness for the old man. He set out in apparent
equanimity; but the fatigue of the night was upon him, the glow of
yesterday's contentment had died out, and his nerves must have been
all on edge to take as he did a remark of the doctor's--"What do you
want of an order? You're in constant work, aren't you?" It seemed to
him that he was being insulted for coming as a pauper, and it was all
he could do to refrain from a rejoinder that would have resulted in
his being summarily ejected from the doctor's presence. And was he as
submissive as he fancied? It is more likely that the ungraciousness of
his manner was to blame for what he regarded as pure heartlessness in
the other. That he must be at home to meet the doctor was
self-evident; but it was important to him not to lose a whole day from
his work, and he desired to know whether the visit would be made
before his dinner-time or after it? I hazard a guess that he stated
the case in tones of defiant bargaining; at any rate, he could get no
answer but that the doctor would call during the day. With that he
returned here--a quivering mass of resentment; and in that temper, to
which nothing is so repugnant as waiting, by my persuasion rather than
by his goodwill he left his work and went home to wait.

With what increasing bitterness he wore through the day, with what
fretfulness and final despair as of a man despised and forgotten, must
be left to conjecture. For the doctor did not come, after all.
Conjecture, too, must picture if it can the night that followed--the
attempts to sleep in the chair, the restless wanderings into the
garden to smoke, the repetition, in fact, of the preceding night's
misery, but with a great addition of weariness and distress.
Bettesworth, when he came round the next morning to tell me how he was
situated, did not so much as mention all this; he only let fall one
pitiful detail. Some time in the night he had given his wife a little
brandy; and about daybreak he went out to draw fresh water into the
kettle "so's not to have it no-ways stale," for making her a cup of
tea. But, partaking of a cup himself at the same time, he "hadn't had
it above five minutes afore he was out in the garden" to let the tea
come back again. After that, he appears to have abandoned the attempt
to get sustenance elsewhere than from tobacco. It was a dismal story
to hear: but there was nothing to be done; and having heard it, I sent
him home again to go on waiting. This was Thursday, two days after he
obtained the relieving officer's order for medical assistance, and by
now the state of his wife was causing him grave fears.

But why had the doctor not been near? To Bettesworth's wounded
feelings the explanation needed no seeking: he was being made to wait
for richer people, because he was poor and unimportant. Meanwhile,
happening to meet with the relieving officer, I laid the case before
him, and heard that a call to a distance had obliged the doctor to
leave his work for a day or two in the hands of a _locum tenens_, who
must have blundered. And this proved to be the fact. On Thursday
afternoon a doctor who was a stranger at last found his way to
Bettesworth's cottage, and the unhappy old man's long suspense was so
far over. At once all his bitterness died out. The doctor "was as nice
a gentleman as ever I talked to," he affirmed. "He said she was very
bad. She wasn't to have nothing but only milk an' beef-tea an' brandy,
an' she wasn't to be left alone." Bettesworth therefore did not leave
home again that day. He got his niece, whose young family prevented
her from giving much help, to go to the town and bring home the
medicine, and so he settled down for another night like those that had
gone before.

It was on the next morning (Friday) that he told me these few
particulars, and how his wife seemed a trifle--only a trifle--better;
how, too, he had "washed her as well as he could," and, being asked,
how he had not been to bed himself. And now he was on his way to the
town to buy a few necessaries. Who was with his wife meanwhile? That
was a question I dared not ask, because I knew that the distressful
old woman was a by-word for sluttishness among the neighbours, so much
that they would hardly go near her; and I knew that Bettesworth,
though silent on the subject, was sore about it. Without doubt the old
woman was quite alone, whenever circumstances compelled him to leave
her.

The "necessaries" he was going to buy included beef-tea "and some
cakes," he said. At the mention of cakes I exclaimed, but he protested
reproachfully, "Well, but she en't had _nothin'_ to eat!" Clearly he
did not regard milk as food, or indeed anything else that was not
solid. In the matter of beef-tea, "I can't make it myself," he said,
"but you can buy it, can't ye, in jars?" He was perhaps thinking of
Bovril, or something of the kind. Fortunately there were those at hand
who knew how to make beef-tea, and undertook at once to relieve the
old man of this burden.

Taking him apart then, I asked if he needed a shilling or two. He
almost groaned in deprecation, "I owes you such a lot now, and keeps
on gettin' into debt. I'd sooner rub along with jest as little as ever
I possibly can." It was of his rent he was thinking, which of course
was payable for those weeks of his own illnesses, as well as for his
absence from work now, when he was not earning any wages from which
the rent could be deducted. Perhaps he was unaware that I had no
account of the debt; in any case, it seemed to be preying upon his
mind. I did not press the point, therefore, and he started off for the
town without aid from me.

In another way, too, the old man's reluctance to be a burden
manifested itself. What he had told me so far was told because I
wished to hear it, and he wished me to understand. He made no long
tale: he was brief, unaffected, and as for seeking compassion, it was
far from his intention. Of one thing only did he complain: a near
relative's indifference. "He was over by our place twice o' Sunday,"
Bettesworth said scornfully, "and couldn't look in to see how the poor
old gal was. He was ready enough to send to me when he had his mishap"
(falling from a rick, and finding himself in agony at night), "and I
run off an' went all down to the town for 'n, late at night. But now
_I_ wants help--no: he won't come anear. That's the sort o' feller
_he_ is." So Bettesworth, uttering his sole complaint. But he did not
demand from others the sympathy he looked for from a relation, or seek
to inflict them with the tale of troubles which, after all, he would
have to bear by himself.


At this point, if the actual course of this over-crowded Friday were
to be followed strictly, the narrative would suffer a strange
interruption. For, having business of my own in the town, I set off at
the same time with Bettesworth, expecting little cheerfulness from him
on the way. But I had failed to appreciate the man's stoicism, or the
strong grip he had over his feelings. For several nights he had not
rested on a bed; he had taken during the same period next to no food;
he had been harassed by suspense, worn by indignation, baffled
constantly by the obstacles which his poverty set in his way; and it
would have been pardonable if he had proved himself but a gloomy
companion for a walk. Yet from the moment of our setting out he put
aside all his difficulties, and not only did he not distress me, but
for the half-hour before we separated he kept me interested in his
sensible conversation on local topics, or charmed by the pleasant
rustic flavour of some of his reminiscences. Here, therefore, would be
the natural place for inserting some fragments of this talk, which I
wrote down in the evening. It happened, however, that in writing I
gave precedence to an important change which by then had come over the
situation at Bettesworth's home; and as I propose to take the account
of this development and the issue of it straight from my note-book,
the bits of gossip too had better come in just as they stand there.

It appears, then, to have been at about six o'clock in the afternoon
that I was writing, as follows:

Bettesworth has just been over (from his home) to consult me, and
perhaps to have a chat and relieve his overburdened soul. When he got
back from the town this morning, he found the doctor paying another
visit, who was "wonderful nice," and offered to give him a certificate
for admitting the old woman to the infirmary, if he would care to have
it and would call for it at the surgery. Bettesworth only wanted my
encouragement. He is going down this evening for the certificate, and
hopes to get his wife removed to-morrow.

It will be none too soon. The watching is wearing him out. Last night
he had left her and gone downstairs, and sat dozing in the chair, when
she tried to get out of bed, and fell heavily on the floor. He ran
up--and forgot to take the candle back with him, thereby adding to his
difficulties--and somehow managed to get her back into bed again and
covered up, without aid. But now, says he, "I said to Dave Harding as
I come up the road, 'What I should like to do 'd be to crawl up into
the fir-woods where nobody couldn't see me, and lay down an' get three
or four hours' sleep.' 'You couldn't do it,' he says; ''t'd be on your
mind all the time. You might get off for ten minutes, p'raps, an' then
you'd be up an' off again.' But that's what I sims as if I should
like, more 'n anything: jest to crawl away somewhere, where nobody
wouldn't come, for a good sleep. Then wake up and 'ave a floush--'t'd
freshen me up."

Certainly he is overdone. Upon my renewing offers of a little help, he
became tearful, almost sobbing: "You be the only friend I got.... I
bin all over the country," and have faced all sorts of things, "but I
_be_ hammer-hacked about, now, no mistake." His grief consists in
being able to do so little for his wife. He has given her since his
dinner-time her medicine, then a sip of brandy "to take the taste out
of her mouth.... And then I said, 'Now here's a cake I bought for ye
in the town; have a bit o' that.' So she nibbled a bit, and I says,
'Eat 'n up.' No, she didn't want no more. 'But you got to _'ave_ it,'
I says. I a'most forced it down her throat. I do's the best I can for
her; but I en't got nobody to tell me what to do."

And he is galled by turns, by turns amused, at her behaviour towards
himself. "I can't do nothink right for her. She's more stubborn to me
than to anybody else: keeps on findin' fault. Last night, in the
night, she roused up an' accused me o' goin' away. 'You bin away
somewheres,' she says. 'Oh yes, you 'ave; I heared ye come creepin'
back up the road.' And I'd bin sittin' there all the time."

This and much more he told. I tried to get away (we were in the
garden), for I was busy; but he followed me, to talk still, and
wandered off into recollections of his experiences at Guildford
Hospital.


_7.30 p.m._ Bettesworth has called once more, coming from the town, to
show me the doctor's certificate (gastritis, it says), and to let me
know that to-morrow morning he will not be here at his usual time. He
proposes going to the relieving officer to obtain his order for a
conveyance to move the old woman. "I shall be over there by seven
o'clock," he says. The cumbersomeness of all these formalities is
sickening. Having got the order, he will probably need to go right
back to the town to arrange about the conveyance.

He was very tired, and rather wet, the night having set in with
showers coming up on the east wind. So I got him a chair in the
scullery, for the wet was making his old corduroys smell badly, and
gave him a small glass of brandy-and-water. He refused a biscuit; "I
couldn't swaller it," he said. "I can't eat, for thinkin' o' she."

He is not without a kind of pitiful consolation. "Seven or eight," he
says, have professed their willingness to receive him into their
homes, if need should be. One, even now, on the road from the town,
has said, "Don't you trouble about _yerself_, Freddy; you can have a
home with me, if you should want one." But the idea associated with
this, of parting from his wife, breaks him down. The doctor who
granted the certificate--the right doctor, this time--was sympathetic.
"He come out to me because he see I was touched, and says, 'You no
call to be _oneasy_, old gentleman; she'll be looked _after_ up there.
Everything 'll be done for her as can be done.'"

But these nights, in which he does not go to bed! His ankles and
calves get the cramp, for he seems not to have thought, so little
practice has he had in making himself comfortable, of resting his feet
on another chair, while he is lying back in the easy-chair
downstairs.... He has gone home now, to make up a fire and get what
rest he may. "But then," he says, "she'll holler out, an' I got to
run." He told me again how she "fell out o' bed flump" last night, and
he stormed upstairs and found her on the floor, for "she didn't know
how to get in again, not no more'n a cuckoo."

The group of cottages where he lives stands high above the road, which
is reached by steps roughly cut into the steep bank. On one of these
recent nights, having gone down the steps meaning to buy his wife
sixpennyworth of brandy, Bettesworth felt in his trousers pocket for
the shilling he had put there, and--it was gone. "Oh, I was in a way!
I went back, an' crawled all up they steps, feelin' for it," the hour
being eight o'clock, and moonlight. "As I went past old Kiddy's, I
called out to 'n, 'Kid!', 'cause I wanted to tell 'n what trouble I
was in, and I knowed he'd ha' come and helped me to find 'n, if he'd
bin about. But he was gone to bed, 'cause he starts off so early in
the mornin'." Thus the old man got back home, disconsolate, without
the necessary brandy for his wife; and, calling upstairs to her, "Lou,
I've lost that shillin'," he began to prepare for his night in the
easy-chair. But, first feeling in his pocket once more, he discovered
there (fruits of his wife's incapacity) "a hole," he said, "I could
put my finger through."

He pulled up his trouser legs to the knee, "because I always ties my
garters up above the knee," and, with his foot on "the little stool I
always puts 'n on to lace up my boots--I've had 'n ever since my boy
was born--I thought I felt somethin' in the heel o' my shoe, and as
soon as I pulled 'n off it rattled on the floor. _Wa'n't_ that a
miracle? My hair stood bolt upright! I gropsed an' picked 'n up, and
hollered up the stairs, 'I've found 'n!' 'Oh, have ye?' she says. 'I
thought you'd bin an' spent 'n.'" Quickly he was off again to the
public-house--Tom Durrant's--and "I says, 'I lost that shillin' once.
I'll take good care I don't lose 'n again!' And I chucked 'n up on the
counter. Durrant says, 'Oh, did ye lose 'n?' So then I come back 'ome
with my sixpenn'oth o' brandy. But wa'n't it a miracle? My hair stood
reg'lar bolt upright, and I was that _contented_!"

There was much, very much, that I am missing; but I must not quite
pass over the old man's talk on the way to the town this morning. He
did not once mention his trouble. All the way it was his ordinary
chatter--the chatter of a most vigorous mind, which had never learnt
to think of things in groups, but was intensely interested in details.

It began at once, with reference to a cottage--a sort of "week-end"
cottage--we were passing, into which, Bettesworth said, new tenants
were coming. "How they keep changing!" said I; and he, "Well enough
they may, at the price." "What is it, then?" "Four pound a month.
Furnished, o' course; but there en't much there. And," he added, "I
can't see payin' a pound a week for a place to lay down in."

Next--but what came next had better be omitted now. It related to the
family affairs of a certain coal-carter, and so led up to discourse of
other carter men who lived in the village. From them, the transition
to the employer of two of them was easy. He "got the two best carters
in the neighbourhood now," said Bettesworth; but as for horses, "he
en't got a hoss fit to put in a cart, 'cause he en't never had anybody
before as understood anything about 'em. Somebody ought to put the
cruelty inspector on to him, to go to his place and see. He _did_ go,
once; but he" (the horse-owner) "got wind of it and," as far as could
be gathered from Bettesworth's talk, is suspected of having "squared"
the inspector. But "there's a lot talkin' about the condition of the
hosses down there," and, indeed, things "down there" seem to be
generally mismanaged. The premises are "a reg'lar destructive old
place": the carts, "he won't never have 'em only botched up, an' they
be all to pieces;" and the harness is treated no better. "The saddles,
they says, the flock 's all in lumps: _sure_ a hoss's back an'
shoulders 'd get sore. That's where they do's all the work, poor
things. When I had hosses to look after, as soon as I got 'em in I
always looked to their back an' shoulders first. I'd get a sponge, or
a cloth...."

One of the two good carters above mentioned "can trace up a hoss's
tail, you know, with straw. There en't one in ten knows how to do
that. I've earnt many a shillin' at it." But Bettesworth had known one
man who used to earn as much as thirty shillings in a day at this
work, at horse-fairs. Him Bettesworth has occasionally helped, I
understand; and also, "Old Bill Baldwin--I've sometimes bin down an'
done it for him."

Now, I had thought Bill Baldwin knew all that was worth knowing about
horses and horse management; so I asked, surprisedly, "What, can't he
do it?"

"He can do the tracin', in a straight run; but he can't tie up. I
could do it all: the tails, and the manes too--you've see it. I'd get
a bit o' live" (lithe?) "straw ... 't was when I was a boy-chap, a
little bigger 'n that 'n" (whom at the moment we were meeting) "down
at Penstead at Farmer Barnes's. I used to be such a one for the
hosses; and I could do it, because my fingers was so lissom." (Poor
old stubbed, stiff, bent fingers! to think of it!) "And then, I took
such a delight in it. And Mrs. Barnes--she was a Burton--she was as
proud o' them hosses! Used to get up at four o'clock in the mornin',
purpose to see 'em start off. And the harness was all as clean--the
brass used to shine as bright as ever any gold is, and she _was_
proud. Twenty thousand pound, was the last legacy she had. She was
just such another woman to look at as old Miss Keen, what used to
live down in the town; and a better woman never was.

"That's where I got all my scholarship.... Well, I could read--a
little--but not to understand it. But she--she give me shirts, an'
trousers--'cause we wore smock-frocks then--but she give me shirts an'
trousers to go to night-school in. Course, I couldn't have had proper
clothes without. 'Cause 'twas only thirty shillin's a year besides
grub an' lodgin'.... And 't wan't no use to talk about runnin' away. I
hadn't got no home. Besides, we was hired from Michaelmas to
Michaelmas."

We spoke again of various neighbours, and thus drifting on (I am
omitting vast quantities) Bettesworth presently told of a recent
attempt at starting a village football club, or rather, of the
subsequent discussion of the affair at the public-house. An enthusiast
there wished to get "as many members as ever they could." "But how be
ye goin' to pick 'em for play?" asked another. "Oh, pick the best."
Bettesworth tells me this, adding, "I don't call that fair do's at
all. I can't see no justice in that, that one should pay to be a
member of a club, purpose for somebody else to have all the play.
That's the way they breaks up a club. Break up any club, that would."


_September 24._--Word was brought this afternoon (Saturday) that
Bettesworth was at the kitchen door, wishing to see me. Of course he
has not been to work to-day. I found him standing outside, patient
and quiet, until, being asked how things were going, he began to cry,
and shook his head, so that I feared something had miscarried and
asked, "Why, haven't you got your wife away?"

"Yes, we got her away, but she was purty near dead when we got her
there. The matron shook her head, and said, 'You'll never see her home
again alive.'"

There were repetitions and variations of this; but I, reiterating my
assurances that "she had got a lot of strength," and that in fine the
old wife would yet live to come home again, quite forgot to observe
exactly what Bettesworth said. His distress was too afflicting.

