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Title: Miriam - A Tale of Pole Hill and the Greenfield Hills
Author: Sykes, Daniel Frederick Edward
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Miriam - A Tale of Pole Hill and the Greenfield Hills" ***

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MIRIAM:

A Tale of Pole Moor and the

Greenfield Hills.

By D. F. E. SYKES, LL.B.

AUTHOR OF: "THE HISTORY OF HUDDERSFIELD,"

"THE HISTORY OF THE COLNE VALLEY,"

"BEN 0' BILL'S, THE LUDDITE,"

"TOM PINDER, FOUNDLING,"

"SISTER GERTRUDE,"

&c., &c.

HUDDERSFIELD,

1912.

Introduction

MIRIAM: A Tale of Pole Moor and the Greenfield Hills links the
protagonists to The Burn Platts, an area above Slaithwaite near Pole
Moor where a group of Romanys or Gypsies lived around the time of an
incident which took place, in 1832, at the Moorcock Inn, on the
edge of the bleak moorland above Greenfield near Saddleworth. It was
at this remote pub that the landlord and his gamekeeper son were
violently murdered.

The Burnplatters were described by MR. G. S. Philips in 1848 as a group
of savages "living in log huts thatched with sods, and paying neither
rent nor taxes. They were a community to themselves, and had their own
wild laws and government. They were the terror likewise of all
wayfarers, and it was dangerous for any man to go amongst them alone."

It includes substantial portions of dialect spoken at that time in the
area when Greenfield was still part of the West Riding of Yorkshire. The
author has attempted to reproduce this phonetically using the
conventional alphabet. He is not always consistent in the way the
dialect is transcribed though this in itself illustrates the nature of
dialect.



CHAPTER I.

THE WAKES.

IT was the first morning of the eagerly awaited Saddleworth Wakes in the
year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and twenty-nine, a year so
full of great doings in the country, and followed by a year of still
greater doings, that there is little marvel that I call it easily to
mind. I had been out of bed by cock-crow to steal across the bare,
worm-eaten boards of the chamber floor as prattily as my six feet of
height and fourteen stone of weight would permit, to peer through the
long diamond-paned window of bottle-green glass up the valley towards
Greenfield, the quarter whence we folk of Biggie got our weather. It was
a glorious sun-rising and promised a glorious day, and so I stole back
to bed in great content, glad that though it was not the Sabbath I could
stretch my long limbs between the blankets--sheets were an unknown
luxury for such folk as myself and fellow chamberer, Jim Haigh,
sometimes called Jim o' 'Lijah's, sometimes Jim th' Tuner, but more
often simply Th' Tuner.

I suppose so small a bedroom rarely accommodated two men of our inches.
For if I was six-feet-nothing in my stocking-feet, Jim o'ertopped me by
a good four inches, and, whilst I was still, as it were, in the making,
and lank and willowy, Jim, though but four years my senior, which made
him four-and-twenty, was broad and deep chested, with the arms and legs
of a very son of Anak. The turn-up bed,

  "Contrived a double debt to pay,
     A bed by night, a chest of drawers by day,"

into which Jim insinuated himself very gingerly o' nights, creaked and
groaned under his weight, and every morning he woke with cold feet, for
the simple reason that they stretched a good half yard out of the bottom
of the bedstead. He could not stand upright in our little chamber, and
as for yawning and stretching himself, as one does in rousing from
insufficient sleep, it was sheer out of the question. A giant truly was
my friend Jim, but surely the gentlest and simplest of all created
mortals, save when roused to wrath (and that he was not easily), and
then let lesser men beware, for Jim in those rare moods knew not his own
strength, and I'd as lieve have countered a sledge-hammer in punier
hands as met the fall of Jim's clenched fists.

Yet, curiously enough, this man of mighty girth and sinew held me in a
sort of wondering reverence. For, despite my protests, Jim insisted to
all and sundry of our common acquaintance that I was what he called a
"powerful scholard"--I, whom my reverend father, the pastor of Pole
Moor Chapel, had wept over and finally despaired of as a hopeless dunce
and dullard, unfit for that ministry to which I had been destined from
my cradle. Read and write I could 'tis true, nor could I truthfully say
"the rule of three did puzzle me, and fractions drove me mad." English
history from the great Alfred's time to poor, mad George the Third's I
knew fairly well, and could, under compulsion make out from the Latin
how Balbus built a wall. But it was when my father set me to the Hebrew,
maintaining that a minister of the Gospel should be able to read the Law
and Prophets in their original,--it was then, I say that I struck and
roundly declared that a parson I would never be. And so it came that I
was bound 'prentice at Wrigley Mill to learn the full craft of a master
clothier, pledging myself by solemn covenant "my master well and
faithfully to serve, his secrets keep, Hurt or Damage to him not to do,
Alehouses and ill Company not to frequent, nor Matrimony contract." As
if, commented Jim, when I read over to him these articles, a man would
be likely to get wed on the "One shilling yearly for Pocket Money"
which, with "Meat, Drink, Washing, Lodging, and two good Suits of
Apparel as well Linen as Woollen," was all I got for working like a
slave for "th' owd felly," as my master was called by his hands. I had
been boarded out by Mr. Wrigley with Mary Haigh, who lived in a small
cottage in the mill yard, and it was Mary's son who had been my true and
constant friend from the first days of my apprenticeship, and who now
lay slumbering soundly and snoring in the most determined manner in the
turnup bed an arm's length from my side.

I must have dropped off into a morning dose, for when I came back again
to consciousness Jim was sat on the side of his couch, a little rickety,
spindle-shanked, rush-bottomed chair in front of him, against the back
of which was propped a small mirror about the size of a sheet of
note-paper, its usefulness and beauty much marred by a crack that ran
diagonally across a blotted surface. The half of a cocoanut shell, which
served Jim as a shaving pot, rested on the floor, and Jim was
alternately stropping a very harsh-scraping razor, lathering his face
and throat, and shaving himself as he wielded the razor in the right
hand and pinched his nose firmly with the left.

"Did ta' ivver hear tell o' th' lad at th' schooil at th' inspector wer'
hearkening to read?" he broke off to ask, when he noticed that I had
opened my eyes.

"What about him?" I asked.

"Well he come to one o' them guisehanged long names i' th' Bible, an'
baulked at it. 'Say summat sharp,' whispers th' schooilmester. 'Razzer,'
says th' lad, 'Razzer'. But it wer' noan this razzer I'll go bail, for
I've stropped it till mi shackle warks, an' I'd as soon tha' took a
curry comb to me for comfort."

"You're making yourself mighty fine to-day, Jim, and it isn't one of
your Sundays for Church," I commented, noticing his knee-breeches, and
that he had already donned polished shoon with buckles of nickel silver
and a striped and starred linen shirt.

"Church? No, thank God. It's noan Church to-day. I'm off to th' Wakes,
and so are ta', mi hearty. Why, man, it's th' Rushbearing, an' aw've
n'er missed th' Rushbearing sin' aw wer' a little 'un, an' aw n'er mean
to. There'll be some ale stirring to-day at th' Church, aw can tell
thee, an' aw'st ha' mi share on 't, tha' may bet thi Sunday booits."

"At the Church?" I queried.

"Aye, th' Church Inn, to be sure. Don't thee act so gaumless. Ger up an'
don thee, lad. Aw do believe there's a collop for breakfas', aw hear it
sizzlin', an' smell it, too, for that matter. So doant tha be so greedy
on th' porridge, leave a corner for th' collop."

And if any assurance were needed that breakfast was well forward it was
supplied by the shrill voice of Mother Haigh calling at the bottom of
the stairs:

"Are yo' idle good-for-nowts goin' to lig i' bed till th' wheel starts
to morn? Th' porridge's bin ready this bit back, an' th' bacon's welly
stuck to th' pan bottom Ger up, do."

Was there ever so clean a kitchen as Mary Haigh's, I wonder. Certainly
there never was one oftener fettled. Jim's mother had few household
gods, but those I verily believe she worshipped. The floor was sanded,
the hearth blue-storied, the steel fender shone like burnished silver,
you could see your face reflected with queer distortions in the brass
knob of the oven door, the oaken press and settle and the deal chairs
fairly sparkled with what Mary called elbow grease, the top of the
little round three-legged table was white almost as driven snow. And as
for Mary herself, sure never was a nattier little woman in all Yorkshire
or Lancashire to boot. Nor a harder working. She was a tewer, as all the
country-side would tell you, and always had been since she had been left
a widow with little Jim still at the breast. She'd kept herself and Jim
too, and anyone could see that Jim at all events hadn't wanted. Even yet
she did some burling in the house, and many of the hands at Wrigley's
paid her no less than a penny a week--bar missings--to heat their
dinners for them, and in summer time she brewed for the behoof of the
mill-girls a sweet and heady beverage called treacle-drink, of which the
great merit was that it cost only a meg, in other words a half-penny,
the quart, but which, Jim avowed, more in sorrow than in anger,
possessed the fatal drawback that you got no forrader on a bucketful.

We'd an extra spread for this morning's meal in honour of the Wakes. We
started on the porridge. This Mary poured from the porringer into a
large earthenware bowl, a dull russet colour on the outside, a highly
glazed yellow on the inner. It stood in the centre of the table. Before
Jim's seat was a basin of "whom-brewed," which he always took with his
porridge. Mary and myself preferred buttermilk, which she fetched from
Wrigley's big house at Holly Grove every churning day. We helped
ourselves from the central dish by long leaden spoons, and I've always
attributed the size of my mouth to the fact that in my tenderest years.
I had to use these large-bowled spoons or "go bowt."

Mary exhorted us to draw and eat heartily of the porridge she declared
made by God a-purpose for growing lads.

"You'll noan start without sayin' grace, Jim," she expostulated as Jim
made a flourish over the steaming pottage with his spoon.

"What for water-porridge?" asked Jim. "Aw've n'er said grace for
porridge mother, an' aw'st noan begin. Ax Abel, he's noan partickler."

"There's collops when yo'n etten th' porridge up, but not afore."

"Oh, collops. Well, then, here goes: 'Sanctify these blessings--th'
collops aw mean, noan th' watter porridge--to our use an' us to Thy
service, Amen.' Nah, Abel, fair do's. Eh! aw wish it were th' Wakes six
days a week, an' all th' year raand. Aw do like collop wi' haver bread
an' plenty o' mustard."

When I look back on those days that seem sometimes so far, far away, and
at other times as though but yesterday, I blush to think how much I must
be in Mary's debt. For certain sure am I that the sum paid by Mr.
Wrigley for my board and lodging never paid Mary. But she never stinted
me, and the only times she grieved were the days I was off my food and
could not eat my fill of the homely but wholesome fare she set before
me. When I grew older and more noticing, as they say, I once hinted that
my father should be asked to supplement Mr. Wrigley's payment, though
well I knew there was little to spare at the Manse at Pole Moor. But
Mary had waxed wroth at this. "A bargain was a bargain," she maintained
with warmth. "She'd made hers and she'd stick to it. Besides, she never
could abide a finicking eater, picking here an' pishing an' pshawing, as
if th' fooid weren't good enough for 'im. Besides, didn't I read th'
papper to her every week an' a portion o' th' Scriptures, to say nowt o'
th' 'Pilgrim's Progress.' It were as gooid as having a parson i' th'
house, wi'out his airs."

"How mich brass has ta?" whispered Jim to me, as he shredded his
tobacco, the while his mother cleared the few pots and busied herself
with washing--up.

"Three shillings," I confided, fingering the coins lovingly in my
breeches' pocket.

"An' I've four--seven shillin' 'atween us. We'st ha' to be careful.
There's th' dobby--horses, an' th' swings, an' Tom Wild's show--aw
wouldn't miss 'The Pirates' Lair' for owt--an' th' fat woman with a
beard, an' the three--legged hen, an' th' hot peas, an' th'
brandy--snap, an' th' shooitin' gallery, an' th' aunt sally, an' th
weighin' machine, an' th' pig 'at counts up to twenty, an' we 'st want a
rattle apiece to scrat dahn th' lasses' shawls to mak' 'em jump an'
squeal, an' then there's th' ale, but there's one comfort, tha'rt a poor
supper--eh! aw dunnot see how it's to be done wi' th' brass, but we'st
happen meet a trump."

"What's a trump?" I asked.

"A chap wi' more brass nor wit," defined Jim, as he continued. "Then
there's a fairin' for th' mother. Aw munnot forget that if aw get as
drunk as a wheel--head. 'Oo'd greet for a month ovver it. Nuts an'
brandy--snap. It's my belief 'oo wraps 'em up i' gilt papper an' keeps
'em in th' drawer wi' them two silver spooins her gran'mother left her.
'Oo never eits 'em, that's certain, but all th' same yo' munnot let me
forget th' fairin' for th' owd mother."

"Why, to tell the truth, Jim, I hadn't thought of going this year. You
can have my two or three shillings and welcome."

"And what for no, Abel?"

"You see, I haven't been to see old Mr. Turner for ever so long, and
last time I was there he seemed to me to be failing. He seems ill of his
mind, and he's none too long for this world."

"Tha' means th' owd hermit, as they ca' him, up at Dean yead? Aw could
nivver mak' aht how tha tak' up wi' such a God-forsaken owd scarecrow."

This from Mary, who had finished her pots, and came from the sink,
drying her hands on her apron.

"Why, the story's simple enough and soon told, Mary," I said. "And if
you knew poor old Mr Turner as I know him I'm sure you'd feel for the
poor man.

"Aye, but pity wi'out relief's like mustard wi'out beef," quoth Mary,
who was great on proverbs. "An' aw dunnot see what aw could do for th'
man--more by token 'at he welly fleyed me to death th' only time aw
ivver clapped mi e'en on 'im, an' that were i' owd Betty's at th' Weigh
Key, when he'd come to buy a penn'orth o' snuff. He nobbut wanted a
winding-sheet to mak' him look like a corpse. He gay' me a turn, aw
know. It's kitchen physic he's wanting, if aw'm to judge. But how did
ta' come to leet on him, Abel?"

"Why, you know, Mary, that when I walk home to Pole Moor I must needs
cross over by Stanedge, and one day I'd turned off just below the
"Floating Light" to take a sheep-walk that makes a short cut down to
Marsden It came on to rain helter-skelter when I was in the very centre
of the Moor, and n'er a tree nor a wall to crouch under for shelter. But
a hundred yards or so from the path I saw an old ramshackle sort of
building a one decker, that I thought might be a keeper's hut. I made
for it across the heather as fast as my two legs could carry me, for it
was lightning and thundering to make matters worse. I knocked at the
door, but there was no answer so I just lifted the sneck and walked in.
There was no one in the house. I called and better called but I could
make no one hear. There wasn't even a cat, about the place and such a
place. Poverty-stricken isn't the word for it. It was clean enough,
however. But just fancy, Mary. One chair, one table, a rack with one or
two plates and mugs, and a truckle-bed in a corner, a smouldering fire,
and a box of dried turf. But I cowered over the fire to dry me, and then
I sat down by the table. There was a book on it. I opened it idly. You
might have knocked me down with a feather, as you say. If it wasn't a
Greek Testament! I knew enough of my Alpha and Omega to make that out
anyway, and just to pass the time I fell to trying how much of the first
Gospel I could construe. I became absorbed in my task and did not hear
the opening of the outer door, and nearly jumped out of my skin when I
heard a voice: 'You make yourself at home, young sir.' I rose in
confusion and made what apology I could, and was for going. Mr. Turner,
however, for it was he, bade me stay till the storm abated. He himself
was dripping wet, but seemed to make no account of it. He stood by the
fire, Which I had mended, and the rain siped off him--."

"On to th' clean fender, of course; just like a man," interrupted Mary.

"There wasn't a fender. Just th' ash-hole."

"Aw nivver did," said Mary. "But go on."

"He was very silent, and I had time to observe him as he gazed into the
fire, seemingly oblivious of my presence."

"Oblivious? What's that?" asked Jim.

"Forgetful," I answered, somewhat testily.

"Then why couldn't ta' say so?" said Jim. "Tha owt to ha' bin a parson
after all, an' a gooid weaver spoiled."

I disdained retort and went on: "He was only a littlish man, very thin,
shockingly thin, all skin and bone, and his clothes simply hung on him.
They were threadbare and much patched, but of good cut and
material--West of England broadcloth, if I'm a judge."

"Which you aren't," put in Jim.

"His hair was white as snow, and his face well, I don't wonder that Mary
thought she'd seen a corpse. Yet though the frame was worn and bent, and
the hair so bleached, the face did not seem that of an old man. Not
fifty. It was deathly pale and waxen. Scarce a wrinkle seamed his brow,
but in his sunken eyes there dwelt a look of woe unutterable. 'A man of
sorrow, and acquainted with grief.' The old words came to my mind as I
looked on those worn, wan features. 'Have you far to journey?' he asked
me suddenly. 'To Pole Moor in Scammonden, sir,' I told him. 'My father
is minister there Mr. Holmes. You'll have heard of him, the Reverend Mr.
Holmes,' I added, with just pride."

"Aw should think so, indeed"--Mary again.

"'Nay I have little acquaintance in this neighbourhood,' the man
answered. 'But you will need food before you reach home. I have little
to tempt you.' But I made haste to assure him I wanted nothing to eat.
To tell the truth I didn't just relish sitting down to table with this
strange creature--he looked so other worldish, and I didn't know him
then as I have come to know him since--aye, and to like him, too. I
suppose he must have seen me look enquiringly at the Greek Testament,
for he handed it to me and asked me to read him a few verses But I
hadn't stumbled over many lines before he stopped me. 'This is how it
should go,' he said. And then he reeled it off, as if it had been plain
English I thought my father could read Greek but he reads it but
haltingly where Mr. Turner comes."

"As tak' leave to doubt, that," said Mary with conviction.

"But by now the storm had cleared, and I anxious to be on my way, for
it's no joke being on Stanedge off the beaten track in the dark, or even
in the dusk. So I thanked my host for the shelter he had afforded me,
and, timidly, and with little hopes of success, begged that on other
days, as I passed his cottage, homeward bent, I might call and pay my
respects. He gave, as I thought, but a grudging assent, but assent after
a fashion he did. And that's how I came to know Mr. Turner, but who he
is and what he is, and how a man of cultured refinement, for any fool
can see he's that, came to live all alone in that wretched hovel, for
it's little better, beats me."

"Oh, there's all mak's o' tales about him," said Mary. "He's been th'
talk o' th' countryside this twenty year an' more, to my knowledge. Some
sayn one thing, an' some another. I did hear he'd been a parson an' had
his frock ta'en off him for some prank or other. But it's all 'he says
an' shoo says,' an' I ma' no count o' them sort o' tales. There's wimmen
i' this parish as is nivver so happy as when they're callin' fro' door
to door an' rakin' up all th' tittle-tattle they can gather an' ladlin'
it out as they go, wi' more to it. An' all th' time th' breakfust pots
is on th' table, th' asses on th' hearth, th' dust on th' furniture, th'
beds just as they were ligged in, th' slops i' th' pots, an' th' dinner
for th' poor fools 'at's teed to 'em takkin' its luck on th' hob or i'
th' oven. Aw thank God aw'm noan o' that mak'!"

"No, that you're not," quoth Jim right heartily. "But come, Abel, lad,
let's be starting for th' Wakes or we'st miss th' rush cart. We'st be
back bi ten o'clock, mother, an' aw should like some browies for my
supper."

"There's nowt like browies to go to bed on when yo'n a skin full o'
ale," Jim confided to me as we crossed the mill yard and made for the
plank that crossed Diggle Brook and led on to the way to Woolroad and
Dobcross, and so to Saddleworth.

"And how's that?" I asked, more to humour Jim's loquacity than because I
thought myself likely to need the specific.

"Why, yo' see," expounded Jim, "th' haver bread's nourishin' o' itself
and gives th' ale summat to work on, but it's th' fat as does it. It
swims your stoma' an' prevents th' ale mountin' to your yead. Tha can't
goa far wrong if tha sticks to ale n' Owdham browies, an' don't yo'
forget it, an' yo'll have summat to thank Jim th' Tuner for as long as
yo' live, if he is a fooil."

"I can't see, Jim, why you should seem to make a point of getting more
drink than usual at Christmas time and the Wakes," I ventured, somewhat
timidly, for this was a soreish point with my friend, who for three
hundred and sixty-three days of the year was as temperate a man as ever
walked on two legs, barring, of course, the members of that new-fangled
sect, the teetotallers, that has sprung up since Jim and I were young
men.

Jim pondered deeply before he vouchsafed a reply.

"Why, as to Xersmas time," he said, as we strode blithely along the
road, exchanging greetings with many a friend and neighbour all bent in
the same direction with "holiday" written in dress and beaming face, "as
to Xersmas time aw dunnot think th' reason's far to seek. There's th'
frost an' snow, an' th' log o' th' fire, an' th' waits, an' th' bells
ringing an' ros' beef an' th' plum pudding--oh! Jerusalem--an'
ivverybody stoppin' yo' an' shakkin' hands, an' wishin' yo' a Merry
Xersmas an' a Happy New Year, an' lookin' as if they meant it. Why, the
very robin 'at hops i' th' hedge seems to know its Xersmas time. An' so,
somehow, it's nat'ral to tak' a drop, an', maybe, a drop too much at
Xersmas. But as for th' Wakes, now, when aw come to think on 't, guise
hang me if aw know what they're for or how they come about at all. But
yo'll know, aw'll be bun, for thi' yead seems to be stuffed wi' all
sorts o' lumber 'at's nowt to do wi' weavin' gooid broad cloth. What is
th' Wakes, anyway, Abel?"

"Well, _now_, you know, Jim, it's but a junketting and holiday-making.
But it is held on St. Chad's Day, and St. Chad was the patron saint of
the old Church at Saddleworth. In the old evil Catholic times the monks
used to wake all the night dedicated to St. Chad to burn candles and
pray before the altar. And the people gathered rushes from the marshes
and brook sides and brought them with great rejoicings to strew upon the
mud floors of the Church. Then they made merry in token of their
gratitude to God for planting His Church in their midst. But now all
that was good and wholesome has died away, and all we've left is a
senseless debauch, or so my father says."

"An' wi' all respect to yo'r worthy father, who's a preicher hissen an'
bound to improve th' occasion in season an' out o' season, aw'st tak'
leave to differ fro' him. It's a poor heart that nivver rejoices. Here's
you an' me, an' nearly every man Jack on us i' all this Valley, toilin'
an' moilin' fro' daybreak till sunset, an' often ovvertime, little 'uns
an' big 'uns, it mak's no differ. An' when we'n done us wark we're so
tired 'at we're fain to crawl to bed. It's all bed an' wark, wark an'
bed, except o' Sundays, an' even o' Sundays some folk 'ud have us wark
harder nor o' warkdays, what wi' Chapel o' mornin' an' Chapel o' th'
neet, an' Sunday Schooil, an' prayer meetin's, an' experience meetin's,
an' Bible classes. Why, man, if it weren't for Xersmas an' th' Wakes an'
Whissund there'd be nother life nor colour nor a gleam o' sunshine in
all th' long life on us."

"Perhaps when this new Reform Bill comes----." I began for I was by
way of being a budding politician.

"Reform Bill!" snorted Jim. "There's only one mak' o' politics for th'
working man:

    'Fear God an' honour the King,
     Eit thi porridge an' howd thi din.'

But see yo', yonder's th' rush cart. Let's after it."

And the rush-cart sure enough it was--a great wain from which the
shafts had been removed stout ropes being substituted, with stangs
across six in all, and to each stang two stout young fellows: all gay in
rosetted knee-breeches and with streamers of bright colours fluttering
from their jaunty caps. And on the waggon was piled a huge cone of
rushes cunningly plaited together, on whose summit perched, with
precarious seat, Tim o' Tame Water, who was regarded with fear and
trembling by all the children for miles around, he being by way of being
the village idiot, though, when I come to think of it, a man who can
make a fairish living without doing a handstroke of work from January to
December may not be quite such a fool as he's reckoned. Tim was
furnished with a long slender wand or pole, to one end of which was
tethered an old, battered tin can, the which he thrust invitingly under
the noses of the men and women who watched the progress of the
rush-cart. And the coppers rattled in gaily and freely, for who so mean
as to begrudge a penny's fee to the burly lads who had scoured the
countryside to gather the rushes, whose deft hands had plaited the reedy
pyramid, and who now grunted and sweated behind the stangs as, swaying
from side to side of the road, now lifting the stans above their heads,
now bending their brawny shoulders to the strain, they drew the creaking
wain towards the door of the Church. Old men and withered beldames stood
on their doorsteps to watch the throng pass by, and I doubt not drew
disparaging comparisons between the rush-cart of that day and those they
had danced behind so trippingly when they were young and light of foot
and heart; comely matrons dandled their babes in their arms, and held
them aloft that their chubby fists might drop a coin into the rattling
tin; sturdy urchins dodged about the labouring wheels of the groaning
cart in a way to bring your heart into your mouth, till you remembered
that a special Providence watches over drunken men and children; and,
fairest sight of all, the pretty young lasses, all donned in their
Sunday best, and wearing fragrant nosegays of every hue under the sun,
ran by the waggon side with many a lilt of rustic melody.

Following in the rear of the rush-cart, amid a jeering crowd, rode a man
and his wife--their names and habitations I cared not to inquire--who
were being "stanged". The man rode behind his better, very much the
better, half, with his face towards the tail of the sorry beast that
bore this wretched couple. And as it plodded heavily through the throng
the lads and lasses, aye, and even silly grown-up folk who ought to have
had more sense, shouted the old nominy, "With a ran, tan, tan, on my old
tin can, owd Betty"--I did not catch the name--"and her good man. She
banged him, she banged him, for spending a penny when he stood in need,
she up with a three-footed stool; she struck him so hard, she cut him so
deep, till the blood ran down like a new stuck sheep."

"What a burning shame!" I said to Jim, "to shame the poor folk so."

"Not a bit on it," laughed Jim. "It's all in the fun o' the fair.
They'll plaster their wounded feelings for 'em wi' lashings o' ale. I
expect it's a put up job."

And so we went along the highway, past the stalls where nuts, and
brandysnap, and humbugs, and peppermint, and all the sorts of goodstuffs
you can think of made your money burn in your pocket; past the Aunt
Sallies and cocoanut shies--three shies a penny--and the weighing
machines and thumping machines--I remembered that last Wakes Jim, being
pressed to try his strength, had struck so shrewd a buffet that the
indicator whirled all over the brazen face of the dial, and for anything
I know is whirling yet, and sent the machine itself staggering across
the road--past the pea saloons, and past the booths of the bearded
woman and the learned pig, aye, even past Tom Wild's great show, despite
the allurements of an elderly-young lady, whom only two years ago I had
counted as fairer than Venus herself, if indeed she was not that goddess
incarnate, but upon whom I now looked with cold and critical eye as she
paced the platform in front of the booth in pink tights and skirts of
gauze that had once been white. "A brazen hussy," I heard many an honest
mother comment to her admiring daughter, "'oo ought to be ashamed o'
hersen, barein' her legs i' that fashion for all the world to see." And
so in merry fit we came at length to the Church Inn at Saddleworth,
before whose hospitable doors the rush-cart came to a halt, the lads
threw down their stangs right gladly, wiped their streaming brows on
their coat sleeves, and called lustily for quarts of ale. Tim o' Tame
Water pouched the contents of the collecting-tin, and made his way
within doors to change the coppers into less bulky coinage and to
apportion the spoil among those who had furnished forth the cart.

Jim looked on, somewhat gloomily, I thought.

"Aw wish aw had yet aw'm fain aw didn't," he vouchsafed.

"Wish you'd what?" I queried.

"Wish aw'd weighed in wi' th' rush-cart. They wanted me to, but th' owd
mother were agin it. Aw'll be bun they'll finger a matter o' haulf a
guinea apiece out o' this year's Rush. It beats goin' out wi' th' waits
at Xersmas time, an' as for goin' a wassailing at th' New Year, why,
that's babby work. To be sure it's harder work, tho' aw could tug that
owd cart, rushes an' all, awmost by missen on a pinch, but then, look
yo, it's warmer work, an', by gosh, a felly nivver knows how nice a
gallon o' ale can taste till he's poo'd a rush-cart fro' Woolroad to th'
Church. Aw've heard tell o' a chap at used to put ki-an on salt herrings
so's he could enjoy his liquor more, but aw't back a rush-cart agen th'
best ki-an ivver come out o' a pepper-box lid. But then, on t' other
hand, if aw'd had th' fingering o' another hauf guinea, besides what
we'n getten o' our own, aw should happen ha' ended up whur aw see Neddy
Thurkill is by now. It's a weary an' a contrary world, Abel, when yo'
can see six things for a thing an' just hauf a dozen agin it."

"Why, what of Neddy Thurkill?" I asked, with quick misgiving.

Now Ned was our dyer, and a very good dyer, too; but never a Saturday
night came round but he was turned out of the Hanging Gate at Diggle,
maudlin drunk, and half his good wages gone in drink. He spent Sunday in
bed mending the clocks and watches of the villagers, and he was as good
a clock doctor as he was a dyer.

Jim jerked his thumb over his shoulder in the direction of the church,
just opposite the inns and going to the door and pressing my way through
a hustling, jeering crowd, I made my way to the space by the eastern
wall of the churchyard, where stood the village stocks, and in them, in
drunken gravity, with a churchwarden pipe brandished in one hand, and
brandishing a pewter pot half full of ale in the other sat Neddy
Thurkill. I turned away sadly enough for a better workman and a better
hearted fellow than Ned never breathed, but for just this one fault and
that a big one. I found Jim in the front room, which was crowded by a
thirsty throng all clamouring for something to wash the dust out of
their throats. I ordered my modest draught and managing by great good
fortune to secure a seat on a settle near the window gazed moodily on
the scene without.

To tell the truth I was somewhat out of element in that crowded room of
jovial roysterers. Though not averse to a kindly quencher after a long
walk, I saw neither rhyme nor reason in guzzling mighty draughts of ale
just for the sake of "getting forrader," and I'd outgrown my boyish
affection for nuts and brandysnap, and swing-boats and dobby-horses made
me sick, and fat women, even when bearded, had lost their pristine
charm. My thoughts wandered from the scene that my eyes gazed upon but
scarcely saw, and I fell to musing idly about my strange acquaintance,
the recluse of Deanhead, and I reproached myself for having been
beguiled from my first intent to visit him in his hour of lonely
sickness. I'd have been glad enough to shake the dust of the Wakes from
my feet and hie me over the moors to the lonely cottage, or rather
hovel, which was all the poor old hermit had to call a home. But I was
under solemn vow to watch over the potations of that good natured giant,
Jim, whose hearty voice I could distinguish even in that Babel, calling
on all and sundry to come and "sup". I calculated that at his present
rate of progression his few shillings would soon be gone, and I made up
my mind to slip out presently and expend my little stock in the
"fairings" for Mary and one or two of the mill girls and neighbours'
children, that I might in all truth assure Jim I was spent up when he
came, as come I knew he would, to see if I could replenish his exhausted
exchequer. Then we'd have to go home, Jim willy-nilly.

Bent on this goodly strategy, I made my way with no little difficulty
along the narrow passage that led to the outer door, and stood a space
upon the steps, glad to breathe again the air that stole down from Pots
and Pans, and tasted all the sweeter after the mingled fumes of twist
tobacco and stale ale of the room I had quitted. My slight elevation
enabled me to see across and above the throng, and across the square and
hard by the stocks I saw a sight that roused me smartly from my somewhat
abstracted mood. I saw the two well-known gamekeepers that all the
countryside knew as Bill o' Jack's, and Tom o' Bill's, William Bradbury
and Tom, his son, men of bad repute, wenchers and ale-bibbers, and never
so happy as when they could get some poor devil of a weaver into trouble
with his betters for snaring a rabbit or bagging a bird. Tom was a fine
upstanding fellow enough, but his father had an evil face, full of
malice and guile. It was a common saying that Bill made the bullets and
Tom shot them. But I'd no time just then for dwelling on family
characteristics. I heard a scream and a voice, a young and sweet, pure
voice, that cried, "Let me be, let me be."

"Not till I've had a kiss, my bonnie gipsy wench."

"Never, never; let me be, I say."

"Jim," I cried with all my might and main, "Jim, I want you"; and I was
through that crowd, how I never knew.

And in the centre of a circle of jeering, laughing fools, that seemed to
take what was passing as part of the fun of the fair, was Tom o' Bill's,
flushed with drink and his exertions, in whose arms panted and struggled
a young lass of some nineteen years.

She was somewhat fantastically dressed in a long scarlet cloak, and her
skirt was shorter by an inch or two than a modest maiden's should be.
She wore no headgear, and her long lustrous hair, black as midnight and
with ripples that just escaped being curls, fell in wild confusion about
a face of purest oval and over a pair of eyes that now gleamed with
mingled terror and passion as she panted and writhed in the clasp of the
burly gamekeeper, beating with small, brown, clenched fist the mocking
lips he sought to press to hers. Near by another woman, an old,
dishevelled hag, shrieked, and swore, and hit, and scratched, and kicked
in the grasp of that drunken reprobate, Bill Bradbury. She, too, I
guessed, was a gipsy, and it was clear she was striving to help the
younger woman, while Bill urged his son:

"Stick to it, Tom. I'll hold the old bitch. Ha' your will o' the young
'un."

"By your leave, no," I cried, as I inserted my right hand in Tom's neck
gear, and with a sudden wrench sent him reeling on his heels into the
crowd. "You'll reckon with me first."

"And who the hell are you?" he spluttered, as he recovered his balance.
"Oh! it's th' parson's lad o' Pole Moor. Well, I've a score to settle
with th' owd 'chart-i'-heaven, an' I reckon I may as well pay it th'
young whelp." And he came for me with a leap his arm crooked for a blow,
and his huge fist clenched.

"A feight a feight," cried the mob. "Make a ring, and fair do's."

A hurried glance showed me the girl, still panting and trembling, and
arranging the folds of her disordered dress about a heaving bosom,
clinging to the old beldam whom Bill had cast roughly from him when I
sent his son whirling.

Now I'm no fighting man, and never was. I had no more notion of the
noble art of self-defence than a boy perforce picks up in his
schooldays' scrimmages. Moreover, my reverend father had always
impressed upon me that if an adversary smote me on one cheek it was my
Christian duty to turn to him the other also. But that was a doctrine I
had always regarded as a counsel of perfection, and clearly, unless I
had mind to be pounded to a jelly, which I certainly had not, this was
no occasion for its practical application, for Tom o' Bill's fists were
hovering about my head and chest, and I'd much ado to keep clear of
them. Of course the odds seemed all against me, for your gamekeeper is
ever at home in a brawl.

But I was young and active, my brain and eye were clear, and I was as
hard as pin-wire, whilst Tom had been keeping up the Wakes to some tune,
and, though the drink had fired his blood, it served neither to steady
his arms nor his legs. So I held my own fairly well, though I was
conscious that my lips were beginning to swell and an eye to close up;
and I think, maybe, I should have come off a little more than conqueror,
as my father would have said, had not the old man, despite the
protestations of the crowd which cried shame on him, joined in the fray
and fetched me a sounding blow on the jowl that made the world spin
round me. I almost lost consciousness, and beat my arms feebly in some
sort of show of attack, and then became aware in a mazed sort of way
that the tide of war had changed. For there was Jim, good old Jim,
bristling and growling like a mighty mastiff, by my side. He had dealt
Tom a blow that must have been like the kick of a stallion, and just as
my senses cleared I saw him pick up the shrieking, cursing Bill o'
Jack's, raise him high above his head, and hurl him a dozen yards or
more into the midst of the cheering crowd.

Tom o' Bill's lay on one elbow on the ground his nose streaming, and
spitting out his front teeth. "Do yo' want any more? There's plenty
wheer that came fro'," quoth Jim to Tom.

But Tom picked himself and, muttering "Yo'st both on yo' pay for this,"
limped off crest fallen.

"And nah, lad, we'st best be going whom. I'm spent up an' awve
fuffen[1], an' if that doesn't mak' a gooid Wakes aw dunnot know what
does. But what about these wenches here? Dost know 'em?"
[1] fought

Now I thought I did. I turned to the younger of the two.

"Aren't you Burnplatters?" I asked.

She cast down her head, and a hot flush suffused her face.

"Yes, no, that is my grandmother…."

"I thought I'd seen the old lady our way," I explained. "Well, if I may
make so free, you'd better be making your way toward Slaithwaite, for
yon two are ugly customers, and it is best you kept out of their way.
So, by your leave, Jim and I will set you on your road."

"Oh, please, don't trouble. Granddam and I are used to taking care of
ourselves. And oh! how can I thank you?"

"Thank Jim," I said. "Come along, if you don't mind. It's a tidy step
over Stanedge, and the night draws in betimes these days."

So without more ado I took charge of the maiden, whose fluttering hand
rested confidingly on my arm. Jim followed me with the elder woman as we
made our way through the crowd.

"Tha's getten a sweetheart at last," I heard a young mill lass cry to
Jim. "An' a beauty oo is to be sure. Yo'll noan be feart o' her layin'
away, that's one comfort."

Jim disdained retort, and as we drew away from the Wakes, and the twain
plodded steadily in our rear, I heard him more than once suggest to the
poor old woman that they'd get on faster if he carried her on his back.

As for my companion she wrapped herself in reserve, replying in
monosyllables to my clumsy efforts to draw her into conversation. I
gleaned, however, that her name was Miriam, and that she lived at
Burnplatts with her grandmother. They had come to the Wakes to sell
those little penny whisks of heather which housewives use for dusting,
and I don't think I was far wrong in guessing that the old lady had
hoped to turn a copper or two by telling the fortunes of those swains
and maids who were willing to cross her palm with the accustomed coin.
But of this Miriam said nought. We conveyed the twain through the
cutting on the top of Stanedge, set them with their faces towards Pole
Moor, and so took our leave. But, though I had met with little
encouragement, I vowed within my heart that by hook or crook I would
hold Miriam's little brown hand in mine again.



CHAPTER II.

THE BURNPLATTERS.

ON the slope of the hill as it shelves down to the Colne from Pole Moor
lies the little cluster of houses called Burn Platts, and there dwelt,
if so nomadic a people could be properly said to dwell anywhere, those
terrors of the countryside, the bogeys of all the children for miles
around, the Burnplatters--horse-dealers, gipsies, fortune-tellers
cloth-lifters, roost-spoilers poachers, tramps, thieves,
whiskey-spinners, and evil-doers generally. I could not remember a time
when I had not lived in awe of the Burnplatters. The direst threat my
mother knew, when my little sister Ruth and I were more than ordinarily
perverse, was to send us to the Burnplatters.

The stories told of them and their wild doings were legion. They were
said to have no religion of any sort of all, though, to be sure, it was
conceded that when they were married they were properly tied at St.
James's Church. And a brave display they made at a wedding: bride and
bridegroom, bravely decked, walking to and from the Church, a fiddler or
two heading a procession of all the Burnplatters, old and young, male
and female, twenty to thirty souls. The knot firmly tied, the procession
made a round of all the public houses, in Slaithwaite, and finished the
day with a sumptuous repast at the "Rose and Crown" on Cop Hill; and it
was the general belief that the viands, of which there was no lack,
were, to a chicken, either begged, borrowed, or stolen. Whether there
was or ever had been any strain of Oriental blood among the Burnplatters
I hesitate to say, though I incline to think there must have been some
Spanish tinge, for no one could look upon Ephraim Sykes, the reputed
leader of the gang, and credit him with nought but British blood. He was
of about my own age. His face was tanned, his black hair curled close to
his poll, his eye dark as night, and his passions as tumultuous as hell.
A blow first and the word afterwards was ever his way. And he was as
handsome as a picture. Half the girls in the valley were ready to
forswear home, chapel, and respectability and join the Burnplatters at a
word from Ephraim. He was the best horsebreaker between Leeds and
Manchester. He feared nothing that went on four legs or two--men, dogs,
horses or bullocks. When Armitage's bull--Dick o' Lijah's that kept the
"Rose" at the Cop--went mad they sent for Ephraim, and with my own eyes
I saw him vault upon the raging creature's back and ride it in a tearing
rage twenty times round the paddock and then down to Booth Banks, and
when they got back it was covered with foam and as quiet as a lamb. And
Ephraim was popular even with the men folk, though feared. He made a
mint, of money, horse--breaking, and it was light come, light go with
him. Whenever he went into the "Silent Women," or the "Globe," or the
"Star", or the "Rose and Crown", you should have seen the landlord's
face light up. It was open house while Ephraim was there, and, I'm sore
to say it, there were in my young days more than two or three of the
weavers and croppers of the Valley who liked a cheap drink if the Evil
One himself had paid.

In my boyhood I had struck up an acquaintance with Ephraim Sykes. A
Yorkshire tyke that a devout member of my father's congregation had
presented to me had been the first bond of union. Ephraim had come
across me as I wandered aimlessly about the fields, with Tear'em at my
heels, and had unceremoniously introduced himself, by way of Tear'em,
in whom he manifested an interest that clearly did not embrace myself.

"Will she rot?" he asked, after surveying the bitch and commenting
approvingly upon various points of perfection only patent to the eyes of
a fancier. "Will she rot?"

"Not till she's dead, I hope," I replied in all innocence.

"Pool! thou ninny. Will she tak' rotten?" and I gathered that he meant
rats.

"She could if she liked," I asseverated boldly, seeing that this was
expected of her. "But, you see, she has the best of everything at the
Manse. I share my porridge with her night and morning."

"Porridge!" sniffed Ephraim disdainfully. "It's rotten she wants, and
rabbits. Han you a ferret" I confessed with shame that I had not.

"Well, I han." And Ephraim produced from his jacket pocket a long white,
snakey, writhing thing that eyed me viciously, but which curled and
cuddled about Ephraim as if it loved him, as I don't doubt it did.

"That's the cliverest ferret this side o' Owdham," observed Ephraim in a
tone that challenged contradiction. "Just yo' feel the weight on him,"
and he held out the creature in the palm of his hands. It eyed me as
though to determine which was the juiciest part of my anatomy, and I
declined the intimate acquaintance Ephraim was willing to press upon me.

"Feart o' a ferret!" he sneered. "Tha'rt noan as gam' as thi feyther."

"What do you know of my father?" I asked quickly, for even as a lad I
was jealous of that good man's name and fame.

"Why more, happen, than yo think, though I am a Burnplatter. Hasn't he
been to th' Burnplatts preichin' time an' time agen, though we'n towd
him plain we don't want him? An' hasn't he towd us to our faces wheer
we're bun to end if we don't mend our ways? Didn't he plump down on his
knees i' th' very midst o' us, an' pray to heaven to remove the scales
fro' our eyes, as he ca'd it? An' didn't he come neet after neet to sit
an' pray wi' little Lil when she were down wi' th' sma' pox, an' owd
Jackson th' Slowit passon, wouldn't come within a mile o' Burnplatts for
love or money? Oh! he's a gam' 'un, is thi feyther. He wouldn't be feart
o' a bit o' a ferret, aw'll be bun. Why he'd tak' it bi' th' scruff o'
th' neck an' dip it th' font if he thowt it 'ud do it onny guid. That's
th' sort he is."

This hearty commendation of my sire atoned no little for the slighting
opinion Ephraim had evidently formed of myself--that and his approval
of Tear'em for whom he volunteered to swop that wretch ferret, assuring
me with tears in his eyes that the exchange would well-nigh--he said
"welly"--ruin him, and that it was only the high regard he entertained
for my father that prompted him to make this huge sacrifice. But part
with Tear'em I would not. On this point I was adamant.

"Well," said Ephraim, "let's see if she'll tak' a rabbit. I don't
suppose she will. Come to look at her, she's nobbut a poorish sort. Not
much breed about that cur, aw' rekkon. Aw'm fain yo' didn't ha' th'
ferret after all"--a remark that proved Ephraim was a philosopher of
sorts, and knew how to console himself in affliction.

But Tear'em had promptly falsified this last adverse judgment on her
merits. Ephraim found a long drain that ran the length of a neighbouring
field. The ferret went in at one end, whilst I nursed Tear'em at the
other. Presently a rabbit bolted, and Tear'em tossed it in the air
before it had run ten yards in the open.

And so began my friendship with Ephraim Sykes. Lord! what times we had
on those dear old moors. It was Ephraim taught me to swim in Clough
House mill dam; it was Ephraim who made me horrid sick with my first
pipe; Ephraim who knew every bird nest on ground, in hedge, or wall, or
tree; Ephraim who haunted old laithes and mistals with his ferret and my
Tear'em; Ephraim who skinned the rats and dried and cured their skins
and made me a cap thereout; Ephraim who knew where the biggest trout
lurked under the sides of the brooks that babbled down the hillsides
into the river Colne; Ephraim, I blush to say, who knew the ways of the
nesting grouse and took their young before they left the nest.

He couldn't read and he couldn't write, and thought those
accomplishments fit only for lawyers, doctors, and parsons. But of
mother wit he'd enough to stock a parish. When I was not at my lessons
we were inseparable though I could never get him to cross my father's
threshold, and to all my hints that I should visit him at Burnplatts he
turned a deaf ear. And the years passed, and we grew older, and went our
several ways--he frequenting horse fairs and feasts, and wakes, and
thumps and I minding my warp at the tail of a loom. But Fate had much in
store for Ephraim and me in common and what it was the patient reader
will learn anon.

* * *

Now on the very Saturday after our junketing at the Wakes I announced to
Mary my pious intent to visit my father at Pole Moor, and to call in
upon Mr. Turner on my way. Jim, who heard me, eyed me narrowly, and then
knowingly winked the dexter eye.

"How far's th' Burnplatts fro' Pole Moor?" was all he said, but said in
such a tone as to make his mother glance questioningly from him to me.
"Shall aw go wi' thee, Abel?"

"You can if you like," I said curtly, and wishing that that confounded,
tell-tale colour would desert my cheeks.

"Well, aw calc'late not this bout, though mich obliged to yo' for your
hearty invitation. Aw nivver was so mich pressed i' my life. But, as yo'
sen, there's occasions when two's company and three's none."

Now I had said no such thing.

"I tell you I'm going to see Mr. Turner on my way, and I'm not sure that
he'd care to be moithered with company," I explained, somewhat lamely, I
fear.

"And I've made him some beef-tea and a custard," broke in Mary. "An'
mind yo' see he eits 'em. Aw'd go wi' yo' mysen an' red th' house up for
him, but to tell th' truth aw'm noan so keen on folk 'at go live bi
theirsen i' a hut on a moor. It's noan Christian, an' there's summat at
th' back on it, or my name's not Mary Haigh."

It was a glorious day of early autumn, and I strode blithely up the
steep ascent that led from the Valley to the Cutting. (The Cutting is a
rather deep defile where the road over Stanedge dips into the Diggle
Valley.) My young heart sang within me, and I felt almost ashamed of the
glad glow of perfect health and rich content that made the mere living
so rich a feast, even for one so poor as I, when I reached the hermit's
cot, and lifted the sneck of the door.

There was no one in the bottom room or "house," which was all uncared
for--no fire in the grate, which argued badly for the comforts a sick
man should have; and again I reproached myself that I had suffered
myself to be beguiled into going to the Wakes, though a quick
afterthought told me that to have missed the Wakes would have been to
have missed one whose dark bright eyes had haunted me day and night ever
since, dancing in and out with my shuttle at the loom, and mocking me in
my dreams. I took off my clogs and stole in my stocking feet up the
straight and narrow staircase that led to the upper chamber. Mr. Turner
was tossing and turning on the pallet, muttering in a feverish sleep. So
I lied me down again as softly as I could, raked out the embers from the
rusty fireplace, kindled a fire, and set about warming up the beef-tea
Mary's forethought had provided. A violent fit of coughing waked the
uneasy sleeper, and I carried up a basin-full of the broth, into which I
had broken some haver-bread I found on a rack above the fireplace. Mr.
Turner smiled and seemed pleased to see me. I propped him up in bed,
covered his thin bent shoulders with an old frieze coat, and coaxed him
to sip the broth out of a leaden spoon that I had found.

"I knew you'd not forget me, Abel," he said feebly, "and it's good of
Mrs. Haigh to have sent me this excellent soup. Convey to her my
compliments and thanks. Or, stay, you'll find a trinket or two in what
I'm going to hand over to you in charge. Select a fitting one, and ask
Mrs. Haigh to wear it when the old hermit's gone; the others keep in
memory of the man you have befriended, whose solitude you have shared."

I could scarce restrain a smile. I imagined Mary wearing anything the
sick man would be likely leave behind him. I thought sure his wits were
leaving him. But he went on:

"Put your arm up the chimney yonder. You'll have to pull out the
sacking. Don't be afraid of soot. It's little enough there's in that
flue. Your right arm, and feel on the left side."

Wondering greatly, I did as I was bid, and felt my groping fingers touch
what I rightly guessed to be the handle of a box. It was a rare weight,
but I got the case down and took it to the bed-side. Mr. Turner, with
trembling hands, undid the collar of his shirt, and took from a thin
chain around his neck a small key.

"Now, listen," he said, "and as you value your peace hereafter keep the
charge I commit to you. You're young, Abel, and I've not known you long.
But I think I can trust you. I am about to tell you what has never
before passed my lips. I know you have wondered often who I am, and why
I have lived this lonely and wretched life. It's a sad, sad tale--a
tale of sin and shame and sorrow but maybe I shall be the easier for the
telling of it, and there's that to be done which must be done if it can
be done There's retribution to be made if it can be made, and yours must
be the hands to do it."

Now it must not be supposed that all this was spoken straight off, as I
have written it. It was almost gasped out, and the cold, clammy sweat
stood on the poor man's brow as the words came feebly forth from his
pallid lips.

"You know me, as all about here know me, and have known me ever since,
some twenty long years ago, I came to dwell, to drag out my weary years
rather, in this wretched haunt in this cold, bleak, inhospitable
moor--known me as Mr. Turner, the mad hermit. But that is not my
name--it is Garside, the Reverend James Garside, for I am a deacon,
duly presented and admitted, of the Established Church. Aye, you may
well start and stare. My father was a manufacturer in Manchester. His
name, too, was James. I tell you this because you may need all the
particulars I can furnish. He died when I was in my second year, leaving
my mother in circumstances more than comfortable, I their only child.
She was but young when my father left her a widow--he was her senior by
many years. She never married again, but devoted her life to the
upbringing of her unworthy son. My God! my God! how have I repaid that
wealth of love so unstintingly lavished upon me. She could scarce bear
me out of her sight, and as I grew older rejected the counsel of her few
friends that I should be sent to the Grammar School. I must have a
tutor, and be taught at home.

"I think I must have been about ten years old when an event occurred
that disturbed the even tenour of our placid life. One winter's morning
I had risen betimes, and it so chanced that I was the first to open the
massive door that opened on to the street. The snow was falling in slow,
heavy flakes. It was scarcely light. There were no passers-by. The
street was deserted, and covered deep by snow. I was peering through the
gloom, looking for I know not what, when I was startled by a feeble wail
that seemed to come from my very feet. I became aware of a small bundle,
nigh buried in the cold coverlet of snow, that rested on the top most
step of the broad flight that led from the street to the door. I stooped
and picked up the bundle, and brushed off the snow, and carried it
hastily into the kitchen, where the maid was lighting the fire. Between
us we undid the wraps, and within we found a tiny infant, but a few
months old. A scrap of paper was pinned to the poor, thin dress in which
the babe was clad, and on it was scrawled in a rude hand: 'Her name is
Esmeralda.' My mother was hastily summoned from her room. I was banished
the kitchen, and when I was suffered to return beheld the child washed
and kempt and clad in soft, warm flannels, and slumbering peacefully
before a roaring fire on my mother's lap.

