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Title: "Surly Tim": A Lancashire Story
Author: Burnett, Frances Hodgson
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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By Frances Hodgson Burnett

Copyright, 1877

“Sorry to hear my fellow-workmen speak so disparagin’ o’ me? Well,
Mester, that’s as it may be yo’ know. Happen my fellow-workmen ha’ made
a bit o’ a mistake--happen what seems loike crustiness to them beant so
much crustiness as summat else--happen I mought do my bit o’ complainin’
too. Yo’ munnot trust aw yo’ hear, Mester; that’s aw I can say.”

I looked at the man’s bent face quite curiously, and, judging from its
rather heavy but still not unprepossessing outline, I could not really
call it a bad face, or even a sulky one. And yet both managers and
hands had given me a bad account of Tim Hibblethwaite. “Surly Tim,” they
called him, and each had something to say about his sullen disposition
to silence, and his short answers. Not that he was accused of anything
like misdemeanor, but he was “glum loike,” the factory people said, and
“a surly fellow well deserving his name,” as the master of his room had
told me.

I had come to Lancashire to take the control of my father’s
spinning-factory a short time before, being anxious to do my best toward
the hands, and, I often talked to one and another in a friendly way, so
that I could the better understand their grievances and remedy them with
justice to all parties concerned. So in conversing with men, women, and
children, I gradually found out that Tim Hibblethwaite was in bad odor,
and that he held himself doggedly aloof from all; and this was how, in
the course of time, I came to speak to him about the matter, and the
opening words of my story are the words of his answer. But they did not
satisfy me by any means. I wanted to do the man justice myself, and see
that justice was done to him by others; and then again when, after my
curious look at him, he lifted his head from his work and drew the back
of his hand across his warm face, I noticed that he gave his eyes a
brush, and, glancing at him once more, I recognized the presence of a
moisture in them.

In my anxiety to conceal that I had noticed anything unusual, I am
afraid I spoke to him quite hurriedly. I was a young man then, and by no
means as self-possessed as I ought to have been.

“I hope you won’t misunderstand me, Hibblethwaite,”

I said; “I don’t mean to complain--indeed, I have nothing to complain
of, for Foxley tells me you are the steadiest and most orderly hand he
has under him; but the fact is, I should like to make friends with you
all, and see that no one is treated badly. And somehow or other I found
out that you were not disposed to feel friendly towards the rest, and I
was sorry for it. But I suppose you have some reason of your own.”

The man bent down over his work again, silent for a minute, to my
discomfiture, but at last he spoke, almost huskily.

“Thank yo’, Mester,” he said; “yo’re a koindly chap or yo’ wouldn’t ha’
noticed. An’ yo’re not fur wrong either. I ha’ reasons o’ my own, tho’
I’m loike to keep ‘em to mysen most o’ toimes. Th’ fellows as throws
their slurs on me would na understond ‘em if I were loike to gab, which
I never were. But happen th’ toime ‘ll come when Surly Tim ‘ll tell his
own tale, though I often think its loike it wunnot come till th’ Day o’

“I hope it will come before then,” I said, cheerfully. “I hope the time
is not far away when we shall all understand you, Hibblethwaite. I think
it has been misunderstanding so far which has separated you from the
rest, and it cannot last always, you know.”

But he shook his head--not after a surly fashion, but, as I thought, a
trifle sadly or heavily--so I did not ask any more questions, or try to
force the subject upon him.

But I noticed him pretty closely as time went on, and the more I saw of
him the more fully I was convinced that he was not so surly as people
imagined. He never interfered with the most active of his enemies,
nor made any reply when they taunted him, and more than once I saw
him perform a silent, half-secret act of kindness. Once I caught him
throwing half his dinner to a wretched little lad who had just come to
the factory, and worked near him; and once again, as I was leaving the
building on a rainy night, I came upon him on the stone steps at the
door bending down with an almost pathetic clumsiness to pin the woolen
shawl of a poor little mite, who, like so many others, worked with her
shiftless father and mother to add to their weekly earnings. It was
always the poorest and least cared for of the children whom he seemed to
befriend, and very often I noticed that even when he was kindest, in
his awkward man fashion, the little waifs were afraid of him, and showed
their fear plainly.