It would take long, too, to tell of his morning in his own words,
beginning with the early walk to Moorways for the relieving officer's
order, and telling how old chums starting off to work were astonished
to see him thus unwontedly on the road, and what they said as he
passed them by as if with a renewal of vigour, and how one was
"puffed, tryin' to keep up." The long waiting at the office door (the
officer had been out in his garden getting up potatoes), and
Bettesworth's meditations, "I wish he'd come," and the instructions
furnished him as to how to go on--they were all narrated simply,
because they happened; but the touch of grey morning mist which
somehow pervaded the talk while I was hearing it could not be
reproduced with its words. The old man was back here soon after eight
o'clock, on his way to the town to order the fly which should take his
wife to the infirmary. He had had no breakfast. I gave him tea and
bread and butter; but he left the bread and butter--couldn't swallow
it, he said. He had had a glass of beer at the Moorways Inn.

He went into the town, and I met him on the road, returning. The fly
proprietor had recognized him and behaved kindly. "Got a bit o'
trouble then, old gentleman?" Yes, the fly should be there to the
minute.

At noon, to the minute, it arrived, the driver of it being a son of an
old neighbour of Bettesworth's. Meanwhile, Bettesworth's niece, "Liz,"
and a neighbour's wife--a Mrs. Eggar--whom he spoke of as "Kate," were
there trying to dress the old woman--and failing. They got her
stockings on, but no boots; a petticoat or so, but no bodice with
sleeves; and for that much they had to struggle, even calling on
Bettesworth to come upstairs and help them. Then the fly came, "and
all she kep' sayin' was, 'Leave me to die at home. I wants to die at
home'" and she fought and would not be moved.

To get her downstairs the help of two men besides the driver was
enlisted, Kate's husband being one of them. By a kindly policy,
Bettesworth himself was sent to hold the horse ("'cause he wanted to
start off"), in order that the sight of her husband might not
increase the poor old woman's reluctance; and so they carried her
downstairs, "bodily," he said, meaning, I suppose, that she did not
support herself at all.

The doctor had advised, and the neighbours too, that Bettesworth
himself should not accompany his wife. But now the niece Liz, being
unwell, was afraid to be alone with what looked a dying woman, and at
the last moment Bettesworth jumped into the cab. As it started, the
old woman's head fell back, her mouth dropped open. A pause was made
at the public-house, to get brandy for her, which, however, she could
not, or would not, take. Gin was tried, and she just touched it. Liz
took the brandy; Bettesworth and the driver shared a pint of beer;
then they drove off again. Once, on the way, Liz said, "Uncle, she's
gone! Hadn't ye better stop the fly?" But he put his head down against
her cheek, and found that she was still living; and so they came to
the outer entrance of the infirmary. Further than that Bettesworth was
dissuaded from going: it was not well that his wife should be agitated
by the sight of him at the very gates; and accordingly he came away.

So he is alone in his cottage, and may rest if he can. He is to have
meals at his niece's, but will sleep at home. The kindness is touching
to him, not alone of the nephew and niece, but of his neighbours
generally. "Kate said she'd ha' went down in the fly, if I'd ha' let
her know in time. An' she'd wash for me--if I'd take anything I
wanted along to her Monday or Tuesday, she'd wash it. I says to her,
'You be the first friend I got, Kate.' Well, Liz had told me she
_couldn't_ undertake it. She was forced to get somebody to do her own,
and the doctor come to see her one day expectin' to find her in bed,
and she was gettin' the dinner. There's Jack" (her husband) "and four
boys.... So Kate's goin' to do the washin' for me, and she and her
daughter's goin' one day to give the place a scrub out. More'n that
she _can't_ do--with eight little 'uns, and then look at the washin'!"
For Mrs. Eggar takes in washing, to eke out her husband's fifteen or
sixteen shillings a week.

Besides these friends, there are those who are willing to find the old
man a home, "if anything should happen to the old gal." "'Tis a sort
o' comfortin'," he says, "to think what good neighbours I got;" but he
hopes not to break up his home yet. In an unconscious symbolism of his
affection for all the home things he bought this afternoon a
pennyworth of milk for the cat, who came running to meet him on his
return to the lonely cottage, and then ran upstairs "to see if the old
gal was there."

He will keep his home together if he may, with warm feelings towards
his neighbours. "But as for these up here," and he points
contemptuously in the direction of the old woman's relatives, "I dunno
if they knows she's gone, and I shan't trouble to tell 'em."

[So I wrote on the Saturday evening. Four clear days pass, without any
note about Bettesworth; then on the following Thursday the narrative
is reopened. It is given here, unaltered.]


_September 29._--Bettesworth's wife died at the workhouse infirmary,
about midnight of the 27th.

She had been unconscious since her admission, and spoke only twice.
Once she said, "Bring my little box upstairs off the dresser, Fred;"
the other time it was, "Fred, have ye wound up the clock?" These
things were reported to him by the nurse, when he reached the
infirmary on Tuesday afternoon--the usual afternoon for the admission
of visitors.

He had gone down then, with his niece Liz, to see the old lady. And of
course I heard the details of the expedition when he came back.
Stopping at a greengrocer's in the town, he bought two ripe pears, at
three halfpence each. "Did ye ever hear tell o' such a price for a
pear? What 'd that be for a bushel? Why, 't'd come to a pound! But I
said, 'I'll ha' the best.' Then I bought her some sponge-cakes at the
confectioner's;" and with these delicacies he went to her.

She could not touch them. She lay with her eyes open, but unconscious
even of the flies, which he, sitting beside, kept fanning from her
face. There was no recognition of him; so he asked which was "her
locker," proposing to leave the pears and sponge-cakes there for her,
on the chance of her being able to enjoy them later. "Poor old lady,
she'll never want 'em," the nurse said; and he replied, "Now I've
brought 'em here I shan't take 'em back. Give 'em to some other poor
soul that can fancy 'em."

They gave him permission to stay as long as he liked; but, said he, "I
bid there an hour an' a quarter, an' then I couldn't bide no longer.
What was the use, sir? She didn't know me." So at last he came away,
provided with a free pass, "to go in at any hour o' the day or night
he mind to."

Yesterday (Wednesday) morning he was about his work here when a letter
was brought to him. It contained only a formal notice that "Lucy
Bettesworth was lying dangerously ill, and desired to see him."
Probably the notice was mercifully designed to prepare him for the
worse news it might have told, but of course he did not know it, even
if that was the case. He left here at once, to go and see his wife.

Between two and three hours afterwards he was back again. "How is it?"
I asked, guessing how it was. "She's gone, sir"--and then he broke
down, sobbing, but only for a minute. He had already ordered the
coffin--"a nice box," he called it. The remainder of the day was spent
in getting the death certificate and observing other formalities. He
had the knell rung, too. Nothing would he neglect that would testify
to his respect for the partner he had lost; and I think in all this
he was partly animated by a savage resentment towards her relatives,
who had ignored her, and by a resolved opposition to those who had
contemned his wife while she lived. "Everybody always bin very good,
to _me_," he has said, with significant emphasis on the last word.

In the evening he had the corpse brought away to his nephew Jack's. He
also slept at Jack's, and in numerous ways Jack is behaving well to
him. To spare the old man's weariness he spent the evening in going to
see about the insurance money; and to-day it is Jack who is getting
six other men to carry the coffin at the funeral on Saturday.

This morning Bettesworth went to the Vicar to arrange about the
funeral. "He spoke very nice to me," he said. Thence he was sent to
the sexton, near at hand; and soon he came to me to borrow a two-foot
rule, because the sexton wanted to know the exact measurements of the
coffin before digging the grave; "and _don't_ let's have any
mistakes!" he had said, for there had been a mistake not so long ago,
a grave having been dug too small for the coffin.

Knowing Bettesworth's fumbling blindness, and seeing him nervous, "Can
you manage it?" I asked, "or would you like me to go over and measure
it for you?" There was no hesitation: "It _would_ be a kindness, if
you don't mind, sir...." I have but just now returned.

I think I will not record particulars of that visit. If I had not
previously known it, I should have known then that Bettesworth is--but
there are no fit epithets. Nothing sensational happened, nothing
extravagantly emotional. But all that he did and said, so simple and
unaffected and necessary, was done as if it were an act of worship. No
woman could have been tenderer or more delicate than he, when he drew
the sheet back from the dead face, to show me.... The coffin itself
(because he is so poor and so lonely)--a decent elm coffin--is a kind
of symbol, and so a comfort to him, enabling him to testify to his
unspoken feelings towards his dead wife.


_October 1._--I went to the funeral of Bettesworth's wife this
Saturday afternoon. In his decent black clothes and with his grey hair
the old man looked very dignified, showing a quiet, unaffected
patience.

There were but few people present: four or five relatives besides the
bearers and the undertaker and sexton; while a young woman (Mrs.
Porter) with her little boy Tim stood in the background, she carrying
a wreath she had made. She is a near neighbour to us, and a very
impoverished one, to whom the old man has shown what kindness has been
in his power; while she on many mornings has called him into her
cottage at breakfast time, to give him a cup of hot tea.



XXVIII


Shutting his mouth doggedly, Bettesworth went back to his cottage, to
live alone there with his cat. There had been some talk of his going
into lodgings; but after all, this was still his home. Should he once
give it up, he reasoned, and dispose of his furniture, it would be
impossible ever again to form a home of his own, however much he might
desire to do so. To live with neighbours might be very well; yet how
if he and they should disagree? He would have burnt his boats; he
would be unable to resume his independence. Better were it, then, to
keep while he still had it a place where he was his own master, and
take the risk of being lonely.

For some seven weeks after the wife's funeral there is next to nothing
to be told of him. I find that I am unable to remember anything about
him for that period, unless it was then--and it could not have been
much later--that he renewed some of his household goods, and amongst
them his mattress, being visited apparently by a wish to regain the
character for cleanliness which had been lost in his wife's time. It
must have been then also that he first talked of buying muslin for
blinds to his windows. It is further certain that he chatted a great
deal about his next-door neighbours--the Norrises, mother and son,
upon whose society he was now chiefly dependent; but of all this not a
syllable remains, nor is there any dimmest picture in my memory of
what the old man did, or even how he looked, in those seven weeks.


_November 22, 1904._--At the end of them, on a raw morning in
November, amid our struggles to heave out of the ground a huge shrub
we were transplanting, it was remarkable how strong Bettesworth
seemed, because of the cunning use he made of every ounce of force in
his experienced old muscles. How to lift, and how to support a weight,
were things he knew as excellently as some know how to drive a
golf-ball. Nor was my theory quite so good as his experience, for
showing where our skids and levers should be placed. It was
Bettesworth who got them into the serviceable positions.

Something about those skids set us talking of other skidding work, and
especially of the extremely tricky business of loading timber on a
trolly. "I see a carter once," said Bettesworth, "get three big
elm-trees up on to a timber-carriage, with only hisself and the
hosses. He put the runnin' chains on and all hisself."

"And _that_ takes some doing," I said.

"Yes, a man got to understand the way 'tis done.... I never had much
hand in timber-cartin' myself; but this man.... 'Twas over there on
the Hog's Back, not far from Tongham Station. We all went out for to
see 'n do it--'cause 'twas in the dinner-time he come, and we never
believed he'd do it single-handed. The farmer says to 'n, 'You'll
never get they up by yourself.' 'I dessay I shall,' he says; and so he
did, too. Three great elm-trees upon that one carriage.... Well, he
had a four-hoss team, so that'll tell ye what 'twas. They _was_ some
hosses, too. Ordinary farm hosses wouldn't ha' done it. But he only
jest had to speak, and you'd see they watchin' him.... When he went
forward, after he'd got the trees up, to see what sort of a road he'd
got for gettin' out, they stood there with their heads stretched out
and their ears for'ard. 'Come on,' he says, and _away_ they went,
_tearin'_ away. Left great ruts in the road where the wheels went
in--that'll show ye they got something to pull."

We got our shrub a little further, Bettesworth grunting to a heavy
lift; then, in answer to a question:

"No, none o' we helped 'n. We was only gone out to see 'n do it. He
never wanted no help. He didn't say much; only 'Git back,' or 'Git
up,' to the hosses. When it come to gettin' the last tree up, on top
o' t'other two, I never thought he could ha' done it. But he got 'n
up. And he was a oldish man, too: sixty, I dessay he was. But he jest
spoke to the hosses. Never used no whip, 'xcept jest to guide 'em.
Didn't the old farmer go on at his own men, too! 'You dam fellers call
yerselves carters,' he says; 'a man like that's worth a dozen o' you.'
Well, they couldn't ha' done it. A dozen of 'em 'd ha' scrambled
about, an' _then_ not done it! Besides, their _hosses_ wouldn't. But
this feller--the old farmer says to 'n, 'I never believed you'd ha'
done it.' 'I thought mos' likely I should,' he says. But he never had
much to say."

Sleet showers were falling, and a north wind was roaring through the
fir wood on top of the next hill while we worked. Dropping into the
vernacular, "I don't want to see no snow," said I. "No," responded
Bettesworth, "it's too white for me." "January," I went on, "is plenty
soon enough for snow to think about comin'." "April," he urged. "Ah
well, April," I laughed; and he, "Let it wait till there's a warm sun
to get rid of it 's fast as it comes."

Then he continued, "That rain las' night come as a reg'lar su'prise to
me. I was sittin' indoors by my fire smokin'--I 'ave got rid o' some
baccer lately--and old Kid went up the garden. He see my light, and
hollered out, 'It don't half rain!' '_Let_ it rain,' I says. I was in
there as comfortable...."

In the next night but one a little snow fell, enough to justify our
forecast and no more; and then we had frost, and garden work could
hardly go on. I was meaning to lay turf over a plot of ground where
the shrubs had stood; but the work had to wait: the frozen turfs could
not be unrolled.

Bettesworth did not like the weather. I have told of those steps
connecting his cottage with the road. They were slippery now, and the
handrail to them was icy when he clutched it, coming down in the dark
of the mornings. At the bottom of the steps, before the road is
reached, there is a steep path, commonly known as "Granny Fry's." Boys
were sliding there after breakfast, and they called out to
Bettesworth, "Be you roughed, Master Bettesworth?" According to his
tale, he spoke angrily: "''Tis _you_ ought to be roughed,' I says;
'you ought to be roughed over the bank. You be old enough to know
better.' And so they be, too. They be biggish boys; and anybody goin'
there might easy fall down and break their back--'specially after
dark."

When he came back from his dinner, he said, "Somebody 've bin an'
qualified old Granny Fry's." How? "Oh, somebody 've chucked some dirt
over where they boys had made it so slippery."

He was obliged to admit, though, that in his own boyhood he had been
as careless as any of these. And a few minutes later he was confessing
to another boyish fault. In a cottage hard by, little Timothy
Porter--a chubby little chap about five years old--was on very
friendly terms with old Bettesworth. He had but lately started his
schooling, and almost immediately was taken unwell and had to stay at
home a week or two. I happened now to ask Bettesworth how little Tim
was getting on.

"Oh, he's gettin' all right: goin' to school again Monday. He've
kicked up a rare shine, 'cause they wouldn't let 'n go. I likes 'n for
that. I likes to hear of a boy eager for learnin'--not to see 'm make
a shine and their mothers have to take 'em three parts o' the way. Not
but what I wanted makin' when I was a nipper. Many's a time I've
clucked up to a tree jest this side o' Cowley Bridge, and that old
'oman" (I don't know what old woman) "come out an' drive me. There
wa'n't no school then nearer 'n Lyons's--where Smith the wheelwright
lives now. He used to travel with tea, and I dessay half a dozen of us
'd come to his school from Cowley Bridge. We'd start off an' say we
wouldn't go to school; but we _'ad_ to."

The frost, had it continued, would very soon have been calamitous to
the working people. As it was, I saw bricklayers--good men known to
me, and neighbours, too--standing idle in the town, at the street
corners. And Bettesworth said,

"Some o' the shop-keepers down in the town begun to cry out about it.
They missed the Poor Man. And I heared the landlord down 'ere at the
Swan say he was several pounds out o' pocket by it."


_December 2, 1904._--Fortunately it was not to last. The men got to
work again; our gardening tasks could go forward. My notebook has this
entry for the 2nd of December:

"Laying turf this afternoon, in wonderful mild dry weather."



XXIX


The thought came to me one of those afternoons, Was it I, or was it
Bettesworth, who was growing dull? It might well have been myself; for
at the unaccustomed labour of turf-laying, in weather that had turned
mild and relaxing, mind no less than body was aware of fatigue, and
perhaps on that account the old man's talk seemed less vivid than
usual, less deserving of remembrance. At the same time I could not
help speculating whether the livelier interests of his conversation
might not be almost over. Had he much more to tell? Or had I heard it
practically all?

At this turf-laying the parts were reversed now. Time had been when,
at similar employments, I was the helper or onlooker; but now
Bettesworth's sight was so bad that I could no longer leave him to
unroll two turfs side by side and make their edges fit. I had to be
down on the ground with him, or instead of him.

And yet he would not accept criticism. Did I say, "Shove that end up a
little tighter," he would rejoin, "That's jest what I was a-goin' to
do." Or, to my comment, "That isn't a first-rate fit just there,"
"No, sir," he would admit, "I was only jest layin' it so ontil," etc.,
etc. "You'll see that'll go down all right. That'll go down all
right.... Yes, that'll go down all right." And he would fumble
unserviceably, while the sentence trailed away into inaudible
reiterations. Still, it was a rich, creamy, very quiet and pleasing
old voice that spoke.