"Now, whether it was that my mother's heart yearned for a girl child, or
that the forlornness and helplessness of the babe appealed to her, or
that my own delight in the foundling--whom I made no delay in claiming
as my own treasure-trove--influenced her, I know not, but to all the
counsels of her friends to send the infant to the workhouse she turned a
deaf ear. I cannot, for time presses, and my strength ebbs fast away,
tell how the infant grew in years, in strength, and grace; how we were
brought up together, as though she were indeed my little sister. Now
when I was nineteen years of age, and she a beautiful dark-eyed maiden
some nine years younger, I was sent to the University of Oxford to
pursue my studies and qualify for the ministry, to which my mother had
destined me from my cradle. My vacations were spent mostly in foreign
travel, making the Grand Tour, as it used to be called in my young days.
And so it chanced that I saw little of Esmeralda, until, education being
considered complete, my degree taken, and I admitted to deacon's orders,
I returned in my twenty-seventh year to my mother's house to await my
first curacy. And I found the little maid I had nursed in my arms and
dandled on my knees a beautiful, bewitching woman, with a beauty rare it
made men thrill to look upon. I suppose there must have been some strain
of Eastern blood in her, for though but seventeen she looked older; her
form was fuller, more rounded than those of the maidens of our colder
clime, and there was a seductiveness and a passionate warmth about her
whole being that allured me probably all the more that both by
temperament and from my training my passions were not lightly kindled.

"I should have told you that some faint-hearted efforts had been made
by my mother to ascertain the mystery of Esmeralda's parentage.
Advertisements had been inserted in the papers and the police had been
communicated with shortly after Esmeralda was received into our
household--more from a sense of duty on my mother's part than from any
desire she felt to part with the child. But these efforts, if efforts
they could be called, bore no fruit. But I have reason to believe that
when Esmeralda was in her early teens she received secret communications
that revealed to her the mystery of her birth, and that she had
established secret relations with the author of her being, who, I
strongly suspect, preyed upon the slender allowance of pin-money my
mother gave to Esmeralda.

"But I must be brief. You will have guessed already that Esmeralda and
I, thus brought together again when both were in the full flush of
youth, and when nature clamours for love and love's fulfilling, loved,
and loved none the less ardently that we must conceal our passion.
Though my mother for me ever a tender and thoughtful parent, her
indulgence I knew to have its limits. She was proud of her kith and
kin--the middle classes have their family pride, Abel, not less than
and perhaps with as good a reason as the upper. Moreover she had long
laid her plans for my alliance. I was to mate with the daughter of an
old friend of my father's, a manufacturer like himself, a girl fair
enough to look upon and well dowered to boot, and whom 'tis like enough
I should have learned to love had not my heart been engrossed by
Esmeralda's image. I knew that to thwart my mother in her long-cherished
design would be to court my ruin, for gentle though she was she could
ill bear crossing.

"Have I told you that the man who had been my tutor as a boy and youth,
who had accompanied me on my foreign travels, had remained all these
years an inmate of my mother's house, partly to guide the studies of the
maid, Esmeralda, whom my mother intended for a companion, and perchance
a nurse, and partly as my mother's secretary and business manager--for
my mother's estate, so frugally did she live, and so jealously did she
guard her store, had grown to no mean dimensions? This man, this viper I
should rather call him, had wormed himself into my confidence. I
regarded him as a friend. It was not so much that I confided to him my
love for Esmeralda as that he divined it--the wonder is that my mother
had not herself divined it. When I spoke to him of my fixed resolve to
make Esmeralda my wife he professed the utmost alarm if my mother should
become aware of my infatuation, as he termed it. He affected to dissuade
me from my purpose, and when he found that I laughed his warnings to the
wind he counselled me to a secret marriage--anything rather than tell
my mother, though I am persuaded that had I but been frank and firm my
mother's love would in the end have proved stronger than her pride and
she would have blessed our union. But, I yielded to the insidious advice
of the tempter the more readily, doubtless, that I saw therein the means
of gratifying my love and avoiding a rupture with a parent who, by a
stroke of the pen, could leave me penniless save for the meagre pittance
of a curate.

"Let me hasten to the end. My tutor secured a charming cottage in the
neighbourhood of Grasmere. My mother had gone to Matlock for a three
months' cure. Esmeralda and I journeyed by coach to Gretna Green, and
there were made man and wife. Look in that box, and you will find a copy
of the certificate of our marriage."

I found the document--I found other things as well that made me catch
my breath, but of these anon. It was a certificate of what used to be
called a "red-hot wedding," welded on the anvil for an altar. It ran:

 "KINGDOM OF SCOTLAND.

 "PARISH OF GRETNA.

 "THESE ARE TO CERTIFY TO ALL WHOM IT MAY CONCERN that James Garside,
 of the City of Manchester, in the County of Lancaster, Clerk in Holy
 Orders, and Esmeralda Atkinson, of the same city, Spinster, being now
 both here present, and having declared to me that they are single
 persons, have now been married after the manner of the laws of
 Scotland.
 As witness our hands at Gretna the 13th day of April, 1812.

 "Witnesses: CALEB OSMALSTONE.
            DOUGLAS FEATHERSTONE."

"Atkinson," I repeated, inquiringly.

"Yes, 'twas the name of my mother's old servant. She stood sponsor for
the child when it was baptised. We spent some months of such bliss as it
is given to few to know in the cottage at Grasmere, and there I left my
bride, and returned to my mother's house framing to my parent what
excuse I could for my unwanted and protracted absence. But before I tore
myself from my dear one's arms I knew that she bore beneath her bosom
the pledge of our mutual love, and I thrilled to think that when next I
saw her--for my visits must needs be few--I might clasp our offspring to
my breast.

"Several months elapsed before I was able to contrive a plausible
pretext for absenting myself from home, and during that time my mother
never ceased to press upon me the desirability of paying my court to the
lady of her choice. She threw us constantly together, and so fearful was
I of arousing suspicion in my mother's mind that I affected to share her
views, and paid, with what heart I could, my somewhat halting addresses
to the not unwilling damsel. But at length the glad day came when, under
cover of visiting a college friend in the North, I could take coach for
Westmoreland, and you may judge with what eager ardour I made my way to
the cottage where I had left my wife--for wife she was in the sight of
God, and, I believe, of man. I sped up the garden path as one speeds on
the wings of love; the door was locked, the shutters closed, no smoke
rose from the chimney, sign of life about the place there was none. Half
frantic with fears of I knew not what calamity, I sought the farmer from
whom I had rented the house. He told me my wife had sent the key, along
with a note to be delivered to me if and when I returned to Grasmere.
You will find it there."

Again I sought among the contents of the box, and found a letter written
in a trembling hand, and blotted with many a tear:

"Your tutor has told me all. He says our marriage is no marriage--that
you have tricked me by a farce. He tells me, too, that you are to marry
Miss ----, and that our continued connection will be your ruin. You have
ruined me and broken my poor heart, but I will not stand in the light of
your future. May God forgive you. I go to my own people, if they will
have me. 'T were better I had known no other.--ESMERALDA."

"How I got back to Manchester I cannot tell. I broke in like one bereft
of reason upon my mother and that false villain I had so blindly
trusted. He sheltered himself behind my mother. She pleaded that all had
been done for my best, and that I should live to thank her. In my wrath
I cursed her, and swore she should never more be mother of mine, and
spurning her from me I fled the house.

"I had some slight store of money of my own. I spent it wandering the
country, seeking trace of my lost one. But she had vanished as
completely as if the earth had swallowed her. I left England, and
travelled abroad. One day, I saw in the _Times_ the announcement of
my mother's death. I hastened home. She had made a will leaving me a
small annuity for my life--the bulk of her fortune to that accursed
tutor.

"My first impulse was to reject the legacy. But other counsels
prevailed. I found in time this wild and lone retreat, and here I have
waited for death, for I have neither lived nor cared to live. That box
contains my horde. Take it to your father's keeping. I charge you to
find my wife and child, if child there be. The money is for them. If you
cannot find them in three years from now take it for yourself, Abel, and
may God's blessing be with it and you."

The old man, old not in years but old from privation, neglect, and
mental suffering, sank back upon his pillow, and seemed to swoon away. I
felt in a sore quandary. Here was I, alone in this remote cottage, with
a man to all seeming at death's door, little or no food in the house, no
medicines or restoratives, and, to complicate matters, a box containing
as my hasty rummage in it had disclosed, notes and gold of considerable
value. Like most young people I had practically no knowledge of the
treatment of the sick and I had an unreasoning terror of death. I knew
enough, however, to feel sure that food and warmth and physic must be
had and had at once. I made up a peat fire in the rusty range--the
chimney smoked atrociously at first, but anon the damp was drawn out,
and the fire glowed red and warm. I found some milk in a tin below
stairs, which I judged had been left by some neighbouring farmer's lass.
I warmed it in a pan, and succeeded in getting my patient to swallow a
few spoonfuls. I piled on to the bed all the covering I could find. I
took from the store a spade guinea, carefully locked and stowed away
beneath the bed that precious kist, and then, assuring, or trying to
assure, the half-conscious sufferer that I wouldn't be long gone, I hied
me away across the moors to the "Floating Light." There I purchased a
bottle of brandy and such provisions as I thought most likely to be
useful, and bribed a man I found drinking in the kitchen to make what
speed he could down to Slaithwaite and bring back with him, at any cost,
old William Dean, the doctor who had brought me and our Ruth into the
world, and who cared the bodies of all the Colne Valley from Marsden to
Milnsbridge Then, pretty heavily laden, or rather cumbered than laden, I
set off once more for the hermit's cottage.

Now, by this time the shades of night had begun to fall. There was no
moon and few stars, and the track across the moor was none too plain,
and I had to guide myself some extent by those turf covers those
shooters put up when they are beating the grouse--landmarks I knew well
from frequently passing that way. I was about midway to my destination
when I heard a couple of gunshots in quick succession.

"Strange," I thought. "It's late hours for the shooters to be about.
Happen it's poachers, and if any of those gentry are about yon kist of
gold's none too safe, with no one but a dying man to guard it."

It is curious that at this moment the thought of the Burnplatters
crossed my mind--but they had an unenviable reputation, though, like
enough, like a certain other personage, they were not as black as they
were painted. Anyhow, I increased my pace almost to a run, but had
hardly gone a score of yards when I was brought to a sudden stop by a
sound that lifted the hair on my head. It was a deep moan, as of one in
pain, followed by a petulant curse, and there was the heavy rustling as
of a body dragging through the bracken and heather; another moan, and
many another oath, and then silence.

Now, to be sure I'd enough on my hands with the sick parson, but I could
not find it in my heart to leave a man, or maybe a woman, to perish on
the moor, as wayfarers from Lancashire to Yorkshire, or t'other way
about, often did in dark or fog. I had bought a pound of tallow dips at
the "Floating Light," for I'd no mind to sit out the night with my
patient and ne'er the gleam of a light to company me withal. I put down
my pack, and with much ado struck a light on my tinder box, and not a
dozen yards ahead of me, near the track, sprawled, face downwards, the
body of a man. I turned him over, dipped my kerchief in a pool of
stagnant water, and mopped his forehead, forced some of that precious
brandy down his throat, and had the satisfaction of hearing a deep sigh
and a quick stream of profanity, which, however, I'm fain to confess was
as tuneful to my ears as choicer language for when a man's swearing he's
not like to die.

"Wheer am I, an' who are ta?" And the man, raising himself with a grunt
on to his elbow, peered into my face by the flickering light of the dip.
"If it isn't little Abe." Now I was by no means little, but I suppose
Ephraim--for Ephraim it was, sure enough as I had seen when I turned him
over--still thought of me as the urchin he had companied with as a lad.

"You're on Stanedge Moor, and how you got here and what you're doing in
this coil you known best--up to no good I reckon," I said testily, for
no man of my inches likes calling little. "Seems to me the question is,
being here, how to get away. Are you hurt? You made noise enough."

"Hurt! Aw sud think I am. Howd that silly light to my fooit--th' reight
'un. Poo' mi clog off if yo' can, it's swelled an' all th' daggers i'
hell's shooitin' through it. Tak' this knife an' cut th' clog off, an'
don't be feart of a drop o' blood."

I did as I was bid. "Gi' me th' clog, man--it'll n'er do to leave it on
th' moor for a tell-tale. Not but what th' varmint knew weel enough who
they were shooitin' at."

"Th' varmint?" I queried.

"Aye, them keepers at Bill's o' Jack's. Aw seed 'em, an' they seed me,
worse luck. But aw'm all swimmin'. Gi' us another swig o' that liquor
yo' han i' th' bottle--tho' what yo' done here wi a quart o' brandy to
your own cheek passes me. Ugh!" he cried, as he put his foot to the
ground, "aw'st n'er make o'er to th' Burnplatts at this noit, There's
th' hermit' hut a bit forrard yonder. Aw've teed mony a rabbit to his
door sneck unbeknown to him. Happen he'll ta' mi in for th' neet till
aw rest my foot. Onny port i' a storm, tho' aw'st none relish his
company o'er mich."

There was no help for it, so I picked up my traps and, marvelling
greatly at what was to be the end of it all, led the way to the not
distant cottage, Ephraim leaning heavily on my shoulder and limping
lamely over the sheep track, "breathing out threatenings and slaughter,"
though certainly not against "the disciples of the Lord."

"Them Bradbury's 'st pay for this, or my name's not Eph. o' th'
Burnplatts," he muttered; and I thought it probable they would.

Now if I hadn't a handful I should like to know what man ever had. It
was with the utmost difficulty, with many a groan and many a halt for
breathing space, that I got Ephraim safe landed at the cottage. I made
him as comfortable as I could on some sacking in front of the fire in
the lower room. He clamoured for more brandy, and wanted to finish the
bottle and "be damned to his fooit," as he put it. But I had to have
sense for both--I that was never reckoned to have overmuch for one--and
cut off discussion by carrying the bottle upstairs whither I knew
Ephraim could not clamber. I found Mr. Garside much as I had left him,
whether sleeping or half-conscious I could scarce determine--comatose
Dr. Dean called it when at length--about daybreak--he rode up to the
cottage and had painfully climbed the steep ladder-like staircase,
puffing and blowing like a porpoise, as Ephraim said--for the doctor was
fat and scant of breath.

"I'd hardly have turned out of my warm bed to come to this God-forsaken
place for anyone but your father's son," he growled. "Why didn't you
send to Garstang at Saddleworth; he's nearer. But no! it's Bill Dean
here, and Bill Dean there, till I'm worn to skin and bone."

This as he bent over his elder patient--"that young gallows-lad can
wait," he had remarked--and felt his pulse and turned up his eyelids.
"Clemmed to death, that's what's the matter with him, and it's too far
gone to be stopped I'm feared."

"Don't be frightened to order anything that'll do him good," I said.
"There's money for anything."

"And how may that be?" he asked.

I told him of Mr Garside's secret store, and then by a happy
afterthought, I told him that the old man fancied he had a wife and
child living somewhere, and that he had left it in charge to me to
ferret them out, and if I didn't find them in three years the money was
to be mine.

"Is there much?"

"I haven't counted it--but there's a sight more than ever I saw in my
life before."

"This wants thinking on," said Dr. Dean. "You bide here while I go down
and see to that roving blade. 'Tis only a gunshot in his foot. I'll have
him on his leg's in a day or two. Best have him carted off to th'
Burnplatts. Does he know about this money of the old man's?"

"No, no one knows but you and me, that I'm aware of."

"And best he shouldn't. I wouldn't trust a Burnplatter as far as I can
throw a bull by the tail. But you must have a woman in the place
there'll be one wanted ere many hours be gone; he'll scarce last the day
out, or I'll be cheated. Do you know of any decent body hereabouts?"

I mentioned Mary at Wrigley Mill.

"Couldn't be better. I'll ride on to th' "Floating Light" and have my
breakfast, and sore I need it; and I'll send someone down for her. She
must bring some sheets too. They'll be needed to lay him out. And I'll
draw up some make of a Will about that money. It will never do to have
only your word for it."

Now that very thought had more than once crossed my mind. I suppose I
must have dropped into the deep dreamless sleep of utter exhaustion in
the chair I had drawn to Mr. Garside's bedside. I was roused by a
familiar voice below, plain enough to be heard.

"Weel, if ever aw saw a pig-hoil i' my life, this is it"--'twas Mary
soliloquising--"an' aw reckon this'll be th' pig, he snores enough for a
styeful, choose how. Eigh! Waken up. Who's to do th' house up, an' thee
sprawling on th' hearthstone. Well, of all th' messes! Blood all ovver
th' floor. Th' doctor said nowt about a shambles or he'd no ha' got me
ovver th' moor."

"Mary," I called softly. "It's here you're wanted. I'll see to Ephraim."

And so, to my great relief, I got Mary installed as nurse. I made some
breakfast for Ephraim and myself, to which, despite his wound, which the
doctor had dressed and of which Ephraim made very light, that worthy did
ample justice. Then I curled myself up before the fire and slept like a
log.



CHAPTER III.

POLE MOOR.

ON the third day after Mary's installation as nurse Mr. Garside passed
peacefully away, better cared for in his last days than he had been for
many a long year. Whether he regained full consciousness or not 'tis
hard to say. He rambled in his talk a great deal, and 'twas sometimes
of his mother, sometimes, we judged, of his college days and friends,
but mostly of Esmeralda. He seemed to be, in his sick fancies, in the
cottage at Grasmere, with his bride by his side, and then his face
shone, and his look was the look of a man full of a rich content, but at
times a cloud gathered on his countenance, his brow knitted, and he
would peer anxiously about with a bewildered air as though searching for
his soul's peace. "Esmeralda" was the last word that passed his
lips. We buried him in Saddleworth Churchyard and Mary and myself were
the only mourners.

Before he lapsed to final unconsciousness, whilst yet he had what Mary
called "his know," he signed a document drawn up by Dr. Dean,
embodying the trust he had imposed on me, and appointing me his sole
executor. I had suggested to the good doctor that he should join in the
trust, but he declared with emphasis that he'd had enough to do with
the bodies of the living without taking care of the goods of the dead.

The day before the funeral, not deeming it prudent to leave Ephraim
alone in the house with the dead man's horde, I got him, hobbling
painfully on a crutch, as far as the "Floating Light." There I knew
he could take conveyance to Slaithwaite, and once there I made no doubt
he could shift for himself. I promised that I would see him on my very
next visit to Pole Moor.

Now Ephraim safely off my hands I was anxious to see my father and take
his counsel on various matters, and, above all, to place that precious
kist in a place more secure than a chimney could be deemed to be. I
prevailed upon Jim to accompany me. I had often pressed him to spend a
week-end with me at my father's house, but he had always made excuses,
the chief being that he'd be nervous among "fine fo'k." In vain
I had assured him that he would find no "fine fo'k" at Pole Moor.
Jim had formed his conceptions of a parson from the vicar at St.
Chad's, and I verily believe Jim would have as soon spent a night in
jail as in the Vicarage of St. Chad's--sooner he had himself averred,
if he could have "a reek o' baccy." However, it certainly was not
to be thought of that I should carry the kist and its precious contents
to Pole Moor with no company but my thoughts, for footpads over Stanedge
were as common as blackberries.

So on a bright autumn Saturday morning Jim and I set forth from what had
been the old hermit's abode. We nailed up the door and the shutters
before the window. The few sticks were not worth the moving. The books
Mary took to Wrigley Mill. She had been mightily interested in the Greek
Testament, though when I read her the Sermon on the Mount in that tongue
she pronounced it gibberish and flatly refused to believe that our Lord
or any other being had talked such stuff. As Jim and I strode briskly
across the moor towards our destination, I bearing the box under my arm,
I narrated to my wondering friend the story of the past few days.

"An' how mich did th' owd felly leave behind him?" asked Jim,
eyeing the box.

"Dr. Dean counted the money and made a note of the contents. There's
a gold watch and chain, several rings--one of them of curious design
and set about with precious stones, a woman's ring from the size of
it--I counted nine sapphires and diamonds alternating, and very faintly
the initials "J. E." intertwined. There's 'Mizpah' graven on
the inner side of it."

"That sounds like a Bible name," commented Jim.

"Yes," I reminded him--I fear I rather liked to air my learning
before Jim, and to be sure I must do something to justify the reputation
for scholarship Jim had fastened on me, will I, nill I--"don't you
remember 'twas the name Laban gave to the heap he set up to mark his
covenant with Jacob, saying, 'The Lord watch between me and thee when
we are absent one from another.'"

"Aw n'er heard tell on it," said Jim. "But if it's in th'
Bible aw daresay it's all reight, but it sounds heathenish."

"Dr. Dean says the ring is an engagement ring, and thinks it may have
been given by Mr. Garside to his wife in his courting days and left
behind her when she fled the house."

"More fool oo," quoth Jim, "but what can yo' expect from a
woman. What abaart th' brass?"

"There's over four hundred pounds, what with notes and gold."

"And dost ta tell me tha'rt huggin' ovver four hundred pun' at
this very minute?"

I nodded.

"Four hundred pun'! An' tha's th' heir to it if tha doesn't
find th' lass?"

Again I nodded.

"Hast ta said thi prayer sin' tha knew on 't?"

Again I nodded.

"An' didn't ta pray, as tha nivver prayed afore, that if that lass
wint East the Lord 'ud surely turn thi footsteps West?"

"I can't say I did."

"Weel, if tha hasn't sense for thissen, folk mun ha' sense for
thee. Aw'st put thi father up to it, an' if he'll noan tackle
th' job aw know one o' th' Methody preichers at will. Four hundred
pun'!"

Pole Moor Baptist Chapel stands in about as wild, bleak, and exposed a
spot as a religious community could well have chosen for a place of
spiritual communion, and the stranger passing that way must often have
wondered whence its pastor drew his flock. I've heard my father tell
that his church had its small beginnings in the very heart of
Slaithwaite, worshipping in an upper chamber of "The Silent Woman,"
an inn whose sign depicted a female form bereft of head and so of tongue
and speech. But the Earl of Dartmouth of that day owned all Slaithwaite
and being, of course, a Churchman staunch and true, and, equally of
course, a Tory the good old school, and believing, as Churchmen and
Tories will believe despite long and bitter experience to the contrary,
that the surest way to convince people of the error of their way and to
convert them to the only true faith is to persecute and harry them, set
about, or suffered his creature, the curate of St. James's, to
persecute and harry the deluded worshippers at "The Silent
Woman"--"hardbedders" they were called, because, I suppose, of
the unbending and uncomfortable nature of their doctrine. They were
driven from that snug hostelry and sought in vain within the domain of
the Earl for land on which to build their little Bethel. So they were
fain to erect their chapel on the moor edge, and many and steep and
rough were the weary miles the elect must plod to reach their shrine.
But plod them they did by the score, bringing their dinners with them,
aye, and their teas, too, eating their meals, in the summer time, seated
on the gravestones that soon began to dot the little graveyard of the
chapel.

They were a dour and uncomfortable lot, these fathers in Israel,
"orthodox, orthodox sons of auld John Knox," pitiless in their logic
theologic, hard as granite and unbending as the oak, but just, terribly
just. And argue! Oh, Lord! the times I've heard them after service, as
they smoked their pipes by the fire in the schoolroom in the winter or
under the glad sun in the summer, descant upon predestination and
effectual calling; capping text with text. They were the "elect
according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification
of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus
Christ"; elect "to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled...
reserved in heaven" for them. They were of those "ordained to
eternal life," feeding on the sincere milk of the Word. They hugged to
their souls that hard saying of St. Paul: "Whom he did predestinate
them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and
whom he justified, them he also glorified" They had very vivid
conceptions, too, of the lot of the unregenerate. Hell was very real to
them, and about the tortures of the damned they had no doubt. And there
were so very few that weren't damned, damned from everlasting to
everlasting. In my early youth, whilst still under the influence of this
very literal interpretation of the Scriptures. I came to the conclusion
that I could reckon on my fingers the elect of the Lord, pruning the
elect of Pole Moor, making election of the very elect.

Now will it be credited that my father, who shepherded this ungentle
flock, was of all men that ever I have known the meekest and the
gentlest--to be sure there were those of his congregation who in their
process of winnowing the chaff from the grain had winnowed out my father
himself, perchance he, even he, was not of the truly chosen. But elect
or non-elect, better man never trod shoe leather, none juster, none
truer in speech and deed, none more charitable. We lived miles from the
abodes of many of his church--yet in season and out of season, rain or
shine, he made his visitations, trudging at dead of night, by the light
of moon or lanthorn, across the wild, bleak, oft sodden moors, through
hail, and sleet, and snow, and mire, to some distant homestead to pray
by the bedside of the sick and dying; "in perils of waters, in perils
by his own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city,
in perils in the wilderness,… in perils among false brethren; in
weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in
fastings often, in cold and nakedness." No man ever had a greater
heart in so small a body--for truth to tell, he was but small of
stature and lean withal as lean he might very well be considering how
little he ate of the bread that perisheth and how ill he used his spare
frame. He simply did not know fear, and, whilst all the countryside
trembled and cringed before those godless Burnplatters, he bearded them
in their very den, and so cowed them by the grandeur of his spirit and
the sanctity of his life that they who were said to fear neither God,
man, nor devil, came to reverence my father, and let it be known among
all and sundry that to wrong him was to wrong them, and woe betide the
evil-doer who should forget it.

Now at this time my sister Ruth kept my father's house, my mother,
whose sweet face I scarce remember yet seem at times to catch a glimpse
of in my dreams, being many years dead, though living till enshrined in
my father's heart. Picture a maiden, "sweet and twenty," just as
high as a tall man's heart, light of foot, soft of voice, with wavy
auburn hair, dark-brown, soft eyes, yet not without their roguish
twinkle, tempting lips, teeth of pearl, a neat waist, a neater ankle, a
rounded bust, a shrewd, common-sense mind, a soft heart, and a ready
tongue--and that was Ruth. A ray of sunshine in the house? Pooh! Ruth
was spring and summer all in one, my father's darling, my own torment
and delight, the spoiled pet of the grave elders of the church, and the
idol of their grown sons, whose assiduousness at the Sunday services and
the weekly prayer meetings I very much fear must be set at least as much
to Ruth's score as to our father's.

Now considering how awful were the terrors which the faithful at Pole
Moor escaped 'tis sad to think how lightly they appraised the services
of their pastor, if their appreciation must be measured by the stipend
they afforded him. 'Tis true he lived rent free, had grazing for a
cow, a mistal, a potato patch, pew rents, and the proceeds of an
occasional collection--benefits the pillars of the church enumerated
with unction as they reminded themselves that they did not muzzle the ox
that trod out the corn. But they ever seemed to forget, and my father
was the last to jog their memories, that no one came for alms to Pole
Moor and went empty away. So if we had high thinking at the Manse we'd
low living, and we seemed to thrive on it. We kept no servant now Ruth
was grown, and my father foddered his cow fed his pig "mucked out"
the mistal and stye, mowed his meadow, and dug his garden himself: and
Ruth's firm little hands milked the cow, tended the poultry, made the
butter, made the bread, cooked our rare joints, and kept all as clean as
a new ha'penny.

And so it chanced that as Jim and I drew near the little enclosure
walled off from the moor, which served as our kitchen garden, we came
upon the reverend pastor of Pole Moor, dressed in a long blue linen
smock, his feet shod, in the homely clog, his bare and bald head
perspiring freely as he thrust the prongs of a fork into the earth and,
turned up the soil and threw the gathered potatoes into a small round
basket.

"Who's th' owd felly?" asked Jim in a whisper.

"Well, father, how are you?" And I clasped his outstretched hand in
mine as he drew the other across his moist brow before pulling his horn
spectacles from the crown of his head, where they rested when he was not
sleeping or engaged in searching for them in every nook and corner of
the house, and often even then. "This is my friend Jim, of whom
you've heard me speak."

"And welcome kindly, Jim, to Pole Moor. You'll stop the week-end, of
course, though I fear you'll have to share Abel's bed--that is if
it will hold you both. Have you seen Ruth? She'll be milking, I doubt.
But come your ways into the house. You'll be tired after your walk,
and a pint of home-brewed won't come amiss. Or would you prefer
buttermilk? Ruth! Ruth!" my father called, and as we entered the tiny
manse--Jim spent a good few minutes scraping his feet on the doormat,
an act his mother solemnly enjoined upon him e'er we left--Ruth
herself emerged, hot and flushed, from the barn, her milking-stool
tucked under one arm, a frothing piggin of milk fresh from the udders
borne carefully in her right hand.

"Don't come near me, Abe, or I'st spill."

Jim has since confided to me that at first glance of my sister's
sonsie face and first sound of her tuneful voice his heart gave a bound
within his breast and then left his keeping for good and all--and
indeed the maiden was a picture fair enough to look upon. Anyway he grew
red in the face, pulled off his cap, and made what he called "a bow
and a scrape," whilst Ruth smiled up into his face with one swift look
that I doubt not took in his six feet six inches at a glance, and then
scurried off, ostensibly to draw the home-brewed; though as a rule beer
barrels are not kept in the bedroom, and it doesn't need to don a
clean print dress and ribbons and lash your hair before drawing a jug of
ale.

We quenched our thirst with that modest home-brewed, Jim vowing without
a qualm that better he'd never supped, no not in any inn between
Greenfield and Huddersfield, and professing incredulity when assured
that Ruth had brewed it herself; though, if truth must be told, the
liquor was little other than coloured water with a head on it, and Jim
could have drunk a barrel of it without, as they say, "getting
forrader"--but I blush to say that from this out Jim began to display
powers of dissimulation hitherto unsuspected, even going so far as to
assure my reverend sire, before we left Pole Moor, that he had long felt
uneasy about his own soul's welfare, and doubted he should never find
peace till he had been duly "dipped"--Jim, who could scarce be
dragged to church, and who made open scoff of the Methody carryings-on
at Wrigley Mill.

"You'd best fodder the cow, Ruth, and then we'll have tea--the
lads will be sharp set. Can you manage to cut the ham, or shall I help
you?" But Jim declared that if there was one thing he could do better
than another in this world it was to water and fodder a cow, bed her
down, and muck out a shippon and as for cutting ham, he had missed his
vocation in not being 'prenticed to a butcher. So Ruth tripped off to
the kitchen, Jim, bending his broad shoulders to avoid banging his head
as he passed through the low doorway, lumbering in her wake like a
man-o'-war convoyed by a saucy frigate.

My father settled himself with a sigh of satisfaction in his easy chair,
took his churchwarden from the mantelpiece, emptied the remainder of the
beer into his pint pot, lit his pipe of "old Women's baccy," as
shag was called in those days, and prepared to listen to my usual budget
of the doings at Wrigley Mill during the last while back, casting
curious and inquiring looks at the heavy box I had placed upon the
table.

"I've a strange tale to tell, father," I began. "And fain I am
to be at home and have your counsel and assistance. You knew Mr. Turner,
the hermit of Stanedge Moor, as they called him?"

"I rather knew of him than knew him. I came across him at times in my
journeyings and would fain have communed with him, but he held aloof. A
lone man, and I fear an unhappy man--but it was not for me to force
myself upon him. Well, what of him?"

"He's dead, and he's committed that box to my keeping." And then
I told my tale.

"Now, what's to be done, father? Four hundred pound and more's a
sight of money. You'll have to look after that. I can't keep it at
Wrigley Mill, that's certain sure. Mary would go off her head if she
knew it was in the house, and I'd be dreaming of burglars and
cutthroats till my nights were a burden to me."

"This is a heavy matter Abel, my son--one to be pondered over nor
determined lightly, to be taken to the Lord in Prayer. But one thing is
borne in upon me, a thought that comes to me from the Book of Books,
that well of wisdom--you must not do after the manner of that wicked
and slothful servant to whom his lord said, 'Thou oughtest to have put
my money to the exchangers and then at my coming I should have received
my own with usury.' This lucre must to the bank that it increase and
fructify till such time as the woman and her child be found."

"That's plain as a pikestaff," I agreed. "But what can I do to
find them? It seems to me Mr. Garside did all a man could do at the
time, and after all those years…."

"I'll think upon it, Abel, and a way may be opened unto us"--and
that was all I could get out of him that night. It seemed to me that the
good man had resolved upon a policy of what I have heard called
"masterly inactivity"; and I'd great trust in my father's
judgment. And perhaps at the back of my head lurked insidious the
thought, why should I be in such a hurry to be shut of four hundred
pounds? I tried to banish this unworthy prompting of the devil, but
there I confess it was, and I'll not set up to be better than my
neighbours.

It was a glorious night--the moor was just bathed in a moonlight you
could almost see to read by. Ruth and Jim had disappeared into the
mistal, some hay wanted cutting, and chop grinding, so Jim had said. I
put my head through the shippon door as I passed and there were Jim and
Ruth sat on a heap of pulled hay, the cow was bedded down for the night
and placidly chewing her cud--but Ruth and Jim seemed to have found a
deal to say to each other, and I was in no ways minded to disturb them
and take Jim away, for the simple reason that I was bent on an errand on
which it is proverbial that two are company and three are none. I set my
face towards Ainley Place and Burnplatts, pretending to myself that
'twas but Christian charity to enquire as to the progress of Ephraim
o' Burnplatt's game foot, but knowing full well in my heart of
hearts, which beat tumultuous at the bare thought, that my eyes ached
for another sight of the maiden Miriam; but how to compass my design I
must perforce leave to the chapter of accidents.

Some hundred yards or so above the cluster of a score or more of the
straw-thatched cots or hovels of mud and rubble that constituted the
notorious hamlet, I came across a surly looking customer, clad in
fustian and wearing a moleskin cap, seated on a low wall with a cur as
unprepossessing as himself perched by his side. The beast bristled and
shewed his teeth viciously, but the man quieted it with a word.

"Yo're out late, mester, an' summat out o' yo'r latitude,
aw'm thinkin'. Strangers are noan so welcome at Burnplatts this time
o' neet. But happen yo're a buyer? Dun yo' want a hoss or a moke
belike? Aw can deal wi yo' for th' finest, clivverest donkey as
ivver went a buntin'--an' cheap, too."

I said I was in no present need of either horse or donkey.

"It's been warm to-day," he volunteered.

"Pleasantly so."

"Did yo' come bi 'Th' Sun.'"

I acknowledged that I had passed the doors of that hospitable inn.

"Rare ale at 'Th' Sun.'"

I agreed.

"Aw could sup a quart now, by gow I could."

I fumbled in my breeches pocket and pulled forth a silver coin. The
rogue's eyes glistened.

"I don't want a horse. I want to know in which of these houses I
shall find Ephraim Sykes."

"Yo'r noan after him, are yo'?"

"After him?"

"Aye, a cop."

I laughed. "No, a friend. Ephraim and I have been friends since we were
lads together. I know he's had an accident to his foot, and I want to
see how he's going on."

"He lives in yon hoil yonder, th' furthest fro' here. I'd best go wi'
yo'--th' dogs 'ud welly worry y' if yo' went by yo'rsen." He got off
the wall, his cur slunk at his heels, and we passed through the hamlet,
our progress punctuated by a concert of howling, growling, baying, and
barking from at least a hundred canine throats. We came to a
single-storied house, like the rest, straw-thatched and rudely built,
but I noticed, even by that illusive light, that it was longer and
neater than others that we passed. A red light shone through a curtain
drawn across the single window. "This is owd Mother Sykes's," my guide
said, as I halted near the low door, and I slipped into his hand the
coveted coin.

I knocked.

There was the sound as of muttering voices, and at last, long last, the
portal was opened about half an inch, and I caught a glimpse of the old
beldame I had seen at the Wakes.

"What dost want?" she said in a harsh voice. "We're a' i' bed."

"I want to see your Ephraim. It's Abe Holmes, tell him."

At my name she opened the door grudgingly, and I entered the low room.
It was bare to the smoke grimed rafters. The walls were whitewashed, or
had been once upon a time. The floor was of hard earth, but strewn with
rushes. There was a sullen fire in a grate in a yawning chimney place,
so wide and deep that it afforded room within the chimney nook for a
seat on either side of the fire. A great iron pot hung over the fire,
suspended by a chain attached to a bar across the chimney, and if my
nose did not deceive me a very savoury supper was in preparation. There
was a round three-legged table, three chairs, and a long oak settle, on
which Ephraim lay covered with sacking. The house had clearly two rooms,
for I noticed a doorway, and I concluded rightly that this inner chamber
was the sanctum of Mother Sykes and the maiden I yearned to see. I
strained my ears for sound of voice or movement within the room, but
heard none.

The old dame seated herself on a stool before the fire, at times rising
slowly and feebly and stirring the contents of the simmering pot with a
thible.

"Well, how's your foot, Ephraim?" I asked, cheerily as I could.

"Granny theer has bathed it wi' some mak' o' herb--oo's gret on herbs
is Granny an' it's done it more good nor all th' bottles in th' doctor's
shop."

"Dock-leaves an' spring watter, nowt no more," muttered the old dame.

"Aw can put mi fooit to th' ground now, an' I'st be dancin' in a week,
an' then it'll be 'Oh! be joyful' for yon Bradburys at Bill's o'
Jack's."

"What were you doing on the Moor?" I asked. "Nowt, just now. Aw hadn't
even th' tyke wi' me. Nor a net, nor trap, nor gun, nor nowt. Aw were
just comin' whom. To be sure aw'd takken a short cut across th' Moor, so
aw suppose aw wer' trespassin' But they' d no ca' to shooit me for that.
But us is fair game. 'Gi' a dog a bad name an' hang him' 's true Gospel.
But there's law even for vermin, an' if we cannot get it fro' th'
justices--an' weel we know we cannot--we'st tak' it."

"Why not have them up?" I suggested.

Ephraim snorted contemptuous. "Tak' my advice, Abe. If ever yo' fall out
with the devil don't yo go to hell for justice; an' it's th' same thing
as a man suspected o' an unlicensed liking for fur an feathers appealing
to th' beaks for fair play. Quod 'em fust, an' try 'em afterwards, is
their way wi' a Burnplatter."

I couldn't help thinking that in nine cases out of ten the method, if
somewhat arbitrary, met the merits of the matter, but I did not feel
called upon to say as much to Ephraim.

"I called at 'The Sun' as I came by," I said, sheepishly. "I didn't know
how you might be off for brandy. It's useful in cases of sickness."

"I'm very sick, to be sure," said Ephraim with great promptitude, "an'
so's Granny, be'nt yo' Granny?" A wintry smile parted the withered lips,
and she hobbled to an old oaken cupboard that fitted into a corner of
the room, and produced three drinking horns, rimmed with silver--"th'
wedding horns," she called them. She produced also a short black pipe,
crammed it with tobacco, took a hearty swig at the potent liquor, and
sat down before the fire, sucking at her pipe in huge content, and
condescending to eye me with much less disfavour than her reception had
displayed.

"And this," I could not help the repulsive reflection, "is the
grandmother of my peerless Miriam!"

I rose to go. I itched to ask after Miriam, but somehow the words would
not come. I could not place her in that coarse environment. I loathed to
think of her as the associate of these abandoned Burnplatters.

"I'd be careful how you meddle with those Bradbury's," was my parting
counsel to Ephraim. "The law's the law, you know; and 'tis poor work for
a horse to kick against the prick of the spur, and just as idle for a
man to run his head against a stone wall. I'd give them a wide berth if
I were you, Ephraim."

"Yo'd turn t' other cheek, I suppose," sneered Ephraim. "But yo' see I'm
not a parson's son, an' if I were I could find a text or two more to my
thinking than that--'an eye for an eye an' a tooth for a tooth is
somewhere i' t' Bible, or I'm mista'en."

I remembered to have heard my father say that the devil not only could
quote the Scriptures to his purpose, but on one memorable occasion had
actually done so. But every man to his trade. I'm no preacher and just
as certainly I was not Ephraim's keeper. So I took my leave, promising
to look in again. Ephraim said neither yea nor nay to this, but the old
dame, telling me they kept better brandy at "The Star" than "The Sun,"
assured me I should be welcome.

I breathed more freely once out of that hamlet of ill-repute, and set
off at a good pace towards Pole Moor, lamenting the failure of my
attempt to get sight once more of Miriam, and wondering greatly what
could have got her.

And lo! a mile and more from Burnplatts I spied her walking slowly
homewards. Her step was listless, her whole being drooped. As I drew
near I saw her features plainly by the moon's cold light, and if I erred
not a tear glistened on the long black lashes that curtained her
glorious eyes. So rapt was she in thought that she was unconscious of my
approach, and when I stood right in her path she started with a little
cry, and her hand went to her bosom.

"Miriam!" I cried, and stretched out both my hands.

"Why, 'tis Abel Holmes" she said, and a blush mantled on her cheek If
I'm any reader of what the poet calls the light that lies in woman's
eyes the maid was glad see me, and yet alarm mingled with her joy. She
glanced apprehensively around the moor.

"Nay, we have it to ourselves," I laughed, reading her thoughts "But
you're in trouble, Miriam I'm sure of it. Why your cheek is wet. Has
anyone ill-used you? And I clenched my fist. I felt just then as if I
could face an army of Burnplatters, and would welcome the chance of
braying the lot to a jelly.

"Nay, 'tis nought, Abel, only thoughts, idle thoughts. They come over me
at times when I'm all by my lone, and they make me sad. But perhaps I
oughtn't to call you Abel. But I heard your brave friend call you Abel."

"Abe, more like."

"Ah, well, 'tis all one. And so I thought of you as Abel."

"Then you have thought of me," I put in eagerly. "And so have I of you,
Miriam. What a sweet name; I never thought a flame could sound so sweet.
I've whispered it to my heart a thousand times, and the birds in the sky
sing it to me, and the soft winds breathe it in my ear, and the very
leaves of the trees rustle it, Miriam, Miriam."

"Hush, hush, you must not say such things. Who am I but the poor outcast
maid, and you the good parson's son. 'Tis folly. And what do you know of
me? Why, you've scarce ever seen me, though many's the time I've watched
you and your sister gathering bilberries on the moor, and wished that I,
too, had a brother.

"You've Ephraim," I said.

"Ephraim! Ephraim is not my brother. I could find it in my heart to wish
he was. He is my cousin. At least they say so. But I don't know, it's
all so dark to me. You see, I never knew either father or mother. Ever
since I can remember 'twas only granddam and then Ephraim that they
say's my cousin. But I don't know, I don't know. I don't feel it here,"
and she passed her hand to her heart. "Ah, 'tis a piteous thing never
to have know a mother's love," and her voice broke, and the tears
threatened to fall.

"But they're kind to you, Miriam?"

"Kind? Ah! Yes. They mean to be kind. They call me their Queen, and some
of the older ones tell of days before they came to Burnplatts, when they
had a Queen of their own, and they say I'm come to bring those days
again. But oh! how I loathe it all the lying, the drinking, the
stealing, the cursing. And the women! They're worse than the men. And
they hate me and speak ill of me because I will not be as they are. Why,
even Ephraim bids them leave me alone."

"And why do you wish Ephraim were your brother?"

"Because--because then," she faltered, and hung her head in shamed
confusion, "oh! then he'd be fond of me--in another way. But you won't
understand."

Oh, didn't I though.

"Well, never mind about Ephraim now," I said. "Tell me about yourself."
We'd walked slowly on, side by side, away from Burnplatts, and had come
to a small plantation of wind-battered trees that sheltered us from
view, and we sat upon a granite boulder that bulged through the turf.
"Tell me about yourself, Miriam--how do you pass your time, what do you
do?"

"Oh! I can find enough to do. I knit. I'm a famous knitter. Granddam
taught me that, and she sells the things I knit at the farmhouses round;
and I make mops and brooms--they say mine are the cleverest fingers in
all Burnplatts; and then, when I can buy a book, I read."

"Read!" I could not help exclaiming, for though it has been said that
reading and writing come by Nature, well I knew that Nature's travails
need a midwife if reading and writing are to be the issues.

"Aye, those were happy days when I learned to read and write. I was only
a wee child then, and old Daddy was alive and dwelt with us at
Burnplatts."

"Old Daddy! You're rich in relations‚" I broke in jealously.

She laughed merrily. "Daddy was no relation. 'Tis but the name we all
called him by. He used to live at Burnplatts, but he's been dead these
many years. I don't know how he came to be there, a poor, harmless,
shiftless, old man he was. They all made game of him, and he was at
everyone's beck and nod. But they didn't grudge him meat and drink when
they found he could learn me to read and write, and sums, too," she
added triumphantly. "I've read the 'Pilgrim's Progress' twenty times,
and twenty times to that, and when you tore me from that horrid man at
the Wakes I likened you to Greatheart in the story."

I believe I blushed. "I'd have fared badly but for Jim," I told her.

"Oh! Jim," she said disparagingly, with that utter lack of justice in
the award of praise and blame which riper years have taught me to look
for her in her sex.

Well now, how long we sat there I don't know: it seemed but a few
minutes. But suddenly she sprang up in consternation. "I must be going;
they'll be searching for me."

"I'll see you home," I said. "Tarry a while, Miriam, I've such a lot to
say."

"I daren't. I must go, and go alone. You must not be seen with me.
Granddam would bar me in, and Ephraim--oh! I daren't think what Ephraim
would do. He's brave and means to be kind. But you cannot tell what he's
like when his blood's up and the drink's in him."

"I'm not feared," I said stoutly.

"No, but I am. Burnplatters don't stick at trifles, and a knife in the
back on a dark night's little to them. Never come nigh Burnplatts
again."

"But, Miriam, see you I must. See, I'll bring Ruth, my sister Ruth.
You'd love Ruth."

"Aye, but would Ruth love me?"

"I'll go bail," I answered with great confidence.

"I should dearly like it. But how to manage it. When will you be on Pole
Moor again? To-morrow night I'll be here an hour after sunset. And now
go, go. Good-night and go."

I pressed her hand and she sped away on feet that seemed scarce to touch
the heather.



CHAPTER IV.

THE TRYST.

THE next day, being the Sabbath, all our household must go to Chapel.
Jim, contrary to his wont on the day of rest, was astir betimes. We had
shared the same bed, and I should think that between cockcrow and seven
o'clock Jim had drawn his great silver watch from under his pillow a
score of times, and seemed to find the hours go on leaden feet. To my
impatient inquiry why he couldn't be still and give me a chance of
dropping off, he explained that he had promised our Ruth to milk the cow
for her. Now I am firmly persuaded that Jim had never performed that
delicate operation before, and for anything he knew to the contrary the
udders might be relieved of their milky stream by machinery. At last, to
my great content he got up, dressed, and stole down the creaking
staircase in his stocking feet, and I heard him lighting the kitchen
fire and, if I greatly erred not, vigorously fettling his boots--at
which I marvelled not a little, for at Wrigley it was his mother who lit
the fire and cleaned his boots--but then to be sure, Ruth was not his
mother, nor yet his wife.

I suppose I shall never forget my father's sermon of that, morning, nor,
I think, will Jim. I learned long afterwards that it had been composed
by my father and was that morning preached because one of the members of
Pole Moor had so far fallen from grace as to marry one of the
uncovenanted worshippers at St. James's instead of fixing his affections
upon a sister of the true faith.

Now, my father read as his first lesson the twenty-fifth of Numbers, and
when he read the words, "And behold one of the children of Israel came
and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman in the sight of Moses
and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who
were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation," I
could have sworn that he allowed his eyes to dwell sternly upon me--so
true is it that conscience doth make cowards of us all; and when the
sacred word went on to tell how Phinehas rose up from among the
congregation and took a javelin in his hand, and went after the man of
Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of
Israel, and the woman through her belly, I caught myself glaring
defiantly round the unconscious worshippers of Pole Moor and mentally
daring one and all to take up a javelin or, what would come handier to
them, a pitchfork against me and Miriam. And the preacher's text was
sixth of second Corinthians, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with
unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with
unrighteousness? and what Communion hath light with darkness? and what
concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth
with an infidel?" And noticed that Jim fidgeted uneasily in his seat and
glanced oft and furtively at Ruth; but she sat unmoved alike by lesson,
text, and the diatribes my good father hurled against the daughters of
the Erastian heretics And, indeed, I have ever noticed that whilst women
are more devout than men, the shafts of theology fall harmless against
the adamant of their common-sense. But Jim I knew was not a little
perturbed in mind by my father's discourse, as I gathered later from his
indirect questioning.

"Who were Belial, Abel?"

"Belial?" I questioned in surprise.

"Aye, him 'at your father read about out o' th' Bible. He seemed to ha'
a rare grudge agen th' poor chap, choose who he were."

"Why, I'm not quite sure, Jim; but I think it's a polite name for the
devil."

"Phew! Auld Harry! An' well he might ha'. But surely he doesn't mean 'at
all th' fo'k 'at hasn't been reightly dipped be sons o' Belial. An', by
th' same token, what for should he be so bitter agen that Moabitish
woman? That were a foulish name he ca'ed her. Th' poor wench had done
nought wrong 'at aw could mak' out. But if it's i' th' Bible aw suppose
it's all reight, an', to be sure, your father's further larnt nor us,
an' he sud know."

Now it was not for me to cast a doubt upon my father's teaching, but I
had to comfort Jim some way.

"I take it 'tis but a manner of speaking, Jim. Religious people get into
a way of flinging texts about. Now there's one consolation about texts.
If you find one that seems to bear all one way, you've only to look long
enough and you'll find another that bears just as plainly the other way.
That's why religious people, no matter what sect they belong to, can
always find unction for their own souls, and nettles for other folk to
sit on."

"But your feyther seemed terrible in earnest. I didn't rightly
understand all he said. He's a varry difficult man to sit under is yo'r
feyther. When I go to Church aw can sleep reight through th' sermon and
o'er wakken till th' parson gets to 'And now to God the Father…' But
aw n'er closed mi e'en all this forenoon. He seems fair set agen th'
Church fo'k. Aw rekkon, now, if onnybody but a Baptist went after your
Ruth your father 'ud show him to th' door i' double quick time."

"I don't think he'd like it, to be sure," I conceded.

Jim looked very crestfallen.

"But then, you know, Jim, the fold is always open. Anyone can be dipped
after full approval. He might attend regularly at Pole Moor, say for
twelve months, and then I daresay he would be received into the company
of the elect."

"But don't you think your feyther'd smell a rat? Mightn't he tumble to
it 'at th' chap were after Ruth?"

"Not he, i' faith," I answered with confidence. "A preacher's only too
willing to believe that he's the lure. And then, you know, Jim, if I
know anything of our Ruth, all the texts in the Bible wouldn't prevent
her having the man she'd set her heart on."

"Aw'm fain to hear it, Abe. Not that it's onny business o' mine, yo'
know. Aw were only axing in a general sort o' way, you know."

"Of course," I said, as Jim seemed to look for some comment on this
remark. "Of course."

"You mean 'at 'oo's booked already?"

"I mean nothing of the sort. Why, she's only a chit of a girl yet.
'Twill be time enough for Ruth to be thinking of courting in another ten
years' time."

"Ten fiddlesticks," quoth Jim, rudely. "How mich younger is she than
yersen, I sud like to know."

"Oh! that's different," I snapped.

"Aw dunnot see it," said Jim; and we arrived at his mother's house in
Wrigley Mill Fold as nearly on the verge of a tiff as ever we had been
in our long acquaintance.

Now I suppose it was because I was not quite easy about my own affairs
that I had listened with less than my usual patience to Jim's
maunderings. When chapel loosed that morning I had whispered to Ruth
that I wanted some private talk with her; and, our simple midday meal
concluded, and the pots sided away, she had joined me as I sauntered
expectant in the garden. I drew her away from the house, and then I
poured into her ears the story of the events that had so strangely
broken the even tenor of my life--not omitting the scene at the Wakes,
in which Jim had figured so bravely.

"My!" she commented, "wouldn't I just like to have seen Jim throw that
gamekeeper head over heels. He's a proper man is Jim. And so 'twas he
after all rescued the poor girl from the brute's clutches. Not but what
she deserved what she got--what does she want trolloping about at Fairs
and Wakes? Why can't she stop at home and earn her living like a decent
body?"

"Oh! Ruth," I protested.

"Oh! you may 'Oh! Ruth' me; but it's there all the same. She's no better
than she should be, I'st warrant. Men don't go mauling lasses about in
that fashion unless they've been led up to it by th' girls themselves I
know their artful ways," she added vindictively. "And I suppose Jim's
head over heels in love with the girl. It always happens so in th'
story-books."