The factory was situated on the outskirts of a thriving country town
near Manchester, and at the end of the lane that led from it to the more
thickly populated part there was a path crossing a field to the pretty
church and church-yard, and this path was a short cut homeward for me.
Being so pretty and quiet the place had a sort of attraction for me; and
I was in the habit of frequently passing through it on my way, partly
because it was pretty and quiet, perhaps, and partly, I have no doubt,
because I was inclined to be weak and melancholy at the time, my health
being broken down under hard study.

It so happened that in passing here one night, and glancing in among the
graves and marble monuments as usual, I caught sight of a dark figure
sitting upon a little mound under a tree and resting its head upon its
hands, and in this sad-looking figure I recognized the muscular outline
of my friend Surly Tim.

He did not see me at first, and I was almost inclined to think it best
to leave him alone; but as I half turned away he stirred with something
like a faint moan, and then lifted his head and saw me standing in the
bright, clear moonlight.

“Who’s theer?” he said. “Dost ta want owt?”

“It is only Doncaster, Hibblethwaite,” I returned, as I sprang over the
low stone wall to join him. “What is the matter, old fellow? I thought I
heard you groan just now.”

“Yo’ mought ha’ done, Mester,” he answered heavily. “Happen tha did. I
dunnot know mysen. Nowts th’ matter though, as I knows on, on’y I’m a
bit out o’ soarts.”

He turned his head aside slightly and began to pull at the blades of
grass on the mound, and all at once I saw that his hand was trembling

It was almost three minutes before he spoke again.

“That un belongs to me,” he said suddenly at last, pointing to a
longer mound at his feet. “An’ this little un,” signifying with an
indescribable gesture the small one upon which he sat.

“Poor fellow,” I said, “I see now.”

“A little lad o’ mine,” he said, slowly and tremulously. “A little lad
o’ mine an’--an’ his mother.’

“What!” I exclaimed, “I never knew that you were a married man, Tim.”

He dropped his head upon his hand again, still pulling nervously at the
grass with the other.

“Th’ law says I beant, Mester,” he answered in a painful, strained
fashion. “I conna tell mysen what God-a’-moighty ‘ud say about it.”

“I don’t understand,” I faltered; “you don’t mean to say the poor girl
never was your wife, Hibblethwaite.”

“That’s what th’ law says,” slowly; “I thowt different mysen, an’ so did
th’ poor lass. That’s what’s the matter, Mester; that’s th’ trouble.”

The other nervous hand went up to his bent face for a minute and hid it,
but I did not speak. There was so much of strange grief in his simple
movement that I felt words would be out of place. It was not my dogged,
inexplicable “hand” who was sitting before me in the bright moonlight
on the baby’s grave; it was a man with a hidden history of some tragic
sorrow long kept secret in his homely breast,--perhaps a history very
few of us could read aright. I would not question him, though I fancied
he meant to explain himself. I knew that if he was willing to tell me
the truth it was best that he should choose his own time for it, and so
I let him alone.

And before I had waited very long he broke the silence himself, as I had
thought he would.

“It wur welly about six year ago I comn here,” he said, “more or less,
welly about six year. I wur a quiet chap then, Mester, an’ had na many
friends, but I had more than I ha’ now. Happen I wur better nater’d, but
just as loike I wur loigh-ter-hearted--but that’s nowt to do wi’ it.

“I had na been here more than a week when theer comes a young woman to
moind a loom i’ th’ next room to me, an’ this young woman bein’
pretty an’ modest takes my fancy. She wur na loike th’ rest o’ the
wenches--loud talkin’ an’ slattern i’ her ways; she wur just quiet loike
and nowt else. First time I seed her I says to mysen, ‘Theer’s a lass
‘at’s seed trouble;’ an’ somehow every toime I seed her afterward
I says to mysen, ‘Theer’s a lass ‘at’s seed trouble.’ It wur i’
her eye--she had a soft loike brown eye, Mester--an’ it wur i’ her
voice--her voice wur soft loike, too--I sometimes thowt it wur plain to
be seed even i’ her dress. If she’d been born a lady she’d ha’ been one
o’ th’ foine soart, an’ as she’d been born a factory-lass she wur one
o’ th’ foine soart still. So I took to watchin’ her an’ tryin’ to mak’
friends wi her, but I never had much luck wi’ her till one neet I was
goin’ home through th’ snow, and I seed her afore tighten’ th’ drift wi’
nowt but a thin shawl over her head; so I goes up behind her an’ I says
to her, steady and respecful, so as she wouldna be feart, I says:--

“‘Lass, let me see thee home. It’s bad weather fur thee to be out in by
thysen. Tak’ my coat an’ wrop thee up in it, an’ tak’ hold o’ my arm an’
let me help thee along.’