The habit of repeating his own words was growing upon the old man fast
since his wife's death; and it irritated me at times, filling up the
gaps and interrupting my share of the conversation. Instead of
listening to me, he mumbled on, dreamily. Now and again, however, he
appeared to become aware of the habit. More than once, after relating
something he had said at home, he added in explanation, "I was talkin'
to _myself_, you know. I en't got nobody else to talk _to_." This was
almost the only indication he allowed me to see of that loneliness
which others assured me he was feeling. Did he, I wonder, fear that if
I knew of it I should be urging him to give up his cottage? For
whatever reason, he made no confidant of me on that point. Once,
indeed, there was mention of sitting indoors one evening by his fire,
"till he couldn't sit no longer," but got up and walked up and down
his garden, driven by crowding thoughts. Another time, "All sorts o'
things keeps comin' into my mind now," he said. And these were the
utmost complainings to which he condescended, in my hearing.

It was very fortunate that he had excellent neighbours in old Mrs.
Norris (old Nanny, he called her) and her son, known as Kid, Kiddy, or
Kidder. While stooping over our turfs I heard many tiny details of
Bettesworth's kindly relations with these good people; and, as
pleasantly as oddly, between them and myself a sort of friendship grew
up, through the old man's mediation. We seldom met; we knew little of
one another save what he told us; but he must have gone home and
talked to them of me, just as he came here and told me about them; and
thus, while I was learning to like them cordially, I think they were
learning to like me, and it seemed to stamp with the seal of
genuineness my intercourse with Bettesworth himself. But it was truly
queer. Old Nanny Norris--the skinny old woman with the strange
Mongolian or Tartar face and eyes--took to stopping for a chat, if we
met on the road. In the town once, where I stood talking with some one
else, she, coming up from behind me, could not pass on without looking
round, nodding joyfully and grimacing her countenance--the countenance
of an eastern image--into a jolly smile. She wore a Paisley shawl, and
a little bonnet gay with russet and pink.

Bettesworth was distressed only by Nanny's deafness. "_En't_ that a
denial to anybody!" he exclaimed feelingly. "There, I can't talk to
her. I always did hate talkin' to anybody deaf. Everybody can hear
what you got to say, and if 't en't nothing, still you don't want
everybody to hear it.... Old Kid _breaks_ out at her sometimes: 'Gaw'
dangy! I'll _make_ ye hear!' Every now an' then I laughs to myself to
hear 'n, sittin' in there by myself."

He handed me another turf, and continued: "'Tis a good thing for she
that old Kidder en't never got married. But she slaves about for 'n;
nobody _could_n't do no more for 'n than she do. When I got home to
dinner she come runnin' round. She'd jest bin to pay all his clubs for
'n. He belongs to three clubs: two slate clubs an' the Foresters."

"He doesn't mean to be in any trouble if he's ill," I grumbled up from
the turf.

"Not he. Thirty-two shillin's a week he'll get, if he's laid up.
There's Alf" (one of his half-brothers) "and him--rare schemin'
fellers they be, no mistake." Particulars followed about this family
of strong brothers; but, in fine, "Kidder 've always bin the darlin'.
He's the youngest."

Fearless, black-bearded strong man that he is, though very quiet, even
silky and soft in his ordinary demeanour, it was laughable to think of
Kid Norris as a "darling." Along with Alf he was at work all through
the summer on the new railway near Bordon Camp, they two being experts
and earning a halfpenny an hour more than the common navvy. Their way
was to leave home at four in the morning and walk the eight miles to
their work. In the evening the 7 p.m. up-train brought them within a
mile and a half of this village. Once or twice they overtook me,
making their way homewards, long-striding; and sometimes they would
work an hour or two after that in their gardens, in the summer
twilight.

When the weather worsened and the days shortened, Kid threw up his
railway-work, and took a job at digging sea-kale for a large grower.
The fields were scattered about the district; some of them within two
miles, and the remotest not more than three, from his home. He was the
leading man of a gang of labourers; and at my paltry turf-laying I
heard of his work, which, it appears, was new to him. "They had to
save," he said (and the fact was interesting to old Bettesworth),
"jest the parts he should ha' throwed away.... It did take some
heavin': they stamms was gone down like tree-roots," especially down
there in such-and-such a field. "Up here above Barlow's Mill 'twan't
half the trouble." The master said to Kid, "You no call to slack. I
got plenty o' trenchin' you can go on at, when the kale's up." Then
said Kid to his gang, "Some o' you chaps 'll have to move about a bit
quicker, if you're goin' trenchin' 'long o' me." He sent one of them
packing--a neighbour from this village, too. "Not a bad chap to work,
so far as that goes, but too stiff, somehow," Bettesworth said,
evidently knowing the man's style.

Towards the end of one afternoon, "It looks comin' up rainy,"
Bettesworth observed, "but old Kid wants it frosty. Where he is
now--trenchin' up there at Waterman's--he says this rain makes it so
heavy; it comes up on they spuds jest as much as ever a man can lift."

"And that's not a little," said I; "Kid's a strong man."

"Well--he's jest the age; jest on forty. I says to 'n, 'Some of 'em 'd
go for you, if they knowed you was wantin' frost.' He laughed. 'We all
speaks for ourselves, don't we?' he says."

Then Bettesworth added, "There, I never could have a better neighbour
'n he is. Always jest the same. He looks out for me, too."

I grieve that I have forgotten the particular instance of looking out:
it was a case of Kid's mother telling him that she was short of some
commodity or other--hot water, perhaps, for tea; upon which Kid said,
"Well, see there's some left for old Freddy." On another occasion, "I
had," Bettesworth remarked, "my favourite dish for supper last
night--pig's chiddlins," and he owed the treat to his neighbours.
"They'd killed their pig, and old Nanny brought me in a nice hot
plateful. I _did_ enjoy 'em: they was so soft an' nice. There's
nothin' I be more fond of, if I knows who cleaned 'em. But I en't
tasted any since I give up keepin' pigs myself."


I could not spare many hours a day for it, so that our turfing work
dragged out wearisomely; but throughout it Bettesworth's conversation
maintained the same homely inconspicuous character. Once it was about
the celery in the garden: "'Tis the nicest celery I ever had--so
crisp, an' so well-bleached. I've had two sticks." (He had been told
to help himself.) "Last night I put some in a saucepan an' boiled it
up; an' then a little pepper an' salt and a nice bit o' butter." He
has no teeth now for eating it uncooked; "or else at one time I
could," he assured me.

One after another his simple domestic arrangements were talked over.
He made no fire at home in the morning; Nanny gave him a cup of tea;
and so he saved coal, which he had been buying from one of the village
shops, half a hundredweight at a time. But the price was exorbitant,
and Bettesworth had found a way of buying for fourpence the
hundredweight cheaper. And "fo'pence--that's a lot. Well, there's the
price of a loaf _soon_ saved." "And a loaf," I put in, "lasts you...?"
"Lasts me a long time, and _then_ I gives the crusts and odd bits to
Kid for his pig.... One way and another I makes it all up to 'em."

Of a well-to-do neighbour, "He don't shake off that lumbago in his
back yet, so he says.... Ah, he have bin a strong man. So he ought to
be, the way he eats. His sister was sayin' only t'other day how every
mornin' he'll eat as big a plateful o' fat bacon as she puts before
'n."

A difficulty with a turf which was cut too thick at one corner made a
queer diversion. The old man was wearing new boots, and already I knew
how he had bargained for them at Wilby's shop, getting a pair of cork
socks, besides laces and dubbin, thrown in for his money. And now,
this little corner of grass obstinately sticking up, "Let's see what
Mr. Wilby 'll do for 'n," said Bettesworth, and he stamped his new
boot down hard and the thickened sod yielded. "Do they hurt you at
all?" I asked then. "No," he said, "not no more'n you may expect. New
boots always draws your feet a bit. That one wrung my foot a little
yest'day. When I got home, 'fore ever I lit my candle, I'd unlaced 'n
and fetched 'n off. I flung 'n down. But I be very well pleased with
'em. 'Tis jest across here by the seam where they hurts.... No, I en't
_laced_ 'em tight. I don't hold with that, for new boots. Of course
they en't leather; can't be for the money. When you've paid for the
makin' what is there left for leather, out of five-and-sixpence? No,
they _can't_ be leather....

"Little Tim" (Bettesworth's five-year-old chum) "jest got some new
uns, with nails in 'em. Nex' pair he has, he says, he's goin' to have
'em big, with big nails, jest like his father's. 'You ben't man enough
yet, Tim,' I says. But he got some little gaiters too. 'Now I be
ready,' he says, 'if it snows or anything.'"

As a rule we endured in silence the minor discomforts incidental to
work like ours, in a raw winter air. But there were exceptions, as
when we agreed in hating to handle the tools with our hands so caked
over with the black earth. To me, indeed, the spade felt as if covered
with sandpaper, so that sometimes it was less painful to use fingers,
although of course they did but get the more thickly encrusted with
soil by that device. This state of our hands was the cause of another
small distress: one could not touch a pocket-handkerchief. And of this
also we spoke, once, when I all but laughed aloud at what Bettesworth
said.

It began with his testily remarking, "My nose is more plag' than
enough!" There was, indeed, and had been for a long time, a glistening
drop at the end of it.

My own was in like case, no pocket-handkerchief being available. So I
said, "Mine would be all right in a second, if I could only get to
wipe it."

Then said Bettesworth, innocently (for he had no suspicion how funny
his reply was), "Ah, but that's what you can't do, without makin' your
face all dirty."

With our noses distilling dew-drops, and our hands gloved-over with
mud and aching with cold, we may be pardoned, I hope, for complaining
sometimes of the weather. I believe that really we liked it; for down
there so close to the grass and the soil we were entering into
intimacies like theirs, with the cool winter air; but our enjoyment
was subconscious, whereas consciously we criticized and were not too
well pleased. After one interval of grumbling, I tried to cheer up,
with the suggestion, "We must be thankful it isn't so cold as
yesterday." Bettesworth, however, was not to be so easily appeased,
but replied, "We don't feel it down here, where 'tis so sheltered, but
depend upon it, 'tis purty cold down the road, when you gets into the
wind. I met old Steve when I was comin' back from dinner. 'How d'ye
get on up there?' I says." (_Up there_ is on the ridge of the hill,
where Steve works in a garden.) "''Tis purty peaky up there,' he says.
I'll lay it is, too. I shouldn't think there's anybody got a much
colder job than he have. 'Pend upon it, he _do_ feel it."

"I was afraid on Sunday we were in for more snow."

"Ah, so was I. I found my old hard broom. Stacked in he was, behind a
lot o' peasticks an' clutter. I'd missed 'n for a long time--ever
since our young Dave" (his nephew's son) "come to clear up the garden
for me. He'd pulled up the peasticks an' put 'em in the old
shed--well, I'd told 'n to. And I _fancied_ that's where the broom
must be. So Sunday I fetched 'em all out of it and got 'n out and took
'n indoors with the shovel, in case any snow _should_ come.

"Little Dave's gone on 'long o' George Bryant, up at Powell's. Handy
little chap, he is...."


In this way, so long as the turf-laying lasted, Bettesworth's talk
went drivelling on. Was he really getting dull? I had begun by
fancying so; and yet as I listened to him, perhaps myself benumbed a
little by the cold open air, something rather new to me--a quality in
the old man's conversation more intrinsically pleasing than I had
previously known--began to make its subtle appeal. Half unawares it
came home to me, like the contact of the garden mould, and the smell
of the earth, and the silent saturation of the cold air. You could
hardly call it thought--the quality in this simple prattling. Our
hands touching the turfs had no thought either; but they were alive
for all that; and of such a nature was the life in Bettesworth's
brain, in its simple touch upon the circumstances of his existence.
The fretful echoes men call opinions did not sound in it; clamour of
the daily press did not disturb its quiet; it was no bubble puffed out
by learning, nor indeed had it any of the gracefulness which some
mental life takes from poetry and art; but it was still a genuine and
strong elemental life of the human brain that during those days was my
companion. It seemed as if something very real, as if the true sound
of the life of the village, had at last reached my dull senses.

The themes might be trivial, yet the talk was not ignoble. The
rippling comments upon their affairs, which swing in perpetual ebb and
flow amidst the labouring people, lead them perhaps no farther; and
yet, should they not be said? Could they be dispensed with? Are they
not an integral part of life? Let me quote another fragment:

"After that rain yesterday, old Kid says, up in that clay at
Waterman's when you takes your spud out o' the ground you can't see
whether 'tis a spud or a board. And it's enough to break your
shoulders all to pieces. He _was_ tired last night, he says."

Well--to me the observation justifies itself, and I like it for its
own sake. It touched me with an elusive vitality of its own, for which
after our turf-laying I began generally to listen in Bettesworth's
talk, and which nowadays I hear in that of his neighbours, as when old
Nanny Norris meets me on the road and stops for a gossip.



XXX


Christmas was approaching near--was "buckin' up," as Bettesworth
quaintly phrased it; and that it contributed to the melancholy of his
existence will easily be understood. It is nowhere mentioned in my
book, but a remorse was beginning to haunt him, for having let his
wife be taken away to the infirmary, to die there. "I done it for the
best, poor old dear," I remember his saying several times; "but it
hurts me to think I let her go." In the long evenings before
Christmas, alone in his cottage and unable to pass time by reading, he
had too much time for brooding over his loss.

The nights as well as the evenings were probably too long for him, and
I make no question that his happiest hours were those he spent at
work, when he could forget himself and still talk cheerfully. Thus
there is quite a gleam of cheerfulness in the following instructive
fragment, of the 17th of December.


_December 17, 1904._--"When the wind blowed up in the night I thought
'twas rain. I got out an' went to the winder--law! _'twas_ dark! But
the winder an' all seemed as dry!"

"What time was that?"

"I DUNNO, sir."

"The moon must have been down?"

"Yes, the moon was down."

"Then it must have been getting on for morning."

"I dunno.... But I'd smoked two pipes o' baccer before Kid called me.
I _have_ smoked some baccer since I bin livin' there alone. The last
half-pound I had is purty well all gone; and 'tent the day for another
lot afore Monday." (This was Saturday.) "But I shall ha' to get me
some more to-night. Why, that's quarter of a pound a week!

"Old Kid says, 'Don't it make ye _dry_?' this smoking. 'No,' I says,
'that" (namely, to drink) "en't no good.' Kid don't smoke. Reg'lar
old-fashioned card, he is. 'Ten't many _young_ men you'll see like 'n.
But he's as reg'lar in his habits as a old married man. Ay, and he's
as good, too. 'T least, he's as good to me. So they both be."

"Isn't he to his mother?"

"Ah! an' she to him. No woman couldn't look after a baby better. Every
night as soon as he's home and ready to sit down, there's his supper
on the table. 'Supper's ready, Kid,' she says. 'So's yourn too,
Freddy,' she says to me. 'Ah,' I says, 'Wait a bit, Nanny, till my
kettle's boilin'.' Because I always has tea along o' my supper. Kid,
he don't have his till after; but I likes mine with my supper. So I
tells her to put it in the oven till I'm ready. Cert'nly, my little
kettle don't take long to boil. But I shall ha' to get me quarter of
a ton o' coal, soon as Chris'mas is over."


A faint memory, for which I have had to grope, restores a mention by
Bettesworth of three glasses of grog to which he treated Kid Norris
and himself and old Nanny. Perhaps this was at Christmas time; at any
rate I am not aware that the season was brightened for him by any
other celebration. It passed, and the New Year came in, and still he
was living the same broken life, yet telling rather of the few
pleasures it contained than of its desolation. I am sure he did not
mean to let me know that he was being constantly reminded of his wife,
yet the next conversation gives reason to suppose that such was the
case.


_January 10, 1905._--He had spent two vigorous days in cutting down
and sawing into logs an old plum-tree, and grubbing out its roots.
That was a job which he might still be left to do without supervision;
but I had to assist, when it came to planting a young tree in the
vacant space. A pear-tree, this new one was; and he asked, "Was it a
'William' pear?" It was a _Doyenne du Comice_, I said. His shrug
showed that he did not get hold of the name at all, and I fancied him
a little contemptuous of such outlandishness; so I added that I had
seen some of the pears in a fruiterer's window, and wished to grow the
like for myself.

"Ah"--the suggestion was enough. He wondered if that was the sort he
had bought for his "poor old gal"; and then he told again how he had
given three halfpence apiece for pears to take to her at the
infirmary, and would have given sixpence rather than go without them.
"And _then_ the poor old gal never tasted 'em.... She wa'n't up there
long.... That Blackman what drove the fly that took her ast me about
her t'other day. He didn't know" (that she was dead), "or he _said_ he
didn't. 'She was only up there three days,' I said. Since then, he've
took old Mrs. Cook--Jerry's mother.... Jerry kep' her as long as he
could, but 't last she _'ad_ to go. Yes, he stuck to 'er as long as he
could, Jerry did. None o' the others didn't, ye see.... But he had
money: there was two hunderd pound, so they said, when his wife's
mother died, and nobody couldn't make out what become of it exactly.
But Jerry had some, an' purty soon got rid of it. Purty near killed
'n. 'Fore he'd done with it he couldn't stoop to tie up his shoelaces,
he was got that bloaty.... I reckon he bides down there by hisself,
now."

In that he resembled Bettesworth, then. I asked if Jerry had no wife.

"She died about two year ago. Poor thing--she'd bin through
_every_thing; bin to hospitals and all." It was one hop-picking, about
nine years ago, and just after she was married, that "they was larkin'
about--jest havin' a bit o' fun, ye know; there wasn't no spite in
it--and one of 'em swished her right across the eye with a
hop-bine.... I s'pose 'twas something frightful, afore she died; 't
had eat right into her head."