"I don't think Jim's given a second thought to her," I hastened to
assure her, for I saw which way the cat jumped "It's me," I added
lamely, stammering and blushing like the booby I felt.

"You, you!" she cried. "Oh! Abel, what will father say? I'll be bound
that's what he was driving at with his Midianitish woman, and I thought
it as that girl down at Slaithwaite. Somebody's been filling his ears
with a fine tale."

"Let's hope not," I said, affecting a cheerfulness I was far from
feeling. "But, father or no father, I'm going to get Miriam away from
those Burnplatts riff-raff if it's to be done by hook or crook. A man's
not a pig if he chances to have been born in a stye, and Miriam's a good
girl, Burnplatter or no Burnplatter. And I want you to help me, Ruth.
I'm hard hit, sis, and that's the truth o' 't."

Now, I suppose there never was maiden yet born into this world who has
not revelled in a love story. You've only to look at the dear creatures
as they crowd round a church door at a wedding to make sure of that. The
sight of a white veil and orange blossoms sets their sweet hearts all of
a quiver. They're so in love with love that if they haven't a romance of
their own they're quick to enter into another's, and if the course of
true love doesn't run smooth it's not for want of willing help to
straighten the way. And I dare say my astute sister may have reflected
that one good turn deserves another, and that she herself might have
need of a brother's backing in the days to come. Anyhow, though with
many a discouraging shake of her clever little head, she promised me to
do what she could to win to speech with Miriam and help me to my heart's
desire. Though what she could do she avowed she failed to see.

"She's a strange girl, that Miriam of yours," she averred. "I've seen
her scores of times these years back. Why, she can't be as old as I am
for I remember her, a little, black-eyed, wild-looking, elfish thing,
going about the moors with that half-witted Daddy folk said was such a
scholar. I've come across her bilberrying, or sat upon a boulder making
up bunches of wild flowers, and singing softly some strange heathenish
song--she's a sweet voice enough, I'll allow. But she's either feart or
proud. I'd have made up to her many's the time for my heart ached for
the girl brought up among those good-for-nought Burnplatters, but no!
she was off, like an unbroken colt, before I could say ten words. And
more by token I'm a bit feared myself o' that old witch she goes about
with. Folk say she's got the evil eye, and the girls always cross their
fingers when she goes by."

"I'm surprised at you, Ruth. Where's your Christianity?"

"That's all very well, Abel. But facts are facts, and there's none so
much smoke but what there's a fire somewhere. She's an evil name in the
countryside, and I could wish your sweetheart--if it has to be, though
let's hope you'll cure of it--had anyone but her for a granny. Then
there's that Ephraim--not but what he might have been all right if he'd
been reared different. I remember him as nice a lad as ever strode--but
those Burnplatters would spoil a saint."

"But about. Miriam?" I interrupted, for I was not greatly concerned to
hear my sister at large upon the possibilities of Ephraim's nature.

"When are you to see her again?"

"To-night, please God."

"I'd leave God out of the question in this job, Abel. Let's hope it
isn't all a peck of the other one's brewing."

"Pshaw!" was all I'd patience to utter.

"Well, 'pshaw' be it. You see Miriam and tell her, I'll make it in my
way to meet her on the moor, and if she's a mind to be friends with me,
why, for your sake, Abel, I'll go far out of my way to be friends with
her. Though what th' congregation will say if they come to know of my
'companying with her and that they will, for certain sure, is more than
I care to think."

"Can't you say you're trying to convert her Ruth? There's more
rejoicing, you know, over one sinner that repenteth--though I'll knock
the man down that calls Miriam a sinner. Still, if she could be got to
chapel…."

"Abel Holmes wouldn't fail to be at chapel, too. Why, man, I don't
suppose the poor girl's got a go-to-meeting frock to bless herself with.
But there, Jim's come out of the house and gone into the barn. He'll be
lighting his pipe and setting th' hay on fire if I don't watch him. Go
your ways, Abel, and good luck to you. 'Who maun to Coupar, maun to
Coupar.' What has to be, will be's good doctrine, if all's fore-ordained
from the beginning; but I could have wished the good Lord had ordained
anyone but a Burnplatter for my sister-in-law"--and off she tripped
towards the shippon.

I could scarce wait till our Sunday "drinking"--they call it tea
nowadays--before I was off to keep my tryst with Miriam, making what I
felt to be the lamest of excuses for shirking the evening service.
Sundown, Miriam had set, and that I took to be about the time my father
would have inverted the hour-glass on the edge of his pulpit and begun
one of those long discourses of his that nothing short of an earthquake
could have curtailed. So over the moors I sped on the wings of love,
only, of course, to reach the plantation long before there were signs of
Miriam, and to pass the interval in an agony of longing and
apprehension. Sober-minded folk, with as much blood in their bodies as
there is in a fish's tail, may marvel at the fever that now contained
me and point sagaciously to the fact that I knew little or nothing of
the maiden.

But love, I take it, is like the wind that bloweth where it listeth, and
one cannot tell whence it cometh. Time will not breed it, nor does it
come of the will, nor yet of judgment and calculation. A man cannot love
where he will, nor where he should, nor can he deny love entry when it
clamours at the door of his heart. 'Tis like the importunate widow; it
will not be said nay. And to my thinking love is born full grown, hot,
and lusty. It isn't a seedling that that has to be watered and sun-shone
into life, nor yet a puny weakling that has to be coddled into strength
and vigour. It is born a giant, and every man it sways is a hero for the
nonce. Nor, I doubt, can love be cast out by prayer and fasting.

But it was not of philosophising I dreamed as I paced on and about that
plantation, glancing at my watch and that laggard sun a thousand times,
and raking the horizon with anxious eye. I vow I knew by the thumping of
my heart that she was near ere sight or sound revealed her approach, and
at weary length she came, not from the direction of Burnplatts, but as
though she had made a wide detour, as indeed I learned she had, fetching
a compass of many a mile's length, and heeding the distance not one jot,
for in those days, when coach fares were high, people had legs and knew
how to use them, too, and thought little of covering on foot forty or
fifty miles of rough country between sunrise and sundown of a summer's
day.

Now all the way from Pole Moor I had been inventing speeches in my head
to outpour to Miriam. I had framed compliments after the manner of the
gallants of whom I had read in books. I had even ransacked my memory for
poetry, but could think of nothing but that silly jingle--

    "Carnation's red,
      The violet's blue,
    The rose is sweet,
      And so are you;"

but those Valentine lines I dismissed as an utterly inadequate
expression of my sentiments And, after all, it was love's labour lost,
for, when she drew near me I could only grasp her hand and gaze upon her
face till she would not meet my eye, but hung down her head and fetched
her breath as if she'd been running, though I vow she must have crawled
to the place. And when speech came to me all I could find to say at
first was that it had been a grand day but was cooler now; and then a
clucking grouse whizzed past not a stone throw from us, swift and strong
on wing, and chuntering its weird "Go back, go back," almost as plain as
a man can speak. We started away from each other as if we'd been our
first parents in Eden caught talking to the serpent, for, indeed,
there's no gainsaying our nerves were all a-quiver that night. Miriam,
being a woman, was the first to recover her self-possession.

"Where's Ruth?" she asked. "I thought you'd bring your sister. I
shouldn't have come, but for that--at least, well, perhaps not."

"Come, that's better," I said. "You'll see Ruth fast enough. She's just
dying to see you." Now that was pure invention.

"Ah, why so?" And then I saw my opening.

"Why! Because I've told her, Miriam, what an angel you are, and how
lonesome, and how much in need of a sister's sympathy and help. And I've
told her what I've come here this night to tell you--that I love you, I
love you, I love you. Oh! Miriam, I'm not clever, and I cannot twist my
tongue to smooth speeches, but I know this, that you are the sun of my
heaven, the light and warmth of my life. I haven't lived till now. I've
breathed, but I haven't lived, and now I cannot think of life without
you, Miriam."

Her bosom rose and fell tumultuous; she swayed as though a sudden
weakness had filched her strength; and she looked at me ah! well, I have
seen that look in one woman's eyes, and those were hers, and at that
glance my heart leaped in my breast, and I had my arm about her waist
and she was clasped to my breast, and I was raining kisses on her dark
tresses, her cheeks, her quivering lips And it wasn't the russet moor
by Burnplatts we stood oh then, nor did the grey, Puritan sky of an
English autumn arch above our heads, nor were those the notes of common
moorland songsters that sang their evening hymn--we stood entwined on
the plains of Paradise, and heaven's own light bathed us in its
unspeakable effulgence, and heaven's choir luted ravishing music to our
ears. 'Twas love, the first, pure, soul-revealing love of man and maid:
the nectar one tastes but once, and tasting first knows life.

The sky was studded with stars before I would let Miriam go, though many
a time she vowed she dare not stop a minute, and made to go, and as many
times shrank coyly back into the haven of my arms, and giving back kiss
for kiss. And then she would have gone with my purpose half fulfilled,
but that in pulling out my watch I drew out also the ring which Mr.
Garside had given me for my own, the ring engraved "Mizpah," that even
by the moon's light sparkled and glistened as I slipt it on to Miriam's
finger.

"No! no! not there. I musn't wear it there. See, it shall be close my
heart," and she kissed it and slid it within the folds of her dress.
"I'll wear it there, and no one at Burnplatts must see it. Why, there's
men there would rob a church for less than these bright stones. And
Granny and Ephraim Oh! I'm feart, I'm feart. Best take it back, Abel,
and keep it for me till we're----," and then she stopped in sweet
confusion.

"Nay let it bide where 'tis. But tell me, Miriam why do you fear?"

"Because ever since I was a little one Granny's always said I was to wed
Ephraim and he, and he--oh! in his wild way I think he loves me. And
I'd always taken it for granted that I should be his wife though now I
know I didn't love him. And then you came, and I knew what love is, and
it seems strange that ever I should have thought of Ephraim in that way.
But, I'm feart, oh! I'm feart--not for myself, but for you, when
Ephraim knows the truth. Oh! what should I do if harm came to you, if my
love should be your curse?"

Of course I chided her for her groundless fears, a lass's whimsies I
called them, and, clasping her in a long embrace, bade her banish her
gloomy thoughts and leave it to me to win our way to the sweet
fulfilling of our love.

"Then there's that horrid man at the Wakes," she faltered. "It wasn't
the first time he'd spoken to me, though he never touched me before."

"What, Tom o' Bills, o' th' 'Moorcock'?"

Now "the Moorcock Inn" is a little public house high up above Greenfield
on the slope from the road that crosses the hills from Lancashire into
Yorkshire, and there resided Bill o' Jack's, innkeeper and gamekeeper, a
wizened, crafty, old sinner, whose grey hairs were not venerable, with
an evil heart and a foul tongue. More often than not Bill's son, Tom,
was to be found at the Inn, when not striding the moors or tippling in
the hostelries of Greenfield or Saddleworth. Tom, too, was a gamekeeper,
a burly, blustering bully of a fellow, much given to ale and strong
waters, and to coarse amours with the light o' loves of the
country-side, though he had a wife and children of his own living at
Sidebank, near Greenfield. It was given out that the poor neglected
woman lived there that her children might be near their work at
Greenfield Mill; but I fancy Tom o' Bill's had less worthy reasons for
spending most of his nights at the Moorcock. Father and son were
Bradburys--sprung of a good yeoman stock, to be sure, but themselves
debauched by the calling they had given their lives to, for I have noted
as a strange thing, and not easy to be accounted for, that men whose
soul's ken is limited to a dog and a gun, and the ways of wild birds,
and hares, and rabbits, and the vermin that prey on them weasels, and
stoats, and the like, are oft tavern-haunters, and dicers, and brawlers,
and blasphemers and sons of Belial in many other ways, of which the less
said the better. My blood boiled within me at thought of Miriam clasped
in that lecher's arms, his evil eye gloating on her sweet face.

"Perhaps 'twas only the drink," I said to soothe her, for she trembled
as she spoke of Tom o' Bill's.

"It isn't always the drink. He's as bad when he's sober. He wants me to
go serve at "the Moorcock," and says he'll load me with jewels, and I
shall live like a lady. He must have the cunning of a fox, for often
when I've thought for sure I'd given him the go-bye in my journeys
across the moor he's sprung from behind a wall or risen sudden from the
heather. And I think it's because of me he's so down on Ephraim. He's
boasted in his cups that he'll never rest till he has the King's
bracelets on Ephraim's wrists and him sent to the Plantations. There's
evil blood between them, and I fear me there'll be blood let if things
go on"--and she shivered in my arms.

"This isn't Ephraim's business now; it's mine," I declared. But she
clung to me, and bade me if I loved her give the Bradburys a wide berth.
I soothed her with smooth sayings, but made no promise, for it seemed a
hard thing that in this fair England of ours a maiden even a Burnplatter
should be evilly entreated and not a constable bold enough to do the
work he was paid for. It was an old saying in those days that
gamekeepers and the constables were thick as thieves, and that a brace
of grouse or a hare at Christmas time could close the mouth and eyes of
the constables who were so quick to clap a poor weaver in the stocks if
he got quarrelsome in his cups and the Justices on the Bench were as bad
as the keepers, sportsmen, and game preservers to a man, except perhaps
the Vicar of St. Chad's, and he was too butty with his brother justices
to thwart them in their handling of the men the keepers hauled before
them. But I'd a notion of English law amid justice, and I thought Parson
Holmes's son could hold his own even against a keeper.

I set no great store by myself, as indeed why should I, but I had a
great opinion of my father's name and calling. Why, even the Vicar of
St. James's had been heard to speak respectfully of the pastor of Pole
Moor ever since the day when that incumbent had written a lengthy
epistle to my father anent the laying on of hands, couched in the Greek
tongue, thinking, maybe, so to humiliate my father, and the doughty
little minister, not to be outdone, had replied at twice the length,
not, to be sure, in Greek, but in Hebrew!

I walked home that night, 'twixt gloam and moon, in a world bewitched.
I forgot all about Jim, about my father, about Ruth, doubtless racking
their brains in vain, wondering why I did not return to supper.

I walked across the moors and right on to Wrigley Mill Fold in a dream.
Ah! love is your only wizard. It touches the eyes of maid and man, and
lo! there is a new world that holds nothing commonplace, nothing tawdry,
nothing mean. The heart that throbs with love's exquisite pain knows no
fear but that it lose its love. Here was I, but just free of my
indentures, with no craft in my hand but that of a poverty-knocker all
my worldly gear on my back, and plighted to a girl that all the men and
women I had been taught to reverence and take pattern by, the men and
women who made my little world, would look askance upon. And was I a
whit dismayed? Not I i' faith. I'd youth, and strength, and health, knit
muscles, and a clear head, and crowning gift of all, a loved one's love.
Fear! I laughed at obstacles. I was the lord of Destiny.

Mary has often told me since that when took the door that night my face
shone as though transfigured and that she knew all of a crack, as she
put it that my feet had trod the Mount Delectable and my eyes seen the
golden strand. But all she said was:

"And wheer's our Jim? I'll be bun he's ca'ed Gate. I should ha' thought
'at after being at Pole Moor an' listenin' to two guid sarmons he could
ha' come streight whom, gooid Sunday neet as it is, an' all. But theer,
some women has th' beck on it, an' some hannot, an' there's an' end on
it. Theer's Betty Haley's Matthy can lead th' prayer meetings an' pray
for hauf an hour at a spell, rollin' up th' whites o' his e'en an'
callin' on th' Spirit till he's awmost hoarse, an' now they sen he's to
be put on th' Plan an' be a pudden parson,(a local preacher) an's getten
up Mrs. Wrigley's sleeve, an' oo's nagging at th' owd felly to put him
forrard i' th' mill, an' he'll be an ovver-seer an' happen a peartner,
th' sallow-faced, greasy windbag 'at he is. An' aw'm sure, though aw say
it 'at suddent, aw'm as gooid a woman onny day as Betty Haley ivver
were, as yo'n nowt to do but look at her house to see. Cleanliness is
next to godliness, mi owd mother used to say, an' aw'n getten
cleanliness onnyroad, an' that's more nor Betty Haley can say or ivver
could…." and here Mary was fain to pause for breath.

And from this outpouring I knew that Mary had been to the service in the
Warping Room at Wrigley Mill. My employer's good lady, having had high
words with the Vicar's wife about some parish matter--so 'twas said at
all events--had shaken dust of St. Chad's from her very substantial
feet, and had started a Methodist in a room above the counting-house,
which, on week days, was used for warping the yarn. Matthew Haley was
one of the hands, a black-headed bilious looking man, much suspected by
the other workpeople of carrying tales to the counting-house But he'd as
much gab as a Philadelphia lawyer, and having, as he put it, "raised his
Ebenezer" in the upper chamber at Wrigley Mill, was now become a bright
and shining light in the little congregation which consisted almost
exclusively of the mill people. He was Mary's particular aversion,
however, and she, who, had known Matthy's mother from a girl, never
ceased to wonder that a child of Betty's should to all seeming be born
to grace whilst her own lad should openly scoff at Matthy's perfervid
supplications.

"Why, Mary," I said, when I could at length get in a word edgeways, "you
wouldn't swop your Jim for Matthy Haley, would you?"

"No, that aw wouldn't. Not if they'd gi' me all Wrigley Mill to
booit--a nasty, greasy,"--I think Mary meant unctuous--"slimy,
creeping, sneck-liftin', underhand tittle-tattler. But it does go agen
th' grain to think 'at sich as him s'ud be thrusten forrard an' stand i'
th' high places o' th' synagogue, so to speak, when a proper,
straightforrard, guid-hearted lad like y'er Jim, 'at wouldn't hurt a
flea, 'is put dahn as nowt. Aw tell yo' what it is, Abe, aw've wintered
an' summered some th' fo'k i' Diggle 'at nivver missed nother Chapel nor
Sunday School sin Mrs. Wrigley too' up wi' th' Methodies, an' all aw can
say is if God Almighty cannot see through 'em, it's time some'un up an'
oppened His e'en for Him."

"Don't yo' fret yourself, Mary," I assured her. "God is not mocked, an'
I'd rather stand with Jim on the last day than with many a Wrigley Mill
saint, aye, even if he'd a pint pot in his hand." And so Mary's wrath
simmered down, though from the way she gave the occasional slap with her
thible at the porridge as she stirred it on the hob, I judged that in
imagination she was venting her wrath on the unconscious Matthy.

Jim sauntered in just as Mary and I drew to table, and mollified his
mother by the hearty way he handled his spoon.

"There's nowt like a gooid sermon an' a gooid walk 'at after it for
gi'ing' a man a relish for his victuals," he declared. "An' if yo' want
a gooid sarmon wi'in ten mile o' Wrigley Mill yo' mun go to Pole Moor
for it. What do'st say, mother, if we join th' Baptists?"

"Tha were browt up Church," reminded his mother.

"Aw'm noan so sure they'n getten th' rooit o' th' matter," quoth Jim,
wagging his head gravely, as he scraped the sides of the bowl with his
spoon. "Aw'm noan fully decided i' my own mind. It tak's a deal o'
thinkin' ovver, an' aw think it 'ud nobbut be fair to tak' St. Chad's
and Pole Moor turn an' turn abaat till I'm fair settled one road or
t'other--th' church i' t' mornin' an' t' chapel at neet. What says ta,
Abe?"

"Why, you never get up in time for morning service," I said.

"Weel, when aw missed th' Church, aw could mak' up for it bi stoppin' to
th' prayer meetin' at neet."

"It's a far cry to Pole Moor," I objected.

"Not it, marry. Your Ruth says there's folk go to Pole Your fro Meltham
an' owd 'uns at that."

"Oh! If Ruth wants you to go…."

"Nay, nay, not 'oo. 'Oo only mentioned it casual like,"

I shrugged my shoulders. I had my own notions, I daresay Jim had in
later years.

"But, onny road," concluded Jim, "aw'st noan join Matthy's lot. He come
to me 't other day when aw were tunin' a loom an' swearin' a bit to
missen, which some o' them looms 'ud mak' a parson swear, an' he towd me
to my face he never missed a neet but he took me to the Lord i' prayer.
Aw towd him I knew there was a mule i' th' garden somegate, an' if he
didn't stop it aw'd poise his soul out." And Jim pulled off his boots
with a mighty grunt of relief--he swore by clogs as the only footgear
for human wear--and lumbered heavily to bed.



CHAPTER V.

I BECOME A CONSPIRATOR.

IT must, I think, have been about the end of September. I had gone as
usual to the Mill a couple of hours before our baggin (breakfast), but
had had to jack work because of some accident to the water-wheel. Jim
was throng in the millrace, but I had perforce an idle day on my hands,
and avowed to Mary my intention of taking a long walk over the moors.
She said I might as well make myself useful and bring her a can of barm
for that week's baking, with a cupful to spare for the home-brewed; and
no better barm was to be had, she declared, than that they scummed at
the Moorcock. The Bradburys, father and son, she conceded, might be the
devil's own spawn for ought she knew or greatly cared, but sell good
barm they did; and if I wanted to stretch my long legs to more purpose
than sprawling in front of the kitchen fire or strolling idly about the
lanes I could do no better than take up by Holly Grove and cut across
the fields towards Pots and Pan's and thence to the Moorcock at Bill's
o' Jack's.

We had said not a word to Mary about the incident at the Wakes, so I had
no decent excuse to put forward when she produced her quart can and sent
me for on my errand.

It was a glorious day; we were having a splendid autumn, dry and warm,
just the weather for a climb up the hills. I had the day before me, the
rare treat of an extra holiday, the price of a luncheon of bread and
cheese--with an onion--and a pint of ale, in my pocket, youth and
health, a sunlit sky, the pure, fresh air of the far-flung moors, sweet
thoughts of Miriam to warm my heart and many a scheme for the future to
busy my brain--what more could man ask of life?

Once off the road above the Workhouse I went in a bee-line for Pots and
Pans, that cluster of huge boulders, black with age, and worn by the
countless storms they had weathered since first the morning stars sang
together--Jim said they had been left on their exalted bed after being
bundled about by the Flood before the waters subsided and stranded Noah
on Ararat: but, then, Jim had also a theory, in support of which he
advanced many cogent arguments, that the huge rocks that cap the hills
on either side of the valley-head at Bill's 0' Jack's had been used as
missiles when Gog stood on one hill and hurled them across the
intervening ravine in some titanic contest with Magog--else why, he
shrewdly asked, were these summits dubbed Gog and Magog to this day;
there _must_ be a reason for it and what so likely as that. Idly
revolving many and various thoughts I at length crossed the great steep,
somewhat blown, and fain to doff my cap and let the cooling breeze blow
about my brow. I sat down in the shadow of one of the crags, against
which I stretched my long legs in great ease and content, and what with
the warmth and the pleasant weariness of my stiff climb, I presently
nodded off to sleep.

How long I sat there I cannot say, but when I woke, which fortunately I
did gradually and without the start one gives when the buzzer goes,
wakefulness coming gently and quietly, as daybreak lifting the clouds, I
became aware that I had no longer Pots and Pans to myself; and the
consciousness that I was trespassing, and the knowledge that trespassers
were ill-brooked when the grouse were about, suggested that if I had not
as yet been observed 'twere just as well not to obtrude my presence. So
I closed my eyes and lay low. But I kept my ears open.

"It's no use thee talkin', feyther, I'm bent on it," I heard, "so tha
may as well keep thi breath to cool thi porridge. I'st ha' that lass if
aw dee for it."

"What dost ta mean? Tha cannot wed her, and if tha could tha'd be a
fooil to put a rope raand thee nah. Tha'd rue it nobbut once, Tom, an'
that'd be all thi life after th' fust week or two.

"Aw said nowt abaat weddin' her. Aw sud think twice afore I put a ring
on to a Burnplatter's finger."

"Tha'rt none talkin' o' that black-haired wildcat o' a gipsy wench tha
gate sich a mauling ovver at th' Wakes?"

"Aye, but I am."

"Well, everyone to his fancy, as th' woman said when 'oo kissed th' now.
By gow, lad, thou'lt have a handful wi' yon spitfire. 'Oo'd knife thee
as soon as look at thee, if tha crossed her. More bi token tha'll have
all th' Burnplatter's to reckon wi if owt went wrong. They all hang
together, aw'll say that for 'em. An' what does th' lass say to 't?"

"Winnot look th' side o' th' road aw'm on. Treats me as if aw were th'
dirt under her feet. Starts off like a filly if 'oo sees mi shadow."

"Happen that's nobbut to 'tice thee on. By gow a Burnplatter 'll think
twice afore 'oo turns up her nose at Tom o' Bill's, tho' to be sure
tha'rt a bit on th' downgrade as years go. It's softer liggin at th'
Moorcock than ivver 'oo's known at Burnplatts an' for jumping ovver a
broomstick, why, there's more of 'em does it nor ivver stands afore th'
parson. All th' same, aw doubt tha'rt brewin' trouble for thissen, an
all for a wench tha'llt tire of i' no time an' maybe won't find easy to
shut as an owd shoe. Them tally women sticks like a burr to a gradely
felly wi' a good whom to his back. Tha met ha' bidden my time out; but
if tha'rt set on makkin' a rod for thi own back, what's to hinder thee?"

"Aw'n yerd 'oo's trothed to Ephraim o' Burnplatts," came the reply, "an'
if it's true there'll be a tussle for 't; he's an ugly customer to
tackle is Ephraim. If he were aat o' th' gait aw sud stand a better
chance. Aw wish aw cud land him safe i' Botany Bay, an' be damned to
him."

"Well, that sud be easy enew, if we set yar wits to wark. Let me think.
Eh! Tom, lad, thi owd feyther's to ha' brains for both on us yet."

There was a prolonged silence betwixt the twain, a silence you may be
sure I did not break. Indeed, I was in a cold sweat of apprehension, for
I knew if I were caught eavesdropping I should have short shrift, and
would have to thank my stars if I got off with nothing worse than sore
bones.

Then the old man spoke: "Isn't it th' October Fair i' Huthersfilt next
week?"

"Aye, tha knows that wi'out me tellin' thee." He was a surly brute, to be
sure, was Tom o' Bill's, but then his was scarce a reverend sire.

"What o' t?"

"Why nobbut this. Eph. o' Burnplatts is sewer to be theer doin' a bit o
trade i' th' galloways them Irish drovers bring ovver th' watter, an'
he'll, ten to one, be makkin' his way whom to Burnplatts ovver Crosland
Moor latish on i' th' neet, an' takkin' both sides o' th' road at that,
a bit an' aboon market fresh. He'll ha' to pass through Squire
Radcliffe's plantation, aboon th' Brigg tha knows, an' monny a bonnie
hare's been knocked o' th' yead i' that copse."

"Well, get on, aw'm hearkenin'. What are ta gettin' at?"

"Weel, if yo' an' me happened, just bi chance like, to bi watchin' i'
th' Plantation just as he went through, an' caught him red-handed wi' a
brace o' hares faand i' his pocket when we'd knocked him dateless after
a desperate struggle."

"An' how the guisehang could he ha' a brace o' hares i' his pocket
comin' thro' Huthersfilt Fair?"

"Oh! Tom, Tom, tha'llt nivver be the man thi feyther's bin. Why, if so
be he hasn't a brace on him, that's no reason we suddn't find 'em i' his
pockets if we tuk care to put 'em theer oursen when we've quieted him.
We sud produce 'em i' court, an' seein's believin'. 'Sensation i'
Coort!' that's what th' pappers 'll say. It'll be a 'Sizes job or a
Sessions job for Ephraim then, an' if aw know owt o' th' laws o' our
great an' free country, it'll be monny a long year an' after before
either thee or yon gipsy wench 'll set een on him agen."

"It saands all reet, it saands all reet. Aw'll sleep on it, feyther.
Come, let's be goin'. Aw'm dry, an' th' dinner 'll be spoilin'. Let's
to whom an' think on it." And the worthy pair, gun under arm, picked
their way across the heather towards Bill's o' Jack's. It may be guessed
that I was in no ways inclined to follow them. Mary's barm went clean
out of my mind, but if I'd had to go without home-brewed "for the rest
of my natural," as folk say, I wouldn't have shown my face within the
doors of "the Moorcock" that day.

Instead I faced right about, and made my way to run as fast as I could
in the opposite direction. My first thought was to hunt up Ephraim and
put him on his guard. My second and better to talk the matter over with
my father. Here was a plot to cast an innocent man into prison; one of
the law-less tribe, to be sure, for whom a good many people thought
prison wasn't bad enough, but a tribe my father regarded as to some
extent part of the flock confided to his keeping, and I thought he ought
to be taken into counsel. I'll confess that just for one moment the
thought flashed across my mind that if Eph. were, by whatever diabolic
device, put out of Tom o' Bill's way he would by the same stroke be put
out of mine, and the gamekeeper would have the sorry work of pulling the
chestnuts out of the fire for the parson's son. But I scouted this
devil's whisper without ado. However bad Ephraim might be, and were he
ten times as dangerous a rival for Miriam's hand and heart he should not
fall into this snare, and Bill o' Jack's and Tom o' Bill's should be
hoist with their own petard, if human wit could compass it.

I found my father deep immersed in the preparation of his next Sabbath's
discourse, and of this his mind was so full that I had, with what
patience I could assume, perforce to lend him my ears, though I fear not
much of my mind, whilst he recapitulated the heads of his sermon. This
weighty matter at length dismissed the good man lighted his pipe, bade
Ruth bring in a measure of home-brewed and settled himself in his chair
to learn what had brought me over to Pole Moor of a weekday (wart day we
called it), when I ought by right to have been tending my loom at
Wrigley Mill. Ruth had perched herself saucily on the arm of the old oak
chair in which he sat and idly straightened his thin grey locks whilst
he listened to my tale.

"There's only one thing to be done," said my sire, when I had told my
story. "Our course is clear. I must at once to Burnplatts and see that
misguided youth, Ephraim, and impress it upon him that he must pretermit
the October Fair, or if that be not practicable, must return home by
some other route, be it never so ungain; indeed, the ungainer the
better. Likewise I can improve the occasion by enjoining him to abandon
courses that expose him to the guile and snares of the officers of the
law. Perchance the seed may fall upon prepared ground. Though truth to
say I do not at the moment recall any text of the Scriptures that seems
to be directed at the poachers of wild game. Though to be sure the
Psalmist's prayer, 'Pull me out of the net that they have laid privily
for me: for thou art my strength,' seems apt. Yes, assuredly, it fits
the occasion like the heft to the blade. Let me see, I could divide my
discourse as follows..." And the excellent pastor was already busy in
his thoughts projecting the word in season.

"But, father," quote Ruth, "what about the Bradburys?"

"Aye, aye, to be sure, my daughter. You do well to recall me to a
pressing duty. I must from Burnplatts to the Moorcock Inn and beard the
lion, nay the lion and his whelp, in their den. Here, happily, I shall
go armed with the sword of the Word, for it teemeth with denunciations
of those who bear false witness against their neighbours, and tells how
the counsels of the wicked shall be brought to nought. To be sure Bill's
o' Jack's is out of my parish, yet where the wicked are to be thwarted
who shall set bounds and measures for the servant of the Lord?" And my
father glared enquiringly round the room, as though challenging an
imaginary audience to deny his right to speak the Word in season when
and where he would. Of his right within the wide expanse watered by the
Colne he made no question--he had come to regard it as his spiritual
own, his vineyard, his parish.

"That's all very well, father," commented Ruth, "and doubtless you could
speak to the Burnplatters and the Bradburys to their eternal profit. But
I've a better plan; one that will keep Ephraim Sykes out of harm and
cover those who plot his destruction with confusion. Now you two, listen
to me. A woman's wit, you know, can jump over a wall whilst a man is
groping round for a gate."

And my father listened meekly, for he loved Ruth as the apple of his
eye, and she now had her way with him. Then Ruth unfolded her plan, and
as I listened I rubbed my hands together gleefully, and when it stood
revealed in all its completeness, clapped Ruth on the back and declared
with conviction that such a headpiece was thrown away on a woman and she
ought to have been 'prenticed to a 'torney, a compliment that Ruth
received with deprecating modesty, and clearly not ill-pleased, though,
to be sure, it was one of our most rooted and cherished convictions that
all attornies were sons of the Father of Lies, and bound to end up in
the brimstone lake. Yet have I ever noticed that--such is the
perverseness of human nature--a man, and not less a woman, would rather
be set down as monstrous clever, and in some danger of the Judgment,
than ranked as a fool and a dullard though conceded to be a saint. Now
what Ruth's plot was I must not, nor need, disclose, but you who read
what ensued when Ephraim Sykes was brought up before the Bench at
Huddersfield on a charge of trespassing in pursuit of game, a few days
after the October Fair, will I think probably divine.

I think the little Justices' Court at the market town cannot often have
been so crowded as it was that day. All Burnplatts was there, and many a
sturdy rogue, and vagabond assisted as a spectator who oft aforetime had
played the part of leading villain in some petty drama in that shabby
forum. And all Pole Moor and half Slaithwaite to boot. For the due
development of Ruth's scheming had required that we should take into our
confidence one of my father's sedate deacons, old Enoch Hoyle, of Merry
Dale. Enoch had been vowed to silence, but he confessed afterwards that
he was so big with the part that had been assigned to him that twenty
times a day he had had to stop his hand-loom to laugh joyously to
himself, and that she had so often alarmed his next-door neighbour by
breaking out into smothered chuckling that he had been concerned for his
mind's health, and had threatened to fetch Dr. Dean to him and have him
sent to "th' 'Sylum." Then, after drawing an awful picture of what would
befall if he ever muffed about the matter to a single soul, he let the
good soul into the secret; and it's a mercy a good few miles of wild
moorland lay between Merry Dale and Bill's o' Jack's, or all our
plotting had been in vain. So well-nigh all Slaithwaite was in the
Court-room or, baulked in the endeavour to squeeze inside, waited the
result patiently in the street or the adjacent inn. Ephraim, of course,
was there, and in custody of constables. Two days and two nights had he
lain in Towzer, as they called the Lock-up, and a merry time he had had
of it, by all accounts, being in no lack of food and drink, and treating
his custodians so lavishly that they were to be excused if they wished
they might retain him as a permanent guest. Bill o' Jack's and Tom o'
Bill's were clad in velveteen coats and drab gaiters, and Tom dangled on
his hand a brace of hares bigger and plumper than any hares I had ever
set eyes on before. They'd got Mr. Alison for their attorney, and I
watched that ferret-faced limb of the law with not a little concern, for
he looked so cock-sure of winning his case, when he rose to open it to
the magistrates, and they listened with so evident a trust to every word
he said, that my heart misgave me. It was a very clear case, said Mr.
Alison. The prisoner had been caught in _flagrante delicto_; he was a
suspicious character whose antecedents alone where enough to convict
him, and he was the ringleader of a notorious gang of pestilent knaves
who had too long been suffered to prey upon society. However, it was a
true saying that the jug went off to the well, but got broke at last.
The prisoner had had many a narrow escape, but now he stood in the dock
on a charge supported by the clearest and directest evidence, and
society for some years would doubtless be rid, and well rid, of a most
dangerous character. The information had been laid by Thomas Bradbury, a
gamekeeper residing with his wife and family at Greenfield, but better
known as of the Moorcock Inn at Bill's o' Jack's, though in fact that
hostelry was kept by his venerable father. Doubtless both father and son
were known to their Worships, and they would know them as zealous
servants of the law. Theirs was a most necessary and also a most
dangerous calling--necessary, for what would England be if the gentry
were robbed of their sport, and dangerous because it exposed them to the
violence of the lawless Poachers who preyed upon the preserves so much
wealth was lavished in maintaining. Sport, gentlemen, was a sacred
institution. It had made Englishmen--of the higher classes--what they
were and England what it was, and must be ranked in sanctity with Church
and State. But that topic he would not enlarge, though it was one very
near and dear to his heart, as doubtless it was to the hearts of their
Worships (and, indeed, by the looks of them he spoke the truth there),
He would not waste the time of the Court by any prolix opening. The
facts would speak for themselves and the facts would best appear from
the mouths of the unimpeachable witnesses he would place in that box
before them. Call Thomas Bradbury.

Then Tom o' Bill's stepped heavily into the box, placed the two poor
dead hares conspicuously in front of him, kissed the greasy little
Testament with a smack, touched his forehead respectfully to the
magistrates, and turned an attentive face to the little attorney.

"Your name is Thomas Bradbury, and you are a gamekeeper residing at
Sidebank on the turnpike road between Greenfield and Bill's o' Jack's?"

"Yes, sir."

"Your father is William Bradbury, and he keeps the Moorcock Inn at
Bill's o' Jake's?"

"Yes, sir."

"Now, on the afternoon of the 16th inst., were you at the Huddersfield
Fair?

"Yes, sir. Me an' mi feyther."

"Exactly; your venerable and respected father was with you. What were
you doing there?"

"We'd gone to see how pigs went."

"And did you see the prisoner there?"

"We did."

"You mean _you_ did. You mustn't tell us what your father saw. He'll
speak for himself."

"Beg pardon, sir."

"Had you known the prisoner before?"

"This many a year. I've had my eyes on him a long time." And here Tom
shot a venomous look at Ephraim, who stood in the dock looking as
pleasant as though he was at his own wedding, and who acknowledged Tom's
look by a beaming and encouraging smile.

"Most unbecoming levity," I heard one of the magistrates whisper to a
brother justice.

"Well, I'm afraid I mustn't ask you what sort of a character the
prisoner bears. I daresay my learned friend would object."

Now, "my learned friend" was Mr. Blackburn, whom my father had fee'd to
appear for Ephraim a tall, portly man, who would have made two of Mr.
Alison. A sleepier-looking mortal I never saw. I could have found it in
my heart to stick a pin in him that morning, for he sprawled rather than
sat in his place at the attornies' table, with his hands in his pockets
his eyes closed, and seeming to take no interest at all in what was
going on, whilst my heart was all of a flutter, and I could scarce keep
still for a minute at a time. He half opened his eyes now.

"You know very well you mustn't ask as to character. Can't hang a man on
his character, else some of us would stand a poor chance."

A constable sniggered, then looked sternly at the back of the Court and
bawled, indignantly, "Silence in Court."

"I'm glad my learned friend has so just an appreciation of the gravity
of his position," quoth Mr. Alison, and the Chairman of the Bench
smiled; and at that all the constables felt at liberty to laugh, and so,
of course, did not a few of the spectators. But Mr. Blackburn had
apparently gone to sleep again.

"Did you see the prisoner leave the town on the evening of that day?"

"Yes, sir, about seven o'clock."

"What sort of a night was it?"

"Pretty dark, but fineish. There'd been some smartish rain during th'
afternoon, but it had cleared."

"By which way did the prisoner go?"

"On the Upperhead Row, down Outcote Bank, onto th' Brigg, an' then up
Crosland Moor?"

"Did you and your father follow him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did he call anywhere?"

"Yes, sir. We see'd him go in to th' Warren."

"What did you do?"

"Me an' mi feyther went forrard till we come to Radcliffe's Plantation;
an' aw sez to mi feyther--"

"I'm afraid we can't hear what you said to your father. My friend would
object."

"Oh! I don't mind," said sleepy-sides.

"I don't think that man minds anything as long as he gets his nap," I
muttered to my father, vindictively, but my father didn't seem
perturbed.

"Well, if my friend doesn't object. You said to your father--?"

"It's here he'll try it on, if he means doing owt to-neet. So we
clambered ovver th' wall into th' Plantation, just above th' Warren
House."

"Have you any reason for being sure of the spot?"

"Yes, it were within a yard or two o' wheer Mr. Horsfall were shot by
th' Luddites i' th' Lud time. There's th' bullet marks on th' wall,
plain to be seen i' dayleet."

"I believe that's so, your Worships," said Mr. Alison, and the Chairman
nodded assent.

"Well, we cowered down among th' bracken, and after a bit Ephraim there
loped ovver th' wall. A couple o' hares started up fro' th' cover an' he
downed 'em wi' his stick, an' sammed 'em up an' knocked their yeads agen
his booit toes, an' nipped 'em into his pocket. He weren't three yards
fro' wheer we legged, an' his back were to us. So we upped an' on to
him, an' downed him."

"Did he struggle much? Did he resist you?"

"He nearly bote mi thumb off, an' it took both me and mi feyther--he's
an owd man, but varry peert--all us time to howd him till aw slipped
the derbies on to him. Then we searched him an' fun' these beauties on
him. Stock does, they be, an' a shame for annybody to ha' killed 'em."

"Well, I think that's all I need ask you," said Mr. Alison, and sat
down.

Then Mr. Blackburn rose ponderously, puffing out his tremulous cheeks,
and breathing heavily as though he had just come to the surface after a
long swim under water. And he wagged a big fat forefinger at Tom o'
Jack's, and he certainly didn't look asleep now.

"And all this mighty struggle took place in Mr. Radcliffe's Plantation?"
he asked.

"Yes, sir."

"Well within it?"

"Yes, sir; a hundred yards or more."

"Not on the highroad?"

"Oh, no, sir, else he wouldn't have been trespassing."

"Quite so, quite so, a very shrewd and proper remark. All among the
bracken, I suppose?"

"Yes, sir."

"How was the prisoner dressed?"

"Same as he is now, sir."

"Of course, how stupid of me. He has been in custody ever since, and
won't have concerned himself much about his toilet. You saw him, I think
you said, on the Fair during the day."

"Yes, sir."

"Several times?"

"Aye, off an' on, right up to mi feyther an' me starting for whom. We
wanted to be ahead of him so's to hide ussen afore he reached th'
Plantation."

Quite so, quite so, a very proper proceeding"--I did wish Mr. Blackburn
wouldn't butter the man up so, but I'd yet to learn that victims are
sometimes well greased before being bolted.

"When you saw the prisoner in the Fair did you notice anything peculiar
about his appearance?"

"No, nowt out o' th' common."

"Quite spick and span, eh?"

"Aye, he were reet enough."

"Now look at his clothes. What do you say to them now? Get close to him
and examine him from head to foot. Oh, don't be frightened; the
constable will see he doesn't hurt you."

Tom did as he was bid, but with manifest reluctance.

"Well, what do you say to his clothes now? Spick and span, eh?"

"Nay, they're mucky enough."

"Mud-stained from top to toe, aren't they?"

"Yo' can see for yersen, can't yo'," answered Tom surlily.

"Come, don't get cross. You don't look so amiable as you did. Will you
please explain to their Worships how it comes that a man whose clothes
were spick and span when you saw him at the Fair, and spick and span
when he called at 'The Warren House,' as I can prove by the landlord,
was a mass of mud from head to foot when you landed him at the lock-up?"

"He got it i' th' tussle, aw reckon."

"What, among the rain-washed bracken?"

And Tom stammered and looked this way and that, any way but at Mr.
Blackburn, and then lapsed into sulky silence. Mr. Blackburn beamed on
him as though he loved him, and said persuasively:

"Now, after all, doesn't it look as if this terrible tussle took place
on the road and not in the Plantation?"

But Tom wouldn't say yea or nay to this. He only glowered, and Mr.
Blackburn, who had now risen vastly in my opinion, glanced meaningly at
the Bench, shrugged his massive shoulders, and started on a new tack.

"About these hares now? Stock does, you say they are?"

"Anything particular about _them_?"

"Not 'at aw know on. What sud there be. A hare's a hare, an' that's all
there is to 't."

"Have you examined this particular brace?"

"Not I. Why sud aw?"

"Not looked at their teeth?"

"Noa."

"Well, would you mind doing so now?"

Very gingerly Tom did as he was bid.

"Two front teeth snapped off in each hare, aren't there? Pass them up to
their Worships, constable, and let them see for themselves."

"It certainly looks as if the two incisors had been snapped sharply
off," said the Chairman. "In each hare, too, most extraordinary."

"Yes, a strange coincidence," agreed Mr. Blackburn. "How do _you_
account for it?" he asked suddenly of the gamekeeper.

"It's none o' my business," said Tom surlily. "Aw didn't come here to be
badgered abaat teeth. Aw come here to tell a plain tale, an' aw done so,
an' yo' may tak' it or leave it as yo' like."

"Pre-cisely, a plain, unvarnished tale. Just, no doubt, the same plain,
unvarnished tale your father, your venerable and most respectable
father, will tell. Oh, you needn't look round the Court for him. He's in
the lobby out of earshot. But about those snapped incisors now. Surely
you've a theory?"

"Not I."

"Perhaps the animals were mother and daughter, and snapped incisors run
in the family," suggested Mr. Blackburn.

But Tom was in no mood to appreciate a jest. On the contrary, he looked
very ill at ease, and, though the day was none of the warmest, wiped the
sweat from his flushed and heated brow with the back of his huge hand.

"I'll bet I could tell what Tom 'ud like better nor a pint o' ale just
nah," whispered Jim to me.

"What?" I asked.

"Two Pints," quoth Jim who was evidently on very good terms with
himself.

"Well, I think I haven't much more to ask you, my good man," Mr.
Blackburn was saying, and seemed on the point of sitting down, to Tom
o' Bill's manifest relief. "Ah, yes, by-the-bye, you may as well tell me
as your father--what did you do with the other two hares?"

"Why, we've etten----," began Tom, then grew red as a boiled lobster;
"aw mean, what hares are you talking about?"

"Yes, you was saying, 'you've etten'; pray go on. What have you etten?"

"Aw don't know what you're talkin' about."

"Oh! yes you do, my good man, quite well. I'm talking about the two
hares your precious father and you had with you that night, and which
you intended to place in the prisoner's pocket after you had stunned
him. I can imagine your surprise when you found he actually had two of
his own procuring. Come now, don't keep us in suspense. You say you've
etten 'em,' and I can quite believe it. Did they make good eating?"

But Tom was past answering now. He glared dumbly about the Court, and on
every face there he read but one tale, the tale the convicted liar
reads.

"I'm off out o' this," he said, and made to leave the box. "It's come to
something when a game-keeper cannot be backed up i' th' discharge o' his
duty."

"Gently, gently, Mr. Bradbury," said our attorney pleasantly, as one
soothes a fretful child. "Just one or two questions more, and then
perhaps we shall have the pleasure of seeing your respected and
venerable father. Do you know Pots and Pans?"

"Pots and Pans?" interjaculated the Chairman. "Oh, I remember--the name
of the Druid remains above Bill's o' Jacks."

"The same, your Worship."

"In course aw know th' spot," answered Tom briskly. Surely there could
be no harm in confessing to a knowledge of that widely known clump of
boulders though truth to say, Tom began to feel that no matter how
innocent the question might seem it might lead, the deuce knew whither.
"What about Pots an' Pans?"

"Well I think your father, your venerable and respected father, and you
were at Pots and Pans about noon of the Friday before Huddersfield
Fair?"

"Weel, what if we were? Hannot we a reight?"

"Yes, yes, a perfect right. And I think you had a little conversation
about the prisoner there?"

I shall never forget the look of amazed dread with which Tom o' Bill's
regarded his tormentor. Was the man more than human? he seemed to ask
himself. Had he some familiar demon that whispered to him damning
secrets?

Then a light burst upon him. "Aw see how it is, th' owd 'un's split. My
father, mi own feyther's turned agen me," he exclaimed, and tottered out
of the box, Mr. Blackburn making no sign to stop him.

The magistrates put their heads together.

"We don't understand all this, Mr. Blackburn," said the Chairman.
"Perhaps you can explain."

"All in good time, your Worships. Or perhaps my friend's further
witnesses will enlighten us."

"Call William Bradbury," said Mr. Alison, but it was clear he was as
much perplexed as the magistrates at the turn of events. "Hanged if I
know what You're about with your hares' teeth and your Pots and Pans," I
heard him mutter to our attorney.

"Better wait and see," suggested that gentleman blandly.

Old William Bradbury was the next and only other witness for the
prosecution. He had been out of court during the examination of his son.
He walked to the witness-box with bent shoulders and feeble and
faltering steps, leaning heavily upon his stick. The impression he
designed to convey was clearly that of extreme age and debility, badly
mauled in the discharge of duty. He told his story, the same tale as
that unfolded by his son in his examination-in-chief, in a cringing,
fawning voice. The course of his cross-examination I need not follow. It
went on the same lines as that of Tom. When Mr. Blackburn asked the
momentous question as to the conversation between the witness and his
son at Pots and Pans the old gamekeeper gasped for breath. His eye
wandered to where Tom sat in the body of the Court.

"Oh! you needn't look for inspiration to your son," ripped out Mr.
Blackburn. "Let us have the tale in your own way."

"Aw dunnot know what th' young fooil's said," he babbled, "but what ya'r
Tom said aw stick to."

"I daresay, but that won't do for me. Where is the brace of hares you
and your son had with you when you secreted yourself in the warren to
await the coming of the prisoner?"

"Wheer does ya'r Tom say they are?" fenced the witness.

"I rather think, he began to say, you'd eaten them."

"Then etten 'em we han, yo' may be sewer."

"And what about those you've produced? Have you examined their teeth?"

"What han I to do wi' their teeth?"

"Well, look now, and tell me if the two front teeth in each hare don't
appear to have been snapped off."

Old William took up a dead hare and bared its teeth.

"Now the other," urged Mr. Blackburn. "Well?"

"It looks summat like it, to be sewer," conceded the gamekeeper.

"Well, what do you make of it?" William scratched his head. Then a light
illumined his countenance. "It'll happen be a birth-mark; that's it, a
birth-mark,--and at a sign from Mr. Blackburn stepped from the box much
more nimbly than he had entered it.

"That's the case, your Worships," said Mr Alison.

"Now, Mr. Blackburn," said the clerk.

"I don't purpose wasting your Worships' time by any opening remarks. I
shall call my witnesses, and after you have heard what they have to say
your Worships will have had the story of as pretty a conspiracy to damn
an innocent man as has ever been exposed in this or any other Court of
Justice. ----Holmes."

I stepped into the witness-box, and, as I took the greasy Testament in
my hand and kissed the book in obedience to the clerk's command,
heartily wished myself a thousand miles away. I saw the magistrates, and
the lawyers, and the crowd in a blurred maze, my knees gave under my
weight, and the only thing real in all the universe appeared to be the
ledge of the witness-box, to which I clung desperately.

I suppose I must have answered Mr. Blackburn's opening, leading
questions with some measure of sanity and coherence, though I never
could recall what they were, or indeed having heard them at all. Then
the mist cleared from my eyes, I braced my limbs, and felt as cool and
compassed as ever I did in my life. I told the Bench of the conversation
I had overheard at Pots and Pans, and how I had straightway taken
council with my father, feeling the case to be one for older heads than
mine.

"The prisoner's a friend of yours?" asked Mr. Alison.

"Say, rather, an acquaintance," I corrected.

"You know he's a notorious poacher."

"I've never seen him poaching," I replied, an answer which, on
subsequent reflection, in which I recalled certain episodes in which I
was as much concerned as Ephraim, I felt to have been capable of some
modification. But that was ancient history.

"Never seen him, no, probably not. I asked you isn't he a notorious
poacher?"

"You must define 'notorious.'"

"A chip of the old block, I see. We must have definitions for the
Ranter's son. You know well enough what the word means, sir. And answer
the question."

"If it means 'well-known,' I can only say he is not so known to me. If
others have other knowledge they must speak to it, not I." I'll swear I
saw Ruth, out of the corner of my eyes, gently clapping her hands
together. She told me afterwards she had never given me credit for so
much gumption.

"And how do _you_ account for these hares being found in the prisoner's
possession?"

"Enoch Hoyle will account for that," I replied, and stepped down.

I suppose there never was a prouder man than was old Enoch that day.

"You reside at Merrydale, Mr. Hoyle?"

"'_Mister_ Hoyle,' he ca'd me, th' first an' last time i' mi life aw'm
be ca'd owt but Enoch. Eh! but he knows a gentleman when he sees one,
does 'Torney Blackburn," was Enoch's comment when he told the story of
that day's doings, which he did at least once a day for the rest of his
life, too often, population being but sparse in our neighbourhood, to
ears grown weary of the tale.

