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Title: Jinny the Carrier
Author: Zangwill, Israel
Language: English
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                           Jinny the Carrier


                                   By
                            Israel Zangwill



                 [Illustration: 1919 and company logo]

                 *        *        *        *        *

                       LONDON: WILLIAM HEINEMANN



                           EPISTLE DEDICATORY


DEAR MISTRESS OF BASSETTS,

You and Audrey have so often proclaimed the need—in our world of sorrow
and care—of a “bland” novel, defining it as one to be read when in bed
with a sore throat, that as an adventurer in letters I have frequently
felt tempted to write one for you. But the spirit bloweth where it
listeth, and seemed perversely to have turned against novels altogether,
perhaps because I had been labelled “novelist,” as though one had set up
a factory. (Two a year is, I believe, the correct output.) However, here
is a novel at last—my first this century—and there is a further reason
for presuming to associate you with it, because it is largely from the
vantage-point of your Essex homestead that I have, during the past
twenty years, absorbed the landscape, character, and dialect which
finally insisted on finding expression, first in a little play, and now
in this elaborate canvas. How often have I passed over High Field and
seen the opulent valley—tilth and pasture and ancient country
seats—stretching before me like a great poem, with its glint of winding
water, and the exquisite blue of its distances, and Bassetts awaiting me
below, snuggling under its mellow moss-stained tiles, a true English
home of “plain living and high thinking,” and latterly of the rural
Muse! I can only hope that some breath of the inspiration which has
emanated from Bassetts in these latter days, and which has set its
picturesquely clad poetesses turning rhymes as enthusiastically as
clods, and weaving rondels as happily as they bound the sheaves, has
been wafted over these more prosaic pages—something of that
“wood-magic” which your granddaughter—soul of the idyllic band—has got
into her song of your surroundings.

        _The glint of blue where the estuary flows,_
          _Or a shimmering mist o’er the vale’s green and gold:_
        _A little grey church which ’mid willow-trees shows;_
          _A house on the hillside so good to behold_
        _With its yellow plaster and red tiles old,_
          _The clematis climbing in purple and green,_
        _And down in the garden ’mid hollyhocks bold_
          _Sit Kathleen, Ursula, Helen, and Jean._

And yet it must not be thought that either “Bassetts” or “Little Baddow”
figures in the “Little Bradmarsh” of my story. The artist cannot be tied
down: he creates a composite landscape to his needs. Moreover, in these
last four or five years a zealous constabulary can testify out of what
odds and ends the strange inquiring figure, who walked, cycled, or rode
in carriers’ carts to forgotten hamlets or sea-marshes, has composed his
background. Nor have I followed photographic realism even in my dialect,
deeming the Cockneyish forms, except when unconsciously amusing, too
ugly to the eye in a long sustained narrative, though enjoyable enough
in those humorous sketches which my friend Bensusan, the true
conquistador of Essex, pours forth so amazingly from his inexhaustible
cornucopia. I differ—in all diffidence—from his transcription on the
sole point that the Essex rustic changes “i” into “oi” in words like
“while,” though why on the other hand “boil” should go back to “bile”
can be explained only by the perversity which insists on taking
aspirates off the right words and clapping them on the wrong, much as
Cockney youths and girls exchange hats on Bank Holiday. I have limited
my own employment of this local vowelling mainly to the first person
singular as sufficiently indicative of the rest. In the old vexed
question of the use of dialect, my feeling is that its value is simply
as colour, and that the rich old words, obsolete or unknown elsewhere,
contribute this more effectively and far more beautifully than vagaries
of pronunciation, itself a very shifting factor of language even in the
best circles. It is not even necessary for the artistic effect that the
reader should understand the provincial words, though the context should
be so contrived as to make them fairly intelligible. In short, art is
never nature, though it should conceal the fact. Even the slowness and
minuteness of my method—imposed as it is by the attempt to seize the
essence of Essex—are immeasurable velocity and breadth compared with
the scale of reality.

In bringing this rustic complex under the category of comedy I clash, I
am aware, with literary fashion, which demands that country folk should
appear like toiling insects caught in the landscape as in a giant web of
Fate, though why the inhabitants of Belgravia or Clapham escape this
tragic convention I cannot understand. But I do not think that you, dear
Aunt by adoption, see the life around you like that. Even, however, had
you and I seen more gloomily, the fashionable fatalistic framework would
have been clearly inconsistent with the “blandness” of your novel. Such
a novel must, I conceive, begin with “once upon a time” and end with
“they all lived happy ever after,” so that my task was simply to fill in
the lacuna between these two points, and supply the early-Victorian
mottoes, while even the material was marked out for me by Dr. Johnson’s
definition of a novel as “a story mainly about love.” I am hopeful that
when you come to read it (not, I trust, with a sore throat), you will
admit that I have at least tried to make my dear “Jinny” really “live
happy ever after,” even though—in the fierce struggle for literary
survival—she is far from likely to do so. But at any rate, if only for
the moment, I should be glad if I had succeeded in expressing through
her my grateful appreciation of the beautiful country in which my lot,
like Jinny’s, has been cast, with its many lovable customs and simple,
kindly people.

                                           Your affectionate Nephew,

                                                            THE AUTHOR

 SUSSEX

  _New Year 1919_



                                CONTENTS


                CHAP.                                PAGE

                      PREAMBLE                          1

                   I. BUNDOCK ON HIS BEAT               4

                  II. JINNY ON HER ROUNDS              34

                 III. JINNY AT HER HOMES               70

                  IV. WILL ON HIS WAY                 100

                   V. WILL AT HOME                    154

                  VI. SUNDAY AT CHIPSTONE             195

                 VII. COMEDY OF CORYDON AND           234
                        AMARYLLIS

                VIII. CUPID AND CATTLE                264

                  IX. TWO OF A TRADE                  320

                   X. HORSE, GROOM, AND BRIDE         357

                  XI. WINTER’S TALE                   432

                 XII. WRITTEN IN WATER                472

                XIII. THE COURSE OF TRUE LOVE         503



                           JINNY THE CARRIER



                                PREAMBLE


                _I’ll tell you who Time ambles withal._
                                      “As You Like It.”

ONCE upon a time—but then it was more than once, it was, in fact, every
Tuesday and Friday—Jinny the Carrier, of Blackwater Hall, Little
Bradmarsh, went the round with her tilt-cart from that torpid Essex
village on the Brad, through Long Bradmarsh (over the brick bridge) to
worldly, bustling Chipstone, and thence home again through the series of
droughty hamlets with public pumps that curved back—if one did not take
the wrong turning at the Four Wantz Way—to her too aqueous birthplace:
baiting her horse, Methusalem, at “The Black Sheep” in Chipstone like
the other carters and wagoners, sporting a dog with a wicked eye and a
smart collar, and even blowing a horn as if she had been the red-coated
guard of the Chelmsford coach sweeping grandly to his goal down the High
Street of Chipstone.

Do you question more precisely when this brazen female flourished? The
answer may be given with the empty exactitude of science and
scholarship. Her climacteric was to the globe at large the _annus
mirabilis_ of the Great Exhibition, when the lion and the lamb lay down
together in Hyde Park in a crystal cage. But though the advent of the
world-trumpeted Millennium could not wholly fail to percolate even to
Little Bradmarsh, a more veracious chronology, a history truer to local
tradition, would date the climax of Jinny’s unmaidenly career as “before
the Flood.”

Not, of course—as the mention of Methusalem might mislead you into
thinking—the Flood which is still commemorated in toyshops and
Babylonian tablets, and anent which German scholars miraculously
contrive to be dry; but the more momentous local Deluge when the Brad,
perversely swollen, washed away cattle, mangold clamps, and the Holy
Sabbath in one fell surge, leaving the odd wooden gable of Frog Farm
looming above the waste of waters as nautically as Noah’s Ark.

In those antediluvian days, and in that sequestered hundred, farm-horses
were the ruling fauna and set the pace; the average of which Methusalem,
with his “jub” or cross between a lazy trot and a funeral procession,
did little to elevate. It was not till the pride of life brought a
giddier motion that the Flood—but we anticipate both moral and story.
Let us go rather at the Arcadian amble of the days before the Deluge,
when the bicycle—even of the early giant order—had not yet arisen to
terrorize the countryside with its rotiferous mobility, still less the
motor-mammoth swirling through the leafy lanes in a dust-fog and
smelling like a super-skunk, or the air-monster out-soaring and
out-Sataning the broomsticked witch. It is true that Bundock, Her
Majesty’s postman, had once brought word of a big-bellied creature, like
a bloated Easter-egg, hovering over the old maypole as if meditating to
impale itself thereon, like a bladder on a stick. But normally not even
the mail or a post-chaise divided the road with Master Bundock; while,
as for the snorting steam-horse that bore off the young Bradmarshians,
once they had ventured as far as roaring railhead, it touched the
postman’s imagination no more than the thousand-ton sea-monsters with
flapping membranes or cloud-spitting gullets that rapt them to the lands
of barbarism and gold.

Blessèd Bundock, genial Mercury of those days before the Flood, if the
rubbered wheel of the postdiluvian age might have better winged thy
feet, yet thy susceptible eye—that rested all-embracingly on female
gleaners—was never darkened by the sight of the soulless steel reaper,
cropping close like a giant goose, and thou wast equally spared that
mechanic flail-of-all-work that drones through the dog-days like a
Brobdingnagian bumble-bee. For thine happier ear the cottages yet hummed
with the last faint strains of the folk-song: unknown in thy sylvan
perambulations that queer metallic parrot, hoarser even than the raucous
reality, which now wakens and disenchants every sleepy hollow with
echoes of the London music-hall.

Rural Essex was long the unchanging East, and there are still ploughmen
who watch the airmen thunder by, then plunge into their prog again. The
shepherds who pour their fleecy streams between its hedgerows are still
as primitive as the herdsmen of Chaldea, and there are yokels who dangle
sideways from their slow beasts as broodingly as the Bedouins of
Palestine. Even to-day the spacious elm-bordered landscapes through
which Jinny’s cart rolled and her dog circumambiently darted, lie
ignored of the picture postcard, and on the red spinal chimney-shaft of
Frog Farm the doves settle with no air of perching for their
photographs. Little Bradmarsh is still Little, still the most reclusive
village of all that delectable champaign; the Brad still glides between
its willows unruffled by picnic parties and soothed rather than
disturbed by rusty, ancient barges. But when Gran’fer Quarles first
brought little Jinny to these plashy bottoms, the region it watered—not
always with discretion—was unknown even to the gipsy caravans and
strolling showmen, and quite outside the circuit of the patterers and
chaunters who stumped the country singing or declaiming lampoons on the
early Victoria; not a day’s hard tramp from Seven Dials where they
bought their ribald broadsheets, yet as remote as Arabia Felix.



                               CHAPTER I


                          BUNDOCK ON HIS BEAT

                _He comes, the herald of a noisy world,_
                _With spattered boots._
                                     COWPER, “The Task.”


                                   I

IT had rained that April more continuously than capriciously, but this
morning April showed at last her fairer face. The sunshine held as yet
no sense of heat, only the bracingness of a glad salt wave. Across the
spacious blue of the Essex sky clouds floated and met and parted in a
restful restlessness. The great valley swam in a blue sea of vapour. Men
trod as on buoyant sunshine that bore them along. The buds were peeping
out from every hedge and tree, the blackthorn was bursting into white,
the whole world seemed like a child tiptoeing towards some delightful
future. Primroses nestled in every hollow: the gorse lay golden on the
commons. The little leaves of the trees seemed shy, scarcely grown
familiar with the fluttering of the birds. All the misery, pain, and
sadness had faded from creation like a bad dream: the stains and
pollutions were washed out, leaving only the young clean beauty of the
first day. It was a virgin planet, fresh from the hands of its Maker,
trembling with morning dew—an earth that had never seen its own
blossoming. And the pæan of all this peace and innocence throbbed
exultingly in bird-music through all the great landscape. Over the
orchard of Frog Farm there were only two larks, but you would have
thought a whole orchestra.

A blot against this background seemed the blood-red shirt of Caleb Flynt
in that same orchard; a wild undulating piece of primeval woodland where
plum-trees and pear-trees indeed flourished, but not more so than oaks
and chestnuts, briars and brambles, or fairy mists of bluebells. The
task of regenerating it had been annually postponed, but now that Caleb
was no longer the Frog Farm “looker,” it formed, like his vegetable
garden, his wheat patch, or his wife’s piggery, a pleasant
pottering-ground. He worked without coat or smock, chastening the ranker
grass while the dew was still on it—or in his own idiom, “while the dag
was on the herb.” White-bearded and scythe-bearing, he
suggested—although the beard was short and round and he wore a
shapeless grey hat—a figure of Father Time, incarnadined from all his
wars. But in sooth no creature breathed more at one with the earth’s
mood that morning than this ancient “Peculiar,” whose parlour bore as
its text of honour—in white letters on a lozenge of brown paper: “When
He giveth quietness, who then can make trouble?”

Quietness was, indeed, all around him in this morning freshness: the
swish of the scythe, the murmurous lapse of shorn grass, the drone of
insects, the cooing of pigeons from the cote, the elusive cry of the
new-come cuckoo, seemed forms of silence rather than of sound. And his
inner peace matched his outer, for, as his arms automatically wielded
the scythe, his soul was actually in heaven—or at least in the New
Jerusalem which, according to his wife’s novel Christadelphian creed,
was to be let down from heaven for the virtuous remnant of earth—and at
no distant date! Not that he definitely believed in her descending city,
though he felt a certain proprietary interest in it. “Oi don’t belong to
Martha’s Church,” he reassured his brethren of the Peculiar faith, “but
Oi belongs to she and she belongs to me.”

In this mutual belonging he felt himself the brake and Martha the
spirited mare who could never stand still. No doubt her argument that we
were here to learn and to move forward was plausible enough—how could
he traverse it, he who had himself changed from Churchman to Peculiar?
But her rider: “We don’t leave the doctrine, we carry it with us,”
struck him as somewhat shifty. And her move from “Sprinkling” to “Total
Immersion”—even if the submergence did in a sense include the
sprinkling—was surely enough progression for one lifetime. He did not
like “this gospel of gooin’ forrard”: an obstinate instinct warned him
to hold back, though with an uneasy recognition that her ceaseless
explorations of her capacious Bible—to him a sealed book—must
naturally yield discoveries denied to his less saintly and altogether
illiterate self. Discoveries indeed had not been spared him. Ever since
she had joined those new-fangled Christadelphians—“Christy Dolphins” as
he called them—she had abounded in texts as crushing as they were
unfamiliar; and even the glib Biblical patter he had picked up from the
Peculiars was shown to imply at bottom the new teaching. Curtain
lectures are none the less tedious when they are theological, and after
a course of many months—each with its twenty-eight to thirty-one
nights—Caleb Flynt was grown wearisomely learned in the bold doctrine
launched by the great John Thomas that “the Kingdom of God on earth”
actually meant on earth and must be brought about there and nowhere
else, and that Immortality enjoyed except in one’s terrestrial
body—however spiritualized—was as absurd a notion as that it was
lavished indiscriminately upon Tom, Giles, and Jerry.

The worst of it was he could never be sure Martha was not in the
right—she had certainly modified his belief in “Sprinkling”—and he
fluttered around her “New Jerusalem” like a moth around a lighthouse.
Had anybody given a penny for his thoughts as he stooped now over his
scythe, the fortunate investor would have come into possession of “the
street of pure gold, as it were transparent glass,” not to mention the
sapphires and emeralds, the beryls and chrysolites and all the other
shining swarms of precious stones catalogued in Revelation. If he had
kept from her the rumour that had reached his own ears of such a
treasure-city of glass actually arising in London at this very moment,
it was not because he believed this was veritably her celestial city,
but because it might possibly excite her credulity to the pitch of
wishing to see it. And the thought of a journey was torture. Already
Martha had dropped hints about the difficulties of “upbuilding” in the
lack of local Christadelphians to institute a “Lightstand”: the wild
dream of some day breaking bread in an “Ecclesia” in London had been
adumbrated: it was possible the restless female mind even contemplated
London itself as a place to be seen before one died.

But surely the New Jerusalem, if it descended at all, would—he
felt—descend here, at Little Bradmarsh. A heaven that meant girding up
one’s loins and wrenching out one’s roots was a very problematic
paradise, for all the splendour with which his inward eye was now,
despite himself, dazzled.


                                   II

From this jewelled Jerusalem Caleb was suddenly brought back to the
breathing beauty of our imperfect earth, to pear-blossom and
plum-blossom, to the sun-glinted shadows under his trees and the mellow
tiles of his roof. The sound of his own name fell from on high—like the
city of his daydream—accompanied by a great skirring of wings, and
looking up dazedly, the pearly gates still shimmering, his eye followed
the tarred side-wall of the farmhouse till, near the roof, it lit upon
his wife’s night-capped head protruded from the tiny diamond-paned
casement that alone broke the sheer black surface of the wood.

A sense of the unusual quickened his pulses. It stole upon him, not
mainly from Martha’s face, which, despite its excited distension,
wore—over wrinkles he never saw—the same russet complexion and was
crowned by the same glory of unblanched brown hair that had gladdened
his faithful eyes since the beginning of the century; but, more subtly
and subconsciously, through the open lattice which framed this
ever-enchanting vision. In the Flynt tradition, windows—restricted at
best by the window tax still in force—were for light, not air. Had
folks wanted air, they would have poked a hole in the wall; not built a
section of it “of transparent glass.” People so much under the sky as
Caleb and Martha Flynt had no need to invite colds by artificial
draughts. They were getting a change of air all day long. But their
rooms—their small, low-ceiled rooms—were not thus vivified, even in
their absence; the ground-floor windows were indeed immovable, and an
immemorial mustiness made a sort of slum atmosphere in this spacious,
sun-washed solitude. Hence Caleb’s sense of a jar in his universe at the
familiar, flat pattern of the wall dislocated into a third dimension by
the out-flung casement: a prodigy which he was not surprised to find
fluttering the dovecot, and which presaged, he felt, still vaster
cataclysms. And to add to the auspices of change, he observed another
piebald pigeon among his snowy flock.

“Yes, dear heart,” he called up, disguising his uneasiness and shearing
on.

Martha pointed a fateful finger towards the high-hedged, oozy path
meandering beyond the orchard gate, and dividing the sown land from the
pastures sloping to the Brad. “There’s Bundock coming up the Green
Lane!”

“Bundock?” gasped Caleb, the scythe stopping short. “You’re a-dreamin’.”
That Brother Bundock, who had been prayed over for a decade by himself
and every Peculiar in the vicinity, should at last have taken up his bed
and walked, was too sudden a proof of their tenets, and the natural man
blurted out his disbelief.

“But I see his red jacket,” Martha protested, “his bag on his shoulder.”

“Ow!” His tone was divided between relief and disappointment. “You mean
Bundock’s buoy-oy!” He drew out the word even longer than usual, and it
rose even beyond the high pitch his Essex twang habitually gave to his
culminating phrases. “Whatever can Posty be doin’ in these pa-arts?” he
went on, with a new wonder.

“And the chace that squashy,” said Martha, who from her coign of vantage
could see the elderly figure labouring in the remoter windings, “he’s
sinking into it at every step.”

“Ay, the mud’s only hazeled over. Whatever brings the silly youth when
the roads be in that state?”

“It’ll be the Census again!” groaned Martha.

Caleb’s brow gloomed. He feared Martha was right, and anything official
must have to do with that terrible paper-filling which had at last by
the aid of Jinny been, they had hoped, finally accomplished some weeks
before. Ever since the first English census had been taken in the first
year of the century, Martha had been expecting a plague to fall upon the
people as it had upon the Israelites when King David numbered them. But
although she had been disappointed, there was no doubt of the plague of
the Census itself.

“Haps it’s a letter for the shepherd,” hazarded Caleb to comfort her.

“Who’d be writing Master Peartree a letter? He can’t read.”

“Noa!” he answered complacently, for his wife’s learning seemed part of
their mutual “belonging.” The drawbacks of this vicarious erudition
were, however, revealed by his next remark; for on Martha crying out
that poor Bundock had sunk up to his knees, Caleb bade her be easy. “He
won’t be swallowed up like that minx Cora!”

But Martha’s motherly heart was too agitated to recognize the Korah of
her Biblical allusions—she vaguely assumed it was some scarlet woman
englutted in the slimy saltings of Caleb’s birthplace. “Run and lead him
into the right path,” she exhorted.

But Caleb’s brain was not one for quick reactions. Inured for nigh
seventy years to a world in which nothing happened too suddenly, even
thunderbolts giving reasonable notice and bogs getting boggier by due
degrees, he stood dazedly, his hands paralysed on the nibs of his
arrested scythe. “Happen the logs Oi put have sunk down!” he
soliloquized slowly.

“If I wasn’t in my nightgown I’d go myself,” said Martha impatiently.
“’Tis a lesson from the Lord not to lay abed.”

“The Lord allows for rheumaties, dear heart,” said Caleb soothingly.

“He’ll be up to his neck, if you don’t stir your stumps.”

“Not he, Martha. Unless he stands on his head.” Caleb meant this as a
literal contribution to the discussion. There was no wilful
topsy-turveydom. He was as unconscious of his own humour as of other
people’s.

“But he’ll spoil his breeches anyways,” retorted Martha with equal
gravity. “And the Lord just sending his wife a new baby.”

“Bundock’s breeches be the Queen’s,” said Caleb reassuringly. But laying
down his scythe, he began to move mazedly adown the orchard, and before
the postman’s mud-cased leggings had floundered many more rods, the
veteran was sitting astride his stile, dangling his top-boots over a
rotten-planked brook, and waving in his hairy, mahogany hand his vast
red handkerchief like a danger signal.

“Ahoy, Posty!”

Bundock responded with a cheerful blast on his bugle. “Ahoy, Uncle
Flynt!”

“Turn back. Don’t, ye’ll strike a bog-hole.”

“I never go back!” cried the dauntless Bundock. And even as he spoke,
his stature shrank till his bag rested on the ooze.

“The missus was afeared you’d spoil the Queen’s breeches,” said Caleb
sympathetically. “Catch hold of yon crab-apple branch.”

“Better spoil her breeches than be unfaithful to her uniform,” said the
slimy hero, struggling up as directed. “I’ve got a letter for you.”

Caleb’s flag fell into the brook and startled a water-rat. “A letter for
us!”

He splashed into the water, still dazedly, to rescue his handkerchief,
avoiding the plank as a superfluous preliminary to the wetting; and,
standing statuesque in mid-stream, more like Father Neptune now than
Father Time, he continued incredulously: “Who’d be sendin’ us a letter?”

“That’s not my business,” cried Bundock sternly. He came on heroically,
disregarding a posterior consciousness of damp clay, and picking his way
along the grassy, squashy strip that was starred treacherously with
peaceful daisies and buttercups, over-hung by wild apple-trees, and
hedged from the fields on either hand by a tall, prickly tangle and
congestion—as of a vegetable slum—in which gorse, holly, speedwell,
mustard, and lily of the valley (still in green sheaths), strove for
breathing space. At the edge of a palpable mudhole he paused perforce.
Caleb, who, when he recovered from his daze at the news of the letter,
had advanced with dripping boots to meet him, was equally arrested at
the opposite frontier, and the two men now faced each other across some
fifteen feet of flowery ooze, two studies in red; Caleb, big-limbed and
stolid, in his crimson shirt, and Bundock, dapper and peart, in his
scarlet jacket.

The postman’s face was lightly pockmarked, but found by females
fascinating, especially under the quasi-military cap. Hairlessness was
part of its open charm: his sun-tanned cheek kept him juvenile despite
his half-century, and preserved from rust his consciousness of a
worshipping womanhood. Caleb, on the contrary, was all hair, little
bushes growing even out of his ears, and whiskers and beard and the
silver-grey mop at his crown running into one another without
frontiers—the “Nonconformist fringe” in a ragged edition.

“Sow sorry to give ye sow much ill-convenience,” he called
apologetically. “Oi count,” he added, having had time for reflection,
“one of our buoy-oys has written from furrin parts. And he wouldn’t be
knowing the weather here.”

“’Tain’t any of your boys,” said Bundock crossly, “because it comes from
London.”

“That’s a pity. The missus’ll get ’sterical when she hears it’s for us,
and it’s cruel hard to disappoint her. There ain’t nobody else as we
want letters from. Can’t you send it back?”

“Not if I can deliver it,” said Bundock stiffly.

“But ye can’t—unless you chuck it over.”

The slave of duty shook his head. “I daren’t risk the Queen’s mail like
that.”

“But it’s _my_ letter.”

“Not yet, Uncle Flynt. When it reaches your hand it may be considered
safely, legally, and constitutionally delivered. But, till then, ’tis
the Queen’s letter, and don’t you forget it.”

Caleb scratched his head.

“If ’twas the Queen’s letter, she could read it,” he urged obstinately.

“And so she can,” rejoined Bundock. “She has the right to open any
letter smelling of high treason, so to speak, and nobody can say her
nay.”

“But my letter ain’t high treasony,” said Caleb indignantly. “And if
Wictoria wants to read it, why God bless her, says Oi.”

Bundock sighed before the bovinity of the illiterate mind.

“The Queen has got better things to do than read every scribble her
head’s stuck on to.”

“Happen Oi could ha’ retched it with a rake,” Caleb mused. “What a pity
you ain’t got spladges, like when Oi was a buoy-oy, and gatherin’
pin-patches on the sands. And fine and fat they was too when ye got ’em
on the pin!” His tongue clucked.

Bundock looked his contempt. “A pretty sight, Her Majesty’s uniform
lumbering along like a winkle-picker!”

“Bide a bit then,” said Caleb, “and Oi’ll thrash through the hedge and
work through agen in your rear.”

It was a chivalrous offer, for a deep ditch barred the way to the
freshly ploughed land, and a tough and prickly chaos to the pasture
land; but Bundock declined churlishly, if not unheroically, declaring
there was a letter for Frog Cottage too. And when Caleb, recovering from
this vindication of his wife’s prophesyings, offered to transmit it to
the shepherd, “What guarantee have I,” asked Bundock, “that it reaches
him safely, legally, and constitutionally? Nay, nay, uncle, a man must
do his own jobs.”

“Then work through the bushes yourself. Don’t, ye’ll be fit to grow
crops on.”