The old man pondered over the horror, then continued, "There must be
something poisonous about hop-bine. Same as with a ear o' corn. How
many you sees have lost an eye by an ear o' corn swishin' into it!
En't you ever heard of it? _I_'ve knowed it, many's a time. There was"
(I forget whom he named)--"it jest flicked 'n across the sight, and he
went purty near mad wi' the pain of it. Oats is the worst. Well, as
you knows, oats is so thin, 't'll stick to the eyeball purty near like
paper.... But I'd sooner cut oats than any other; it cuts so sweet.
That was always my favourite corn to cut. Cert'nly I en't never had no
accident with it. Barley cuts sweet, but 't en't like oats."


The next day's chatter gives one more touch to the picture of
Bettesworth's pleasant intercourse with his neighbours at this period.
Apropos of nothing at all the old man began his story.


_January 11, 1905._--"When I went home last night I see my door was
open; but I never went in, because you knows I had to go on further to
take that note for you. But after I'd done that I come back same way,
and then I see a light in the winder. 'Hullo!' I says to myself.
'What's up now, then?' So I pushed on; and when I got indoors there
was old Nanny--she'd made up my fire an' biled my kettle, an' was
gettin' my dinner ready. Ah, an' she'd bin upstairs, too: she'd
scrubbed it out--all the rooms; and she says, 'I've made yer bed too,
Fred....' But I give her a shillin', so she can't go about sayin' she
done all this for me for nothin'. _She_ en't got nothin' to complain
of. Besides, 't wants a scrub out now an' again. Not as 'twas anyways
_dirty_, 'cause _t'en't_. She said so herself. 'If it's a fine day
to-morrer, Fred, I'll come an' scrub your floors out for ye: 't'll do
'em good. Not as they be DIRTY,' she says; 'I see 'em myself, so I
knows....' Well, so she did. She come in last week, and hung my new
curtains.... I've had new curtains" (little muslin blinds) "to the
winders, upstairs an' down--I bought 'em week afore last--and ol' Nan
've made 'em an' put 'em up for me. No mistake she is a one to work!
Works as hard as any young gal--and she between seventy an' eighty."

I said, "Yes, she's one of the right sort, is Nanny."

"One o' the right sort for me. 'Tis to be hoped nothin' 'll ever
happen to _she_!"

Such were the makeshift, yet not altogether unhappy domestic,
conditions by which Bettesworth was enabled for a little while to
maintain his independence, and carry on the obstinate and now hopeless
struggle to earn a living for himself. He was a man with work to do,
and with the will to do it, as yet. On this same eleventh of January
we may picture him forming one of a curious group of the working men
of the parish, who gathered in a rainy dawn on a high piece of the
road, and looked apprehensively at the weather. "I thought,"
Bettesworth told me afterwards, "we was in for a reg'lar wild day; and
so did a good many more. The men didn't like startin'.... I come out
to the cross-roads 'long of old Kid, and he said he didn't hardly know
what to think about it. And while we stood there, Ben Fowler come
along. 'I don't hardly know what to make of it,' he says. And then
some more come. There was a reg'lar gang of 'em; didn't like to go
away. Well, a man don't _like_ to set off for a day's work an' get wet
through afore he begins."


_January 17._--Not many more days of work, however, were to be added
to the tale of Bettesworth's laborious years. On the 17th of January
it appears that he was still going on, for old Nanny seen at an
unaccustomed hour on the road, spoke of him as getting about with
difficulty. This is what she said, in her gruff, quick, scolding
voice: "I couldn't git to the town fust thing, 'twas so slippery.
Bettesworth said he couldn't git down our steps this mornin', so I bin
chuckin' sand over 'em. Don't want ol' Freddy to break his leg.... All
up there by Granny Fry's the childern gets slidin,' an' makes it ten
times wuss than what 'twas afore, an' the more you says to 'm the wuss
they be."

With this last glimpse of him fumbling painfully on the slippery
pathway, we finish our acquaintance with Bettesworth's working life.



XXXI


_January 22, 1905._--The 22nd of January was the date, as nearly as I
can make out now, of Bettesworth's being seized by another of his
bronchial colds, from which he had hitherto been tolerably free this
winter. An influenza attacking myself about the same time prevented me
from going out to see how he fared, and for about ten days I know only
that he did not come to work. Then, on the 3rd of February, leaning
heavily on his stick and looking white and feeble, he managed to get
this far to report himself. It would take over long to tell how he sat
by the kitchen fire that day and discussed sundry affairs of the
village. For himself, he was rapidly getting well, and hoped to be
back at work in a few days. I surmise that he had been lonely. Kid
Norris had not come near him, but had been audible through the
partition wall, asking his deaf mother "How old Freddy was?" Old Nanny
herself had an extremely bad cold.


_February 8._--A few more days pass; and then on February the 8th
there is the following brief entry in my note-book:

"Bettesworth started work again yesterday. He planted some shallots,
and even while I watched him smoothing the earth over them, he raked
out two which, failing to see, he trod upon and left on the ground."

And that was Bettesworth's last day's work. He never again after that
day put hand to tool, and probably some suspicion that the end had at
length come to the usefulness of his life prompted me the next morning
to make that entry in my book.

On that day he had professed to be fairly well, and so he seemed. He
mentioned, however, when I asked if Kid Norris had yet been to see
him, that the kindness of the Norrises had "fell away very much. Very
much, it have. I en't _told_ nobody, but...." He talked of giving up
his cottage and accepting an offer to lodge with George Bryant. This
young labourer, who has been spoken of before, was now and to the end
a stanch friend and admirer of Bettesworth. With him Bettesworth
fancied he would be comfortable, and I thought so too, and encouraged
him in the project, for the old man's illness had shown that it was
not right for him to live alone.

But the proposal came too late. On the following morning (the 8th: a
Tuesday) no Bettesworth appeared; but about nine o'clock a messenger,
who was on the way to fetch a doctor, called to say that Bettesworth
was very ill; and then I remembered that on the previous afternoon he
had spoken of having been shivering all through his dinner-hour.

It was a wet day: the influenza had barely left me, and I dared not go
out to visit Bettesworth. Towards evening, as there had been no news
of him, a member of my family started out across the valley to make
inquiries, and had not long been gone, when one of his neighbours
arrived here. It was Mrs. Eggar--"Kate," as he called her: the same
good helpful woman who had volunteered to do his washing when his wife
was ill, and had despatched the messenger for a doctor this morning.
On this evening she had stepped into the gap again. Her errand was to
urge that Bettesworth should be sent off at once to the infirmary, and
to persuade me to write to the relieving officer asking him to take
the necessary action. Her daughter, she said, would carry my letter to
him in the morning, and would bring back any message or instructions
he might send.

From her account of him it was evident that Bettesworth was in a
critical state. He ought not to be left alone for the approaching
night; but the question was, who would sit up with him? As it was out
of my own power to do that, and as the old man's life might depend on
its being done, my duty was clear enough: I could make it worth
somebody's while to undertake the watching; and accordingly I made the
offer. The woman hesitated, thinking of her family and her laundry
work, and of her husband's toilsome days too; and then, seeing that
with all their toil they were very poor (she told me much about her
circumstances afterwards), she finally decided that she and her
husband would see Bettesworth through the night. Her husband had work
three or four miles away, and was leaving home at four in the morning:
she herself had a young baby at the time; but, says my note-book,
"they did it."

And on the following morning, as we had arranged, their daughter went
that weary journey to the relieving officer, and brought back to me by
ten o'clock his order for the medical officer's attendance. It seemed
that the old pitiful routine we had been through several times before
was to be entered upon once more; but to expedite matters I enclosed
the order for attendance in a note of my own to the doctor; and the
girl started off with it to the town, to add another three miles to
the five or six she had already walked that morning.

That, one would have supposed, should have almost ended the trouble;
but though a man be dying it is not easy, under the existing Poor Law,
to get him that help which the ratepayers provide, for the machinery
is cumbersome, and the people who should profit by it do not
appreciate its intricacies, or know how to make it work smoothly. In
the present instance much trouble would have been saved, if
Bettesworth's neighbours had known enough to correct an oversight of
the doctor's. There was no delay on his side; but unfortunately it
was the _locum tenens_ again who called; and he contented himself with
giving his verbal assent to Bettesworth's going to the infirmary.
That, of course, was useless; but the women attending Bettesworth did
not know it. On the contrary, they supposed that the formal
certificate could be dispensed with, and that a note from myself would
satisfy the relieving officer. A message from them reached me, begging
me to write such a note, which, they said, Bettesworth's nephew would
take over to Moorway's in the evening.

Of course the suggestion was utterly futile. The relieving officer
could not recognize a request from me as an order, and an attempt to
make him do so, if it effected nothing worse, would certainly delay
Bettesworth's removal for yet another day, although, as it was, the
unhappy old man must be left a second night in the care of his
ignorant if well-meaning neighbours. But worse might easily follow the
sending of Bettesworth's nephew for a long walk on such a fool's
errand. Strong passionate man that he was, it was more than likely
that he would quarrel with the officer; and to applicants for relief a
relieving officer is an autocrat with whom it is not well to quarrel.
These considerations, duly weighed, persuaded me not to do what I was
asked; but I sent the messenger back with the request that
Bettesworth's nephew should call upon me.

He came in the evening: a black-haired powerful builder's-labourer,
tired with his day's work, but prepared to be sent on a five-mile
walk. As we discussed Bettesworth's condition, and the desirability of
getting him to the infirmary, the man's tone jarred a little. He said,
"It's the best place for him. But it strikes me he'll never come home
again." A feeling passed over me that a wish was father to this
thought: that Jack Bettesworth was not eager for the responsibility
which would rest upon him, if his uncle should come home. After events
seem to prove that I wronged the man: on this occasion I was chiefly
eager to secure his help. Almost apologetically I said, "It makes a
lot of running about." "Well, can't 'elp it," was the laconic answer.
We did help it to some extent, however, by sending him, not to the
relieving officer, which would have cost another five miles, but to
the doctor, at the expense of no more than three. The nephew was to
get the doctor's certificate, and post it in the town to the relieving
officer; and for this purpose he was furnished with a stamped and
addressed envelope, in which was enclosed a letter to the relieving
officer, begging him to attend to the case on his way through the
village in the morning. It was the best we could do. Should all go
well, not more than ten or twelve miles of walking (I omit the
carrying of messages to and from me) and not more than two days of
waiting would have sufficed for getting Bettesworth the help of which
he was officially certified to be in need.


_February 9, 1905._--And all did go well. On Thursday morning, the 9th
of February, I went to Bettesworth's cottage, and found preparations
in progress for his going away. There was more than preparation. With
all their kindliness, it must be said of the labouring people that
they want tact. Bettesworth's poor home had become a sort of show, in
its small squalid fashion. The door stood wide open; there were half a
dozen people in the living-room, where the old man had of late shut
himself in with his loneliness and his independence; and upstairs in
his bed he must have been aware of the nakedness of the place now
displayed. The unswept hearth and the extinct fire were pitiful to
see; yet there stood women and children, seeing them. Mrs. Eggar
("Kate") had a good right to be there. She had sat up a second night,
and, albeit sleepy-eyed and untidy, there was helpfulness in her large
buxom presence. Perhaps there were reasons too for her daughter's
being there with the baby. Another woman, tall, grave, and sympathetic
of aspect, had brought two more children; and she told me that
upstairs Jack Bettesworth's wife Liz was washing the old man. Liz, by
the way, was prepared to go with him on his journey.

I went up into the little square-windowed dirty bedroom and saw him.
He was inclined to cry at the prospect of shutting up his home; but a
little talk about my garden--perhaps dearer to him now than even his
home was--brightened him up. It pleased him to learn that some early
peas had been sown. In what part? he wanted to know. And being told,
"Ah," he said, "and there's another place where peas 'd do well: up
there under George Bryant's hedge." When I left, it was with a promise
to go and see him in the infirmary on the next visiting day. Going out
I saw old Nanny Norris at her door, observant of all that went on, but
unserviceably deaf. She was wearing her bonnet and black shawl, looked
ill, and complained of cough and of pains across her shoulders. I
think there were two or three other women standing near. They were
probably waiting to see Bettesworth removed, as he duly was, at
mid-day.



XXXII


_February 10._--The day after his departure a rather annoying
circumstance came to light. The monthly contribution to the club was
found to be a whole year in arrear. As the sum was but threepence a
month, so that even now only three shillings were due, it seemed a
little too bad of Bettesworth to have neglected the payments which at
least secured him a doctor's attendance and at his death would produce
four pounds for funeral expenses. Perhaps, however, he was not so much
to blame as appeared; at any rate, the manner by which we learnt of
his carelessness offers to the imagination the material for an
affecting picture of the old man on his sick-bed. It was Mrs. Eggar
who, in some trouble for him, brought his club-membership card to me,
and told how he had asked her to find it. On the eve of his departure
he had taken her into his confidence, spoken of the possibility that
he might be going away only to die, and desired, in that event, to be
brought home from the infirmary and buried decently, "same as his
wife," with this sum which the club would pay. Of course the money for
the arrears had to be found, and Mrs. Eggar undertook to pay it to
the club secretary on the next day, when she went to the town to do
her Saturday's shopping. Bettesworth had further asked her, she said,
to find his discharge papers from the army, and see what reason for
his discharge was stated, since he had forgotten. I have never
understood why he should have been curious on that point, at such a
time. Defective sight seems to have been the unexciting reason
alleged.

And now, its occupant gone and Mrs. Eggar's rummagings done, the
squalid tenement next door to the Norris's stood shut up, with the
door locked on the few poor belongings it contained. To the neighbours
there seemed to be all the circumstances of a death, except the death
itself. People began to remember, what I had failed to observe yet
could well believe, how greatly Bettesworth had changed of late;
others recalled complaints he had uttered of being unbearably lonely.
It was the general opinion that, even if he lived, he would never work
again, and never again come back to the place he had left. Three or
four men approached me in the hope of getting work in my garden; while
as for the cottage, had I cared to give it up, there were already (the
owner told me) four or five applicants eager to take it. What I should
do, and what Bettesworth, formed the subject of a good deal of
speculation. Old Nanny, meeting me in the road, plunged excitedly into
the middle of the discussion. In her harsh snapping voice she assured
me that the cottage was "as dirty as _ever_!" and that, as regarded
Bettesworth, the infirmary was "the best place _for_ him!" "Have ye
give up the cot?" she asked. "No." "Oh! ... Beagley" (the owner) "told
young Cook as you had?" "I haven't." "Well, he _said_ you had." For
some reason that was never divulged, Nanny had conceived a violent
animosity towards Bettesworth, which I then supposed to be peculiar to
herself; but in other respects her unmannerly questionings only
betrayed the attitude of almost all the other neighbours. Bettesworth
was done for: he had better stay at the infirmary and let others have
his work and his cottage. Such was the prevailing opinion. The people
were not intentionally unkind; but in the merciless working-class
struggle for life one may admire how long Bettesworth had held his
own.

On the other hand, the opposite side, Bettesworth's side, was
championed probably by not a few labouring men, who had learnt to
appreciate his quality. Among these was George Bryant. Bryant had been
doing a few necessary jobs for me during Bettesworth's illness, and it
was to his interest, if anybody's, that the old man should not come
home again. When I repeated to him, however, what people had been
saying--namely, that Bettesworth ought now to stay in the infirmary,
he said "H'm!" and clearly did not agree. Finally, "Well, of course,
we knows 'tis a place where old people _ought_ to be looked after,
but--well, Bettesworth likes his liberty. And so should I, if I was
in his place!"

With a cordial feeling which warmed me at the time and may give a
little colour now to the grey narrative, he spoke of the change he had
lately observed in Bettesworth, who had confessed to him that life had
grown so lonely "he didn't know how ever to put up with it." On the
very last Sunday evening Bryant had been over at the old man's
cottage, "and 'tis a _lot_ cleaner 'n what it used to be in the old
lady's time." But the difficulty was that Bettesworth could not see. I
assented, mentioning his last labours at planting shallots. Bryant
smiled; from his adjoining garden he had noticed the same thing a year
ago, with some peas. But, in general, he admired Bettesworth. "He's a
man that don't talk much till he's started, and then.... He was
tellin' me Sunday about the things he see in the war. I reckon that
got a lot to do with the way he is now: the cold winds, when the tents
blowed over, and he'd have to lay out all in the mud. He might think
't didn't hurt 'n," but in all likelihood Bettesworth was now feeling
the effects of these sufferings of so long ago. The Crimean wind, as
described by Bettesworth, seemed to have impressed Bryant. "He did
tell me what regiment it belonged to, but I forgets which 'twas; but
one o' the regiments had the big drum lifted right up into the air an'
carried out to sea by the wind."



XXXIII


The remainder of Bettesworth's story may for the most part be told in
the notes made at the time, without much comment. I was unable to go
to the infirmary on the first visiting day after his admission, as I
had promised that I would; but I managed to get to him a week later,
namely on Tuesday, the 21st of February, when he had been there twelve
days; and on the next day the following account of the visit was
jotted down.


_February 22, 1905._--At the infirmary yesterday I found Bettesworth
still in bed, in a large ward on the ground floor. Out of doors,
though it was a day of fair sunshine generally, the north-east wind
was bitter, and a storm of sleet and sparse hail which I had been
watching as it drove across the eastern sky, and which had reached me
as I neared the gate, made it agreeable to get inside the fine
well-warmed building. From Bettesworth's bedside I could see, through
the tall windows of the ward, distant fields and the grey storm
drifting slowly over them. Trees on the horizon stood out sombre
against the sombre sky.