"Aye, to be sewer, at Merrydale. Aw were born theer just seventy-two
year sin' come next Xermas. Mi feyther were Sammy Hoyle, owd Sammy
Hoyle--yo'll ha' heard tell of him, aw mak' no doubt--an' mi mother
were one of th' Garsides o' Rocher. I'm th' only chick they ever had,
an' aw'v heerd mi mother say aw were varry delikit--"

"Oh, stop him, for heaven's sake," ejaculated Mr. Alison, "or we shall
have the old fool's autobiography from birth to now."

"Yes, yes Mr. Hoyle, quite so. And what occupation do you follow?"

"Eh?"

"What are you?"

"Aw'm th' senior deacon at Pow Moor Chapel."

"Yes, yes. How do you earn your living?"

"Oh! I see what you mean. Well, when aw were a little un aw used to help
mi mother to wind th' bobbins, an' mi feyther to sprinkle th' wool wi'
lant--"

"Yes, yes, but what do you do now?"

"Aw'm a weiver, to be sewer. Aw'n gotten th' same loom as mi owd father
had, an' it's noan a foul loom yet, but it's been weel done to. Yo' see,
there's a deal o' human natur' i' a loom, an'--"

"Quite so, quite so. And you are a worshipper at Pole Moor Chapel?"

"Aye, to be sewer aw am. Aw were dipped when aw were nobbut seventeen
year owd, but with th' conviction o' sin full on me. Mi feyther, owd
Sammy, yo'll mind me tellin' on him, were one o' th' founders o' Pole
Moor, an' so when aw come to years o' discretion--"

"Exactly, and you know the last witness?"

"Know him? Why, in course aw do. Aw've dandled him o' mi knee an'
spanked him mony's the time. Aw mind his mother, poor saint. Oo's dead
now, but aw can tell on _her_, too, if yo're for speerin'."

"No, no, Mr. Hoyle I'm certainly not for speering about the late Mrs.
Holmes, a most worthy woman, no doubt."

"Yo' may say that, an' n'er go back on it. Aw'n heerd say 'at 'tornies
nivver speak th' truth excep' bi accident, but that's Gospel truth,
choose how. Aw mind when Mister Holmes browt her to th' Powl, a slip o'
a lass, in a way o' speikin', an' noan cut out for yar rough ways--a
dainty bloom, yo' may say, an' sooin frost-bitten. Oo deed, poor soul,
when Ruth were a babby."

"Yes, yes, but I want to ask you--I think you keep Belgium hares in
addition to your weaving?"

"Aye, that's what aw'n come here to speik about, only tha'rt so long i'
gettin' to th' root o' the matter, like some o' th' long-winded parsons
it pleases the Lord to afflict us wi' at th' Powl, when Mr. Holmes
exchanges pulpits wi' a brother minister, a practice aw cannot say aw
entirely howd wi', though some fowk reckon a change o' spiritual diet be
gooid for th' soul. But aw say if watter-porridge sits weel o' yo'r
stomach, stick to watter-porridge an' no fal-lals. An' it's same wi'
religion an' preachers."

"But what about those hares, Mr. Hoyle?"

"Well, aw were tellin' yo', weren't aw, but yo" won't let me get a word
in edgeways, which aw rekkon talkin' 's yo' trade, other bi th' piece or
th' hour. Yo' see it were this way. When my poor owd missus deed--it
were th' brownchitis took her i' th' finish--'Affliction's sore long
time she bore, physicians were i' vain,' as yo' may see for yo'r sen on
her gravestone--"

"Oh, dear; oh, dear," ejaculated Mr. Alison; "shall we never get to the
hares?"

"Better let him have his head, Mr. Blackburn," suggested the Chairman,
"else we shall be here till midnight."

"Yo' see, it were i' this way," continued the imperturbable Enoch, "as
aw wer' sayin', when th' owd gentleman put his oar in. Aw knew thi
feyther, sir," turning to the Bench, and beaming benevolently on the
Chairman "an' a proper man he were, an' aw hopes yo' tak' after him. Aw
mind me, when he wer' at th bull-baitin' at Bullroyd, up Long'ud
way--yo'll know th' spot--but he took to cock-feightin' 'i his owd
age--"

"I daresay, Mr. Hoyle," interrupted the Chairman not apparently,
displeased by these family reminiscences "but you shall tell me about
that another time. About those hares, now."

"Well, aw were sayin', when my missus deed--brownchitis aw think aw
tell'd yo' it were--aw felt mortal lonesome like, all bi missen. Clack
o' th' loom's all varry well, an' a sweet music for onnybody's ears, but
when yo'n bin used to it for nigh on fifty year yo miss th' clack of a
woman's tongue. So aw thowt aw mun ha' company o' some soort. Aw did
think o' gettin' wed agen, an' there were a widder woman up bi Nont
Sarah's 'at aw rother fancied. So aw kept mi e'en on her. Oo axed me to
tea one Sunday after th' service, an' we'd some cheese to 't. Aw noticed
oo cut th' rind off her cheese. Nah! a slut of a woman 'll eit th'
cheese an' rind an' all, a wasteful one'll cut th' rind off, but a
careful one'll pare it. So aw concluded oo were none for Enoch Hoyle."

"So you took up with hares?" put in Mr. Blackburn, spying his chance.

"Tha's getten it. Aw did think o' a cat. But, yo' see, yo' cannot eit
cats, nor kitlings nother, though they do say 'at there's a chap i'
Huthersfelt, at sells pork-pies 'at gets through a seet o' cats i' a
varry mysterious fashion. But aw couldn't eit em missen, not knowingly.
Though, to be sewer, if a Frenchman can eit a frog, aw dunnot see but
what a felly might stomach a nice weel-fed kitling. But aw nivver han."

"So you kept hares?"

"Aye them two owd does theer be two o' my rearin', an' sorry aw were to
part wi' 'em, but when it come to a matter o' confoundin' the ways o'
the unrighteous, an' partickler when little Ruth yonder med a point on
it, an' after aw'd takken it to the Lord i' prayer, an' when Mr. Holmes
gay' me hawf-a-craan apiece for 'em, which were more nor aw cud
reasonably expec' for owd uns awmost past breedin', aw seemed to see the
pointin' hand o' Providence, an' so theer they be."

"And how do you know they are the same couple I understand you sold to
Mr. Holmes?"

"Well, Ruth towd me …."

"I'm afraid we cannot have what Ruth told you."

"What for, no? Oo'd tell me nowt wrang, I'll go bail. Aw've sworn o'
this blessed book to tell th' truth, th' whole truth, an' nowt but th'
truth, an' awst noan lig easy o' mi bed this neet, if aw dunnot."

"Oh! let him have his way. I'm sick of the case, anyway," put in Mr.
Alison.

"Well, Ruth told you?"

"Well, Ruth said there wor' a plot o' th' part o' them two gamekeepers
to catch Ephraim Sykes, Eph. o' th' Burnplatters, yo' know, i' an
offence, an' oo'd set her brains to work to--what did oo ca' it.
Guise-hong, my mem'ry 's noan what it used to be oh, frus, frus summat."

"Frustrate, perhaps?"

"Aye, that's th' verry word, tho' how yo' come to leet on it so
clivver's beyond me. An' oo wanted to know if aw could sweer to 'em
agen, tho' that wasn't th' word oo used--iden--iden--drat it all,
it's slipped me again."

"Identify, perhaps?"

"Tha's getten it agen--see what eddication 'll do. Identify--that were
it, for a sovrin'. Nah, yo' see, one hare's varry like another,
especially when they're dead. Yo' can pick 'em out when they're wick, if
yo're used to 'em, for even a hare 'll ha' a look o' its own. But when
they're dead it's different. So I were fair flummaxed. But Ruth theer
weren't oo gate a pair tweezers, an' we snipped their front teeth, an'
if them two hasn't teeth yo' may ca' Enoch Hoyle a liar, an he'll eit
them hares, skin an' fur an' all. Oo tuk 'em away wi' her, an aw'n
nivver seed 'em sin 'till this day o' our Lord."

"Well, I think that will do, Mr. Hoyle, unless my friend would like to
have a few words with you."

"Not for a pension." said Mr. Alison, emphatically.

"Perhaps them gentlemen up theer 'ud like to ax me summat," said Enoch.
"Aw've noan said haulf mi nominy yet. Aw had prepared a few words anent
the wickedness o' layin' i' wait to tak' another man's life, or what's
awmost as bad, another man's liberty, an' we'n plenty o' time i' front
of us…."

"Stand down!" bawled a constable, and Enoch, with great dignity and with
obvious reluctance, left the witness box, having, as he boasted all his
life, confounded the mighty that sit in high places.

"I suppose you can prove that these hares were handed to the prisoner?"
asked the Clerk of Mr. Blackburn.

"Certainly."

The Clerk looked at Mr. Alison, and shrugged his shoulders "The biter's
bit, eh? Now, Mr. Alison, what have _you_ to say?"

"Nothing your Worships. The case is in your hands."

"You may go, Young man," said the chairman to Ephraim. Then, such is the
force of habit: "Let this be a lesson to you. You've escaped this time,
thanks to the ingenuity of your friends; but the jug that goes oft to
the well gets broken at last. The case is dismissed."

And Ephraim stepped out of the dock a free man, amid cheers which the
constable tried in vain to suppress.



CHAPTER VI.

I VISIT THE SICK

IT was New Year's Eve, and Jim and I, much pressed thereto by his good
mother, had resolved to attend the Watch Night Service in the Warping
Room at Wrigley Mill, to watch the Old Year out and the New Year in. A
marked change had come over my friend Jim in these latter days. He had
foresworn all taverning, contenting himself with the modest home-brewed
of the domestic table, and declaring that he hoped by this route to
bring himself in time to treikle-drink, and maybe, though of this he was
somewhat sceptical, to plain cold water, a beverage in whose favour all
that could be alleged, Jim considered, was that it "cost nowt." He
confessed to me, indeed, that he looked forward with the gloomiest
apprehensions to a long existence unenlivened by an occasional spree.
But he had made up his mind to "save his brass," and he knew from grim
experience that a working man cannot spend his nights in an alehouse and
save money out of his slender earnings.

"Yo' see," he would observe pathetically, "it isn't what yo' sup yersen,
it's treatin' other folk. Yo' go into th' 'Hangin' Gate,' we'll say, an'
yo' ca' for a pint o' drink, an' yo' sit yo' dahn an' fill yo'r pipe,
an' yo' begin to feel at peace wi' all mankind. Then a chap comes in an'
says, 'Hullo, Jim, is that ta? How are ta, lad? Aw hannot seen thee this
mony a day. An' how's thi owd mother? Eh! aw remember her afore yo' were
born, afore 'oo wedded thi feyther, come to that, an' a likelier wench
nivver stepped this side Stanedge!' Then he looks at yo'r pot an' says
he'd ha' axed yo' to have a pint wi' him, but he just leets to be
shortish hissen. Nah what can yo' do, aw ax yo' as man to man but ax him
to ha' a pint wi' yo', an' ha' one yersen for company's sake? Then
another chap comes in an' sets him dahn bi th' side on yo', an' tells
yo' both to sup an' ha' a drink wi' him, an' yo' don't like to throw his
kindness i' his face, let alone doin' an ill turn to th' landlord. Then
in course yo'll ha' to put yo'r hands dahn for another go for th' three
on yo', an' when yo'n had that yo've just abaht come to th' conclusion
yo might as weel mak' a neet on it, an' start afresh wi' yo'r good
resolutions another time. So aw see there's nowt for it but keepin' aht
o' th' publics altogether, if ivver aw mean to ha' a nest-egg laid by."

"And what has come over you lately, Jim, to make you so keen on saving
money."

Jim eyed me sideways.

"Doesn't ta know? Oh, well, tha'll happen find aht sooin' enough. I' th'
meantime yo' may suppose 'at aw intend when aw dee to fahnd a 'sylum for
loonatics, or perhaps aw'm thinkin' a' bequeaving a legacy for th'
endowment o' Powl Moor Chapel. Yo' may be sewer, whativver it is, it'll
be summat 'at ca's for a seet o' brass. Aw've getten three pun' nineteen
an' sevenpence farden teed up i' a stockin' fooit, an' i' a varry little
time aw'st look aht for a sootable investment."

Another symptom, that excited in me a languid speculation was the fact
that Jim, about this time, embarked upon a determined effort to reform
his speech with the result that much concentration was needed to follow
his discourse This is a sample of his speech at this painful period of
his progress in self improvement:

"Well, aw meean--that is, I mean 'well,' if we're--aw mean, I meean
'mean'--'we are' bun--that's to say I mean goin'--drat it, aw've dropped
th' 'g,' as Ruth said--aw mean 'going' to th' sarvice I mean th'
'service' to-neet--theer aw go agen, aw mean 'to-night'--it's time we
donned ussen, aw mean rid ussen up--no'h, that won't do, nother--dressed
ussen--no, that's noan it, nother--aw mean 'dressed ourselves.'"

I think it will not be denied that conversation with Jim in this phase
of his development was attended with difficulties. However, we put on
our Sunday best, and after Mary had straightened Jim's neckcloth and
inspected his boots and brushed an imaginary speck of dust from his coat
sleeve--tender ministrations under which Jim fidgeted impatiently,
declaring that his mother couldn't make more coil if he was going to
be wed--we set off for the Warping Room a few minutes before eleven
o'clock, both feeling very sleepy, and much more inclined for bed than
worship. We hadn't far to go, for Mary's cottage was in the front of
a small block of buildings in the mill yard, and the office or counting
house at the back, and over the counting house, up a short, worm-eaten
flight of steps, the warping room, evidently two bedrooms knocked into
one chamber--and a smallish chamber at that.

It was an ideal winter's night. The moon sailed in a cloudless sky
gemmed with glittering stars. The ground was deep in virgin snow. Not a
breath of air fluttered the fallen flakes. No sound broke the silence
save the babbling of Diggle Brook and the crunching of the snow under
our clogging shoon. The Old Year was dying in a rare peace. It had been
the year that had brought to me the greatest gifts life holds for
man--a pure maiden's trust and love--and I had nought but
benedictions to soothe its passing. As we reached the foot of the short
flight of stairs that led to the warping room we heard the words of the
familiar hymn:

    "Thy faithful people praise Thee, Lord,
       For countless gifts received;
    And pray for grace to keep the Faith,
       Which saints of old believed."

And the words found a ready echo in my heart.

"That's a Church hymn," remarked Jim, as we waited in the little throng
pressing for entry, "that's noan Methody. We'st ha' 'Another rollin'
year, another rollin' year, has swiftly passed away,' just when th'
clock's strucken twelve. That's th' tune for me; it goes wi' a rare
swing. That an' 'Christians, awake!' an' 'Wild shepherds'"--I suppose
Jim referred to the hymn commencing "While shepherds," but he called it
"Wild shepherds"--"is th' only hymn tunes aw can sing, but th' worst on
it is, if aw start on 'Christians, awake!' I'm sure to glide into 'Wild
shepherds,' an' go on at th' top o' my voice till th' wench nearest to
me gi'es me a dig i' th' ribs."

"And then what?" I asked.

"Aw pom, pom," said Jim, gravely.

The room was crowded, nay, packed. Mr. and Mrs. Wrigley were there, and,
of course, Matthy Haley, and nearly all, old and young, male and female,
were "hands" at Wrigley Mill. Mr. Wrigley, a man of some fifty years,
tall, broad-shouldered with plain, honest, good-humoured features, a
quiet, unassuming man, who liked more to listen than to speak, and
generally believed to be much in awe of his wife, was leading the
meeting by right of his position as superintendent of the Sunday School.
Jim and I found ourselves fain to stand wedged in a corner against the
white-washed wall unpleasantly near a little iron stove and flue that
grew so hot as almost to stifle us.

"Dear friends and neighbours" Mr. Wrigley was saying, "I hope--me and my
wife hope--you've all had a Merry Christmas and that you'll all have a
Happy New Year. You know I'm not much of a talker, and--well--yes, I
think that's all. Let us all pray. Those 'at can't find room to kneel,
must stand. Perhaps someone will lead us in prayer."

"Nah for Matthy," whispered Jim, and Matthew it was. He managed to kneel
down somehow, and I resigned myself to suffer in silence, for when
Matthew got under way at a prayer meeting he was good for half an hour,
and I often wondered how his poor knees stood it. And this was how he
prayed, and as he warmed to his work his voice rose to a shout, and he
banged with clenched fist the bench at which he knelt, and the sweat
streamed from every pore of his skin:

"Oh Lord, we come to Thee at the close of another rolling year. Yes,
Lord, another year has quickly rolled away, an' we'n rolled wi' it, an'
we're still Thy people, aye, Thine, only Thine, thank the Lord. And we
feel, O Lord, that it is good for us to be here. It's only a warping
hoil, Lord, as Thou canst see for Thissen, but Thou hast said wherever
two or three are gathered together in Thy name there art Thou in their
midst, and that to bless. Oh, Lord, we'st pin Thee to that. Bless us
Lord. Bless th' owd uns an' th' young uns, th' rich an' poor. Bless Mr.
Wrigley, Lord. Mak' him a vessel o' grace an' sanctify him to Thy
service, so that he may indeed read his title clear to mansions in the
skies. And bless Mrs. Wrigley, Lord. Thou knowest she is Thy handmaiden
and rich in grace. Oh, Lord, bless her, and that abundantly. And bless
their Percy, and their Polly, and their Guster, and their Amy, and their
Lizzie and their maid-servants and their manservants, and the stranger
that is within their gates and all for whom it's our duty to pray. And
bless _us_, Lord, and make us feel that it is good for us to be here.
Thou knows, Lord, we might ha' been elsewhere spending our substance in
riotous livin', aye, even at th' 'Hanging Gate,' abusin' Thy gifts.
There'll be those, Lord, at this minute drinking strong waters"--"Aw
could do a quart missen," said Jim in my ear--"and as like as not
takin' Thy name in vain. Oh, Lord, we thank Thee we are not as them but
here upon our knees at the Throne of Grace. And now, Lord, Thou knowest
what we need even before we ax it, but there's no harm in mentionin' one
or two things. There's bin a shortage o' water at Wrigley Mill this last
summer, an' we'n had a job to keep th' wheel turnin'. Oh, Lord, when th'
dog days come round in due season, open Thy heavens and let the waters
fall. We know, Lord, they fall upon the just and the unjust alike, but,
Lord, if Thou wilt Thou canst lean a bit. Lord, forget not Thy servants
at Wrigley Mill, an' Thine shall be all the glory…."

Now how long Matthew continued in this strain I cannot tell, for at
about this point a stentorian voice from the bottom of the stairs, which
were just as packed as the room, shouted:

"Is Abel Holmes theer?"

"Aye, up i' th' corner, bi th' stove," a young lass at the top of the
steps shouted down to the doorway.

"Tell him he's wanted very pertickler."

Matthew stopped short, and every eye was turned to the corner where Jim
and I were sweltering.

"There'll be something wrong at home," I cried in quick alarm.

"Mak' way, theer," said Jim. "I'm wi thee, Abe. Yo'll excuse us, Mr. and
Mrs. Wrigley, but we're feart there's summat wrong at th' Poll."

Standing by the counting house door we found the man who had come in
quest of me, assuredly no messenger from my father or Ruth, a man known
to me from my earliest days, and once not a little feared, a Burnplatter
known through all the countryside as, Daft Billy. He was generally
supposed to have what was lightly and unfeelingly spoken of as "half a
slate off," and as such was the butt of all the boys of the valley,
whose delight it was to follow him at a safe distance, shouting at him
all the silly gibes they could lay their tongues to. Billy usually
pursued his way unheeding, only the fierce gleam of his eyes and the
malignant scowl on his face betraying that the words had reached his
ears. But at rare times an ungovernable fury would seize upon him. His
face then was a fearsome thing to look upon; he would bellow like a
wounded bull, and rush after the scattering lads, and woe betide the
urchin that fell into his hands. He was the terror of the matrons for
miles around, and women expecting to become mothers dreaded meeting Daft
Billy as they walked abroad. He was counted the cunningest cow doctor
anywhere our abouts, and the farmers sent for him when at their own
wits' end. It was generally allowed that Billy could see further into
the innards of a horse or "beast" than any vet, in Huddersfield or
Oldham, and he made a pretty penny by advising the local gentry in their
dealings in horseflesh. But, unlike all other vets I've ever come
across, he was the most unsociable of human beings. I don't remember
ever to have seen him smile or laugh, and, as Jim complained, good
liquor was fair thrown away on him, for the more he drank the more
morose he waxed. He had no known kith and kin whose lad he was or whence
he came none could tell, and he seemed to have a special aversion for
the gentler sex. For all save Miriam. I know not how my dear love had
won the heart of this Slaithwaite Caliban, but certain it is he
worshipped the ground she trod on. She could say him in his wildest
moods with a word, nay, with a look. Yet was not his love, like mine,
that of a man for a maid, but rather that of a dog for its master. It
was never questioned that Daft Billy would cheerfully give his life for
Miriam, if need were, and as I grew to know this my old feelings for the
man melted away and I came to have a curious sort of liking for him. How
he regarded me I do not know to this day--with a sort of tolerance,
belike, when he came to know how matters stood between Miriam and
myself.

"Why, Billy, what brings you here at this time of night?" I exclaimed,
fears of evil quick besetting me. "Nothing wrong at Burnplatts?"

"Tha'rt wanted--Burnplatts; owd Mother Sykes--'oo's badly."

"But what good can I do her? I'm no doctor."

"Dunnot know. Women's whimsy, belike. Miriam sent me, an' tha's got to
go if aw hug thee theer."

"Oh, if Miriam sent for me I'm with you, Billy. Jim'll come, too."

"There were nowt said about that felly. But th' road's free fro' here to
th' Burnplatts. Aw doubt he'll noan ha' to see Mother Sykes." And with
that Billy turned his back on us, and set off in a sort of ambling trot
in the direction of Burnplatts, Jim and I following at his heels, nor to
all the questions that I bawled at Billy's back could I get a word in
answer.

I cudgelled my brain in vain surmises as to the reasons for this sudden
summons, and I fear was but an unappreciative listener to the monologue
by which Jim who had no gift for silence, sought to beguile the tedium
of the tramp across the snow-shrouded moors.

"Dal it all, Abe," he said, "that's abaat th' fiftieth time tha's axed
me what owd Mother Sykes can want wi' thee. Tha'll know sooin enough.
It'll be nowt to thi advantage or aw'st be capped. If aw'm ony judge th'
owd witch has no use for nob'dy except for what 'oo can mak' aat on 'em.
Aw dunnut know what sort o' a mother your Miriam had, but her
gran'mother's a beauty, an' don't yo' forget it. If Miriam's mother were
owt like Miriam hersen 'oo mun ha' bred back a gooidish bit. It's weel
known a rose 'll grow on a muck midden, but aw'n ne'er known a rose grow
aat o' a thistle seed, an' there's a seet more thistle nor rose abaat
owd Mother Sykes."

"But what in the name of goodness does she want with me at dead of
night."

"Theer tha goes again. 'Oo's ill, didn't Daft Billy say. Happen 'oo's
bahn to mak' her will an' appoint thee her, what do yo' ca'
it?--exekittor. Aw suddn't be capped if 'oo'd getten a stockin' laid by
snug an' safe somewheer. Yo' nivver can tell bi th' way fo'k live how
they'll cut up when they dee. Yo' needn't go further nor owd Mr.
Garside, 'at you're sort o' heir to, to prove that. An' wimmen's
nat'rally of a more savin' an' scrattin' natur' nor men. When they tak'
that way they can live a week on th' backbone of a herrin', an' if they
live long enough it's surprisin' how it mounts up. An' yo' needn't ha'
so mich to start on, nother. Aw were at th' Market Cross i' Huddersfelt
one Tuesday, an' there were one o' those teetotal chaps 'at's just come
up a lecturin'. Varry smart at figures he were, to be sewer. He axed ony
man i' th' crowd to tell him what he spent i' ale ivery week. Nob'dy
seemed anxious to tell him, so just to encourage th' chap aw said, 'Two
bob, maybe.' Weel, he had it worked aat in his yead i' double
quicksticks 'at that were more nor five pund a year, an' he axed me ha'
owd aw were. 'Four and twenty,' says I. 'Put that i' th' bank at some
mak' o' interest'--it were a queerish name, like what th' doctors say
when you've brokken yo'r arm i' two spots"

"Compound interest," I suggested.

"Tha's getten it. 'Put it i' th' bank at compound interest, an' bi' th'
time yo'r forty yo'll ha'--aw dunnot gradely remember how mich it were,
but he med it aat ivery man i' th' country could ha' a house to live in
an' another to let, an' if a felly nobbut lived till he were eighty he
could buy Buckingham Palace, for owt aw know."

"Was that how you came to start _your_ stocking?" I asked.

"Weel, in a manner o' speakin' yo' may say it were. That an' summat
else--but that's up another street. But it's weary work savin' brass.
Aw'n counted my bit till mi wit's nearly addled, an' aw cannot see 'at
it gets onny bigger except when aw put summat to it missen. It's that
compound interest lays ovver me; an' what's th' use o' tellin' them mak'
o' fairy tales, when yo' know varry weel it can't be done. But here we
are at th' top o' th' Ainley Place, an' a rare poo' it's bin up th'
broo, wi' the' snow ballin' i' yo'r clogs ivery five yard. Yo'll excuse
me, Abe, aw'm noan so set o' these Burnplatters. Yo'll find yo'r way
whom wi'out me, so aw'st leave yo' here, an' if th' owd hag _has_ owt to
fling away, an's lookin' for a desarvin' objec', just yo' put a word in
for yours truly." And Jim clapped me heartily on the back, and turned
back the way we had come.

Daft Billy led me to the door of Mother Sykes's cottage. My heart
thumped in my breast, not, be sure, because I knew that lowly abode held
the old dame, but because there dwelt my Miriam. I knocked the snow off
my clogs against the lintel of the door, and, obedient to a motion of my
taciturn guide, pulled the string that lifted the sneck, and entered.
The low room was dimly lighted by a farthing dip, and the glow from a
peat fire. Miriam was seated by the fire on a rude rush-bottomed chair.
She rose as I paused just within the chamber, and placed her finger on
her lips, glancing towards a pallet on which, as my eyes became
accustomed to the dim light, I saw lay the eerie being whose summons had
brought me to that uncanny spot at that ghostly hour.

"Come to the fire and warm yourself," whispered Miriam

"I'm noan asleep; yo' needn't think it," came in a feeble, gasping voice
from the bed. "Don't come near me till you're warm, Abel Holmes, I can't
abear cold. Wheer's Ephraim?"

I jumped in my skin when from the gloom of the remotest corner of the
room Ephraim's voice said surlily, "Aw'm here, trying to get a wink o'
sleep, for aw'n had none this three neets back an more. What do yo' want
nah? Of all the women i' this world for whimsies, aw'll back yo' again
creation. There's no more brandy, if that's what yo're hankerin' for,
an' it's a sore neet an' an ungain hour to go seekin' it."

"Aw reckon yo'n supped it, then. Yo'n swum i' liquor sin' aw were
bedridden, yo' unnat'ral crittor. But tha'rt off thi horse this time. Aw
want nother thee nor thi liquor. Aw want to talk to Abel Holmes."

"Weel, get agate. He's theer, isn't he?"

"Aye, but aw want thee aat o' th' gate first. Just thee mak' thissen
scarce for th' neist hour or two."

"An' wheer should aw go at this time o' neet an' i' this mak' o'
weather?"

"Yo' can go to--for owt aw care," said the beldam, naming a very warm
spot indeed, and displaying a quite remarkable vigour for one whom I had
expected to find at death's door.

Ephraim gave me an evil look that I was by no means conscious of
deserving from one I had not so long ago rescued from durance vile,
tossed a rat-skin cap on to his head, and flung himself out of the room.
The sick woman listened intently to the sound of his footsteps crunching
through the snow. Then she roused herself with difficulty upon one poor,
withered arm, and groping under her pillow drew thence, to my
consternation, the ring I had given to Miriam. I glanced reproachfully
at my sweet one, and she hung her head and would not meet my eyes.

"Wheer did yo' get this trinkum, Abel Holmes th' parson's son at Powl
Moor. Wheer did your father's son come by this? Answer me truly, for
there's more hangs by what yo' tell me nor either yo' nor that hussy
theer know on. Tell me truly, or may the curse o' the God o' Abraham an'
Jacob rest on both on yo', and yo'r leet o' love."

"If it's Miriam you're talking of, she's no light of love of mine nor of
any other man, Mother Sykes, you shameless old woman, that I should use
such a word to one that lies on her death-bed, or so I thought when I
was fetched here at dead of night. Miriam's neither hussy nor
light-of-love. She's my promised wife, and proud I am to say it," and I
put my arm boldly round Miriam's rounded waist, and drew her to my side,
where she seemed to find no small comfort in clinging, as together we
gazed down upon the brown, shrunken face and the thin, spare, grizzled
wisps of hair that hung about it in wild disorder. "My plighted and
'trothed beloved," I continued in a firm voice, gaining confidence as I
went on, "and I gave her that ring in token of our betrothal. As to
where I got it, that's my business. Tell me first how _you_ got it,
Mother Sykes. I didn't give it to _you_, that's certain sure."

"Your promised wife!" sneered that very evil-spoken old woman. "Promises
and pie-crusts, we know what they're made for. Aw'n heerd that tale
afore, an' so in an evil day did my dowter an' her mother afore her."

"Miriam's mother!" I gasped. "Your daughter! Tell me--oh! this is a
fearful tangle!"

"Aye, Miriam's mother. Her 'at that gew-gaw once belonged to, that went
the way o' shame, th' same Miriam's like to tread. It's i' th' blood,
it's i' th' blood, an' wi' a parson's son, too. It's time aw deed, but
aw'll put a spoke i' this wheel afore they put me under th' sod."

I stood as in a dream. I am not quick at reading riddles. A
straightforward story I think I can grasp with any plain and ordinary
man. But through the maze my brain was wrapped in stole at length a
slender gleam of light, a sort of inkling, a mere glimpse of what the
truth might be.

I seized the thin wrist of the sick Woman more roughly, I fear, than
there was warrant for.

"You say this ring once belonged to Miriam's mother, and that that
mother went the way of shame. Then, Mother Sykes, though you were at
your last gasp, I tell you, you lie foully in your throat. Her mother
was the loved and honoured wife of as good and God-fearing and of as
unfortunate and wronged a man as ever trod this earth. I knew him well,
and closed his eyes in death, and were it the last word I have to speak,
James Garside was no seducer of women. Aye, even a Burnplatter's
daughter would be safe with him, as a Burnplatter's granddaughter is
safe with Abel Holmes. I'm my father's son in that, if in nothing else,"
and I closed my arm about that bonnie waist till I think Miriam must
have gasped for breath.

"Garside, James Garside, aye, that were his name, the name of the man
who led my Esmeralda astray, and broke her young heart. She died when
Miriam were born, heart-broken if ever woman were."

"But Esmeralda, Mr. Garside's Esmeralda," I cried in sore perplexity,
"was brought up in his mother's house, and yet you say she was your
daughter. Oh! I remember now--he said the child was left on the
doorstep of his mother's house. And your hands laid her there?"

"Aye, marry, that they did, and oft I've rued it. But I did it for the
best. I saw no way of rearing the bairn myself, and I'd no mind the
bonnie wee thing should lead the life, the only life, I saw before me.
Twas bad enough for me to cast in with the Burnplatters, but I thought
to find a safe asylum for my bairn."

"But the child's father?" I could not help suggesting.

"She _had_ a father, and a lawful father. That's enough for you, Abel
Holmes. Old Mother Sykes was not a Burnplatter born and bred. I'd as
fair a beginning as e'er a man need wish. Oh, I can talk fine, like you,
when I want, so you needn't stare as if you'd seen a boggard. Some day,
if I live long enough, and if you prove your right to know, I'll tell
you my story. But it boots not to-night. Tell me only one thing, and I
think I can die happy. You say that Esmeralda was James Garside's wedded
wife. Can'st prove it?"

"Aye, that I can. My father says--"

"Aye, thi feyther 'll know," nodded the sick woman, lapsing again into
our common speech.

"My father says these Gretna Green marriages were binding enough, and
I've the blacksmith's own certificate safe at home yonder. I'll bring it
to you next time I come. James Garside and Esmeralda--Esmeralda
Atkinson, aye, that was the name--were tied as fast as the law of
Scotland could tie them."

"And that villain of a man that went to her from Manchester swore that
the wedding was all a sham. Told her her lover had sent him to her to
get shut of her. Offered her money, bid her name her own price, only go,
go, go, anywhere, so long as she crossed James Garside's path no more.
Said that if she loved, and loved truly, she would best show her love by
vanishing from her so-called husband's life for ever. To cling to him
were to ruin him. And she, poor child, believed him. She flung his money
in his face, and bid him return to the false coward who had sent him,
and say that never more should he look upon her face again. She stripped
off the fine clothing and the jewel's his money had bought, and left
them all behind her. That ring was one of them."

"You knew the ring then, mother?"

"Knew it! In course I knew it. Esmeralda showed it to me before ever she
quitted Manchester. Showed me the letters traced on the inner side of
it. I'd seen her often after she grew up, unbeknown to old Mrs. Garside,
and I'd made myself known to her. At first she was fleyed of me; but
blood's thicker than water. She told me, too, the young master was
courting her, but his mother would never consent. There was some talk of
another woman they'd planned for him. I disremember exactly, but it'll
come back to me, maybe to-morrow. Give me another sup of summat,
Miriam--my head's that wammy, un' it's desperate cold. I think I could
sleep now I've said my say; and oh! Abel Holmes, yo'n lifted a load off
my old heart to-night. Yon tutor's a deal to answer for, aye an' her,
too, 'at set him on to do her dirty work for her. The black lie of him
killed my bairn and soured my whole life for me. I'd have been a better
woman but for that. I think I should like to see your feyther, Abel,
afore aw dee. Happen yo'll bring him to me. It's mony a weary year sin'
these owd lips said a prayer an' these owd ears han hearkened to more
curses nor blessin's. But aw'n tried to shelter Miriam, hannot aw, lass?
It's noan so easy to fetch up a young an' pratty wench among th'
Burnplatters i' th' way she should go. But aw'n done mi best, aw' done
mi best."

Miriam now was on her knees by the bedside, and she had the old dame's
hand pressed to her own sweet breast, and the tears fell upon it from
her streaming eyes.

"Don't talk like that, granny. You've been all the world to me, dear
heart, till--till Abel came. I always knew you loved me, granny, and
I've loved you always. Only get well, granny, be quick and get well, and
we'll think nothing good enough for you. Aye, close your dear eyes,
granny, sleep now. Go home, now, Abel, she's talked too much. Come again
tomorrow night if you can."

She did not rise from her knees. I stooped and kissed her upturned face,
and stole softly out of the cottage.

When I cleared Burnplatts it must have been, as I should judge, some
four o'clock of the morning. The moon no longer sailed in a clear sky:
that was overcast by sombre clouds, big with snow that was yet to fall,
and but fitful gleams pierced the gloom. I was in two minds whether to
turn my steps towards my father's house at Pole or take the longer road
to Wrigley Mill. I was dead beat, and would have been fain to stretch my
weary limbs in rest. And my mind was in tune with my body. I wanted time
to think over all old Mother Sykes had said. I felt I should have a long
story to tell my father, and one, perchance, he would not be overjoyed
to hear; and I felt in no mood for the telling of long stories. So with
a weary shrug of my shoulders I turned my face towards Stanedge and
floundered through the deep snow that, a foot deep and more, covered the
rough cart-tracks and shortcuts. I suppose that after a while of steady
pounding I must have fallen, as I walked, into a sort of semi-sleep, my
legs moving mechanically whilst my mind was wrapped in a dull and
senseless stupor. Anyway I had made to this side--I mean the Yorkshire
side--of Stanedge Cutting, when, with a start, I realised that I was no
longer alone. Ephraim Sykes barred my way and as my senses cleared I
became aware Ephraim was in a very ugly mood. He had clearly been
drinking, and deeply. His breath on the cold air was like steam, and it
was heavy laden with the fumes of brandy.

"I'd have a word or two wi' you, Abel Holmes." he said in a thick voice.
"There's a score to settle between you an' me, afore yo' go ony
further."

"Why, it's a queer time and place for talking, Eph.," I remember saying,
"I'm just tired to death and want nothing so much as a good sleep. We'd
both be best i' bed, don't you think, and you've a tidy step before you
on to Burnplatts."

"Damn Burnplatts," he cried fiercely. "Burnplatts has noan bin
Burnplatts for me sin' first yo' showed your cantin' mug theer. An'
that's what I'm getten to talk about. What had th' owd hell-cat to say
to thee so private 'at aw mun be turned aat i' to th' cowd at after
midneet? What devil's plot are yo' three hatchin' among you? An' what's
Miriam to thee, Abel Holmes, aw'm speerin'--aye, that's th' point o' it
all. What's Miriam to thee, I want to know?"

"Well, it's soon told, Eph., Miriam's tokened to me this many a happy
month past. That's what Miriam is to me, lad, and I hope you'll wish me
joy, Eph."

"Wish you joy! Aw wish you an' your smooth tongue were i' hell fire an'
me th' stoker. So that's what all this comin' an' goin', an' your sister
hanging about Burnplatts, an' Miriam goin' about wi' a song on her lips
an' a light in her e'en as if oo'd had a glimpse o' heaven--that's what
it means, is it? An' do yo' think aw'm th' man to stand by an' see
another steal his lass fro' him wi'out word said or blow struck?
Miriam's mine, aw tell thee. Afore ever yo' clapt een on her, afore oo
could toddle, when oo were a wee wench 'at aw hugged i' these arms
across th' moor, Miriam were mine. She's none they meat, Abel Holmes;
she's for a better man nor thee tho' tha art a parson's son, an' can
talk her fine,'an' read out o' books to her an' turn her yead wi' po'try
an' that mak' o' nonsense. She'll never stand afore th'parson wi' thee,
Abe Holmes, nor wi' ony other man but me. Aw'll noan be robbed o' th'
light o' my life by thee nor th' best man livin', choose who he is. But
theer, aw said to missen I'd noan be rough wi thee. Tha did me a gooid
turn i' that court do wi' th' Bradburys, an' afore that when tha fun me
lame on th' moor, not so far fro' wheer we stan' to meet, yo' an' me
alone on th' moor, wi' nowt to stan' atween us. I've noan forgotten. So
aw'll noan be rough wi' thee; tha'st ha' thi' chance, for owd times'
sake. Tha's got to give her up, Abe. See th' first streak o' grey's
stealin' fro' th' east, tha can see me hand now. Put thine into mine,
Abe, an' promise me, man to man, tha'll't gi' her up."

"You know very well, Eph., I shall do no such thing. It's th' drink
that's talking, not thee, Eph. Get yo' home to bed, and stand out o' my
gait, for I'd fain be there mysen."

"Yo'r bed 'll be a shroud o' snow, then. Off wi' yo'r coit, yo'
white-livered cur, if yo'n a ounce o' blood i' yo'r body. Off wi' th'
coit, an' stan' to me, man to man." And Ephraim in a mad frenzy tore off
his coat and cast it to the ground, and stood before me, his blood-shot
eyes glaring wildly, his mouth foaming, and his face convulsed with
passion. I made no move to doff my coat, but as Ephraim came at me with
a wild cry and big clenched fists that strove to reach my throat, I beat
him off as best I could, tho' such was the frenzy that nerved his arm
that I felt with a sick foreboding that I was at the mercy of my foe. I
gave back from him, shielding my face as best I could, but he pressed me
close, and his breath was hot and foul upon me and his left hand had
closed upon my throat, when my eye caught the gleam as of a lanthorn and
I heard from somewhere not far across the moor at the back of me, a
loud, hoarse cry:

"Hold theer Ephraim, hold, aw tell thee."

"Hell and fury, it's Daft Billy--that'll be Miriam's doing. But aw'll
finish my job, ony road, Billy or no Billy," cried Eph.

But at the sound of that voice in the wilderness I had found fresh
strength, and with a sudden wrench I tore myself from Ephraim's grasp,
and with as shrewd a blow as ever this good right arm ever struck, sent
him reeling on his heels. He recovered his balance, then, as the cry
still came across the white waste of snow, "Howd theer, howd, aw say," I
saw Eph.'s right hand seek his belt. There was a dull flash of steel, a
sharp, cutting pain on my left side, the feel of soft, warm moisture oh
my skin, and I knew no more.



CHAPTER VII.

RUTH AND JIM.

When I returned to my senses, or, as Jim expressed it, "comed back to
my know," it was to find myself tucked in bed in my own little room in
Pole Moor Manse, snug enough save that the upper part of my left arm
seemed big enough for the thigh of an elephant. The knife with which I
had been stabbed, by a blow that was probably meant for my heart, had
lodged deep in the shoulder, or, as Jim explained to me, the humerus,
though, again to quote my friend, "nob'dy but a doctor could see owt
humorous about it, but that's what owd Dean ca'd it." The upper arm had
swollen to a portentous size, the skin red and inflamed, and the
vilely-stinking matter had been drained away by tubes inserted in the
wound, I all the while unconscious and babbling about rings and Gretna
Green and Burnplatters and bad warps and broken time and Bill's o' Jacks
and Belgian hares and I know not what, beside, "enough to make angels
weep," Ruth said, "fit to mak' a pig dee o' laughing," Jim declared. It
had been deemed necessary to sit up with me, and for the comfort of the
watchers the long-settle had been with much difficulty, hoisted to my
chamber through the window, the staircase being too narrow to admit of
its being brought up that way. As the mists cleared from my mind, which
they did slowly, just as I have seen a mist melt away in tiny wisps as
the sun gained in power, I became aware of subdued voices by the long,
narrow window, under which the long-settle stretched. At first the sound
seemed to my ears like the droning of a hive of bees, but as my
perception cleared I knew the voices to be those of Ruth and, unless I
was greatly mistaken, of the faithful Jim. I was stretched prone on my
back, and my left arm was wrapped round and round again with yards of
lint and bindings, and burled and throbbed and twitched and stung, and I
wondered what ailed it and how I came to be in bed at Pole Moor, with
the evening sun shining through the window, and why, in the name of all
that was decent and seemly, Ruth and Jim should have invaded the privacy
of my own bedroom. I managed, with some pain, to turn my head on the
bolster in the direction of the voices, and sure enough there was Jim
sat at one end of the long-settle, and though that useful article of
furniture was long enough to accommodate half a dozen folk without
crowding, there was our Ruth hutched close up to the giant form of my
comrade, looking like a dainty yacht beside a man o' war, and, as I'm a
sinner, Jim had his left arm about Ruth's shoulders --he'd have had to
go on to his knees to clasp her waist--and her little brown hand
nestled confidingly in Jim's big fist. I was so taken aback that I
merely gasped and lay still resolving however that if it should please
the good Lord to lift me off that bed of pain. I'd give Ruth at large my
views as to what was fitting for a maiden who was a full and dipped
member at Pole Chapel, its minister's daughter, and the sister to boot,
of a decent lad who, for aught she knew or seemed to care, might at that
very moment when she sat billing and cooing be at death's door; a mere
chit of a girl, I communed inwardly with myself, old enough, for sure,
old enough to wait on me and be her old fathers nurse, but certainly not
old enough to be casting her mind man-wards--though a quick
afterthought reminded me she was Miriam's age to a month or two; but
then, that was up another street.

"Tell us all about it again, Ruth," I heard Jim say. "Start reight at
th' beginning, like th' Meltham singers. I could hearken to thee talkin'
fro' th' peep o' day to sundown. Tha's getten a voice like a linnet."

"He should hear Miriam," I thought to myself. "Ruth's voice, indeed!"

"Well, get away to th' other end of th' settle," quoth Ruth. "What do
you want scrouging me up in a corner like this?"

"Aw thowt happen you were cowd," says Jim with a grin.

"Well, I'm not, and besides, there's a fire, and whatever would father
think if he came upstairs; and there's Abe--who knows but what
unconscious folk have got their senses about them unbeknown to us. I
wouldn't have Abe know for all I can see. He'd just plague my life out."

"Oh! don't mind me," I said inwardly. "I'll get on wi' mi deein', thee
get on wi' thi courtin'."

"Well, it was this way," began Ruth, after Jim had hutched his burly
form about an inch towards the other end of the settle, though he still
clung to Ruth's hand in a perfectly idiotic manner. Whatever sort of
pleasure could he find in the touch of Ruth's soft fingers? If they'd
been Miriam's now!

"It was this way. I'd overslept myself that morning, good New Year's Day
though it was. You see we'd had the watch-night service in the chapel,
and I can't stand these late hours. If I miss my sleep I feel stupid for
a week at after. It would, maybe, be seven o'clock, and darkish still,
when I was wakened by Tear'em, Abe's old terrier you know, kicking up
the most awful racket you ever heard, and there was somebody pounding at
the kitchen door I thought sure it was one of th' congregation taken
badly and wanting my father. They nearly always contrive to come on that
errand when we're warm and snug in bed. Nobody ever seems to be taken
worse at a reasonable hour. I'm sure I don't know why, but it is so, and
I've heard Dr. Dean say th' same thing. 'Well, let 'em knock,' I
thought, 'father's not rested yet after th' watch-night service, an'
I'll not let him out of this house for th' King of England till he's had
his porridge. He's getting too old for tramping th' moors i' midwinter
on an empty stomach.' But th' pounding went on, and Tear 'em got worse
and worse. So I slipped out o' bed an' drew my blind up, to let 'em know
I was waken. Then I dressed myself, and went down to unbar th' door.
When I got it open I saw two men making off down th' road as fast as
their legs could carry them; th' snow was falling thick and fast, and
they'd their backs to me and their heads bent, so who they were I've no
more notion than our cat. Not to swear to, I mean, but if one of them
wasn't Daft Billy my name's not Ruth Holmes, and that I'll stick to, to
my dying day, though father says I've no right to jump to conclusions.
'Well, that's a nice trick to play on a parson,' I was saying to myself,
'that'll be some Slowit Church Choir that have been letting New Year in,
an' done this for spite,' when I heard a groan that made me jump nearly
out of my frock. And there was poor Abe, propped up against the house
side all covered with white, like a snowman. His head was sunk on his
breast, and his coat, was tied round his neck. Somebody had tied a dirty
red handkerchief round his arm to stop the bleeding, and Dr. Dean said
whoever'd done it knew a thing or two, and that makes me all the surer
Daft Billy had his finger in th' pie, for you know how clever he is with
a cow. Now, do sit further off, Jim, or I won't say another word."

"Aw don't think th' settle legs at this side are o'er strong," muttered
Jim, "an aw think aw mun ha' getten a cowd i' mi yead, for aw dunnot
ye'r (hear) so weel at a distance, an' yo' munnot speik up or, maybe,
yo'll wakken Abe, an' aw'm certain sure that'd noan be good for his
health. Same as fo'k as walk i' their sleep, yo' know: they _do_ say if
yo' wakken 'em sudden they go off their yeads, an' stop so all their
lives 'at after. Tha'd nivver forgive thissen, Ruth, if yo' had to shout
through me bein' a bit deafish an' sittin' three yard off. But ger on
wi' thi tale."

"Well, when I saw Abe, I cried 'Murder!' with all my might, and as good
luck would have it old Deacon Hoyle was just coming up th' fowd to see
if we'd any skim milk to spare for his pig, an' between us we lifted him
up off th' ground and carried him into th' house and laid him on this
very settle, him moaning all th' time fit to break your heart, and his
face as white as th' snow itself, and you know what a colour he has when
he's himself. My father came downstairs half dressed and all of a
tremble, and then we saw that the bandage round Abe's arm was soaked
with blood. We hadn't a drop o' brandy in the house, you know how set my
father is against anything stronger than home-brewed, but all of a
sudden I bethought me there was half a bottle of port wine left over
from th' last love-feast. I poured half a mugful down Abe's throat, and
he just gasped and opened his eyes, then groaned worse than ever, and
seemed just to swoon away.

"'Enoch Hoyle,' I cried, 'if ever you made haste in your life, which I
doubt, stir those long legs of yours now, and pack yourself down to
Slowit to Dr. Dean's. Yo'll catch him before he starts his rounds, and
tell him our Abe's bleeding himself to death.' Well, that's all, I
think. We got him to bed after th' doctor had come and seen to his arm.
He says--th' doctor I mean--that Abe's been stabbed, and there's foul
play somew'ere."

"And who do you think did it, Ruth?"

"Aye, who? Father thinks it may be one of those Bradburys over at Bill's
o' Jack's. But I've reasons of my own for thinking different."

"And aw'll be bun' you're reet, Ruth," asseverated Jim, with great
conviction. "I'd back thee agen yo'r own feyther, an' that's a big word
to say, an' him such a clever owd felly."

"You mustn't say 'reet,' Jim--how often have I to tell you," said Ruth,
severely. "You must say 'right.' I do wish you'd take more pains with
your speech, if we're ever to be more than just good friends, and that
we'll always be, won't we?"

"Friends be dalled," quoth Jim. "Us 'll be one flesh an' one blood, an'
afore so long either, or I'll know the reason why. But aw dunnot know
ha' it is, aw can talk reet--aw mean reight--aw mean right--enough
when aw ta' my time to it, but as sooin as aw warm to th' collar, so to
speik--theer aw go again, aw mean speak--out th' owd Yorkshire comes
as brode--aw mean broad--as they mak' it."

Now I couldn't help thinking even as I lay there, with more than enough
to perplex me and that of moment, that Ruth was a little hard upon poor
Jim; for certain sure am I that she herself aye, and even, my learned
and reverend father himself often, in moment of excitement or stress
lapsed into the common speech; and the little wonder, too, when the
common speech saluted our ears from all sides from Monday morning to
Sunday night. As for me, why, I never knew when I was "talking broad,"
as they say, or "talking fine," for the dialect came to me as natural as
mother's milk to a sucking babe, as my first spoken words were to show.
For at this very juncture I opened wide my eyes, and turning my head as
well as I could to the settle, I said:

"Aw could eit some browies, Ruth, an' drink a pint o' drink."

"The Lord preserve us," almost screamed Ruth, as she jumped away from
Jim, "if the lad isn't wakken an' got his know again."

They both came to my bedside and gazed at me as though I were a natural
curiosity, or something in a peep-show. Then Jim:

"Weel, lad, I'm mighty fain to hear thee speik a word o' sense agen.
Tha's had a slate off, not to say th' whole thack, this mony a weary day
an' neet. Aw'n ta'en my turn to sit up wi' thee, an' of all th'
gibberish I ivver yeard tha ta'es th' button. But tha's started weel,
nah tha has come to thi senses--'browies an' a pint o' drink.' If Ruth
here 'll see to th' browies, aw'll fot th' drink."

"You seem to know your way about at Pole Moor," I remarked meaningly.

Jim looked confused. "Weel, nowt to speik on," he said, "but aw do know
mi way to th' buttry. Yo' see, sittin' up th' neet through wi' nob'dy to
talk to but Tear 'em, an' nowt to read but Fox's 'Book o' Martyrs' an'
'Th' Call to th' Unconverted'--not 'at aw'n a word to say agen them
books, mind yo', an' don't you go tellin' yo'r feyther 'at aw an--well,
it's dry work, to put it mild, an' if aw hadn't had a drop o' summat to
weet mi clay aw should ha' nodded off belike just when it were time to
gi' thee thi doctor's stuff. Summat to 'allay th' fever,' owd Dean ca'd
it, which my mother says if they'd let thee sup thi fill o'
cherry-laurel watter tha'd ha bin up an' about afore this--tha knows
what a woman she is for herbs. Oo's med me read owd Culpepper awmost
fro' back to back sin' tha's bin ligged here, an' as far as aw can mak'
aat from what th' owd herbalist says in his book, an' fro' mi mother's
comments on what aw'n read to her, tha's getten abaat sixty different
complaints all to thi own cheek. Tha's getten th' symptoms o' all on
'em, an' partickler o' those wi' th' jaw-breakin' names, at aw couldn't
reelly put me tongue to. Why, Ruth hersen couldn't chrisen haulf on 'em;
could ta, Ruth?" And here Jim paused to take wind for a fresh start.