“Lord, how I hate going round—circumbendibus!” groaned Bundock. “I
might as well be driving a post-cart.”

“There’s a mort of worser things than gooin’ round,” said Caleb. “And Oi
do be marvelling a young chap like you should mind a bit of extra
leg-work, bein’ as how ye’ve got naught else to do but to put one leg
afore the ’tother.”

“Indeed?” snapped Bundock, this ignorant summary of his duties
aggravating the moist clayey consciousness that resided at the seat of
Her Majesty’s trousers.

“Ef ye won’t keep to the high roads, you ought to git a hoss what can
clear everything,” Caleb went on to advise.

“And break my neck?”

“Posty always had a hoss when I was a cad.”

“Or lay in the road with a broken back and Her Majesty’s mail at the
mercy of every tramp?” pursued Bundock. “No, no, one cripple in a family
is enough.”

Caleb looked pained. “You dedn’t ought to talk o’ your feyther like
that. And him pinchin’ hisself and maybe injurin’ his spinal collar to
keep you at school till you was a large buoy-oy!”


                                  III

Bundock’s irritation at his Bœotian critic was suddenly diverted by the
spectacle of a female figure bearing down upon him literally by leaps
and bounds—it seemed as if the steeplechase method recommended by Caleb
was already in action. The postman felt for his spectacles, discarded
normally in the interests of manly fascination. “Lord!” he cried. “Has
your missus joined the Jumpers?” Caleb turned his head, not unalarmed.
With so skittish a theologian anything was possible. But his agitation
subsided into a smile of admiration.

“She thinks of everything,” he said.

The practical Martha was in fact advancing with an improvised
leaping-pole that had already carried her neatly over the brook and
would obviously bring Bundock over the boglet. But why—Caleb
wondered—was she risking her “bettermost” skirt? His own mother, he
remembered, had not hesitated to tuck up her petticoats when winkles had
to be gathered. And why was Martha’s hair massed in its black net cap
with a Sunday stylishness?

“Morning, Mrs. Flynt,” cried Bundock, becoming as genial as the weather.
Females, even sexagenarian, so long as not utterly uncomely, turned him
from an official into a man.

“Morning, Mr. Bundock!” Martha called back across the mudhole. “I hope
your father’s no worse!”

Bundock’s brow clouded. Still harping on his father.

“He’s not so active as you,” he replied a bit testily.

“Thank the Lord!” said Caleb fervently. Then, colouring under Bundock’s
stare, “For the missus’s legs,” he explained.

And to cover his confusion he snatched the pole from her and hurled it
towards Bundock, who had barely time to jump aside into a still
squidgier patch. But in another instant the dauntless postman secured
it, and with one brave bound—like Sir Walter Scott’s stag—had cleared
the slimiest section, and his staggering, sliding form was safely locked
in Caleb’s sanguineous shirt-sleeves. Safely but not contentedly, for at
heart he was deeply piqued at this inglorious position of Her Majesty’s
envoy; the dignified newsbearer, the beguiler of loneliness, the gossip
welcomed alike in the kitchens of the great and the parlours of the
humble. Morbidly conscious of his unpresentable rear, he kept carefully
behind the couple, while Caleb explained the situation to Martha,
breaking and blunting the news at one hammer-blow.

“There’s a letter for _us_! From Lunnon!”

Martha was wonderful. “What a piece! What a master!” he thought. One
might live with a woman for half a century, yet never fathom her depths.
Not a gasp, not a cry, not a sigh of vain yearning. Merely: “Then it’ll
be from Cousin Caroline. When she went back to London at Michaelmas she
promised to let us know if she reached home safe, and if your brother
George was better.”

“Ay, ay!” he assented happily. “Oi’d disremembered Cousin Caroline.”

It was a merciful oblivion, for his Cockney cousin had come from
Limehouse in August and stayed two months, protesting that it was
impossible to bide a day in a place where there wasn’t a neighbour to
speak to except a silly shepherd who was never at home; where water was
scooped filthily from a green-scummy pond instead of flowing naturally
from a tap; where on moonless nights you could break your leg at your
own doorstep; where frogs croaked and cocks crowed and pigeons moaned
and foxes barked at the unholiest hours; where disgusting vermin were
nailed on the trees and where you broke out in itching blotches, which
folks might ascribe to “harvesters,” but which were susceptible of a
more domestic explanation. Moreover, Cousin Caroline had brought a
profuse and uninvited progeny, whose unexpected appearance in Jinny’s
cart, though vaguely comforting as recalling the days when the house
resounded with child-life, was in truth at disturbing discord with the
Quakerish calm into which Frog Farm had subsided after the flight of its
teeming chicks. As Caleb came along now, convoying Bundock through the
lush orchard grass, the echo of Cousin Caroline’s querulous voice rasped
his brain and made him wish she had pretermitted her promise to write.
As for his ailing brother George, information about whom she was
probably sending, it was obvious that he was no worse, else one would
assuredly have heard of his funeral. Had not George carefully let him
know when he got married? Caroline was a Churchwoman—he remembered
suddenly—she had compromised Frog Farm by eking out Parson Fallow’s
miserable congregation. And now she had sent her letter just at a season
to plague and muddy a worthy Dissenter.

“Sow sorry to give ye sow much ill-convenience, Mr. Bundock,” he
repeated, as they reached the farmhouse.


                                   IV

Frog Farm, before which Bundock stood fumbling in his bag, was—as its
name implies—situated in a batrachian region, croakily cheerless under
a sullen sky, a region revealed under the plough as ancient sedge-land,
black with rotted flags and rushes. But the scene was redeemed at its
worst by the misty magnificence of great spaces, whose gentle
undulations could not counteract a sublime flatness; not to mention the
beauty of the Brad gliding like the snake in the grass it sometimes
proved. The pasture land behind the farmhouse and sloping softly down to
the river—across which, protected by a dyke and drained by little black
mills working turbine wheels, lay the still lower Long Bradmarsh—was
the salvage of a swamp roughly provided with a few, far-parted drains by
some pioneer squatter, content—on the higher ground where a farmhouse
was possible—to fell and slice his own timber and bake his own tiles.
At the topmost rim, on a road artificially raised to take its wagons to
the higher ground or “Ridge” of the village, rose this farmhouse with
its buildings, all dyked off from the converted marsh by a three-foot
wall of trunk-fragments and uncouth stones, bordered by bushes. The
house turned its back on the Brad, and had not even hind eyes to see
it—another effect of the window tax—and had the rear of the house not
been relieved by the quaint red chimney bisecting it, the blankness
would have been unbearable. But if little of good could have been said
of its architecture behind its back, and if even in front it ended
abruptly at one extremity like a sheer cliff or a halved haystack, with
one gable crying for another to make both ends meet, it was as a whole
picturesque enough with all that charm of rough wood, which still seems
to keep its life-sap, and beside which your marble hall is a mere
petrifaction. Weather-boarded and tarred, it faced you with a black
beauty of its own, amid which its diamond-paned little lattices gleamed
like an Ethiopian’s eyes. In the foreground, haystacks, cornricks, and
strawstacks gave grace and colour, fusing with the spacious landscape as
naturally as the barns and byres and storehouses, the troughs and
stables and cart-sheds and the mellow, immemorial dung.

But what surprised the stranger more than its lop-sidedness was the
duplication of its front door, for there were two little doors, with
twin sills and latches. It had, in fact, been partitioned to allow a
couple of rooms to the shepherd-cowman, when that lone widower’s cottage
was needed for an extra horseman. Master Peartree’s new home became
known as Frog Cottage. The property was what was here called an
“off-hand farm,” the owner being “in parts,” or engaged in other
enterprises, and for more than a generation Caleb Flynt had lived there
as “looker” to old Farmer Gale, the cute Cornish invader who had
discovered the fatness of the oozy soil, and who had been glad to
install a son of it as a reconciling link between Little Bradmarsh and
“the furriner.” Caleb belonged to that almost extinct species of
managers who can dispense with reading and writing, and his
semi-absentee employer found his honesty as meticulous as his memory.
While the Flynt nestlings were growing up, the parent birds had found
the nest a tight fit, but with the gradual flight of the brood to every
quarter of the compass, the old pair had receded into its snugger
recesses—living mainly by the kitchen fire under the hanging hams. Thus
when last year Farmer Gale’s son, succeeding to the property and
foolishly desiring a more scientific and literate bailiff, delicately
intimated that having bought all the adjoining land, he had been
compelled to acquire therewith the rival looker, the old Flynts were
glad enough to be allowed for a small rent the life-use of the farmhouse
and the bits of waste land around it, subject to their providing living
room for old Master Peartree, who was to pasture his flock of sheep and
a few kine in the near meadows. Martha, indeed, always maintained that
Caleb had made a bad bargain with the new master—did not the whole
neighbourhood pronounce the young widower a skinflint?—but Caleb, who
had magisterially negotiated with the new bailiff the swapping of his
wood-ashes for straw for her pet pig, Maria, limited his discussions
with her to theology. “When one talks law and high business,” he
maintained, “we must goo back to the days afore Eve was dug out of
Adam.”


                                   V

Bundock, restored to his superiority by the deprecatory expectancy of
the old couple, observed graciously that there was no need to apologize:
anybody was liable to have a letter. Indeed, he added generously, with
nine boys dotted about the world, Frog Farm might have been far more
troublesome.

“Eleven, Mr. Bundock,” corrected Martha with a quiver in her voice.

“I don’t reckon the dead and buried, Mrs. Flynt. They don’t write—not
even to the dead-letter office.” He cut short a chuckle, remembering
this was no laughing matter.

“And the other nine might as well be dead for all the letters you bring
me,” Martha retorted bitterly.

“No news is good news, dear heart,” Caleb put in, as though to shield
the postman. He was not so sure now that this unfortunate letter had not
disturbed her slowly won resignation. “We’ve always yeared of anything
unpleasant—like when Daniel married the Kaffir lady.”

“That was Christopher,” said Martha.

“Ow, ay, Christopher. ’Tis a wonder he could take to a thick-lipped
lady. Oi couldn’t fancy a black-skinned woman, even if she was the Queen
of Sheba. Oi shook hands with one once, though, and it felt soft. They
rub theirselves with oil to keep theirselves lithe.”

Martha replied only with a sigh. The Kaffir lady, for all her coloured
and heathen horror, at least supplied a nucleus for visualization,
whereas all her other stalwart sons, together with one married daughter,
had vanished into the four corners of the Empire—building it up with an
unconsciousness mightier than the sword—and only the children who had
died young—two girls and a boy—remained securely hers, fixed against
the flux of life and adventure. Occasionally indeed an indirect rumour
of her live sons’ doings came to her, but correspondence was not the
habit of those days when even amid the wealthier classes a boy might go
out to India and his safe arrival remain unknown for a semestrium or
more. The foreign postage, too, was no inconsiderable check to the
literary impulse or encouragement to the lazy. Indeed postage stamps
were still confined to half a dozen countries. It was but a decade since
they had come in at all and letters with envelopes or an extra sheet had
ceased to be “double”; postcards were still unknown, and in many parts
postmen came as infrequently as carriers, people often hastening to
scrawl replies which the same men might convey to the mail-bags.

“Kaffirs ain’t black,” corrected Bundock. “They’re coffee-coloured.
That’s what the name means.”

Martha sighed again. So far had her brooding fantasy gone that she
sometimes pictured baby grandchildren as innocently dusky as the hybrid
young fantails which no solicitude could keep out of her dovecot, and
which were a reminder that heaven knew no colour-boundaries.

“Don’t be nervous,” Bundock reassured her. “I’ll find it.”

“Oh, no hurry, no hurry!” said Caleb, beginning to perspire
distressingly under the postman’s exertions and to mop his hairy brow
with his brook-sopped handkerchief. How these youngsters grew up! he was
thinking. Brats one had seen spanked waxed into mighty officers of
State. “Shall I brush your breeches, Posty?” he inquired tactlessly.

“What’s the use till they’re dry?” snapped Bundock.

“Come in and dry them before the kitchen fire,” said Martha.

“This sun’ll dry them,” he said coldly.

“Not so slick as the fire,” Caleb blundered on. “’Tain’t like you was a
serpent walking on your belly.”

Bundock flushed angrily and right-wheeled to hide the seat of his
trousers. “Why you should go and catch your letter when the roads are in
that state——!” he muttered.

“You could ha’ waited till they dried!” Caleb said deprecatingly.

“I did wait a post-day or so,” said Bundock with undiminished
resentment. “But there’s such a thing, uncle, as duty to my Queen.
Things might have got damper instead of drier, like the time the floods
were out beyond Long Bradmarsh, and I might have had to swim out to
you.”

Caleb was impressed. “But _can_ you swim?” he inquired.

“That’s not the point,” growled Bundock. “I don’t say I’d ha’ faced the
elements for _you_, but if somebody with real traffic and entanglement
were living here, e.g. the Duke of Wellington, I should have come
through fire and water.”

“The Dook at a farm!” Caleb smiled incredulously.

“In the Battle of Waterloo,” said Bundock icily, “the whole fight was
whether he or Boney should hold a farm.”

“You don’t say!” cried Caleb excitedly. “And who got it?”

“Well, it wasn’t Froggy’s Farm.” And Bundock roared with glee and
renewed self-respect. Caleb guffawed too, but merely for elation at the
Frenchy’s defeat.

The calm and piping voice of Martha broke in upon this robustious duet,
pointing out that there was no Duke in residence and no need for
natation, but that since Jinny called for orders every Friday he might
have given _her_ the letter.

“Give the Queen’s mail to a girl!” Bundock looked apoplectic.

“Jinny never loses anything,” said Martha, unimpressed.

“She’ll lose her character if she ain’t careful,” he said viciously;
“driving of a Sunday with Farmer Gale.”

“That’s onny to chapel,” said Caleb.

“A man that rich’ll never take her there!” sneered Bundock.

“Why, Jinny’s only a child,” said Martha, roused at last. “And the best
girl breathing. Look how she slaves for her grandfather!”

“Jinny! Jinny!” Bundock muttered. “Nothing but Jinny all the day and all
the way.” How often indeed had she snatched the gossip from his mouth,
staled his earth-shaking tidings, even as the Bellman anticipated his
jokes! “Let me catch her carrying letters, that’s all. I’ll have the law
on her, child or no child. I expect she blows that horn to make the old
folks think she’s got postal rights!” He did not mention that in his
vendetta against the girl it was he who never hesitated to poach on the
rival preserves, and that he was even now carrying a certain packet of
tracts which he had found at “The Black Sheep” awaiting Jinny’s day, and
which he had bagged on the ground that he had a letter for the same
address.

“Jinny would have saved your legs,” said Martha dryly.

Caleb turned on her. “Ay, and his leggings too!” he burst forth with
savage sarcasm. But at great moments deep calls to deep. “Women don’t
understand a man’s duty. And Posty’s every inch a man.”

Bundock tried to look his full manhood: fortunately the discovery of the
letter at this instant enabled him to gain an inch or two by throwing
back his shoulders, so long bent under the royal yoke.

“_Mrs._ Flynt,” he announced majestically.

“For _me_?” gasped Martha.

“For you,” said Bundock implacably. “Mrs. Flynt, Frog Farm, Swash End,
Little Bradmarsh, near Chipstone, Essex. Not that I hold it’s proper to
write to a man’s wife while he’s alive—but _my_ feelings don’t count.”
And he tendered her the letter.

“It does seem more becoming for Flynt to have his Cousin Caroline’s
letter,” admitted Martha, shrinking back meekly.

Bundock relaxed in beams. “I’m wonderfully pleased with you, Mrs.
Flynt,” he said, handing Caleb the letter. “You’re a shining example,
for all you stand up for that chit. When I think of Deacon Mawhood’s
wife and how she defies him with that bonnet of hers——!”

“What sort of bonnet?” said Martha, pricking up her ears.

“You haven’t heard?” Bundock’s satisfaction increased. “It’s like the
Queen’s—drat her! I mean, drat Mrs. Mawhood—made with that new
plait—‘Brilliant’s’ the name. They turn the border of one edge of the
straw inwards and that makes it all splendiferous.”

“Pomps and wanities,” groaned Caleb. “And she a deacon’s wife!”

Bundock sniggered. _His_ sympathy with the husband was deeper and older
than theology.

“I told you,” Martha reminded Caleb, “what would come of electing a
ratcatcher a deacon.”

“A righteous ratcatcher,” maintained Caleb sturdily, “be higher than a
hungodly emperor.”

“You haven’t got any emperors,” said the practical Martha.

“And how many kings have joined your Ecclesia?” put in Bundock.

“All the kings of righteousness!” answered Martha in trumpet-tones.

Bundock was quelled. “Well, I can’t stop gammicking,” he said,
shouldering his bag.

“Won’t you have a glass of pagles wine?” said Martha, relapsing to
earth.

“No, thank you. I’ve got a letter for Frog Cottage too!”

“For Master Peartree!” cried Martha. “And all in one morning. Well, if
that’s not a miracle!”

“You and your miracles!” he said with a Tom Paine brutality. “Why I
saved up yours till another came for Swash End. And so I’ve managed to
kill——” His face suddenly changed. The brutal look turned beatific.
But his sentence was frozen. The good couple regarded him dubiously.

“What’s amiss?” cried Martha.

Bundock gasped for expression like a salmon on a slab. “To kill” burst
from his lips again, but the rest was choked in a spasm of cachinnation.

“You’ll kill yourself laughin’,” said Caleb.

Bundock mastered himself with a mighty effort. “So as to kill—ha, ha,
ha!—to kill—ha, ha, ha!—two frogs—ha, ha, ha!—with one stone!”

Martha corrected him coldly: “Two birds, you mean.”

“Ay,” corroborated Caleb, “the proverb be two birds.”

“But here,” Bundock explained between two convulsions, “it’s two
_frogs_.”

Caleb shook his head. “Oi’ve lived here or by the saltings afore you was
born, and brought up a mort o’ childer here. Two birds, sonny, two
birds.”

Bundock’s closing chuckles died into ineffable contempt.

“Good morning,” he said firmly.

“You’re sure you won’t have a sip o’ pagles wine?” repeated Martha.

He shook his head sternly. “If I had time for drinking I’d have time to
tell you all the news.” He turned on his heel, presenting the post-bag
at them like a symbol of duty.

“Anything fresh?” murmured Martha.

Bundock veered round viciously. “D’you suppose all Bradmarsh is as
sleepy as the Froggeries? Fresh? Why, there’s things as fresh as the
thatch on Farmer Gale’s barn or the paint on Elijah Skindle’s new
dog-hospital or the black band on the chimney-sweep’s Sunday hat.”

“Is Mrs. Whitefoot dead?” inquired Martha anxiously.

“No, ’twas only his mother-in-law in London, and when he went up to the
funeral he had his pocket picked. Quite spoilt his day, I reckon—ha,
ha, ha!”

“Buryin’ ain’t a laughin’ matter,” rebuked Caleb stolidly.

“It depends who’s buried,” said Bundock. “I shouldn’t cry over Mrs.
Mawhood. Which reminds me that the Deacon sent out the Bellman to say he
couldn’t be responsible for her debts.”

“Good!” cried Caleb. Martha paled, but was silent.

“Only the Bellman spoilt it as usual with his silly old jokes.
Proclaimed that the Deacon had put his foot down on his wife’s bonnet.”

“He, he, he!” laughed the old couple.

Bundock turned a hopeless hump. “_Good_ morning!”

“And thank you kindly for the letter,” called Martha.

“Don’t mention it,” said Bundock. “And besides I killed—ho, ho,
ho!—two frogs!”

They heard his explosions on the quiet air long after he and his royal
hump had vanished along the Bradmarsh road.


                                   VI

Caleb’s eyes followed the heaving mail-bag.

“Bundock’s buoy-oy fares to be jolly this mornin’.”

“He does be lively sometimes,” agreed Martha.

Suddenly Caleb became aware of the letter in his hand.

“Dash my buttons, Martha! We disremembered to ask him to read it.”

It can no longer be concealed that despite her erudition Martha could
not read writing nor write save by imitating print. The cursive alphabet
was Phœnician to her.

“I didn’t forget,” she answered with her masterly calm. “Bundock’s too
leaky. You heard him tell all the gossip and scandal. And it ain’t true
about Jinny, for Master Peartree saw them riding in the other Sunday and
Farmer Gale’s little boy sat between them. Besides, Bundock’s a man, and
I don’t want a man to read my letter from Caroline.”

The point seemed arguable, but Caleb meekly suggested the little boy she
had just mentioned—only a mile and a half away. He would be at school,
Martha pointed out.

Caleb looked at the letter as a knifeless cook at an oyster.

“What’s the clock-time?” he asked.

“Not quite certain. I set the clock by Jinny last Friday, but it stopped
suddenly yesterday, when I was reading you St. Paul’s Epistle to the
Corinthians. Haven’t you heard it not striking?”

Caleb shook his head.

“Afeared Oi’m gooin’ deafish, dear heart. But we’ll know the clock-time
on Friday,” he added philosophically. “And when Jinny comes she can read
the letter likewise.”

But Martha was blushing. “No, no, not Jinny! She’s a young girl.”

“Thank the Lord for her lively face!” agreed Caleb.

“Maybe she oughtn’t to read a letter to a married woman,” explained
Martha shyly, “being a girl without mother or sisters, brought up by her
grandfather.”

“But Cousin Caroline wouldn’t write naught improper.”

“Of course not—but it mightn’t be proper for an orphan girl to read.
Maybe it’s not even proper for you, and that’s why she addressed it to
me.”

Caleb felt as bemused as before a Bundock witticism.

“Joulterhead!” said Martha, with a loving smile. “And you’ve had
fourteen!”

The letter fell from his nerveless fingers. “Cousin Caroline confined
again!” And the clacking of all those innumerable infants filled the
air—like the barking of the black geese on the wintry mud-flats. But he
recovered himself. “Why, she’s a widow, not a pair.”

“Widows can be re-paired,” said Martha.

“Must have been a middlin’ bold man to goo courtin’ a family that size,”
Caleb reflected.

He picked up the letter and poised it in his hand.

“Don’t feel as weighty as St. Paul’s letters,” he said.

“The text doesn’t mean his letters were heavy,” explained Martha. “‘His
letters, say they, are weighty and powerful’—that’s what I was reading
you when the clock stopped. Any fool can write a heavy letter—he’s only
got to write on a slate.”

“That’s a true word,” said Caleb, admiring her.

“Whereas,” pursued Martha, “the whole Bible has been got inside a
nutshell.”

“Lord!” said Caleb. “I suppose it was a cokernut!”

“Not at all. Only a walnut.”

“Fancy! But was there walnuts in the Holy Land?”

“I didn’t say ’twas done in Palestine.”

“Then there wasn’t walnuts there?” His face fell.

“I don’t remember—oh, yes—Solomon asked his love to come into the
garden of nuts.”

“But it don’t say walnuts?” he inquired wistfully.

“I can’t say it does.”

“Then maybe there won’t be pickled walnuts in the New Jerusalem?”

“Not all the righteous have your carnal appetite,” said Martha severely.

“You just said Solomon’s sweetheart liked nuts,” said Caleb stoutly.
“And dedn’t the Holy Land flow with milk and honey?” He had a vision of
it, seamed and riddled like his native mud-flat, but with lacteal creeks
and mellifluous pools.

“You put me out so,” snapped Bundock, suddenly reappearing before the
engrossed couple, “that I forgot to kill my two frogs after all!” And
going to the Frog Cottage doorway, he knocked officially before opening
it and committing the letter to the empty interior.

“You’ll be witness that I delivered it constitutionally,” he said, “for
I can’t be expected to come a third time.”

“’Tis a windfall your coming a second,” cried Caleb eagerly, “bein’ as
we can’t read the letter.”

Martha made facial contortions to remind him that Bundock was barred.
“’Tain’t you we want to read it,” he hurriedly added, “but when a letter
comes all of an onplunge, time a man’s peacefully trimmin’ the werges,
he ain’t prepared like. You haven’t got a moment—did, Oi’d be glad o’
your counsel on the matter.”

“Well, since I’ve wasted so much of the Queen’s time——!” said Bundock,
flattered.

They adjourned to the parlour to give him a rest, and denuding himself
of both cap and bag of office, he occupied oracularly the long-unused
arm-chair, while Caleb, uncomfortably perched on a seat of slippery
horsehair, started to unfold the situation.

“Take off your hat,” broke in Martha. “Mr. Bundock will be thinking
you’ve no manners.”

“Oi’ll be soon gooin’ outside again,” said Caleb obstinately, and
re-started his story.

“Do let me explain,” interrupted Martha at last.

“Do let me get a word in,” cried Caleb.

“Well, take off your hat.”

“Oi’ll be gooin’ outside soon, Oi tell ye.”

“Then you can put it on again.”

“Oi shall never make Bundock sensible, ef you keep interruptin’ me.”

“You see, Mr. Bundock, it’s this way——” began Martha.

“Oi’ve told him all that,” said Caleb. “Let _me_ speak.”

“Well, take off your hat,” said Martha.

“Oi’ll be gooin’ outside agen, won’t Oi?”

Bundock was examining the letter which had been laid on the table as for
an operation.

“But it don’t look like a woman’s writing,” he interrupted. “That would
be spidery.”

“’Tain’t likely she could write herself in that condition,” began Caleb,
but Martha’s face again hushed him down.

“There’s neither seal nor sticking envelope,” pursued the expert.
“Nothing but a wafer. Comes from a poor man.”

“Her new husband,” said Caleb, and set Martha grimacing again.

“Oi’ll be soon gooin’ outside,” he protested, misunderstanding.

“What you want,” summed up Bundock judicially, “is a mixture of
discretion with matrimony, seasoned with a sprinkle of learning.”

“He talks like the Book!” said Caleb admiringly.

“But where _is_ this mixture?” inquired Martha eagerly.

“She don’t exist,” said Bundock. “But Miss Gentry is the nearest lady
that can read, and Fate is just sending me with a letter and a packet to
her.”

The couple looked doubtful.

“She ain’t matrimony,” said Caleb.

“No,” admitted Bundock, “but I guess she’s old enough to be, though I
haven’t seen her census paper—he, he! And besides she’s a dressmaker!”

“What’s that to do with it?” asked Caleb.

“I see your missus understands,” said Bundock mysteriously.