Within, was plentiful light--plentiful air and warmth too, and cleanly
order. The place looked almost cheerful, although some twenty men lay
there, suffering or unhappy. One only was sitting up, who coughed
exhaustedly, not violently; he seemed able to do no more than sit up,
shaking with debility. In the beds the patients mostly lay quite
still. The man next beyond Bettesworth drew the counterpane up over
his ears, and I saw a glowing feverish eye watching me. There were but
few other visitors--only four, I think, besides myself. Somewhere an
electric bell sounded. A little nursing attendant with sleeves
stripped up came stumping cheerily all down the ward. She had been
washing dishes or something in a kind of scullery just outside when I
came in. As she passed through she said, as though to interest the
sick men, "This is how I do my work--see? Walkin' about like this!"

My first impression of the place was favourable; all looked so
well-appointed, so sumptuous even. And there lay Bettesworth under his
white counterpane, himself wonderfully clean and trim, and wearing a
floppy white nightcap. I had hoped to find him sitting up; but
still....

"How are you?" I shook his hand--unrecognizably thin and clean and
soft--and he flushed and sat up, pleased enough. But, "I'm as well as
ever I shall be," he murmured; or was it (I don't quite remember) "I
shan't never be no better." Shocked, and not sure of having heard
aright, I asked again, and the answer came, "I shan't never be no
better, so long as I bides here."

What was the matter, then? Everything. The interview turned forthwith
into one protracted, unreasoning grumble from the old man. He had not
food enough. Bread and butter--just a little piece at one time, and a
little piece more at some other time. And beef-tea--"they calls it
beef-tea, but 'tis only that stuff out o' the bottle--_I_ forgets the
name of it. Bovril? Ah, that's it. One cup we has at home 'd make
twenty o' these."

I tried to reason with him, but it was useless. Evidently he was very
weak. He coughed at times, but said he had no pain now. What he wanted
was to get up, and be about, where he could obtain for himself such
things as he might fancy. If a man, he argued, feeling as he did, was
allowed to get up and put on his clothes for an hour or two, and have
a sluice down, wouldn't it brighten that man up? But last night--he
didn't know what time it was, and he got out of bed. One of the nurses
came in just then. "'What are you doin' out there?' she said; 'you
ought to be in bed.' 'And so did you ought to be,' I says." To judge
from his tone in narrating, he said it in no amiable voice. He added
petulantly, "There! give me Guildford Hospital before this, twenty
times over!"

Thus he grumbled continuously. "There's old Hall in that bed over
there. _He's_ wantin' to go 'ome, too." Bettesworth spoke with a
sneer, not at our poor old neighbour Hall, but at Hall's pitiful
prospect of getting release from this imprisonment. He told me of the
other's bad cough, and of his age, and so forth, and for a minute or
two forgot his own grievances, but only for a minute or two. I asked
some question about the doctor. The doctor? They never set eyes on
him, for two or three days at a time. And he didn't give him any
medicine much, either. That bottle he" (Bettesworth) "had from the
club doctor before leaving home--he only had two doses out of it, but
that was a _lot_ nicer than this stuff. And the bed was hard--"nothin'
soft to lay on," and his back was getting sore. "Let's see--'twas a
fortnight last Thursday I come here, wasn't it?" "No, a week." "Oh,
only a week? I thought 'twas a fortnight. The time seems so _long_."

A woman and a girl were at old Hall's bedside, farther down the ward.
I could see him sitting up, panting, white, the picture of despair.
Then the woman turned and came towards us; it was Bettesworth's niece
Liz. She was smiling a little bewilderedly. "He wants me to send for
the nurse," she said, alluding to Hall; "he wants to go home."

She joined me in talking to Bettesworth. One or two things I told him
about the garden awakened but a faint interest in him; and meanwhile I
could see Hall sitting up, his under-lip drooping, his eyes abnormally
bright. Yet I think he could not see much. Usually he wears
spectacles, being eighty years old. And still we talked to
Bettesworth. His niece was as unsuccessful as myself in trying to
reason with him. To some remark of hers, suggesting that if he were at
home he would be without anyone to nurse him, he replied fiercely (and
I have no notion of his meaning), "No! and there won't _be_ none,
neither, once I gets home and got my key. I shall lock my door!..."
Liz argued then that this place was so comfortable and so clean. "'Tis
the patients has to do that," said Bettesworth.

At last a nurse came to old Hall, and we listened while he proffered
his request to go home. "To-morrow," he said. "Oh, you can't go till
you've seen the doctor!" The nurse spoke pleasantly, though of course
with decision, and bustled away. But Bettesworth, with his sneer,
commented, "Ah! I _thought_ she'd snap his head off!"

Weary of him, I went over to speak to Hall, who was now looking
utterly baffled. Until I was quite close he did not recognize me, but
then he shook hands joyfully. To him, as to Bettesworth, I counselled
patience. Ah, but he felt he shouldn't get on, so long as he bid
there. He couldn't get on with the food. The bread in the broth did
not get soft, and as for the dry bread--"I've no teeth at all in the
top row," he said, and therefore he could not masticate it. Another
reason for his wishing to leave was that his wife was ill with
bronchitis at home, and he longed to return to her.

Well, I had no comfort for him, any more than for Bettesworth. And
when I left, they were still dissatisfied, and I was equally sure that
their grievances were unreal. What, then, was the matter with them?
The root of it all, I think, was in this: that they were homesick. The
good order, the cleanliness, the sense of air and space, the routine
of the institution, had overwhelmed them. They were no longer their
own masters in their own homes. They were pining for their little poky
rooms, nice and stuffy, with the windows shut and the curtains half
drawn; they missed their own furniture, pictures, and worthless
rubbish endeared to them by old associations. They did not care, at
their age, to begin practising hygiene and learn how to live to grow
old. They were old already, and wanted to be at home.


_February 28._--I have no record of my second visit to the infirmary a
week later; but, as I remember, Bettesworth was then sitting up in a
day-room, so that he was evidently better, although still extremely
feeble.



XXXIV


_March 7, 1905._--Bettesworth left the infirmary on Saturday morning,
March the 4th. I met him half a mile away from it, in the town, and he
was trembling with weakness where he stood. But he protested that he
should get home well enough; he had just had a nice rest, a friend of
mine having taken him into his house to sit down by the fire. My
friend told me afterwards how the old man, invited in because of his
pitiable condition, had seemed to crawl in a state of collapse to the
chair set for him.

His tale to my friend was curiously different from the account he gave
me of his leaving the infirmary. To the former he explained that on
the Thursday he had desired to be allowed to go home. The wish was
communicated on the next day to the doctor, who asked, "Do you want to
go then?" and was answered ungraciously, "I shan't get no better
here." On Saturday, therefore, his clothes were brought to him, and
out he came.

But this was not quite the same story that he told me. Perhaps I
should premise that I felt annoyed with him for coming out, since it
was plain who would have to provide for him; and he may have seen
that I was displeased when I said, "You have no business out! You're
not fit for work, and you ought to have stayed another week or two."
Somehow so I greeted him, none too kindly. He replied that there were
seven or eight "turned out" that morning, their room being wanted for
others. Nor did he forget to complain. His clothes, he said, having
been tied in a bundle with a ticket on them, and tossed into a shed,
had been returned to him so damp that he felt "shivery" getting into
them; and there was no fire by which to dress.

What did he propose to do? was my next question. He was going home, to
make up a fire in his bedroom and air his bed. Already he had arranged
with Liz and Jack to come and help him do that. Such of his things as
were worth anyone's buying he should sell--Mrs. Eggar, for instance,
would take the Windsor chairs; and then he was going to live,
probably, at Jack's. But his first care was to go and air his bed.
Firing--coal, at least--he possessed; wood could be provided by
knocking up two old tables which were grown rickety. To my protest
against such destruction, he replied that already before his illness
he had touched one of the tables with his little axe.

He trembled, but his mouth shut resolutely, so that I got the
impression, and that not for the first time of late, of something
desperate about him, something hard, fierce, suspicious.

The discrepancy between his stories to my friend and to myself
strengthens the impression, and as I write this a hypothesis shapes
itself: that he fears to lose his employment with me; fears that I am
weary of him and anxious to get him permanently settled in the
workhouse. For this reason, perhaps, he reviles that hated place,
hurries from it, will not own to weakness though I see him shaking,
will be independent as to coal and the rest. I asked him how he was
off for money. He could do with a shilling or so; but he did not want
to get into debt.

That was three days ago. I was from home to-day when he came to see
me, announcing himself vastly better. He has gone to live with Jack,
in whose house he has a room to himself and "a nice soft bed," and is
well looked after, he says. Liz has even been giving him a cup of tea
in bed--or desiring to do so.

I understand him to have said that the old cot used to cost him as
much as six shillings a week to keep going. And that, he added, would
be nearly enough for him to live upon, in his new quarters.


_March 8._--I have promised Bettesworth (we walked down the garden
this morning to talk it over out of earshot) that when he finds
himself past work I will make him an allowance, to keep him from the
workhouse. He is to tell me, when the time comes; at present, he still
hopes to do a little more.

I was wrong, it seems, in surmising that dread of losing his
employment made him so anxious to quit the infirmary. "Was it so?" was
a question put to him this morning, point blank. He denied it. "No,"
he said; "I was afraid I should die. That's what made me so eager to
get away. I felt I should die if I bid there another week." So many
died, he said, while he was there--several in one day, I understood,
one being the man in the bed next to Bettesworth's. This man "made up
his mind" and was gone, in twenty minutes--one Freeland, from
Moorways. There also died there a certain old Taff Skinner, an old
neighbour whom Bettesworth, in his own convalescence, tried to get
upstairs to see. A nurse turned him back, he protesting that he
"didn't know as he was doin' wrong," and she explaining that he might
only visit another room or ward on visiting day. "Or else," he told
me, "Old Taff's wife an' daughter was there, and ast me if I wouldn't
go an' see 'n to cheer 'n up."

Having got home and shifted a few things to Jack's, Bettesworth's
great joy was in his "nice soft bed." He has been used to feathers,
and found the mattress hard at the infirmary. He said with gusto,
"That was a treat to me, to get into that bed and roll myself over.
And my poor old back seemed almost well the next morning." Across the
loins and down the back of his thighs he is tender, and his elbows
were beginning to get sore from hoisting himself up on the mattress.
To ease the loins Jack has been rubbing in "some o' that strong
liniment." On the whole Jack seems to be treating the old man very
well.

That he will continue to do so is devoutly to be hoped. For there are
not many refuges open to Bettesworth now, nor can the infirmary any
more be looked to as one of them. According to his last version of it,
when the doctor asked him if it was really his wish to leave, he
answered, "Once I gets away I'll never come here no more, not if
there's a ditch at home I can die in."


_March 12._--I find there is a steady set of public opinion--that is
to say, the opinion of his own class--against Bettesworth, which has
grown very marked since he came out of the infirmary, although
probably it is not quite a new thing.

One of the first indications of it, besides old Nanny's animosity
already mentioned, appeared while he was still away, when Bill Crawte
spoke to me in the town, alleging that the old man had been
misbehaving of late in his evenings. I received an impression of
drinking bouts and disorder, which was conveyed in innuendo rather
than directly. "He spends too much money at the public-house; and he
can't take much without its going to his head"--such was Crawte's
expression, intended, it seemed, to warn me that I was deceived in my
protégé.

A few days ago I met old Mrs. Skinner. I remember that I crossed the
street to speak to her "because she was such a stranger," and she
looked flattered, but complained of "such a bad face-ache, sir," and
grimaced, holding her black shawl over her mouth. Then she hurried
into the subject of Bettesworth's home-coming, and did not hesitate to
assure me that he was "a _bad_ old man." Once again I felt that I was
being warned that the old man was unworthy of my help. I had heard
Mrs. Skinner before, however--months before--on the same subject. In
her way she is a good woman whom I like and respect, but she has a
taste for commenting on other people's faults. Moreover, there was
never much love lost between her and Bettesworth: his old tongue, I
suspect, has been too shrewd for her at times.

Yesterday I met old Nanny, with a bundle on her back, and I stopped to
speak, partly sheltered from a driving rain by the umbrella she held
behind her. She, too, has not scrupled before to complain of
Bettesworth's behaviour, and always with the air of saying to me "he's
not the good old man you take him for." But yesterday her tongue knew
no reticence; she felt wronged herself, and she lashed Bettesworth's
character mercilessly, in the hope of hurting him in my esteem. Swift
and snappish, out came the long screed, while the old woman's eyes
were fiery and her cheeks flushed. Oh, but she felt righteous, I am
sure. She was exposing a blackguard, a scamp! And if she could injure
him, she would.

I do not recall many of her words. His ingratitude to her was
Bettesworth's chief offence--after all she had done for him! So she
told what she had done: how she had cooked his supper night after
night, and got it all ready while he sat down there at the
public-house waiting to be fetched. She wouldn't have done it, but Kid
said, "Poor old feller, help 'n all you can. He en't got nobody to do
anything for him." And she had washed his clothes, and scrubbed out
his house; and he was such a dirty old man that it almost made her
sick. And when he was ill, Mrs. Cook watching (downstairs, I gathered)
was obliged to sit all night with the window open, because the place
so stank. I heard how many pails of water it took to scrub the floor;
how the boards upstairs--new boards "as white as drippen snow" when
the Bettesworths took possession--would in all likelihood never come
white again; and how the landlord had said that he should demand a
week's rent (from me, of course) to pay for cleaning, when Bettesworth
moved. And now Bettesworth was gone away, "taking his money" (his
wages or his allowance), and "I don't like it, Mr. Bourne!" said old
Nanny, vehemently. Not, apparently, that the money was an object to
her, but that all her good offices had gone unthanked, nay, minimized.
Had not Bettesworth complained that he had no one to do anything for
him? And all the time Mrs. Norris was slaving for him. Had he not told
me during his illness that he had taken nothing, when, in fact, Mrs.
Cook not long before had taken him up a cup of tea and two slices of
bread and butter, which he had eaten? "I don't _like_ it, Mr. Bourne."
No, I could see that she did not; I could hear as much in the emphasis
of the words, rapped out like swift hammer-strokes; and the old woman
looked almost handsome in the flush of her indignation.

I left her and passed on, wondering what the original offence could
have been to produce such bitterness. Probably it was some harsh
speech of Bettesworth's, some antique savagery drawn from him in the
despair of his lonely situation, with his powers failing, the
workhouse looming. Suspicious, hard, obstinate, wrapped-up now wholly
in himself, he may easily ... but it is useless to surmise.

Useless is it, too, to pretend that the repeated insinuations have had
no effect upon me. As a rule backbiters succeed only in making me see
their own unreason, while mentally I take sides with their victims;
but in this case fancies of my own were corroborated by the slanders
of the neighbours. I have believed, and think it likely, that
Bettesworth is ready to deceive me to his own advantage, just as I
have long known that he has not really been worth half his wages. He
is in desperate plight, dependent on my caprice, and he cannot afford
to be over scrupulous on a point of honour. As for old Nanny and the
others, I suppose their sense of justice is outraged by Bettesworth's
good fortune in having my protection. They are jealous; they resent
the imposition which they suppose is being put upon me, and imagine me
a blind fool who ought to be enlightened.

To-day I fell in with old Mrs. Hall, whose husband is still at the
infirmary. She had nothing hopeful to tell me about that old man's
condition. He had been more contented, however, since his master had
written to him, though he did talk, bedridden as he is, of digging a
hole somewhere under the infirmary wall, so that he might escape to
the cab that would bring him back home. But Mrs. Hall didn't think--if
she said what she really thought--that he would ever come home again.
At his great age (why, he is eighty to-morrow!) how could she hope
that he would recover? Poor little dumpy old woman, with the plump
face, and dainty chin, and round eyes--her lips trembled, talking of
her husband and of her own difficulties. "For while he lays up there,"
she said, "I got nothin' to live on," except a little help from the
Vicar. Her daughter, married and away in Devonshire, will pay the
quarter's rent, but....

"And Mr. Bettesworth's out, it seems," the old woman continued. "It
seems to me he's an ungrateful old man. For 'tis all nice and
comfortable up there. It do seem ungrateful."

Such was Mrs. Hall's unasked for, unexpected comment, on Bettesworth's
behaviour. Poor old woman, to me too it seemed unjust that she should
be so unaided, and he, perhaps, so over-aided. He is no old woman,
though; allowance must be made for that. He could not away with the
sort of comfort so praised by Mrs. Hall.


Is, then, the last word about Bettesworth to be that he is dirty,
dishonest, degraded? He may be all three (he certainly is the first)
and yet have a claim to be helped now and remembered with honour.

For, as another recent incident has served to remind me, our point of
view is in danger of growing too narrow. One of the kindest of
cultured women, going about her work of visiting the sick, asked me
how Bettesworth was doing. Then, in her amiable way, she talked of him
and of his wife, and soon was speaking of the extreme dirtiness in
which they had lived. As a district visitor she had once or twice come
upon them at meal-times, when their food on the table caused her a
physical loathing--just as once I had been nauseated myself by the
sight of a kippered herring by the old man's bedside. The district
visitor--being invited and finding no courteous excuse for
refusal--had sat down in Bettesworth's easy-chair, not without dread
of what she might bring away. Most cottages she could visit without
such terrors; most people, she supposed, "managed to get a tub once a
week"; but the Bettesworths.... The lady spoke laughingly. In her
comely life, an experience like this is afterwards an adventure.