"Where's my father?" I asked.

"Why, where should he be at nine o'clock of a Sabbath morn?" asked Ruth,
proceeding, woman-wise, to answer her own question. "He's in th' barn,
to be sure, with th' Sunday School. I don't know what the world's coming
to, I'm sure. One would have thought my father had enough to do, with
two sermons every Sunday, one on week-days, sick visiting, prayer
meetings, conferences, a cow, two pigs, a potato patch, a sick
son----"

"An angel o' a dowter," put in Jim.

"And now, to crown all, this new-fangled Sunday School. And there's
Enoch Hoyle as proud as Punch because they've set him on to teach th'
youngest class their alphabet."

"Why, Enoch can't read himself," I exclaimed feebly.

"No, but he's learning from th' scholars as they go on," explained Ruth,
glad, so it seemed to me, to keep chattering on any subject under the
sun and not yet fully recovered from the confusion into which she had
been thrown by my unexpected return to consciousness "I hearkened to
them t'other Sunday, You know we've had the letters of the alphabet cut
in large wood letters. 'What do you ca' this chap,' says Enoch to th'
top boy in th' class, taking up a letter promiscuous like. 'It's a P,'
says th' boy. 'An' what dost ta ca' it?' asks Enoch from the next boy.
'It's a P for sartin',' says th' lad. And so on, right down to the
bottom boy. Then Enoch laid down the letter with a profound sigh. 'It's
a P,' he pronounced, an' don't yo' forget it as long as yo' live.' And
that's how Enoch is both learning to read and teaching his class. He
says he'll die happy when he can spell 'Belgian hares.' But there, I'm
talking all this time of something and nothing, and what we've all been
dying to know these days back is how you came by that nasty wound in
your arm. Dr. Dean says it's our duty to society to bring the offenders
to book, though father ever quotes to him 'Vengeance is mine, I will
repay, saith the Lord.'

"And what does Dr. Dean say to that?" I asked, more to gain time than
from any curiosity as to the worthy surgeon's views.

"Oh, he makes short work of texts. He says they're right enough on
Sundays and for Sunday wear, but on week days he opines God Almighty
relies on the secular arm, as he calls it."

"Meaning th' bobby," interpreted Jim.

"It seemed to me from what I heard you saying to Jim----" I began.

"You mustn't trust your ears for anything you fancy you heard just as
you came to your senses," put in Ruth hurriedly, and blushing red as a
peony. "You can never be sure how much was real and how much dreaming."

"To be sure," corroborated Jim, wagging his head sagely.

"Well, I fancied I heard you say you had reasons of your own for
thinking it wasn't one of the Bradbury's gave me this jab in my arm."

"Oh! if that's all you heard," said Ruth, evidently much relieved.

"I didn't say it _was_ all I heard," I replied, trying to look at her
with much severity, whilst Jim seemed to be studying a crack in the
ceiling. "But I _should_ like to know your reasons."

"Well, Miriam, you know," began Ruth.

"Aye, Miriam," I cried, and turned myself in bed so unguardedly that all
the pains of hell gat hold upon me, as it says in the Book, or so it
seemed to me for an excruciating moment or two. "Aye, Miriam?"

"Sakes alive," cried Ruth, "them browies! Th' fat 'll be boiling over
into th' fire. Miriam 'll wait, but good beef dripping on a hot fire 'll
wait neither for man nor maid," and Ruth whisked out of the chamber with
all her sail on.

I tried to shrug my shoulders as I glanced at Jim, as though by a shrug
I would convey to him what sort of treatment he might anticipate for
himself in the days to come; but a sharp twinge warned me to lie quiet.
There was silence between us, whilst Jim shredded some thin twist,
drawing a dirty clay out of his fob and eyeing it longingly.

"I think I'll go and ha' a reek o' baccy in th' kitchen, I can put mi
yead up th' flue," he said, sheepishly.

"You can smoke here," I said curtly. "And look here, Jim, tell me what
sort of a tale's running the country about this hurt of mine."

"There's all mak's," said Jim. "Aw nivver knew so mich to do i' my life
abaat a bit o' a cut 'at ony chap could get if he gate into a scrap wi
one o' them Irish haymakers 'at come over i' th' hay-time. Aw'm all for
th' bare nieve missen, wi' a bit o' a clog toe thrown in as an extry;
but th' Irish 'll use a knife on a pinch. But if yo'd be blown up wi'
gunpowther there couldn't ha' bin more doment. For one thing, there's
bin at least hauf a dozen special prayer meetin's at th' Pole here, an'
on your account, an' th' prayers o' th' congregation ha' been specially
requested for our brother Abe 'at lies stricken unto death. Aw suppose
there'll be a thanksgiving sarvice nah tha'rt on th' mend. Then th'
constable fro' Marsden has bin nosin' raand. He's bin uncommon civil to
me, an' stooid a quart or two, but aw'n bin mum. For one reason, yo'
see, aw knowed nowt, tho' yo' mun be sewer aw hannot tell'd him so, an
noan likely to as long as free quarts is goin'. If owt leaks aat, it'll
be Enoch Hoyle's tellin'. He's fair longin' for another Court do. He
were so set up wi' hissen ower th' way yo' bested th' Bradbury's o'er
Ephraim's job 'at he's just hitchin' for another innin's."

"By the by," I asked, "where is Ephraim?"

"Ax me another," quoth Jim, eyeing me sideways. "He's vanished. Ne'er
been heard on sin' New Year's Eve, same neet yo' were set on. Some
folk's puttin' this an' that together. But aw'm not for speerin'."

"Well, don't, Jim, there's a good lad. An' shut Enoch's mouth if you
can. I've my reasons. Ah, here's Ruth with th' browies, an' I'm mortal
hungry, and as dry as a lime kiln."

It was almost worth while being ill to savour those browies and that
ale. Never, sure, were nectar and ambrosia sweeter on Olympian lips than
that homely mixture of haver-bread and beef-dripping, piping hot, and
pepper and salt, washed down with innocent home-brewed. I've lived to
see the day when men and women drink tea by the quart when their fathers
quaffed their home-brewed; and shattered nerves and dyspeptic stomachs
tell what's amiss. Worse still, I've lived to see the day when you can
travel the countryside for miles around and hardly a housewife be found
that can brew a peck of honest malt. It's malt and chemicals now, dear
bought at the public-house; and muddled heads and shaky limbs tell
what's amiss.

But so long as my father lived never did drop of alien brew pass the
doors of Pole Moor Manse, and as for spirits save a thimbleful of brandy
in case of sickness the very name was anathema in my father's ears and
while I was spooning my brownies with great gusto and meditating another
mighty pull at the pewter jug, my dear old father stole softly up the
narrow staircase in his stocking-feet, having doffed his shoon in the
kitchen, partly to avoid noise, but more to avoid dirt and Ruth's
consequent and instant railing accusations. And when he saw me so
valiantly engaged, the little, thin man, with a heart as tender as a
woman's and as dauntless as Goliath's, could find no words to speak, but
must needs sit by my couch and softly pat my big hand, and bid me not to
talk more but sleep if I could. And, knowing well that no petition could
please him better, I asked him to read just a verse or two from the Book
that was indeed to him the Book of Life, and as he read in his grave,
soft voice, all tremulous now, how the Master came nigh to the gate of a
certain city and there was one carried out, the only son of his mother
and she a widow, and how the Lord had compassion on her and bade her
weep not, and how the young man sat up and began to speak, and "he
delivered him to his mother," the warm tears trickled softly down the
hollow cheeks, and I knew that not in Nain only was "God glorified," and
full of thankfulness to heaven for the love of this sainted man, and
still weak, doubtless, from loss of blood and confinement to bed, and
low diet, and drowsy perchance, from the ale I had drunk, and at natural
peace with God and man, I sank into a natural sleep, and so slumbered
with my father's hand in mine.

It was not till some days afterwards, I being then much stronger, and my
arm having sunk to something like its normal size, and I feeling little
after effects from my wound, save a most voracious appetite that Ruth
condescended to tell me her reasons for acquitting the Bill's o' Jack's
folk of having part or parcel in the attack I had been so rudely
treated. It seemed that on the afternoon of the day I had been
discovered propped against the Manse, Ruth had sallied forth in a
blinding snowstorm to fetch from Dr. Dean's surgery in Slaithwaite the
potions and lotions he had prescribed. And not far from Pole Moor,
evidently waiting about on the chance of waylaying anyone who left the
parson's house, she had come across the shrinking form of Miriam,
looking, as Ruth declared, more like a sheeted ghost than a human being,
so shrouded was she in the fallen flakes, white her face, so piteous and
"feart" her eyes.

"Oh, Ruth, at last, at last; I thought no one would ever come! How is
he, how is he? Will he get better? What does the doctor say?" Miriam had
cried.

"And how do you know our Abe's badly, I should like to know," Ruth had
answered tartly, for one may be sure she was in none the best of
tempers, and small blame to her.

"Oh, Ruth, dear, dear Ruth, don't speak unkindly to me. I'm sure I've
enough to bear without you turning on me," and here, it seemed, poor
Miriam, who was not one of your crying sort, had fairly broken down, and
Ruth, all there on the lone road and in the blinding snow, had put her
arm round the swaying form, and Miriam had sobbed out her story on
Ruth's gentle breast.

"Granny's like to die," she had said, "and couldn't or wouldn't rest
till she had seen Abe. She had found the ring Abe had given me, and
after that nothing would quieten her but seeing Abe. And Daft Billy had
brought Abe long after midnight, and Ephraim was there, and there were
angry words and foul looks, and Ephraim went off in ugly mood. Then
after a long, long time Abe started out, but whether for Pole Moor or
Wrigley Mill I didn't know for sure. And after he had gone I couldn't
rest for thinking of Ephraim's black looks. Something here," putting her
hand over her fluttering heart, "seemed to tell me that danger menaced
Abe. I dare not leave the sick woman, or I would myself have braved the
darkness and the storm even in that grim hour. So, unable to still the
forebodings that beset me, I stole out of the house to the hovel where
Daft Billy dwells by his lone. I roused him with difficulty, and told
him my fears. As he valued my friendship I bade him follow Abe's
footsteps, if he could trace them in the snow, and see Abe, himself
unseen, safe bestowed either at Pole Moor or Wrigley Mill." And Billy,
who it seemed was in the habit of sleeping in his clothes, as saving
trouble and blankets, had snatched up a lanthorn and made off in the
dark, whilst Miriam returned to the sick woman's side, to count the
minutes, aye, the seconds, till news should come. Then after a
never-ending waiting, after the late dawn of day, Billy had returned to
Burnplatts, had thrust open her cottage door, and said just this and no
more:

"Th' young fooil's all reet. There's bin a bit o' a accident, but nowt
to scare yo'. He's at th' Pole."

And neither coaxing, nor threats, nor cross-examination, nor bribes, nor
tears, nor woman's wiles in all their forms and force, could extract
another word from Billy, surnamed the Daft, but who, as I think I have
said before, was by no means so daft as he was called.

And of Ephraim there had been neither sight nor sound since he had left
his granddam's cottage on that eventful New Year's morn.

But it was whispered at Burnplatts--goodness knows how such things do
get bruited abroad--that Abe, the old parson's son, was sick unto
death, stabbed to the heart on Stanedge Moor. How he had been conveyed
to Pole Moor there were a thousand guesses; but I couldn't tell, and
Daft Billy wouldn't.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE PASSING OF MOTHER SYKES.

IT must have been in the third or fourth week of my convalescence. I
know I was allowed to get up for a few hours each day and sit by the
fireside wrapped in a great shawl, and I kept Ruth busy making beef-tea
and mutton-broth and rice puddings and custards. Fortunately, as she
said, her hens had settled well down to laying, and eggs were plentiful.
Dr. Dean had been very wroth when he heard about the home-brewed. He
said it was of an inflammatory nature, and had put me on to barley
water, a drink I've had a mortal loathing for ever since.

I was sat, as I have said, by the fire, very sick of my own company, and
not finding it much improved by "The Call, to the Unconverted," or the
other goodly books my father exhorted me to read, mark, learn, and
inwardly digest. I wondered then, and have often wondered since, how it
is that your good books, or is it only your goody-goody books, are such
dreary reading. I would cheerfully have swapped all the works on my
reverend father's shelves for an hour's discourse with that cheerful
sinner, Jim. Except, perhaps, Mr. Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress." Ah!
there's a book, if you like.

But, anyroad, there's one good thing about even goody-goody books. Dr.
Dean had been strict in his commands that I must be kept quiet and
absolutely free from excitement, and no one can say there's anything
very exhilarating about Hervey's "Meditations among the Silent Tombs" a
work specially commended to me by one of the Pole Moor deacons. So
little so did I find it that I was nodding off to sleep in the chair
when Ruth came softly into the room.

"There's Daft Billy downstairs," she said in a low voice, "and father's
getting his thick boots and goloshes and gaiters on, and he's put his
Bible into his pocket. I can't quite make out--Billy 'd say nowt,
though I'd a hard try at him--but unless I'm very much mistaken things
are moving down at Burnplatts.

"And me like a lump o' lumber on th' hearthstone," I muttered
impatiently.

"We'st know more than we do now when father comes back. I'll have some
hot potato cakes, with plenty of butter. Th' price tea's at it's like
dissolving pearls in wine, as I've read those pagan Romans used to do;
but all th' same, father'st have his dish of tea to-night, if I've to
break into that pound my aunt Keziah brought me on my first birthday,
though she did say it was not to be broken into till my wedding day.
Then when father's got his wet shoon off, an' had his tea, and got his
pipe nicely going, see if I don't get it all out of him."

"You're like that lady of high quality I read about, Ruth. She boasted
she could always keep her husband in a good humour. 'How do you do it?'
someone asked. 'I feed the brute,' was her recipe."

"And quality or no quality, that lady was none bout sense," opined Ruth.
"Nine times out of ten the way to a man's heart is through his stomach."

"But a parson's heart!" I protested.

"Why, now, who should know them better nor me?" retorted Ruth. "Don't I
have to do for 'em when they have their monthly conferences at th' Pole.
If there's one set o' men more than another with a weakness for hot
muffins and plenty of butter it's parsons, an' Baptist parsons at that."

Well, now, whether it was the influence of the tea or the potato-cake or
the snug comfort of my little bedroom, to which my father brought his
pipe, I know not. But this is certain, that no sooner had Ruth handed
him his long churchwarden, and the weed had attained an assured glow,
and Ruth had nestled up to his knee, seated on a little hassock with her
steel knitting needles glinting in the fire's rays as they threaded warp
and weft for my winter "comforter," or neck muffler, than my father
began:

"Well, old Mother Sykes of Burnplatts has gone at last. She's been
failing this while back. I scarce expected her to last so long."

"Dead!" I cried. "Mother Sykes dead!"

My father nodded gravely.

"She passed quietly away at two o'clock this afternoon. I was with her,
and that strange girl we've always thought so much out of her natural
sphere at Burnplatts. A wild, untamed spirit, I fear; but a good heart,
a good and a feeling heart. She'd had a stormy and eventful, life, poor
soul, but thank God her end was peace."

"What, Miriam's?" I gasped.

"Miriam's, no--I was talking of the old woman. She had a deal to tell
me, as well as her breathing would let her, but she gave me to
understand that you, Abel, knew all it was needful to know. I've never
compelled your confidence, Abel, but I'm not aware that I've been a hard
father or sought ought but my children's good."

My conscience smote me. I had had it in my mind many a time to tell him
how things stood between me and Miriam. But to tell the honest truth I
had put off and put off because I more than feared he would bid me see
Miriam no more. And obey him in that I knew I could not do.

"She's to be buried next Friday. She wants to lie at Pole Moor, but I
don't quite know how that may be. Our little croft's getting very full,
and the fathers and mothers in Israel have their claim. There's our own
grave, to be sure: there's room left there for me by your dear mother's
side, and for you, Abel, and for Ruth."

"Oh," cried Ruth, "th' poor woman can have my share, and welcome. I'll
make shift anywhere The old dame's been cuffed about enough in her
lifetime, without being hawked about now she's dead."

"Well, we'll see," said my father, patting Ruth's plump little hand
fondly. "'Let all things be done decently and in order' the Book says.
And I fear me some of the brethren may regard the departed as the
Hebrews of old looked on the uncircumcised. But truly we're under the
New Dispensation, and the letter killeth, but the spirit keepeth alive."

"There's another text, father, about the dead burying their dead. What
about the living? What about Miriam? If her grandmother made things
plain to you, Burnplatts is no place for her now her only protector's
dead and gone. Come to that, it never was. Surely she's not left alone
in the house with her dead. Oh, if I'd only the strength of a kitling
I'd be down to Burnplatts myself. You'll go, Ruth?"

"And have you so little knowledge of your father, Abel? The maid Miriam
is well seen to. There's that strange man, Daft Billy, hangs about the
place and will see no harm comes to her--a wild, uncouth creature, but
a faithful. Then there are the women kind: a wildish lot, maybe, but
they all seemed bent on easing the maid's burden. Still, I'd have had
her return with me to Pole Moor. But that she flatly refused to do. She
said her Granny had cared her all her days and she wasn't going to leave
her till she had seen her laid in her last resting-place. And she was in
the right of it, I thought."

"And what at after?" I asked anxiously. "It's out of all question that
she can go on living at Burnplatts."

"There'll be no need for that," said my sire. "She has money of her own,
and can pick and choose her abiding place.

"Miriam? Money?"

"Why, yes. Have you forgotten old Mr. Garside' bequest that lies now at
usury in the bank at Huddersfield? Who's should it be but the maid
Miriam's?"

Now, believe me or believe me not, you who may come to read this simple
story, I'd clean forgotten the money that Mr. Garside had entrusted to
my care, or, rather, should I say, it had not recurred to my mind. Nor
is this so much to be wondered at. First of all had come the
overwhelming revelation of Miriam's identity, and then, before my mind
had had time to assimilate old Granny Sykes's story, I'd gone through a
serious illness, my wits all scattered, and, as I've said more than
once, I don't set up for being one of the clever ones of the earth. But,
you see, my old father's wits had been sharper than mine, and, sure
enough, the girl who had been dragged about Fairs, and Wakes, and
"Thumps," and "Rants," selling brooms and telling fortunes, had a tidy
little sum lying at command and need be beholden to no one for food and
shelter in her hour of sore trial. I was pondering these things in my
mind in a mazed and bewildered sort of way when Ruth broke in:

"I don't know what you two are driving at, I'm sure. If there's secrets
about I can go downstairs and sit with th' cat. But all this talk about
Miriam being heir to that money in th' bank's just so much gibberish to
me. Can't one of you tell a plain tale for once. Happen you'll find it
worth while to take a woman into counsel when it's a woman's future
you've got to deal with."

"I thought Abel would have told you," said my father mildly.

"Abe, indeed!" quoth my sister, with an accent that rated me very low
indeed.

"Well, you'd better tell her now, lad, and I'll go make th' beasts up
for the night. Then you get to bed, Abe; you've been up o'er long as
'tis."

"Now then, Abe; if you've anything to tell me, out with it," said Ruth,
as my father gently closed the door behind him. "If there's one thing I
dislike more than another it's to be kept on tenter-hooks."

"Well, it's about that money of old Mr. Garside's You know how I came to
be a sort of trustee for it?"

"Of course I know. It's for the poor old man's daughter if you can find
her, which I doubt you'll never do. And if you don't light on her--and
I'm sure it'll be like looking for a needle in a hay-stack--light on
her in so long--let's see, three years, wasn't it?--the money's to be
your own. Well, it's as good as yours, for find her you never will, if
there ever was such a person--sick folk, especially when they've
clammed themselves to death, as th' old hermit did, by all accounts, get
queer notions into their heads."

"But she is found," I said quickly.

Ruth's face fell, and she stared at me in consternation.

"I never did!" she managed to get out at last. "Well, well, it's an old
saying, and a true one, that you shouldn't count your chickens afore
they're hatched. I'd wrong neither man nor maid if I knew it, and well I
know the Book says 'Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods,' but you
can't fairly call someone yo'n never clapped your eyes on your
neighbour, it stands to reason you can't, and I'll own up honest I could
many a time have awmost found it in my heart to pray that you'd fall
heir to that brass. A God-send it would have been to Pole Moor, I know.
But there, what is to be will be, and that's good Pole Moor doctrine,
anyhow. But who is she, Abe, and however did you hap on her, and does my
father know, and have you told Jim? My word, if Jim knows and has kept
it to himself, and me wearing to skin and bone for anxiety over it, I'll
let him know about it." And Ruth clenched her little fist and looked
daggers at an imaginary Jim.

Now it wasn't often I had a chance of crowing it over my clever and
self-willed little sister. I'm not quick, and nimble-witted, and glib
of tongue as she ever was. So I was minded to relish my triumph for a
while.

"Aw should think such a clever wench as yo', Ruth, could guess at
twice," I said. "Besides, I feel a bit sleepy now. Aw think forty winks
'ud do me good. So yo'd best go help Jim fodder th' cattle."

"No, you don't, Abe Holmes. Not another wink o' sleep shalt tha have
till yo'n towd me who she is. Some stuck-up, high-and-mighty miss I'll
be bound. Them rich relations o' th' owd hermit, over in Manchester, 'll
have been before us; and now th' brass 'll go where it's noan needed,
an' you'll have had your trouble for nowt. It's th' way o' th' world."

"Well, I've seen the lady," I remarked, in a indifferent a tone as I
could assume, "and she didn't strike me as being over and above
stuck-up. Just about th' ordinary like for that."

"Then she is a lady!" cried Ruth, triumphantly. "If I didn't say so!
Well, it's good-bye to th' fortune, Abe. Tha's had th' fingering o' it,
an' tha knows th' touch and feel on it, and much good may th' thoughts
on it do thee when somebody else has th' waring on it. Heigho!" and Ruth
ended somewhat lamely with a deep-drawn sigh.

"Well, I'm not so sure about not having th' waring of it," I said in a
meditative tone. "You see, the lady's young and not married. I've a
notion she's not quite fancy-free. But that's nowt. She might be got to
change her mind. Women have been known to do such things, or else
they're sadly lied on. I've thought it wouldn't be a bad plan to try my
luck with her. What dost think, Ruth?"

"And what would _you_ do with a fine lady, Abe? I fancy I see you
nimby-pimbying up to one, and I fancy I see how she'd look when you did
it. Of course you'll go in your clogs and your smock; and be sure yo'
don't forget that warkday cap o' yours, more grease nor cloth. But
you're only talking for talking's sake. Besides, there's Miriam!"

"Oh, Miriam!" I said slightingly.

"Yes, Miriam," cried Ruth, flaring up sudden gunpowder. "Miriam, poor
lass, and her at this very minute, when you sit theer an' talk so cool
o' chucking her over for that stinking brass, needing all th' love and
comfort she can get. I cry shame on you, Abel Holmes. I'd never have
thought it on you. I never thought o'er much o' your head-piece, Abe;
but true and honest I could have sworn you were, aye, true to death. If
anybody 'd told me my brother would have played such a trick on his
plighted love, aye, for all th' mines o' Golconda, I'd have--I'd
have--scratched their eyes out, aye, that I would," and Ruth's voice
broke in a sob, and I saw the silly farce had been played o'er long.

"Why, Ruth, dear sis., it is Miriam."

"What's Miriam?" she almost sobbed.

"It's Miriam that's Mr. Garside's daughter; Miriam that owns that little
fortune."

Ruth stared at me as though wondering whether I had taken leave of my
senses again. Then she called out, "You wicked, wicked wretch," and
fetched me a smart smack across my powl with her open hand, and then
must needs put her arm about my neck and cling to me, half laughing and
half crying, and saying over and over again, "Oh, Abe, I'm so glad, so
glad for Miriam's sake." And then, shrewd, practical, managing little
woman that she was:

"And what's to be done now?"

"I've thought of that, too. I've done a lot of thinking lately. There's
nowt else to do in bed when you're not sleeping. If I were a 'torney,
and had a knotty case to worry me, I'd just go to bed and think ovver
it. There's more wisdom between th' blankets nor was ever fun at an
office desk. And th' first thing, Ruth, if you want both to pleasure me,
and do what's a right and a Christian thing into th' bargain, just you
don yourself right off and get you down to th' Burnplatts. You're
Miriam's sister-in-law that is to be, and that makes you a sort of
relation. Anyhow, she's in sore trouble, and she has a right to turn to
us. I'd have been there long sin' but for this confounded arm, and arm
or no arm I'st go if you don't."

"Go, of course, I'll go; and not because of that money either, nor yet
to pleasure you. I'll go because Miriam needs me, if ever poor lass
needed a friend to stay by her side. I'll stop at th' Burnplatts till
all's over. Surely those outlandish Burnplatters will behave themselves
like decent folk till th' funeral's over, though they do say an Irish
Wakes isn't in it for whisky where a Burnplatts' funeral comes. I do
hope that wild runagate Ephraim will give th' spot a wide berth while
I'm there. But what at after? There's the rub, as that mad Hamlet said."

"Why, bring her back with you to Pole Moor. Tell her you're worn out
with nursing me and want rest. Tell her I'm going back-ards way for want
of proper attention--oh, tell her any mak' o' a fairy-tale you
like--only bring her."

Ruth fetched me a smacking kiss on my forehead.

"And bring her I will," she cried, "if I've to make Jim hug her here,"
and she tripped blithely out of the room and down the narrow staircase,
singing like a thrush out of the lightness of her heart, and calling
"Jim, Jim," in her clear, young voice.



CHAPTER IX.

A GREAT TEA-DRINKING.

AND bring her she did: her and as tiny a kit of clothing as ever, I
imagine, was borne even by the poorest emigrant leaving these shores for
distant lands. Poor Miriam, she looked sadly abashed when first she set
foot in our modest home. The Manse at Pole Moor, you may well believe,
was not a palace, yet a palace it may well have seemed to one who all
her young life had known nought but the dirty squalor of Burnplatts. And
what a magician that saucy Ruth of ours proved herself in those early
days of Miriam's coming. I would have you to understand that whereas my
Miriam was slender and willowy of bodily build, Ruth was not so tall as
she by a good two inches and of a comfortable and restful plumpness.
Yet, before Miriam had been three days beneath my father's roof, behold
her arrayed in one of Ruth's frocks that, to the male eye at least,
appeared to fit her like a glove. Then her hair--her glorious, shiny,
lustrous locks, dark as night, that ever since I had known my love had
flowed at large about her neck and shoulders and twisted and twined
about her bosom in a curling disarray--Ruth had tucked it up into a
coiling knot that nestled snugly in the nape of the neck. I vow that
when Ruth led Miriam thus transfigured into my room, her eyes downcast,
the ready blush mantling her cheeks, I scarce knew her at first glance.
With what a gentle grace the moved; how soft and sweet her speech; there
was a self-possession and composure about her that are foreign to the
girls one mostly meets on the hill-sides, with their hearty ways and
quick, bustling movements.

Now you won't need to be told that if ever a man felt bursting with
happiness that man was no other than myself in those weeks of my
convalescence, with Miriam to keep me company, and, as Jim put it,
"cocker me up like a great spoiled babby." But I protest that Miriam was
in greater danger of being spoiled than I. I say nothing of my wondering
pride and worship in those days. It is right and natural that a lover
should worship his mistress--doesn't the very marriage service say,
"With my body I thee worship?"--it is natural that he should deem her
peerless among women; but I say that in those days my lover's worship
was blended with a sort of wondering awe and a fearful pride. For,
whether it was the change from the wild and uncouth ways of the folk
among whom she had been brought up, or the spirit of her father that
moved in her blood, or the conscious striving to put her past behind her
and be a new and nobler being for love's sake, or all these and I know
not what other subtler influences put together, that is a riddle I
cannot solve. But this is certain, that the wild, elfish creature, more
than half gipsy, to whom I had poured out my love on the wild moors that
seemed so fitting setting for the picture she then made, became by
quick, yet insensible, degrees a maiden of so sweet yet quiet a charm,
moving serenely as a swan sails the waters, and, as it were, queening it
among us without an effort and without even meaning it.

"I don't know how it is," said Ruth in commenting on this marvellous
change to Jim. "She makes me feel as if she were a porcelain vase and I
a common pewter flagon."

"Well, aw always liked pewter mysen," Jim had said. "Ale never tastes so
guid as out o' a pewter pot. Gi' me pewter, let them ha' porcelain 'at
wants it." But I don't think Ruth took much comfort from this. Not that
she bore Miriam any malice. Not she indeed. She just simply accepted her
as an elder sister whom it was a pleasure and a duty to minister to and
to admire. Miriam ran some danger of being spoiled, even by Ruth, until,
after our guest had settled down somewhat into our ways, Ruth set her to
help in the kitchen. And then came the amazing and, to Ruth, not
unpleasing discovery that Miriam was just as ignorant of the commonest
household duties as Ruth was proficient. She couldn't bake, she couldn't
brew, she didn't know what a churn was, she had never in her life made a
pat of butter, and she had the most elementary notions even of the
abstruse science of bed-making. And in the teaching of her new pupil
Ruth was able to recover somewhat of that sense of general superiority
which years of undisputed sway at Pole Moor had made a second nature
with my good sister.

But in the spoiling of Miriam the greatest and chief of sinners was none
other than my reverend father. Is it to be counted a weakness in a
minister of the Gospel to seek to make converts to his faith? Surely
nay, even though, as the Book says, he compass sea and land to do it.

And in matters of religion Miriam's mind was a virgin soil. She was
absolutely ignorant of doctrine. Until she came to Pole Moor never once
had she set foot in Church or Chapel. As an infant she had not been
baptised--a source of much satisfaction to my father, who was great in
his scorn of what he called pædobaptism, which I take to mean the
baptism of infants; and I have heard him hold forth by the hour upon the
sinfulness of admitting puling babes to the membership of Christ's
Church, and on the whimsical practice of allowing sponsors in the
persons of godfathers and godmothers to take upon themselves spiritual
responsibility for the backslidings of their godchildren, for, as Enoch
Hoyle sagely remarked, in the sight of God every tub must stand upon its
own bottom. So my father set himself to preparing Ruth for baptism and
admission to the Church of God at Pole Moor by expounding to her the
true faith as declared by Calvin. And to all his teaching did Miriam
seriously incline. It was a winsome sight, those drear winter nights, to
see the old man sat by the glowing peat fire with Miriam on a hassock by
his knees the while, one hand gently stroking her ebon locks, he fed
her, as Enoch Hoyle put it, with the sincere milk of the Word, she
staring musing into the red embers, her hands resting idle on her lap.

Now as to the absolute soundness of the doctrine preached by my father I
have, I grieve to say, in these my riper years, had many
heart-searchings. But no doubts troubled Miriam's mind. I do not doubt
that from the first she accepted my father as the very oracle of God.
She stood as it were appalled before the immensity of his wisdom. That
one man, and a little one at that, should have read all the books that
cumbered the shelves of his little study, that he should be able to read
the very Hebrew in which the Tables of the Law were traced by the Divine
finger, that he could read and write the very tongue in which Jesus
spoke to his disciples by the sea of Galilee or on the Mount,--oh! who
could doubt that such a man must be as the prophets of old, his every
word but the echo of the Master's voice. I do verily believe that if,
in some moment of inspired fervour, my father had assured Miriam that
the moon was made of green cheese she would have e'en taken his word for
it. Never before nor after had my father a more reverent, a more loving
pupil. In very truth she sat at his feet and treasured his every word as
a pearl beyond price.

But Enoch Hoyle, who felt it his duty to aid in Miriam's spiritual and
doctrinal education, was often sore discomfited, and confessed to me,
oft with tears in his eyes, that he believed at bottom, despite her
seeming conformity, Miriam was little better than a pagan and a heathen.

"And what makes you think so?" I asked the worthy deacon.

"Weel, aw'm oppen to tell yo', if yo're oppen to hear me," quoth Enoch,
settling himself for a good talk, than which there was nothing the good
soul liked better, the sound of his own voice being ever the music he
liked best. "Aw've been a member o' Pole Moor sin' th' chapel were
oppened in th' year o' our Lord 1790. Aw joined th' church a bit afore
that, when th' saints met for prayer an' thanksgivin' in th' _Silent
Woman_, th' public down i' Slowit yonder. Aw'm not denyin' 'at there
were conveniences i' holdin' th' sarvices i' a licensed house, for
preichin's dry work, an' listenin' to some o' th' preichers we'n had to
put up wi' 's drier still. Aw've allus thowt th' Lord missed his way
when he didn't ca' me to be a preicher mysen. But aw've done mi best to
mak' up for that mistake on th' part o' Providence bi keepin' th'
regular ministers up to th' mark. We'n had 'em o' all mak's sin' th'
Pole were first oppened. There's bin Calvinist an' hyper-Calvinists an'
Fullerites an' Antinomians, an', as aw'n said, all mak's, an' they'n all
had th' benefit o' owd Enoch Hoyle's opinion o' their doctrine an'
preichin', an' aw ma' no doubt they were all th' better for it. Aw'n
stuck like a leech to th' owd spot, an' purge th' flock as they liked,
an' some o' th' parsons welly purged it to death, they ne'er managed to
purge Enoch Hoyle out o' it. Aw'd have stuck to it if there'd bin nowt
but heath-bobs to preich to, as folk said 'ud be th' case when we raised
our Ebenezer at th' Pole."

"But what in the name o' goodness has all this ancient history to do
with Miriam?" I asked.

"Aw'm comin' to that, Abe, all i' good time. Dunnot thee be impatient.
Th' gret fault o' th' present day is just that same wantin' to cut
things short. Why, if we tuk notice o' th' younger end they'd do away
wi' th' very hour-glass on th' pulpit desk, an' we'd ne'er be sure we'd
had our money's worth. What aw want yo' to understand is 'at me havin'
sat sin' th' sap were fresh i' mi. veins till now aw'm in th' sere an'
yellow leaf, under this preicher an' that, aw should know th' ins an'
outs o' religious doctrine as weel as here an' there a one."

"That seems to stand to reason," I conceded, though with some misgiving,
for I could not see to what this prolix prelude tended.

"Weel," proceeded Enoch, evidently gratified by my concession, "weel, if
there's one point on which aw'm more clear nor another it's on th'
doctrine o' predestination in a' its fulness an' consekenses."

"Ah!" I interposed. "I'll not be sorry to be enlightened on that point
myself. I've never been on very sure ground there."

"Hark yo' theer now!" said Enoch with great gusto, "an' yo' th' parson's
own son. There's th' guiding o' the Lord i' this. Aw'st happen kill two
birds wi' one stone yo' an' Miriam, aw mean. Weel, it's this way.
There's no gettin' away fro' it 'at God Almighty knows th' beginnin'
fro' th' end, even fro' th' beginnin' o' th' world, aye, an' afore that.
Both thee an' Miriam were in His mind's eye, so to speik, afore th'
mooin was, or th' sun or th' stars, or the waters which are aboon the
firmament, an' them 'at are under the firmament."

"It looks a long time, Enoch, but go ahead."

"Weel, an' if He knew 'at yo' were goin' to be born it's ekally sartin
He knew where yo'd go to when yo' dee, an' as He could just will it His
own gait it's plain as th' nose on your face 'at we're all predestinate
oather for Heaven or Hell long afore we were oather born or thowt on."

"It's a hard saying, that, Enoch," I demurred.

"Nowt o' th' sort," maintained Enoch stoutly.

"It's like sowing turnip seed. Tha knows 'at we sow it i' han'fuls, an'
it comes up as thick as mustard an' cress. Weel, we sort out th' likely
shoots an' leave 'em i' th' ground to swell into turnips. T'others we
just poo up an' other mak' into pottage or throw 'em to th'
pou'try--sheer waste o' gooid seed, yo' med say, an' yet it's th' only
way. It's th' same wi men an' women. Some's nobbut fit for pooin' up an'
castin' into th' oven."

"But, again, what has all this to do with Miriam?" I asked.

"Weel, aw were just speerin' about owd Granny Sykes, th' owd beldame at
Burnplatts. An' aw were tellin' her how thankful oo owt to be to ha'
been ta'en into a Christian household where oo'd ha' the means o' grace
an' the hope o' glory--bein' dipped, aw mean--and so escape joinin'
Granny Sykes in th' outer darkness wheer there's weepin', an' wailin',
an' gnashin' o' teeth."

"Oh, you said that, did you?"

"Aw did. An' oo' went as white as a sheet, an' her eyes shot lightnin'
an' daggers as oo jumped up an' just shook me till what few teeth aw han
rattled i' mi yead."

"'You believe that?'" oo said.

"'Aye,' aw towd her, it were just wovven for her wi' a shuttle o'
adamant.'"

"'Yo' wicked old man,' she cried, 'yo' wicked, wicked old man.' Yo' may
tak' my word for it, Abe, yon wench is a spit-fire, if ivver there were
one. Oo'll be a handful for onny man to tackle, an' thank God it won't
be Enoch Hoyle."

I didn't know whether to laugh or to storm; but Enoch Hoyle was Enoch
Hoyle, a good man at heart, but surely he had forgotten the assurance
that God is Love.

But I'd soon other things to think about than theological doctrines and
hair-splittings. By the month of February--a dull, drizzly, raw month
it was I well remember, with fits of heavy snow in and among, or maybe I
was over nesh from being cooped up so long and cowering over the fire
"counting th' eoiks as Jim put it--and I was able to leave my sick-room
and move about the house and into the open, but still in a feeble sort
of way. And one night, Ruth and Miriam being gone together down into
Slaithwaite shopping, my father bid me sit down as he had much to say to
me that had been long on his mind, but which he had stored up till such
time as I should be strong enough for serious thought and talk.

"So you and the maid Miriam have plighted troth," he began, when his
churchwarden was drawing comfortably.

"By your leave, father, yes," I made answer in a shamefaced way, for
young men, I know not why, would rather discuss their love affairs with
anyone in the world than their own fathers--it's different, I suppose,
with their mothers, but, you see, I hadn't one.

"Humph," said my sire, somewhat shortly, "it was French leave, I take
it."

I hung my head.

"Well, well, all's well that ends well, and I'll say you've had more
good luck than you deserve. Miriam's a bonnie lass, and, what's of
infinitely more importance, a clever one and a good one. If anything
could spoil a girl I should say such a bringing up as she must have had
at Burnplatts would have done it. But she hath been like unto Shadrach,
Meshach, and Abednego, that passed through the fiery furnace, yet 'upon
their bodies the fire had no power, nor was an hair of their head
singed, neither were their coats changed, nor the smell of fire had
passed on them.' Truly with her, as with the three captives in Babylon,
the Son of God must have walked whilst she dwelt in the tents of Shem.
Aye, verily a goodly maiden and a fair. But thou'll not have forgotten,
Abel, my son, that she is also a maiden well dowered, though, I
understand, she does not know it. Has it occurred to thee to think, lad,
that it's scarcely fair to her to hold her to a promise she made when
she may have been in despair and ready to snatch at any chance of escape
from that wretched and, I fear me, God-accursed Burnplatts?"

"Why, no, father, I've never given much thought to the money; but as to
holding Miriam or any other lass if she wanted to be free--why, you
know, it isn't in me to do it. We can soon put it to the touch. Tell her
of her fortune."

"That's what I'm going to do this very night. Nay, more. Four hundred
pound's a meaningless sound to most folk, and how much more to one who
probably never fingered a golden coin of her own in all her life. I've
been down to the bank and drawn Miriam's fortune. They wanted me to have
it in notes; but I'd none of their notes. 'Give it me in gold,' I
insisted, 'all in gold.' And I carried it to Pole Moor, and a rare
weight it was. And it shall be heaped before her eyes, and she shall see
the yellow glisten of it, and hear the rich chink of it, and handle,
and, if she likes, fondle it, as they say misers do, that she may
realise that it is a real thing and all her own, and that if she list
she may shake the dust of Pole Moor from her feet and go out into the
wide world with power to pick and choose."

Amen, and Amen, said I very heartily, for did I not know my Miriam?

And then we heard the sound of merry chatter and girlish laughter
outside the door, and the deep bass of a voice I knew to be Jim's, and
the clatter of clog toes kicked against the step.

"They're back sooner than I expected," said my father, "but it's as
well. We'll get this job through to-night. That will be your friend
James Haigh. It wonderful how set he seems to be on you. He's been
unremitting in his inquiries anent your health. It passes me when that
young man sleeps. He's been here up to all hours of the night, and then
had to walk through snow and slush the weary, lonesome way over Stanedge
to his home."

Miriam and Ruth came into the room, their eyes bright, their cheeks
glowing from the keen air and the healthful exercise. Jim followed
somewhat sheepishly in their rear, carrying a big market basket full of
groceries. He saluted my father respectfully then grasped my hand, now
somewhat worn and white, in his big, horny fist.

"Well, Abe, lad, how'st ta feelin' nah? Tha mun be comin' to thi corn
again, judgin' bi th' layin'-in o' provender thi sister's done to-neet.
Aw just happened to be dahn i' Slowit when they wer' goin' into th'
shop, so aw in after 'em to buy a bit o' baccy. By gosh, lad--gosh is
noan swearin' aw hope, Mr. Holmes, aw mun say summat, an' aw think
nother 'gosh' nor 'golly' 'll do onny harm--by gosh, lad, aw'm thinkin'
it's consumptive tha art, th' way they feed thee. Aw nobbut wish
someb'dy stick a knife into me an' lig me dahn on Pole Moor doorsteps.
Golly, aw do sweat, it's aboon a joke huggin' a load like that fro' th'
bottom to th' sky-line."

"Why, Jim," cried Miriam, "you swore it was only a featherweight, and
nothing would serve but that you must help Ruth up the hill on your
arm."

Jim's face went brick-red.

"It's only when aw come to put it dahn aw felt it," he stammered.

"He only wants a pitcher of home-brewed," declared Ruth. "I'll fetch it
when I've got my things off and put our shawls over th' winter-hedge in
front o' th' kitchen fire. I declare they're sopping. But you mustn't
say 'sweat,' Jim. How often have I to tell you? Only horses sweat. You
don't sweat, you perspire."

"Oh! don't aw though?" said Jim. "Weel, aw thowt aw did; but mebbe
you're reet an' aw only pusspire. But, onny road, sin' yo're so
pressin', aw don't mind a thimbleful or so."

"A thimbleful," laughed Ruth, as she left the room to fetch the jug. "As
well try to water a ten acre field with a squirt. I never did see the
likes of you for home-brewed. It's well you've got no brains to addle,
or addled they'd have been long since."

"Did you ever hear the like?" asked Jim of no one in particular. "It's
th' only weakness aw'n getten, an' it seems to me aw'm nivver to hear
th' last on it." And he sighed resignedly.

Meanwhile my father had fetched the heavy kist entrusted to me by Mr.
Garside from under his bed-head, which he had deemed the safest place to
keep it. He placed it solemnly in the centre of the table, as solemnly
unlocked it, and poured its glittering contents out in a golden shower.
As I have said, there were a trinket or two besides the yellow coins,
and, while Jim and I stared at the growing pile and grabbed the guineas
to prevent them rolling on to the floor, Miriam and Ruth paid just no
heed to the precious coins, but pounced with little cries of delight
upon the gemmed brooches and rings, with happy cries of "Oh, isn't it
sweet? Look at this, darling, and at this," and so on. And Miriam picked
up a brooch that glistened and sparkled by the light of the lamp, and
drew Ruth to a long looking-glass that hung on the wall, and pinned it
on her frock, and kissed and hugged her, then kissed and hugged her
again, and told her it suited her so it must have been made on purpose
for her. Then when we'd all quieted down a bit, my father explained at
length to Miriam that all this was her very own, and asked what she was
minded to do with it.

"Weel, aw mun be goin'!" Jim began, before Miriam could find words to
answer my father. "It's gettin' latish, n', aw've a tidy step. Why,
guise hang me, if it isn't goin' on for ten o' clock."

"Better stop all night, Jim," pressed my father. "It's a rough night and
a dark. You must sleep with Abe and lose a quarter to-morrow."

"Thi arm's noan smittlin', is it, Abe? All reet, then, aw'll stop, an'
thank ye; but aw thowt happen yo'd like to talk this fortin' job ovver
among yersen."

"Such nonsense," said Ruth.

"What shall I do with it?" asked Miriam. "What shall I do with it? Why,
what should I do with it but leave it where it is. Keep it, Mr. Holmes,
keep it and use it as you think best. I've no use for it. I don't want
it. I won't have it. Buy yourself a new top-coat with it. You _do_ want
a new top-coat--doesn't he, Ruth?"

"Fudge!" quoth my father testily, for he was somewhat sore on this
point. "That coat's a good coat, a very good coat, and years of wear in
it still, with care. I'm calculating on that coat lasting my time; and
if I should live to see a grandson breeched, which please God I
shall"--and his dear old eyes rested lovingly on me and Miriam, who
blushed a rosy red--"there's some very good patching in it for a
bairn's breeks. But as for keeping that store of golden gear, why,
that's stark nonsense. It's yours, and, now you've seen it and handled
it, if you've no present use for it let it e'en go back forthwith to the
bank, and lie at usury against a rainy day. What do you say, Ruth?"

Now my sister was idly toying with the heaped coins, letting them slide
through her fingers and tinkle pleasantly in the ear; but her face was
full of thought. She ever had the brains of the family had Ruth, though
she was, of course, not learned like my father. But I've often noticed
that your learned man has little wit for everyday affairs.

"You two are both out of your time, aren't you?" she asked all of a
sudden.

"What's that got to do with it?" I snapped.

"And do you mean to go on slaving for Mr. Wrigley all your days? A poor
look out for the girl you've clapped your eyes on. Do you either of you
ever look ahead, I wonder? Time doesn't stand still, if _you_ do. What's
the use of good money rusting in th' Bank? Not that if you take it there
it'll stop there. Do you think th' Bank 'll just lock it up in a
strong-box an' pay you interest just for th' fun o' keepin' it safe for
you. Where do they get th' interest from to pay you? Why, by lending
your money to folk 'at have th' brains to use it. Oh! I've no patience
with you."

Jim nudged me delightedly. "Oo's on th' scent," he whispered. "Eh! what
a head-piece--an' to be wasted on a woman!"

"H'm, I suppose so. I never thought of that," said my father.

"Well," continued Ruth, "I haven't read it in books; but it stands to
sense someone must addle th' brass for th' Bank to pay interest with.
Th' Bank isn't a cheese 'at breeds golden maggots all o' theirsen. An'
what I want to know is, why can't these two great babbies o' ours find a
use for this money, if Miriam's willing to trust it to 'em, an' make a
better living for themselves and for those that'll look to them for a
home, than ever they'll make giving th' best o' their days to Mr.
Wrigley or th' best master that ever stood on two legs?"

The sheer audacity of the suggestion took my breath away. I glanced at
Jim. His chop had fallen, his eyes were glued on Ruth, and he breathed
heavily. Miriam had jumped up and flung her arms round Ruth's neck, and
was almost crying with delighted excitement.

"'_Rem acu tetigisti_,'" quoth my father, "which in the vulgar tongue,
means, 'Thou hast touched the matter with a needle's point.'"

"To be sewer there's Mitchell Mill," breathed Jim, heavily, "'at's been
goin' to wreck an' ruin this monny a year for want o' somebdy to run it.
An' Diggle Brook's as good a run o' watter as ivver turned a wheel. But
th' varry thowt on it ma'es mi yead turn. Has it just popped into thi
yead, Ruth, or hast ta been brewin' this new brew on th' quiet?"

"That's my business," Ruth made reply.

"Main point is, is it a good brew? What do you say, father?"

"I say that it's nearly midnight, and we'll all go to bed and sleep on
it. But first let us take the matter to the Lord in prayer."

And we all knelt, and my father read the "Evening Portion" and then
poured forth a long and fervent prayer for guidance and wisdom in this
momentous crisis of our lives.

Jim had to be up next morning long before daybreak that he might be at
his work when the shuttle was drawn and the big water-wheel, with many a
creak and groan, began to turn lazily on its axle and send its power
pulsing through the mill. I got up with him; for it was high time I gave
up my invalid ways and set my thoughts towards the work that lay before
me. Early as we were, Miriam and Ruth were afoot before us; and a bright
fire burned in the kitchen grate, and the porridge steamed on the table,
and there was the pleasing sizzle of ham frying in a pan, and the
fragrance of coffee piping hot--the bean was at 3/6 a pound in those
days--and home-made bread, white, and close, and flaky, and butter pats
of Ruth's own deft making.

"Aw've been thinkin' ovver what yo' said last neet, Ruth, about Mitchell
Mill," said Jim with his mouth full.

"It's manners to swallow your food before trying to talk, and, besides,
I never mentioned Mitchell Mill. It was you."

"It's th' same thing," said Jim.

"Oh! is it? Well, what about it?"

"Can you think and snore at the same time?" I queried, for indeed Jim's
head had scarcely touched the pillow before he was fast asleep, and I
doubt if he had stirred till I had, with difficulty, roused him from the
deep slumber of a healthy and weary man who had sat up long after his
usual bedtime.

"Thee be quiet, Abe, aw've enough wi' Ruth. One dog one bull's fair play
onny day i' th' week. Aw say aw'n bin turnin' it ovver i' mi yead abaat
Mitchell Mill, an' aw'n come to a conclusion."

"An' what might it be, O most sagacious of men?" asked Ruth pertly.

"Well, aw'n come to th' conclusion," said Jim slowly--"aw'll tak'
another slice o' that theer ham, if yo' don't mind, Miriam. Aw dunnot
know if it's th' way th' pig's been fed or whether it's summat i' th'
air, but aw allus will maintain 'at there's nowt to ekal Pole Moor ham.
Aw dunnot wonder at th' chap 'at left it i' his will 'at he sud be
buried wi' ham if he'd ivver sampled yourn at th' Pole."

Clearly Jim was a diplomatist of the first order. If there was one thing
above another Ruth prided herself upon it was her ham.

"It's partly th' feeding," she said, "but it's mainly th' curing. I will
say it, though maybe I shouldn't, I can cure a ham."

"That you can, Ruth. Nah, if my grammar 'ud nobbut bin gooid pig tha'd
ha' had me cured long sin', but aw'm feart aw'm too far gone even for
thee, lass. But about Mitchell Mill?"

"Yes, about th' Mill?" I said somewhat impatiently.

"Weel," said Jim, very deliberately, "as aw were sayin', aw've turned
th' thing ovver i' my yead, while yo' were sleepin' as if yo' hadn't a
care o' your mind, just like a new-born babby 'at knows it's nowt to do
but turn its yead an' there's th' tit ready to its mouth, an' aw've come
to a concloosion. Aw'll just ha' th' heel o' that loaf, Miriam, an' a
morsel o' butter on it to polish off wi'."

"Oh! do get on," cried Ruth, "you and your conclusions."

"'Most haste, least speed,' aw'n heard mi mother say, likewise 'Hurry no
man's cattle, yo' may leet to ha' a mule o' your own some day.'"

"That's very like," quoth Ruth, "and a very stupid mule at that."

"Meaning me," said the imperturbable Jim, slowly plastering his crust
with butter, "an' thank you kindly for th' compliment."

"But really, Jim," put in Miriam gently, "joking apart, we're all agog
to know what conclusion you've come to."

"Speak for yourself," snapped Ruth. "I've no patience with the man.
Anyways, it's time he was off if he means to get to Wrigley Mill this
blessed morning."

"An' that's just what aw dunnot mean," said Jim. "Yo' see, aw'st pass
Mitchell Mill on my way down fro' th' Cutting, an' aw happen to know th'
felly 'at keeps th' keys, an' aw'll just mak' it i' mi way to ovverhaul
that ramshackle owd buildin' fro' top to bottom. Aw'n thowt o' a lie to
tell him."

"Oh! Jim," cried Miriam.