“But she won’t walk five miles to read my letter,” urged the blushing
Martha.

Caleb had one of the great inspirations of his life.

“And ain’t it time you got a new gownd?”

Martha flushed up. “Oh, Caleb! Don’t let us run to vanity!”

“Wanity, mother! It ain’t tinkling ornaments nor cauls nor nose-jewels,”
protested Caleb, with a vague reminiscence of her Biblical readings.
“And ye’ve had naught since the sucking-pig Oi bought ye for your
sixtieth birthday.”

But Martha shook her head, quoting firmly:

        “_Let me be dressed fine as I will,_
         _Birds, flowers, and worms exceed me still._”

“Then why not a bonnet?” suggested Bundock. “That would be cheaper than
a gown.”

“Ay, a bonnet!” agreed Caleb, though he sounded it a “boarnt.”

Martha flashed a resentful glance which, however, Bundock took for but
another thrust at Caleb’s obstinate hat.

“I don’t want a new bonnet,” she cried indignantly.

“It needn’t be new,” said Bundock helpfully. “Just have your old bonnet
whitened. That’s on her bill-paper:

        ‘Bonnets Bleached As Good As New.’”

“That’s a good notion,” said Caleb. “You don’t want it bran-span-new.
Posty’ll tell her to come over here to get your old boarnt and then
we’ll spring Cousin Caroline’s letter on her for her to read!” He
chuckled. Bundock chuckled too, swelling at the adoption of his advice.

“And now that I’ve stopped gammicking so long, I may as well sample that
cowslip wine, Mrs. Flynt,” he observed graciously.

But Martha had vanished.


                                  VII

Miss Gentry had apartments in one of the most elegant cottages to be
found in Little Bradmarsh. Protected by palings, it stood all alone on
the high road, painted a vivid green, with three pollarded lime-trees in
front like sentinel mops. At the base of the trim little garden the
front door rose above two wooden steps with a little porch and
ostentated a brass plate with the inscription:

                              MISS GENTRY
                           LATE OF COLCHESTER
                   PRACTICAL DRESSMAKER AND MILLINER.

In proof of which, from the cottage window, whose green shutters lay
folded back, a _visite_ or jacket of black silk, and a polka jacket, and
a trio of straw bonnets, Tuscan or Leghorn, appealed to the passing eye:
one of them a bonnet cap with a quilting of net and broad blue strings,
another resplendent with purple ribbons and the new-treated straw plait
that the Queen and Mrs. Mawhood favoured, and the third of drawn silk on
little wires. The pictures of the period with a wonderful unanimity and
monotony display a single style of bonnet, but artists in those days
were men, and Miss Gentry could have told you better. “I’ve looked down
from a pew in the gallery of my Colchester Church on Easter Sunday,” she
told Jinny once, “and tried in vain to find two fellow-bonnets.”

But her professional door with its immaculate paint and shining brass
was so forbiddingly respectable that clients mostly preferred to seek
access through her landlady’s back door, where the flutter of washing
from the clothes-line on its green square poles in the little orchard
was reassuring; not to mention her chickens.

“Practical” was the unfailing adjective in those parts. Miss Gentry was
not undeserving of it, for her dresses were cheap without being vulgar,
while her knack of whitening the straw enabled the poorest, in the
succession of new bonnets, to keep pace with Victoria on the throne. A
stranger might have thought another species of dressmaker existed, whose
confections, though exquisite, would never fit, or who designed, but
could not execute; whereas the only other person for miles round at all
in the sartorial line was an equally “Practical Breeches-Maker,”
placarding from a flower-potted cottage window his “Strong, Stylish
Pantaloons.” But the thought of _un_practical pantaloons—say, without
buttons or belts—or of theoretical trousers, was simple compared with
the image evoked by Mr. Henry Whitefoot’s door-plate, proclaiming that
victim of the London pick-pocket a “Practical Chimney-Sweep”: as by
contrast with some exquisite dream Ethiopian, only platonically black,
darkly revolving flues and fireplaces, sweeping shadow-chimneys with
fleckless brushes, and carrying off ideal bags of the soot that never
was on sea or land.

But perhaps in Miss Gentry’s case the word “Practical” was necessary to
offset the business-damage of the tradition that had followed her from
her native Colchester. For Miss Gentry had had a “revelation.” It had
occurred in her girlhood, but the halo of it still circled round her
chignon. Seated in church, full of worldly thoughts—possibly studying
the infinite variety of bonnets—she had seen the stained-glass angel
move. What this flutter of wing and lifting of leg “revealed” had never
been clear: unless—as a wag maintained—it portended the flight of Miss
Gentry herself. That hegira of hers from Colchester to Bradmarsh had
not, alas, increased her prophetic prestige: what right has a “furriner”
to come with “revelations”? Even her fellow-Churchfolk—she was one of
the few Bradmarshians that clung to the Establishment—looked askance on
the miracle, feeling it indeed as reprehensibly Papish, and as lending
colour to the suspicion that she was a “French” dressmaker: a suspicion
strengthened at once by her elegant handiwork, and by her full-bosomed
plenitude, swarthy complexion, and more than embryonic moustache. It was
forgotten that if these did imply Gallic blood, it would have been, not
the Papish, but that Huguenot strain whose inpour into the county had at
one time carried the French liturgy into Essex churches. As a matter of
fact Miss Gentry was so fanatical a Church woman that she supplemented
all her bills and receipts by tracts in defence of the Establishment,
purchased at her own expense from a mysterious reservoir in Colchester.
Nevertheless, such is the contrariety of mankind, the large accession
she represented to the parish church—where on wet Sundays only the
Apostle’s two or three were gathered together—was discounted by her
felt queerness.

And it was, still more oddly, from the Peculiars that she received the
bulk of her custom, and this despite her top-lofty airs towards them,
and the tracts suggesting that souls, no less than bonnets, could be
bleached as good as new. Possibly their more elastic spirituality
vibrated more readily to the moving angel: perhaps the real bond of
sympathy was that they knew her unpopular with the Church: like
themselves a butt of legend, and lacking even their advantage of
Bradmarsh birth.

But even the Churchwomen did not utterly deny patronage to this talented
needlewoman, nor refuse her the deference due to weekday gloves, a
parasol, and bills with printed headlines; they did not even
discountenance her crusade against Dissent, though her copious allusions
to Providence “moving in a mysterious way” were felt to be too broadly
autobiographic. Moreover, in view of the caustic remarks upon cardinals,
Puseyites, black-robed priests, and winking pictures, by which her
tracts began to diversify the attack upon Dissent—for John Bull was
getting alarmed at the new Roman invasion—it was a source of surprise
that she failed to see the beam in her own eye. For if Virgins could not
wink in Rimini, why should Angels wobble in Colchester? To add to her
oddity, her brain was full of ancient maggots of astrology and medicine,
crept in from “Culpeper’s Herbal,” her one bedside book.

That Bundock should be bringing a bonnet commission to this excellent
and industrious, if freakish female, was the more laudable, inasmuch as
he nourished a prejudice against her and her tracts. Not that he held
with Catholic or evangelical Dissenters any more than with the Church
proper. As a follower of Tom Paine, whose “Age of Reason” he read
piously in bed every Sunday morning—the passage asserting that to make
a true miracle Jonah should have swallowed the whale was a regular
Lesson—he regarded himself as a great free spirit in an illiterate and
priest-ridden world, one whose God was everywhere except in Church. Not
that he could follow the Master’s excursions into trigonometry or
astronomy or knew anything of his idol’s “Rights of Man,” being indeed
singularly free from the contemporary unrest of the industrial townsman,
and combining, like greater men, a crusty conservatism for the old order
with a radical rejection of its spinal creed. Possibly his devotion to
the still youthful Queen was part of his softness for the sex, for the
only part of “The Age of Reason” that left him unconvinced was its
impugnment of the wisdom of Solomon, its contention that “seven hundred
wives and three hundred concubines are worse than none.” But it was not
Tom Paine, nor even Bob Taylor’s “The Devil’s Chaplain,” it was the long
years of his father’s paralysis that had first sapped his faith in the
pharmacopœian aspects of prayer, though he considerately concealed his
defection from his bed-ridden parent, and even the visiting elders
withheld the racking information. The old Bundock was not, however, to
be deceived, on this point at least.

“My son is moral, only moral,” he would say, with a sigh.

To such a temperament Miss Gentry must needs be antipathetic, and to
mark his distaste, Bundock was wont to leave the Colchester packets of
tracts as well as the “practical” correspondence at the side door,
shedding the light of his countenance only on the landlady. But on this
occasion, having a message to deliver as well as a missive and a packet,
he performed resoundingly on the green knocker, and Miss Gentry herself,
attended by Squibs, her ebony cat, appeared in the narrow, little
passage, frenziedly stitching at a feminine fabric. Behind her, through
the open back door, was a gleam of blossoming orchard and dangling
chemises.

“Good morning, Bundock,” she said graciously; “lovely weather.”

“It’s all right overhead,” he grumbled, “but underfoot, especially at
Frog Farm—whew!”

“You had to go to Frog Farm?” she inquired sympathetically.

“Yes, but there was a letter for Frog Cottage too. So I—he, he!—I
killed two frogs with one stone.”

“Two birds, you mean,” said Miss Gentry, embosoming her letter with a
romantic air and laying her packet on a chair. She added in alarm:
“Would you like a glass of water?”

“I don’t need drink,” said Bundock, mastering the apoplectic assault,
“it’s other folks that need brains.”

“My, were the old Flynts unusually trying?” she asked sympathetically.

“They want you to clean the gammer’s bonnet,” he answered brusquely.

“That’s not so foolish.” Her needle was moving busily again. “Have you
brought it?”

“No.”

“That does seem foolish.”

“I’m not a bonnet-bearer! They want _you_ to fetch it.”

“Me! Five miles to clean a bonnet! When I’m so busy! And in all that
mud!”

“It ain’t so muddy this side o’ Swash End, and it’s not two miles each
way by the fields.”

“Yes, with horrid cows!”

Bundock felt protective. “Cows ain’t bulls.”

“Well, I won’t go. You tell Mrs. Flynt she must come to me.”

“How can I tell her? I shan’t likely be going that way for months, thank
my stars.” Miss Gentry quivered a little at the expression, wondering
under what planet he was born.

“Well, I’ll write to her,” she said conclusively.

“What! And me take the letter!” In his indignation he almost blurted out
that the same difficulty of reading it would arise.

“Then I’ll tell Jinny to bring the bonnet!”

Bundock felt baffled. Instead of cunningly helping the Flynts to get
their letter read, he had only secured that minx of a carrier a
commission. He scowled at the dressmaker, seeing her moustache as big as
a guardsman’s and believing the worst of the legends about it: even that
the real reason she left Colchester was that the bristly-bearded
oysterman to whom she was engaged had refused to shave unless _she_ did.
“I’ll be wishing you a good morning,” he said icily, hitching up his
bag.

“Good morning,” said Miss Gentry. But she omitted to slam the door in
his face as he expected, indeed she had gradually advanced into the
porch, stitching unrelaxingly. And Bundock now became acutely aware that
he could not turn his back on her without revealing the stain on Her
Majesty’s uniform, that even by lowering the mail-bag he had just
hitched up, he could not cover up what certain rude ploughboys had
already commented on. He understood it was green. In this dreadful
situation he began backing slowly as from the presence of royalty,
making desperate conversation to cover his retreat.

“I did give you your tracts, didn’t I?” he babbled.

“If you mean the packet,” said Miss Gentry in stern rebuke, “there it
lies. _I_ haven’t opened it!”

“Do you mean that _I_ have?” he asked indignantly, gaining another yard
in this rear-guard action. “We don’t have to open an oyster to know
what’s inside.”

Miss Gentry’s brow grew as swarthy as her moustache—at the reminder of
her lost oysterman, Bundock supposed in dismay.

“Don’t you always send out tracts after I bring you packets?” he
explained hastily, still retreating with his face to the foe.

“Not when they’re patterns,” said Miss Gentry crushingly. “And how do
you know it’s not _The Englishwomen’s Magazine_?”

She turned back into the passage, and he hoped she would slam the door
on her triumph, but she took up the packet instead. “We shall soon see,”
and snipping the string with mysteriously produced scissors, she read
out unctuously: “Ishmael and the Wilderness.”

Bundock did not know which way to turn. Why in the name of propriety did
she not go back to her workroom and close her door? Miss Gentry, without
the clue to his lingering attitude, observed invitingly, tapping the
packet: “If this won’t make you see the beauties of the Establishment,
nothing will.”

He grinned uncomfortably. “Always willing to see the beauties of any
establishment.”

It was very strange. Give him a female, even with a moustache, even
tepefied by tracts, and something from the deeps rose up to philander.
Not that there wanted a lurid fascination in this exotic and literate
lady: his very loathing was a tribute to a vivid personality.

Miss Gentry, however, was shocked. She put down the tracts. She knew
herself “born under Venus,” but romance and respectability were never
disjoined in her day-dreams, and as the channel of a revelation she felt
profaned. “Don’t talk like that,” she said sharply. “You’re a married
man.”

“’Tis a married man knows how to appreciate beauty,” he replied,
receding farther nevertheless as in ironic commentary.

“For shame!” Her needle stabbed on. “And you setting up to be holy!”

“Me?” Surprise brought his strategic retreat to a standstill. “I never
set up to be a stained-glass saint.”

Again he had blundered. The black eyes flashed fire. “You who move
mountains!” she cried angrily.

“Me move mountains?” Bundock was bewildered.

“A little grain of mustard-seed,” he heard her saying more tremulously.
“And if a sycamine-tree could move—! Surely you don’t hold with the
unbelievers!”

It was precisely whom Bundock did hold with, but the big black eyes
seemed suddenly tearful and appealing, her needle seemed entering his
breast, and she swam before him as a fine, voluptuous female. Through
the passage he saw the apple-trees in bridal bloom and the white
feminine washing, and the Master’s remark on the apparent miracle of the
extraction of electric flashes from the human body thrilled in his
memory.

“Of course not,” he heard himself saying soothingly, while his legs felt
going forward, losing all the ground so laboriously won.

“Then you do believe the angel moved?” she asked eagerly.

“Don’t I see her moving?” he replied.

Miss Gentry looked down from her doorstep more in sorrow than in anger.
“You’re a married man!” she reminded him again.

“And does marriage pick out a man’s eyes—like a goat-sucker?” He felt
too near her now to back out, and he put forth his hand for hers, not
without nervousness at the needle. Could his father have seen him now,
he might have thought his son not even “moral.” But Miss Gentry
dexterously met the amorous palm with a tract. “That’ll open your eyes,”
she said.

To feel a flabby piece of paper instead of a warm hand is not conducive
to theological persuasion: all Bundock’s dissenting blood rushed to his
head.

“There’s two opinions about that,” he snorted.

“There _are_ two opinions,” Miss Gentry assented placidly; “one wrong
and the other mine.”

“Oh, of course!” he sneered. “The Church is always infallible.”

“We’re eighteen and a half centuries old,” said Miss Gentry freezingly.

“Did you put that in your census paper?” retorted the humorist.

Miss Gentry winced. She was weary of the jokes that had desolated
Bradmarsh, yet she was conscious of having let her landlady’s estimate
of her age go by default.

“I had no paper to fill up,” she reminded him frigidly. “But if there
was a census of religions, you’d certainly be among the mushrooms.”

“Better than being among the mummies.” Bundock’s father might have
clapped his palsied hands, to hear this defender of the faith. But Miss
Gentry mistook this fair retort in kind for another allusion to the
personal census.

“I thought you could discuss like a gentleman!” It was a cunning shaft,
and Squibs, seizing this moment to rub herself against the postman’s
leggings, he replied more mildly: “What’s the use of going by
age—except the Age of Reason?”

“Then be guided by Reason.” Miss Gentry stitched implacably. “If the
Almighty meant prayer to be medicine, why did He create castor-oil?”

Bundock was dumbfounded.

“Or Epsom salts?” she added triumphantly.

“They’re for cattle which can’t pray,” he answered with an inspiration.

Miss Gentry’s needle stabbed the air. But she recovered herself. “Then
why do you eat rhubarb pie?”

“Because it’s nice.” He grinned.

“But rhubarb’s a medicine!”

He countered cleverly. “We don’t mind taking medicine—so long as we’re
well!” We! He was identifying himself with his despised Brethren: such
is human nature under attack. But Miss Gentry was not at the end of her
resources.

“Well, what do you do when you break your legs? Pray the bones
straight?”

“But we don’t break our legs. I never heard of a Peculiar breaking his
leg.”

“But why shouldn’t a Peculiar break his leg?”

“That’s not my affair. He don’t. I’ve got Peculiars all over my beat,
and never have I known one to break a leg. A broken heart, now——!”

“But if he _did_ break a leg?” persisted Miss Gentry.

“If any one could break a leg, it would be me!” he said crossly.

“Well, then what would _you_ do—if you broke your leg?”

Bundock was worn out. “What’s the good of meeting troubles half-way?” he
snapped, turning on his heel.

“Yours seem to have come more than half-way,” scoffed Miss Gentry.

Bundock clapped his hand to the mud-patch, stung in his tenderest part.
He wheeled round prestissimo, raging with repartee. But the door had
closed—too late! Solitary, the sable Squibs dominated the
doorstep—like a sardonic spirit.

Bundock was turning away angrily, though now fearlessly, when with a
sudden thought he caught up the cat and plucked out one of her hairs. It
was not revenge—it was merely that his youngest daughter had a sty, for
which he believed the black hair an infallible remedy.



                               CHAPTER II


                          JINNY ON HER ROUNDS

                    _Give me simple labouring folk,_
                    _Who love their work,_
                      _Whose virtue is a song_
                      _To cheer God along._
                                            THOREAU.


                                   I

THUS it was that the days passed without any literate and discreet
female descending on Frog Farm or any rejuvenation appearing in Martha’s
bonnet; and the unread letter lay—guarded by two china dogs—on the
parlour mantelpiece awaiting the carrier. For it had been decided, after
nightly discussions that were a change for Caleb from the
Christadelphian curtain-lectures, to fall back on Jinny after all. She
was to read it to Martha in Caleb’s careful absence, and was to be
stopped if the improper seemed looming.

Alas, the best-laid schemes of mice and Marthas gang agley, and by the
day that Jinny’s horn resounded along the raised road that led to the
farm, the world was changed for Caleb and Martha. There was, in
fact—for the first time in Jinny’s experience—neither of the twain to
meet her as Methusalem ambled under the drooping witch-elms towards the
twin doors.

It was a tilt-cart,—with two tall wheels, and although Jinny steered it
and packed it and unpacked it, and scoured it and hitched Methusalem to
it, its weather-beaten canvas blazoned in fading black letters the
legend:

                             DANIEL QUARLES
                                CARRIER
                           LITTLE BRADMARSH.

You gather that she operated under the shadow of a great name, greatest
as being masculine. Self-standing careers for women had not yet dawned
on the world. If the first faint cloud of feminism had appeared that
very year in New York, no bigger than a man’s pants, the Bloomerites had
but added to the gaiety of mankind, and in rural Essex, with the
exception of dressmaking, wherein man appeared unnatural, women were the
recognized practitioners only of witchcraft or fortune-telling or the
concoction of philters; professions that were the peculiar province of
crones scarcely to be considered sexed. Though women earned money by
plaiting straw, they had husbands on the premises. Widows, of course,
for whom there was no provision outside the Chipstone poorhouse, were
allowed to maintain themselves more manfully than spinsters: but then
they were “relicts” of the masculine, had served—so to speak—an
apprenticeship under it. But the business of plying between Chipstone
and Bradmarsh was a peculiarly male occupation, and even the venerable
name of Daniel Quarles would not have sufficed to shield or install
Jinny had she jumped into his place as abruptly as Nip was apt to jump
into the cart.

No, Rome was not built in a day, nor could Jinny have become the carrier
“all of an onplunge,” as Caleb would have put it. That would have
shocked the manners and morals of Bradmarsh, both Little and Long, and
upset the decorum of Chipstone. A gradual preparation had been
necessary, a transition by which Jinny changed into the carrier as
imperceptibly as she had ripened into the girl. At first the small
“furriner”—the carried and not the carrier—reposing in the cart
because, after smallpox had snatched away both her parents in the same
week, her grandfather, who had imported her, had nowhere else to put
her; playing in the great canvas-covered playground that held as many
heights, depths, and obstacles as a steeplechase course; petted by every
client for her helplessness before her helpfulness gave her a second
lease of favour; bearing a literally larger and larger hand in
“Gran’fer’s” transactions as he grew older and older; correcting with
cautious tact his memories, his accounts, his muddled bookings and
deliveries, in due course ousting the octogenarian even from his place
on the driving-board and carrying him first by her side and then inside
in his second childhood, just as he had carried her in her first—a
stage in which his cackle with the customers carried on the continuity
of the male tradition; leaving him at home on bad days—whether his own
or Nature’s—and then altogether in the winter, and then altogether in
the spring, and then altogether in the autumn, and finally—when he
reached his nineties—altogether in the summer; Jinny the Carrier
was—it will be seen—a shock so subtly prepared and so long discounted
as to have been practically imperceptible. She might crack Daniel’s
heavy whip, but nobody felt the flourish as other than vicarious, if not
indeed a sort of play-acting evoking the pleasure a more sophisticated
audience finds in Rosalind’s swashbucklings. Not that she made any
brazen pretences to equality in lifting boxes; she sat with due feminine
humility while male muscles swelled and contracted under her presiding
smile and the rippling music of her thanks.

Here was, in fact, the prosaic purpose of the little horn slung at her
side—her one apparent embellishment of the tradition: it summoned her
slavish superiors so that she might be spared alighting and re-climbing
with goods. In face of the accuracy of her operations, this display of
helplessness probably helped to remove the sting of an otherwise
intolerable feminine sufficiency: it was perhaps the secret of her
popularity. Even with the most Lilliputian packets nobody expected Jinny
to descend and knock at their doors—one blast and old and young tumbled
over one another to greet the coming or speed the parting parcel. It was
indeed as if a good fairy should condescend to do your marketing, a
fairy in a straw bonnet (piquantly tied under the chin in a bow with
drooping ends), a fairy whose brilliant smile and teeth and flowing
ringlets could convert even an order for jalap into poetry, nay, induce
in the eternal masculine a craving for more. In fine, so topsy-turvily
had this snail-paced transition worked, so slowly had Jinny’s freedom
broadened down from precedent to precedent, that when strangers
expressed disapproval at these mannish courses, Little Bradmarsh was
shocked, Long Bradmarsh surprised, and Chipstone scornful. Not that they
were at all prepared to argue the question in the abstract. Their
prejudice against carrying as a profession for women remained as rooted
and unshaken as the critic’s. Women? Who was speaking of women? Jinny
was Jinny—a being unique and irreplaceable, “bless her bonny fice.” It
contributed to her unquestionability that the Quarleses had been
carriers for a hundred years—and more.


                                   II

Nor did Jinny, for her part, generalize on the other side or take any
conscious interest in the emancipation of her sex. Her horn blew no
challenge to the world. It did not even occur to her that she was doing
anything out of the common—the tilt-cart had been her nursery, it was
now her place of business. She had come into its foreground so
unconsciously that it was not as a good fairy that she saw herself, nor
even as an attractive asset of the Quarles concern, but as a busy
toiler—driven from morning to night rather than driving—and
handicapped not only by her household and garden work, her goats and
poultry, but by a nonagenarian grandfather, shaky in health and
immovable in opinion. Fortunately for her temper—and for the chastening
of a tongue only too a-tingle with rustic wit—Jinny regarded the
cantankerous patriarch as no more an object for back-talk than a
suckling. It had become second nature to soothe and humour him; and she
knew him as she knew the highways and byways in the dark or the snow:
where to turn and where to go round, where to skirt a swamp and where to
shave a ditch. By way of compensation there was his affection—as
primitive as Nip’s or Methusalem’s—and evoking as primitive a response.
For Jinny was none of your genteel heroines with ethereal emotions and
complex aspirations.

It was not that Nature had not cast her for a poetic part—she was small
and slender enough, and her light grey eyes behind dark lashes
sufficiently subtilized her expression, and when she was hesitating
between two words—not two opinions, for she always had one—her little
mouth would purse itself enchantingly. There was gentility too about her
toes. As her grandfather remarked with his archaic pronouns and plurals:
“That has the smallest fitten I ever saw to a wench!” She certainly did
not dress the part, for despite the witchery of the bonnet, her workaday
skirt and stout shoes proclaimed the village girl, as her hands
proclaimed the drudge who scoured and scrubbed and baked and dug and
manured: indeed what with her own goats and her farmyard commissions,
she was almost as familiar with the grosser aspects of animal life as
that strangely romanticized modern figure, the hospital nurse. The
delicate solicitude of Martha on her behalf was thus a pure morbidity,
for in going to and fro like a weaver’s shuttle, Jinny could scarcely
remain ignorant that women were as liable to offspring as any other
females, though it seemed a part of Nature’s order that had no more to
do with herself than the strange, hirsute growths on the masculine
face—or for the matter of that on Miss Gentry’s.

Mr. Fallow, the old pastor of Little Bradmarsh, who, though despised and
rejected of Dissent, required—being human—comestibles, candles, and
shoe-strings from Chipstone, as well as the disposal of his honey and
his smaller tithes, was among Jinny’s favourite clients, her original
horror of Bradmarsh Church having been early modified by an accidental
peep one weekday morning, which revealed its priest as its sole
occupant. Yet, standing in his place in his white surplice, he was going
through the service with such devout self-forgetfulness that the
confused child wondered whether the Satan of worldliness had him so
entirely gripped as she had been given to understand. She did not know
that this very praying all to himself would have shocked Miss Gentry as
savouring of the abhorred High Churchmanship. Indeed “little better than
a Papist” the Chipstone curate had pronounced the harmless old widower.