I smiled, and said, "They are survivals."

"Of the fittest?"

We both laughed; but when I added, "Yes, for some qualities," we knew
(or I at least knew) that indeed that squalor of an earlier century is
associated with a hardness of fibre most intimately connected with the
survival of the English people.

Suppose that now in stress of circumstances, the toughness warps,
turns to ill-living, suspicion, selfishness and dishonesty, in the
grim determination not to "go under": is it then no longer venerable,
because it has ceased to be amiable? The onlooker should give an eye
to his own point of view.



XXXV


_March 13, 1905._--This (Monday) morning Bettesworth came, slowly
hobbling with his stick. Last week he had promised himself to be at
work again to-day; but no--he is less well, and fancies he has taken
fresh cold.

He looked white, weak, pathetically docile and kind, as he led the way
from the kitchen door to the wood-shed, evidently desirous of a
private talk.

He said he was "purty near beat, comin' over Saddler's Hill"; he had
never before had such a job, having been forced to stop to get breath.
It "felt like a lot o' mud in his chest; it was all slushin' and
sloppin' about inside him, jest like a lot o' thick mud." But he had
been worrying so: he wanted to pay me his rent. And then about his
club pay--that worried him, too. He need not have worried? Ah, but he
had done so, none the less; and Liz had said to him, "You better go up
an' see about it, and you'll feel better when you got it off your
mind"; or else he was hardly fit to be out in this cold wind. He had
stayed indoors from Saturday afternoon until this morning. At
tea-time, "about four o'clock yesterday," Liz had brought him a cup
of tea with an egg beaten up in it, which had seemed to do him good.
And she had got him half a quarte'n of whisky to hearten him up as he
came away this morning. But he could not eat. "Law! they boys o'
Jack's 'll eat three times what I do. I likes to see 'em. Jack says,
'What d'ye think o' that for a table?'" and indicates to Bettesworth
the plentiful supply.

A hint brought the wandering talk back readily to the subject which
the old man had on his mind. "_I_ never owed that money to the club,
what you says Mrs. Eggar drawed from you.... She've done me out o'
that, ye see." Just as he had supposed, so it proved, he affirmed: he
had paid up to last August; and the inference was that Mrs. Eggar had
drawn the money from me for her own uses, and now Bettesworth must
repay it.

He produced two membership cards in support of his statements. The
first was the same which Mrs. Eggar had brought me, at that time
bearing no receipt later than February, 1904, but now certifying a
further payment of 1s. 6d. up to August. The other was a new card,
giving receipt in full to February of this year. To judge by the ink,
these two receipts had been given at the same time; in other words,
they had been obtained by Mrs. Eggar in return for the money duly paid
in by her. But it took me long to satisfy Bettesworth (if he was
satisfied) that she had not "done" me out of three shillings on his
behalf.

And then there was his rent, which had been running on all the time
that he was at the infirmary. He had brought the money for that now,
to get out of my debt.

Of course it was refused. In consideration of this rent, I said, I had
not helped otherwise during his sickness, and I did not wish him to
repay it. What he said to that I regret that I do not exactly
remember, but it went somehow in this way:-- "You done a _lot_ for me,
sir; more 'n you any call to. And I thinks of you...." He was unable
to go on and express his meaning, but his tone rang very sincere. I
did not find any ingratitude in him; nor was there any dishonesty in
the purpose for which he had come to me.

He, however, found dishonesty in the neighbours, who have bought his
household goods and now hang back with the purchase money. So cheap,
too, he had sold his things! "That landlord at the Swan said 'twas
givin' of 'em away.... But what could I do?" Bettesworth urged. His
brother-in-law had advised him "not to stand out for sixpence; 't
wa'n't as if they was new things," and had warned him against giving
trust. But what could he do? Even as it was, the trouble of attending
to the business had been too much for him in his weak state. So, one
had had a table, and another two saucepans, and so on; and now he
could not get the money. Instead of twenty-two shillings which should
have been received on Saturday, he found himself with no more than
five; and this morning only another five shillings had come in.

Yes, the people had "had" him; he was sure of that. There was "that
Tom Beagley's wife.... She come to me Saturday sayin' Tom was on the
booze and hadn't given her no money, so she couldn't pay me....
'That's a lie,' our Tom says; 'he en't bin on the booze. He bin at
work all the week, over here at Moorways.' So I told her I should have
the things back, if she didn't pay me this mornin'." Other instances
were generalized; Bettesworth thought himself cheated all round.

By this time we had left the shed, and were standing in its shadow,
where the wind blew up cold and draughty. "Let's get into the
sunshine," I proposed.

As we moved, "Wasn't it a day yesterday?" I remarked; and Bettesworth
assented, "No mistake!" It had in fact been a Sunday of March gales,
of furious rain and hail-storms, and then gay bursts of sunshine
hurrying down the valley. With none to sweep it, the path where we
stood was still bestrewn with a litter of dead twigs, which the east
winds had left, but this fierce westerly wind had finally torn out
from the lilac bushes. "It's a sort of pruning," I said, and was
answered, "Yes, that must do a lot o' good. Done it better 'n you
could ha' done, too." We found a sunny place, although still a
draughty wind searched us out, and fast-changing clouds sometimes drew
across the sunshine and left us shivering. "More showers," we
predicted, "before the day is out."

There, in the sunshine, Bettesworth coughed--a little painful cough
without variety. It seemed as if it need not have begun, yet, having
begun, need never cease. "You must get rid of that cough," said I.

"I en't got strength to cough," he replied. Then he put his hands
against the pit of his stomach. "That's where it hurts me. Sims to
tear me all to pieces." I advised care in feeding, and avoidance of
solids. "Bread an' butter's the only solid food I takes," he said.
"Liz wanted me to have a kipper. 'Naw,' I says, 'I en't much of a fish
man.' But I don't want it. I en't got no appetite." It was suggested
that the warm weather presently would restore him; but he returned,
very quietly; "I dunno. I sims to think I shan't last much longer. I
got that idear. I can feel it, somehow."

"How long have you felt like that?"

"This six weeks I've had that sort o' feelin'." He went on to repeat
what he had said to Jack in consequence. When he had got his bed and
other things into Jack's house, "'It's all yours now,' I says. 'You
take everything there is. All you got to do is to see me put away.'"

His weakness was distressing to see, and he had to get back home
somehow. Would a little more whisky help him? We adjourned to the
kitchen, sat down there near the fire, and while the old man had his
stimulant he talked of many things.

At first, handing me the key of his cottage, he told of his cat, how
plump she looked, and how she had welcomed him home in such fashion as
to make Liz say with a laugh, "No call to ask whose cat she is!"
Sometimes he thought of "gettin' old Kid to put a charge o' shot into
her"; sometimes, of "puttin' her in a sack an' drownin' her." Either
was more than he had the heart to do; yet he could not bear to think
of his cat without a home. Would not Mrs. Norris take care of her,
then?" Oh yes, she'd _feed_ her, but.... But Mrs. Norris can't _hear_,
poor old soul. She bin a good ol' soul to me, though; and so've Kid."
Of course I did not tell Bettesworth how old Nanny had lately talked
of him.

What to do about his cabbages puzzled him. He had paid old Carver Cook
two shillings for digging the ground and planting them; and now that
he had given up the cottage, there was this value like to be lost! He
must get "whoever took the cot" to take to the cabbages too; they
ought to. He didn't like to cut 'em down--never liked to do anybody
else a bad turn, but.... Ultimately I promised to get the price
allowed, in settling with his landlord.

Through devious courses the conversation slid back to his nephew's
family and household ways. Liz "don't sit down to dinner 'long o' the
others." There are six boys besides her husband for her to wait upon,
so that, were she to begin, "before she'd got a mouthful the others 'd
be wantin' their second helpin'." The custom sounds barbarous--or
shall I say archaic?--until one remembers that the husband and one or
two of the boys must get home from work to dinner and back again
within an hour. On Sunday afternoon "Jack was off to the town to this
P.S.A. or whatever it is. He brought home another prize too.... A
beautiful book--a foot by nine inches, and three or four inches thick!
Jack _can_ read, no mistake!" Unfortunately he reads in a very loud
voice, so that Bettesworth grows weary of it, in spite of his passion
for being read to. On Saturday night Jack was reading the paper, and
said, "'Like any more?' 'Not to-night, Jack; I be tired.' All about
this war" (in Manchuria). "Sunday he said, 'Shall I read ye the paper,
uncle? 'Tis nothin' but the war.' 'Then we won't have it to-day.'"

Bettesworth's opinions on the war were tedious to me; he had so
greatly misunderstood. He thought that, after Mukden, the Russians
were retreating "right back into St. Petersburg," which would have
been a retreat indeed!" But it ought to be stopped now"; the other
Powers should interfere and say, "You've had your go in, and now you
must get back into your own bounds." For the Japanese, of course,
Bettesworth was full of admiration: "fighting without food!"... He
exclaimed at their pluck and their prowess.

Gradually his own memories of war were awaking, and at last, "The
purtiest little soldiers I ever see was the Sardinians." He described
their smartness; their pretty tight-fitting uniform. "They camped
'longside o' we." Of their language "you could get to pick out a good
many words" (I think he meant English words they used), "but it
pestered 'em when they couldn't make ye understand.... But there, we
was as bad.... Every nation has their own slang." The funniest
Bettesworth ever heard was that of the Turks, "like a lot o' geese....
I remember once a lot of 'em come up over the hill by our camp, with
about four hundred prisoners. They didn't let us have 'em, but was
takin' 'em on to their own camp; but they was so proud for us to see,
an' they was caperin' and cuttin' and dancin' about, jest like a lot
o' geese."

Something reminded him of George Bryant and his present job; something
else, of his own coal supply, now removed to Jack's; and that brought
up the coal merchant's receipt, which he had found in his waistcoat
pocket. He had given it to Liz, with his wife's little box full of
receipts for coal, groceries, tea, and so on, and had recommended Liz
to "put 'em on the fire." "You _be_ a careless old feller!" Liz
retorted, and he repeated, laughing.

He had been here nearly an hour, and at last I stood up. Bettesworth
took the hint. He was looking the better for his whisky as he went
off. But all the time, while he sat dreamily talking, he had had a
very mild, placid, old man's expression, and all my harsher thoughts
of him had quite slipped away.



XXXVI


_March 21, 1905._--There being no definite news of Bettesworth since
he crept away that day, this afternoon I knocked at the door of Jack
Bettesworth's cottage, where he is staying. Presently the old man
himself opened to me. His cheeks were flushed and feverish. He led the
way indoors, saying that he was all alone; and as we settled down (he
still wearing his cap) I remarked that he did not seem to be "up to
much," and he replied that I was right; "I got this here pleurisy, and
armonium or something 'long with it." He had got up from bed, quite
recently, to rest for an hour or two.

He had seen the club doctor--Jack had fetched him on Sunday--"and you
couldn't wish for a pleasanter gentleman. He sounded me all over," and
sent out a plaster which "I'm wearin' now," Bettesworth said, "like
one o' they poor-man's plasters." This reminded him of a similar one
he had once had, of which he said that he "wore 'n for six months";
and truly the old-fashioned "poor-man's plaster" was always alleged to
be unremovable. Once properly plastered, the patient had to earn his
name and wait until the thing should wear or "rot off," as
Bettesworth phrased it. How this six-months' plaster--right round his
waist, and "wide as a leather belt"--had been "gored" by his "old
mother-in-law, or else 't'd ha' tore flesh and all off," I will not
spend time in relating.

Bettesworth had caught this new cold, he supposed, waiting for "they
old women" to come and pay him for his furniture; who did not come to
the old cottage at the time appointed, and kept him standing about.
Nor have they yet paid all.

Not unhappily, but comfortably, he looked up to the mantelpiece and
said, "There's my old clock." I recognized the dingy old gabled
mahogany case; and the tick sounded familiar, reminding me of the
other rooms where I had heard it, and of the old wife who had been
alive then. "Mrs. Smith had my other," said Bettesworth, "and she en't
paid for 't yet. I shall have 'n back, if she don't. Jack persuaded me
to go an' get 'n back last week. 'That's all right,' I says, 'only I
can't get there.' He wanted to go instead of me, but I wouldn't have
that. He might get sayin' more 'n what he ought. But I shall have the
clock back if she don't pay."

There also was his old mirror--he spoke of it--looking homely over the
mantelpiece; and I heard of a few pictures saved, which Jack had taken
out of their frames, to clean the glass, and had put back again. It
seemed to be comforting to the old man to have these relics of his
married life still about him; and in the midst of them he himself
looked very comfortable; for, as his back was to the light (he sat in
a Windsor chair with arms), I could not see the flush on his face. So
pleasant was it to find him at last beside a clean hearth, warm and
tidy and well cared-for, that I could not refrain from congratulating
him. Yes, he acknowledged his good fortune; he was swift to praise his
niece. "She looks after me," he said warmly, "as well as if I was a
child. I en't bin so comfortable since I dunno when." Perhaps never
before in his life. "Before I was bad myself, there was the poor old
gal. I went through something with she. When I was away at work, I was
always wonderin' about her."

I had two shillings to hand over to him--the price obtained from his
landlord for the cabbages left in the cottage garden; and in answer to
inquiries as to his finances, he said that he had enough money to keep
him going for a fortnight or so. But he was paying Jack for his board
and lodging, and seemed fully alive to the desirability of continuing
to do so.

On Sunday morning there had come to see him his sister-in-law from
Middlesham, to whom he complained of a brother-in-law's indifference.
The complaints were reiterated to me. "Dick en't never bin near so
much as to ask how I was gettin' on. I _told_ her he never come even
to his poor old sister, till the night afore the funeral. And after
all I've done for 'n, whenever he was in any trouble or wanted help
hisself, I was always the fust one he sent for, if there was anything
the matter with he, same as that time when he fell off the hayrick.
Sent for me in the middle o' the night to go to the doctor's for 'n,
when he'd got one of his own gals at home. It hurts me now, when I
thinks of it sittin' here.... If he'd only jest come and say How do!
But no...." We supposed that Dick feared lest he should be asked to
give help in some way.

Pleurisy and pneumonia or not--it was hard to believe that he had
suffered from either, yet he had got hold of the words somehow--
Bettesworth was at no loss that afternoon for interesting subjects of
conversation. An inquiry how his sister-in-law was faring led to a
talk about her two sons, of whom one is out of work. The other, a
basket-maker (blind or crippled, I do not know which) lives at home,
and has just got a lot of work come in. "Mostly stock work,"
Bettesworth believed, "for some London firm he knows of." But besides
this, he has a hundred stone jars from the brewery, to re-case with
basket-work. The handles and bottoms are of cane, the rest "only
skeleton work, as they calls it." Bettesworth always loved to know of
technical things like this.

Odd it is, I suggested, how every trade has its own terms of speech.
"Yes, and its own tools too," added Bettesworth; and with deep
interest he spoke of the tools this basket-maker uses for splitting
his canes, dividing them "as fine!" And the tools are "sharp as
lancets; and every tool with a special name for it."

This reminded me to repeat to Bettesworth a similar account which a
friend of mine had lately given me, and will publish, it may be hoped,
of the Norfolk art of making rush collars. "Very nice smooth collars,"
Bettesworth murmured appreciatively. But when I proceeded to tell how
the art is likely to die, because the few men who understand it keep
their methods secret, this stirred him. "Same," he said, "as them
Jeffreys over there t'other side o' Moorways, what used to make these
little wooden bottles you remembers seein'. They'd never let nobody
see how 'twas done. But I never heared tell of anybody else ever
makin' 'em anywhere."

Yes, I remembered seeing these "bottles," like tiny barrels, slung at
labouring men's backs when they trudged homewards, or lying with their
clothes and baskets in the harvest-field or hop-garden. It was to the
small bung-hole in the side that the thirsty labourer used to put his
mouth, leaning back with the bottle above him. Whether the beer
carried well and kept cool in these diminutive barrels I do not know;
but certainly to the eye they had a rustic charm. So I could agree
with Bettesworth's praises: "_Purty_ little bottles they got to be at
last--even with glass ends to 'em, and white hoops. They used to boil
'em in a copper--whether that was so's to bend the wood I dunno.
Little ones from a pint up to three pints.... I had a three-pint one
about somewheres, but I couldn't put my hand on 'n when I turned out
t'other day. Eighteenpence was the price of a quart one--but they had
iron hoops.... But they wouldn't let nobody see how they made 'em....
There was them blacksmiths over there, again--_they_ wouldn't allow
nobody to see how they finished a axe-head.

"These Jeffreys never done nothing else but make these bottles, and go
mole-catchin'. Rare mole-catchers they was: earnt some good money at
it, too. But they had to walk miles for it. You can understand, when
the medders was bein' laid up for grass they had to cover some ground,
to get all round in time. I've seen 'em come into a medder loaded up
with a great bundle o' traps: an' then they'd begin putting' in the
rods--'cause they was allowed to cut what rods they wanted for it,
where-ever they was workin', and they knowed purty near where a mole
'd put his head up. 'Twas so much a field they got, from the farmer. I
never knowed nobody else catch moles like they did, but they wouldn't
show ye how they done it, or how they made their traps.