"A lie to tell him," continued Jim unabashed. "Yo' see, it 'ud nivver do
to let all th' countryside know what we're after. For one thing, though
Mr. Wrigley's a just man an' varry religious, at least his missus is,
an' that's th' same thing, for it's weel known who wears th' breeches at
th' Holly Grove, he'll noan be too weel pleased at another mill startin'
just under his nose, so to speik. An' if it all come to nowt, Abe an' me
might find ussen whistlin' for a job, an' a bird i' th' hand's worth two
in th' bush, as aw'n heard mi mother say. So aw'st just say at aw'm
thinkin' o' keepin' two or three hundred yead o' powtry, and that's all
Mitchell Mill's fit for till someb'dy's spent a pretty penny puttin' it
to reets agen. Why, there's a month's work on th watter-wheel, but aw
can see to that, thank God."

"But that conclusion of yours," insisted Miriam.

"Oh! that," said Jim. "Weel, aw'll tell yo'. Yo' see this brass o'
Miriam's nother Abe's nor mine.

"Oh! but it is," put in my love hastily.

"Axin' yo'r pardon, it isn't. An' what aw mean to say is a felly may
mak' ducks an' drakes o' his own brass, an' nob'dy's onny right to say
owt. But when it comes to lakin' wi' other folk's gear he cannot be too
careful. So aw'n come to th' concloosion--"

"Well?" we all cried.

"To talk th' matter ovver fully wi' mi' owd mother. Oo's nobbut a simple
body yo' may think, an' a working woman all th' days o' her life; but
aw'n ne'er known her wrong yet, an' aw reckon oo's too old to begin."

We all burst out laughing at what seemed, as the writer says, "a lame
and impotent conclusion," but I fancy there was a glimmer of a tear in
Ruth's eye as she jumped up and began to side the breakfast things and
put fresh water on to boil for my father's morning stirabout. But Miriam
said:

"That's a good and a wise thought of yours, Jim. And I'm sure Ruth and
Mr. Holmes would be very pleased if you could prevail on your good
mother to come up here some afternoon and have tea with us. Let me play
hostess, Ruth. Can't I give a tea-party out of this wonderful fortune
of mine?"

"We don't kill a pig every day," supplemented Jim.

"Next Thursday night, then," decided Ruth. "I'll see father doesn't get
called out that night, and there's no service for a wonder. And what do
you say to asking Enoch Hoyle? He's been among th' cloth all his life,
and should know something about it."

"Oh! Enoch's reight enough," admitted Jim, "if he'll nobbut keep off
religion, which aw tak' to be a matter needin' a mighty bit o' larnin'
to understan'; though why it sud be soa it 'ud puzzle a plain man to
explain. Aye, we'll ha' Enoch. But nob'dy else. 'Too monny cooks spoil
the broth,' as aw'n heard mi owd mother say." And Jim, after shaking
Miriam heartily by the hand and slapping me on the sound side of my
back, set off Digglewards, Ruth finding it necessary to show him as far
as the garden gate, though there was light enough by now, for we had
lingered an unconscionable time over our meal, and surely Jim knew his
way well enough by this time to find the gate blindfold.

And then began the preparations for that never-to-be-forgotten feast.
Miriam insisted that her money should pay for all, and that there should
be no stint. And Ruth let herself go. She had a natural genius for
cooking, but up to that day she had, she declared, been like the ancient
Israelites in Egypt, required to make bricks without straw. I had once
aggravated her by telling her I had read that in France no one was
considered a good cook who could not make ten different savoury dishes
out of an old boot sole, and I am not sure that she had not tried to
make a hot-pot out of an old slipper stewed with potatoes, carrots,
turnips, and cabbage. But now!--my mouth waters yet as I think of the
store of good things that the unwearying Enoch, who had been
requisitioned as fetcher and carrier, brought up from Slowit to Pole
Moor--what pokes of flour, parcels of raisins, and currants, and
almonds, and baking powder, and tea, and coffee, and sugar. I myself
beat eggs and cut pork into pieces like dice till my shackle ached--a
huge pork-pie was to be what a friend of mine, who knows the lingo,
tells me I ought to call the _pièce de résistance_ of that immortal
feast. There was to be white bread and brown bread, muffins hot and
muffins cold, currant cake--not shouting cake, mind you, but rich,
creamy cake, stuffed with fruit--seed cake, hardcakes, custards,
blancmange, wobbly jellies of all the colours of the rainbow,
mince-pies, apple charlotte, a stuffed chine, a roast goose with apple
sauce, a boiled fowl with boiled ham, and that crowning glory, the
pork-pie. My father would shuffle into the kitchen in his old list
slippers, ever down at the heel, and raise his eyes and hands in mute
protest against this sinful prodigality, only to be driven forth with
laughter and caresses at the point of the rolling-pin. But worst
offender of all was that sad deceiver, Enoch Hoyle, who smuggled into
the kitchen a bottle of Jamaica rum, purchased at his own cost and
charge, vainly endeavouring to excuse himself by the pretext that
mincemeat wouldn't keep without some mak' of spirits, and that unless
we'd what he called brown cream in our tea we should all die of
indigestion. I don't know what that goodly spread cost Miriam, but it
was worth it all to see those two bonnie lasses in clean print frocks,
their sleeves rolled up above their elbows, displaying their white
rounded arms, picking raisins and currants, cutting candied lemon,
kneading dough, pricking loaves and teacakes, dusting table tops with
flour, greasing tins with larded paper, raking fires, banging oven
doors, plucking fowls, paring apples, and all the while singing, and
laughing, and joking, and ordering me and poor Enoch about without a
with-your-leave or by-your-leave, or any ceremony whatever. Depend upon
it your true woman loves to be bustling in her kitchen when she has
plenty to go at.

And, when the eventful day arrived, of course Enoch was the first to
turn up, being nearest. He was arrayed in his very Sundayest Sunday
suit, black broadcloth, somewhat rusty to be sure, knee breeches, pale
blue worsted stockings, oft darned, patched shoes with bright steel
buckles, a satin stock, a frilled shirt front, and a broad-brimmed
beaver hat, which he had borrowed for the occasion from an uninvited and
envious neighbour. Then about two o'clock, after Ruth had run half a
score of times to the road and strained her eyes down the valley,
returning each time somewhat ruffled in temper, up came Jim and his
mother, not as we had supposed on Shanks' mare, but, if you'll believe
me, in a bone-shaking rattletrap of a gig which, with a sorry quadruped
to draw it, Jim had beguiled the trustful landlord of the "Hanging Gate"
to lend him for that day only. I hastened to help Mary out, and would
have ushered her into the parlour, but that she declared she would not
sit till such times as she had put herself to rights.

"Aw were nivver so shakken afore i' my life, an' nivver so fleyed. That
hoss mun be of a varry pious frame o' mind for it wanted to go down on
its knees ivvry twenty yards. Up hill, an' it's mostly up hill, it
puffed, an' coughed, an' wheezed--hoopin' cough, an' asthma, an'
brownchitis isn't to be named i' th' same week wi' th' way that hoss
went on. An' down hill it were warse. Th' harness may ha' fitted it
once, though aw doubt it. But now it fair dances all ovver th' poor
beast's body. An' th' trap creaked, an' groaned, an' rattled, an' th'
seat kept slippin' up an' dahn, an' back'ards an' forrards, till aw
could nivver be sewer whether aw sud fall out at th' back or tipple a
somersaut ovver th' hoss's yead. Aw wanted to ger aat an' walk, but Jim
said this being th' do as it is, it were nobbut a due compliment to Pole
Moor to drive up i' style. But aw'st noan go back i' that owd
bone-shaker if aw'm to crawl o' my hands an' knees ovver th' moor. But
theer! aw'm rested now, aw'll turn to an' wash some o' them pots. My,
what a seet o' pots to be sewer. They'll none be all your own, aw'm
thinkin'."

Ruth explained that we had ventured to borrow some of the crockery used
for Chapel and Sunday school anniversaries.

"Oh! well, then, them 'versaries is some good," commented Mary. "But see
yo'," she exclaimed suddenly, "if aw hadn't clean forgotten. Wheer's
that Jim? In th' shippon puttin' owd Barebones up? He'll be fodderin'
her wi' mi' parcel if aw'm noan quick."

But at this moment Jim appeared with a great parcel, wrapped in thick
brown paper, in his hands.

"Aw'm noan come empty-handed," explained Mary, "it's noan my way. I
suppose it isn't other o' you young women's birth-day, is it? No? Weel,
it can't be helped; we mun mak' believe it is. Yo' mun tak' these wi' my
good wishes. Aw med 'em missen, an' aw'm thinkin' they'll noan be th'
waur for bein' hand-made. Men med machines, an' aw'm not denyin' some on
'em's a fair marvel; but God med hands." And Mary undid the parcel and
proudly displayed its contents. My father had come into the kitchen and
greeted Mary heartily, and won her heart at once by his kindly welcome
and some quite unmerited praise of the graceless Jim. And now Mary drew
forth a woollen comforter, long, broad, thick, and soft, that you could
almost have wound round and round my father's whole body.

"This is for you, Mr. Holmes, if yo'll be so kind as to wear it. Aw'n
often heard how yo' go trapezin' ovver th' moors i' all sorts o'
weather, which, axin' yo'r pardon, yo'n no right to do at yo'r time o'
life, though weel aw know it's waste o' breath to gi' guid advice to th'
best o' men. An' wishin' yo' health an' strength to wear it threadbare
an' me to live to mak' yo' another when that's done. An' these vests is
for yo' lasses. Yo' can wear 'em ovver yo'r shimmies i' winter time;
they'd happen be a bit rough next to th' skin. An' these stockin's is
for yo' girls, too. They're happen a bit big i' th' cauf o' th' leg, but
yo'll thicken aat theer afore them stockin's is ready for th' rag bag,
and they'll mak' varry guid floorcloths then. Aw did think while aw were
about it aw'd mak' some little socks aat o' th' wool aw had to spare 'at
'ud come in handy some day. But aw once knew a woman, up Harrop Edge
way--Laban's wife, yo'd mebbe know her, sir--an' oo med a set o' babby
things when oo'd nobbut just started courtin', and never chick nor child
did she have to wear 'em." But here Jim and I were hustled out of the
kitchen, and what other confidences Mary might have to narrate were
reserved for gentler ears.

Now into the details of that great revel I must not enter. The meal had
been put off an hour beyond our usual time, which was enough of itself
to put an edge on appetites kept in good fettle by daily labour, frugal
fare, cleanly lives, and mountain air. So that I fear we listened with
little patience and not over-much attention to the long, long grace my
father must needs offer before we were at liberty to fall to. I daresay
there are people who wonder at those who take a delight in a hearty
feed. I expect these are the folk who all their lives have always had
more than enough to eat. We were not in that case--far otherwise. The
fare at Pole Moor was ample enough, but ever of the plainest, porridge
and buttermilk, buttermilk and porridge, bacon and pork, pork and bacon,
with haver bread--Ruth had as neat a turn of the wrist for swishing the
meal and water on to a bakestone as ever you saw--butcher's meat and
white bread perhaps once a week, and now and then a dish of tea. For
puddings and pies we fell back on fruit of our own growing, rhubarb and
gooseberries mainly. Now I've often reflected--there's nothing like a
good dinner for inducing pious meditation--that it is a sure proof of
the infinite goodness and wisdom of the great Architect of the universe
that the best and most wholesome and necessary things are ever the most
abundant and cheapest, and accessible to all God's creatures. What, for
instance, is cheaper than cold water? And what water is to man, inside
and outside, the stupid creature never realises till he is compelled at
times to do without. What fruit of the earth can a man turn to with such
unfailing relish as the potato that any cottager can grow on a rough
patch of ground, what vegetable more medicinal than the cabbage, what
fruit more toothsome than rhubarb when the shoots are yet tender, or the
gooseberry whilst still green and tart. I suppose your "gret fo'k," as
Mary called the quality, set much store on their grapes, and pines, and
peaches, and other precious fruits I don't even know the names of, but
old Dr. Dean--and a better doctor never trod--would often say that a
man would sooner stall of grapes, and pines, and peaches, and all such
fallalls, than he would of rhubarb and gooseberries, and that for
keeping a man's innards in order those luxuries of the rich were not to
be mentioned in the same week with the hardy produce of the cottage
garden. But, there, all these sage thoughts were very far from my head
as I sat next to Miriam at table, and, what time I was not kept busy
passing cups and plates, did my level best to eat up to the standard Jim
had set for himself and confided to me for my own guidance. We had been
taught in our early days that company manners forbade the partaking
twice of the same dish, and Jim had carefully modelled his slow and
steady progress through the viands on that precept. So his bill of fare,
to which he heroically adhered, was something like this:--

    Pork-pie--1 plateful.
    Roast goose with apple sauce--1 plateful.
    Roast fowl with ham--1 plateful.
    Currant cake with cheese--1 slice.
    Blancmange--1 plateful.
    Jelly: yellow--1 plateful.
    Jelly: pink--1 plateful.
    Mince-pie with cheese--One.
    Muffins, hard-cakes, brown bread, white bread--company
        manners fix no limit to these details.
    Tea--Two cups; three if you've cheek to ask for them.

Now I think you'll agree that was a square meal for one man; but you
must remember Jim was six feet four in his stockings, and six feet four
requires a lot of support. It is a mercy all had not the stature and the
appetites of Jim and myself, else Ruth and Miriam would not have been
busy, as they were for many a day after, making up little parcels of the
fragments that remained, carrying them to those of our neighbours who
most needed such help, that they too might rejoice in Miriam's good
fortune.

We had got to the final stage of the repast--the last cup of tea, the
one in which the elders gravely stirred half a wineglass of Jamaica rum,
and to which even Ruth and Miriam, faintly protesting, were induced to
add a tiny spoonful just to flavour it, when Mary startled us all by
saying:

"Han yo' clapt e'en o' Ephraim o' Burnplatts up this way lately?"

"Why, Mary," I said, for no one else seemed able to find a word, "I
didn't know you and Ephraim were acquaint."

"No more we are," she made answer. "Aw dunnot suppose he knows me fro'
Adam, leastwise fro' Eve. But aw know him, an' aw'n seen him more nor
once sin Abe here's bin ligged o' his back. He's bin hangin' about th'
Weighkey a goodish bit--him an' Tom Bradbury fro' Bill's o Jack's are
just as thick as thieves bi all accaants. Yo' see, Mr. Holmes, aw dunnot
go abaat much missen, as yo'll weel understan', for what wi' bakin', an'
brewin', an' fettlin', an' pearkin' th' pieces, an' mendin' Jim's
clo'es, an' your Abe's, an' mi own, aw'n mi hands full, an' aw'n no time
for callin' an' runnin' abaat fro' door to door sortin' he-says an'
oo-says; but th' hands at Wrigley Mill's in an' out o' yar haase for one
thing an' another till it's awmost like Lee Gap, an' keep th' door-step
onny bit like one woman cannot do, an' use th' scraper an' th' door-mat
they winnot do. But, of coorse, aw cannot shut mi ears to what's goin'
on. An' they do say 'at Ephraim's fair thrown in wi' them Bradburys,
which who'd ha' thowt it after that do at Huddersfilt ovver them hares.
But they do say 'at when they aren't at "The Bell" at Delph, or at "Th'
Cross Keys," or at "Th' Swan," reelin' fro' one public-haase to another,
Ephraim spends all his time at "Th' Moorcock" at Bill's o' Jack's. An',
what's more, they sen 'at he's larnin' to be a gamekeeper, an' is goin'
to be takken on bi th' Bradburys an' live wi' 'em reg'lar--which set a
thief to catch a thief's bin done afore now"--and here Mary paused for
breath, or, as Jim put it, "bet back a bit for another jump."

My father shook his head gravely. "Like will to like," he said. "There
have ever been men, aye, since the world began, who, like Nimrod, the
son of Cush, have been 'mighty hunters before the Lord.' Likewise have
there been men like unto Ishmael, the son of Hagar, 'wild men' whose
hands are against every man, and every man's hands against
them--rebels, as it were, against God and man, beings whom the yoke of
society and civilisations chafes and galls, and their whole life is
spent in feverish efforts to throw it off. It may well be that the blood
of some far-off ancestor of the Eastern deserts stirs in the veins of
this misguided young man. 'Twill be to him as a very gadfly, and if he
have not--as how can he have?--the restraining influence of the
Gospel, must he not ever follow the promptings of the flesh nor heed
those of the spirit? I would fain see this youth, a comely lad as I
remember him. May be he might yet be plucked as a brand from the
burning. Was there not the godly John Bunyan, who wrote that ever
blessed book, 'The Pilgrim's Progress,' who yet in his hot, rebellious
youth was a haunter of taverns, a thrower of dice, a blasphemer, aye,
even guilty of denying the Holy Ghost. Yet did the Lord raise up in him
a very prodigy of grace. Aye, aye, we'll not abandon hope, even for such
as Ephraim."

"Aw'n often heard," quoth Mary, who had listened to my father's words
with a deference she rarely accorded to the speech of mere man, "aw'n
often heard, axin' your pardon if aw'n puttin' my spoke in, 'at a
reformed rake ma'es th' best o' husbands; but aw dunnot know"--and here
Mary shook her head doubtfully--"aw dunnot know, my 'Lijah were nowt o'
a rake hissen, other afore or 'at after we were wed, so aw cannot say
for certain, but aw sud always be in fear an' tremblin' 'at if a man had
once tasted th' flesh-pots o' Egypt he'd ha' a hankerin' after th' smell
an' taste o' 'em as long as he lived."

"By gow, hearken to that," whispered Jim in my ear, "if th' owd woman
isn't quotin' Scriptur' to thi father. It's like teichin' your granny
how to suck eggs."

I saw my father was ready to mount his horse theologic, and I was by no
means minded that our feast should become an occasion for a sermon. So I
hastened to draw a herring across the trail:

"Father," I broke in irrelevantly, "have you spoken to Enoch about our
little venture at Mitchell Mill?"

"Now that's well remembered, Abe," my father was pleased to say. "Let us
return thanks to the Giver of all good things for these His mercies, and
Enoch and I will smoke a pipe in my study, and we'll all take counsel
together so soon as you women folk have cleared away. I should like to
know what Mary has to say. But first I've my little surprise." And my
father, promising to be back anon, went slowly upstairs to his little
bed-chamber, returning presently bearing in his hands what looked like
an old cigar-box.

"This was your mother's, Ruth," he said very solemnly, "my dear saint in
heaven's. She used to keep her hus-wife, and her needles, and pins, and
threads, and hooks, and eyes, and buttons, and beads, and button-hook,
and I know not what else in it at one time. Then she took to storing
little coins in it, wrapped singly in bits of paper, the rare savings
from the egg and butter money. Then when your great aunt Rachel died
without a will your mother fell to a small share of her money. Over
sixty pounds it was, and your mother could never bear the thought of
setting the money out to usury. She kept it in this same box, and since
the Lord in His wisdom took her home I've added to it mite by mite as
I could spare it. It was to be for Ruth here, her mother ever said, when
she should wed. And if she's to be a sort of partner in Mitchell Mill,
why it will be a comfort to me to be rid of the money, and may God grant
it increase."

In vain Ruth declared she wouldn't touch a penny of it, in vain she
scolded my father for pinching himself unbeknown to her to provide for a
strong, lusty, young woman, able to look after herself and him, too--my
father was adamant; and Enoch Hoyle put an end to the fruitless
discussion by rising from table, carefully dusting the crumbs from his
coat and breeches, and moving towards the study:

"While yo'n bin fratchin'," he said, "or as yo' may say,
argey-bargeying, aw'n bin thinkin', an' though Enoch Hoyle's noan a
scholard an' farlearned, he's noan 'bout wit wheer cloth comes in. Aw'n
heerd a whiff abaat this Mitchell Mill job, though aw'll grant yo'n bin
unco' canny abaat it an' kep' mum an' close, which happen it's as weel."

Mary would have gone into the kitchen to help in the siding-up; but my
father insisted that she too should be of our counsel.

"Now, Brother Hoyle," hinted my father, when the churchwardens were lit.

"Axin' yo'r pardon, Mr. Holmes," said Enoch, "this is a company day, an'
we'll ha' company manners. Aw'm noan th' buck aw used to be afore aw
were soundly converted an' dipped, but aw'n noan forgetten behaviour.
Aw'll mak' way for Mistress Haigh here, by yo'r leave, though aw mun say
that i' things spiritooal--which this isn't--aw howd firmly wi' Saint
Paul--see Corinthians one, fourteen, thirty-four an' five, if aw
remember reetly--when he says, under th' inspiration o' th' Holy Ghost,
bein' as it were th' amanooensis o' th' Spirit: 'Let your women keep
silence in the churches; for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but
they are commanded to be under obedience, as also saith the law. And if
they will learn anything, let them ask their husbands at home; for it is
a shame for women to speak in the church."

"Yo' bottle 'em up i' th' church," whispered that irrepressible Jim,
"an' th' stuff comes aat wi' a bang an' splathers all ovver th' floor
when yo' poo' th' cork aat at whom." Then aloud, encouragingly, "Tell
'em what yo'n thowt on an' towd me afore we come."

"Well, Mr. Holmes, and kind sirs all," began Mary, and I knew from this
mode of address that Mary had foreseen this occasion and that we were to
hear what I have seen called in the newspapers a considered opinion.
"Well, sirs, if a poor widder woman's opnion's o' onny, valley, which
aw'm not gainsayin' it may be, aw'm thinkin' they met do waur. There's
one thing sartin sure, 'at they'll n'er do mich guid as they are. Matthy
Haley's getten th' only shop worth owt mich at Wrigley Mill, an' aw
reckon Matthy's a sticker, which nob'dy can blame him for that. There's
yar Jim theer tentin' th' engine and tunin' th' looms, an' noan so bad
for a lad 'at could awmost go to th' hedge an' see his nippins, axin'
yo'r pardon, aw'm sewer, for mentionin' sich things, but it's a way o'
speakin' an' will aat. An' there's yo'r Abe. Weel, a weiver's a weiver
all th' world ovver, an' weivin' nobbut poverty-knockin' when all's said
an' done. Nah! aw'm noan so owd yet, but aw'n known dozens on dozens i'
this Valley an' o'er th' top (over Stanedge) 'at's started for theirssen
on a varry little brass, an' wheer are they nah? Why tak' Mr. Wrigley
hissen, then there's th' Buckleys, an' th' Malalieus, an' owd Farrar
down i' th' bottom--oh! ivver so monny on 'em. An' it's gen'ly bin wi'
brass 'at's come to 'em through th' women. Other they'n wed it or some
owd maid i' th' family 'at's welly clammed hersen to death's left it
'em. Aw know they like to ma' it aat when they'n getten on i' th' world
'at it's all their own clivverness, an' prudence, an' self--what do yo'
ca' it?"

"Self-denial," suggested my father.

"That's it, an thank yo', sir, but aw'm no scholar missen, self-denial,
but yo' mun tell that to th' Horse Marines, as they seyn, though who th'
Horse Marines may be aw'n no more notion nor a babe unborn. There were
nivver a weiver i' this world 'at could keep hissen, an' bring up a wife
an' childer, an' save owt to speik on afore he were long too owd to
think o' startin' for hissen; all th' best o' his days an' strength gone
i' keepin' body an' soul together an' pilin' up a fortin' for other
fo'k. But a' that's nother here nor theer. In th' blessed dispensation
of providence an' Mr. Garside, which aw'd nivver ha' thowt it to look
at him, an' not forgettin' yo'r gooid lady, Mr. Holmes, rest her soul,
here th' brass is to us hands, an' th' question is, what mun they do
with it?"

"Th'art gettin' to it, mother," put in Jim. "Tha's gone a long road
round, but it's happen for th' gainest."

Ruth and Miriam came in at this juncture, all spick and span, and Ruth
very brazenfacedly, as I thought, squeezed down by the side of Jim on
the settle, a tight fit, whilst Miriam, as had become her wont, nestled
on a hassock by my father's side, and stole a hand, still moist from
much washing-up, into his.

"For shame of yourself, Jim," quoth Ruth severely. "Please go on, Mrs.
Haigh. Jim knows no better."

"Crushed again," said Jim meekly. "If aw were nobbut a bit less or thee
a bit bigger, Ruth, aw'd teich thee th' respec' due to a man. Tha' sud
read what Saint Paul says. If ivver aw live to ha' a house o' mi own
aw'll ha' that tex' hung up conspicuous. But ger on, mother. Tha's none
run thissen dahn yetten, aw know."

"Weel, now, about Mitchell Mill." Mary took up her parable again. "Yo'll
noan be killed wi' rent, that's one gooid thing. An' there's a gooid run
o' watter, an' there's nob'dy aboon th' stream to run yo'r wheel dry nor
yet to foul th' watter for th' dye-house an' scourin' hoil. Then yo'
know yo'll be near th' cut an' th' tunnel under Stanedge, an' that'll
come in gain for gettin' yo'r stuff in an' for sendin' yo'r pieces out.
But it's abaat th' hands aw'm most moithered. Yo' see there's nother on
yo' bin used to havin' other fo'k under yo', and as for yar Jim he's
that soft a gooid-lookin' weiver or piecener or hurler could lake all
day afore his varry e'en an' mak' believe oo were workin' hersen to skin
an' bone an' he'd nivver know. That's th' weak spot."

Jim sighed heavily. Ruth regarded Mrs. Haigh with some disfavour.

"But aw'n bin thinkin'," resumed Mary, "'at aw could see to that. If aw
can addle a livin' at whom burlin' for Mr. Wrigley, aw can soor-lee do
as mich i' a mill-chamber workin' for mi own son an' pardner. Yo' see
aw'm thinkin' aw'st na ha' Jim to do for long"--and here Mary shot a
sly glance at Ruth, which instantly smoothed that maiden's ruffled
feathers--"an' time 'll lig heavy o' mi hands. Aw'st noan kill yo' for
wage. It's little aw want, an' if aw cannot shape for mi own lad it's a
bonny come-off." And here Mary audibly sniffed and passed a trembling
hand across her eyes. Jim got up and crossed the little room and patted
his mother on the back with his big hand.

"That's all reight, mother. Owt tha says goes, doesn't it, Abe?"

"Mary knows that," I said promptly.

"Then there's th' spinnin'," continued Mary, recovering her composure
and smiling at Jim bravely. "There's these young lasses, axin' yo'r
pardon if aw mak' too free, what's to hinder them fro' doin' a seet on
it at whom, leastwise till th' babbies come, aye, an' at after that, if
they've hauf th' sperrit aw think they han. Aw'll teich 'em, an aw'n a
spindle put by at whom awmost as gooid as new. Yo' see if yo'n to ha' a
chance to get on to yo'r feet yo' mun cut dahn th' expenses at ivvery
turn."

"Oh! I'll spin fast enough," cried Ruth. "It'll be nothing to turning a
man round my little finger."

"And wheer do aw come in?" asked Enoch, who had, doubtless with
difficulty, kept silence for quite an unwonted while.

"Aye, aye, Brother Hoyle, and what do you say?" asked his pastor.

"Weel," began Enoch with great promptitude, for he needed no pressing to
speech, and was like our old eight-days clock, in that when once wound
up he must needs be suffered to run down at his own sweet will. "Weel,
aw think aw see mi way clearly to be o' mich profit to yar young folk,
an' not forgettin' missen at th' same time, for is not the labourer
worthy of his hire, and is it not written that thou shalt not muzzle the
ox that treadeth out the corn? Aw tak' it that nother Abe here nor Jim
knows mich abaat wool, nor yet abaat the buyin' thereof. Nah yo' know
aw'n wovven guid wool an' bad wool all th' days o' mi life, an' what aw
dunnot know abaat th' feel, aye, an' th' smell, an' th' look o' wool
isn't worth knowin'. Aw can mind th' time when th' packmen used to come
ovver fro' Halifax bi Merry Dale, an' th' Valley were fair musical with
th' jingle o' th' bells on their pack-horses' necks. Ah! them were th'
days when yo' could leet on a mort o' cheap wool. But th' wool-stapplers
ha' mostly done away wi' all that, an' yo're more or less at their mercy
nowadays, an' it tak's a sma' man all his time to live. But there's
brass to be saved yet bi gerrin' among th' farmers on th' moor-sides at
th' sheep-shearing, an' buying th' fleeces. An' aw think, if it's all
th' same to yo', aw'll just devote my talents to that department. Aw'm
hale an' hearty yet, an' aw'm weel known. Not but what it's a pity this
didn't happen thirty year sin'. All mi life aw've felt aw were called
to greater things nor pushin' th' beam o' a hand-loom, an' throwin' th'
shuttle, an' workin' th' treddle, hand an' fooit an' back an' eye all
on th' stretch together. An' now th' time's come--th' hour's here, an'
th' man's here, an' his name's Enoch Hoyle. Nah so mich for th'
wool-buyin'. But it's one thing to buy wool, an' it's another to mak'
it into stuff 'at'll sell. An' other o' yo' two young men gi'en a thowt
to what mak' o' stuff yo're goin' to manifactur'?"

I looked at Jim and Jim looked at me, both very blankly. Neither spoke.

"Aw thowt as mich. Nah, it's easy enough to talk o' startin'
manifact'rin' o' yo'r own accaant; but th' thing is to know what to
mak'. Yo'n noa too mich brass to lake wi'; an' yo'n yo'r name to make.
Yo'll be wantin' to mak' summat cheap an' wi' a ready sale: summat yo'll
noan sink mich brass in an' at yo' can shut as quick as yo' can get it
off th' looms. Nah! han yo' turned yo'r thowts to approns, linsey
approns?"

Jim and I were still mute.

"Aw thowt as mich," pursued Enoch triumphantly. "Yo' were goin' to
manifactur', but what yo' were goin' to manifactur' yo'd no more thowt
nor th' babe unborn. Weel, if yo'n be guided by owd Enoch, yo'll start
wi' approns, linsey approns. They're rough, they're cheap, if there's a
flaw or two i' th' weivin' it's no gret matter, an' yo' can deal wi' th'
higglers direct. Then work yo'r way through approns, linsey approns, to
flannel shirtin's an' shawls, an' i' ten years' time, when owd Enoch 'll
happen be under th' sod--all that's mortal on him, but Enoch hissen
castin' down his crown afore the golden throne when th' Lord's med up
his jewels--i' ten years' time, aw say, it'll be sooin enough to talk
o' makkin' gooid broad cloth. Yo'll know th' tricks o' trade bi then,
an', God willin', yo'll ha' med yersens a name an' ha' put a bit bye to
launch out wi."

"It seems to me," said my father, "that Brother Enoch speaks the words
of wisdom."

  "His 'prentice hand He tried on man,
   And then He made the lasses, O,"

whispered Ruth,

  "Your 'prentice hands on linseys try,
   And then to West-o'-England's fly."



CHAPTER X.

MITCHELL MILL.

I imagine few masters behave as handsomely by their men as Mr. Wrigley
did by Jim and me when the news spread like fire from Harrop Green to
Greenfield that Parson Holmes's and Jim o' 'Lijah's, th' Tuner, had
dropped into a fortune and were going to start on their own bottom at
Mitchell, commonly called Mickle Mill. "It'll ta' a guidish mony o' them
sort o' mickles to ma' a muckle," the village wit had prophesied; but
Mr. Wrigley was not among the croakers. He sent for Jim and me into the
counting house, if so big a name can be given to the little office in
which he kept his books and paid the wages each Saturday noon. Mr.
Wrigley, I have said, was a man of few words, but a just.

"And so you youngsters are going to run Mitchell Mill?" he said.

"We're going to try," I answered meekly, almost feeling that I was doing
Mr. Wrigley a personal injury.

"It's a grave step," he said, "a very grave step. But you've youth and
courage. Never lose courage, whatever else you lose. There's a saying I
remember--it isn't in the Bible, for I've looked for it from Genesis to
Revelations. Perhaps it's in th' 'Pocrypha--there's a lot o' good
things in th' 'Pocrypha--'He who loses fortune loses much, who loses
friends loses more, but who loses courage loses all.' My first an' last
word to you both is, 'Go steady an' keep your tails up.' If you ever
want a bit of advice, don't be too proud to ask, it, and you know where
to come for it. What's in these envelopes is from Mrs. Wrigley and
myself. They should have been wedding presents--oh! we aren't deaf at
Holly Grove but I daresay it'll come in handy now. Now be off with you,
I'm busy. Oh! and I was to tell you to be sure to be at service next
Sunday night and stop for th' prayer meeting."

We opened the envelopes when we got outside. There was a new Bank of
England note for five pounds in each, fresh and crisp, straight from the
bank.

"Aw'st go to that prayer meeting," said Jim, "if aw nevver go to
another. The Lord send we aren't Matthy Haley'd to death, that's all.
But aw'm thinking th' prayers 'll be fro' Mrs. Wrigley an' th' brass
fro' Mr. Wrigley, an' wi' all respec' for th' fair sex, gi' me th'
brass."

In this innuendo, however, it turned out that Jim did less than justice
to the mistress of Holly Grove; for not to be outdone in magnanimity by
her lord and master she invited my father, and Ruth, and Miriam--I can
imagine with some misgivings in her case--and Mother Haigh, and Jim,
and myself to high tea at Holly Grove. She accompanied the invitation to
my reverend sire by an intimation that she would be much obliged if he
would conduct a service in Wrigley Mill itself, for she was of opinion,
she added, that, though tea drinkings and such like festivities might
occasionally be conceded to the frailties of the flesh, such a crisis as
had now been reached in the fortunes of Jim and myself were better
marked by prayer if not by fasting. In this observation I can imagine my
father wholeheartedly concurring, though I doubt his acquiescence when
Mrs. Wrigley went on to deplore that the pastor of Pole Moor had wedded
himself to the tenets of hyper-Calvinism, she herself finding, she
averred, that doctrine but as dry ashes compared with the comforting and
inspiring teaching of the sainted John Wesley.

The invitations to Mary Haigh, and Jim, and myself were not conveyed by
word of mouth, as they might easily and at no cost have been, but
reached us on separate and individual missives, at Mary's house in
Wrigley Mill Fold, by the Royal Mail. Never before in our lives had any
one of us three residents in Mary's humble cottage received a letter so
transmitted, and each one of us twisted and turned the document about
before mustering courage to break the wafers securing the letters.

"Whativver in the name o' goodness is this?" exclaimed Mary. "Here, Abe,
this'll be for yo', though, to be sewer, th' postman swore it were for
me. Aw weren't for takkin' it, but he'd noan tak' it back. Aw'n noan
oppened it, catch me at it. Aw'n more sense nor that. Aw nivver knew
anyone 'at aw knew ha' a letter bi post but Jane Stewart, an' that wer'
to say their Moll 'ud run away wi' a sojer. There's bad luck i' them
innercent looikin' bits o' papper. Aw feel it i' mi bones. When folk han
onny gooid news to tell they bring it theirsen."

"Weel, here goes," said Jim, opening his letter with the air of one
leading' a forlorn hope, "let's be knowing th' warst on it. Read it out,
Abe, unless bi onny chance it's fro' your Ruth, i' which case aw'll just
off to Pole Moor an' ax her to read it for me hersen."

When Jim and his good mother realised that Mr. and Mrs. Wrigley desired
the pleasure of their company to tea at 'Holly Grove I doubt whether
their pleasure and pride were equal to their consternation. To be sure,
they had sat at table with the master and mistress of Holly Grove at
Sunday school treats. That was one thing, but it was quite another to be
specially invited as guests to Holly Grove; just as, I suppose, it is
one thing to sit at one end of the table at a public banquet and see a
Royal Prince, with a powdered flunkey at his back, and quite another to
receive a pressing invitation to dine at Buckingham Palace: though, I
suppose, even in the former case, as in the latter, you can go about for
the rest of your life bragging that you've dined with Royalty. I knew
a man that did. But that' not to my story.

"Weel! aw nivver did!" gasped Mary. "Oh! my poor heart, it's all o' a
quivver. Aw knew that dratted letter 'ud upset me for th' rest o' th'
week.

"Weel, there's one gooid thing aw'n that silk gown mi aunt left me 'at
aw'n had laid by i' th' prass these twenty year i' lavender, an' wi'
camphor to keep th' moths off. There'll be a seet o' seams to be let
out, to be sewer, for mi naunts were one o' th' lean kine, not to speak
disrespectful o' one 'at's dead an' gone, but truth's truth an' 'll
allus go farthest, choose what yo' say. An' even then aw'm feart aw'st
ha' to be poo'd into th' frock bi horsepower, an' it'll give all ovver.
But aw'll n'er heed if it'll last this do an' yo'r two weddin's. Aw'm
noan likely to want it again. Aw'd aimed to leave it to Ruth after aw
deed. But nah, aw'st wear it at th' Holly Greave if it strangles me. Out
o' mi seet, yo' grinnin' lads, and mind how yo' speik to me till this
thing's off mi mind." And Mary went upstairs to the sacred press in a
highly perturbed state of mind.

"We're coming up i' th' world mighty quick," quoth Jim, shaking his head
very solemnly. "Aw'n heered abaat a chap 'at went up like a rocket an'
cum dahn like a stick, an' aw'm feart this may be just such another do.
Aw'n a gooid mind just to step ovver to th' Pole an' talk it ovver wi'
yo'r Ruth. Aw'n two neck-cloths, one's a breet green an' t' other's a
mottled 'un, an' aw wonder which oo'd like me to wear at th' Holly
Greave," he concluded somewhat lamely.

"Yo'll do nothing of the sort," I said with emphasis. "Our Ruth will tie
you to her apron strings fast enough, I can tell you, without your
trapezing off to Pole Moor every five minutes to ask her to do it.
You'll just off with me to Mitchell Mill and set to work on that
water-wheel. It will take us all our time to get things ship-shape by
the day we've fixed for getting th' looms in.

"Tha'rt a hard taskmaster, Abe," sighed the love-sick giant. "When aw
swopped Mester Wrigley for going partner wi' yo' aw just jumped out o'
th' frying-pan into th' fire. Aw'n put in more time at Mitchell Mill nor
ever aw thowt it possible for one man to put in, an' th' sweat's run off
me like fat out o' a Michaelmas gooise i' a hot oven. But aw'll do thee
justice, Abe, tha'rt noan one to ax another to do what tha'rt noan ready
to do thissen. Tha's swept an' painted an' mortared an' whitewashed
inside an' outside yond' owd mill till tha stinks o' turps, an' limewash
is all ovver thi yure (hair) an' face an' han's an' cloas to sich a tune
tha'd do for a churchyard monniment, an' afore tha can go other to th'
Hollygreave or onny other decent body's haase aw'st ha' to put thee i'
th' scourin' pan and steam thee, an' then scrub thee dahn wi' th'
besom."

And indeed Jim and I had our hands full. Mitchell Mill had been long
untenanted, and had fallen into sad disrepair inside and out. The thatch
had fallen in in places, the doors hung on their hinges, there wasn't
a whole window to the place, the mill-dam needed dredging, head-goit and
tail-goit cleansing, the water-wheel ought justly to have been mended
with a new one--but that was out of the question. But the masonry was
good and solid, the floorings sound, and the iron of the gearing, though
rusted, still firm. And we got a lease renewable at option for a nominal
rental, and that meant a lot to us. Of course, we couldn't afford to
employ slaters, or thackers, or masons, or carpenters, or painters, or
millwrights; so we perforce turned ourselves into Jacks-of-all-trades. I
made but poorly out except at the lighter jobs, but that Jim, though
with many a grunt and groan more than half make-believe, did the work of
six men. He had the strength of a Goliath, and could turn it to any use.
Only give him plenty to eat and a fair allowance of his favourite
homebrewed and Jim seemed as fresh as new paint and ready to start again
after doing a day's work that would have made every bone in my body ache
for a week.

Now, in my young days I confess to a fondness for reading the works of
Mr. Robert Owen, of Lanark, and, to be sure, we are all taught to
believe in the brotherhood of man and to bear one another's burden, and
that may mean that the strong should cheerfully earn the whole cake and
give the better half of it to the weak, thankful to be able to do it.
And I suppose in a perfect state a man will do his day's work just
because it is his day's work, and be content to share and share alike
with a brother who either can't or won't do his. But, alas! we don't
live in a perfect state, and human nature will have a long way to travel
before it ceases to be true that if you want to get the best out of a
man set him to work for himself. Anyhow--I'm no philosopher--Jim and I
toiled in those early days at Mitchell Mill, and for many a long year
thereafter, like galley-slaves. We had a long row to hoe, and we knew
it. And were there not Miriam and Ruth to cheer us when we despaired,
and to lighten our toil by all the arts of loving and good women.

Now, one day in mid-March, whom should we spy seated on a low wall near
the mill dam but that queer, uncanny Burnplatter, that same Daft Billy
who had fetched me from the watch-night service to the bedside of old
Mother Sykes, and who, I had reasons for believing, had carried me to my
father's door after Ephraim had left me for dead on Stanedge top. I
could never quite get over a sort of shrinking from the man, but I knew
that he loved Miriam as the hound loves its master, and hoped that for
Miriam's sake he would do me no ill if he did me no good. So I went to
him with outstretched hand--which he disregarded--and asked him to
share the beef and bread and cheese and onions which Jim and I had
brought in our handkerchief for our mid-day meal.

"Aw want nowt to eit," he said, with, I thought, scant courtesy. "Aw
want to speik to thee private." He scowled in the direction of poor Jim,
and added, "Send yon' hulkin' fooil out o' earshot." I gave Jim a hint,
and he took his tea-cake and pitcher to another part of the mill.

"Now, what is it?" I asked anxiously. "Nothing wrong with Miriam?"

"Not yetten."

"But you fear harm to her?"

"Aw shouldn't be here else. It's none for love o' you."

I quite thought I could believe that.

"Well, well?"--impatiently.

"It's Eph.--an' them Bradburys. Leastwise, th' young 'un."

"But Tom o' Bill's a married man, with a family at that--what can he
want with Miriam?"

"Oh! mostly to spite thee, aw reckon. He wants none o' th' lass. He's
his hands full at whom; but he'd hit thee through Miriam if he can."

Now that was a very long speech for the taciturn Burnplatter, and 'twere
wearisome to tell at large how, bit by bit, like getting gold out of
quartz, I got from Daft Billy the story he had to tell.

It would seem, then, that my old friend and later rival and foe,
Ephraim, aforetime poacher and horsedealer, had now quite cast in his
lot with the gamekeepers at the Moorcock Inn. He was persuaded, too,
that by right divine he was now King of the Burnplatters, in joint
succession with Miriam to old Mother Sykes, whom, it appeared, that
unruly tribe had regarded as their rightful Queen and head. Ephraim was
not disposed to take his kingship lightly. He had exacted an oath of
fealty from the Burnplatters, and trusted to his new-born friendship
with the Bradburys to secure them a certain immunity from the ministers
of the law, But he felt, as the most intense conviction of his being,
that Miriam was destined alike by Nature, by kinship--he knew nothing,
of course, of Mr Garside's revelation--by their upbringing, and, he
believed, by her own predilection, to be alike his bride and queen
consort of the Burnplatters. Daft Billy often came across him on his
wanderings over the moors that lie between Greenfield and Pole Moor, and
had, as I could well imagine under no great pressure, accepted Ephraim's
invitations to drink. Ephraim would begin on ale, of which he would
quaff great draughts, without appearing a penny the worse, and then,
declaring that ale lay too cold on his stomach, would call for brandy.
Now, though I am not learned in these matters, as how should I be, I
have always understood that no greater error can be made than to mix
your liquors. I cannot understand how this should be, for one would have
said that alcohol is alcohol whether derived from the grain or vine. But
so I am assured it is; and Daft Billy left me no room to doubt that when
Ephraim had got well under way with the brandy bottle all the baser and
more repulsive nature of the man betrayed itself. He would begin by
boasting, bragging of his own good looks, and strength, and prowess, and
skill as a judge and swapper of horse flesh; then he would fall to
maudlin talk of his and Miriam's childhood days, and of her girlish awe
and admiration and affection for him; then he would flare up into wild
denunciations of myself: he would cut my liver out and throw it to his
dog to eat; he would set fire to Mitchell Mill and break every loom to
stivers and burn every piece; he would break me in body and in fortune;
he would mar me that no maid would look on me but with loathing; he
would show Miriam which was the better man: he would--and this was
really the gravamen of Daft Billy's story--beguile her from the safe
keeping and, as he deemed them, evil and corrupting influences of Pole
Moor, and, will she nill she, make her his wedded wife.

"But all this," I commented, "is but the raving of a drunken sot. People
who really intend mischief don't go babbling their designs over a pot.
They lie low and keep their mouths shut. Then their blow falls like
lightning out of a summer sky. Besides, there's law in the land. As for
the mill and our pieces, Jim and I can look after them. And as for
Miriam--why, we aren't in the Highlands of Scotland, where such things
might be, but in the West Riding of Yorkshire, and, anyway, Miriam is
not the girl to be forced into marriage by Ephraim Sykes and all the
Burnplatters put together."

But Daft Billy was not to be moved by all my eloquence.

"Yon lad means mischief," he said. "He'd care not a snap of his fingers
for all th' law i' England. He's just out of his senses, what wi' brandy
an' what wi' jealousy, an' what wi' longing for the maid hersen. An'
when a man's mad, he's mad; an it s just sheer nonsense argeying about
him as if he were i' his reet senses. He'll stick at nowt an' damn the
consekences."

"But what's to be done?" I asked with some impatience, for to tell the
truth I attached mighty little importance to Daft Billy's story. "Jim
and I can't put Mitchell Mill in our pockets and carry it about with us.
And we can't keep Miriam under lock and key till we're wed--and that
won't be for many a long day, worse luck. And it would never do to
breathe a word to Miriam about the matter. The girl's happy enough now.
Why, Billy, you would scarce know her for the same girl. Why don't you
come to Pole Moor and drink a dish of tea with my father like a
Christian man? Then you can see for yourself what a change has come over
the dear lass."

"She ailed nowt afore 'at aw e'er saw," averred Billy stoutly.

"She's as happy as the day's long," I went on. "She'd but a dark
childhood and maidenhood. But now the clouds have passed from her young
life and her nature opens and blooms and is fragrant with sweet perfume
like a rose under the summer sun. Ah! Billy, 't would do your heart good
to see the glad light in her eyes and hear the glad song of her as she
goes about her work. I'm not going to darken her days for her by filling
her mind with bogeys. Besides, again, what _could_ we do?"

"Aw'n thowt o' that," said that daft man curtly. "Don yo' think aw'n
ta'en trouble to come here just to fley yo'? That's noan my way. Aw tell
yo' aw'm as sewer as ivver aw were o' owt 'at one road or other Ephraim
'll try to get howd o' Miriam, an' if once oo gets into his clutches
when th' drink's in him an' all his evil passions burnin' hot as hell
flames, don yo' think it likely oo'll escape wi'out hurt? Does a moth go
through th' flame o' th' candle wi'out scorchin' its wings? And yo' sit
theer an' talk about law an' its ministers, meanin' th' constables, aw
suppose. What gooid will other law or Gospel be when th' mischief's
done. Yo' may piecen a cracked pot together, but th' crack's theer all
th' same. Aw'm noan what yo' ca' a pertickler sort o' man. Burnplatts is
noan exac'ly th' spot for rearin' saints. But aw tell yo' this, Abel
Holmes, aw love yon lass more nor ivver aw thowt it i' mi natur' to love
any human being. Aw'n seen her come up sin' oo began to lisp mi name.
Aw'n borne her i' these arms o'er mony a mile o' crag an' fell; her
little arms han clung raand mi neck; her little lips han kissed mine;
her little head, wi' its clusters o' ringlets, has pillowed itsen agen
this hard owd heart o' mine, and aw tell thee, man, if Ephraim Sykes, or
onny other man 'at wronged that maid were at th' bottom o' Satan's pit,
aw'd lope in an' glut missen wi' th' awfullest vengeance 'at a legion o'
devils could devise."

I gazed with a horrid fascination on Daft Billy's face as he uttered
these words in a very torrent or whirlwind of speech. The man was wholly
stirred from his wonted stolid demeanour. Hitherto I had known him as a
morose, silent, phlegmatic being whom, to all seeming, nothing short of
an earthquake or an electric battery could move. Well, I suppose the
thoughts of danger to Miriam that his silent broodings had conjured up
were the convulsion that had fired his passion and loosed his tongue. We
ordinary folk are so begirt by law and order and convention that we
forget the elemental forces and little realise the heights and depths to
which human nature can soar or fall when law and order and convention
are swept away as I have seen the dam walls swept away by the waters of
a swollen, raging stream. I sat in silence till such time as Billy
should recover himself, and then asked quietly, and as if unconcernedly:

"And your plan, Billy--what is it?"

"Weel," said our visitor, lapsing into his accustomed taciturnity,
"weel, aw'm come here to pick a quarrel wi' yo' or you long-legged
peartner o' yourn, or both on yo'."

"To pick a quarrel! Why, whatever have we done wrong to you to quarrel
about?"

"That's nother here nor theer. We mun fa' out about owt or nowt. An' yo'
mun beat me wi' a pickin' rod till aw'm black an' blue, or drag me
through th' mill dam, or put me into th' sizin' tub, or do owt yo' like
'at 'll leave a mark on me 'at aw can show at th' 'Moorcock.' Then aw
off to Ephraim an' mak' it out 'at aw'll ha' yo'r lives to pay yo aat.
Yo' see, if Eph. thinks aw'm on his side he'll happen oppen aat to me
more nor he has done, an' forewarned's forearmed. If we nobbut knew
aforehand what he's up to we can tak' steps accordingly. But th' main
thing is to mak' him believe aw'm just as set agen yo' as he is hissen.
Aw think it'll have to be th' mill dam. What sayn yo'?"

"Well, I for one am not going to beat you black and blue, nor yet drag
you through the mill dam. But I quite think it will do no harm for you
to make Ephraim and his new mates think we're on bad terms. So be off
these premises"--this with a very menacing tone "be off these premises,
you idle, skulking blackguard. Get you out of sight of honest men and go
to the scum you're fit for, or I'll souse you over head in th' sizing
tub."

Daft Billy rose hurriedly to his feet, raised one arm as to ward off a
blow, clenched his right fist ready for a fray, and eyed me with mingled
amaze and indignation. Then a broad grin spread across his features, and
he slowly winked first one eye, then the other:

"Tha'lt do, lad; tha'lt do. Aw'm off, and tha'rt noan sich a fooil as aw
thowt thee."

And he lumbered heavily away, chuckling audibly.

I confess I did not attach to the warnings of Daft Billy the importance
that subsequent events were to demonstrate in a terrible and tragic
manner they deserved. For one thing, I did not know Ephraim Sykes as
Daft Billy did. I knew him to be a reckless, lawless sort of fellow, but
thought that poaching and an occasional brawl were the limits beyond
which even his ungoverned temper would not lead him. Nor, for another
thing, had my experience of life and human nature then taught me what
devastating havoc can be wrought in the heart of man by thwarted
passion, its fires fed by strong drink. "Hell," says the proverb, "has
no fury like a woman scorned," and I suppose a man who sees the woman he
has for years looked upon as his own and whom after his wild and fiery
fashion he loves, give the treasures of her young love to another, is in
like case to a woman scorned. And, for yet another thing, was there not
the entrancing thought that Miriam was to be at the special service at
Wrigley Mill, the honoured guest of Mr. and Mrs. Wrigley.