He for his part had long admired the little carrier, and perceiving the
fine shape of her calloused fingers, no less than the smallness of her
sturdy shoes, and enjoying the tang of her tongue—for the cottage
women, though nimbler than their lords, were not witty—he had indulged
his antiquarian vein (and the abundant leisure due to the ravages of
Dissent) by tracing for her a less plebeian and more Churchy pedigree.
Foiled in the hope of connecting her with Francis Quarles of “Emblems”
fame, he found in Norden’s list of the Ancient Halls of Essex a Spring
Elm Manor appertaining to one Jonathan Quarles. The flockless pastor had
even journeyed in quest of this Hall and found illogical confirmation in
the fact of its continued existence, in all the pride of mullioned
windows and lily-strewn if muddy moat, though with its private chapel
turned into a stable and its piscina bricked over. Henceforward he saw
in the exuberant vitality and imperious obstinacy of Daniel Quarles only
an impoverished reincarnation of hard-living but ecclesiastically
correct squiredom, while in Jinny, with her generous visits to the
ailing and bed-ridden on her route, he elected to behold a re-embodied
Lady Bountiful, pride of a feudal parish. What was prosaically certain,
however, was that Jinny had not even the education of Bundock’s bunch of
girls, the only school she had ever attended being the Peculiars’
Sunday-school held at a house adjoining the chapel in an interval
between the services. Thither, as to the services—her grandfather being
a Wesleyan—she had been convoyed regularly by Caleb, packed into a cart
with as many of the Flynt boys as had not yet flown off.

But the business itself forced reading and writing upon her, though when
its sole responsibility devolved on her, and it was no longer necessary
to confute the old man’s memory by the written word or figure, she found
herself agreeably able to dispense with the learned arts.

Welcomed at lonely farmyards where fierce dogs sometimes broke their
chains for the joy of licking her hand or of flying at Nip’s throat; not
less welcome in village High Streets, where every other house would ply
her fussily with orders that she took coolly and without a single note,
her bosom knowledge of everybody’s business and her dramatic
interpretation of any abnormal commission infusing life into her work
that saved her from slips of memory; adored by all the swains and yokels
who hauled her goods and chattels up and down, but radiating only a
frosty sunshine in return, for none had ever been able to pass the
ice-barrier that separated her private self from her professional
geniality; jumping down herself only to give Christian burial to hapless
moles, rats, shrews, leverets, and blood-stained feathers, or to glean
for lonely old women or the numerous and impoverished Pennymole family
the unconscious largesse of more careless drivers—turnips, lumps of
coal, wisps of hay; chaffering with beaming shopkeepers on behalf of her
clients, and hail-fellow-well-met with her fellow-carriers, encountered
at cross-roads or “The Black Sheep”; Jinny pursued her unmaidenly career
in fine weather or foul, sometimes wayworn, wind-whipped, rain-drenched,
and with aching forehead, but more often with a vital joy that was not
least keen when Methusalem—cloud-exhaling and clogged by snow that
sometimes raised the road as high as the hedges—had to plough his way
along a track hewn out by labourers, with here and there a siding cut in
the glittering mass for carts to pass each other by. Those were days not
devoid of danger: road, hedge, ditch, and field obliterated in one snowy
expanse. Once Jinny’s cart had to be dug out like a crusted fossil of
the Ice Age—and only the agonized howling of Nip had brought rescue.


                                  III

It was the first time he had justified his air of managing the whole
concern round which he barked and bounded and scurried as though
Methusalem and Jinny were his minions. He had indeed commandeered
them—jumping originally out of nowhere on to the tail-board—and
however he strayed from the path of their duty in his numberless
tangential excursions and expeditions, they knew he would never abandon
them.

Like many other great characters Nip was a mongrel. His foundation was
fox-terrier, and he had preserved the cleverness of the strain without
its pluck. To strangers, indeed, he seemed a very David among dogs,
attacking, as he sometimes did, canine Goliaths. But no dog is a hero to
his mistress, and after he had adopted her, Jinny discovered that these
resounding assaults on the bulkier were but bravado passages, based on
his flair that the bigger dog was also the bigger coward. That was where
his brains came in, as well as his baser breed. A sniff at a real
fighter and Nip would evade combat, sauntering off with a nonchalant
air. A splash of brown on his brainpan and about his ears, and a dab of
black on his snout were—with his leathern collar—the sole touches of
relief in his sleek whiteness. His head—beautifully poised and
shaped—with its bright dark-brown eye, eloquently expressive and
passing easily from love to greediness, from shyness to shame, invited
many a pat from lovers of the soulful. Yet to hear him bolt a rabbit was
to imagine a demon on the war-path: in a flash the cart would be left a
furlong behind or athwart; his raucous staccato yells filled the meadows
with echoes of blood-lust and revenge. But long experience had dulled
Jinny’s solicitude for Bunny: never once was there a sign of a kill.
Sometimes, indeed, when Nip was hunting a rat, the creature would run
across the path under his very nose, but that nose, pushing eagerly for
far-off game, never seemed able to readjust itself to what was under it.
All the which maladroitness was probably artfulness, Nip scenting
shrewdly that a successful sports-dog would have been hounded out. He
knew well the foolish, treacherous heart of his mistress, who actually
misled the hunt those autumn mornings that brought the high-mettled
hares across their path with ears taut and every muscle tragically
astrain. Up would come the beagles, with a long processional flutter of
waving white tails, nosing forlornly and barking dismally, while
he—panting to put them right—was tied paw and paw. How they set him
quivering, those horn-tootlings of the gorgeous Master, though they did
not go to his bowels as much as those staccato chivies that suggested
that the green-and-white gentleman was one of themselves rather than a
biped, or as those more elaborately contorted cries and rousing
thong-cracks of the Whipper-in. A fellow-feeling makes us wondrous kind.
And when all these hunters—four-footed or two-footed—including the
draggletail of fat, breathless farmers and wheezing females, were
remorselessly sent the wrong way by his brutal mistress, the poor dog
could not refrain from wailing.

Even when the hare did not cross her path, her horn, imitating the
professional toot, would allure and misguide the distant dogs. Nip’s own
relatives, the foxhounds, more rarely came his way, but though his
mistress’s sympathies with the quarry were less marked—her chickens
being precious—Nip was still held in. But amid all his disgust the
cunning dog remembered that his days of foraging for himself—before he
had picked up Jinny—had not been rosy and replete: caterers like Jinny,
he realized, did not grow on every cart, not to mention the cushioned
basket from which he could bark at everything on the road, or within
which, with a huge grunt of satisfaction, he could curl into an odorous
dream.

A contrast in all save colour was the stolid Methusalem, though he too
was of hybrid stock. While his hairy fetlocks proclaimed a kinship with
the draught-breed of the shire, he lacked that gross spirit, and while
his flying mane and tail flaunted an affinity with the fiery Arab, he
was equally deficient in that high mettle. By what romantic episode he
had come into being, whether through the wild oats of an Arabian
ancestor, or the indiscretion of a mere circus-horse, or whether his
tossing hair and tail were the heritage from a Shetland pony—as his
moderate stature suggested—is not recorded in any stud-book. But it was
impossible to see him without the word “steed” coming into the mind, and
equally impossible to sit behind him without thinking of a plough-horse.
“When Oi first see that rollin’ in the brook afore ’twas broke in,”
Gaffer Quarles would relate, “Oi was minded of the posters of Mazeppa at
the Fair, and christened that accordin’.” It was only when he discovered
that this blonde beast was a whited sepulchre, that “Mazeppa” was
exchanged for “Methusalem,” as though that antediluvian worthy had
always been a doddering millenarian, and not at one time in the prime of
his hundreds. The name had at least the effect of banishing expectation;
his mere amble was an agreeable surprise. As a matter of fact Methusalem
had still his Mazeppa moments. They came on Tuesday and Friday evenings
when he was loosed from the shafts; at which moments he would roll on
his back, kick up his heels and gallop madly round the goat-pasture to
the alarm of the tethered browsers. And even at his professional pace he
always kept his mane flying. One accomplishment, however, Methusalem had
which no “Mazeppa” steed could have bettered, nay, which made a circus
pedigree plausible. He could lift the latch of gates with his nose and
walk through. It was a trick which Jinny, with her habit of not
alighting, had fostered in him: if the gate did not swing to, she could
usually close it with the butt-end of her whip—through the cart-rear at
the worst—a procedure which, with her further habit of using short cuts
and even private tracks like that at Bellropes Park, saved not a little
time, and was some compensation for Methusalem’s general crawl.

If the local carrying business had grown indistinguishable from Jinny,
it seemed no less bound up with her four-footed companions, whose
ghostly figures, seen looming through the wintry dusk, sent a glow of
warmth through the bleak countryside.


                                   IV

But to-day Jinny’s horn, Nip’s yap, and Methusalem’s pseudo-spirited
pawing, were alike powerless to evoke the familiar forth-bustling of
Caleb and Martha. Only cocks crowed and doves moaned, while from the
river-slope came the lowing of cattle. Alarmed for the lonely and aged
couple, Jinny jumped down and tapped at the door. Nobody replying, she
lifted the latch and came from the joyous spring sunshine on a chill,
silent piece of hall-way in which even the tall clock had stopped dead.
She peeped perfunctorily into the musty parlour on her way to the
kitchen—the lozenge-shaped motto: “When He giveth quietness, who then
can make trouble?” seemed to have taken on a strange and solemn
significance. But she knew that the kitchen was the likeliest lair, so
not pausing to examine, the ominously unopened letter addressed to Mrs.
Flynt which she espied on the mantelpiece, she pressed on to the rear.
The kitchen, however, was still more desolate, not only of the couple,
but of the habitual glow on the cavernous hearth. What wonder if Nip,
who had followed her, set up an uncanny whining! She halloaed up the
staircase, but that only aggravated the silence. She dashed next door to
the shepherd’s section—similar solitude! With a feeling of lead at her
heart she rushed back into the ironic sunshine and towards the
orchard—now unbearably beautiful in its blossoming—and as she was
approaching a remote corner that harboured the pigsty in which Martha’s
pet sow carried on a lucrative maternity, she was half relieved to
collide with Caleb who was moving houseward with haggard eyes and carpet
slippers.

“Is anything the matter?” she gasped.

“Sow glad you’ve come. The missus keeps arxing for you. We’ve been up
all night with her.”

“With your wife?”

He looked astonished. “Noa, Maria!”

Jinny’s full relief found vent in a peal of laughter.

“It’s no laughin’ matter—the missus wants ye to tell the wet to come at
once.”

“But what’s the matter with her?” inquired Jinny, still unable to rise
to his seriousness. “A snout-ache?”

“She’s a goner,” said Caleb solemnly. “We’ve reared up nine boys, but
Maria’s been more trouble than the lot. The missus would bring her up by
hand, and Oi always prophesied she wouldn’t live.”

Amusedly aware that Maria’s progeny had already exceeded sixty, Jinny
offered to visit the patient.

“Do—that’ll comfort the missus and ye’ll know better what to tell
Jorrow. Oi’ll hold your hoss. You know the way—behind the red
may-tree.”

Jinny smiled again. The idea of Methusalem needing restraint amused her,
but she did not dispel Caleb’s romantic illusion.

The sick sty was visible through a half-door that gave at once air and
view, and over which Nip at once bounded on to the startled Martha’s
back as she hung over the prostrate pig on its bed of dirty straw. Maria
belonged to the Society of Large Black Pigs, and snuffed the world
through a long, fine snout; but life had evidently lost its savour, for
the poor sow was turning restlessly.

“Oh, Jinny!” moaned Martha. “She had thirteen last time, and I knew it
was an unlucky number.”

“Nonsense!” quoth Jinny gaily. “Twelve would have been less lucky—at
the price I got you!”

“Yes, dearie, but I’m not thinking of prices. She was a birthday present
for my loneliness.”

“I know,” said Jinny gently.

“No, you don’t.” She wrung her hands. The self-possession Caleb had
admired when the letter broke on their lives was no longer hers. “You’ve
got lots of Brethren and Sisters, but I’ve got nobody to break bread
with, no fraternal gatherings to go to, and even Flynt won’t be
immersed, though he’s in his sixty-nine and we must all fall asleep some
day. So it was a comfort to have Maria following me about everywhere
like Nip does you, and I do believe she’s got more sense than the
so-called Christians here, and would be the first to pray for the peace
of Jerusalem with me if she could only speak. But now even Maria may be
taken from me. You’ll send Jorrow at once, won’t you, dearie?”

“But what’s the matter with her?”

“Can’t you see? All night she kept rooting up the ground. Oh, I hope it
isn’t fever.”

“Rubbish! Look at the skin of her ears. And she isn’t coughing at all.
What’s she been overeating?”

“Nothing—only the grass Flynt has been cutting.”

“Why don’t you give her a dose of castor-oil?”

“She won’t take it. She knows we’ve covered it up—I told you she’s got
as much brains as a Christian.”

“Let me try and get it down.”

“It _is_ down. The piglets ate the mess up.”

“Oh dear!” laughed Jinny. “That _will_ need Jorrow. Anything else, Mrs.
Flynt?”

“I can’t think this morning. Ask Flynt.”

Caleb, however, proved equally distraught.

“There was summat extra special, Oi know,” he said, his red-shirted arm
clinging heroically to Methusalem’s bridle, “for here’s the knot in my
hankercher. But what it singafies Lord onny knows.”

“It wasn’t a new shirt?” she suggested slyly.

He shook his head. “Noa, noa; this keeps her colour as good as new. But
the missus did make a talk about my Sunday neckercher.”

“I’ll get you a new one. Plain or speckled?”

“Oi leaves that to you, Jinny—you know more about stoylish things.”


                                   V

On her winding and much-halting way to Chipstone, Jinny took advantage
of the absence of the noble family and the complaisance of her customer,
the lodge-keeper, to smuggle her plebeian vehicle through Bellropes
Park, which was not only a mile shorter, but dodged the turnpike with
its aproned harpy of a tollman; she loved the great avenues of oaks, and
the shining lake, the game of swans, and the sense of historic
splendour; and Nip, as if with a sense of stolen sweets, sniffed never
more happily, though when they got within view of the water, he had to
be summoned back to his headquarters-basket by a stern military note, a
combat between himself and the swans not commending itself to his
mistress. Some of these irascible Graces floated now on the margin,
meticulously picking their tail-feathers, contorting their necks. But
vastly more exciting were those of the flock far out on that spacious
sparkle of brown water. They seemed to be going spring-mad and threshing
the scintillating water with their wings, oaring themselves thus along,
each one infecting the other, till the water itself seemed to be leaping
in a shimmering frenzy of froth. Even the ducks reared up or stood on
their heads in a sort of intoxication. And this sense of the joy and
beauty of the spring communicated itself to the girl, not in jubilance,
but in some exquisite wistfulness: some craving of the blood for
mysterious adventure. Something seemed calling at once out of the past
and out of the future. And then her thoughts wandered back to Frog Farm
and the Flynts and the far-scattered youths with whom she had formerly
ridden to Sunday-school, and suddenly by a flash from her
subconsciousness she recognized the writing of the unopened letter on
Martha’s mantelpiece: of the letter she had scarcely looked at. Surely,
though the curves were bolder, it was the work of the very same male
hand that had written on the fly-leaf of a Peculiar hymn-book the
inspired quatrain—which she had admired from her childhood—beginning:

    _Steal not this book for fear of shame:_

an admonition she thought peculiarly appropriate to the holy book it
guarded. And with the memory of the fly-leaf surged up also the
face—the long-forgotten, freckled face of the youngest and most
headstrong of the Flynt boys: the Will, flouted as “Carrots,” but in her
opinion the handsomest of the batch, who had always loomed over her with
such grown-up if genial grandeur, and had given her his bull-roarer and
threaded birds’ eggs for her before she had come to think their
collection wicked. What a hullabaloo when the boy disappeared—he must
have been hardly thirteen, she began computing—and she, the child of
nine or so who could have comforted the distracted Martha, had dared say
no word, because he had made her swear on that very hymn-book to keep
his flight silent. Just as she was permeated by the solemnity of the
book and the oath on it, he had thrown it away, she remembered, thrown
it into the bushes from the wagon in which he was driving her home from
chapel.

The details of that forgotten summer Sunday began to come back: most
vividly of all, the boy struggling and sobbing when his buttons were cut
off. He had been so proud of his new velvet jacket with its manifold
rows of blue buttons, and lo! after Sunday-school his father had
appeared with a somewhat crestfallen look and a pair of scissors,
saying, “You don’t want all this flummery,” while Elder
Mawhood—evidently the admonishing angel—had stood grimly by, intoning
“Pride is abominable. Wanity must be rooted out.”

The boy had choked back his sobs, and apparently found solace in the
evening hymns, and was further soothed by being allowed at his own
request to drive the party home. It was felt—especially by Martha—some
compensation for the buttons was due to him. Thus when the wagon had
reached Swash End and the bulk of the Flynt family got off according to
custom—mud and weather permitting—and walked up to Frog Farm, leaving
Jinny to be driven round the long detour to her home at Blackwater Hall,
she was left alone with Will.

It was then that, having asked her if she could keep a secret and being
assured she could, he informed her to her admiring horror that the
moment he had safely delivered her on the road by the Common, he would
turn his horse’s head for Harwich, where (stabling the horse and wagon
so that his parents might trace his intention) he would take ship as a
cabin-boy or a stowaway for America, where he was sure to come across
his brother Ben, and never would she see him again in Bradmarsh till he
had made his fortune.

She could see him now, under a late sunset that was like his hair, with
his flashing, freckled face, his blazing blue eyes, and his poor,
defaced jacket, the thready stubs of the big buttons showing like scars.
Their quaint dialogue came back vividly to her.

“Oh, Will, but can’t you make your fortune here?”

“No, thank you—no more chapel for me!”

“I know it’s hard—and you did look beautiful with the buttons—but
isn’t it more beautiful to please God?”

“Rubbish! What does God care about my buttons?”

“He’s pleased, just as I like your giving me birds’ eggs.”

“But I didn’t give my buttons—they were snatched from me—through that,
beastly old Mawhood.”

“But Elder Mawhood knows what God wants.”

“Let him cut off his own nose and not go smelling into everybody’s
business. The other day he made poor old Sister Tarbox get riddy of her
cat.”

“That was kindness, because it had to be shut up alone all Sunday while
she was at chapel.”

“I believe it was only to make more rats for him to kill.”

“That’s not true, Will. You know Sister Tarbox is too poor to have her
cottage cleared.”

“Well, let him look after his rats and cats—not me.”

“An elder must do his duty.”

“I hate elders and deacons and hymn-books. Yah! I’m done with religion,
thank God.”

“Oh, Will, you mustn’t speak like that!”

“Fancy stewing in chapel in weather like this!”

“Isn’t this just the weather to thank God for?”

“No—it’s all silliness.”

“Oh, Will!”

“Yes, it is! You ask Brother Bundock—I don’t mean old Mr. Bundock. I
asked him once who wrote our hymn-book and he said, ‘’Twixt you and I,
the village idiot!’”

“You are talking wickedly, Will”—there were tears in the voice now.
“You mustn’t run away, that’s more wicked.”

“Oh—I was an idiot myself to tell you. You are going to peach on me, I
suppose.”

“Peach?”

“Tell your grandfather about my running away.”

“Not if you don’t do it.”

“But I shall do it! And you promised to keep the secret. To tell would
be more wicked than me.”

“I won’t tell, but you mustn’t go.”

“I must. Swear not to betray me. Kiss my hymn-book.”

It was with some soothed sense of restored sanctities that she had
pressed her lips to the holy cover—she still remembered its smell and
taste, salted with a tear of her own—but what a fresh and mightier
shock, that throwing of the book into the bushes!

“Stop! Stop!” She heard the little girl’s horror-struck cry over the
years; remembered how, as he laughed and drove on furiously with her,
the phrase “drive like the devil” had come to her mind, charged for the
first time with meaning.

Wilful boy had had his way: he had escaped from England and
even—despite his diabolism—by the aid of the ninepence she had
insisted on bringing down from her money-box while he waited trustfully
outside her grandfather’s domain. But she had not responded in kind to
the lordly kiss he had blown her as he drove off to America.

“Good-bye, little Jinny!”

“Good-bye, Will. Say your prayers!”

“Not me!”

“Then I shall pray for you!”

When the hue and cry was out, and bellmen were busy with his carroty
head and velvet jacket with the buttons cut off, little Jinny had also
gone a-hunting—but for the outraged hymn-book. It lay now still hidden
in a drawer—the one secret of her life—unmentioned even when by the
bulky clue of the horse and cart the fugitive had been traced, as he
designed.

Yes, she must disinter this hymn-book of his from its hiding-place,
compare the inscription—she knew by now the rhyme was not
original—with her memory of Martha’s letter. What was its postmark, she
wondered. Well, she would find that out, indeed the whole contents, on
her return to Frog Farm. Perhaps he was coming back—his fortune already
made. And the revived sense of his wickedness was mixed with a sense of
her own soon-forgotten resolve—or threat—to pray for him, and was
blurred in some strange emotion, in which the glamorous freshness of
child-feeling mingled with a leaping of the heart that was like the
spring-joy of the swans.


                                   VI

But Jorrow could not make the journey that day to that remote farm.
There were more important animals more expensively endangered and more
easily accessible. Old sows were so fussy, and to judge by the symptoms
it was a mere case for castor-oil. But precisely because Jinny had
herself recommended this drug-of-all-work she felt unconvinced: it
seemed a mere glib formula for being “riddy” of her. There was another
resource, Elijah Skindle, who, having settled in Chipstone only five
years ago, practised only among parvenus like himself. It was not
because he was a “furriner,” nor even because he had started as a
knacker and still had a nondescript status, that Jinny shrank from
calling him in now: she had more than once deposited damaged dogs with
him or deported them mended. But she objected to the appraising gaze he
fixed upon her on these occasions, though to be sure her objection to
these jaunts was not so strong as Nip’s, who, seeing in every canine
co-occupant of the cart a possible supplanter, bristled and whined and
barked till the rival was safely discharged. But, on her way home,
overcoming her repugnance—for Martha’s sake, if not Maria’s or
duty’s—she stopped her cart outside his pretentious black gauze blind
and blew a rousing blast. A tall, black-eyed, grey-haired woman, issuing
from the office door with a broom, who appeared to be Mr. Skindle’s
mother, informed her that ’Lijah was “full up”: however, he could be
found at the kennels if Jinny insisted on seeing him. She pointed
vaguely to a field behind the house, visible through an unpaved alley
yawning between the sober Skindle window and its flamboyant neighbour,
the chemist’s. But it was in vain that Jinny clucked to Methusalem to
thread the alley. The beast refused absolutely.

Alighting with some dim understanding of his instinct, she walked to the
field-gate over which a horse was gazing at her. Lifting the latch, she
wandered among other happily scampering horses in search of the kennels,
finding at first only a barn-like structure, a glance through whose
doors at the flagstoned paving that sloped to a centre turned her sick.
For a pyramid of horses’ feet was the least repulsive indication, though
even the homely skewers so agreeable to Squibs took on a sinister hue.
The spectacle, however, served to make the kennels, when at last
discovered, a lesser horror. But it was the first time she had seen dogs
so far gone in distemper, and these rheumy-eyed skeletons, each chained
in its niche, sullied the springtide and haunted her for days. She
caught up Nip, who had come to heel, as though he too might pine
suddenly into skin and bone. Nip himself, it must be confessed, regarded
these shadows of his species with indifference, if not with
satisfaction, as negligible competitors.

Elijah Skindle, discovered on his knees in the act of feeding a pathetic
poodle, was as unstrung by the sight of Jinny as Jinny by the sight of
the dogs. His black cutty pipe fell from his lips and he nearly stuck
the dog’s spoon into his own open mouth. But mastering himself, and
without raising his cap or his pipe or changing his attitude, he gasped
out: “Hullo! Nip ill?”

Jinny replied curtly—for there was a familiarity that repelled her in
his calling Nip by his right name—, “No, a sow at Frog Farm—Little
Bradmarsh, you know.”

His heart leapt. Frog Farm meant an old inhabitant, local prejudice was
then beginning to melt at last! But, “Rather out of my radius,” he said
with pretended indifference. “Besides,” as he reached for his pipe, “my
nag’s gone lame.”

“I could give you a lift,” said Jinny, outwitted for once, since it
never struck her that this was precisely what Elijah had fished for and
why he had lamed his beast. The spoon trembled in his hand, but he
replied grumblingly, “But then I should have to come at once.”

“I’m afraid so,” said Jinny.

Mr. Skindle rose and brushed his knees. “Anything to oblige a lady,” he
said.

“It isn’t me, it’s Maria,” said Jinny icily.


                                  VII

But Jinny was not altogether outmanœuvred, for while Mr. Skindle was
getting his case of utensils, she filled up the rest of her seat—it was
a stuffed seat covered with sacking—by means of a peculiarly precious
parcel, needing a vigilant eye: no new device this, but her habitual
protection against bores or adorers, and Skindle, she feared, was both.
This swain-chaser or maid-protector was kept in a corner of the cart
ready for emergencies, being an elongated package of stones, marked
“Fragile.” The stones had to be jagged and uncouth or Nip would have
squatted on it and roused suspicion. This was the only parcel she lifted
herself, and it figured in her own mind as “The Scarecrow.”

And so, despite Mr. Skindle’s offer to nurse it on his knees, she put
him behind her—not as a Satan, for his seductiveness was small. He had,
it is true, a good styside manner, and his slim figure, outlined by a
trimly cut pepper-and-salt suit, effused a sense of vitality. But his
straw-coloured moustache, which was not without its female votaries, was
for Jinny more of a puzzle than a decoration, for she could not
reconcile its flowingness with the desolating baldness that any shifting
of his cap revealed. His cranium was, in fact, like the advertisement of
a hair-restorer in the picture preceding the application thereof. As
fixed a feature of his face as the grey cap which concealed his calvity
was the black cutty pipe stuck in his stained teeth, nor had Jinny ever
seen him without a large pearl horseshoe pin in his tie.

“Please don’t smoke,” she said, as he climbed in by the tail-board,
“Gran’fer would smell it.”

“And why shouldn’t he?”

“He’s a Wesleyan.”

“Oh!” He laughed without comprehension, a shade scoffingly.

“And the smell might get into people’s parcels,” she added.