"There was a man name o' Murrell--Sonny Murrell we always used to call
'n--lived at Cashford. _He_ was a very good mole-catcher. One time the
moles started in down Culverley medders, right away from Old Mill to
Culverley Mill--it looked as if they'd bin tippin' cart-loads o'
rubbish all over the medders. I never see such a slaughter as that
was, done by moles, in all my creepin's." (I think "creepin's" was the
word Bettesworth used, but his voice had sunk very low just here, and
I could as easily hear the clock as him.) "But they sent for Sonny. He
was a _clever_ old cock, in moles; they had to be purty 'cute to get
round 'n--some did, though; you'll see how they'll push round a
trap--but after he'd bin there a fortnight you couldn't tell as
there'd bin any moles at all."

One other topic which we briefly touched upon must not be omitted.
Before my arrival Bettesworth had crept out to the gate by the road,
he was saying, tempted by the loveliness of the sunshine; and hearing
of it, I warned him to have a care of getting out in this easterly
wind. Ah, he said, we might expect east winds for the next three
months now, for this was the 21st of March, and "where the wind is at
twelve o'clock on the 21st of March, there she'll bide for three
months afterwards." So he had once firmly held; and he mentioned the
theory now, though apparently with little faith in it. For when I
laughed, he said, "I've noticed it a good many times, and sometimes it
have come right and sometimes it haven't. But that old Dick Furlonger
was the one. He said he'd noticed it hunderds o' times. We used to
terrify 'n about that, afterwards--'cause he was a man not more 'n
fifty; and we used to tease 'n, so's he'd get up an' walk out o' the
room."



XXXVII


During April I was away from home a good deal, and neither saw much of
Bettesworth nor heard about him anything of importance. He seems to
have recovered a little strength, to enable him to creep about the
village when the weather was at all fit, but the drizzling rains and
the raw chill winds of that spring-time were not favourable to the old
man, who had almost certainly had a slight touch of pleurisy, if
nothing worse, earlier in the year.

May, however, was not a week old before the weather brightened and
grew splendid. The very sky seemed to lift in the serene warmth; and
now, if ever he was to do so, Bettesworth should show some
improvement.

At first it almost looked as if he might rally. I remember passing
through the village, in the dusk of a Sunday evening (the 7th of May),
and there was Bettesworth, slowly toiling up the ascent to Jack's
cottage, even at that late hour. It was too dark to distinguish his
features, but by the lift of his chin and a suggestion of lateral
curvature in his figure, I recognized him. He had been to the Swan,
and was just going home, contented with his evening. The week that
followed saw him here twice; and again on the 15th he came, and,
finding me in the garden, was glad enough to be invited to a seat
where he might rest.

And then as we sat there together it became clear to me that he would
never again be any better than he was now. The sunshine was soft and
pleasant, where it alighted on his end of the seat, and the shade of
the garden trees at my end was refreshing, but to him no summer day
was to bring its gifts of renewed life any more. When he arrived, I
had expected that presently, after a rest, it would be his wish to go
farther into the garden and see how the crops promised; but he made no
offer to move. To get so far had been all that he could do. His
thighs, as could be seen by the clinging of the trousers to them, were
lamentably shrunken. His body was wasting: only his aged mind retained
any of his former vigour.

A curious thing he told me, in connexion with the shrinking of his
muscles. He had bared his thighs one evening, to show his
"mates"--Bryant, George Stevens, and others--how thin they were; and
by his own account the men had solemnly looked on at the queer piteous
exhibition, acknowledging themselves shocked, and wondering how he
could creep about at all. Bryant, by the way, had already told me of
the incident, speaking compassionately. He added that Bettesworth
offered to show his arms also, but that he had said, "No, Fred, you
no call to trouble. I can take your word for it without seein'."

Sitting there weary in the sunshine, Bettesworth was in a melancholy
humour. "A gentleman on the road," he said, had met him the previous
day, and remarked "to his wife what was with him, 'That old gentleman
looks as if he bin ill.' 'So he have,' old George Stevens says, cause
he was 'long with me. He" (the gentleman) "looked at my hands and
says, 'Why, your hands looks jest as if they was dyin' off.' I dunno
what he meant; but he called his wife and said, 'Don't his hands look
jest as if they was dyin' off?' And she said so they did.... I dunno
who he was: he was a stranger to me. But what should you think he
meant by that?"

Mournfully the old man held out his knotted hand for my opinion. He
was plainly worried by the odd phrase, and fancied, I believe, that
the "gentleman" had seen some secret token of death in his hands.

The instinctive will to live was still strong in him, sustained by the
conservatism of habit, and in opposition to his reason. According to
Bryant, he said a day or two before this, "I prays for 'em to carry me
up Gravel Hill"; and that is the way from his lodging to the
churchyard.


_May 17._--Once more, on the 17th of May, he found his way here. Not
obviously worse, he complained of having coughed all night, and he was
going to try the remedy suggested by a neighbour: a drink made by
shredding a lemon, pouring boiling water over it, adding sugar.... He
was more cheerful, however. He sat in the sunshine, and chatted in his
kindliest manner, chiefly about his neighbours.

There was Carver Cook, for instance. He was seventy-seven years old,
and fretting because he was out of work. "I en't earnt a crown, not in
these last three weeks," he had told Bettesworth. On the previous
afternoon, just as it was beginning to rain, the two old men had met
near the public-house, and gone in together out of the wet; and
"Carver" standing a glass of ale, there they stayed until the rain
slackened, and had a very happy, comfortable two hours. I asked what
Bettesworth's old friend had to live upon.

"Well," Bettesworth said, "he've got that cot; and he've saved money.
Oh yes, he've got money put by. But he says if it don't last out he
shall sell the cot. He shan't study nobody. None of his sons an'
daughters don't offer to help 'n, and never gives 'n nothin'. His
garden he does all hisself; and when he wants any firin' or wood, he
gets a hoss an' gets it home hisself. But old Car'line, he says, is
jest as contented now as ever she was in her life. 'Why don't ye look
in and see her?' he says. But I says, 'Well, Carver, I never was much
of a one for pokin' into other people's houses.'" He paused, allowing
me to suggest that perhaps he preferred other people to come and see
him. But to that he demurred. "No.... I likes to meet 'em _out_; an'
then you can go in somewhere and have a glass with 'em, if you mind
to."

Thoroughly to Bettesworth's taste, again, as it is to the groom's
taste to talk of horses, or to the architect's to discuss new
buildings, was a little narrative he had of another neighbour's work
in the fields. "Porter's brother," he said, "started down there at
Priestley's Friday mornin', and got the sack dinner-time." How? Well,
it was a job at hoeing young "plants" in the field, at which the man
got on very well at first; but presently he came to "four rows o'
cabbage and then four rows o' turnips," and there the ground was so
full with weeds that to hoe it properly was impossible. The hoe would
strike into a tangle of "lily," or bindweed, with tendrils trailing
"as fur as from here to that tree" (say four or five yards); and when
pulled at, the lily proved to have turned three or four times round a
plant, which came away with it. "So when the foreman come and saw, he
says, 'I dunno, Porter--I almost thinks you better leave off.' 'Well,
I'd jest as soon,' Porter says, 'for I can't seem to satisfy
_myself_.'" So he left off, and the foreman supposed they would have
to plough the crop in and plant again.

It was pleasant enough to me to sit in the afternoon sunshine and
hear this talk of village folk and outdoor doings, but after a little
while I was called away, and did not see Bettesworth's departure. I
should have watched it, if I had known the truth; for, once he had got
outside the gate, he had set foot for the last time in this garden.



XXXVIII


_June 9, 1905._--Some three weeks later, not having in the interval
seen anything of Bettesworth, I was on the point of starting to look
him up, when his niece came to the door. She had called expressly to
beg that I would go and visit him, because he seemed anxious to see
me. He was considerably worse, in her opinion; indeed, for the greater
part of the week--in which there had been cold winds with rain--he had
kept his bed and lain there dozing. Whenever he woke up, he had the
impression either that it was early morning or else late evening; and
once or twice he had asked, quite early in the day, whether Jack was
come home yet.

On reaching the cottage I found him in his bed upstairs. Certainly he
had lost strength since I saw him. At first his voice was husky, and
he was inclined to cry at his own feebleness; soon, however, he
recovered his habitual quick, quiet speech, though a touch of
weariness and debility remained in it. Stripping back the sleeve of
his bed-gown he exhibited his arm: the muscle had disappeared, and the
arm was no bigger than a young boy's. He shed tears at the sight,
himself. Nor was he without pain. As he lay there that morning his
legs, he said, had felt "as if somebody was puttin' skewers into 'em,
right up the shins"; but he had rubbed vaseline over them, and after
about half an hour the pain diminished. The doctor, visiting, had said
"Poor old gentleman"; and, to him, not much more. "Old age--worn out,"
was the simple diagnosis he had furnished downstairs, to Liz.

Another visitor had called--who but the owner of that cottage from
which the Bettesworths had been compelled to turn out two years ago? I
do not think Mr. ---- recognized Bettesworth. He had merely heard of
an old man in bad plight--an old Crimean soldier, too--and he wished
to be helpful. "And a very good friend to me he was!" Bettesworth said
heartily, in a sort of emotional burst, losing control of his voice
and crying again. Mr. ---- had "come tearin' up the stairs--none o'
they downstairs didn't know who he was," and had spoken
compassionately. "'What you wants,' he says, 'is feedin' up--port
wine!--and you shall have it.'" He was told that the doctor had
recommended whisky. "'Very well. When I gets home I'll send ye over a
bottle, the best that money can buy.'" Having left, "he come hollerin'
back again: 'Here! here's five shillin's for him!'" But, said
Bettesworth to me, "I never spent it on jellies an' things; I thought
it might be put to better use than that."

Besides this unexpected friend, Bettesworth told me that a Colonel
resident in the parish was moving on his behalf, endeavouring to get
him a pension for his services in the Crimea. "But that en't no use,"
the old man said; "I en't got my papers," or at any rate he had not
the essential ones. He tried to account for their disappearance: "Ye
see, I've had several moves, an' this last one there was lots o'
things missin' that I never knowed what become of 'em."

He chatted long, and rationally enough, in his customary vein, but
saying nothing very striking or particularly characteristic. There
were some pleasant remarks on one "Peachey" Phillips, a coal-cart man.
Peachey "looks after his old mother at Lingfield," and is "a good chap
to work" (a "chap" of fifty years old, I should judge), but has been
hampered by want of education. According to Bettesworth, "he might
have had some _good_ places if he'd had any schoolin'," and he had
regretfully confessed it to Bettesworth. "Cert'nly he's better 'n he
was. His little 'ns what goes to school--he've made they learn him a
little; but still.... Well, you can't get on without it. Nobody ever
ought to be against schoolin'.... Yes, a good many is, but nobody
never ought to be against it. I don't hold with all this drillin' and
soldierin'; but readin', and summin', and writin', and to know how to
right yourself...."

As Bettesworth lay in bed there upstairs, and unable to see much but
his bedroom walls and their cheap pictures, for the window was rather
high up and narrow, his mind was still out of doors. He inquired about
several details in the garden; and particularly he wanted to know if a
young hedge was yet clipped, in which he had taken much interest. It
chanced that a man was working on it that afternoon; and Bettesworth's
thought of it therefore struck me as somewhat remarkable. Evidently he
was longing to see the garden; and though we did not know then that
the desire would never be gratified, still that was the probability,
and perhaps he realized it. He was a little tearful, as the time came
for me to leave him.

After this I tried to make a point of seeing him once a week. Friday
afternoons were the times most convenient, and the following Sunday
commonly afforded the leisure for recording the visits. I give the
accounts of them pretty much as they stand in my book.


_June 18, 1905 (Sunday Morning)._--I saw Bettesworth on Friday
afternoon. His voice was husky, and feebler than I have before heard
it; but then in every way he was weaker, and seemed to have given up
hope; in fact, he said that he wished it was over, though not quite in
those words. He complained of pain in his chest and about the
diaphragm, and in his legs. I did not acknowledge to him that he
seemed worse to me; but visitors of his own sort practise no such
reticence. He told me that Mrs. Blackman, Mrs. Eggar and others had
seen him, and they all said, "Oh dear, Fred, how bad you looks!"
Carver Cook's observation was yet more pointed: "Every time I sees ye,
you looks worse 'n you did the time afore." Bettesworth related all
this almost as if talking of some third person.

The Vicar, lest the higher purpose of his visits should be overlooked
if he went to Bettesworth as alms-giver too, had entrusted me with a
few shillings for the old man, who received them gladly, but seemed
equally pleased to have been remembered. When I handed the money over,
and named the giver, "Oh ah!" he said, "he come to see me. I was
layin' with my face to the wall, and Liz come up and says, 'Here's the
Vicar come to see ye.' 'The Vicar!' I says, 'what do _he_ want to see
me for?' I reckon he must have heard me say it. He set an' talked...."
But Bettesworth did not vouchsafe any information as to the interview.
When well and strong, he had been suspicious of the clergy; now, I
believe, he was a little uncomfortable with a feeling that he had made
a hole in his manners.

Feeble though he was, on the previous day he had crept downstairs, he
said, and even out and to the corner of the road forty yards away. I
think it must have been on some similar expedition that those women
saw him, and uttered their discouraging exclamations upon his look of
ill-health; but the desire to be up and out was incurable in him.
Yesterday, however, he fell, and had to be helped home, where he
literally crawled upstairs on hands and knees, exhausted and
breathless. So now, since the breathlessness troubled him, and since
he knew me to have had bronchitis, did I know, he asked, "anything as
'd ease it"? Eagerly he asked it, with a most pitiful reliance upon
me; but I had to confess that I knew no cure; and the poor old man
seemed as if a support he had clutched at had disappeared. Drearily he
spoke of his condition. He couldn't eat: a pint of milk was all he had
been able to take yesterday; the same that morning. Liz had said, "'We
got a nice little bit o' hock--couldn't ye eat a bit o' that?'" and
had brought him a piece, but he "couldn't face it." "But what's goin'
to become of ye?" she exclaimed, "if you don't eat nothing?" But he
couldn't. His mouth was so dry; he was unable to swallow anything
solid. Was there anything I could get him, that he would fancy? He
hesitated; then, "Well, ... I _should_ like a bit o' rhubarb. They had
some here t'other day--little bits o' sticks no bigger 'n your finger.
And they boys set down to it.... 'En't ye goin' to spare me _none_?' I
says." ... The story wilted away, leaving me with a belief that none
had been spared for him. So I promised him some rhubarb, and the next
day a small tart was made and sent over to him. The bearer returned
saying that Liz, seeing it, had laughed: "We got plenty, and he's had
several lots." If this is true, as it probably is, Bettesworth's
delusion on the point is the first instance of senility attacking his
intellect.

For although on this Friday his usual garrulity about other topics
than his illness was noticeably diminished, still in his handling of
the subjects he did touch upon his strong mental grip was no wise
impaired. From Alf Stevens, who helped him home, he went on to Alf's
father, old George, who "en't so wonderful grand" in health, and to
Alf's brother, who "boozes a bit," being out of work and unsettled,
"or may wander off no tellin' where" in search of a job. Being now
quartered at home, "he don't offer to pay his old father nothin'.
P'r'aps of a Sat'day he'll bring home a joint o' meat.... But a very
good bricklayer." Bettesworth has the whole situation in all its
details under review before him. Moreover, this bricklayer out of work
led him to speak of a serious matter, not previously known to me
getting about the world, but to him lying in bed very well known--the
alarming scarcity of work this summer. He named a number of men
unemployed in the parish. I added another name to the list--that of a
carpenter. "Ne'er a better tradesman in the district; but en't done
nothin' for months," Bettesworth murmured unhesitatingly in his
enfeebled voice. "And So-and-so" (he mentioned a local contractor) "is
goin' to sack a dozen of his carters to-morrow, I'm told...."

The old man lay there, aware of these things; and as I write the
thought crosses my mind that a valuable organizing force has been left
undeveloped and lost in Bettesworth.

It looks more and more doubtful if he will linger on until the autumn.


_June 25, 1905 (Sunday)._--It did not occur to me at the time, but
after I got away from seeing Bettesworth on Friday a resemblance
struck me between his look of almost abject helplessness and that of
poor old Hall, whom I saw at the infirmary and who is since dead.

In the morning, with extreme difficulty, and his niece helping him,
Bettesworth had got into the front bedroom while his own bed was being
made and his room cleaned. To that extent has he lost strength in the
last few weeks. Sometimes his niece chides him (kindly, I feel sure)
for being so cast-down, but he says, "I can't help it, and 'ten't no
use for anybody to tell me not. It hurts me to think that a little
while ago I was strong and ready to do anything for anybody else, and
now I got to beg 'em to come an' do anything for me."

I suspect that he gives some trouble. Fancies and the unreason
characteristic of old age appear--for instance, about his food. He
cannot take solids: they go dry in his mouth and he is unable to
swallow them; yet he begged for some one to buy him a slice or two of
ham the other day. He "seemed to have had a fancy for it this
fortnight." All he takes, on his own evidence, is a little milk.

He confessed to being occasionally light-headed. "I sees all the
people I knows, in this room here. After I got back into bed to-day,
there was three fellers leanin' over the foot o' the bed, lookin' at
me; and one of 'em said, 'I reckon I shall get six months if I don't
quit the neighbourhood.' I sprung forward--'I'll break your head if
you don't clear out of _here_!' and I was goin' to hit 'n, an' then he
was gone."

In telling this the old man suited his action to the tale, and again
sat upright, his thin grey hair tumbled, his jaw fallen, his eyes
hopeless for very weakness. It was then that he looked so much like
old Hall.

He was wishing to be shaved, but could get nobody to do it for him. A
labourer across the valley had been sent to: "He'd ha' come an' done
it right enough, only he has rheumatics so bad he can't hold the
razor."