The service was held in the weaving shed, the warping room not being
large enough to hold all those who flocked to the meeting. For besides
the mill hands at Wrigley Mill, it was known that a number of good folk
from Diggle and Woolroad and Uppermill meant to attend the service,
friends and well-wishers these of good old Jim. From Stanedge Top and
Dig Lea and Harrop Green and Weakey and Harrop Edge and Tamewater right
over the hill to Delph, Jim had hosts of friends, and not one to
begrudge him his rise in the world. So when it was bruited abroad that
this service was to be his farewell to Wrigley Mill, men and women,
youths and maidens, wished to do him honour. And, of course, the girls
were all agog to see our Ruth and Miriam. Jim had been somewhat of a
general lover in the sense at least that he had ever had a hearty word
and maybe a sly kiss for all the pretty lasses of the countryside;
though I'd stake my life that no girl was ever wronged by Jim. It had
been, indeed, a common jest against Jim that he was wedded to his old
mother. Perhaps that was why the girls had so set their caps at him, for
the French have a saying, I am told--and who should know a woman's ways
better than the French, who seem to think of little else?--that if you
run after the provoking creatures they run away, but if _you_ run away
they'll e'en run after you. And Jim was popular with the mothers, too;
for who so tender and gentle as he with the little mites that in those
days used to come down the rough hill sides in rain and sleet and snow
of the dark winter mornings to earn their few shillings to swell the
slender income of the family. Was it not Jim who let them warm their
frozen hands and numbed feet by the boiler fires, and Jim who cared
their sodden skirts and hose, and dried them carefully in the
drying-hoil, and Jim who carried many a weary little toddlekin home on
his broad shoulders hushing its sobs and drying its tears with lumps of
goodstuff, all dirty and sticky from being kept in his coat by the
blazing, roaring fires, but still goodstuff. And Jim was popular with
the men, too, for he had not scorned to take his pint and stand his
corner like a man at all the hostelries of those parts; and though, to
be sure, there had been a sad falling off in these respects since he had
taken to tramping over Stanedge to Pole Moor, it was hoped that marriage
would restore him to sanity and his accustomed ways.

And about Miriam there were a thousand rumours and wild conjectures.
Mary Haigh's cottage had been simply besieged by women itching to know
the very truth of the whole business; but, though Mary's tongue ran on
wheels most times, she knew when to keep it still. And, of course, the
more she didn't tell, the more everybody seemed to know. Miriam was the
daughter of a wicked baronet, and had been changed at birth; Miriam had
been proved to be the rightful heiress to fabulous sums now safely,
perhaps too safely, coffered in that mysterious repository of great
fortunes known as Chancery; Miriam had been the cause of a bloody feud
between the gipsy king and the parson's son; Miriam was a godless
heathen who had been brought to grace by the little parson of Pole Moor;
Miriam could neither read nor write; Miriam was a prodigy of wit and
learning, and could divine the future by the stars--in fine, Miriam was
more than a nine days' wonder for all the womenfolk and some of the men
of the other side of Stanedge, as we of Pole Moor called the Diggle
Valley.

When Mary and Jim and I got to Holly Grove on the eventful afternoon of
that ever-memorable service, we found my father and Miriam and Ruth
already arrived, and seated in great state in one of the big front rooms
of that imposing mansion. As we walked up Ward Lane and along the
tree-flanked carriage drive there had been great debate as to whether we
should knock boldly at the great white front door with the flower garden
facing towards Greenfield, or whether we should, as usual, seek
admission to the presence by way of the kitchen. The debate ended, as
great debates often end, by a compromise, it being finally settled, to
Jim's secret relief, that Mary and I should take our courage in both
hands and valiantly assail the front door knocker, whilst Jim modestly
tapped at the back. We need have been under no apprehensions, for no
sooner was Mary within than she was pounced upon by Mrs. Wrigley and
Miriam and Ruth and conveyed upstairs to be relieved of bonnet and her
wondrous shawl, and Jim and myself were bid by Mr. Wrigley to help
ourselves to the gin and water if we wanted to wet our clays, as he
called it, and then, taking no more notice of us, he fell to, hammer and
tongs, at my poor father.

Now I had always known my good master as a silent, reserved man, very
gentle with the children at the Sunday school, seldom taking vocal part
in the prayer meetings, except in the hymns, which he sang very heartily
and very much out of tune. But now, whether it was the gin and water, or
whether it was the theme, he came out in quite a new character. I would
have you know that those were the days of the great Reform Bill that set
all classes by the ears. And Mr. Wrigley, as beseemed a good Wesleyan,
was as stout a Tory as ever drew on a pair of Wellington tops, and my
father, as was but natural in a Baptist, was as stout a Whig.

"I'll tell you what it is, Mr. Holmes, this country is just going
headlong to the dogs." It is a curious fact: I have been young and now
am old, yet there has never been a time when, to hear some folk, Old
England has not been going headlong to the dogs--but this by the way.
"Yes, sir, to the dogs. And little Johnny Russell" thus familiarly did
Wrigley speak of Lord John--"little Johnny Russell's whooping it on.
Reform Bill! indeed--giving every twopenny-ha'penny householder the
vote, forsooth. And it won't end there, mark my words, sir. It's but the
thin end of the wedge. Before long my own workpeople will have the vote,
and who'll be master in my mill then I should like to know? What's the
like of them to know about politics and affairs of State I ask you? A
man's got to have a head on his shoulders, I can tell you, to mell with
matters like that. And he must have a stake in the country, yes, sir, a
stake, and then he feels the responsibility of the thing. But lower the
franchise, and where are you? Why, at the mercy of the mob, sir, the
mob, a set of rick-burning, frame-smashing, ignorant no-breeches. Help
yourself to the gin, Mr. Holmes, and pass the tobacco-jar to the
youngsters. They're better without the Geneva water. Look what it's done
for France, sir, this reforming rubbish: revolution and republicanism,
and the guillotine, red ruin, and the breaking up of laws: no king, no
church, no State, no aristocracy, no property, nothing sacred, atheism
rampant, virtue dethroned, and vice triumphant. Now I put it to you, Mr.
Holmes, isn't it only natural, part of God's law in a manner of
speaking, that men of birth, and family, and fortune, and education, men
with a stake in the country, aye, I stick to that, a stake, sir, a
stake, should have the ruling of it. Answer me that, if you can."

Now if I never admired my father before I admired him that afternoon.
There he sat in a lofty armchair, his little thin legs scarce touching
the floor, his old black coat almost white at the seams, and looking
sadly threadbare and shabby by contrast with the shining broadcloth Mr.
Wrigley had donned for the occasion--yet did he cower and quail before
the owner of Wrigley Mill, and that great mansion, and many a broad acre
that lay around? Not he my certes. He was just as calm and composed as
when he sat in our little parlour at the head of a conference of
ministers, and the hotter Mr. Wrigley blew the cooler my father seemed.

"It's true enough," he said, "the great mass of the people are sadly
ignorant. But whose fault is that? The great ones of the earth have
ruled the roost for centuries, and yet we find they have left those
whose natural guardians you say they are in an abysmal darkness."

"They should educate themselves, sir," bawled Mr. Wrigley; "that is, if
they've the minds to carry it, which I doubt.

"That's to flout your God, sir," said my father. "Our heavenly Father is
not so partial as you would have Him to be. One baby's very much like
another when it first blinks its little eyes at this strange world. Take
a little prince from Buckingham Palace and bring him up in the gutter
and a gutter-snipe he'll be, blue blood or no blue blood; take a
beggar's brat and plant it in Buckingham Palace and 'twill make in time
a very passable Prince."

"And when are the working-classes to find time for education, sir, even
if what you say's true, which may be or may not be?" asked Mr. Wrigley
as one who puts a poser.

"They'll have to find time before they begin to work," said my father
stoutly. "Boys and girls of ten years of age ought to be at school and
not in a mill. The manufacturers of this Riding are building up their
fortunes on the life's blood of tender and helpless children, and their
little voices ascend to heaven and will yet be heard by their Father
there."

Yes, my father said that, and the walls of Holly Grove did not fall and
bury him alive. I quaked in my chair. Mr. Wrigley grew purple in his
wrath and was evidently rallying all his forces for a crushing rejoinder
when fortunately Mrs. Wrigley sailed into the room with Mary and the two
girls in her train. Mrs. Wrigley cast her keen glance at her husband.

"I believe you've been arguing, John. It's that horrid gin. It's a
strange thing a man can't take spirits without wanting to argue. And you
lost your temper, too. I heard you from the bedroom. That temper of
yours will be your undoing, John, You must pray against it, mustn't he,
Mr. Holmes?"

"Oh Lord!" muttered Mr. Wrigley, feebly, mopping his brow with a large
silk handkerchief.

"Now we'll go in to tea. John, you'll take Ruth; Abel, look after Mrs.
Haigh; Jim must look after himself, for I want Miriam to sit by me."

Now I was mighty pleased and proud to see that from the first Mrs.
Wrigley had taken a great fancy to my dear sweetheart. Perhaps it was
her strange and sad story that had touched her heart; perhaps the
mother's heart in her breast yearned over the orphaned girl; or belike
it was a way Miriam had of soft and yielding deference to those older
than herself.

Now, no one would thank me to tell in full the story of that evening's
service. Matthey Haley surpassed himself. He had listened, I thought,
with some impatience to my father's discourse, which he based, somewhat
unfeelingly I thought, on the cryptic saying of Ecclesiastes: "Better is
the end of a thing than the beginning thereof." I was in a chastened
mood, and listened meekly enough even to Matthey's ranting, which
usually jarred upon my feelings. But I was learning be-times that most
difficult of all lessons: to be indulgent of the weaknesses of others;
to all their faults a little blind; to all their virtues very kind. And
though, to be sure, Matthey, when in full blast, did rave and roar as
though indeed his God was "either talking, or he was pursuing, or he wag
on a journey, or peradventure he slept and must be awaked;" yet I doubt
not his God, as he conceived him, a sort of magnified man to be
flattered, cajoled, and entreated, was to Matthey a very real Being, and
Matthey's religion to him a very real and living thing.

I had looked forward all the day to accompanying my father and the girls
at least a part of the way home to Pole Moor; but at the close of the
service Mrs. Wrigley was good enough to ask my father to allow Miriam to
stay for a week or two at Holly Grove, adding that she had formed the
highest estimate of my loved one's graces of mind and heart, and hoped
a little change from the routine of Pole Moor might be all to her
benefit. To this my father willingly assented; so that instead of
journeying over Stanedge with Miriam by my side, her little hand
stealing into mine in the friendly cover of the night, I turned my face
to Wrigley Mill Fold with only Mary as my companion. No need to say
where Jim was.

"Eh," said Mary, as we walked slowly down Ward Lane, "Eh! that aw should
ha' lived to see this day, an' my 'Lijah ta'en away i' his prime afore
it come off. 'Affliction sore long time he bore, physicians were i'
vain'; at least Dr. Garstang were. But happen he's been permitted to
look down from aboon an' see his lone widder an' th fruit o his loins
sittin at table wi' his owd mester an' his mester's missus. Did yo'
notice th' spooin's, Abe? Real silver, every one on 'em, hall-marked,
an' th' salt cellars an' th' teapot. Aw wonder Mrs. Wrigley can sleep i'
bed o' neets wi' so mich silver about. Little cattle, little care's a
true sayin'. An' th' cups an' saucers, Crown Derby 'oo towd me. An' yo'
should ha' seen upstairs. Th' cloe's on th' bed that high they'd to ha'
a steppin' stooil to get into bed; an' a feather bed that soft an' thick
'at it's a wonder onnybody can be got to ger up in a mornin. An' th'
hair brushes--iv'ry backs an' han'les. An' a wardrobe, aw think oo
ca'ed it, wi' a glass to it fro' top to bottom, so yo' could see yersen
fro yead to fooit. It gay' mi a turn it did, aw assewer yo'. Aw nivver
seed missen full length afore, an' aw could hardly believe it were me.
An' th' dresses! Aw do believe oo's a dress for evvry day i' th' week,
an' two for Sundays. An' th' linen--all ready choose oo dies. Oo showed
me th' sheets Mr. Wrigley's to be laid out in, an' th' shirt wi',
frilled front, an' th' same for hersen. Oh, they needn't be feart to go
whenivver it may please th' gooid Lord to ca' 'em, for they'n all ready
if it were to-morrow. An' to think yo' an' our Jim may ha' th' same if
it sud please the Lord to prosper yo'. Aw cannot bear to think on it,
Abe; mi heart's full to burstin'. Aw dunnot know what aw'n done to ha'
so mich happiness showered on mi i' mi owd days"--and here Mary fairly
sobbed, and the tears streamed down her cheeks.

I comforted her as best I could by saying that to be sure she hadn't
done much to deserve such luck: only been the best of wives, the best of
mothers, and the best of friends, with a hand ready for any service and
a heart that made all her neighbours' troubles its own. And so by the
time we reached her little cot Mary was her serene self once more, and
on her straw mattress slept, I doubt not, as sweet a sleep as Mrs.
Wrigley on her bed of down.



CHAPTER XI.

JIM AND I GO ON A QUEST.

NOW, though, as I have said, Miriam remained at Holly Grove as a guest
of Mrs. Wrigley, I as not destined to see her any the oftener from her
being so much the nearer. Mrs. Wrigley had not invited me to visit the
great house during my sweetheart's stay, which I thought she might well
have done, and I was far too proud to go there uninvited. I could not
forget that though I was now a master myself--in a very small way to be
sure, but still a master--I had till quite recently been Mr. Wrigley's
man, and I still stood in some awe of him and his good lady. I am told
that men who have been brought up as youths at our great public schools,
such as Eton and Harrow, never quite get over the sense of trembling awe
with which the headmaster impressed their young and plastic minds. They
may become great generals, famous ministers of State, archbishops, aye,
even prime ministers, in after life, yet to the end of their days their
old headmaster is still their headmaster, a being little less august
than Deity itself. Nay, in my own humble experience, I remember when I
was a great, broad-shouldered man of forty years and more meeting at
Huddersfield Market, for the first time for thirty years and more, one
who used to bully and trounce me at the little village school we both
attended. I had shot up into a big, strong man. To my great wonderment
the bully of my youth was, in his prime of years, a little, peevish,
spindle-shanked, weak-chested, pale-faced mannikin that I could have
picked up and tossed over any stall without straining myself. And yet,
at our first encounter at the market, when he made himself known to me,
I felt a sudden sinking and sickening of my heart, such as I had often
felt in the days so long gone by, when I had seen him striding across
the playground towards me, wrath in his eye, majesty on his brow, a
cricket-stump in his mighty hand with which to belabour poor, trembling
me for some offence to his dignity as cock of the school. Aye, and would
you believe it, at our first encounter at the market, the little fellow,
though but a bummer, actually addressed me--me, a prosperous
manufacturer, with good and coveted orders to place, in a patronising,
condescending tone. But he soon altered his tune, I can tell you. All
this to explain why, partly from pride and partly from cowardice, I kept
away from Holly Grove during all the time of Miriam's sojourn there,
though I will not deny that when night had fallen, and there were only
the moon and stars to witness my folly, I would steal across the fields
to the Upper Intak', and from a safe distance gaze wistfully at the
chamber windows, and wonder in which room my goddess slept her sweet
sleep and dreamed her pure dreams. One night I was blessed by seeing a
shadow cross behind the window blind, and though the night was bitter
cold I went hot as a stove all over me, my heart thumped in my breast,
and my knees trembled under me. I learned afterwards that I had been
staring at the window of Mrs. Wrigley's very plain and elderly serving
maid!

But if I did not go to Holly Grove Miriam came on one blessed occasion
to Mary's house in the Mill Fold. It was in the afternoon, when Jim and
I were, of course, busy at Mitchell Mill. She explained to Mary that
Mrs. Wrigley had thought she ought not to come to the house when I was
likely to be at home: that it was not seemly for a maiden to run after a
young man, even though she were plighted to him. Another thing she said,
which threw me into much uneasiness and apprehension. Mrs. Wrigley,
having heard the story of Miriam's birth and parentage, as we had
gleaned it from her father and old Mother Sykes, was clearly of opinion
that inquiry ought to be made as to her relatives in general. Her
grandmother Garside had, so Mrs. Wrigley argued, clearly been a lady of
position and affluence, and was likely to have connexions in like case.
These, doubtless, would welcome with fervour a young and beautiful
relation, and who could say what might not ensue from opening up
communications with the well-to-do Garside family. To this my Miriam had
promptly replied that, so far as she could judge, her grandmother
Garside had behaved atrociously to her own son Miriam's unfortunate
father, and to his much wronged wife, her mother: and that so far as she
was concerned all the Garsides in Lancashire might be at the bottom of
the sea and their money-bags with them: that she was more than content,
aye, happy as the day was long, at the humble Manse at Pole Moor, that
she asked no greater gift from Heaven than the love of the simple lad
who had won her heart, and that she could conceive of no greater
blessing than to share his life and fortunes be they better or worse.
She had even ventured, though, she confessed to Mary, with much
diffidence, to take up against Mrs. Wrigley that lady's favourite
weapon, a text from the Scriptures, and to remind her hostess that we
are bidden to lay not up for ourselves treasures upon earth, where moth
and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal, but to
lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust
doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal; and that
for her part she believed that a home, however humble, with fare however
mean, where love reigned in the hearts of those that dwelt therein, was
indeed a heaven upon earth, the very mirror and prototype of those
mansions in the skies to which the chosen were called. Mrs. Wrigley had
shaken her head sadly at what she called the romantic ravings of a
moon-struck, silly maiden, who would know better than to talk such
nonsense when she had a family of lusty lads and lasses clustering round
an empty porridge bowl. Then the good dame had changed her tactics and
had rebuked Miriam for her selfishness, bidding her to think of me and
of how useful a little more capital and the backing of influential
friends would be to a poor and struggling firm.

"And there," concluded Miriam, "she pierced my armour, and I had no
answer for her."

"And what did you say to all this, Mary?" I asked, certain that Mary's
great gift of speech had not been allowed to rust during what must have
been a prolonged colloquy.

"Why," answered Mrs. Haigh, evidently itching to unburthen herself,
"when your lass had said her say oo just med me sit dahn i' th'
rocking-cheer, an' oo raked th' fire clean, an' red th' hearth up, an'
gate th' tabble-cloth spread, an' fot th' loaf, an' th' butter, an' some
eggs fro' th' cellar-head, an' set th' pots, an' got th' toasting-fork,
an' med some toast, an' boiled th' eggs, an' mashed some tea--oo'd
browt a pun' wi' her fro' Uppermill, wheer oo'd bin o' purpose--an'
waited on me hand an' fooit just as if aw'd bin a lady; an' not till
we'd etten an' drunk yar fill would oo hearken to another word abaat th'
matter. 'An empty stomach's a bad counsellor,' oo said. Then oo weshed
an' sided th' pots, an' set me bi th' fire wi' mi knitting. 'Nah talk,'
oo said, smiling at me like a hangel fro' heaven, which I awmost think
oo is, though her browt up more like a heathen nor a Christian body."

"And, of course, you talked," I put in.

Mary looked at me sharply and bridled:

"One 'ud think yo' thowt aw were gi'en to talkin'," she said.

"Never a woman less so," I protested--God forgive me.

"Weel, as it happens aw didn't talk for a guidish bit, for oo'd put mi
studyin' cap on. Th' more aw looked at th' matter th' harder it seems.
Mi fust thowt were 'at Mrs. Wrigley had no call to put _her_ spoke i'
th' wheel. Miriam's nother chick nor child o' hern, 'at aw know on. But
then it's weel known 'at she's so used to managin' for everyone 'at
works at Wrigley Mill, male an' female, owd an' young, single an' wed,
'at it's a sort o' second natur' wi her, an oo cannot help hersen. An'
oo means weel. Yo'll mind when Ned Thewlis gate that silly young wench
o' Buckley's into trouble, Mrs. Wrigley n'er rested till oo'd landed 'em
both at Saddleworth Church an' see'd her med an honest woman, an' nobbut
just i' time."

"Well, well," I said impatiently.

"Yo're gettin' as bad as yar Jim," said Mary, eyeing me coldly. "Yo'
didn't used to be so. Aw rekkon yo'd better get used to lettin' a woman
say her say, if yo' want to poo' on wi' yo'r wire, choose who she be, as
weel as aw sud like."

I groaned in spirit, and Mary continued her monologue, which long
experience should have taught me was but her way of thinking aloud; so
that to those side issues which flit across every one's mind in
discussing any subject, and which trained thinkers and practised
speakers dismiss as irrelevant from their thoughts, Mary must needs give
the spoken word.

"So, as I were, sayin', yo' munnot be hard o' Mrs. Wrigley. It's perhaps
noan payin' yo a gret compliment to think, as oo happen does, 'at
Miriam's throwin' hersen away on yo', an' might do better for hersen, if
oo'd haulf th' chances her feyther's dowter owt to ha' had."

The hot blood rushed to my face, and I sprang to my feet.

"I asked Miriam before ever I knew a word about her parentage or her
fortune," I began angrily.

"Aye, aye," said Mary, placidly. "An' oo took thee when tha were th'
only decent lookin' or decent spokken felly oo'd ivver clapt e'en on,
for yo' cannot ca' yon Ephraim other t'one or t'other. But nah, yo know,
oo's happen nowt to do but ma' her case known i' Manchester, an' friends
an' relations, all on 'em weel to do, 'll just spring up i' dozens.
Brass breeds brass, as onny fooil knows; an' it's noan likely 'at her
grandmother Garside had nob'dy belongin' to her, 'at 'ud happen ax nowt
better nor to tak' her bi th' hand an' do for her a seet better a
worldly way o' speikin' nor even yo'r feyther, though, in course, i' a
heavenly way there's no marrowing him, if aw'm to judge. Aw duzinot know
ha fo'k hunt for lost kinfolk; send th' bellman raand, aw reckon. Onny
road, theer th' case is, Abel, whether yo' like it or not, an' it's not
to be thowt 'at like it yo' weel. It's hard on thee, lad, an' aw'm sorry
for thee: but reight's reight, an' wrong's no man's reight. An' Mrs
Wrigley says.

"D----, Mrs. Wrigley," I began, and went as near to swearing as ever I
did in my life, but checked myself in time.

Mary eyed me sorrowfully. "Aw thowt yo' were yo'r feyther's son," she
said. "But aw'n said mi say, an' yo' can other like it or lump it. Ger
aat o' th' haase an' tak' a walk bi thissen; an' if yo' want better
guidance nor owd Mary Haigh can gi'e yo', yo'r feyther's son s'ud know
wheer to seek it."

It will be judged that I slept ill that night, and Jim must have found
me an uneasy chamber-fellow. 'Uneasy,' says the poet, 'lies the head
that wears a crown.' Alas! we all wear crowns of sorts, mostly of
thorns; and it isn't only the Scots thane that murders sleep. Over and
over again in my midnight tossings and turnings I railed at Mrs. Wrigley
and her meddling tongue. Of course the sting of the whole matter was
that I knew she was in the right. My conscience smote me as I looked at
things through her eyes. Mr. Garside's dying charge to me had been to
find his child, if child there should be and hand to it the little store
he had husbanded so jealously. Well, she was found: so far so good. But
if Mr. Garside had lived and found his daughter as I had found her, what
would _he_ have done? Would he not for _her_ sweet sake have sought to
resume the station his birth and breeding entitled him to? And if that
was what he would have done, was it not equally my duty, as standing as
it were in his shoes, being indeed not only Miriam's lover, but what old
"Yallow Breeches"--of whom anon--described as one standing _in loco
parentis_. That was the problem that drove sleep from my couch, and with
which I confronted poor Jim when I could find it in my heart to rouse
him from his Well-earned slumbers.

Jim listened drowsily as I poured the whole tale into his ears, yawning
mightily and grumbling not a little at being robbed of his rest to
hearken to the opinions of a couple of old women, as he irreverently
called his mother and Mrs. Wrigley.

"Aw sud ha' thowt we'd enough o' yar hands wi' Mitchell Mill wi'out
bein' set on to hunt up folks' kith an' kin. What does Miriam want wi'
onny o' her own side? Won't she ha' enow o' yours? There'll be your
feyther, an' Ruth, an', after a fashion, me an' mi mother. That sud be
relations enow to satisfy onny ordinary body--to say nowt o' Ephraim o'
Burnplatts, who's a handful o' himself, though aw don't gradely see
wheer he comes in. Aw'm noan so keen o' kinsfolk mysen, an aw'st be
capped if yo'r Miriam doesn't tak' after me. But what ails askin' her
hersen? If oo's frettin' for her feyther's folk--a feyther oo nivver
saw, much less his folk--oo's nowt to do but say so, an' thin yo' can
set to wark; but let sleepin' dogs lie, say I. N'er trouble trouble till
trouble troubles.

"That won't do, Jim," I said. "I wish with all my heart it would, but it
won't. I'll be honest with myself anyhow. You see, even if Miriam in her
heart of hearts yearned after her relatives, and all their discovery may
mean to her, she would never let on to me that it is so. She would fear
to hurt me and to wound father and Ruth. No, no, I've to do what's
right, and no one's back but mine can bear this burden."

"Why not talk it ovver wi' yo'r Ruth?" asked Jim "oo's more sense i' her
little finger than tha has i' that big yead o' thine, an' oo'll noan
stand shillyshallyin' first this way an' then that. If y' like, as a
pertickler favour to yo, aw'll don missen up to-neet an' walk ovver to
th' Pole, an' put the whole case i' front o' Ruth, an' yo' be guided by
her, that's my advice."

"No, no, Jim, it won't do. I'm going into Lancashire myself, and if
Miriam has any relations living I'm going to find them."

"Tell, if tha'rt set, tha'rt set, an' theer's an end on 't; but aw dunnot
see th' use o' wakin' me up i' th' middle o' th' neet to ax my advice if
tha'd made up thi mind to go thi own way i' th' finish." Jim had yet to
learn that the only advice people welcome is that which confirms their
own opinions.

"Weel, how are ta bahn to set agate?" asked Jim, after a pause. "Tha
cannot varry weel go to Manchester axin' ivvery blessed man tha comes
across if he's owt akin to Miriam's feyther."

"Did you ever hear of a lawyer called Roberts, I think, a Manchester
man?"

"Owd 'Yaller Breeches'? Aw sud think aw did."

"Yaller Breeches?" I queried.

"Aye, they seyn a what do yo' ca' 'em, a cust'mer o' his--no, that's
noan th' word."

"A client," I suggested.

"Aye, that's it. A client o' his 'at he'd gate out o' a pertickler tight
fix gay' him a whole piece o' yaller cloath, an' he's wearin' it aat i'
breeches. Ne'er wears onny other sort, Sunday or warkday. They seyn hauf
th' rogues i' Lancasheer 'at's walkin' th' streets to-day 'ud ha' bin i'
Towzer (jail) but for him."

"That's a doubtful sort of compliment," I observed.

"Doubtful fiddlesticks," quoth Jim. "If yo' want to clean a chimbley yo'
don't get a lace hankercher to it, dun yo'? It's th' same wi' law, aw
tak' it. Yaller Breeches is th' man for yo'r brass, aw tell yo', an'
seem' as to-morn's a short day, aw'm agreeable to start wi' yo' to walk
to Manchester afore th' sun's up, an' we'st be theer bi th' time he's
dahn to his office."

"How shall we find it?"

"Ax th' first bobby we meet, yo' silly."

"Why not take the coach?"

"Coach, says ta? What's legs for, aw sud like to know, an' it nobbut a
matter o' thirty mile fro' here to Manchester an' back. Why, aw knew a
felly, a higgler he were, 'at used to walk sixty mile a day an' go
coortin' at after. Aw'm thinkin', Abe, tha's getten some biggish notions
i' thi yead o' late. Fingerin' that brass o' owd Garside's gi'en thee a
touch o' what, wi'out offence, aw'll tak' leave to ca' swelled yead. If
we'n to mak' Mitchell Mill go there'll be no coaches for other thee nor
me this monny a day. Look at owd Bamforth o' Slowit yonder, as warm a
man as yo'd find i' these pearts, an him nowt but a han'-loom weiver to
start wi. Did he do it on coaches, thinkst ta? Not he, bi gow. He telled
me hissen. He used to stan' Newcastle an' Macclesfield markets wi' his
cloath. He sent th' piece on bi th' carrier. He'd ha' hugged 'em if he
could; but even a Doady has his limits."

"A Doady?"

"Yo' know all them parts is called Doady Land. So he sent th' pieces on
by th' carrier, an' for hissen just took Shank's mare. Yo' can reckon
for yersen what a poo' he had ovver clothiers 'at went bi th' coach an'
had to put th' coach fare on to th' price o' their pieces. An' it isn't
th' coach fare only. Yo'n to stop here for brekfus', an' theer for
dinner, an' theer agen for supper an' them big coachin'-houses know how
to charge for their victuals, aw reckon. Then there's tips to th'
ostler, an th' waiters, an' th' booits, an' th' chambermaids--to say
nowt o' th' drinkin'. But owd Bamforth used to put a big apple pasty 'at
their Sarah made for him up his weskit, an' rare and warm it kept him
i' cowd weather, an' he's ca' at a farmhouse on th' road an' get a pint
o' milk for a penny, or mebbe for th' axin'--an' theer he were. Coach,
indeed! Do yo' think aw'n gi'en up ale an' denied missen all th' little
bit o' pleasure aw ivver had just to throw mi brass away on coaches? No,
Abe, lad, we'st fooit it, every inch on it, an' don't yo' forget it."

And foot it we did--right through Greenfield and Mossley and
Stalybridge and Ashton, and so to Manchester, where, sure enough, we had
no difficulty in finding the office of Mr. Roberts himself. To me, as I
walked the streets of that vast city, it seemed stark madness to think
that amid such a multitude as teemed on the wayside any human ingenuity
could discover those of whom we were in quest. But that wonderful Yellow
Breeches made light of the task.

"It'll be easy as falling off a tree," he said. "Garside, the Rev. James
Garside, an ordained minister of the Church of England, a graduate of
Oxford University. Why, man alive, I suppose I shall have nothing to do
but ask at the university and they'll tell us there who was the Rev.
James's father. And a Manchester merchant, and a rich one, and only dead
a matter of forty or fifty years. Pooh! it's as easy as sinning. But
what the young lady 'll do with her relations when she finds them, or
what they 'll do with her, beats me. A paltry four hundred pounds or so!
Who's going to bother about that? You see, if her relations are rich
they won't want her and her beggarly four hundred; if they're poor, I
take it she won't want them. However, that's your business. You say the
girl is staying with Mrs. Wrigley at Holly Grove? Very good. Five
guineas, please. You'll hear from me within a week or two. Good
morning."

I paid the five guineas, whilst Jim looked mighty glum, but opened not
his mouth till we regained the street.

"Five guineas! he exclaimed. 'Five gowden guineas. 'Bang went saxpence,'
th' Scotchman said when he'd his first tot o' whiskey i' Lunnon. An'
bang went yo'r gooid brass; an' all for what? Aw'm dalled if aw can tell
yo. He's getten howd, onny road, but aw nivver seed brass skip out o'
one chap's fob into another felly's as quick i' my life. It beats
conjurin' hollow. Eh! mon, we'n missed our vocation, as yo'r feyther 'd
ca' it. Here's yo an' me, ovver twelve foot o' guid bone an' flesh and
blood between us, 'll ha' to toil an' moil an' sweat for mony a weary
day to scrape that bras together, an' he just says, 'Five guineas; good
morning,' an' th' bonnie yaller gowd's gone for gooid an' aw. If ivver
aw'n a son aw'll breed him to be a 'torney. Aw thowt parsons an' doctors
'd a easy time on it, but lawyerin' for me, say I. Yo' do get a bottle
o' physic aat o' th' doctor, but yo'n nowt owt o' yon chap but 'Gooid
mornin'!' Well, well, th' longer aw live th' plainer aw see 'at warkin's
a fooil's job. Th' harder th' work, th' less th' pay. Show me a chap 'at
slaves his blood to watter an' aw'll show yo' one 'at 'll, ten to one,
dee i'th' warkhouse. Show me one 'at does nowt fro' morn to neet an'
aw'll show thee a man, as like as not, clothed i' purple an' fine
linen."

"It's brains, Jim, brains," I said for his solace. "Now here were you
an' me cudgelling our heads how to get on the scent of poor Mr.
Garside's relations, and even your mother could suggest nothing better
than setting the hell-man to work; and Mr. Roberts yonder had it all
planned out in the twinkling of an eye. You'll see he'll run them to
earth before you can say 'Jack Robinson.'"

I proved a true prophet. A few days after our visit to Manchester a
messenger came from Wrigley Mill to Mitchell Mill to say that I was
wanted at once at Holly Grove. I wasn't to stop to fettle myself up--I
was to go as I was. Wondering not a little what could have chanced to
cause this urgent summons, and conjuring up in my mind a thousand
forebodings of I knew not what disaster, I made haste to Holly Grove. At
the end of the drive there stood as fine an equipage as ever drove
through Diggle, a carriage with a pair of mettlesome bays with
silver-mounted harness tossing their glossy manes and pawing the ground
impatiently. A coachman who sat proudly on the box and a groom who idled
by the horses' heads eyed me with much condescension as I hurried past
them to the house.

In the front room I found Mrs. Wrigley and Miriam and a strange lady and
gentleman, both, as even I could tell at a glance, richly dressed, with
an air of distinction, and both far advanced in years.

Mrs. Wrigley motioned me to a seat, which I took, hardly knowing whether
I stood on my head or my heels, and my heart sinking into my boots, for
I felt instinctively that these strangers boded me no good. I glanced at
Miriam, who remained standing, very pale and tremulous, twisting a tiny
handkerchief nervously in her hands.

"This is Mr. and Mrs. Buckley, from Mossley," said Mrs. Wrigley, by way
of introduction. "They have been in communication with Mr. Roberts, the
attorney you very wisely and properly consulted. You will do me the
justice, Abel, to remember that I urged upon you to make search for
Miriam's kith and kin. I am thankful I did so, and that you had the good
sense to act on my advice. Mrs. Buckley is the sister of the late Mrs.
Garside, Miriam's grandmother, if all your poor friend told you is
true."

"And that you may be sure it is," I was just able to say.

"Perhaps, madam, you will permit me," interrupted the old gentleman,
with a courtly bow to Mrs. Wrigley. "This young gentleman," turning to
me, "is, I understand, Mr. Abel holmes, and there have been some foolish
love-passages between him and our fair young friend. Well, well, it was
excusable enough, perhaps, as things were. And it seems pretty certain
that her father, the recluse you tended in his dying hours, was indeed
the son of my good wife's elder sister. Of course, my lawyers will have
to go into the matter thoroughly, but I don't think there can be much
question of the relationship. Everything tallies. And my dear wife
declares that Miriam is strangely like her grandmother as a young women.
Eh, dear?"

Mrs. Buckley bowed. "Indeed, indeed she is; but with a softer, gentler
air. My sister was over proud and hard; but she suffered for it, poor
dear, she suffered for it sorely."

"Serve her right," I thought, but said nothing.

"The Lord has not blessed my good wife with children," continued Mr.
Buckley. "Ours has been a long and happy wedded life, but though God has
showered upon us wealth beyond our desires, He withheld from us the
crowning gift of a child's love. Your husband will know my mills at
Micklehurst, Mrs. Wrigley. I'm a rich man, if I may say so without
seeming to boast unduly; and until Mr. Roberts sought an interview with
me I thought that all my wealth must go to religious or charitable
objects. I thank God that He has restored to us, though at the eleventh
hour, one whom we can welcome to our hearts and home as indeed our own.
She shall be to us as our very daughter, and we can only pray that she
will learn to love us as we are more than ready to love her."

I looked at Miriam, sick at heart. I saw my love slipping from my arms,
and my whole life seemed to stretch before me wrecked and desolate. And
Miriam looked at me as though she waited for me to speak.

"You're very good," I babbled feebly.

"And now, Miriam," said Mrs. Wrigley briskly, "I'm sure I congratulate
you with all my heart. Have you no thanks for Mr. and Mrs. Buckley?"

"Yes, dear," said the latter lady, "come, sit by my side and let us hear
from your own lips that you will come to us."

But Miriam for a while made no sign, but just stood, swaying slightly as
she stood, and torturing that ill-used handkerchief.

Then Mr. Buckley resumed: "I understand, Mr. Holmes, that you have just
started on your own. And I well, I envy you. You have youth and
strength, and, so Mrs. Wrigley assures me, an excellent character. Well,
again don't think I'm boasting, John Buckley is worth having for a
friend. Though my line is cotton, and yours woollen, I make no doubt I
can find you customers for every inch of cloth you can turn out, and
when you want capital to launch out, why, I'm your man."

"'Thirty pieces of silver,'" I groaned, "'thirty pieces of silver.'"

"Eh, what?" asked Mr. Buckley, on whom the allusion was clearly lost.

But Miriam understood. She came and stood by my side.

"I thank you kindly, sir," she said, dropping a courtesy first to Mr.
Buckley and then to his stately lady. "I thank you kindly, but I'm not
for sale. I've made my choice, Mr. Buckley, and I stand by it. I know
you mean well, and indeed, indeed, I'm grateful to you. But I want
nothing better than the lot I've chosen. Take me to your fine home,
clothe me in silks and satins, give me carriages and jewels, let my
whole life be one round of pleasure, and what will it avail? My heart
is no longer mine to give. Abel, here, stole it when I was a poor,
wandering outcast, and it is his to keep till he cast it from him, and
then I know 'twill break, 'twill break."

And then my manhood came back to me. I stood and put my arm round
Miriam's waist, and looked Mr. Buckley squarely in the face.

"Don't think, sir," I said, "that I have been silent because I wanted
Miriam to go with you. I don't know how I should have faced life if she
had been seduced by your offer, as well she might have been. But I
should have counted it shame in me to hold her to her troth if she
wanted to be free. I've nothing to set against your wealth but a true
man's love and a poor man's home, and it seems Miriam thinks they weigh
down the scale."

Then Mrs. Buckley, wiping, if I was not greatly mistaken, a tear from
either eye, said very gently:

"Now, you young people, don't you think you are jumping before you've
got to the stile? I think, Mr. Holmes, if you'll allow me an old woman s
privilege, I think you show a very proper spirit, and just what I should
have hoped and expected from you. Don't think either my husband or I
deem you unfitted for Miriam's husband because you are poor and
struggling. Why, bless you, when John Buckley first made eyes at me he
was only a mill manager, and nigh as poor as you. And we'd a fight for
it, at first, I can tell you; but they were the happiest days of our
lives, weren't they, John?"

And I declare the eyes that turned to the grey-headed old gentleman
shone with such a light as a young maid turns upon the lover of her
youth.

"No, no," went on Mrs. Buckley, "there shall be no talk of parting two
loving and faithful souls, not with my consent. All we ask is that
you'll spare Miriam to us for a month or two occasionally. We won't
spoil her, and we won't corrupt her, and you'll be free to see her just
as often as you like, aye, even if you come in your clogs and smock.
Why, man alive, nine out of every ten of the Lancashire manufacturers
started in clogs and smock, and it's only the fools that are ashamed to
own it. But you'll let us learn to know Miriam, won't you? Ah! if you
only knew how my old heart yearns for a daughter's love."

And then I did what Miriam afterwards told me made her proud of the lad
of her choice. I strode across the room to where Mrs. Buckley sat, and I
dropped on one knee and I raised her white, withered hands to my lips,
and said softly:

"Let it be as you wish, madam."

And so it was settled, and that very day Miriam was whisked off in that
great carriage to the lordly hall at Mossley, her last words as I gazed
fondly in her eyes and pressed her hands in mine being a promise to
write a long letter to Pole Moor within a few days.

I suppose in these days people can scarce realise what an event in our
lives was the receipt of a letter in the days of which I write. Our
letters from Mossley must come by _The Fair Trader_, the coach being met
by old Matty, the Slaithwaite postmistress, who had to trudge painfully
up the long, steep, rough road to Pole Moor. Be sure I did not fail on
the Saturday after Miriam's departure to hie me to my father's house,
and be sure, too, that Jim needed no pressing to accompany me. I fear me
poor Mary in those days did not have much joy of her only son's
companionship. Ah, me! youth and love are sadly selfish. How readily do
we, if not forget, seem to a parent's eyes to forget or lightly consider
the long years of care and anxious love and sacrifice that have smoothed
and sheltered our tender years, when first we came under the glamour of
love's young dream.

Arrived at Pole Moor, we found Ruth in a high state of excitement.
Miriam had been true to her word, and old Molly had brought her missive
duly. I have it now before me as I write, the paper thin and frayed, the
ink faint and faded:

                                                Bent Hall,
                                                 Micklethwaite,
                                                  Mossley,
                                                March 28, 1832.

    My DEAR FRIEND AND SISTER,

     I write these few lines to tell you I am safely arrived at this
    great mansion, and that, if this world's gear were all that is
    needed to make glad a maiden's heart, I ought to be the happiest
    of girls. Yet, truth to tell, I am longing day and night to be
    back at Pole Moor, and count the hours till I shall be there once
    more, never to leave it again till--you know when.

     I cannot tell you what a grand place this is. I did not think
    there were so many beautiful things that money can buy. We swept
    up to the house up a long drive, arched by stately elms. The
    door was opened by a manservant in livery, and a neat and pretty
    maid took me to a room which is to be all my own, and Mrs. Buckley
    says that Nelly is to be my very own maid, to order about just
    as I like. Isn't it ridiculous! Why, she insists on combing and
    brushing my hair every night and morning, and wants to arrange
    my black mane in some fashion that she says is all the mode.
    But, oh, my dear! I do wish you could see this lovely bedroom. It
    looks out upon the grounds, at this time of year somewhat north and
    wintry-looking, but I can well imagine what like they are in the
    spring and summer and autumn, with their well-kept beds and noble
    trees, and the background of the lofty Pennine Range. And talking
    of beds! I was almost afraid the first night to go to sleep in
    mine, so high that I have to have a step to climb into it, so
    wide that one cannot touch the edge from the centre, and so
    furnished with mattresses of down that one seems to be sinking
    into a caressing sea of rest--a great, massive mahogany four-poster,
    its pillars richly carved, and from the lofty canopy curtains of
    blue silk fall to the ground. And there's a mighty wardrobe that
    would hold more dresses than any one woman, I should have thought,
    could wear in a long lifetime, and it has a glass from top to
    bottom, in which you can see yourself from head to foot. There
    has been a dressmaker here from Manchester, and such choosing of
    silks and satins and velvets and laces and what not, and such
    measuring and fitting and matching of colours you never saw.
    Nelly dresses me every night in a wondrous dinner gown, and I am
    decked out so in rubies and pearls and even diamonds--rings,
    bracelets, and necklets--that when I stand before that marvel of
    a glass I catch my breath and ask, "Can this be Miriam, the poor
    gipsy maid, that you fetched from Burnplatts to share your bed
    and home?" And I am to have a horse to ride after I've had
    lessons--I shall like that. And oh! Ruth, I am to be taught to play
    upon whatever musical instrument I may choose, and I'm to learn to
    dance. Oh! what will your father say--your dear, dear father?

     These, dear sister, are Mrs. Buckley's plannings. But they are not
    mine. She talks ever as though I had come to stay here for good
    and all. And so does Mr. Buckley. They would kill me with kindness.
    But I feel very guilty amid it all, for I know what they want can
    never be. They will never make a fine lady of me, nor make me false
    to Pole Moor and all Pole Moor means to me. I'm just wearying to
    doff these rich trappings and don my russet once more, and be just
    plain Miriam, your dear sister, and Abe's true love.

     And now, dear heart, for my good news. I have persuaded
    Mrs. Buckley to let me come to Pole Moor next week. I am to be
    driven to Greenfield--they would have sent the carriage all the
    way, but I would not have it. I vowed my limbs ached for a long
    stretch over the moors. So meet me, my Ruth, by the Church Inn at
    Saddleworth about three of the afternoon, and we'll be at dear
    Mother Haigh's for tea, and someone, I daresay, will be fain to
    company us to Pole Moor. Give my dear love and dutiful respects
    to your good father.

                                        Ever your friend and sister.

                                                             MIRIAM.

I cannot tell you how long this letter took in the reading. You who read
it in fair print, and straightforward, can have no notion. But we had to
battle with Miriam's handwriting, which, like all the women's I've ever
seen, was none of the easiest to make out; though, to be sure, since it
was a man--old Daddy, you may remember--who had taught her her
pothooks, she wrote a bolder hand than is usual with women folk, not all
slopes and angles and flourishes. But Ruth's reading of her much-prized
letter was sorely interrupted by our comments as she read--Jim, I
grieve to say, being the chief offender. When my sister came to that
portion which told of the long glass that reflected Miriam's face and
form, Jim's words there anent were like unto those of the comforters of
Job:

"It's all up wi' thee, Abe lad, aw'm feart. It's noan i' reason 'at a
lass 'ud gi' up a looikin' glass like yon just to wed a chap like thee.
Aw'll say nowt abaat th' feather bed; oo med happen be got to swop it
for a mattress stuffed wi' straw, or belike shavin's, which is th best
Mickle Mill 'll run to this mony a day to come, for aw'n noticed women
set varry little store on makkin' theirsen snug an' comfortable wheer
men come. But that glass 'll cook thi bacon, Abe. Why, tha's nobbut to
watch a woman wi' a bit o' a glass noa bigger nor th' palm o' mi hand.
Oo'll twitch hersen, an' twist hersen, aye, awmost stan' on her yead,
but some road or other oo'll see th' back o' her yead an' all ovver her,
pertickler if oo's getten a new bow or bonnet or strings to look at. Aw
once seed a peacock i front o' just sich another glass, an' they towd me
'at when they tuk th' glass away that bird fell off i' its eatin' and
just pined away. An' th' rum part o' th' business is it isn't their own
bonny faces they want to look at, it's their clo'es. Yo' may be sewer
'at if Eve had onny clo'es to speik on i' th' Garden o' Eden it isn't a
apple nor owt else to eit or sup other 'at Owd Harry 'ud ha' tempted her
wi', but a looikin' glass. But bein' as oo were, poor thing, oo'd nowt
but her own pratty face to speer at, an' though that's what a man vallys
most i' a woman, it's just what she hersen sets least count on."

"It seems to me, James Haigh," said my sister in a very frosty tone,
"that you've made a very minute study of women, and you'd best take
yourself off to those you've learned such a character from."

"Nay, nay," protested Jim, hastily, "it's nobbut what aw'n heard say. Aw
know nowt."

"The letter, the letter," broke in my father, and Ruth looking but half
convinced, resumed the reading.

"Meet her at the Church Inn!" cried my sister. "Aye, that I will, and I
just wish it was to-morrow. Now mind you lads are at home and all washed
and in your second best when we get to 'Wrigley Mill."



CHAPTER XII.

MISSING!

THE weather at the end of March of that year was less wintry than we
often see in that blusterous month which, having come in like a lion,
seemed about to go out like a lamb. The sun gained in power daily, the
snow had melted on the hillsides, though under the long black stone
fences and in the dells and crevices deep drifts still lingered. The
grass was beginning to green, the sky was of a pale azure, flecked by
slender wisps of white, like doves sailing far aloft, the birds had
begun to twitter in the hedges and pipe and trill in the strewish air,
and in man and maid the young blood coursed warm and glad and strong.

I was in a fever of impatience to see Miriam and hold her in my arms
again. I reckoned she must come from Micklehurst through Mossley, up by
Roaches, by the Royal George, and so down the slope past Willie Hole
Farm, on Shaw Hall Bank, and skirting Greenfield make the detour to St.
Chad's and the Church Inn--a long walk which I was very strongly minded
to lighten for her by my company. So I set off betimes, my heart full of
glad expectancy, my feet scarce seeming to touch the ground, my eyes, as
I neared the spot where I had calculated to meet her if she were to be
at the trysting spot at the appointed hour, straining ever far ahead of
me for the first glimpse of my loved one tripping lightly towards me.
But up to Roaches not a sign of Miriam! And there I sat me down upon a
low wall by the roadside and waited and waited and waited, but still no
glimpse of Miriam. I looked at my watch a score of times. I went into a
cottage hard by to time my old turnip-watch by a Dutch clock that ticked
solemnly in a corner, and that the cottager assured me was never more
than half an hour wrong either one way or another; then out into the
road again, and still no Miriam. The day was drawing in by now; in
another hour dusk would be upon us. A sense, a sick foreboding of
calamity obsessed me. Clearly I had missed Miriam. What a fool I had
been not to abide her coming along with Ruth, at the Church inn. I had
had my walk for my pains, and now, belike, Ruth and Miriam would be at
Saddleworth, and I would be hard put to it to overtake them. A long last
gaze down the road to Mossley, and then I set off at a mighty pace for
the Church Inn, reaching it something after the half hour past three
o'clock.

Neither Ruth nor Miriam were to be seen. I asked of the landlady if she
had seen ought of a young woman standing about as if expecting to meet
someone. Yes, she had seen such a one, half an hour gone, or maybe
threequarters, or maybe an hour. "What like of a young women? Was she
tall and dark?" How should she know? She'd something else to do than
take notice of all the young women that loitered about looking for their
fellies.

Then out into the road again, where I encountered the ostler. Yes, he,
too, had seen a wench banging about, a bonnie lass to be sure. "Dark?"
"Well, middling, betwixt and between like." "Tall?" "Nay, nowt to speik
on, more on th' plumpish line." "Which way had she gone?" He couldn't
say for sewer. Happen up th' sheep-track o'er Pots and Pans; there were
a deal o' fo'k took that gait for Bill's o' Jacks; but they'd more
breath to waste nor him, or they'd stick to th' road; what were roads
for, he should like to know but walking on and riding on; he'd no
patience wi' fo'k climbing up watter courses like goats; but he'd see'd
th' lass starin' abaat as if oo'd lost someb'dy, and then he'd gone into
th' stable, and then he saw her no more. "Doubtless her felly'd turned
up, if it were a felly she were waitin' for." And that was all I could
get out of the ostler.

There was nothing for it now but to make what haste I could to Wrigley
Mill. Mary would be in a rare taking, her teacakes and her temper alike
spoiled; but little that would matter when I held my Miriam's hand close
clasped in mine, all my disappointment and my anxious fears and my
wonderings forgot in that first moment of our glad meeting. But even as
I gained the mill yard I knew there was to be no meeting, for in the
gloom I made out both Mrs. Haigh and Ruth stood at the gate of the
little garden, evidently looking eagerly out into the gathering darkness
of the early night.

"Where's Miriam?" I cried, and "Where's Miriam?" they replied.

Jim came to the door, his coat and vest doffed, his big, brawny arms,
his broad chest bare, in his hands a coarse towel with which he was
vigorously drying himself after his swill at the sink.

"Well, yo'n muddled it among yo'," he commented when I had told my story
and Ruth hers, which was very similar.

"But there's one thing certain: Miriam's none been near th' Church Inn
this afternooin. Nah other she were let startin', or what's every way
likely, oo fun hersen wi' plenty o' time on her hands an' oo's gone
forrard towards th' Pole thinkin' to meet Ruth here an' save her a
journey. But speckilation wi' nowt to go on's a fooil's job, an'
worritin' on a empty stomach's waur still. Let's get summat into us, and
then we'll wisen. Nay, Ruth, lass, dunnot look as if tha'd seen a ghost,
an' Abe, aw'm ashamed on thee! Just because a lass hasn't turned up to
time. Aw'll bet thee a pinch o' snuff Miriam's at this varry minnit snug
and comfortable other at Mr. Buckley's or at th' Pole, an' what we'n got
to do is just to mak' ussen snug and comfortable too."

But it was no use. I couldn't eat a morsel, though both Mary and Ruth
tried to show a brave face and to talk cheerfully, 'twas plain to see
their ears were all the time at strain for the lifting of the sneck of
the garden gate and the fall of a light foot on the little footpath to
the door.

"And now what's to be done?" I asked, as we rose from the table.
"There's one thing certain, I can't sit here doing nowt. I'st go off mi
head if I don't do summat.

"Sit yo' down, man, an' have a reek o' baccy," advised Jim. "Did ever a
man get i' such a state ovver a wench missin' a tryst. There's a
thousand things may ha' happened to prevent her being at th' Church Inn
at th' time. Owd Mr. Buckley or his missus may ha' been ta'en badly, or
she may ha' towd 'em what she were up to an' they may ha' put a spoke i'
th' wheel, which it's noan so likely they'd care to ha' her trapezin'
ovver th' moors be hersen, or happen oo's strained her ankle, or happen
oh! what's th' use o' fancyin' this an' fancyin' that, th' lass is reet
enough, choose wheer oo is, yo' may tak' yo'r davy o' that. Oo may be
here onny minnit if oo's comm at a', an if oo isn't, oo isn't, an all
th' frettin' an' fumin' i' th' world won't bring her here."