Bestowing himself under the tilt as well as he could on a box, grazed at
his side by a ledge he considered too narrow to sit on, and threatened
with decapitation through a plank holding the smaller parcels that ran
athwart the cart just above his head, Mr. Skindle gazed up over this
shelf at the glorious view of the back of Jinny’s bonnet and feasted his
eyes on her graceful dorsal curves and the more variegated motions of
her driving arm, not to mention the succession of lovely rural
backgrounds made for her figure by the arch of the awning. And his
ill-humour melted, and though his pipe grew cold his heart began to
glow. But Jinny took no more notice of him than if he had been himself a
box. No wonder he began to feel closed and corded up, bursting though he
knew himself to be with soul-riches. For a full mile, his extinct pipe
in his teeth, he heard only the monotonous snap of Methusalem’s hoofs as
if everything along the road was snapping in a frost. The unjaded steed
had actually started off at almost a trot, and as the Gaffer explained
once, “a hoss what has long lopes knocks his fitten together.” Then—as
if to mark how completely her passenger was forgotten—one of her
grandfather’s songs began to steal from her lips. It was not “High
Barbary” nor “Admiral Benbow,” nor yet his favourite “Oi’m seventeen
come Sunday,” which the nonagenarian sang daily with growing conviction.
It was—and Nip would have been the first to be surprised, had he
understood it—the old English air:

        _The hunt is up, the hunt is up, and it is wellnigh day,_
        _And Harry our King has gone huntynge, to bring the deer to bay._

Perhaps it was the influence of her horn; perhaps she was an artist who
could enjoy in song what she could not suffer in life. Or perhaps she
loved the lilt of the old song and never thought of the meaning, or only
of the bravery of the spectacle and the gay coming of the dawn. For, all
untrained as she was, she vibrated peculiarly to music, and one of the
wonderful moments of her young life was when she first heard a hymn sung
in parts at the Sunday-school; to her ear, accustomed only to the solo
quavering of the Gaffer, was revealed harmony; a starry new universe and
a blood-tickling enchantment in one.

Almost at the first outbreak of the hunting song Nip appeared at a run,
and with two bounds he established himself in his mistress’s
lap—invidiously enough in Elijah’s eyes. For that silvery little voice,
rippling along the lonely road with the unconscious joyance of a
blackbird’s, completed the spell which the spring landscape—seen in
that series of pictures framed by the arch of the tilt—was weaving on
the doomed veterinary surgeon.

There were sheep, big and little, lying in the wide fields and great,
newly ploughed spaces of red, freshly turned earth—for the first time
Elijah felt the scarecrows as a degradation of all this primeval beauty.
Apple-trees flowered in the cottage gardens and in the hedges was early
May-blossom, and on the brinks primroses, anemones, and even a few
precocious bluebells rioted in an intoxicating fertility of beauty.
Larks rose palpitating with song, bumble-bees boomed, butterflies
flittered, and ever and anon came the haunting cry of the cuckoo. And
when Jinny’s voice soared up too, Elijah Skindle’s heart seemed melting
down his spine.


                                  VIII

“That’s a lucky dog of yours,” he said desperately, when the music
ceased.

“That’s what I thought at your place,” she replied through the back of
her head.

“Not had distemper yet?”

He saw her shoulders shudder. There was an awkward silence.

“You know I’d gladly look after him gratis,” he blundered on, “and you
too.” Then, in a horrible consciousness of the pathological implication,
he awaited the lash of her tongue.

But she must have been abstracted. For she only said politely: “Thanks
very much. But I always go to Jorrow’s.”

Yes, he reflected bitterly, and always went there for other people
unless Skindle’s was expressly stipulated.

But they were now approaching the first village after Chipstone, and the
outside world intruded on the idyll. A dozen times he vaulted up and
down to prevent interloping young men—sometimes armed with
nosegays—receiving parcels too proximately; and he had a proud and
malicious pleasure in their disconcerted unspoken surmise as to his
privileged situation. The small coin of conversation appertaining to
these deliveries Jinny did not refuse him, and every cluck she gave to
Methusalem, every ripple of laughter on her busy way, deepened the
spell. The unexpected faces; the quaint cottage interiors; the
cheerful-smiling women in high green aprons who received stay-laces or
bobbins, sugar or tea-packets, in bare dough-powdered or soap-frothed
arms; the panting figures that tolled after the cart with forgotten
bundles; the dogs—the fiercer in their barrels and boxes, the milder
waving free and friendly tails; the quaint commissions and monitions,
the salutations and farewells—“I’ll remember the twopence,” “And tell
my brother, won’t you, about the christening,” “I don’t want any more of
her puddings, they put the miller’s eye out”—all this fascinating
bustle and chatter, spiced with friendly laughter, seemed to belong to
an enchanted earth of which gaiety was the ground-note, not animal
groaning. The windings of her horn completed his sense of fairyland.

In the remoter woodland regions he was possessed alternately with a
disapprobation of her recklessness in trusting herself thus alone with a
male, far from help, and a surprise at his own passivity in so provoking
and romantic a situation. Of course he was going to behave like the
gentleman he was, but why was she so irritatingly sure of it? Did she
think he wasn’t flesh and blood? She might at least show some
consciousness of his chivalry!

But his resentment at her professional nonchalance only served to
confirm his long-standing suspicion that here at last was the girl for
him: that he was choosing well if not wisely. Doubtless Chipstone and
his mother would say he was marrying too much beneath him. But look at
the farmers’ daughters—what lumps beside her! He admitted, of course,
that the Blanche of Foxearth Farm to whom his mother mainly aspired was
an exception, but then this Purley minx was hopelessly out of reach,
stuck up on her pedestal of beauty, conceit, and culture, and throwing
over even her affianced wooers. As for his neighbour, the chemist’s
girl—what _could_ his mother see in her except that annuity which would
not even survive her, and she not looking particularly strong! No, with
the present satisfactory amount of sheep-rot, glanders, and distemper he
could afford to please himself. And if Jinny couldn’t play the piano
like the land-surveyor’s widow, why one must content oneself with the
horn, pending initiation into the higher life. Together they would work
up the business. With Jinny’s connexion—though of course she must give
up carrying and become a lady—there would surely be a trail of sick
beasts in her wake: Jorrow would soon be out-distanced. They would live
away from his office; that could all be turned into dog-hospital.

Such were the kennels in the air built by the enamoured Elijah as he sat
on boxes or hampers or panted under their weight in his officious
deliveries: an officiousness which drove out of her head the keg of oil
destined for Uckford Manor.

“Oh, dear!” she murmured suddenly, a mile later.

Forcing the explanation from her, he cried joyfully, “Let’s go back.”

Jinny shook her head. “No time,” she said, and flicked at Methusalem.

“But I don’t mind being late.”

“I’m not thinking of you—but of the pig.”

“Bother the pig.”

“Is that the way you study your patients?”

“I’ve got better things to study.” He could only say it to her back, but
he threw enough intensity into it to come out on the other side of her.

“Indeed!” The back seemed impenetrable. “You going into another
business?”

“Why ever should I when I’m getting on so famously—ten pound a week, if
a penny.” It was an opportunity made to his hand. “I know,” he went on,
as the back remained rigid, “that folks pretend it’s not as high-class
as real doctoring, but believe me it needs more brains.”

“Does it?”

“Stands to reason. A human being can tell you what he feels and where
the pain lays, but with a dumb beast you’ve got only your own sense and
skill to go on: it’s us vets that should really be at the top of the
profession.”

“But sick babies are dumb too,” Jinny reminded him.

“Sick babies have talking mammas,” he replied genteelly.

Jinny did not imitate them, and silence fell again, tempered by
Methusalem’s snappings. Really, it was very awkward, Elijah felt, thus
proposing to a girl behind her back. But he struggled gallantly. “Take
stomach staggers now—if those horses you saw waiting to be killed this
evening had been treated in time——!”

“The horses in your field?” cried Jinny, shocked. “But they looked so
lively.”

“They’re all like that,” he explained. “Once out of harness they get a
bit jaunty again, but they’re worth more dead than alive.”

“It’s dreadful killing off a horse that has served one!” Jinny burst
out. “Just for a few shillings!”

“A few shillings? Why there’s horses over two-fifty pounds! Flesh, I
mean,” he explained, with a chuckle. “Not to mention the skin, hair and
bones. Why, there’s eighty pounds of intestines for sausage-skins!”

“Oh, do hold your tongue!” cried Jinny, feeling sick again.

“Yes, and what about _his_ tongue!” retorted Elijah triumphantly. “It
ain’t only Frenchies that get that. And his tail waving for funerals!
And his hoofs in your own shoe-buttons!”

Jinny felt indeed as though hoofs had descended on her feet, and she
could almost have sacrificed Methusalem’s high-waving tail to adorn her
passenger’s obsequies.

“My neighbour, the chemist—he buys the blood!” continued the ghoulish
Elijah. “He makes it into——”

But just here at a cross-road Jinny’s horn signalled to a smart young
man in a velvet waistcoat, who was driving a trap, and brought him to a
standstill. Would Barnaby deliver a keg of oil at Uckford Manor if he
was passing that way?

That Manor was, it transpired, the one goal and purpose of Barnaby’s
journey.

Jinny—well aware young Purley was homeward bound for Foxearth
Farm—gave him a radiant smile, and Elijah threw him the keg and a
furious look, a reliable fellow-feeling informing him that the velvety
liar was going at least two miles out of his way. Downright dishonest he
felt it, seeing that neither the young man’s time nor his trap was his
own, but belonged to his father, the hurdle-maker. But what could you
expect of Blanche’s brother? Let Jinny beware of the family fickleness,
let her lean on a less showy but manlier breast.

“I wonder you don’t arrange your things village by village instead of
letting ’em lay all over the vehicle,” he observed as she drove on.

“I shan’t forget where to drop you,” came the answer over her cold
shoulder.

Then silence fell more painfully than ever, and the monotonous tick-tack
of Methusalem maddened his conscious ear. The monstrous possibility
began to loom up that Jinny’s affections were pre-engaged to some one of
these numerous young men. His eye fell upon a coil of rope hung round a
loose hoop of the tilt, and morbid thoughts of using it—whether on the
young men or himself was not clear—floated vaguely in his usually
serene soul. Presently he noted other coils on other ribs, and their
plurality suggested it was for the young men, not himself, that rope was
appropriate. What else were they there for, he wondered dully? Yes, let
her fiancés go hang: engagements could always be broken off—nothing
venture, nothing have!

To nerve himself for the great question he took advantage of the pause
at Long Bradmarsh while Methusalem was drinking at the trough of “The
King of Prussia.” But this imitation of Methusalem on a stronger fluid
was fatal, for in Jinny’s persistent silence, the animal’s tick-tacks
now grew soothing: he settled himself more comfortably on the emptier
floor of the cart, with his head on a soft bundle, and watched the nape
of Jinny’s neck till it faded into a great white sea of floating ice. He
was struggling in it for hours, but at last the cold waves passed over
his head, and Jinny, turning to throw out a parcel, saw that his cap had
fallen off in his writhings, leaving his baldness almost indecently
glaring.

So deep was he in his daymare that he was quite unaware of Jinny’s
colloquy with another male whom her horn had hailed as they passed over
the bridge to Little Bradmarsh. Not that there was anything in Ephraim
Bidlake to excite apprehension, for he was a stalwart Peculiar, safely
married, and residing with his family and two twin-nieces of his
wife’s—Sophy and Sally—on board the billyboy whose great boomless
black sail Jinny had espied darkening the water with its shadow.
Bidlake’s barge was a cross between a Norfolk wherry and a ferry-boat,
and plied up and down the Brad, loading at the wharves with its
half-lowered mast for crane, or carrying man and cattle across the
bridgeless sections when it had nothing better to do. There was not much
money coming in at the best, and it was often Jinny’s privilege to eke
out the barge’s larder under pretence of presents for the motherless
Sophy and Sally, so tragically fathered. For Ephraim Bidlake, a shaggy
giant with doglike eyes, had brought the “little furriners” from
Hampshire when their mother died after their father—Mrs. Bidlake’s
brother—had been transported to Botany Bay for burning a rick in some
old agricultural riot against the introduction of machinery. The blot on
their scutcheon had been concealed from the new neighbourhood, but had
been gradually confided by Mrs. Bidlake to Jinny with protestations of
her brother’s innocence—had he not been made a constable in the very
convict ship? By degrees, too, she had conveyed to the girl a vivid
picture of the trial and deportation. For the devoted sister had walked
the bulk of the way to Winchester, in the hope of proving his innocence
by collecting testimonies to his character, and had joined the mob of
weeping women who hung round the gaol gates night and day, or crowded
the court, only to witness the sanctimonious cruelty of the bewigged
judges, and the tragic exodus of the damned in the prison coach, guarded
by a file of soldiers, to lie in the hulks at Southampton till they were
shipped to savage Australia, there to be assigned to brutal stockowners.
It was an experience which had cost Mrs. Bidlake dear; her next child
had been stillborn, and to this day she had never reared but one more
infant, and that a still delicate one. But for the comfort of the
Peculiar faith it would have been a cheerless household. She was now
again brought to bed: it was to inquire about her that Jinny had hailed
the barge, and very sad she was to learn from Brother Bidlake—when he
had punted within earshot—that the new baby had succumbed after a few
hours, though the “missus,” thank God, was recovering and the twins were
“wunnerful good and helpful.” She was not sorry, however, that the
undoctored infant had departed with a precipitation which rendered an
inquest unlikely, for inquests were the bane of the Brotherhood.


                                   IX

It was twilight when Methusalem drew up again before the twin doors.
This time Caleb did not fail.

“Sow glad you ain’t brought the wet!”

“But I have—he’s snoring inside,” Jinny called down.

“Lord!” said Caleb, taking another look. “Oi did see his head, but by
this owl-light Oi thought ’twas a cheese.”

Jinny’s laugh rippled out and Elijah Skindle started up and sneezed. He
looked round dazedly for his cap.

“We’ve arrived?” he asked shamefacedly, clapping it on.

“Yes,” said Jinny, “but the pig’s all right. I fear you’ve had a wasted
journey.” She jumped down.

“Wasted?” He sat up ardently. “Don’t say wasted.”

“A good nap _is_ a comfort,” she agreed.

“I may have dozed off—your singing rocked me to sleep, I reckon. But
all the while I’ve been trying to tell you——” His voice broke.

“I know,” she said softly. “I heard you.”

“Did I talk in my sleep?” he asked innocently.

“Through your nose.”

He winced as at a blow on it. “That’s—that’s nature,” he stammered: “I
don’t suppose even females are free from snoring.”

“Maria isn’t,” observed Jinny, patting Methusalem.

Martha hurried out happily, with a piece of sugar for the same favoured
beast.

“Maria’s been walking with me!” she cried rapturously.

“And eating hearty,” added Caleb. “If you ask me, she was drunk.”

“Oh, Flynt!” cried Martha. “Aren’t you ashamed to speak like that about
your own pig; and before strangers?”

“But that rolled and kicked last night same as a sow Oi seen once that
swallowed a thick wine. Happen Maria got swillin’ at old Peartree’s
beer-barrel!”

“How could she do that?” Jinny protested.

“Turned on the tap like a Christian. Same as your Methusalem opens our
gate.”

Elijah picked up his pipe and his cap and scrambled down. “Appears to me
I’ve been brought here under false pretences.”

“We’ll pay you all the same,” said Caleb with dignity.

“But how am I to get back to Chipstone?” He had followed Maria in
reckless abandonment, and now came the prose of life with its questions.

“If we’re going to pay the gentleman,” put in Martha, “he may as well
have a look at Maria.”

Mr. Skindle agreed it was as well to make a possible future patient’s
acquaintance, but repeated his inquiry.

“There’s Shanks’s mare,” said Jinny blandly.

Caleb pointed towards the brook. “It’s onny seven miles by Swash End
through Plashy Walk.”

“Plashy Hall has a dog,” objected Elijah.

“Well, you’re used to dogs,” said Jinny.

“My instrument-case is too heavy. You’ll have to give me a lift to your
house.”

“With pleasure,” she said. “But Blackwater Hall is still farther from
Chipstone.”

“Anyhow I can get a trap from the village,” he said firmly.

“No, you can’t, and even if you walk to Long Bradmarsh it’s a toss-up if
you’ll get anything at ‘The King of Prussia.’”

“Well, take me as far as the bridge—I’ll pay extra.”

“I can’t guarantee Methusalem will go back.”

“That’s all right,” he said cheerfully. “Horses know I stand no
nonsense. And now, Uncle, as soon as I’ve lit my pipe, I’ll be ready for
the pig. Got a match?”

To his disgust, Caleb produced a lucifer and a phial of sulphuric acid
for dipping it in. The now well-established friction matches—that boon
to the idle and extravagant—had not yet reached Frog Farm, where even
flint and steel had been dispossessed but slowly. But the relit pipe was
comforting.

“Wait a moment, Mr. Flynt,” said Jinny, tendering a packet as he started
convoying the vet. “Your neckerchief!”

“Neckerchief!” cried Martha. “And what about my new bonnet?”

“’Twas only to be cleaned,” Caleb reminded her. “And by the same token,
mother, don’t forget we settled the wet was to read the letter.”

Elijah raised his eyebrows.

“Ah, yes—I’ll get it.” And Martha hurried within.

“You see, Jinny,” Caleb explained, “the missus got a letter from Cousin
Caroline, and we thought the gentleman here could make one job of it
with the pig.”

“But why can’t I read it?”

“You ain’t married.”

“No more is Mr. Skindle.” Elijah flushed furiously.

“Noa—but ef it’s too—too womanish, Oi’ll arx him kindly to break it to
me, sow Oi can break it to the missus when he’s gone.”

“Is this the letter?” asked Jinny, as Martha reappeared with it.

“That’s her—came all of an onplunge,” he repeated.

“But that’s not from your Cousin Caroline!” said Jinny, with a thrill of
excitement as she took it.

“Noa?” gasped Caleb, as if the world was tumbling about his ears. Then
he smiled. “You’re making game—you ain’t opened her yet.”

“But who else is it from?” cried Martha, catching her excitement.

“Can’t you see? It’s from Will.”

“Will!” Martha gave a great cry, and clutched at the letter. “My baby
Will!”

Caleb scratched his head. “Now which would be Will?”

“Will was the freckled, good-looking one,” said Jinny.

“Oh, Jinny,” said Martha. “They were all good-looking—took after Flynt.
Dear heart, you can’t ha’ forgotten our tot after all that flurry. ’Tis
only seven or eight years since he——”

“Ay, ay,” cried Caleb. “Him what mowed the cat’s whiskers.”

“No, dear heart, that was Ben.”

“To be sure. Ben’s the barber in New York—or some such place.”

“No, Caleb. That’s Isaac.”

“Isaac? Then Will ’ud be the one what married the coffee-coloured lady.”

“I told you the other day that was Christopher.”

“Ay, him in Australia.”

“Africa surely,” put in Elijah, puffing at his pipe with superior
amusement.

“They furrin places be much of a muchness,” said Caleb. “And my buoy-oys
were as like as a baker’s dozen.”

“There were girls in the batch,” corrected Martha. “But how you can
forget that dreadful Sunday night, you who snipped the darling’s
buttons——!”

“If I don’t see the pig soon,” interrupted Elijah, losing patience, “the
light’ll be gone altogether.”

“Oi’ll git a lantern,” said Caleb placidly. “Oi often used to set and
wonder how they lads knowed theirselves, the one from the ’tother. Well,
the Lord bless ’em all, says Oi, wherever they goo, and whichever they
be.”

“So you see,” said Jinny, with a faint blush hardly visible by
owl-light, “there’s no need to waste Mr. Skindle’s time over the
letter.”

“No more there ain’t!” said Caleb dazedly. “Come along, sir!”


                                   X

But Martha still clung strangely to the letter she had snatched back.
“You mustn’t strain your eyes, Jinny,” she said. “I’ll light the lamp.
And you’ll take a cup of tea first. You must be tired out.”

“But I can see quite well,” said Jinny. Indeed the sky, despite the
risen moon, remained blue, and splashes of dying sunset burned magically
through the yet empty branches of the quiet trees. There was a great
sense of space and peace and beauty: a subtle waft from the stacks; the
note of the thrush was full of evening restfulness. Jinny took the
letter from the reluctant Martha.

“He must be back in England!” she cried. “Look at the stamp.”

Martha staggered against the cart. “It’s very good of God,” she said
simply.

Her emotion communicated itself to Jinny. Through misty eyes the girl
watched a solitary heron winging on high through the great spaces, its
legs sticking out like a tail.

“Ah, dearie,” said Martha, recovering herself, “never forget, to say
your prayers.”

“I don’t,” said Jinny with equal simplicity. But she remembered with
fresh remorse that she had forgotten those for the runaway.

“Ever since I was a little girl,” said Martha, “I’ve wanted to please
God. But of late, Jinny, I fear I’ve wanted Him to please me.”

“Well, now He has,” said Jinny. “You’ll have Will as well as Maria,” and
plucking out a hairpin she inserted it to rip open the loose
wafer-closed envelope.

“Stop!” cried Martha. “Suppose it’s bad news.”

“Nonsense, Mrs. Flynt! Look how firm the writing is.”

“Firm—yes, he always was firm—even before he drove off with the cart.
Don’t you remember that night—no, ’twas before your grandfather fetched
you to these parts—he wasn’t seven, but that pig-headed he sulked in
the wood all night—roosted up a tree like a bird, and never a move or a
word when we came halloaing with torches!”

“Well, he’s not hiding now, for the postmark’s London and——”

“No, don’t open it yet, Jinny—suppose he should be married like
Christopher!”

Jinny laughed uneasily. “Two black daughters-in-law aren’t very likely.
Much more likely she’ll be blonde.”

“No, he can’t be married,” said Martha on reflection. “He never could
abide girls. I don’t mean you, dearie; you scarcely had your second
teeth, had you?”

Jinny began to rip the envelope. “We shall soon see.”

But Martha snatched away the letter again. “I’m sure you’ll spoil your
pretty eyes,” she persisted. “Day-stars, Will called ’em once.”

Jinny laughed still more uneasily. “Then I ought to be able to read by
’em. But I’ll light my night-star.” And she moved towards the cart-lamp.

“It isn’t your lighting-up time yet, is it? You don’t want to be
wasteful.”

“Well, come in and light me a candle a moment.”

“You seem in a great hurry to read it!” said Martha fretfully.

“Me?” Jinny flushed furiously. “I thought you’d want to hear what he
says.”

“Don’t I know what he says? That he is in England again and coming to
see his old mother? Isn’t that enough for one night?”

“It’s a great deal, certainly. But suppose—he wants something.”

“Ah, that’s true!” Martha was visibly perplexed. She did not herself
understand the suddenly awakened jealous instinct that resented Jinny’s
superior acquaintance with Will’s handwriting, that was subconsciously
urging her to hug this letter to her bosom and not share its sacred
contents with a girl she at last—especially after Bundock’s recent
innuendo—realized as grown-up, and who seemed, moreover, to be claiming
a co-proprietorship. And so it was difficult for her to frame an
objection satisfactory to her conscious intelligence. But the letter was
now in her possession, and that was a strong asset for her
subconsciousness.

“’Tis a pity to _tear_ open such a beautiful envelope,” she said. “You
have your cup o’ tea. I’ll steam it over the kettle.”

“I’m afraid I haven’t time for tea, especially having to take Mr.
Skindle a bit back,” said Jinny, almost as mystified as Martha herself.
“I’m late already, and Gran’fer will be roaring for his supper. I must
read it now or never.”

“If it was anything unpleasant,” wavered Martha, “Flynt would be very
upset. And after sitting up all night with Maria—no, he must have a
good sleep—better put it off till the morning.”

“To-morrow, I won’t be here. No, not till next Friday.”

“But I’ve got to go to-morrow to Miss Gentry and she can read it.”

“Oh!” said Jinny.

“Yes, Flynt wants to have my bonnet cleaned—vanity and waste, I call
it.”

“But won’t that tire you—such a long walk? Why can’t I take the bonnet
to-night? I’ll be passing her house.”

“We haven’t finished talking it over yet, Flynt and me,” parried Martha.
“I might be having a new bonnet, you see, dearie.”

“Well, of course, it’s just as you wish. But suppose it rains
to-morrow.”

“Rains?” repeated Martha, feeling—she knew not why—like an animal at
bay. Then she drew a great breath of relief. Footsteps and voices were
borne towards them. “Caleb!” she cried joyfully, “Will’s in London—he’s
coming to see his old mother.”

“Good buoy-oy!” cried Caleb jovially. It was only what he had expected
the letter would say, but at heart he shrank from the change—he had
finally equated himself to the dual solitude, and the home-coming
prodigal loomed as menacing as Cousin Caroline.

“Good boy?” echoed Martha. “I should think he _is_—never cared for
girls. And still unmarried.”

“There’s a chance for you, Jinny,” chaffed Caleb.

“Oh, how can you talk such nonsense!” Jinny was furiously angry.
“Basket, Nip,” she called sharply, and climbed up to her seat almost as
swiftly as he leapt into his.

“Are you coming, Mr. Skindle?” In her abstraction and to busy herself
about something, she automatically removed the parcel of stones from the
driving-seat.

“In a jiffy.” Elijah did not bound as obediently as Nip—he could not
lose the chance to pontificate before her. “Not at all so well as you
think, Mrs. Flynt. We experts can see what even the breeder can’t. Keep
her upon corn and peas—give her just soft stuff.” And he vaulted not
ungracefully to Jinny’s side.

“Thank you, sir,” said Martha, impressed. “Have you paid him?” she
inquired of Caleb in a formidable whisper.

“Dedn’t Oi say Oi’d pay him for nawthen?” he answered still more
audibly.

“Well, take off your hat for good-bye.”

“But Oi ain’t inside,” said the obstinate, if confused, Caleb.

Jinny cracked her whip fiercely, and Methusalem joyously turned his nose
for home.

“Good night, Jinny. Thank’ee for reading Cousin Caroline’s letter,”
Caleb called after the receding vehicle.


                                   XI

It was symptomatic of Jinny’s new mood that she scarcely noticed that
Mr. Skindle now shared her sacking. Her mind was wandering again over
the ground covered by the Sunday-school wagon, and certain birds’ eggs,
losing their later cloud of guiltiness, lay suffused with childhood’s
holy light. Methusalem went unguided through quiet ways. The large, low
moon, a pink clown’s face, peered through leafless elms and gradually
grew golden. To the right of the winding road rooks cawed persistently,
and once a small flight flew towards the cart; to the left more
melodious birds whistled slow, high notes, or thrilled and gurgled
plaintively, or scurried off, startled, as the cart passed. One kept on
crying “Quick, quick, quick,” with a metallic sound as of shears
snipping the grass, but Methusalem was not to be hurried. There was time
to admire wherever a thatched cottage made a picturesque point or a pond
mirrored the dying sunset; time to savour the subtle balm, where
hayricks stood at the far margin of fields. Sometimes a little pig would
run round terrified and finally squeeze itself under the fence, or a big
gander would stand and hiss. Sometimes the road narrowed to a Gothic
nave, but for the most part there was nothing but a far-diffused sense
of keen air and great flat spaces, the dark blue circle of sky with
rolling white clouds, the large green fields with their distant border
of thin trees; a view unclosed and unbounded save by the horizon, though
impalpably veiling itself as they journeyed.