“She looks up right straightforrad i’ my face wi’ her brown eyes, an’ I
tell yo’ Mester, I wur glad I wur a honest man ‘stead o’ a rascal, fur
them quiet eyes ‘ud ha’ fun me out afore I’d ha’ done sayin’ my say if
I’d meant harm.

“‘Thank yo’ kindly Mester Hibblethwaite,’ she says, ‘but dunnot tak’ off
tha’ coat fur me; I’m doin’ pretty nicely. It is Mester Hibblethwaite,
beant it?’

“‘Aye, lass,’ I answers, ‘it’s him. Mought I ax yo’re name.’

“‘Aye, to be sure,’ said she. ‘My name’s Rosanna--‘Sanna Brent th’ folk
at th’ mill alius ca’s me. I work at th’ loom i’ th’ next room to thine.
I’ve seed thee often an’ often.’

“So we walks home to her lodgins, an’ on the way we talks together
friendly an’ quiet loike, an th’ more we talks th’ more I sees she’s
had trouble an’ by an’ by--bein’ on’y common workin’ folk, we’re
straightforrad to each other in our plain way--it comes out what her
trouble has been.

“‘Yo’ p’raps wouldn’t think I’ve been a married woman, Mester,’ she
says; ‘but I ha’, an’ I wedded an’ rued. I married a sojer when I wur a
giddy young wench, four years ago, an’ it wur th’ worst thing as ever I
did i’ aw my days. He wur one o’ yo’re handsome, fastish chaps, an’ he
tired o’ me as men o’ his stripe alius do tire o’ poor lasses, an’ then
he ill-treated me. He went to th’ Crimea after we’n been wed a year,
an’ left me to shift fur mysen. An’ I heard six month after he wur dead.
He’d never writ back to me nor sent me no help, but I couldna think he
wur dead till th’ letter comn. He wur killed th’ first month he wur out
fightin’ th’ Rooshians. Poor fellow! Poor Phil! Th’ Lord ha’ mercy on

“That wur how I found out about her trouble, an’ somehow it seemed to
draw me to her, an’ mak’ me feel kindly to’ards her; ‘twur so pitiful to
hear her talk about th’ rascal, so sorrowful an’ gentle, an’ not gi’ him
a real hard word for a’ he’d done. But that’s alius th’ way wi’ women
folk--th’ more yo’ harry’s them, th’ more they’ll pity yo’ an’ pray for
yo’. Why she wurna more than twenty-two then, an’ she must ha’ been nowt
but a slip o’ a lass when they wur wed.

“Hows’ever, Rosanna Brent an’ me got to be good friends, an’ we walked
home together o’ nights, an talked about our bits o’ wage, an’ our bits
o’ debt, an’ th’ way that wench ‘ud keep me up i’ spirits when I wur
a bit down-hearted about owt, wur just a wonder. She wur so quiet an’
steady, an’ when she said owt she meant it, an’ she never said too much
or too little. Her brown eyes alius minded me o’ my mother, though th’
old woman deed when I were nobbut a little chap, but I never seed ‘Sanna
Brent smile th’out thinkin’ o’ how my mother looked when I wur kneelin’
down sayin’ my prayers after her. An’ bein’ as th’ lass wur so dear to
me, I made up my mind to ax her to be summat dearer. So once goin’ home
along wi’ her, I takes hold o’ her hand an’ lifts it up an’ kisses it
gentle--as gentle an’ wi’ summat th’ same feelin’ as I’d kiss th’ Good

“‘’Sanna,’ I says, ‘bein’ as yo’ve had so much trouble wi’ yo’re first
chance, would yo’ be afeard to try a second? Could yo’ trust a mon
again? Such a mon as me, ‘Sanna?’

“‘I wouldna be feart to trust thee, Tim,’ she answers back soft an’
gentle after a manner. ‘I wouldna be feart to trust thee any time.’

“I kisses her hand again, gentler still.

“‘God bless thee, lass,’ I says. ‘Does that mean yes?’

“She crept up closer to me i’ her sweet, quiet way.

“‘Aye, lad,’ she answers. ‘It means yes, an’ I’ll bide by it.’

“‘An’ tha shalt never rue it, lass,’ said I ‘Tha’s gi’en thy life to me,
an’ I’ll gi’ mine to thee, sure and true.’