"I shan't sleep to-night till I know the truth of the matter," I
declared. "I'll give her just another half-hour, and then, if she come
not, I'm off to Bent Hall."

They'll be i' bed bi th' time yo' get theer, opined Mary, who herself
seldom in winter time was up after nine o'clock.

"And I'll see Ruth home to th' Pole," said Jim. "Miriam 'll be theer,
it's long odds. It's a gooid as a play thee goin' to Micklehurst to look
for Miriam an' Miriam goin' to th' Pole to look for thee. But if nowt
else 'll settle, thee best be startin'. An' when yo' get theer be sewer
to mak' 'em gi' yo' summat for supper, for tha ate no dinner for
thinkin' Miriam were comin', an' tha's etten no tea for knowin' who
hasn't, an' tha'll none last long at that gait. Aw'm thinkin' at this
noit tha'd better get wed if for nowt but th' savin' it'll be in shoe
leather."

The night was, indeed, far advanced when, worn somewhat by my long
tramps of that day, but worn far more by the tumult of my mind, I pealed
at the big iron knocker of Bent Hall. I found Mr. and Mrs. Buckley
seated in a warm and cosy parlour, the old gentleman sitting in
slippered ease in a capacious armchair, with a cigar between his lips
and a glass of steaming grog by his side. I told my story.

Yes, Miriam had started for Saddleworth after an early midday meal,
which Mrs. Buckley called luncheon. They had wanted to send her by the
carriage, urging that it was a long trail from the Church Inn to Wrigley
Mill, and thence to Pole Moor. But Miriam had made light of the walk,
declaring laughingly that she was getting stiff in her limbs for want of
exercise, and that one who had from infancy wandered all day long over
hill and dale need not fear to walk from Micklehurst to Pole Moor.
Besides, would she not have a long rest at Mary Haigh's.

"Then she must have gone straight on to th' Pole," I cried.

"Of course she must," agreed Mrs. Buckley. Now don't you worrit
yourself, Mr. Holmes. You can't put old heads on young shoulders, you
know. I'll be bound Miriam found herself at Saddleworth long before the
appointed time, and just pushed on to meet your sister instead of
dallying about the inn door, no very suitable place for a young maiden
to be wandering about. She skims over the ground like a swallow, and
never seems to weary walking. Those Burnplatters taught her to use her
legs, if they taught her nothing else. We'll have a supper-tray brought
in in a jiffy, and then, unless you'll stay the night we'll send you as
far as the 'Hanging Gate' in the trap. When you get home your friend Jim
will have news for you, no doubt, and you'll be able to laugh together
over this game of hide and seek.

But there was no laughing when, after midnight, I once more reached
Wrigley Mill. Both Jim, and Mary were sitting up in the little kitchen,
looking anxious and careworn. Miriam had not gone to Pole Moor. Then
where could she be? That she had started to meet Ruth was certain; that
she had not met her, that she was not at Bent Hall, nor at Wrigley Mill
Fold nor at Pole Moor, equally certain. That evil had befallen her even
Jim, the utmost sanguine of men, could scarce combat. A horrible fear
beset me. Miriam might have been overtaken on the moors by some sudden
all-enveloping mist, might have wandered up and down the cruel, sodden
moors till, overcome by hunger and fatigue, she had fallen in a fatal
stupor, and might even now be lying cold and stark upon some rain-swept
hill, or might have strayed with weary, faltering feet and trembling
limbs into some mill-race or dam, there to sink to death, with none to
hear her cries. Then another thought beset my fevered brain. At that
time large gangs of navvies, "Pats" we called them, were making the road
from Greenfield by way of Riddings and Mossley Bottoms to Stalybridge to
complete the turnpike from Manchester to Holmfirth. Might not Miriam
have encountered one or more of those rough and often lawless men on her
lonely way, and might not hers have been a fate far worse than the worst
of deaths. The mere thought was madness. My weariness fell from me. Late
though it was, and dark as pitch, I would have started there and then
for Greenfield and the huts and inns in which the navvies lodged, but
Jim calmly locked the door and put the key in his pocket.

"Now look here, Abe," he said, "if ever tha'rt to prove thissen a man
now's th' time. Walkin' thi legs off 'll do no gooid other to thee or to
Miriam. Tha'd prob'ly walk till tha dropped senseless, an' then there'd
be two to look for i'stead o' one. We can do nowt till there's more
leet, and then we'st want more no thee an' me to scour th' moors, au'
we'st want more wit nor man-wit, we'st want dog-wit.. Aw'll up to th'
Pole an' get your Tear'em. He's more sense nor mony a Christian, an'
he's getten four legs to your two, an', what no Christian ever had 'at
aw'n heerd tell on, a scent for a trail. An' aw'll down to th'
Burnplatts. They keep a mon o' dogs theer bi what tha says, an' they
won't keep dogs fit for nowt but to look at or to lake wi'."

"Th' Burnplatts!" I cried. "Why, what fooils we are. She may be there at
this very minute. She may have taken a fancy to see some of her old
friends, and taken Burnplatts on her way, and been overtaken by the dark
and compelled to tarry there. She set a deal of store on that Daft Billy
I do know."

"To be sewer, to be sewer," agreed Jim tactfully, glad to encourage any
fancy that dispelled despair. "Wheer else sud oo be? Or happens oo's
ca'ed at owd Enoch Hoyle's at th' Merry Vale, an' yo' no more sense not
to ha' her lest on th' moors; a lass 'at knows every inch o' th' ground
bi' th' feel o' th' fooit."

"I'll off to Burnplatts this very minute," I cried, starting up.

"Tha'lt do nowt o' th' sort," said Jim, composedly. "Aw'n getten th'
key, an' th' key aw'st keep. Onny goin' to Burnplatts aw'st do, an' that
won't be till aw'n etten an' slept. We'st want all th' strength we can
muster for this day's work, belike, an' if tha's no stomach for food nah
tha mum eit against th' time tha has. Mother, thee ma' jorum o' tea, an'
put summat to it stronger nor watter if tha's owt i' th' haase, an'
aw'll lig me dahn o' th' settle till th' buzzer goes, an' then aw'm off.
An' aw'st ta' th' key wi' me. So Abe, thee ger to bed, an' stay theer
till aw come back. Aw'll bring other Miriam or news on her or that Daft
Billy, or mi name's not Jim Haigh."

I suppose I must have fallen into the sleep of utter exhaustion. When I
woke it was broad daylight. I heard voices in the room below. I sprang
off the pallet on which I had thrown myself, fully dressed. In the
kitchen below I found Mary and Jim and Daft Billy, the latter eating
ravenously from a plate piled with smoking collops, and washing his
viands down with deep draughts of Mary's homebrewed, Jim encouraging him
with hearty exhortations to eat and drink his fill.

"And don't thee come atween a man an' his vittles, Abe," Jim commanded,
when he saw me about to ply Billy with eager questions. "Aw dunnot
gradely know what they kirsened yar friend here 'Daft Billy' for, but if
he's daft aw'd like to know wheer they find th' wise men. Tak' another
collop, Billy, an' ha' some cheese an' pickled cabbage wi' it. It gi'es
a relish to th' bacon, though aw mun say tha's getten a varry
respectable twist o' thi own wi'out mich bucking. Help thissen to th'
haver bread an' th' ale. It's thinnish drinkin', to be sewer, but what's
wantin' i' th' quality yo' can happen ma' up i' th' quantity."

I thought Billy would never have done. And he ate as leisurely and as
solemnly as if he'd been at a funeral, and never a word spoke he till,
after eating enough for three ordinary men, he at last drew the back of
his big hand across his mouth, and said gravely:

"Theer, aw think aw'st do nah."

"Are ta sewer tha, couldn't do another slice across th' flitch," asked
Jim, not, I thought, without latent sarcasm.

"Noa," said Billy, reluctantly, "but th' owd woman med put me up a
mouthfu' or two i' a bit o' paper for a bitin' on in an hour or two."

"God help the man's belly," muttered Mary, but set the frying pan to
work again.

"And now, Billy," I urged.

But no, Billy was not to be hurried. He'd just have a reek o' baccy, he
announced, by way partly of digestive and partly to assist the workings
of his mind. For a good hour by the old grandfather's clock, which never
ticked so slowly since clock it was, did Billy sit over the fire staring
into the embers and smoking stolidly. When he did open his lips it was
only to ask:

"Han yo' nowt shorter nor whom-brewed? That stuff ligs cowd to th'
stummick. Other brandy or whisky or rum 'ud do, but brandy for choice."

Now Mary, by great good fortune, had about a pint of brandy stored away
these goodness knows how many years back, to be ready in case of sudden
sickness, and this she very reluctantly produced. Billy eyed it sourly.

"It's hardly worth startin' on," he grumbled, "but when he can't get
what he wants a wise man wants what he can get."

Then once again silence. Not till he'd emptied the bottle and smoked up
both his own store of twin and Jim's did he speak again, and then it was
to ask an apparently irrelevant question:

"Have yo' a horse an' onny mak' o' cart at Mitchell Mill?"

Now Jim and I had found it necessary to buy a horse and cart, and the
animal was eating its head off in a stable by the mill.

"Ha' it here bi midneet," Billy commanded. "Aw'st be here afore then,
an' aw'st be both hungry and dry. Put some straw or some wool or owt 'at
'll mak' soft liggin' i' th' bottom o' th' cart, an' gi' th' horse th'
best feed o' oats it's ivver had i' its life. An' yo'd better put a
flirsk o' brandy i' yo'r coit pockets, an' be ready to start when aw
come back an' ha' etten an' druffen."

"But where are you going?" I asked. "And when and where are we to start
looking for Miriam. Have you any notion what can have come of her, and
what in heaven's name do you want with a horse and cart?"

"Thee do as aw tell thee, an' ax me no questions Aw'm stalled o' hearin'
'em." And with this and throwing to Mary, by way of thanks, I suppose,
the curt remark that he'd tasted "waur collops," Daft Billy made for the
door.

"But what are _we_ to do?" I cried.

"Yo're to ca'er quiet an' howd that silly tongue if tha can," he said
gruffly. "But if yo'll tak' my advice yo'll just ger off to Mitchell
Mill an' set abaat yo'r work as if nowt had happened. An' if onny body
comes speerin' after Miriam, just yo' know nowt. But ha' that horse an'
cart ready an' them vittles." And he shambled away.

"Waur collops, indeed!" cried Mary. "Weel, of all the manners. Weel, he
sud know. Someb'dy 'll ha' to go short for this, aw know, an' God send
nob'dy fails sick i' this house this monny a day, for there's nowt but
rinsin's left i' th' bottle. Aw'll th' same, aw reckon he's a method i'
his madness. He's getten a clue o' some sort, or aw'm sore mista'en. So
off wi' yo' to th' mill, an' aw'll sna' such a supper for that ugly
lookin' customer as 'll stuff even a Burnplatter up to th' chin. It's
more sense, onnyroad, nor wanderin' ovver th' moors, which lookin' for
a needle i' a bottle o' hay wouldn't be in it, aw reckon."

Before midnight Daft Billy returned, as he had promised. Jim and I were
ready, for starting. The horse, Dobbin, was in the shafts, and we had
lined the bottom of the cart with sacks partly filled with scoured wool.
We had a lanthorn, and each of us carried a stout stick. We had no more
notion than the man in the moon what our destination might be, but Billy
enlightened us whilst he ate and drank. He pulled from his pocket
something that he handed to me.

"Han yo' ivver seen that thinkum' afore?" he asked.

It was the betrothal ring I had given to Miriam!

"Where in the name of goodness did you get this?" I exclaimed.

"Then it's th' same," concluded Billy. "I thowt it were."

"But where…?"

"Amnot aw tellin' yo'. Pass th' ale. Yo'll happen know th' 'Moorcock'?"

"Of course I know th' 'Moorcock.' Everybody knows it--where the
Bradburys live, and where, by all accounts, Eph. o' Burnplatt's lives
now."

"The same spot. Well, oo's theer."

"Miriam there!"

Billy nodded composedly.

"But how…" I began.

"Aw dunnot know. But oo's theer. Locked up i' th' barn. Aw went up theer
to-day on th' off chance. Aw ca'ed for summat to sup. Eph. were theer
an' th' owd felly an' Tom. They'd been fratchin' abaat summat, an' owd
Bradbury an' Tom seemed to ha' their knife into Eph. abaat summat. Aw
sat an' aw supped an' aw smoked an' aw gay' Eph. owt he wanted i' th'
liquor line. Yo'll owe me a bonny penny for what aw'n lain out i'
spirits on this job."

"But Miriam, Miriam."

"Weel, it were easy to see they were a' on pins an' needles to get shut
o' me. Nah when a land-lord wants to see th' back o' a customer wi'
brass to spend ther's a reason for it. But there were nowt to be seen i'
th' kitchen, an' aw'd no mak' o' excuse for goin' up th' stairs. Aw said
aw'd just tak' a look raand th' spot to stretch mi legs an' tak' a look
at th' pigs an' th' beasts. An' then they were just as keen aw sud stick
where aw were. Howsomedever aw did tak' a stroll raand, an' goin' up to
th' mistal aw fun this trinkum. Oo's theer, aw'm thinkin', but th' door
were locked, an' oo were other asleep or, what's more like, oo's gagged
an' bun!"

"And we're sitting here!" I cried, starting to my feet.

It was a dark, cold night, or rather morning, but if it had been cold as
the Arctic circle it would not have cooled the fever that raged in my
blood. Poor Dobbin! I dro' as one possessed, nor gave the poor beast
rest till we drew near the cart road that ran from the high road down to
the little inn, with its cluster of outbuildings, kept by old Bradbury.
It was nigh two of the clock when I drew rein, yet even at that ghostly
hour a light burned in the kitchen of the "Moorcock."

"Turn th' horse wi' its yead to Greenfielt," commanded Billy.

"Nah folly me, an' tread prattily."

We stole silently to the inn door. A window was by the side of the door,
across which a red blind had been drawn. We could hear voices raised in
violent altercation. I distinguished the thin, piping, piercing treble
of old Bradbury:

"Aw'll no ha' it, aw'll no ha 'it," he cried again and again. "Yo' mun
tak' th' wench fro' here. Aw't lose mi licence an' mi job, an' all for
nowt. Aw'll no ha' th' 'Moorcock' turned into a brothel to please thee,
Ephraim Sykes. Away wi' th' hussy, aw say."

Then the gruffer tones of Tom Bradbury, hoarse and husky, but what he
said I could not make out.

Then Ephraim's--loud threatening; then the old man's again.

"An aw'll ha' no feightin' here. Dash yo' Tom, sit thee dahn. Ta' no
notice on him. It's th' drink's talking. Mind, mind, Tom, he's getten
th' poker. God! the man's mad!"

"Break this door in," whispered Billy to Jim. "Then yo' two off to th'
barn. Yo' mun get in theer th' best yo' can. Get th' lass, if oo's
theer. Then off wi' her. Aw'll shift for missen."

"Aw'll ta' a hand i' this game."

Jim put his mighty shoulders to the inn door, and the bolt gave. I had
lit the lanthorn and Jim and I rushed to the mistal door. We made no ado
about knocking. Jim's mighty heave burst the lock, and we tumbled into
the darkness, dazed and panting. I swung the light above my head. In a
corner there was the rustle of hay. A form raised itself in the shadow,
and swayed, and fell again. I rushed towards it. Miriam, her arms bound
to her side, a muffler fastened across her mouth, lay upon a pile of
hay. A loaf of bread and a jug of water stood by. I dashed the water
into her face. She moved, and sighed, and her eyes part opened, then
closed again. Jim cut the bonds that bound her arms and unloosed the
scarf about her head. "Oo's fainted," he said. "It's your job, this,
Abe. Ovver thi showders wi' her, an' off to th' cart. Then for Pole Moor
like hell!"

"What of Billy?" I asked, as we passed the gable of the inn on our way
to the cart.

"He towd us to shift for oursen. My word, listen to that! There's
pandemonium goin' on in' th' kitchen. They're feightin', sure enough. Up
to th' cart wi' Miriam, man. That's our job."

We hurried up the road that led towards where we had left the patient
Dobbin, I with Miriam over shoulder, Jim with an arm under my elbow
speeding me on.

"Hark yo'," he exclaimed, when we were half way up the road, "all's
quiet now. And th' light's out. Aw wonder Billy tarries, but Billy or no
Billy we'll be off."

What need to tell how we sped towards Pole Moor, Miriam, only half
conscious, shivering and moaning in my arms; how we roused my good
father and Ruth; how Miriam was put to bed; how I was despatched in hot
haste to Slaithwaite for Dr. Dean; how that worthy surgeon found his
patient in a high state of fever and delirium. Oh! it was piteous to see
her staring with horror-laden eyes in front of her and to see her, with
beating hands and arms, make as though to repel one who sought to clasp
her.

"Have done, Eph., have done," she would cry. "Oh! if only Abe were
here." Dr. Dean shook his head very gravely as he felt the fevered
pulse.

"Ruth," he commanded, "she must be absolutely quiet. You and your father
may be with her. Pack your brother and that young giant about their
business. There's been queer doings to bring the poor lass to this: but
ask her no questions. It'll be weeks before she's fit to talk. Now keep
everybody away from her and--no need to tell you--keep your own
counsel."

Ill news flies fast. When Jim and I got down to Diggle about noon, the
very first person we spoke to asked us if we'd heard what folk were
saying: that old Bradbury and his son, William, had been foully done to
death. A little girl going early to the inn for barm had found the front
door open: in the passage, half behind the door, lay the lifeless form
of Tom o' Bill's, his head cleft by a spade which, its fell work done,
had been left in the passage all covered with blood. The terror-stricken
child had fled shrieking towards her home. Others had hurried to the
scene. On the hearth in the kitchen old Bradbury, struck down by spade
or shovel, lay weltering in his blood, but life was still in him. As a
neighbour bent over him he had been heard to mutter with his last
breath: "Pats, Pats," or was it "Platts, Platts"?

And which that neighbour could and would not say.

Many and many a time as the years rolled by have Jim and I pondered and
talked over poor old Bradbury's effort to tell who had done him to
death. There was in both our minds the same thought: not Pats, not
Platts, but "Burnplatts," old Tom had tried to gasp as he lay a-dying.

Towards the end of the month we read in the _Manchester Courier_ that a
proclamation had been issued from the Secretary of State's office,
offering a reward of £200 for the discovery of the murderers and
promising the King's pardon to any party concerned (except the actual
murderers), who should discover their accomplices. Then came sure and
certain information that two men suspected of being concerned in the
murder of the Bradburys had been brought before the Huddersfield
magistrates, had proved an alibi, and been forthwith discharged. We
breathed more freely when we read this. Then many-tongued rumour became
busy with the names of Jamie Bradbury and his son, Joe, commonly called
the "Red Tom Bradburys," of Howood. Jamie was reputed a desperate
poacher, a hard drinker, and a hard hitter, and Joe's reputation in the
countryside was no better than his father's. These men were no relations
of the Bradburys of Bill's o' Jack's, whose mangled remains had been
laid to rest in St. Chad's Churchyard, with such a concourse to watch
the sad procession to the grave as, perhaps, was never seen before or
since in Saddleworth. It was known that there was bad blood between the
keepers and their namesakes of Howood, and that the latter were to stand
their trial at Pontefract Sessions on the very day after the murder on a
charge of poaching near Bill's o' Jack's. Who, it was darkly asked, had
so strong a motive to close the mouths of old Bill and his son Tom as
the Bradburys of Howood? But then, what of old William's dying cry:
"Pats, Pats," or was it "Platts, Platts"? Clearly whether Pat's or
Platts, it was neither Jamie nor Joe. Then the people for miles around
began to look askance at a man called Reuben Platt, who had been seen
drinking in company with Tom Bradbury at Hinchcliff's ale-house at Road
End on the day before the murder: but, then, it was very pertinently
asked: What earthly reason had Reuben Platt for taking the life of
either of the murdered men and so putting in peril his own? And to this
very searching question no one could find a sufficient answer. For many
a month after that tragic day in April wherever men and women
foregathered there was but one topic discussed, one eternal question
propounded, and Jim and I lived in an agony of apprehension. We were
loth to tell what we knew and yet we knew not what mischief our silence
might entail. On one point we were clearly resolved: if any man's life
or liberty were clearly imperilled then, come what might, it was our
clear duty to declare the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the
truth.

Two considerations closed our mouths. First and foremost I hated the
very thought of having the name of my Miriam bandied about, blazoned in
every newspaper, on the lips of every soaker in every pot house from
Stalybridge to Huddersfield. Secondly, though of course of this I could
have no certainty but only the very strongest suspicion, it seemed
certain that the hand of either Ephraim or of Daft Billy had struck the
cruel and fatal blows. And of Ephraim and Billy there was neither sign
nor sound. They had vanished and left no traces. So engrossed was
everyone in that eternal riddle, Pats or Platt, that to none did it
occur to turn to Burnplatts for a solution of the mystery yet there it
was assuredly to be found. Now I will confess that no consideration for
Eph. o' Burnplatts sealed my lips. I had done him no harm, except, of
course, that I had won the heart he coveted. I had rescued him from the
snare that had been set for him by the Bradburys of Bill's o' Jack's;
yet had he waylaid me by night and left me for dead on the Stanedge
Moor. I don't think I am vindictive by nature, and I had certainly not
nursed my wrath against him to keep it warm. I could forgive much to the
man who had lost the maid I had won: was not that loss of itself
punishment enough? But though we were commanded to love our enemies and
pray for them that despitefully use us, I saw no reason for sheltering
Ephraim from the vengeance of the law if it was Ephraim's hand that was
stained with the blood of the murdered men. But was it? Was it not more
likely that of Daft Billy? I tried to image in my mind what must or
might have transpired when Billy, his ill-regulated passions aflame with
the thought that Miriam had been vilely used, by whom he knew not nor
reeked, burst into the room where Bill and Tom and Ephraim were at high
words. Had Ephraim, maddened by the miscarriage of his schemes, attacked
Billy? Had the old man and Tom sided with him? It was conjectured by
many, from the fact that the old man's body was found in the kitchen and
Tom's in the passage, that the murderers had found the father alone in
the inn, had done him to death, after a desperate struggle--that a
desperate struggle there had been every sign indicated--that they had
then abided in that lone cottage in the awful stillness of the night,
crouching by the murdered dead, waiting, waiting till such time as Tom
should appear, if by chance he should; that they had sprung upon him as
he entered the narrow passage and cleft his skull in twain. Had those
who held this theory known human nature they would have known that
murder once done the murderer's first, and only thought is flee from the
sight of the work of his hands. It passes the endurance of man to linger
by the side of the murdered victim, so eloquent in its eternal silence,
and to calmly await the coming of one who may or may not come. I knew
and Jim knew that Tom was in the inn when Billy burst in. What then
befell who shall say? I only know that if Billy had done the deed it was
done in the very frenzy of a wrath justly stirred, and should I be the
one to set the bloodhounds of the law upon him whose every thought and
act was moved by love for Miriam?

It was some weeks after the beginning of that dread month that I betook
myself, in company with Jim, to Pole Moor. Word had come from Ruth that
my love was now able to leave her room, though very weak and worn and
wan, a shadow of her old self, but insisting that to see me would do her
more good than all the physic in Dr. Dean's surgery. And it was in a
very halting fashion, bit by bit, with many a shudder, that she told the
story of what had befallen her on her way from Bent Hall to keep her
tryst with Ruth at the Church Inn. She had started in merry mood, her
heart glad and light within her breast, and all a-flutter at the thought
that every step brought her nearer to the lad she loved. And the day was
in keeping with her joyous mood. The April sun shone in a clear sky, the
birds trilled in the azure and twittered in the hedgerows to their
mates, every branch and bough and twig and blade and frond spoke of
life's renewing and love's awakening after the long repose of another
winter gone. She had gained the rise from Roaches when she heard the
sound of a horse's hoofs falling upon the road and a voice calling,
"Miriam, Miriam."

She turned in great surprise. It was Ephraim riding in a shabby, ram
shackle old gig, but the horse in the shafts had mettle and paces.
Ephraim was not the man to sit behind an indifferent beast.

"I knew you a mile of by the swing of your gait, lass. Wherever are you
bound, and whatever brings you to these parts? I thowt you were tied to
Pole Moor for good and all."

"I'm on my way there now, Ephraim. I've been staying at Bent Hall."

"What! with old John Buckley? Tha's never turned lady's maid! It'll none
suit thee to be cribbed wi'in four walls, ta'in' wage to ma' an old
woman look like a young 'un."

"Mrs. Buckley's a relation of mine. But it's a long story, Ephraim, and
I'm in a hurry."

"What's your push?"

"I'm to meet Abel Holmes' sister, Ruth, at the Church Inn at
Saddleworth."

"Aye, aye, th' parson's son to be sewer. You're tokened to him, they
seyn. Weel, aw wish you joy, aw'm sewer."

"Do you really, Ephraim?"

"Aye, aye, what for no? It's no use cryin' for the moon. More bi token
aw'n ta'en up missen wi' a likely wench i' Stalybridge. Her feyther keeps
th' "White House"--not at ya'll know it. But aw cannot howd this tit
in. Climb in, Miriam, an' aw'll tell thee all about it as we jog along.
Some day aw sud like to meet Abe an' aw should noan be sorry to tak' him
bi th' hand an' ma' friends again."

Now this had been good hearing for Miriam, her own heart so full of
happiness and goodwill towards all the world that she wanted nothing
better than to see the feud between Ephraim and myself, of which she had
been the innocent cause, so happily ended. She clambered into the gig
and seated herself by Ephraim's side. He shook the reins, and the horse
stepped out bravely. He told her that he no longer lived at the
"Moorcock," and had abandoned all idea of turning gamekeeper. He had
found his true vocation to be that of a horse dealer, and the land lord
of the "White House" had not only a pretty daughter, who had been taken
with Ephraim's good looks--and indeed he was a handsome fellow--but
also money to spare to set up a son-in-law in a profitable line of
business. Now, he told Miriam, he was on his way to Bill's o' Jacks to
look at a young colt the Bradburys had for sale.

So absorbed was Miriam in this recital, and so joyed was she at the
thought that Ephraim seemed in a fair way to mend his mode of life and
to settle down into a law-abiding citizen and pursue a reputable
calling--for when your own heart is full and overflowing with glad
content it adds even to that full measure to know that others, too, are
happy--that Miriam did not notice at first that the trap had passed the
turn she should have taken towards Saddleworth and was well on its way
up the Holmfirth Road. She asked Ephraim to pull up and allow her to
alight.

"Nowt o' th' sort. Yo're all right," he said. "Yo'll have nowt to do but
turn off bi Bill's o' Jack's, climb up to Pots an' Pans, an' ta' th'
sheep-walk down to th' "Church." Yo'n plenty of time. Besides, aw don't
ta' it kindly o' yo' to be in such a hurry to be shuton me. Yo'n fun
some fine new relations to be sewer, but yo' needn't be i' sich a hurry
to turn yo'r back o' them 'at fot yo' up when yo'd nob'dy else to turn
to. Th' Burnplatters weren't fine weather friends to yo', Miriam. Aw
were at thi beck an' call long afore yo' clapped em on th' parson's son,
an' yo'n nowt to do but lift yo'r little finger an' aw'll be at thi beck
an' call again, an' th' Staley lass may go hang."

"Now you're spoiling it all, Ephraim. I'll get out here, thanking you
for the lift, and oh, so pleased to have heard your good news. If you'll
ask me, I'll dance at your wedding."

And here Ephraim's manner had suddenly changed. He put his disengaged
arm round Miriam's waist, and urged the horse into a gallop. The road
was lonely; the moors and rolling hills begirt them; not a soul was to
be seen. Thoroughly alarmed, she strove to rise from her seat, but he
held her as in a vice.

"Howd thi din," he hissed, his eyes glaring wildly. "Didst think Eph. o'
Burnplatts forgi'es an' forgets so soon. Aw'n getten thee nah, an' aw'st
howd thee. It's my turn to laugh now. Aw'd ha' made thee an honest woman
an' a wedded wife once, but, by gow, tha'll ha' to put up wi' jumpin'
th' broomstick now."

Sick with fear and apprehension, casting wild looks on every side,
shrieking for help, she had been borne at a hand gallop right to Bill's
o' Jack's. Just as they passed the top side of the house towards the
mistal, by a happy inspiration she had, unseen by Ephraim, slipped her
betrothal ring from her finger and dropped it into the yard, there to
lie till discovered by the keen eyes of Daft Billy. Ephraim had cast her
rudely down up a heap of hay, bound her securely, and fearful lest her
screams should be heard by some chance customer at the inn, had tied his
own muffler tightly about her mouth. Once only, during she knew not how
many hours, he had gone to her, bearing a loaf of bread and a pitcher of
water, offering to relieve her of the gag if she would eat in quiet. He
had been drinking heavily in the interval, and she feared the worst, but
he had attempted no violence, and lurched heavily away, locking the door
behind him. And there she had lain through the long dark hours of the
night, trembling at every sound and sick with a deadly terror, till Jim
and I had burst the door of her dreadful prison.

"My poor, poor darling!" was all I could say. "My poor, poor Miriam! But
thank God no worse has happened. Oh! thank God we came in time. What a
mercy Billy found that ring. Ah! what don't we owe to that faithful
creature!"

"Aye, and where is he now?" she whispered. "Fleeing from justice, a
price on his head, and all for me, unhappy girl that I am!" and she
sobbed as though her heart would break.

"Then you've heard?" I asked softly.

"Yes, yes! Ruth told me. Oh! it is horrible, horrible. I dream of it.
I see it all in my sleep, the very air goes red as blood. Will they take
him, think you? Oh! you mustn't give him up. I think I should die if he
should die a shameful death, and die he must if he's taken."

"They'll never take Billy alive," I said, to soothe her. "Not if I know
him. Besides, he's out of the country by this, belike. I suppose there
are lots of clans of the gipsy folk wandering the country, and he'd know
their haunts."

"Oh, yes, yes," said Miriam, eagerly. "Well, they'd hide him and help
him. But to go through life with the sense of that awful crime ever on
his soul; to die and meet his God with the blood of those poor men
shrieking for vengeance."

"And don't you think, Miriam, that God knows the clay of which poor
Billy was made, and knows what was in his mind when he struck those
unhappy men down--if he did strike them down? And who's to know he did?
Ephraim and the Bradburys were quarrelling before Billy burst in upon
them. Maybe the crime lies at Ephraim's door, and I'm not going to break
my heart over that villain. Hanging would be too good for him."

"Poor Ephraim! Poor misguided man!"

"Poor fiddlesticks!" I said, as near losing my patience as ever I was
with my sweet love. "If ever a man deserved hanging, he does. He tried
to murder me; he vamped up a tale to lure you to Bill's o' Jack's, for
I'll go bail half he told you was lies; he gagged and bound you, and I
tremble to think what worse he might have attempted; and yet you say
'Poor Ephraim!'"

"He was such a nice, brave lad once," she pleaded. "It was the drink,
that cursed drink, that warped his mind and his wild nature and hot,
fierce blood. Ah! Abe, Abe, let us judge not lest we be judged. How can
you, who have always known a father's love and such a father's--and had
a Christian home and nurture--how can you mete out just measure to such
as Ephraim? It is for One who knows all to judge, not for us who can at
best see but darkly as through a glass."

"And now have you two done your billing and cooing"--billing and cooing
indeed!--came Ruth's brisk voice as she entered the room with a basin
of broth and half a teacake for her invalid. "You've been making Miriam
cry, Abe, and I won't have it. Why, she vowed it only needed the sight
of you to make her happy, but all I can say is if that's how she looks
when she's happy I don't want to see her when she's miserable. And you,
too, Abe, what ails you? You look as if you'd got the whole world on
your shoulders. Eat this, Miriam, and cheer up, dear heart. Fretting
ne'er mended anything yet, and ne'er will. What you've got to do is to
get well and strong, and then if joy's in store for you, why, you'll be
ready for it, and if sorrow, you'll be able to face it. Father's asking
for you, Abe, and Jim's on tenterhooks to be off. He says Mitchell
Mill's going to rack and ruin, and another Bill's o' Jack's do would
bring him to skin and bone. But it's my opinion that man would drink
home-brewed and smoke twist if th' world were coming to an end and
falling to pieces all around him."

All that evening my father and Jim and I took serious counsel together.
We thrashed the matter out in all its bearings. My father's first view
was that so soon as Miriam was sufficiently restored in health the whole
truth must be told. To this I demurred that the result would probably be
to make her ill again; that it was plain to see the horror of that night
had so overcome her that the less her mind dwelt upon those tragic
happenings the better; that my plan was to put Up in the sparrings
without more delay, in trust that the new interests of a new life would
go far to banish the terrors that beset the midnight hours; that the
Bradburys were dead and nothing we could do could undo what was done and
bring them to life again; that we were absolutely in the dark as to
whether Ephraim or Daft Billy or both had struck the fatal blows; that
if, through our means, Ephraim were taken he was quite capable of saving
his own skin at the expense of Billy's; and finally that it would be a
poor requital of Billy's devotion to Miriam to have him tracked down and
put upon his trial for his life, and that I for one meant to hold my
peace unless either the Red Tom's or Reuben Platt or some other hitherto
unsuspected person were in serious jeopardy, when, indeed, the truth
must be told, though the heavens fell.

"Ah! if Billy would only come forward and tell the story himself," said
my father.

"That he'll never do, Mr. Holmes, asking your pardon if aw put my say in
wi'out bein' axed. Yo' see it's this way, at least to my way o' thinkin'
yo' see Billy's a cute sort o' chap i' some ways an' only hauf baked i'
others. An' all his life, as far as we know out on it, he's bin at
loggeryeads wi' th' law. He couldn't weel be a gradely Burnplatter an'
not be that. Why th' whiskey-spinnin' 'at's gone on at Burnplatts ivver
sin' aw knew out's enough to send th' whole boilin' on 'em to Botany
Bay, to say nowt o' horse steilin', an' piece-liftin', an' poachin', an'
all mak's o' ways o' ma'in a dishonest livin'. Nah! it stands to reason
'at Billy'll ha' no soort o' affection for th' law. He's a law unto
hissen. He's happen thinkin' at this varry minnit 'at them Bradburys had
a hand i' that mad prank o' Ephraim's ab--ab--what do yo' ca' it?"

"Abducting," suggested my father.

"Aye! that's it--abductin'. Weel, if he's got that bee i' his bonnet
he's noan frettin' hissen ower th' Bradburys, whether he killed them
hissen or Ephraim had a hand i' it, which aw'm thinkin' we'st nivver
know, unless they're nabbed, an that they'll nivver be till bobbies an'
detectives get more sense than they han now. It 'ud ma' a pig laugh to
hear th' policeman at Diggle layin' th' law down on th' subjec' o'
Bill's o' Jack's. It's Pat's an' Platts an' Platts an' Pats, an' he
suspects ivvery Irish navvy atween Diggle an' Greenfielt, an' every man,
woman, an' child christened Platt, an' there's scores on 'em in
Saddleworth. An' th' miracle to me is at onnybody can go on sayin'
Platts an' Platts an' ne'er tumble to Burnplatts: it's like a chap at
canna see th' wood for trees. I' my humble opinion th' greatest
benefactors o' th' criminal classes is th' bobbies. If ivver aw do
summat raal bad aw'st go live next door to a bobby an then aw'st be
safe. But aw'm wanderin' fro' my subjec'. What aw'm drivin' at is, 'at
Daft Billy bein' what he is, an' no friend to th' law nor th' law to
him, he'll gi' it a wide berth. Nowt'll fetch him into these parts agen,
unless he thinks Miriam's i' danger. That 'ud bring him: nowt more an'
nowt less. He'll noan blab, trust him. Ephraim might if there were owt
to gain by it, but is there?"

"There's the offered reward of £200," reminded my father.

"Exac'ly," continued Jim imperturbably, "and if aw remember reetly it
says that th' actooal murderer needn't apply. They'n no use for him
excep' to hang him. An' that ma'es me think Ephraim has his own reason
for lying low an' keepin' his own counsel. Yo' see fro' what Abe an' me
yeard that neet Ephraim were ready to set agate at the owd man an' Tom
onny minnit. He were just fixin' for a feight, an' aw dunnot think he
were partirkler who it were with. But, theer, it all comes back to this:
aw cannot see we can do onny gooid bi speikin' nah, an' aw can we med
put Billy's neck i' th' halter; an' aw think that ud abaat finish Miriam
off."

"Well, Well," said my father, "we'll let sleeping dogs lie."

"Besides," continued Jim, "aw'm stalled o' th' whole business. Nother
Abe nor me's struck a bat to mean owt this month back. We'n aar livin'
to addle, an' while aw'm on th' subjec', Mr. Holmes, aw sud like to ax
yo', sir, axin' yo'r pardon for ma'in' so bowd, an' weel knowin' 'at
oo's far aboon what aw'n onny reight to look to, if yo'n onny partickler
objection to me for a son-in-law. Aw know aw'n not bin dipped, but that
can happen bi getten over, though aw sud tak' it kindly if yo'd put a
drop o' warm watter i' th' dippin'-well, me bein' nobbut delicate. Aw'll
tew for her neet an day, an there's no need to say aw'll let her ha' her
own way i' ivverything. Oo'll see to that."

"Ah. Jim, Jim," said my father, "I've ever thanked God for giving me
Abe. I shall not blame Ruth for giving me you."

And now, good reader, this narrative nears its close. Neither Daft Billy
nor Ephraim was ever seen in our parts again, so far a I know, but some
months after the crime, when folk had found something else to talk
about, a stranger, whose swarthy complexion and dark locks proclaimed
him a gypsy, knocked at my father's door and, handing to Miriam an
ill-written letter, was gone before she could question him. It ran
thus:--

    DEAR MIRIAM
     This from Billy, to let you know all's well with him.
    Ephraim's gone for a soger, which is all he's fit for. You'll
    never see him or me again, though belike I'st see you, when you
    little think it. I'm cow jobbing in Wales, but keep that to
    yourself. There's reasons why I don't want to be seen Burnplatts
    way this many a year. I thought it was them Bradburys kidnapped
    you, but Eph. has owned up as it was him. I think Eph. was mad
    with drink, and I was mad for what I thowt they'd done to you.
    Any way, get wed as soon as you like. I'st noan be theer to drink
    your health, but nobody 'll miss.
                                                     DAFT BILLY.

The reading of this letter put our studying caps on again, and I think
we were all willing to let sleeping dogs lie. My own firm conviction is
that Ephraim and the Bradburys were at high words, perhaps at blows,
that Billy burst upon them like a tiger, seized the first weapon he saw,
struck blindly, heedless where his blows fell, that there was a general
scuffle, in which probably Ephraim joined, that the old man was the
first to succumb, though not actually killed; that Tom tried to make for
the door, and was struck down and left a corpse in the passage; that
Eph. and Billy fled across the moors, of which they knew every inch,
made their way to Burnplatts, where they lay in hiding till the hue and
cry died out, and then found it easy enough to make off to distant
parts.

However, there was one sentence in the letter which I found very much to
my liking--the advice to get wed at once. Jim and I had got Mitchell
Mill into good going' order, and though we were much handicapped by
the smallness of our means we were not doing so badly.

I broached the matter to Jim, and he was as keen as mustard on an early
marriage. It was arranged that the cottage by the mill should be the
home of Miriam and myself; that Ruth and Jim should start housekeeping
with Mary in Wrigley Mill Fold.

"Aren't you feared, Ruth," asked Mary, "to set up wi' a
mother-i'-law?"

"Not with such a mother-in law as I know you'll be, Mary."

"Well, you take an old woman's advice, Ruth; when you get wed,
remember it may be 'Bear and forebear.'"

"Aye, Jim will be th' Bear and I'st be Forbear, I suppose."

But Mary would not allow even my pert sister to call her idol, Jim, a
bear--even in jest.

"Our Jim's no bear, and never was. He's got a soft heart in that
big breast of his, as who should know better nor me. You can lead Jim
with a thread o' silk, but wild horses couldn't drag him."

"Well, I've no doubt Jim will be able to make Ruth do anything _she_
likes," I ventured to predict. And in so happy a mood were we that even
that time-honoured joke raised a hearty laugh.

We had resolved to have a quiet double wedding. The tragic events in
which we had all been concerned made us feel almost as though there had
been a death in the family.

But we reckoned without Mr. and Mrs. Buckley. Miriam, as in duty bound,
had written to her relations of Bent Hall, and that estimable couple
insisted that, wherever the knot was tied, the wedding breakfast must be
at their mansion.

There was much debate as to where the great event should take place.
Finally Slaithwaite Church was fixed on in preference to Saddleworth,
for somehow I had got a horror of the church in whose graveyard the
victims of the murder lay; and indeed it was many a long year before I
could pass St. Chad's without a shudder.

It seemed to me the 16th of September, our wedding day, would never
come, and I tortured myself with the gloomiest apprehensions of some
unforeseen calamity that would dash the cup of joy from my lips; 'tis
an old and true saying that there's many a slip 'twixt the cup and the
lip.

But the glad day came at last, and I would have you picture to yourself
Jim and I donned in our wedding garments: a cut-away swallow-tailed coat
of blue cloth, with brass buttons, red vest, knee breeches, shoes with
silver buckles, and beaver hats.

Those were days when men who could afford it let themselves go in their
costume. The Court of St. James set the fashion even for the humbler
classes, and he was a very poor man who would not make of himself
something of a dandy on the day of all days.

But how can I picture to you Ruth and Miriam when our expectant eyes saw
them come up the aisle of the church, Ruth on my father's arm, Miriam
led by Mr. Buckley--radiant visions of glimmering white, veils of lace,
with wreaths of orange blossom, and carrying each a bouquet of costly
blooms. Mrs. Buckley had insisted on arraying both brides at her own
charge. Well, well, that was a day of wonders; for when we came from
church there were all the maidens from Pole Moor Sunday School, all in
white muslin, strewing flowers, and the lads throwing rice. I vow that
when I undressed you could have made a rice pudding from the rice that
fell from my clothes.

Three coaches with prancing greys bore us off to Bent Hall. It was a
glorious autumn morn, and a bright sun shone upon the blushing, happy
brides, and their glad and proud grooms.

Now as we were borne through Slaithwaite and Marsden and Diggle, past
the familiar "Hanging Gate," I was not quite easy in my mind at all this
unwonted and unnecessary splendour. Would it not have been better to
have begun as we meant to go on and I imagined the villagers who ran to
their doors to see the dashing carriages exclaiming to each other:

"Just fancy--a poor parson's son and old Mary's that brews
treikle-drink!"

But when I hinted at this to Miriam she just smiled happily, and said:
"Wait and see."

The breakfast was at Mr. Buckley's. The curate of Slaithwaite Church was
there, Mr. and Mrs. Buckley, Dr. and Mrs. Dean, Mr. and Mrs. Wrigley of
Holly Grove, my father, Mary Haigh, and Enoch Hoyle, and a portly old
gentleman who turned out to be a lawyer.

They called it a breakfast; my notion of a good breakfast was ham and
eggs and a pint of coffee. But at that so-called breakfast the only
drink was a wine I had heard of, to be sure, but never
seen--champagne--Jim said he thought was yellow bobbin-water. Then
when the health of brides and grooms had been drunk, Mr. Buckley said:

"Now, Mr. Freeman, it's your turn." And the portly old gentleman rose
and spoke as follows:

"It is known to most of you that the father of Mrs. Abel Holmes"--that
was my Miriam, if you please--"was the Rev. James Garside, son of a
wealthy client of my firm. Mr. Garside, senior, predeceased his wife by
many years, and young James was left to the care of his mother. Mrs.
Garside, a most worthy lady, took into her household a foundling who had
been left upon the steps of her house--a girl babe. She became attached
to the infant, and it was given the name of Esmeralda. The child grew in
years, in grace, and beauty, and, as might have been foreseen, young
James became enamoured of her. He persuaded her to a clandestine
marriage, fearing his mother's wrath. In this he did wrong, but I am not
here to censure the dead. We all know how terrible have been the
consequences of that first wrong step--the wreck of his mother's
happiness, of his wife's, of his own, and but for a most happy chance,
of the fruit of that marriage, the beautiful maiden, Miriam, who has
to-day become Mrs. Abel Holmes, a rare jewel finding, I trust, a worthy
setting.

"I believe that Mr. James Garside was counselled to that fatal folly by
his tutor, a man in whom Mrs. Garside, sen., had the utmost confidence,
of which he, alas! proved himself unworthy, and betrayed. It is,
happily, no part of my duty to apportion the blame between young Mr.
Garside and his tutor. Probably the youth required little encouragement
to do what he did. But it is certain that the tutor profited greatly by
the issue of that wicked counsel. I know that he artfully fanned the
fires of the mother's wrath against her misguided son. I know also that
he told the unhappy Esmeralda that her marriage at Gretna Green was no
real marriage, and that the brand of shame would for ever rest upon her
offspring. I know because…"--and here the speaker paused
dramatically. "I know," he resumed, "because he has told me so with his
own lips!"

I started from my chair, upsetting a glass of that sparkling wine over
my brand new breeches.

"What!" I cried, "does the monster live?"

"No, sir, he does not. He is beyond the vengeance of man. He died some
months ago, a remorseful and, I hope, a truly penitent man. He had never
married, and he was a man of saving, almost miserly, habits. He seemed
to have no use for money, save to watch it grow. What pleasure he got
from the fruit of his scheming, if indeed he got any, I know not. He
always struck me as one of the most joyless creatures the sun ever shone
upon and failed to gladden. I became acquainted with him in my capacity
as Mrs. Garside's legal adviser, and afterwards my firm acted for him
when he became her executor and sole legatee, with the exception of a
small annuity to the Rev. James, Miriam's unhappy father.

"When that father died we only surmised the fact of his death from the
fact that he ceased to call at the office for his yearly due. He had
absolutely refused to tell us the place of his abode. That he had left
lawful issue, the smiling bride who graces this festival, I had no idea,
nor was it my duty to inquire, for the annuity died with the annuitant.
The bulk of Mrs. Garside's considerable estate passed by her will to Mr.
Stringer, the tutor.

"Some months ago Mr. Stringer sent for me. He confessed his part in the
sad estrangement between mother and son. He instructed me to prepare a
will. It is here."

Mr. Freeman laid a document upon the table by his side, took a modest
sip from his glass, passed a silk handkerchief across his mouth, took a
pinch of snuff with great deliberation, then resumed:

"I will not read this testament at present. A wedding feast is scarcely
the occasion. I am the sole executor and trustee. The estate has been
proved under £20,000, and will probably realise more. The testator was
a shrewd man of business, and knew how to make much more. The will
charges me to discover the Rev. James Garside, if alive; failing him,
his wedded wife by the laws of Scotland, Esmeralda; failing both, any
issue of theirs. Both Mr. and Mrs. James Garside I know to be dead, but
their sole issue I have the honour to meet for the first time to-day. I
owe this happy discovery to my old friends, Mr. and Mrs. Buckley, of
Bent Hall. Ladies and gentlemen, fill your glasses and drink the health
of Mistress Miriam Holmes, solo heiress of the former tutor, William
Stringer, M.A., late of Beaufort Square, in the City of Manchester. Mrs.
Holmes, my firm will be happy to act as your solicitors, and I hope you
think £20,000, if not a plum, enough to start married life upon. I
sincerely wish you long life to enjoy your good fortune. Ladies and
gentlemen, 'Mrs. Miriam Holmes'!"

Then the portly old lawyer raised his glass on high, and drained it to
the bottom. Mr. and Mrs. Buckley did likewise, but the rest of us sat as
if glued to our seats. Then Ruth jumped up and ran round the table and
flung her arms round my wife's neck, half laughing and half sobbing and
crying.

"Oh! Miriam, Miriam, I'm fit to die for joy; but I'st lose my sister."

And Jim banged his big fist on the table so that the glasses danced and
the pendants of the chandelier tinkled.

"By gow, Abe, lad, I'm fain for your sake, but bang goes Mitchell Mill,"
and the honest lad's voice broke, for it had been no mean thing for him
to quit the engine-shed and start on his own in ever so small a way.

"Say something, Abe," whispered Miriam, "or I feel as if I must scream."

Then I got up slowly, and my legs dithered under me. I'd never made a
set speech in my life before, but I saw my father's eyes upon me, and
he said solemnly:

"Speak as your heart prompts you, O Abel, my son, Abel."

I gripped one of those long glasses so that it crushed in my hand and
the blood came, but I did not know it. Then I spoke:

"Mr. Freeman, Mr. and Mrs. Buckley, if I fail to thank you on my wife's
behalf for all you have done for her, don't think my heart is not full
of gratitude. But if I have Miriam's permission to say what my first
thought is, it's just this. Jim there threw in with me when I'd next to
nothing, and I'st not desert him now I, or at least my wife, is rich. If
it isn't Mitchell Mill it will have to be some other mill, for it's the
only trade I know, and I've no sort of fancy for leading an idle life on
my wife's money."

"Well spoken, Abel," quoth my father.

"'Bring up a child in the way he should go'--we know the rest," quoth
the curate of Slaithwaite.

"A chip of the old block," cried Mr. Wrigley.

"Eh, sirs," began Mary Haigh, her emotion getting the better of the awe
which had overpowered her from the moment she entered Bent Hall. "Eh,
sirs, I've mothered Abe Holmes sin' foist he were prenticed an weel aw
knew he'd ring true when th' testin' time came."

"And what say you, Mr. Hoyle," said our genial host. "I'm told you're a
rare exhorter."

Enoch cleared his throat.

"I sud like a pint o' small beer afore aw rise to th' occasion. This
dancin' stuff gets into mi yead, tho' there are folk 'at seyn old
Enoch's poll's one o' th' strongest between Scammonden an' Slowit."

A quiet order was given to a neat maid, and a foaming two-handled
tankard was placed before Enoch, but we were not destined to hear Enoch
at large, an injury he may have forgiven, but certainly never forgot.
For Mr. Buckley, after a meaning look from his wife, who had glanced at
her watch, rose and completed the tale of the bewildering surprises that
day had had in store for us.

"Perhaps, as time presses, Mr. Hoyle will give way for me. The coach for
Blackpool leaves shortly; the brides will find, my good lady says, their
away-going garments upstairs. But, before we part I have this to say.
Ever since we discovered Miriam it had been my intention to provide for
her. Now I'm getting on, and should like to ease the strain of my
business.

"I've had my eyes on both Abe and Jim. I can tell you. There's room for
young blood at Micklehurst Mills, and if that blood runs in the veins of
Abel Holmes and Jim Haigh nobody will be better pleased than myself.
Now, ladies, off with you and get out of your finery. Time and tide and
coaches wait for no man. Mr. Holmes, will you return thanks?"

My father glanced at the curate, who waved to him a somewhat
condescending assent, so the last word at that eventful feast, and that
a heartfelt and eloquent word of thanksgiving to the Giver of all good
gifts, was spoken by my dear and honoured father.

And now, dear reader, we must part company we have journeyed together
through strange adventures, and my story is done. "Always have your
peroration ready, for you never know how soon you may need it," was
sound advice. But I think this tale needs no peroration, for if I have
succeeded even faintly, in giving a true insight into the characters of
Miriam and Ruth and Jim--I'll say nought of myself--you may close this
little volume on the full assurance that the lives united on that happy
September day had their fair share of the sunshine of life.

I am the father of two fine sons and a daughter, who bids fair to be
nearly as good to look upon as my Miriam, and unite to six sturdy little
Haigh lads and one bright maiden, who, I fear me, will prove as great a
tyrant as Jim declares our Ruth to be.

As for Enoch Hoyle, that worthy pillar of Pole Moor, he began to put in
a vast amount of time at Wrigley Mill Fold, and it was openly said all
through Diggle that he offered to Mary his stout old heart and not quite
empty hand. But all the information on this point that Jim could glean
was to be gathered from Mary's trite remark that "there's no fooil like
an old fooil."

[THE END.]





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