There was not much talk of the old kind; and for the first time in my
acquaintance with Bettesworth I had to search for topics of
conversation. One subject was raised by my mention of a neighbouring
farmer who proposed to begin cutting his late hay next week. "Ah, with
a machine," said Bettesworth; "he can't git the men. 'R else he used
to say he'd never have a machine so long as he could git men to mow
for him. Billy Norris and his brother" (elder brother to Kid Norris)
"mowed for 'n eighteen years" in succession.... "They'd _live_ in a
fashion nobody else couldn't. Never no trouble to they about their
food. They'd just gather a few old sticks an' bits o' rubbish, and
make a fire--nothin' but a little smoke an' flare--an' stick a bloater
or a rasher on a pointed stick and hold it up again' the flare an'
smoke jest to warm it, and down he'd go, and they'd be up and on
mowin' again. Then there was a barrel o' beer tumbled down into the
medder--they used to roll 'n into one o' they water-gripes and put a
little o' the damp grass over 'n, and the beer 'd keep as _cool_....
And when he was empty then he'd be took away and another brought
in.... But 'twas tea--that's what they drunk for breakfast. Jest have
a drink o' beer when they started mowin'; then go on for an hour or
two. Then one of 'em 'd go back to where their kit was, an' make the
tea in the drum, an' get a little flare an' smoke; an' they'd jest
hold their bloater on a pinted stick again' the smoke--I've laughed at
'em many's a time. Dick Harding over here used to say 't'd starve he
to work 'long with 'em; he could do the mowin' but he couldn't put up
with the food. That was their way, though. If they was out with the
ballast-train or the railway-cuttin', they'd sit down on the bank--all
they wanted was a little smoky fire." Bettesworth laughed a little,
amused at these sturdy men, and at his own description of their
cooking.

I asked: "You never did much mowing yourself, did you?"

He hesitated, yet scarcely two seconds, and then replied: "Not much. I
helped mow Holt Park once. My father-in-law--_Foreman_, we used to
call 'n--was at it--what lived where Mrs. Warner is, and I lived where
Porter do. And the Foreman sent for me to go and help. I didn't want
to go--'tis hard work; anybody might have mowin' for me; but at last I
agreed to go. But law! the second mornin' I was like that I didn't
hardly know how to crawl down there" the three miles. "It got better
after an hour or two.... But if a feller goes mowin' for eight or nine
weeks on end, it do give 'n a doin'."

Thus for a little while Bettesworth chatted, in the vein that had
first attracted me to him. Shall I ever hear him again, I wonder? We
tried other subjects: the washed-out state of our lane and the best
way to remedy it, the garden, the celery, the position of this or that
crop. It entertained him for a few minutes; then he failed to seize
some quite simple idea, and knew that he had failed, and said
despondently, "I can't keep things in my mind like I used to."


_July 2 (Sunday)._--Perhaps Bettesworth would have been more like
himself on Friday, if I had called at the usual afternoon hour,
instead of in the morning. As it was, he seemed fretful and
impatient, and his face was flushed. I did not perceive that he was
noticeably weaker, but rather that he was irritable. He had pain in
his chest and side; and he said that at night, when he lies with his
hands clasped over his waist, his chest is full of "such funny noises,
enough to frighten ye to hear 'em." His temper was embittered and
angry, especially angry, when some reference was made to his being in
the infirmary in the spring. For he affirmed, "If I hadn't ha' went
there, I should ha' bin a man, up and at work _now_. I told the doctor
there, 'If I was to bide here, you'd _starve_ me to death.'"
Embittered he was against his acquaintances, so that he almost wept.
"It hurts me so, to think how good I bin to 'em; and now when I be bad
myself there en't none of 'em comes near me." He instanced his sister
and her two sons at Middlesham; and his brother-in-law too: "Look what
I done for him!" If only he could get about! Get so that he could sit
and feel the air! But his bedroom is upstairs, and he is too weak to
leave it. The previous night, trying to get out of bed, he "almost
broke his neck," falling backwards with his head against the bedstead.
"I thought I'd split 'n open," he said, "but I never called nobody.
Jack said, 'Why hadn't ye called me?'" ... The old man's talk was too
incoherent, too rambling, to be followed well at the time or
remembered now.

We discussed a local beanfeast excursion to Ramsgate, which was to
take place the following day; and he brightened up to recall how he
had joined a similar trip to Weymouth some years ago. It was his last
holiday, in fact. Even now it made him laugh, to remember how old Bill
Brixton had gone on that day; and he laughed a little scornfully at
the trouble they had taken to enjoy themselves, and the fatigues they
endured. Then there came just a touch of his old manner: "I had a
little bottle with me and filled it up with a quarte'n o' whisky; and
when we was comin' home it seemed to brighten ye up. I says to old
Bill, 'Put that to your lips,' I says. So he tried. 'Why, it's
whisky!' he says. But that little wouldn't hurt 'n. 'Tis a _lot_ o'
whisky you gets for fo'pence! 'Twouldn't have hurt 'n, if he'd took it
bottle and all."

These monster excursions had never really appealed to Bettesworth's
old-fashioned taste. Rather than be cooped up in a train, I remember
he used to say, give him a quiet journey on the open road, afoot or by
waggon, so that a man may "see the course o' the country," and if he
comes to anything interesting, stop and look at it. And now, on his
bed, the ill-humour he was displaying that morning vented itself
again, in reference to a project he had heard of for another
excursion. The Oddfellows' annual fête was at hand; and, he said, with
a sneering intonation, "The secretary and some of they" (respectable
new-fangled people, he meant) "wanted 'em to go to Portsmouth. So they
called a full meetin', an' the meetin'"--ah, I have forgotten the
turn of speech. It suggested that these officious persons, interfering
to dictate how the working man should take his pleasure, had met with
a well-deserved snub, since the excursion was voted down and the
customary dinner was to be held. To myself, as to Bettesworth, this
seemed the preferable course: "It's really better," I said. Then he,
"So _'tis_, sir. It's the old, natural _way_. We _al_ways reckoned to
have _one day_ in the year, when we all had holiday. And then
everybody could join in--the women with their little childern, and
all. 'Tis _nice_...."

Mentioning the endeavours of the Colonel and Mr. ---- to get a pension
for him, I said, "They're very interested in it." "More so than what I
be," he answered. Still, I urged, it was worth trying for; and as for
the lost papers, duplicates of them might be obtained, if we knew the
regiment. I was saying this, when with a sort of pride, though still
irritably, the old man broke in, "I can tell ye _all_ that: regiment,
an' regimental number, and officers, and all." At that I asked what
was his regiment?

He stiffened his head and neck (was it just one last flicker of the so
long forgotten soldier's smartness?) and said, "Forty-eighth, and my
number was three nought nought seven.... I could name twenty people
that knowed about my service. There's old Crum Callingham. He used to
work for Sanders then, the coal merchant. The day I came back, didn't
we have a booze, too! He was at work in Sanders's hop-garden, and I
found 'n out, and two more, and I kep' sendin' for half-gallons....
Yes, that was the same day as I got 'ome--from Portsmouth."


That afternoon I happened to meet old Beagley--the retired bricklayer,
and recently Bettesworth's landlord. He spoke of Bettesworth with more
than usual appreciation, saying that he had been a strong man, as if
he meant unusually strong. His sight must have been bad "thirty or
forty years," Beagley estimated. He (Beagley) remembered first
noticing it when he dropped his trowel from a scaffold, and sent
Bettesworth down the ladder for it. He observed that Bettesworth could
not see the trowel, but groped for it, as one gropes in the dark,
until his hand touched it. But, added Beagley, "he'd mix mortar as
well as any man I ever knew. I've had him workin' for me, and noticed.
I'd as soon have had him as anybody. He couldn't have _seen_ the lumps
of lime, but I suppose 'twas something in the _feel_ of it on the
shovel. At any rate, he always _done_ it; and I've often thought about
it."


_July 14 (Friday)._--I saw Bettesworth this afternoon, and it looks as
if I shall not see him many times more.

Since my last visit to him a fortnight ago, the change in him is very
marked. His niece, downstairs, prepared me for it. He was very ill,
she said, and so weak that now they have to hold him up to feed him.
Of course he can take no solids; not even a mouthful of sponge-cake
for which he had had a fancy. His feet and the lower parts of his body
are swelling: the doctor says it is dropsy setting in, and reports
further that his heart is "wasting away." Hearing all this--yes, and
how Mrs. Cook thought he should be watched at night, for he could not
last much longer--hearing this, I fancied when I got upstairs that
there was a look as of death on the shrunken cheeks: they had a
corpse-like colour. Possibly it was only my fancy, but it was not
fancy that his flesh had fallen away more than ever.

It has been an afternoon of magnificent summer weather, not sultry,
but sumptuous; with vast blue sky, a few slow-sailing clouds, a
luxuriant west wind tempering the splendid heat. The thermometer in my
room stands at 80° while I am writing. So Bettesworth lay just covered
as to his body and legs with a counterpane, showing his bare neck,
while his sleeves falling back to the elbow displayed his arms. From
between the tendons the flesh has gone; and the skin lies fluted all
up the forearm, all up the neck. But at the foot of the bed his feet
emerging could be seen swollen and tight-skinned. His ears look
withered and dry, like thin biscuit.

He did not complain much of pain. Sometimes, "if anything touches the
bottom o' my feet, it runs all up my legs as if 'twas tied up in
knots." Again, "what puzzles the doctor is my belly bein' like
'tis--puffed up and hard as a puddin' dish." The doctor has not
mentioned dropsy, to him. Enough, perhaps, that he has told him that
his heart was "wasting away." "That's a bad sign," commented
Bettesworth, to me. He said he had asked the doctor, "'Is there any
chance o' my gettin' better?' 'Not but a very little,' he said. 'If
you do, it'll be a miracle.'" At that, Bettesworth replied, "Then I
wish you'd give me something to help me away from here." "Why, where
d'ye want to go to?" the doctor asked; and was answered, "Up top o'
Gravel Hill" to the churchyard. "I told him that, straight to his
head," said the old man.

He lay there, thinking of his death. Door and window were wide open,
and a cooling air played through the room. Through the window, from my
place by the bed, I could see all the sunny side of the valley in the
sweltering afternoon heat; could see and feel the splendour of the
summer; could watch, right down in the hollow, a man hoeing in a tiny
mangold-field, and the sunshine glistening on his light-coloured
shirt. Bettesworth no doubt knew that man; had worked like that
himself on many July afternoons; and now he lay thinking of his
approaching death. But I thought, too, of his life, and spoke of it:
how from the hill-top there across the valley you could not look round
upon the country in any part of the landscape but you would everywhere
see places where he had worked. "Yes: for a hundred miles round," he
assented.

It came up naturally enough, I remember, in the course of desultory
talk, with many pauses. He had had "gentry" to see him, he was saying,
and he named the Colonel, and Mr. ----. "Who'd have thought ever
_he_'d ha' bin like that to me?" he exclaimed gratefully. And each of
these visitors had spoken of his "good character"; had "liked all they
ever heared" about him, and so on; and it was then that I remarked
about the places where he had worked, as proof that his good character
had been well earned. But as we talked of his life, all the time the
thought of his death was present. I fancied once that he wished to
thank me for standing by him, and could not bring it off, for he began
telling how the Colonel had said, "'You've got a very good friend to
be thankful for.'" But it was easy to turn this. The Colonel too is a
friend. He had left an order for a bottle of whisky to be bought when
the last one sent by Mr. ---- is empty; and he has not given up yet
the endeavour to get Bettesworth's Crimean service recognized with a
pension.

I cannot recall all that passed; indeed, it was incoherent and
mumbling, and I did not catch all. He revived that imaginary grievance
against his neighbour, for drawing money from me to pay his club when
he went to the infirmary. It appeared that Jack had been going into
the matter, and had satisfied Bettesworth that the payments had never
been really owing; so they hoped that, now I knew, I should take
steps to be righted. Bettesworth seemed to find much relief in the
feeling that his own character was cleared from blame. "Some masters
might have give me the sack for it," he said, "when I got back to
work." To this he kept reverting, as if in the hope of urging me to
have justice; and then he would say, "There, I'm as glad it's all
right as if anybody had give me five shillin's." To humour him I
professed to be equally glad; it was not worth while to trouble him
with what I knew very well to be the truth--that Mrs. Eggar was in the
right, and had really done him a service.

What more? He said once, "I thinks I shall go off all in a moment.
Widder Cook was here ... she was talkin' about her husband Cha'les.
They'd bin tater-hoein', an' when they left off she said, 'a drop o'
beer wouldn't hurt us.' 'No,' he said, 'a drop o' beer and a bit o'
bread an' cheese, an' then git off to bed.' So they sent for the beer.
And they hadn't bin in bed half an hour afore she woke, and he'd
moved; an' she put her arm across 'n an' there he was, dead." So the
widow had told Bettesworth; and now he repeated it to me--the last
tale I shall ever hear from him, I fancy, and told all mumblingly with
his poor old dried-up mouth. He added, almost crying, "I prays God to
let me go like that." We agreed that it was a merciful way to be
taken.

It still interested him to hear of the garden, and he asked how the
potatoes were coming up, and listened to my account of the peas and
carrots, but said he was "never much of a one" for carrots. At home I
had left George Bryant lawn-mowing. Well, Bettesworth too had mown my
lawn in hot weather, and smiled happily at the reminiscence. He smiled
again when, recalling how I had known him now for fourteen years, I
reminded him of the great piece of trenching which had been his first
job for me.

So presently I came away, out on to the sunny road, thinking, "I shall
not see him many more times." From just there I caught a glimpse of
Leith Hill, blue with twenty intervening miles of afternoon sunlight:
twenty miles of the England Bettesworth has served.

Half-way down the hill the old road-mender, straightening up from his
work as I passed, asked, "Can ye keep yerself warm, sir?" And I
laughed, "Pretty nearly. How about you?" "It _boils_ out," he said.
The perspiration stood on his face while he spoke of motor-cars, and
the dust they raised; but to me dust and swift-travelling cars and all
seemed to tell of summer afternoon. And though the reason is obscure,
somehow it seems fit that possibly my last talk with Bettesworth
should be associated with the blue distant English country, and the
summer dust, and that sunburnt old folk jest which consists in asking,
when it is so particularly and exhilaratingly warm as to-day, "Can you
keep yourself warm?"


_July 21._--The weather was as brilliantly hot this afternoon as a
week ago; and Bettesworth's bedroom looked just as before; but the old
man was changed. He lay with eyes looking glazed between the half-shut
lids, and he was breathing hard. His niece accompanied me upstairs;
but he took no notice of our entry until she mentioned my name, upon
which he turned a little and put up a feeble hand for me to take. He
was in a sort of stupor, though he seemed to rouse a little, and to
understand one or two remarks I ventured. But when he spoke it was as
if utterly exhausted, and we could not always make out his meaning. In
the hope of helping him to realize that I was with him, I told of the
garden, and how Bryant was mowing again, though in this hot weather
the lawn was "getting pretty brown, _you_ know." "Yes," he said
feebly, "and if you don't keep it cut middlin' short, it soon goes
wrong." Next I reported on the potatoes--how well they were coming:
"the same sort as you planted for me last year." "Ah--the _Victoria_,
wa'n't they?" The question was a mere murmur. "No, _Duke of York_. And
don't you remember what a crop we had, when you planted 'em?" There
came the faintest of smiles, and "None of what I planted failed much,
did they?" Indeed, no. The shallots he had planted during his last
day's work had just been harvested; the beans which he sowed the same
day had but now yielded their last picking. I told him they were
over. "You can't expect no other," he said, meaning at this time of
year and in such dry weather. I mentioned the celery, reminding him,
"You _have_ sweated over watering celery, haven't you?" Again he just
smiled, and I fancy this smile was the last sign of rational interest
and pride in his labour.

For after this he became incoherent and wandering. Dimly we made out
that he "wanted to put them four poles against the veranda,"
apparently meaning my veranda. "What for?" his niece asked. "To keep
the wall up." Then I, "We won't trouble about that to-day," as if he
had been consulting me about the work, and he seemed satisfied to have
my decision. But I had stayed too long; so, grasping his hand, I said
"Good-bye." He asked, "Are ye goin' to the club?" (He was thinking of
the Oddfellows' fête arranged for to-morrow week, and had been
wondering all day, his niece said, not to hear the band.) "It isn't
till to-morrow week," we said. "How they do keep humbuggin' about," he
muttered crossly. "Yes, but they've settled it now," we assured him.

I have promised to go again to see him--to-morrow or on Sunday,
because, according to his niece, he had been counting on my visit, and
asking for several days "if this was Friday."

The thought came to me on my way home, that he is dying without any
suspicion that anyone could think of him with admiration and
reverence.


_July 25 (Tuesday)._--Bettesworth died this evening at six o'clock.


_July 28 (Friday)._--This afternoon I went to the funeral.


A week earlier (almost to the hour) when I parted from him, he seemed
too ill to take his money--too unconscious, I mean. I offered it to
his niece, standing at the foot of the bed; but she said, glancing
meaningly towards him, "I think he'd like to take it, sir." So I
turned to him and put the shillings into his hand, which he held up
limply. "Your wages," I said.

For a moment he grasped the silver, then it dropped out on to his bare
chest and slid under the bed-gown, whence I rescued it, and, finding
his purse under the pillow, put his last wages away safely there.

On the Saturday I saw him, but I think he did not know me: and that
was the last time. The thought of him keeps coming, wherever I go in
the garden; but I put it aside for fear of spoiling truer because more
spontaneous memories of him in time to come.





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