“So we wur axed i’ th’ church th’ next Sunday, an’ a month fro then we
wur wed, an’ if ever God’s sun shone on a happy mon, it shone on one
that day, when we come out o’ church together--me and Rosanna--an’
went to our bit o’ a home to begin life again. I coujdna tell thee,
Mester--theer beant no words to tell how happy an’ peaceful we lived fur
two year after that. My lass never altered her sweet ways, an’ I
just loved her to make up to her fur what had gone by. I thanked
God-a’-moighty fur his blessing every day, and every day I prayed to
be made worthy of it. An’ here’s just wheer I’d like to ax a question,
Mester, about sum m at ‘ats worretted me a good deal. I dunnot want to
question th’ Maker, but I would loike to know how it is ‘at sometime
it seems ‘at we’re clean forgot--as if He couldna fash hissen about
our troubles, an’ most loike left ‘em to work out their-sens. Yo’ see,
Mester, an’ we aw see sometime He thinks on us an’ gi’s us a lift,
but hasna tha thysen seen times when tha stopt short an’ axed thysen,
‘Wheer’s God-a’-moighty ‘at he isna straighten things out a bit? Th’
world’s i’ a power o’ a snarl. Th’ righteous is forsaken, ‘n his seed’s
beggin’ bread. An’ th’ devil’s topmost agen.’ I’ve talked to my lass
about it sometimes, an’ I dunnot think I meant harm, Mester, for I felt
humble enough--an’ when I talked, my lass she’d listen an’ smile soft
an’ sorrowful, but she never gi’ me but one answer.

“‘Tim,’ she’d say, ‘this is on’y th’ skoo’ an we’re th’ scholars, an’
He’s teachin’ us his way. We munnot be loike th’ children o’ Israel i’
th’ Wilderness, an’ turn away fro’ th’ cross ‘cause o’ th’ Sarpent. We
munnot say, “Theer’s a snake:” we mun say, “Theer’s th’ Cross, an’ th’
Lord gi’ it to us.” Th’ teacher wouldna be o’ much use, Tim, if th’
scholars knew as much as he did, an’ I allus think it’s th’ best to
comfort mysen wi’ sayin’, “Th’ Lord-a’-moighty, He knows.”’

“An’ she alius comforted me too when I wur worretted. Life looked smooth
somewhow them three year. Happen th’ Lord sent ‘em to me to make up fur
what wur comin’.

“At th’ eend o’ th’ first year th’ child wur born, th’ little lad here,”
 touching the turf with his hand, “‘Wee Wattie’ his mother ca’d him,
an’ he wur a fine, lightsome little chap. He filled th’ whole house wi’
music day in an’ day out, crowin’ an’ crowin’--an’ cryin’ too sometime.
But if ever yo’re a feyther, Mester, yo’ll find out ‘at a baby’s cry’s
music often enough, an’ yo’ll find, too, if yo’ ever lose one, ‘at yo’d
give all yo’d getten just to hear even th’ worst o’ cryin’. Rosanna she
couldna find i’ her heart to set th’ little un out o’ her arms a minnit,
an’ she’d go about th’ room wi’ her eyes aw leeted up, an’ her face
bloomin’ like a slip o’ a girl’s, an’ if she laid him i’ th’ cradle
her head ‘ud be turnt o’er har shoulder aw th’ time lookin’ at him an’
singin’ bits o’ sweet-soundin’ foolish woman-folks’ songs. I thowt then
‘at them old nursery songs wur th’ happiest music I ever heard, an’ when
‘Sanna sung ‘em they minded me o’ hymn-tunes.

“Well, Mester, before th’ spring wur out Wee Wat was toddlin’ round
holdin’ to his mother’s gown, an’ by th’ middle o’ th’ next he was
cooin’ like a dove, an’ prattlin’ words i’ a voice like hers. His eyes
wur big an’ brown an’ straightforrad like hers, an’ his mouth was like
hers, an’ his curls wur the color o’ a brown bee’s back. Happen we set
too much store by him, or happen it wur on’y th’ Teacher again teachin’
us his way, but hows’ever that wur, I came home one sunny mornin’ fro’
th’ factory, an’ my dear lass met me at th’ door, all white an’ cold,
but tryin’ hard to be brave an’ help me to bear what she had to tell.

“‘Tim,’ said she, ‘th’ Lord ha’ sent us a trouble; but we can bear it
together, conna we, dear lad?’