Elijah Skindle’s mood had changed no less than Jinny’s. Though he now
sat in the coveted proximity to her, and could propose to her profile
instead of her nape—and her bonnet was of the narrow-flanked pattern,
condemned by the more prudish of her sex, that left the profile
visible—he was subtly conscious that he was really farther from her
than before. Even when the delivery of the few remaining parcels
necessitated a slight thawing on Jinny’s part, the whole spirit seemed
to have gone out of the adventure. It was grown tasteless as a
thrice-warmed dish. The very horn had lost its thrill. Even if he found
a vehicle at “The King of Prussia,” he was thinking, it would be an
expensive trip: they might charge him all Caleb’s half-crown. He found
himself morbidly counting the coils of cord—there were five in all, he
made out. And when the rooks he called crows sailed towards him, they
gave a still more sable hue to his thoughts. He counted them, too,
remembering how his peasant mother—now installed as his
woman-of-all-work—used to curtsy to a solitary magpie, and the rhyme
she taught him about the crows: “One’s unlucky, two lucky, three is
health, four is wealth, five is sickness, and six is death.” Odd that
matrimony was not mentioned, unless it was included in “two.” There were
certainly five crows, he thought dismally—a sinister coincidence with
the coils of cord. Then, cheering up, he interpreted the omened sickness
as that of the local live-stock, a sickness greater than Jorrow could
cope with, and he reflected that after all Jinny’s was a hard and
toilsome life and her frigidity was perhaps due to its never occurring
to her that he was willing to raise her to his status. Perhaps she
thought he was just itching to take liberties. Well, he could understand
her coyness: other men might indeed exploit such a chance; but he, he
assured himself again, was a gentleman.

“That’s a slow couple,” he said, boldly breaking the long silence.

“Seems to me they fly as fast as the other rooks,” said Jinny.

“I mean the Flynts,” he said.

“Oh!” said Jinny.

There was resentment in her tone. She had not liked his calling Caleb
“Uncle,” understanding well the urban contempt that lurked in declaring
oneself a rustic’s nephew, and feeling, too, that however slow in the
uptake Caleb might be, his wealth of homely crafts, knacks, instincts,
life-wisdom, and nature-knowledge gave him a richer and deeper quality
than this pert townsman. But Elijah persisted in his urban appraisal.

“No go in them!”

“Dear old turtles!” sighed Jinny. “But so long as they go at the same
pace——!”

“Ah!” he said eagerly. “You believe in like to like?”

“Well, fancy a turtle married to a hare!”

“But a pair of hares now—?” He seized his opportunity. “You and me,
eh?”

“Speak for yourself, Mr.—Bunny!”

“I’m paying you a compliment, Jinny, classing you with me for smartness.
There isn’t a girl from Bradmarsh to Chipstone that can hold a candle to
you. So that’s why, seeing a man must marry somebody sometime, and
looking around as becomes a man who’s getting a bit—a bit——”

“Bald?” prompted Jinny blandly.

“And what does that matter?” he said, too intent now to be fobbed off by
raillery. “The point is that with the practice and position I’m getting
now, it would be a good lift for you.”

“I thought I was giving you a lift,” said Jinny icily.

“So you were—so you are—in that sense. But I didn’t need even that. My
nag wasn’t really lame. I only made an excuse to talk this over. See?”

“A very lame excuse,” flashed Jinny.

“There was never any way of talking to you—you always so busy with
parcels and me with patients. I’m not one of your flirting kind with
fancy waistcoats, I want to settle down, and I’ve taken a favour to
you.”

Even Jinny’s ready tongue had no repartee to this massive complacency.
She could only articulate: “Have you, now?”

“Yes, I have. And I’d like to see you driving of a Sunday in my smart
trap. Come, what do you say?”

“Thank you,” she said coldly. “I’d rather stay in my old cart.”

“But it’s such a shame—you so spruce and spry—tied to this ramshackle
cart, when you might be adorning a higher sphere and sitting in my
parlour instead of being at everybody’s beck and call.”’

He had chosen precisely the worst form of appeal. Confronted with this
picture of parlour-stodginess, her rôle of Jinny the Carrier—Jinny the
pet and friend-in-need of the countryside—seemed infinitely dear and
desirable. And what subtly added to her anger was some dim presentiment
in herself of other forces coming into her life, forces threatening to
emerge from their picture-past, and to trouble the placid current of her
career. Like Caleb she shrank from change. To shuttle for ever ’twixt
Bradmarsh and Chipstone; with her grandfather, Nip, Methusalem, all
immortal and unchanging as herself—this was all she asked of heaven:
this and not too much rain and wind.

“You want me to sit in your parlour?” she cried in white revolt.

He took off his cap and bowed gallantly: “In silks and satins.” Then
suddenly realizing his baldness, he clapped it on again.

“And give up my work!” There was an ominous light in Jinny’s eyes. But
love is blind! Even the bats now beginning to swoop in the dusk could
see more clearly than Elijah.

“I promise you you shan’t do a stroke!” said the fatuous young man. “As
the wife of a veterinary surgeon, you’d be a lady.”

“And what would become of Gran’fer?”

“He’d have warm corduroys and plenty of gruel in the Chipstone
poorhouse.”

“You heartless knacker! Get off my cart. Whoa! Methusalem, whoa!”

“How you fly at a man! I’ve already got my mother living with me, and
she and your grandfather wouldn’t get on, being of a different class.
But I’d be willing to pay his rent and get a woman to look after him.”

“Nobody shall look after him but me. And his business—who is to look
after that?”

“Don’t worry. Some other carrier’ll crop up.”

“There isn’t going to be any other carrier here but Daniel Quarles,
understand that.”

“Well, if you think you’ll find anybody to marry your grandfather——”
he said sullenly.

“Who wants to marry? I shall never give up the road.”

“If you’re so fond of driving, there’s always my trap.”

“No good setting traps for me. I’ll hang in a cage in no man’s parlour.
I must fly about in the woods like now—free!”

“Birds in the woods are sometimes hungry,” her wooer reminded her.
“Suppose your business falls off—or things go to famine prices like
five or six years ago. The gallon loaf ain’t always a shilling. Ten
years ago I remember flour was two and ten the stone, and that only
seconds, and tea was five shillings. With me you’d be sure of the fat of
the land always—there’s no difference with me ’twixt Sundays and
weekdays.”

“Oh, it’s a stuffed bird you want for your parlour.”

“Rubbish, I’ve got six stuffed birds in my parlour—in the loveliest
glass cases!”

“But they don’t sing!” And Jinny burst mockingly into a song that had
hitherto been a mere tune to her:

        “_I’ll be no submissive wife,_
         _No, not I——_”

He lost his temper. “Oh, you needn’t make such a fuss over yourself. I
dare say I can find plenty of wives—with my connexion.”

“Among pigs?” she said sweetly. She jumped down and began to light the
lamp. “This is your getting-out place.”

“It’s nothing of the sort—I go on to the bridge.”

“Impossible. My horse is lame.”

“I know all about that.” And snatching up the reins she had dropped,
“Gee-up!” he called suddenly.

But Methusalem knew better.

“You’ll never get home that way,” said Jinny, smiling.

“Then how the hell——?” he began furiously.

“Shanks’s mare,” she reminded him again. “That’s not lame.”

He gave her a long, nasty look as though meditating the law of the
stronger. But he tried pleading first.

“By the time I walk home, my mother’ll have locked up; thinking I’m
sitting up with a patient.”

“There’s the poorhouse!”

He winced. “You’ve got to carry me,” he said sullenly, “or I’ll have the
law on you.”

“There’s no law to make me carry aught save goods.” And she sang on
carelessly:

        “_Should a humdrum husband say,_
         _That at home I ought to stay——_”

The little voice, rippling through those demure lips, wellnigh stung him
to close her mouth with the masterful gag of kisses, but a remnant of
sanity warned him not to spoil a fine animal practice by a scandal.
Besides Jinny had her whip, and what was still more formidable, her
horn.

“I’ll be even with you for this!” And jumping down, he strode off
furiously.

“Hullo! Mr. Skindle! Hullo!”

“Keep away from me!” It was at once an appeal and a warning.

“Don’t you want your case of instruments? Not that you’ll be in time to
kill those poor horses to-night.”

With an unsmothered oath he turned back and clambered into the interior,
upsetting Nip’s basket in his fury; the result of which neglect to let
sleeping dogs lie was that the unsagacious animal mounted growling guard
over the instrument-case, as before a burglar.

“You’d best get it for me,” he said sullenly. “And by the way, how much
do I owe you?”

“Never mind,” she said blandly, handing him his burden. “You promised to
be even with me.”

“The little vixen!” he thought, as he trudged towards a farm where he
remembered doctoring a horse. “She ought to be put in the ducking-pond!
What a lucky escape!”



                              CHAPTER III


                           JINNY AT HER HOMES

              _I remember the black wharves and the slips_
                _And the sea-tides tossing free,_
              _And Spanish sailors with bearded lips_
              _And the beauty and mystery of the ships_
                _And the magic of the sea._
                              LONGFELLOW, “My Lost Youth.”


                                   I

BLACKWATER HALL, the home of Daniel Quarles and his granddaughter, was
none of your old manor-houses with mullioned windows and carven
music-galleries, fallen in grandeur and rent. It had barely done
yeoman’s service, being just a low whitewashed and thatched cottage,
whose upper windows under the overhanging eaves seemed deep-set eyes
under jutting brows. Nor was it near the Blackwater, though from its
comparatively high ground the broadening river first began to glimmer on
the view when you came to the edge of Bradmarsh Common and looked across
its brown expanse towards the bluish haze of the background.

It was in reality nearer the Brad, which as seen foreshortened from it
seemed to lave the roof of Frog Farm and sentinel it with its willows.
Blackwater Hall should in fact—Jinny would jest—have been called
Common Cottage. For it was just a way of living on the Common, protected
from the elements, yet sucked up into them: a sort of transparent,
transpirable shell amid this universal flying, fluttering, hopping,
creeping, crawling, soaring, swooping, scampering, twisting, droning,
humming, buzzing, barking, chirping, croaking, cawing, and singing: a
human nest niched on the edge of a chaos of twigs, roots, old amorphous
trunks, tangled faded fern-branches, mossy patches, gorse,
ferruginous-leaved oaks, shrubs, ant-heaps innumerable, rabbit-warrens,
wild apple, wild plum, black heather, and endless stubs to catch the
feet, or branches to whip the face, or thorns to prick the fingers. A
garden path to the Hall lay between homely flowers, periwinkle and
marigold and the like.

Behind the Hall lay the Quarles estate of an acre and a lug or two, with
its poultry-run, its tethered goats, its vegetables, its clothes-lines,
its thatched stables, its odd sheds and little barn, and its well. If
Daniel Quarles was not nid-nodding over his big Bible or on the bench in
the front porch, or pruning the vine over the kitchen door, or
exercising his lopping and topping rights on the Common, it was here the
nonagenarian was to be found pottering: planting, hoeing, watering, or
weeding. He would usually groom Methusalem of a morning—it was his way
of asserting his hold over the business—and on Tuesday and Friday
evenings, when the wayworn Jinny drove up along the grassy path ’twixt
cottage and Common, rutted only from her own wheels, he would generally
rub down Methusalem after high tea. Otherwise the multiform labour of
house and land, of cooking and bread-baking and goat-milking and
scrubbing and washing, all fell upon the little Carrier. And even the
work the Gaffer did was far outbalanced by the work he made.

And yet it was Daniel’s personality, not Jinny’s, that was impressed on
the house, even as his name remained on the cart. Her own exiguous claim
upon life combined with piety and affection to leave everything as she
had found it when he brought her here; not only in the big attic where
eight had once huddled and which he now occupied in solitary state,
sadly conscious of the great, snoreless silences, but in both the
ground-floor rooms over which it stretched. The one with the window was
the living-room, and the other—on which the front door opened and where
a Dutch clock with hanging weights greeted the visitor with a cheery
tick that relieved its deadness—was piled pell-mell with old cypress
chests and other-litter of the progeny he had outlived, as well as with
a few boxes or parcels left by neighbouring clients or as yet
undelivered to them. These two rooms communicating, the box-room served
both as a business office and a passage to the living-room, from the
rear of which you ascended by a door the wriggling staircase to the
patriarch’s big bedroom, or tumbled down two steps from another doorway
to a combination of kitchen, larder, wood-cellar, and scullery, lit up
and aired by one small swinging pane, a den which even Jinny could not
keep free of cobwebs and smells. Here was the Gaffer’s beer-barrel, and
the thumb-hole tray, painted with tigers, on which she brought in his
morning draught from it. Here also were the jug and basin of her
toilette, for bedroom Jinny had none; the need of disturbing the ancient
chests or the office—which would have been a sad blow to her
grandfather—being avoided through the fortunate talent of the chest of
drawers in the living-room for turning into a bed. Its drawers, in which
the bedding was concealed, would come out and hook on to one another,
while legs would swivel out from beneath them.

It was not gay—this room-of-all-work—despite its over-population of
china shepherdesses with their swains and hounds and its rank growth of
dried grass in vases—all doubled and distorted by the cracked, fustily
gilt mirror on the mantelpiece—for the oaken beams of the ceiling, from
which hung a gigantic rusty key, had been plastered over, and the
walls—in a similar quest of gentility—dulled with a grey paper,
sedulously rematched when it fell to pieces; far livelier was the
staircase paper—all hearts and roses—if only you could have seen it in
the dusky windings and under the menacing bulge of the plaster ceiling.

Apart from the shepherdesses and vases, among which Jinny was not sorry
to see a growing mortality, as the Gaffer fumbled for his spectacles,
the room was not over-furnished, a small carved wooden settle by the
cavernous hearth, a small square, central table without flaps, two squat
and cushioned arm-chairs, with one prim wooden chair, and a little lamp
with a monstrous fat globe, constituting almost the minimum of
necessaries; even their united libraries, the Gaffer’s Family Bible and
Jinny’s “Peculiar Hymn-Book” and “Universal Spelling-Book,” being
constrained to repose, like the shepherdesses, on top of the chest of
drawers—that shifty piece of furniture whose mysterious recesses
secreted also the hymn-book recovered from the bushes. That article of
bigotry and virtue, hurled from him by the angry boy,
lay—long-forgotten—in the top drawer behind the rolled-up wire
mattress that uncoiled by a spring.

Yet this shabby room with its drab paper and squat furniture—vivified
most of the year only by that tireless tick of the Dutch clock from the
office, or the purring of the kettle from the kitchen—made for Jinny
the holy conception of home. The very cracks in the mirror had become
second nature; a glass that looked one squarely in the face would have
put her eye out, and if in an utterly impossible moment the Gaffer had
considerately replaced the old one, the tresses she tamed into
seemliness by it would have been a sorry sight. Here, without books or
friends, mere living was a happiness, especially at night after
Gran’fer, whose big Bible invariably turned from a table-book into a
pillow, had woke up and remarked he was getting sleepy, and been steered
up the corkscrew staircase to his bed. Then, in a silence broken by no
human sound—save the snoring of the Gaffer from above—and in a
security symbolized by the unlocked gates and doors, Jinny would sit in
delicious relaxation with her sewing or knitting or bonnet-trimming,
finding compensation for the long laborious day: listening in summer to
the late singing birds or gazing in winter at the glowing logs with
their delicate flicker of blue, while Nip in his virtuous basket snored
in harmony with the Gaffer or uttered joyous yells in his dream-hunting.

In those hours Jinny demanded nothing of man or God, though when she had
produced her bed like a conjurer out of its mahogany recesses, prayers
came automatically to the sleepy little figure kneeling beside it, with
the dark hair flowing over the white shoulders.

That was a pretty sight, but only the cracked mirror saw it.


                                   II

Yet back, deep back in Jinny’s baby consciousness, lay another home
altogether, a home richer in comfort and love; giving not on a tumbling
common, but on a strange, flat waterside—with stately dream-ships in
swelling white, and black barges, and little boats with ochre or orange
sails, and a pervading savour of salt and mud; the real Blackwater Hall
she felt dimly, though its name escaped her.

In this overlaid life there was a filmy female figure that fed and
bathed and rocked one, and kissed the place one had banged, and
sometimes held one as passionately as if against some monster that was
trying to tear one’s face from that flower-soft cheek; it could scarcely
be that burly figure, spasmodically appearing and disappearing, for that
too was kind in its different way, and had a knee less cumbered by
clothes across which one could ride astride, and pullable hair on its
face and curling smoke issuing from its mouth more profusely than from
the kettle’s. Out of this general background, like mountains from a
plain, stood out a few episodes of peculiar vividness, but of no
apparent significance—in one she sat on a rough sea-wall playing with
innumerable tiny white shells while a bird hovered over her crying, as
if trying to induce her to follow it seaward, but before she could do so
the female figure had appeared, frantically scolding and caressing, and
had carried her, struggling and kicking, back to a cot. In another she
was carried by the burly being to a little room with a strange little
bulbous window and a queer smell, where she was kissed by an elderly
figure with a cocked hat and a fixed eye that had a strange affinity to
the window. Later she seemed to be living in the strange building that
held this room: it had a canvas roof, a flag at one end and a mast with
ropes at the other, yet puzzlingly was not a ship, for she saw herself
running down the stairs to pat Methusalem in the road.

But these shadowy and usually submerged images all leapt into renewed
vitality one delectable Wednesday when, clad in a new black dress,
hurriedly stitched together by Miss Gentry, she divided the
driving-board with her grandfather (looking odd in his white funeral
smock beside her blackness), while Methusalem, equally refreshed and
exhilarated by the novel roads, almost hurried them by square-towered
hamlets and dear little bridges spanning crawling streams to the quaint
cemetery where the old man’s sister was to lie. How Nip would have loved
the expedition she thought in after days! But he had not yet adopted
her.

It was on this trip that she began to hear things that solidified the
filmy figures—but it was only from the Gaffer’s spasms of imprecation
tailing off into anecdote that she was able in the course of years to
piece together her parental history. Boldero, she learnt incidentally,
was her real name, not Quarles: a correction that mattered less, since
nobody had ever called her anything but Jinny. She gathered that the
Gaffer had purposely neglected to perpetuate her father’s name: he was
cancelled and annulled.

Roger Boldero, she came gradually to understand, was one of those
superior souls of uncertain status who, having got command of a little
sailing vessel, were wafted joyously to and fro, exchanging the silks
and spirits of France and the tobacco of Holland for the coins of
England without any regard for the benighted principles handicapping
human intercourse by taxation. Although her father finally came to own
the cargoes he ran, he was at first the mere carrier for speculative
capitalists; under cover, moreover, of an honest freight of non-dutiable
articles. Carrying was thus in Jinny’s blood, both by land and sea, and
it is no marvel she made a success of it. But the conjuncture of the two
bloods came by the queerest of accidents. The _Tommy Devil_—the
fearsome name of Roger Boldero’s boat was only the Essex name for the
swift that flew gigantically in gay wood over its cutwater—being caught
one night in a sudden gale at a season of high tides, found herself
driven towards a lee shore of her native county. It was a perilous
situation, and rather than be dashed on the beach broadside on, Skipper
Boldero put his helm up and daringly essayed to land nose first on the
mud. But the lugger, whose lightness was so admirable against the King’s
cutters, and which had been still further lightened of her ankers of
brandy and stone bottles of Schiedam—these, through an interruption by
the blockade men, “waiting to be called for” in certain “fleets” and
ditches farther along the coast—could not keep her head against the
veering welter. With desperate resourcefulness Boldero improvised a
drogue by lashing spars and a spare sail to a rope and trailing it at
the stern, and, thus steadied before the wind, the _Tommy Devil_ escaped
broaching to, and despite the following sea that tilted her figurehead
into the depths, she was finally dumped high and wet on the beach, on
the very verge of the sea-wall—both uninjured.

It was a fine piece of seamanship (though aided by the rare steepness of
this bit of beach and the high water), and the storm beginning to abate
and the water to recede, the sails were lowered and the skipper and crew
turned thankfully in. They were not wanting in men—carrying of this
kind needed large and able-minded crews—yet all hands being worn out by
hours of battling with wind and wave—“dilvered,” as old Daniel put
it—a watch was deemed superfluous for a vessel no longer at sea, and
the _Tommy Devil_ reposed from stem to stern with all the soundness of
conscious virtue watched over by Providence.

Now it happened that Lieutenant Dap, commander of His Majesty’s Revenue
Cutter, then prowling in the offing in quest of gin-tubs—he had been
pressed as a youth, served under Nelson, and had exchanged to the
Preventive Service when he married that rustic beauty Susannah Quarles,
sister of Daniel—was returning with a lantern at the first peep of dawn
to the “Leather Bottel,” to knock up his boat’s crew. His anxious day in
Brandy Hole Creek—as everybody called the little place—had ended
happily: Susannah’s seventh baby had been safely and punctually
launched—and the proud and prolific father was anxious to be back
sweeping up the prizes that led to preferment. It being a high occasion,
and to impress Mrs. Dap’s neighbours, he had come ashore in a cocked
hat, and he felt almost knocked into one when he beheld, towering over
the sea-wall, the great masts of a vessel that loomed gigantic in that
place and light. He rubbed his one eye—the other he had lost in his
original struggle against the pressgang—but the mysterious jetsam
remained, and a closer inspection showed it the kind of longish craft
whose huge lugsails his clumsier man-o’-war could rarely overtake,
despite his square sail yards. But boldly, as befitted a man with a
Nelsonic eye, and without waiting even to summon his men, he hailed the
stranded stranger. No reply. Nor did even a shower of such small stones
as the muddy beach afforded have any effect on the uncanny bark. There
was nothing left but to board her—which the hero achieved
single-handed, clambering over the sagging bulwark and standing alone on
the slanting deck.

Roger Boldero, aroused to find himself challenged by the cocked hat and
stony eye of the Law, displayed, though blinking at the lantern, as
great a sang-froid as in the presence of the elements. There was, in
fact, far less danger. Of the forbidden articles only lace was left on
board, and lace has been designed by the said watchful Providence to
occupy small space and be easily invisible. A wink to his second in
command, and two of the crew who were in excess of the legal number for
that small tonnage, smuggled themselves overboard—here being one of the
advantages of _terra firma_. The few odd kegs, flagons, and cigar-boxes
were the ship’s own stores Boldero maintained, and he would be very glad
if the “Commodore” would join him in sampling them now. Softened by the
title, the bold Dap nevertheless declined: the vessel was his prize, he
declared.

“And what is to prevent us taking _you_ as our prize?” asked Roger
blandly, having by now discovered that Dap was alone.

“You can’t move an inch,” said Dap.

“But we shall float off as soon as the tide rises.”

“Precisely. But it won’t come as high again, not till the next spring
tide. Meanwhiles I’ve a gig’s crew ashore and a cutter within gunshot.”

Boldero was taken aback. He realized that he was—in nautical
parlance—“neaped.” What a miserable misadventure! What a reward for his
seamanship! But, masking his consternation, he rejoined with a smile,
“Then you can’t take your prize in tow either.” He proceeded to point
out laughingly that there was no question of capture on either side,
that there was not a tittle of evidence against him, that he was an
honest trader, as his manifest and cargo would show—and that even if
His Majesty, through his admirable if over-zealous representative,
insisted on taxing his own little modicum of alcohol and tobacco, it had
not been technically landed. The nice point whether a cargo which lands
inside its ship instead of outside can be said to have landed,
side-tracked the question of the status of the ship herself, and
entailed so great a consumption of the cheroots and liquor—despite the
unearthly hour—that their fiscal value must have been considerably
reduced. But the obdurate Dap still insisting they were dutiable, Roger
Boldero invited him to seal them up till he sailed, as he had certainly
no intention of landing them here. He pointed out, however, that though
the tide, like Time, waited for no man, he would have to wait for the
tide; and that during this disagreeable interval the hope of again
offering the “Commodore” the cordial, if lop-sided, hospitality of his
cabin must disappear if the fomenters of friendship were put in bond.
Even this argument might have shattered itself against Dap’s fuddled
sense of duty had not the twice aforesaid Providence now sent on board a
rival cocked hat with a feather salient. With the growing light the
local exciseman—of the shoregoing branch of the service—had likewise
discovered the strange quarry. But the gleam in the hunter’s eye died
when Lieutenant Dap introduced him to his friend Boldero, who was
celebrating with him the birth of his seventh baby, and whose society
for the next month would, he was sure, add to the amenities of life in
Brandy Hole Creek.

And “my friend Boldero” did not fail to become it, for Lieutenant Dap’s
cruising was confined to the waters on whose border he had built his
nest: and he was frequently hove to. And during those tedious four
weeks, made still more tedious by rain, Boldero had himself rowed out
more than once to the “Channel groper” whose black hull, copious white
boats, formidable guns and flaming-flannelled red-capped crew were
plainly visible from the beached lugger; and he moved genially among the
blue-trousered tars and did full justice to the Lieutenant’s gin-toddy
and had his fingers often in the Lieutenant’s snuff-box and lent a
sympathetic ear to his methods and devices against those rascally
smugglers with their manœuvre of rowing dead to windward.

Their spirit-casks were slung with ropes, the Lieutenant explained, so
that their confederates on shore could load them easily on their horses,
but only the other night the blockade-men had discomfited a formidable
shore-gang of fifty who, despite their stout ashpoles, had been unable
to carry off anything except their wounded. He would have caught the
lugger, too, had she not kept doubling.

The commander of the amphibious _Tommy Devil_ even shared in an
exciting, if unsuccessful, chase after a suspicious landing-party, going
out with a galley-crew in a rain-storm in a borrowed tarpaulin
petticoat. And once the one-eyed hero—who felt himself none the less a
Nelson because his eye had been lost in resisting entry into the
navy—returned Roger Boldero’s visit, and after broaching sundry of the
happily unsealed kegs, the two skippers repaired arm in arm—the
attitude was necessary—to see the seventh baby and present the fond
mother with material for a lace cap.