“That wur aw, but I knew what it meant, though th’ poor little lamb had
been well enough when I kissed him last.

“I went in an’ saw him lyin’ theer on his pillows strugglin’ an’ gaspin’
in hard convulsions, an’ I seed aw was over. An’ in half an hour, just
as th’ sun crept across th’ room an’ touched his curls th’ pretty little
chap opens his eyes aw at once.

“‘Daddy!’ he crows out. ‘Sithee Dad--! an’ he lift’ hissen up, catches
at th’ floatin’ sun shine, laughs at it, and fa’s back--dead, Mester.

“I’ve allus thowt ‘at th’ Lord-a’-moighty knew what He wur doin’ when he
gi’ th’ woman t’ Adam i’ th’ Garden o’ Eden. He knowed he wur nowt but
a poor chap as couldna do fur hissen; an’ I suppose that’s th’ reason he
gi’ th’ woman th’ strength to bear trouble when it comn. I’d ha’ gi’en
clean in if it hadna been fur my lass when th’ little chap deed. I never
tackledt owt i’ aw my days ‘at hurt me as heavy as losin’ him did. I
couldna abear th’ sight o’ his cradle, an’ if ever I comn across any o’
his bits o’ playthings, I’d fa’ to cryin’ an’ shakin’ like a babby. I
kept out o’ th’ way o’ th’ neebors’ children even. I wasna like Rosanna.
I couldna see quoite clear what th’ Lord meant, an’ I couldna help
murmuring sad and heavy. That’s just loike us men, Mester; just as if
th’ dear wench as had give him her life fur food day an’ neet, hadna fur
th’ best reet o’ th’ two to be weak an’ heavy-hearted.

“But I getten welly over it at last, an’ we was beginnin’ to come round
a bit an’ look forrard to th’ toime we’d see him agen ‘stead o’ luokin’
back to th’ toime we shut th’ round bit of a face under th’ coffin-lid.
Th’ day comn when we could bear to talk about him an’ moind things he’d
said an’ tried to say i’ his broken babby way. An’ so we wur creepin’
back again to th’ old happy quiet, an’ we had been for welly six month,
when summat fresh come. I’ll never forget it, Mester, th’ neet it
happened. I’d kissed Rosanna at th’ door an’ left her standin’ theer
when I went up to th’ village to buy summat she wanted. It wur a bright
moon light neet, just such a neet as this, an’ th’ lass had followed me
out to see th’ moonshine, it wur so bright an’ clear; an’ just before
I starts she folds both her hands on my shoulder an’ says, soft an’

“‘Tim, I wonder if th’ little chap sees us?’

“‘I’d loike to know, dear lass,’ I answers back. An’ then she speaks

“‘Tim, I wonder if he’d know he was ours if he could see, or if he’d ha’
forgot? He wur such a little fellow.’

“Them wur th’ last peaceful words I ever heerd her speak. I went up to
th’ village an’ getten what she sent me fur, an’ then I comn back. Th’
moon wur shinin’ as bright as ever, an’ th’ flowers i’ her slip o’ a
garden wur aw sparklin’ wi’ dew. I seed ‘em as I went up th’ walk, an’ I
thowt again of what she’d said bout th’ little lad.

“She wasna outside, an’ I couldna see a leet about th’ house, but I
heerd voices, so I walked straight in--into th’ entry an’ into th’
kitchen, an’ theer she wur, Mester--my poor wench, crouchin’ down by th’
table, hidin’ her face i’ her hands, an’ close beside her wur a mon--a
mon i’ red sojer clothes.

“My heart leaped into my throat, an’ fur a min nit I hadna a word, fur
I saw summat wui up, though I couldna tell what it wur. But at last my
voice come back.

“‘Good evenin’, Mester,’ I says to him; ‘I hope yo’ ha’not broughten
ill-news? What ails thee, dear lass?’

“She stirs a little, an’ gives a moan like a dyin’ child; and then she
lifts up her wan, brokenhearted face, an’ stretches out both her hands
to me.

“‘Tim,’ she says, ‘dunnot hate me, lad, dunnot. I thowt he wur dead long
sin’. I thowt ‘at th’ Rooshans killed him an’ I wur free, but I amna. I
never wur. He never deed, Tim, an’ theer he is--the mon as I wur wed to
an’ left by. God forgi’ him, an’ oh, God forgi’ me!’

“Theer, Mester, theer’s a story fur thee. What dost ta’ think o’t?
My poor lass wasna my wife at aw--th’ little chap’s mother wasna his
feyther’s wife, an’ never had been. That theer worthless fellow as beat
an’ starved her an’ left her to fight th’ world alone, had comn back
alive an’ well, ready to begin agen. He could tak’ her away fro’ me any
hour i’ th’ day, and I couldna say a word to bar him. Th’ law said my
wife--th’ little dead lad’s mother--belonged to him, body an’ soul.
Theer was no law to help us--it wur aw on his side.

“Theer’s no use o’ goin’ o’er aw we said to each other i’ that dark
room theer. I raved an’ prayed an’ pled wi’ th’ lass to let me carry her
across th’ seas, wheer I’d heerd tell theer was help fur such loike; but
she pled back i’ her broken, patient way that it wouldna be reet, an’
happen it wur the Lord’s will. She didna say much to th’ sojer. I scarce
heerd her speak to him more than once, when she axed him to let her go
away by hersen.

“‘Tha conna want me now, Phil,’ she said. ‘Tha conna care fur me. Tha
must know I’m more this mon’s wife than thine. But I dunnot ax thee to
gi’ me to him because I know that wouldna be reet; I on’y ax thee to let
me aloan. I’ll go fur enough off an’ never see him more.’

“But th’ villain held to her. If she didna come wi’ him, he said, he’d
ha’ her up before th’ court fur bigamy. I could ha’ done murder then,
Mester, an’ I would ha’ done if it hadna been for th’ poor lass runnin’
in betwixt us an’ pleadin’ wi’ aw her might. If we’n been rich foak
theer might ha’ been some help fur her, at least; th’ law might ha’ been
browt to mak’ him leave her be, but bein’ poor workin’ foak theer wur
on’y one thing: th’ wife mun go wi’ th’ husband, an’ theer th’ husband
stood--a scoundrel, cursin’, wi’ his black heart on his tongue.

“‘Well,’ says th’ lass at last, fair wearied out wi’ grief, ‘I’ll go wi’
thee, Phil, an’ I’ll do my best to please thee, but I wunnot promise to
forget th’ mon as has been true to me, an’ has stood betwixt me an’ th’

“Then she turned round to me.

“‘Tim,’ she said to me, as if she wur haaf feart--aye, feart o’ him, an’
me standin’ by. Three hours afore, th’ law ud ha’ let me mill any mon
‘at feart her. ‘Tim,’ she says, ‘surely he wunnot refuse to let us go
together to th’ little lad’s grave--fur th’ last time.’ She didna speak
to him but ti me, an’ she spoke still an’ strained as if she wui too
heart-broke to be wild. Her face was as white as th’ dead, but she didna
cry, as ony other woman would ha’ done. ‘Come, Tim,’ she said, ‘he conna
say no to that.’

“An’ so out we went ‘thout another word, an’ left th’ black-hearted
rascal behind, sittin’ i’ th’ very room th’ little un deed in. His
cradle stood theer i’ th’ corner. We went out into th’ moonlight ‘thout
speakin’, an’ we didna say a word until we come to this very place,

“We stood here for a minute silent, an’ then I sees her begin to shake,
an’ she throws hersen down on th’ grass wi’ her arms flung o’er th’
grave, an’ she cries out as if her death-wound had been give to her.

“‘Little lad,’ she says, ‘little lad, dost ta see thy mother? Canst
na tha hear her callin’ thee? Little lad, get nigh to th’ Throne an’

“I fell down beside o’ th’ poor crushed wench an’ sobbed wi’ her. I
couldna comfort her, for wheer wur there any comfort for us? Theer wur
none left--theer wur no hope. We was shamed an’ broke down--our lives
was lost. Th’ past wur nowt--th’ future wur worse. Oh, my poor lass, how
hard she tried to pray--fur me, Mester--yes, fur me, as she lay theer
wi’ her arms round her dead babby’s grave, an’ her cheek on th’ grass as
grew o’er his breast. ‘Lord God-a’-moighty, she says, ‘help us--dunnot
gi’ us up--dunnot, dunnot. We conna do ‘thowt thee now, if th’ time ever
wur when we could. Th’ little chap mun be wi’ thee, I moind th’ bit o’
comfort about getherin’ th’ lambs i’ his bosom. An’, Lord, if tha could
spare him a minnit, send him down to us wi’ a bit o’ leet. Oh, Feyther!
help th’ poor lad here--help him. Let th’ weight fa’ on me, not on him.
Just help th’ poor lad to bear it. If ever I did owt as wur worthy i’
thy sight, let that be my reward. Dear Lord-a’-moighty, I’d be willin’
to gi’ up a bit o’ my own heavenly glory fur th’ dear lad’s sake.’