Now while Daniel Quarles’s sister had been lying as helpless as the
lugger, his last unmarried daughter, Emma, a beauty still more engaging,
was housekeeping for Aunt Susannah and minding the other four children
(two were dead). She had come in Daniel Quarles’s cart, and her father
was to fetch her again as soon as Susannah was up (or down). He should
already have come for her, but the rains had made such glue of the roads
that a queerly spelt letter came instead, saying he would wait till they
hardened. This delay, brief as it was, sufficed to bring the neaped
mariner under the spell of the landlocked village maid, so sweet to look
on, so serviceable about a house, and so motherly with a baby that the
novel thought of matrimony was popped into a rover’s head. She, for her
part, was still more swiftly subjugated by the jolly Roger and the
_Tommy Devil_, and the mutual confession was precipitated by the
opposite menaces of tide and cart, each threatening to bear them apart.
It was a race between these and the course of true love, which must flow
rapid to flow at all. But it did not flow smooth, for when Daniel
Quarles arrived to convey his daughter home and found a rival vehicle
waiting uncouthly on the beach to bear her off, he roundly damned the
“furriner” who aspired to be his son-in-law, and he included in his
maledictions the Preventive Service and all its works, especially the
new baby, not to mention the times and the tides. For though he had long
ago found grace and become a Wesleyan, he had embraced the new doctrine
with the old robustiousness. The natural man was no more to be mitigated
than a hedgehog. Had he become a Quaker, he would have turned the other
cheek in a violent collision with the striker’s jaw. He enjoyed being
angry, and that his wrath was “righteous” only added to its zest. And
“righteous” it now was.

The trouble was not that Captain Boldero was a Churchman: the fellow was
flippantly ready to embrace anything on earth that included Emma. It was
not even that Daniel “suspicioned” him a smuggler. Smuggling—even if
you had a brother-in-law in the Government—was quite as respectable as
poaching, and in days when the rural labourer could not have lived had
he not eked out his obolus by occasional rabbits (with the necessary
vegetables), only an obtuse squirearchy could hold that sinful.

But even the squire had no opprobrium for the smuggler: gentry and
peasantry were at one in backing up the manly patriot who thwarted a
wicked Government, supplied Britons with the cup that cheers and their
country with a fine naval reserve and early information of Froggy’s
movements. The shores of Essex as of all Britain were honeycombed—apart
from their large natural resources and their ruins and haunted
houses—with artificial hiding-places, cellars, vaults, and secret
passages, and every man’s hand was against the Ishmael of the Customs
House. Farmers left their gates open at night to facilitate the
cavalcades and coaches-and-six, and were but little surprised to find
tea or tobacco coming up overnight on their fields like mushrooms. Even
parsons were disposed to regard such treasures as drifted their way as
heaven-sent flotsam, and Government circles themselves—in that era of
purchasable votes and votable purchases—had not the ethical
toploftiness which characterizes all Governments to-day. No, it was not
Boldero the Smuggler, but Boldero the Smoker that found himself hurled
into outer darkness the day poor shrinking Emma was borne off in her
father’s cart. “No puffing pirate shall cross _my_ threshold,” swore
Daniel, but the accent was on the puffing, not the pirate. For tobacco
had become tabu in the Wesleyan ranks: the godless practice of smoking
was formally forbidden to the ministers. Swiss Protestantism indeed had
once included its prohibition in the Ten Commandments. If Methodism did
not thus re-edit the Decalogue, its horror of the abomination was no
less keen, and a change of practice being always easier than a change of
heart, Daniel Quarles had poured a deal of spiritual energy into the
sacrifice of his pipe. The “rapscallion Boldero,” he declared, not only
sinned himself, but was the cause of sin in others, trafficking as he
did in the unholy weed. If Emma insisted on a “smoker,” wasn’t there the
miller at Long Bradmarsh, he inquired with grim facetiousness, meaning
that the grotesque Griggs had a vote by living in a house with a
chimney.

But Emma for all her gentle airs had proved “obstropolus.” She had
discovered that Susannah’s husband smoked as prodigally as Roger—though
it had been hidden from the old man on his rare visits—and that so far
from bedevilling men, tobacco tended to angelicize them. Would indeed
that her father haloed himself with these clouds! Besides, she shrewdly
suspected that even a Wesleyan archangel, appearing suddenly as a
suitor, would have fared similarly, and that the smoke was only a cover
for a wish to keep his last girl. And so, though the lover was left
lamenting, and the _Tommy Devil_ duly floated off without the lass, it
was not long that Emma was left stranded in Blackwater Hall. With a
parent removed by Providence every Tuesday and Friday, even the
flabbiest female may be stiffened, and the end was smuggled matrimony;
though very soon the blessing of a minister brought Methodism into their
madness. Roger Boldero not only became a Wesleyan like his wife and her
father, but was one of the first Dissenters to be married in their own
chapel by their own clergy under the new Act.

The odd union had turned out happy, but with one dismal drawback—the
Bolderos could not rear children. They fared worse even than the
Bidlakes, and with no such obvious reason. One hapless infant after
another died, and when at last, in their late middle years, little Jinny
was safely steered through three winters, it was they who were taken as
if in lieu of their progeny.

The pair had finally settled down by the same waterside that had united
them—the attractions of “Brandy Hole Creek” having been enhanced by the
perpetual presence of their relative by marriage, Commander Dap, who
with the subsidence of spirit duties and smuggling had found his mobile
cutter replaced by the moored “Watch Vessel 23.” Here with Susannah and
his children and five satellites (and _their_ wives and families) the
veteran lived in domestic beatitude under the title of Chief Coast Guard
Officer. High on the beach, and boarded by a commodious staircase, the
houseboat seemed a standing reminder of the adventure of the _Tommy
Devil_. Under its challenging eye, that adventurous bark had sailed out
and home, till that last fatal voyage when the lugger foundered almost
within sight of a little Sussex port, which for weeks after was
mysteriously littered with washed-up tobacco-bales. Though Roger Boldero
was rescued, it had been the beginning of the end of his prosperity,
already undermined by the diminution of duties, and a few years later
both he and Emma were dead simultaneously of smallpox. Again the
carrier’s cart must fare to the Creek to fetch the penniless little
orphan, and there—soon after Will Flynt’s flight—Daniel brought her
back for the burial of his sister Susannah. It was what buried Will’s
memory too and replaced him in her prayers by a new being, conceived as
her “Angel Mother.”


                                  III

The moment she saw and smelt the creek she knew she had carried it in
her soul all along: the white hut with its flagged mast, the great Watch
Vessel, the tumble of cottages, sheds, barrels, pecking fowls, grubbing
black pigs, recumbent ladders, discoloured boats with their keels
upwards, black rotting barges, and rigged smacks stranded on hard steep
mud. The sea came in sluggishly through a broad green chine, half slime,
half green water, spitted with gaunt encrusted poles to mark the
channel. The water seemed even wider than she remembered, and yet not so
wide, for it was split by an island or a promontory that gave a second
sail-dotted expanse between her and the farther shore. She yearned now
towards that ultimate hump of hazy woodland, and it was to remain for
ever bathed in the quiet beauty which wrapped it around as Methusalem
toiled up to the “Leather Bottel.” They were to stay the night there,
for Daniel would have none of the Commander’s hospitality, he being
still unforgiven. Besides, the child might be afraid of the corpse.

It was while sitting on that sea-wall with the octogenarian that
evening, her great grown-up fingers toying once again with tiny white
shells that strewed its top, and pewits again trying to lead her from
their young, that she first heard in broken outlines how these waters
had washed her into being. Something, too, she gleaned from her refound
relative-in-law, the chief mourner, whose cocked hat, tattooed arm and
genial senescence—not to mention his house-boat—were one of the
pleasantest impressions or re-impressions of the funeral; and whose
fascinating trick of rolling one eye while the other was fixed in a
glassy stare almost made the child lose the sense of what he was saying.
The death of his wife had reminded the veteran of the death of
Nelson—nearly forty years before—and his tremulous tones grew still
shakier as he recalled how the flags over the hut and the Watch Vessel
and every other flag in England had flown at half-mast, though of course
there were more joyous aspects of “Trafalgar” to be celebrated in
bottles of Bony’s own brandy. He frankly admitted he had himself been
“three sheets in the wind”—an image of bed-linen fluttering on a
clothes-line that long puzzled her. He took her abaft the Watch
Vessel—it was a way of leaving Daniel Quarles alone with his dead
sister—and recounted his astonishment at seeing her father’s boat spued
up like Jonah out of the whale.

“A handsome man,” he told her to her pleasure. But he spoilt it all by
adding, “though he would talk the hind leg off a dog.”

“But wasn’t that cruel?” the little girl faltered.

Dap laughed. “He never did it really, dearie, and if the leg _had_ come
off, he’d have helped the lame dog over a stile. And so many
lingos—parleyvooing in French and swearing in Double Dutch. I don’t
wonder your angel mother fell in love with him.”

“My angel mother!” echoed Jinny excitedly. “Was my mother an angel?”

The veteran was taken aback. For a child who must be past nine such
primitiveness was startling. He had spoken loosely, hardly knowing
whether he alluded to Emma’s present heavenly abode or to her
sweet-temperedness on earth. He did not know that little Jinny read
nothing but literature in which angels were a common feature of the
landscape, and that Miss Gentry had not measured her for her blacks
without dwelling on her own stained-glass specimen.

“She was as pretty as one,” said the Commander after an instant, “and
now she _is_ one.” Thus it was that Jinny’s mother, already felt as a
hovering sweetness, took on definite wings, and even when Jinny’s
maturer experience amputated them from her earthly existence, they were
what she still hovered over her child with.

“Susannah and she’ll make a pair now,” he added, feeling suddenly
disloyal to the corpse at home.

“Susannah?” queried Jinny, for her grandfather had been calling his
sister “Pegs”—“poor Pegs!”

“Your mother’s aunt.”

It was a new idea, an angel’s aunt. She saw the twain flying, Susannah
sailing with more sweeping pinions, her mother softly rustling.

The funeral was in style, and Jinny helped to set out the refreshments
in the saloon. There was some dispute as to whether her grandfather
could join the grand procession in his tilt-cart, but though he urged
that squires were proud to be buried from farm-wagons, he consented to
ride—like a fish out of water—inside a mourning-coach, and not even on
the box.

The Commander and Jinny shared his dismal grandeur, she sitting bodkin
though there was an empty seat opposite, which “the seventh baby” had
been expected to occupy. But Toby had not arrived from his ship—he was
a gunner—in time, and the earlier progeny were still more scattered.

The widower held his handkerchief in his fist, but owing to the heat of
a discussion on the manner the Navy had gone to the dogs—or returned
from them—since the Admiralty had set up a gunnery school on a
Portsmouth ship, he used it only to mop his brow.

“Excellent, indeed!” He was mocking at the ship’s name. “The ruination
of the sarvice I tell you. It all comes from doing away with the
pressgang—stands to reason they picked out the finest chaps—” here the
Gaffer snorted—“Oh you may sniff, but for fighting you want guts and
muscle. Look what England was in them days and what she is coming to
now.”

“To my lookin’-at-it-an’-thinkin’-o’t-too”—the Gaffer made one
breathless word of it—“’tis a blessin’ to be riddy of all them
gaolbirds, swearers, drinkers, smokers, and fornicators.”

“Hush!” The Commander tried to wink his glass eye towards Jinny.

“She don’t understand. Oi remember, the year my good-for-nawthen Gabriel
smashed up a threshin’-machine (and the poor farmer dedn’t git no
compensation neither, though ef his furniture had been smashed ’twould
have come on the Hundred) that wery same year Ebenezer Wagstaff—for
’twas the coronation year of King William, Oi remember, just afore my
Emma desarted me——”

“That was a Sailor King,” interrupted Dap, half to stave off
fulminations against Jinny’s dead mother. “Began as middy under Cap’n
Digby in the unlucky _Royal George_—a ninety-eight gun ship she
was——”

“Ye put me off the track, drat ye, aldoe it leads back to Ebenezer
Wagstaff all the same, seein’ as the Prince might ha’ rubbed showlders
with a thief as was sentenced for stealin’ half-a-suvran from a barge on
the Brad. He could ha’ been hanged for it in them days, mind you—the
case bein’ as clear as day or rather as black as night. But they
marcifully brought him in guilty to stealin’ nine and ’levenpence and
that saved his neck, being a navigable river, and the judge give him the
option of gaol or jinin’ the Navy.”

“And a proper thing too. Set a thief to catch a Frenchy, and him used to
taking prizes by water. Nowadays before the captain hoists his pennant
he’s got a crew dumped on him that’s no choice of his—mealy-mouthed
lubbers, full of book-larnin’, who don’t know a brigantine from a
topsail schooner: it’s the red ensign that gets all the good stuff, not
the white. You mark me, it’ll be the downfall of England.”

“England’ll never fall down while she’s got God-fearin’ congregations,”
maintained Daniel Quarles, and Jinny’s devout little heart thrilled to
hear it.

In the pleasant sunny graveyard there were apiaries and a dismantled
tower almost smothered by blackberry-bushes, and the tombs and
gravestones passed imperceptibly into a garden of monkey-trees and
weeping willows. These wrought in her no stirring of memories, but as
she had got off the coach, the standing church tower, square and
ivy-wrapped, had composed beautifully with ricks of all sorts, with
trees, old tiles, and thatch, into a picture that seemed as much hers as
the waterside.

The parson—Susannah had remained a Churchwoman—was some minutes late,
and Jinny was gratified to note how strong her grandfather was: how
pillar-like he stood in his long black mourner’s cloak under the weight
of the coffin at the churchyard gate, while all the other bearers, his
obvious juniors, shifted and sweated. Nor did he blubber either like the
Commander, whose weakness, considering how often she had been adjured to
be “spunky,” and not—now that she was “grown up”—to cry, was as
disconcerting as the double existence of his wife in the coffin and the
empyrean. However, Dap grew “good” again when the thrilling if still
more disconcerting episode of lowering his Susannah as far as possible
from the skies and banking her safely against ascent, was over;
and—Daniel Quarles having gone vaguely roving over the churchyard—the
widower led her stealthily in his absence to a stone behind the ruined
tower—in the “unconsecrated” or Dissenting area—and read to her the
inscription, following it for her confirmation with his black-gloved
forefinger:

                        HERE LIES ROGER BOLDERO
                       AFTER MANY STORMY VOYAGES
                        SAFELY NEAPED IN CHRIST.

He arrested himself suddenly and whisked her round the tower.

“But we didn’t read it all,” she protested.

“Oh, it only says: ‘And also Emma Boldero, Wife of the Above.’ But don’t
tell your grandfather.”

The child wondered why she was to keep Emma’s relationship to the Above
a secret—she had already gathered from her grandfather that he knew
it—and she was distressed as well as puzzled at the strange quarrel
that broke out in the homeward coach.

“It ain’t at all a proper word,” said Daniel Quarles. “You might as well
put ‘carted to Christ’ on mine.”

“That’ll be your affair,” persisted the widower, “but this ain’t. And
how you came to see it gets over me.”

The Gaffer flushed uneasily. “Oi’ve got two eyes, I suppose,” he jerked.

The naval veteran glared glassily. “Them that pay the piper call the
tune,” he retorted defensively. “Besides,” he added more gently, “Emma
always said she’d have it somehow on her tombstone.”

“Emma was a silly.”

“Hush!” Dap again indicated the child with his glassy eye, now trickling
without the other as in half-mourning.

“Oi won’t hush it up. That’s got to goo. The mason’s got to cut another
for me. Who arxed you to pay pipers?”

“Such a handsome stone to be torn up! It’s a desecration, it’s
unlawful.”

“Unlawful? Whose darter is she, mine or yourn?”

“Not yours. You cut her off.”

“She cut me off. And ef poor Pegs and you had done your duty by my gal,
he’d ha’ never crossed your doorstep.”

“He’d ha’ met her on the sea-wall. I couldn’t help his beholding her
looks, any more than you could help having a handsome daughter—or for
the matter of that, a handsome sister.” His handkerchief came out again.

“Oi’m not denying their looks—a man with half an eye could see that.
’Tis just the handsome gals as seems to throw theirselves away,” he
added musingly.

“Maybe they are unhappy at home,” suggested the widower, with equal
philosophic aloofness.

“Or in the housen they stays at,” assented the Gaffer. “But let bygones
by bygones. It may be the Lord dumped him down for our good. All Oi say
is, that word’s got to goo. A Churchman may not see the blasphemy, but
think o’ what John Wesley would ha’ said to it.”

“He’d ha’ said ’twas a wicked extravagance to waste such a fine stone.”

“The mason’ll take it back. Happen there’ll be another Roger Boldero
dead and neaped some day.”

“Very likely,” sneered the veteran. “And also an Emma, Wife of the
Above.”

“Hush!” The little maid nudged him, wondering he should forget his own
monition.

“That has more sense than you!” cried the Gaffer in high glee. “Out of
the mouths of babes and sucklings!” And drawing the astonished Jinny to
his bristly beard, he kissed her lips with a hearty smack.

Despite these half-understood discords, Jinny was very sorry to leave
the stony-eyed veteran and the motley waterside.

“Sometimes,” she confided to the more sympathetic swivel eye, as her
grandfather was harnessing Methusalem for their return, “I wish I had
never come to earth at all.”

Again Dap was startled by her simplicity—had not Daniel been telling
him what a useful little body she was in the business?

“But then you’d never have had your grandfather—or me,” he said,
stroking her cheek.

“I should have had God—and my angel mother!”


                                   IV

“Noa, arter she run away with her Boldero Oi’d never cross her doorstep,
never,” confessed the old carrier, picking up the story later, as she
rode beside him on their day’s work. He was getting so old now that he
preferred to talk of twenty rather than of two years before, and the
veneer of book-education which his unexpected inheritance of the
business had necessitated had fallen away, and he was speaking more and
more in the idioms of his illiterate youth, curiously tempered at times
by the magnificent English of his Bible.

“But that was wicked!” said Jinny decisively. She felt it wrong indeed
that a father should thus cut off his daughter, but to have done this
when that daughter was an angel (even if only in the making), still more
when that daughter was her own mother, seemed to her confused
consciousness the climax of iniquity.

“Wicked! The contrairy! Oi’d taken my Bible oath never to set foot over
her doorstep. So Oi dedn’t have no chance, you see.”

Jinny was silenced. She herself had succumbed to an oath, and that
indeed on a less awful book.

“Arter she had lost two childer,” he went on, “and the third got
measles, she sent a man on hossback to beg me to take off the spell.
Thought, d’ye see, dearie, that for her frowardness and disobedience
Oi’d laid a curse on ’em all. Like one of our Methody preachers, the
chap seemed, with all the texts to his tongue’s tip, and pleaded that
wunnerful he ’most made me believe Oi did have the evil eye. But though
of course Oi hadn’t no more to do wi’ the deaths of your little brothers
and sisters than a babe unborn—or you yourself, for the matter o’ that,
as _was_ a babe unborn—Oi couldn’t break my oath and goo and pretend to
cure the wean, and so when the measles turned to pneumonia and it died,
she got woundily distracted, and writ me two sheets sayin’ as Oi was a
child-murderer. That didn’t worrit me no more than the child’s death,
seein’ as the Lord does everything for the best, though Oi had to pay
double on the letter. But one fine arternoon the preachin’ chap comes
again and says she’d been layin’ paralysed-like for a month and wouldn’t
Oi come and forgive her afore she kicked the bucket!”

“Oh, Gran’fer!” Jinny protested.

“Oi’m givin’ you _his_ words,” said the Gaffer defensively. “At least
that was the meanin’, though ’haps he put it different, me not havin’
his gift o’ the gab. But bein’ never a man to nuss rancour, when folks
own up, Oi said that even ef Oi could forgive my darter, never could Oi
enter a house harbourin’ that rascal Boldero——”

“Oh, Gran’fer!” she protested again.

“There’s no call to bristle up—he wasn’t your father yet. ‘But Boldero
ain’t at home, he’s off on a jarney,’ says the chap. ‘D’ye swear that?’
says Oi. ‘By God, Oi will,’ says he. ‘Then od rabbet, Oi’ll goo,’ says
Oi.”

“But,” urged Jinny, “if you had taken your oath——”

“You wait till Oi’ve broke it! Oi knew ’twould be dead o’ night by the
time Oi got to Brandy Hole Crick and Oi made him swear too he wouldn’t
let on to a soul, partic’ler to that rascal Boldero or my sister Pegs
and her cock-eyed son of a cocked hat; and off we scuttles in a
twinklin’, him on his hoss and me on mine——”

“Methusalem?”

“Noa, Jezebel. Methusalem and you wasn’t born yet!”

“Were we both in heaven, then?”

“Hosses don’t come from heaven.”

“From where then?”

“From stables o’ course. And you should see them two animals gallopin’
like hell. ’Twas a race for the Crick. We went down this wery road like
fleck and turned off by the smithy——”

“And who won?” asked Jinny breathlessly.

“He hadn’t a chance, his hoss bein’ that winded already, and him a
heavyweight; Oi had the best part of an hour with your mother afore he
crossed the doorstep.”

“But how could you break your Bible oath?” persisted Jinny.

He chuckled. “Oi dedn’t cross her doorstep. Oi’d sworn not to, and a
Quarles never breaks even his plain word, bein’ a forthright family.
’Twas gettin’ on to bull’s-noon and like pitch, but Oi could see her
bedroom above by the light in it, and up Oi climbs on Jezebel’s back and
lifted myself up by the sill and got my knee acrost it and pushed open
the casement. Lord, how she screamed! Up she flew from her dyin’-bed—no
more paralysis or sich-like maggots and molligrubs Oi warrant you!” And
his chuckle broadened into a hearty laugh.

Jinny was strangely relieved. “Then she didn’t die!”

“How could she die, silly, when you wasn’t there yet? Od rabbet, wasn’t
your feyther flabbergasted to see her up and bobbish and me holdin’ her
hand!”

“My father! But he was on a journey!”

“Yes, to me, the great ole sinner. You ain’t guessed ’twas him with the
gift o’ the gab? But no more did Daniel Quarles, never conceivin’ a
sailor on hossback and him swelled in the stomach with prodigal livin’
since the day he diddled Pegs’s husband and tried to diddle me out o’ my
darter. But Oi’ll do him the justice to say he never did blab to the
Daps about my comin’—and no more dedn’t your mother.”

Jinny’s hand sought her grandfather’s, though through the whip-handle in
his she could only secure a finger. “But why should you hide your
goodness, Gran’fer?”

“’Twasn’t no goodness, only nat’ral, Emma bein’ punished and chastised
enough from on high. Why, if Pegs and her false-eyed mannikin’d a-got
wind as we’d made it up, Emma and me and Roger, they’d ha’ come to think
they was in the right arter all, lettin’ Emma be kidnapped by a
furriner. And that ’ud ha’ been the last straw. As ill luck would have
it Dap come knockin’ there that wery dead o’ night, he havin’ just come
home from a trip and heard from Pegs as her niece was dyin’. Oi shan’t
soon forgit the start Oi got at that knockin’, all on us settin’ so
hearty at supper, and Emma in her scarlet dressin’-gownd, smart as a
carrot. Noigh quackled Oi was, with the brandy gooin’ the wrong way.
Your feyther he goes to the door with his face full o’ lobster and
sputters through the crack as they’d got a new doctor who was operatin’
on her and wery ’opeful.” He chuckled again. “And Oi count ’twas a
better doctor than any in Brandy Hole Crick, for wery soon there was a
new baby—though that died too, Oi’m thankful to say!”

“You aren’t!” The little listener loosed his finger.

“Yes, Oi am, dearie.” He cracked his whip. “Otherwise wouldn’t Pegs ha’
gone to her grave believin’ it was my onforgiveness laid a spell on the
tothers? That’s what womenkind be. Same as when the Faith Healers got
hold of her. Arter you was oiled and prayed over, they said ’twas want
o’ faith had killed all the tothers.”

“_Was_ I oiled and prayed over?”

“Well, you see when you come, poor Emma felt elders and oils was all
there was left to try—there’s a rare lot of you Peculiars down them
parts and all the way to Southend, and they’d been gettin’ round her
like gulls round the plough—so the instant you started barkin’——”

“Barking?” gasped the little girl.

“You had the croup—so she turned Peculiar,” he explained. “Like you,”
he added reproachfully. “And a wery dangerous thing to do, bein’ as you
might ha’ died like the tothers. Did, she’d ha’ been had up for
child-murder—what she accused me of.”

“And why weren’t the doctors had up, that didn’t save all my little
brothers and sisters?” asked Jinny.

“That’s just how your mother used to argufy,” he said angrily, flicking
at poor Methusalem. “Turnin’ everything topsy-tivvy, Oi says. And what
was the result? Two years arter you was prayed and oiled out o’ croup,
she was took herself with smallpox and wouldn’t see a soul except elders
and deacons and sich-like truck. Oi _will_ say for your father though,
that he was allus firm with her; naught she could say could turn him
from his Wesleyan principles, and when he caught her smallpox he had the
doctor in like blazes and took all the medicine he could lay hands on.
But Emma would stick to her own way—though she died of it, poor thing.”

“But didn’t you tell me father died the same day as my angel mother?”

“Ain’t that why Oi come for you in my cart, bein’ as the creditors sold
up everythin’ except the infected beddin’?”

“I know, Gran’fer,” she interrupted. “But then didn’t father die of
_his_ way just as much as mother of hers?”

“That’s a nat’ral death when you die with a doctor,” he maintained.

“And were you there when they died?” said the child after a mournful
pause.

His brow clouded obstinately. “How could Oi be, dearie, bein’ as Oi’d
taken my Bible oath?”

“You could ha’ gone through the window?”

“With folks lookin’ on and nusses about, as ’ud ha’ thought me loony.
Why, ’twas impossible for me even to goo to the funeral.”

“Oh, Gran’fer!”