“Well, Mester, she lay theer on th’ grass pray in’ an crying wild but
gentle, fur nigh haaf an hour, an’ then it seemed ‘at she got quoite
loike, an’ she got up. Happen th’ Lord had hearkened an’ sent th’
child--happen He had, fur when she getten up her face looked to me aw
white an’ shinin’ i’ th’ clear moonlight.

“‘Sit down by me, dear lad,’ she said, ‘an’ hold my hand a minnit.’ I
set down an’ took hold of her hand, as she bid me.

“‘Tim,’ she said, ‘this wur why th’ little chap deed. Dost na tha see
now ‘at th’ Lord knew best?’

“‘Yes, lass,’ I answers humble, an’ lays my face on her hand, breakin’
down again.

“‘Hush, dear lad,’ she whispers, ‘we hannot time fur that. I want to
talk to thee. Wilta listen?’

“‘Yes, wife,’ I says, an’ I heerd her sob when I said it, but she
catches hersen up again.

“‘I want thee to mak’ me a promise,’ said she. ‘I want thee to promise
never to forget what peace we ha’ had. I want thee to remember it allus,
an’ to moind him ‘at’s dead, an’ let his little hond howd thee back fro’
sin an’ hard thowts. I’ll pray fur thee neet an’ day, Tim, an’ tha shalt
pray fur me, an’ happen theer’ll come a leet. But if theer dunnot, dear
lad--an’ I dunnot see how theer could--if theer dunnot, an’ we never see
each other agen, I want thee to mak’ me a promise that if tha sees th’
little chap first tha’lt moind him o’ me, and watch out wi’ him nigh th’
gate, and I’ll promise thee that if I see him first, I’ll moind him o’
thee an’ watch out true an’ constant.’

“I promised her, Mester, as yo’ can guess, an’ we kneeled down an’
kissed th’ grass, an’ she took a bit o’ th’ sod to put i’ her bosom. An’
then we stood up an’ looked at each other, an’ at last she put her dear
face on my breast an’ kissed me, as she had done every neet sin’ we were
mon an’ wife.

“‘Good-bye, dear lad,’ she whispers--her voice aw broken. ‘Doant come
back to th’ house till I’m gone. Good-bye, dear, dear, lad, an’ God
bless thee.’ An’ she slipped out o’ my arms an’ wur gone in a moment
awmost before I could cry out.

“Theer isna much more to tell, Mester--th’ eend’s comin’ now, an’ happen
it’ll shorten off th’ story, so ‘at it seems suddent to thee. But it
were-na suddent to me. I lived alone here, an’ worked, an’ moinded my
own business, an’ answered no questions fur nigh about a year, hearin’
nowt, an’ seein’ nowt, an’ hopin’ nowt, till one toime when th’ daisies
were blowin’ on th’ little grave here, theer come to me a letter fro’
Manchester fro’ one o’ th’ medical chaps i’ th’ hospital. It wur a short
letter wi’ prent on it, an’ the moment I seed it I knowed summat wur up,
an’ I opened it tremblin’. Mester, theer wur a woman lyin’ i’ one o’ th’
wards dyin’ o’ some long-named heart-disease, an’ she’d prayed ‘em to
send fur me, an’ one o’ th’ young softhearted ones had writ me a line to
let me know.

“I started aw’most afore I’d finished readin’ th’ letter, an’ when I
getten to th’ place I fun just what I knowed I should. I fun her--my
wife--th’ blessed lass, an’ ‘f I’d been an hour later I would-na ha’
seen her alive, fur she were nigh past knowin’ me then.

“But I knelt down by th’ bedside an’ I plead wi’ her as she lay theer,
until I browt her back to th world again fur one moment. Her eyes flew
wide open aw at onct, an’ she seed me an’ smiled, aw her dear face
quiverin’ i’ death.

“‘Dear lad,’ she whispered, ‘th’ path was na so long after aw. Th’ Lord
knew--He trod it hissen’ onct, yo’ know. I knowed tha’d come--I prayed
so. I’ve reached th’ very eend now, Tim, an’ I shall see th’ little lad
first. But I wunnot forget my promise--no. I’ll look out--fur thee--fur
thee--at th’ gate.’

“An’ her eyes shut slow an’ quiet, an’ I knowed she was dead.

“Theer, Mester Doncaster, theer it aw is, fur theer she lies under th’
daisies cloost by her child, fur I browt her here an’ buried her. Th’
fellow as come betwixt us had tortured her fur a while an’ then left her
again, I fun out--an’ she wur so afeard of doin’ me some harm that she
wouldna come nigh me. It wur heart disease as killed her, th’ medical
chaps said, but I knowed better--it wur heart-break. That’s aw.
Sometimes I think o’er it till I conna stand it any longer, an’ I’m fain
to come here an’ lay my hand on th’ grass,--an’ sometimes I ha’ queer
dreams about her. I had one last neet. I thowt ‘at she comn to me aw at
onct just as she used to look, on’y, wi’ her white face shinin’ loike
a star, an’ she says, ‘Tim, th’ path isna so long after aw--tha’s come
nigh to th’ eend, an’ me an’ th’ little chap is waitin’. He knows thee,
dear lad, fur I’ve towt him.’

“That’s why I comn here to-neet, Mester; an’ I believe that’s why I’ve
talked so free to thee. If I’m near th’ eend I’d loike some one to know,
I ha’ meant no hurt when I seemed grum an’ surly, It wurna ill-will, but
a heavy heart.”

He stopped here, and his head drooped upon his hands again, and for a
minute or so there was another dead silence. Such a story as this needed
no comment. I could make none. It seemed to me that the poor fellow’s
sore heart could bear none. At length he rose from the turf and stood
up, looking out over the graves into the soft light beyond with a
strange, wistful sadness.

“Well, I mun go now,” he said slowly. “Good-neet, Mester, good-neet, an’
thank yo’ fur listenin’.”

“Good night,” I returned, adding, in an impulse of pity that was almost
a passion, “and God help you!”

“Thank yo’ again, Mester!” he said, and then turned away; and as I sat
pondering I watched his heavy drooping figure threading its way among
the dark mounds and white marble, and under the shadowy trees, and out
into the path beyond. I did not sleep well that night. The strained,
heavy tones of the man’s voice were in my ears, and the homely yet
tragic story seemed to weave itself into all my thoughts, and keep me
from rest. I could not get it out of my mind.

In consequence of this sleeplessness I was later than usual in going
down to the factory, and when I arrived at the gates I found an
unusual bustle there. Something out of the ordinary routine had plainly
occurred, for the whole place was in confusion. There was a crowd of
hands grouped about one corner of the yard, and as I came in a man ran
against me, and showed me a terribly pale face.

“I ax pardon, Mester Doncaster,” he said in a wild hurry, “but theer’s
an accident happened. One o’ th’ weavers is hurt bad, an’ I’m goin’ fur
th’ doctor. Th’ loom caught an’ crushed him afore we could stop it.”

For some reason or other my heart misgave me that very moment. I pushed
forward to the group in the yard corner, and made my way through it.

A man was lying on a pile of coats in the middle of the by-standers,--a
poor fellow crushed and torn and bruised, but lying quite quiet now,
only for an occasional little moan, that was scarcely more than a quick
gasp for breath. It was Surly Tim!

“He’s nigh th’ eend o’ it now!” said one of the hands pityingly. “He’s
nigh th’ last now, poor chap! What’s that he’s savin’, lads?”

For all at once some flickering sense seemed to have caught at one of
the speaker’s words, and the wounded man stirred, murmuring faintly--but
not to the watchers. Ah, no! to something far, far beyond their feeble
human sight--to something in the broad Without.

“Th’ eend!” he said, “aye, this is th’ eend, dear lass, an’ th’ path’s
aw shinin’ or summat an--Why, lass, I can see thee plain, an’ th’ little
chap too!”

Another flutter of the breath, one slight movement of the mangled hand,
and I bent down closer to the poor fellow--closer, because my eyes were
so dimmed that I could not see.

“Lads,” I said aloud a few seconds later, “you can do no more for him.
His pain is over!”

For with a sudden glow of light which shone upon the shortened path and
the waiting figures of his child and its mother, Surly Tim’s earthly
trouble had ended.

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book ""Surly Tim": A Lancashire Story" ***

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