He looked fiercer, and poor Methusalem got another flick. “Wouldn’t Pegs
be there, she havin’ her nat’ral feelin’? Could Oi let her think Oi’d
come ’cos Oi was sorry Oi hadn’t made it up with my darter afore she
died? Nay, that ’ud a-been right-down deceit, bein’ as there wasn’t no
ground for remorse. Happen he’d a-been at the churchyard too with his
fish-eye—dedn’t you see the stone he put up, drat his imperence, as ef
Emma and Roger was aught of hisn—mebbe he’d a-preached to me as Oi
ought to ha’ forgiven my darter time she was still alive. ’Twas on the
cards he’d say Oi’d broken your mother’s heart, the blinkin’-fool, he
not knowin’ ’twas me as raised her from the dead and had her goffling
lobster with your feyther in a scarlet dressin’-gownd time he was
knockin’ at her door to make inquirations——”

“Yes, I’ve heard about that,” she interrupted.

“Who told you?” he said suspiciously. “There was only three of us inside
the door and two’s dead.”

“_You_ told me.”

“Me! Oi never told a soul—Oi’ll take my Bible oath.”

“You told me just a minute ago.”

“Ah!” He was appeased. “That may be. But Oi never told you afore—Oi’ll
take my oath.”

“No, never before, Gran’fer.”

There was a pause of peace.

Jinny was afraid to stir up the subject for weeks. But her little brain
had been busy with the story, and finally taking advantage of a not
unfriendly reference to Roger Boldero, she asked: “And was that the last
time you saw father, when he was eating lobster with my angel mother in
the dead of night?”

“Nay, nay, Oi seen lots of ’em both, afore Oi was shet out agen by
molloncholy circumstances.”

“Ah!” Jinny brightened up. “And did you always go in by the window?”

“’Twasn’t in the house: ’twas on board the _Tommy Devil_. And that ain’t
got no doorstep.” He laughed gleefully.

“Then did you go in by the porthole?” asked Jinny, smiling.

“Lord, missie, wherever did ye get that word? Ah, Oi mind me now—you
was aboard the Watch Wessel the time we buried poor Pegs. No, dearie, Oi
just shinned up the ladder, loight as a bird with that liddle ole oath
off my showlders. But Pegs and her one-eyed fool of a pardner never
suspicioned naught, for Oi never would set foot on the _Tommy Devil_
except she was layin’ up in coves and cricks where the Gov’ment turned
its glass eye—he, he, he! Not that Oi had much stomach for his etarnal
brandy—you can’t take a satisfactory swig o’ that and keep your
sea-legs—but your feyther he kept a cask o’ beer special for me, and
Emma she ’ad allus cold roasts and kickshaws to be washed down with it.
Oi reckon Oi was on board with your parents nigh once a month.”

“Then what a pity they didn’t invite you on board years before!”

“Ay, ’twas a pity. Only none of us ’ad never thought o’ that way out.”

“Or that way in,” added Jinny excitedly. “Why, you might have gone to my
mother the day after your oath!”

The Gaffer sighed. “Mebbe that ’ud only ha’ ruinated your folks quicker.
For Oi ain’t been on the lugger a dozen times afore she went down and
your feyther was picked up by the revenue cutter, bein’ the onny toime
he was took at sea—he, he, he! Thussins there wasn’t no place to meet
in, and to goo over Emma’s window-sill was too risky, for Pegs and her
friends was allus spyin’ around, and there wasn’t a sharper eye in the
Gov’ment than that dirty little Dap’s—when he was off duty.”

“But why didn’t they come to see you at Blackwater Hall?”

“Nay, they couldn’t do that. That was in my oath too. Never shall they
cross _my_ doorstep, neither—Oi’d sworn it on the Book!”

“But why didn’t they come in through _our_ window? There’s hardly ever
anybody on the common?”

“We never thought o’ that, neither.” He heaved a deeper sigh. “Ay, ’twas
a pity,” he repeated.

That night Jinny caught his eye resting more than once on the vases of
dried grass before their casement.

“He was a bonkka man, your feyther,” he observed at last. “Wery
big-built, and it’s a middlin’ weeny window.”


                                   V

Though Jinny winced at her grandfather’s attacks on the Peculiar Faith
of her angel mother, she grew in time to understand the odd magnanimity
he had evinced in letting her go to Sunday-school with the Flynt family
and pick up the doctrine. That her one surviving child should be brought
up of the sect that had saved it, was, it transpired, poor Emma’s dying
request, as conveyed by his sister Susannah Dap to the unforgiving
father, whose oath never to cross his daughter’s doorstep still held
when he drew up Methusalem at it after the double funeral, and found the
house empty even of Jinny.

“‘Child-stealin’, that’s what it is,’ Oi told Pegs when Oi boarded the
Watch Wessel,” he recounted once to his granddaughter in the cart.
“‘Ain’t you got enough o’ your own?’ says Oi. ‘’Twas through your havin’
one too many that Jinny’s here at all,’ Oi says. ‘Then,’ says she, sharp
as a needle, ‘the more reason she’s mine. You cut off her mother,’ says
she, ‘and now, Daniel, Jinny cuts _you_ off.’ ‘Not so fast, sister,’
says Oi. ‘Whatever my conduct to Emma—and folks with stone eyes don’t
allus see through stone walls—the poor little brat haven’t enough sense
to cut me off, and Oi don’t cut _her_ off, for Oi ain’t got to wisit
sins to the fourth generation, not bein’ the Almighty, thank the Lord.
That’s my lawful property, Pegs,’ Oi says, ‘and same as you don’t hand
her over, Oi’ll summons you and carry off two o’ yourn in my cart—and
what’s more Oi’ll ill-treat ’em cruel and hide ’em twice a day with my
whip.’”

“You didn’t mean it,” said Jinny.

“Dedn’t Oi, though?”

“But they were your nephews and nieces!”

“The more right to wallop ’em. You should ha’ seen Pegs climb down. She
know’d well as Oi never broke my word, she bein’ o’ the same forthright
family. Right up and down, Jo Perry, as the sayin’ goos. Do to others as
they’d like to do to you—that’s good Christian gospel. Pegs she went as
pale as a white butterfly and hiked you out on deck in your little
yaller frock lookin’ as pritty as a gay. Lord, Oi reckonized you on the
nail, though Oi’d never clapped eyes on you afore.”

“You’d never seen me before?” cried Jinny, amazed.

“How could Oi see you—you came arter the _Tommy Devil_ was at the
bottom, and your feyther never got the dubs from the insurance company,
bein’ a flaw in the articles as swallered up all the rest of his cash in
the lawsuit. But you’d got his ways and your mother’s looks”—Jinny
flushed with pleasure—“and ’steddy cuttin’ me off, you—ha, ha,
ha!—made straight for my great ole beard and pulled out a great ole
fistful.”

“Ought I to have _cut_ it off?” laughed Jinny happily.

“‘D’ye see that, Pegs,’ says Oi, ‘blood’s thicker than water. Will you
come along o’ your gran’fer, liddle maid?’ says Oi.”

“And what did I say?” asked Jinny breathlessly.

“You dedn’t say naught—you bust into tears, bein’ as you thought Oi was
the auctioneerer and you’d been sold with everything else, poor liddle
ole orphan, and then Pegs catches hold o’ you and says you was clinging
to _her_. But Oi soon stopped that lob-loll, for Oi holds you over the
rail and shows you Methusalem all prancin’ in his pride, and ‘Won’t you
go with your gran’fer’s hoss, liddle maid?’ says Oi.”

“And what did I say then?”

“You dedn’t say naught, but in a twinklin’ you jumps out o’ Susannah’s
arms, scrambles down the accommodation ladder, and was rubbin’ noses
with Methusalem. And Oi count his was as damp as yourn, bein’ as he’d
come without a stop.”

“Dear old Methusalem!” And nothing would content Jinny but she must jump
down and rub noses with him now, and again both noses were damp. But as
Methusalem had seized the opportunity to come to a standstill, and
Jinny, lost in shadowy memories, continued the caress ten seconds too
long, the old carrier declared with sudden querulousness that he hadn’t
got time for foolishness, and that since he had burdened himself with
Jinny his business had gone “to rack and ruination.”

“Peculiar, Pegs warned me, Oi’d have to bring you up,” he added, as
Jinny hastily clambered back to his side. “And Peculiar’s the word for
your gooin’s on. Not that Methusalem’s got more sense nor you. Oi count
ef there was churches for cattle, he’d a-stoyled hisself Brother
Methusalem and kicked over his drench.”

It was the Gaffer’s instinctive conviction that faith went with the
father. In thus yielding to Emma’s dying breath he may, apart from the
pressure of death-bed wishes, have found vent for a lingering resentment
against the seductive Boldero. Or was it that he had a lurking
apprehension that the one child of Emma’s which had at least survived
prayer, might really be a testimony to the teaching, and as such
entitled to share it? Jinny at any rate had absolute faith in the
doctrine. It rested on the fifth chapter of James as clearly as the big
Bible containing that chapter rested on the chest of drawers. Once
indeed when the Gaffer was unbearably mocking, she had been goaded to
read him the basal verses:

“Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and
let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord:

“And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise
him up: and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.”

But the Gaffer had not collapsed as she expected. It only meant a
spiritual saving, in case he died, Daniel Quarles maintained, unruffled:
otherwise why speak of his sins being forgiven? Moreover it didn’t say
you couldn’t have a doctor, too.

Crestfallen, the child wept in a corner and did not recover her spirits
till at Sunday-school Elder Mawhood had supplied her for the first part
of the Gaffer’s contention with Mark xvi. 18: “They shall lay hands on
the sick and they shall recover”; while Martha, who was still at that
date a Peculiar, comforted and equipped her against the second part with
Asa, King of Judah, who (II Chronicles xvi) was diseased in his feet:
“_yet_ sought not to the Lord but to the physicians.” The Lord’s wishes
in the matter were thus seen to be clearly indicated. “And the Lord’s
the same now as then, isn’t He?” Martha wound up crushingly. “You ask
your grandfather that.”

The courage to launch this counter-attack never came to her, however,
and henceforward she and her grandfather lived in that kindly toleration
of each other’s folly which comes from holding the proofs of it, yet
letting sleeping dogmas lie. What after all was the old man’s obduracy,
Jinny told herself, but part of the perverseness and obstinacy of age?
The fact that she now never needed either doctors or elders saved her
from any personal problem. Such waverings as she had felt at fifteen
were not towards Wesleyanism, but towards Martha’s mushroom doctrine.
The texts of this convert to the latest thing in creeds were certainly
staggering, and her scorn for the still unconverted, sublime. “We don’t
take some bits o’ the Word and leave others.” That was an argument not
easy to answer, and the bits now exhumed in support of
Christadelphianism by the tireless discoverer of King Asa were ever
accumulating. Fortunately Jinny was far too busy for religious
discussions or doubts, and the “angel mother,” softly hovering, made a
restful background for the one true Faith.


                                   VI

And a sensational episode in the history of the local Brethren came to
strengthen the sect as well as to add to the number of Jinny’s homes:
came too, at the very crisis when the impossibility of carrying the
Carrier with her through the coming winter threatened to leave her
stranded alone at “The Black Sheep” during the midday rest at Chipstone.
It would have been easy enough in summer to sit in her cart in the
courtyard munching her bread and cheese, while Methusalem was lost in
his nosebag, and clients were coming with commissions, but the
parcel-shed had no stove, and to wait in the bar or taproom or even the
parlour—all alike masculine haunts where one could hardly dump the
“scarecrow” or swain-chaser beside one—was not a pleasant prospect.

Jinny’s and the Brotherhood’s good fortune began—such are the ways of
Providence—with the death of the landlord.

Mother Gander—so everybody called Jeff Gander’s buxom spouse—had
fought like a lioness to save him. “Not a doctor for miles around,” as
the paralysed old Bundock put it triumphantly from his bed-of-all-news,
“but she carted him over, and set ’em all consulting and quarrelling.
There was two from London, one of ’em a bart, and all wasted. Charlie
the potboy, as he was then, feelingly told my boy, the postman, that he
could ha’ set up a public-house with the fees. Not that I approve o’
public-houses, but leastways they give you more waluable drinks than
doctors does. And when poor Jeff was gone, and Mother Gander was
carrying on like crazy, comes the Parson and tells her ’tis the Lord’s
will.

“‘Then if it’s the Lord’s will,’ says she, like lightning, for she was
always quick in the uptake, ‘why do you run down the Peculiars as just
begs the Lord to alter His will, instead o’ throwing their hard-earned
gold to the doctors?’ That was the way her eyes opened to the Truth, and
she learnt how to save her soul as well as her money.”

The Peculiars, they often lamented, were “not strong enough” in
Chipstone: they looked yearningly “over the water”—to Rochford where
the great Banyard himself was prophesying; or to Woodham where no less
than five hundred Brethren and Sisters fevered themselves in a hall too
small for the throngs that sought admission. But their own meetings,
though, if we may trust Caleb, “noice things were brought out,” were
numerically disheartening. The capture of “The Black Sheep”—a hostelry
to which all social roads radiated—was thus an event of considerable
importance.

Nevertheless the dismay of the Congregationalists, of whose community
Mother Gander was a fallen pillar, was not counter-poised in jubilation
by the Brethren. For if a stronghold had been captured, the devil had
not been dispossessed. Mother Gander doffed her gold chain, but Sister
Gander gave no sign of emptying her liquor into the gutters, and to be
proud of a convert against whose establishment you have to admonish one
another is not simple. The Peculiars managed it, however, after some
heart-searching. It was true old Bundock had been wont to make great
play with Banyard’s declaration—universally admired as a gem of
humour—“If you want to get me to a public-house, you’ll have to take a
horse and hook me.” But after all, Elder Mawhood pointed out, “The Black
Sheep” was far more than a public-house: as the headquarters for the
mail-coach it was part of the constitution of the country, and it was
better for the farmers to eat their ordinary under a God-fearing
roof—even if they would drink with it—than for the profits of their
custom to go to a rival house which would contribute no farthing to the
Brethren’s treasury. It was Brother Flynt, however, who supplied the
finest soothing-powder. “Oi used to condemn myself,” he said, “but
’twasn’t no good. You _must_ drink when you’re harvestin’. Don’t, you’ll
be drippin’ as you goo.” If he did not drink now that his harvesting
days were over, that did not prove other drinkers were wicked. You had
to consider circumstances. And playing the Sancho Panza still more
unexpectedly, he hinted that there was such a thing as over-zeal. “They
used to call me a Banyard as a revilin’ word, them as made fun of us,
but to tell the truth Oi’ve never got out o’ my warm bed in the middle
o’ the noight to pray as he exhorted—leastways, not in winter. We’ve
got to be thankful for Sister Gander, and not expect her to goo all the
way at the start. She don’t want to lose her business as well as her
husband.”

But it appeared that Mother Gander did not want to go without a husband
either. She suddenly, and before her year of mourning was up, married
Charley Mott, the aforesaid potboy, not half her age, and this was a
fresh upset for the Brethren, modified only by the conversion of
Charley. The Congregationalists took the opportunity to give the couple
“rough music,” and the whole neighbourhood joined in with kettles and
pokers. Brother Bundock from his omniscient bed at first proclaimed the
scandal as a divine chastisement on his Brethren for having failed to
“admonish” her to give up purveying “beer and ’bacca”—he himself would
have dared it, he declared without fear of contradiction, had he only
had his legs—but finally, when the storm blew over, he would relate
with gusto how she had weathered it.

“What with hating us and hating her marriage and hating the new landlord
with his jackanip’s airs, they quit her, nearly all her customers, and
them as was faithful looked askance at her between the drinks. So she
offs with her silks and on with her apron and up with her sleeves, and
back to the kitchen! She’d been poor Jeff’s cook, you know, in the long,
long ago, and ’twas her steak and kidney puddens and her gravies and
sauces that he married, and now she was back at the old game. Whether
’twas partly to escape the sour looks that she burrowed in her kitchen
or whether the whole thing was female artfulness I don’t pretend to say,
but in two months she’d cooked ’em all back again. Don’t come in good
time, you couldn’t get a chair at the ordinary for all the tips at
Chipstone, and my boy, the postman, he told me he hears everybody joking
over the rhubarb tart and saying as the Lord’s will is best. And she
never come out o’ that kitchen till she’d cooked it all down.”

It was during the dark interval that Jinny and Sister Mott _alias_
Mother Gander were first drawn together, the girl being summoned to the
kitchen to receive instructions for such purchases from local tradesmen
as the lady-hermit found indispensable yet dreaded to make in person.
The fact that the little carrier was of the despised sect cemented the
relationship. Jinny passed her midday respite in the warm kitchen, even
sharing the cook’s meal. And when at last Sister Mott resumed her blue
silk bodice and faced her tradesmen and her customers, new and old, the
run of the kitchen and the freedom of the joint remained gratuitous to
the lucky Jinny. Here under the great bacon-hung oak beams of the
ancient apartment, before a huge fire mirroring itself rosily in the
copper pans and skillets, she could sit thawing her toes beside the
clanking smokejack, while the wind howled through the arch of the sleety
courtyard.



                               CHAPTER IV


                            WILL ON HIS WAY

       _Permit me of these unknown lands t’inquire,_
         _Lands never till’d, where thou hast wandering been,_
         _And all the marvels thou hast heard and seen:_
       _Do tell me something of the miseries felt_
       _In climes where travellers freeze, and where they melt._
                                    CRABBE, “Tales of the Hall.”


                                   I

THE coach from railhead to Chipstone was an hour and a half late, and
not all the flourish of its horn as it thundered into the courtyard of
“The Black Sheep” could disguise the fact. Not that it was the fault of
the coach: it had waited for the mail train, and this, for those parts,
parvenu monster had found an obstruction on the line, and was helpless
to go round it, as the driver and the guard complacently pointed out.
Their glory and their tips were shrunk like their circuit—unchanged
along the short route, they could no longer prod the slumbering
traveller with insinuatory farewells: they knew themselves, these
Chipstone worthies, a last lingering out-of-the-way survival of the old
order, doomed like the broad coaching road and the old hostelries to
decay; already they had seen the horned guard decline in places to the
omnibus cad, even as the ancient “shooter” of highwaymen had sunk to the
key-bugler; yet they preserved the grand manner before the revolution
that was deposing them—the Tom Pratt and Dick Burrage of a generation
of travellers—and while dispensing their conversation like decorations
and drinking your health as a concession, they retailed with gloomy
satisfaction every railway collision and holocaust, as though coaches
never overturned, and declared the English breed of horses would be
ruined. And when certain lines set up third-class carriages they
denounced the cruelty of packing the poor in roofless, seatless trucks,
as though they themselves had never brought into port frost-bitten peers
or dames sodden through their oilskin umbrellas.

But to-day “Powerful warrum” was the grumble of the passengers, even of
those on the roof, the majority being—thus early in May—still
smothered in box-coats; as for the unfortunates compressed inside, who
had likewise not yet cast a clout, and had similarly mistrusted the
sunshiny spell with which that pouring April had ended, they mopped
their brows and cursed the fickle British climate. But though the sun
had suddenly become hot enough to sour milk, it could not sour the
temper of the bronzed young man—his face nigh as ruddy as his hair—who
sat on the box-seat and conversed with Tom Pratt almost as an equal.
Even the long delay on the line had left him unruffled, thanks largely
to the blue-eyed girl in the train who before his clean-shaven
cosmopolitan air had shown signs of tenderness, and whose address his
purse now held—more precious than a fiver. Verily a pleasant change
after the Eveless back-blocks of Canada.

And the idea of calling this “warrum”! He smiled to think of the hells
he had known—Montreal with mosquitoes, New York in a damp heat. Why,
this couldn’t even melt a man’s collar. And how refreshing was the
trimness of the Essex countryside—the comfortable air of immemorial
cultivation—after the giant untidiness of the New World. How soothing
these long, green, white-sprinkled hedgerows with their ancient elms,
this old, historic highway with thatch and tile, steeple and tower,
after the corduroy roads of round logs or the muddy, dusty, sandy
tracks. How adorable these creeper-covered cottages after log-cabins in
backwoods; rotting floors on rotten sleepers and the mud paste fallen
out of the walls. He forgot that it was precisely this that he had fled
from nearly a decade ago—this dead, walled-in life, so petty and
pietistic—and he congratulated himself afresh on the wisdom of that
abrupt resolution to sell his clearing to a second-hand pioneer and to
farm at home with the profits.

His clothes alone would have kept him in good humour. Not only were the
heavier in what he had learned to call his trunk, but those on his back
were the first he had ever had made to measure. And they were made
too—like the neckcloth and shawl and fal-lals he was bringing to his
parents “from America”—by the world-famous firm of “Moses & Son”
(opposite Aldgate Church), whose imposingness was enhanced in his eyes
by finding it—on the Saturday he first hied thither—haughtily aloof: a
blank wilderness of shutters in a roaring world, with no gleam through
their chinks from the seven hundred gas-burners. But he had finally
stormed the “Private Hall,” toiling—as invited by rhyme—up “the stairs
of solid oak,” and had gained the heights “where orders were bespoke,”
and there—in that rich-carpeted “showroom with the giant chandelier,”
in a setting of Corinthian columns, sculptured panels, and arabesque
ceilings—dark enchanters with tape-measures like serpents over their
shoulders had made obeisance to him and enfolded him with their coils.
Even his billycock hat verified the bardic boast:

        _There’s not another Hat-mart in the town_
        _Which casts such lustre on the human crown._

Left to himself he would have liked a wideawake, but that _arbiter
elegantiarum_, the small boy, he was warned, had not quite acquiesced in
that. If it was not a coat of many buttons that he now sported, it was
scrimp enough to show off the fine lines of his figure; for the movement
towards ample waistcoats and wide trousers was not yet encouraged by his
Aldgate mentors, and pockets on the hips had been conceded him with
reluctance. In his large American trunk reposed a still grander suit of
Sunday sable, though he had shied at a frock coat, and was glad to learn
from these hierophants of the mode that morning jackets were no longer
confined to the stable-yard or the barrack-room, but were permissible
even in the country house—and there was no question but Frog Farm was
that. He had already worn his blacks once, on his visit to the Great
Exhibition, and they made, he found, a distinct difference to the
policemen in top-hats whose guidance he sought in the labyrinths of the
metropolis.

The delay in this visit to the Exhibition—the goal of his journey to
London—had turned out an advantage, he felt, giving him time for these
measured elegancies. If he had been unable to be in at the opening, as
he had grandly designed in Canada when ignorant that this involved
guineas and season-tickets, he had managed to squeeze for a glimpse of
the Queen outside if not inside the Park, and the first five-shilling
day—after all, only the fourth—was grandeur enough for a whilom
ploughboy and cabin-boy. Although nine ten-pound notes made a warm
waistcoat-lining, he was not under the illusion that he had returned
with more than a competence.

One would have thought London itself a Greater Exhibition to a young man
who had never seen it before: especially London at carnival with its
colossal crowds swollen by visitors from all countries in all
complexions and costumes: London with its numberless gay ’buses (plying
mostly to Hyde Park), its swifter gliding cabriolets of the new pattern
invented by Mr. Hansom, and the more stolid procession of four-wheeled
clarences, not to mention the fashionable and civic carriages with the
scarlet-and-gold pomp of flunkeys and outriders: London with its
countless curious street-criers, costermongers, ballad-mongers,
watercress sellers, muffin and hot-pie men, birdcage dealers,
tract-peddling Lascars in white robes, and vendors of everything from
corn-salves to speeches on the scaffold; blowsy, rowdy London that
turned into a dream-city when those strange figures with rods glided
through the twilight, flecking the long, grey streets with points of
fire.

But though Will Flynt was not insensitive to these fascinating
phenomena, and even rode about recklessly in the cabriolets at
eightpence a mile, yet London had not the spell to hold him. Only the
Great Exhibition had drawn him across the Atlantic. While awaiting
impatiently for the five-shilling day, he duly did the Tower and the Zoo
(sixpence extra for Mr. Gould’s humming-birds in the twenty-five glass
cases), paid twopence to go into St. Paul’s, and a shilling to see the
Great Globe in Leicester Square, patronized Phelps at Sadler’s Wells,
and the horses at Astley’s, had a peep at Vauxhall, enjoyed “Rush, the
Norwich Murderer,” at Madame Tussaud’s, and submitted the boots these
operations begrimed to the red-coated shoeblacks of the Ragged
Schools—London’s new word in philanthropy. But though he liked the
quarter in which his quaint galleried hotel, “The Flower Pot,” was
situated, with the Spitalfields Market and the tall old houses of the
silk-weavers, whose vast casements with their little panes rose story on
story, he was no sooner through with the visit to the Exhibition than
without a day’s delay—as promised in that letter to Martha—he took
train and coach to Little Bradmarsh.

Beholding him thus on the County Flyer hurrying towards Frog Farm, after
only a single visit to the stupendous spectacle, one may suspect that he
did not know his own heart as well as he imagined. But he himself had no
doubt of the magnet he obeyed, and he had found on his boat not a few
rich Canadians—and the Dominion already boasted four thousand
carriage-folk—who confessed to have yielded to the same irresistible
attraction. There was indeed little else talked of on the voyage: even
the wonders of the boat itself—a new Yankee iron and screw steamer of
nearly two thousand tons and quite five hundred horse-power that brought
them to Liverpool in eleven days from Halifax, and had spittoons and
wedding-berths like the Yankee river-steamers, and to see which the
Liverpudlians had flocked with their sixpences—paling before the
world-marvel awaiting them in London.

And London itself was talking of it no less: for once London was
staggered. And if London was thus shaken, how much more the provinces
and the world at large? Did not indeed the flags of all nations wave
over the great glass building, whose mere material would have been
enough to set the globe agog, even if it had not contained contributions
from every corner of civilization except Germany, which in that
antediluvian age figured in the catalogue only as “The States of the
Zollverein.” What wonder if with all the excursions and alarums and
millennial visions that attended its birth, the Press reeking with
paragraphs, poems, discussions, wrangles, skits, prophecies, and
forebodings, crowds equal to the population of provincial towns gathered
at the Park to watch it rise, and to stare at the endlessly inrolling
vans and the sappers and miners at work in their uniforms. One
M.P.—military and moustachio’d—won the immortality of the comic prints
by fulminating against the invasion of Freethinking foreigners who would
pillage London and ruin the honour of British womanhood: more sober
minds feared the Chartist mobs and the Red Republicans: even the
Catholics, already flaunting their cardinals and ringing their
unhallowed church bells, would profit by the Continental wave. The House
of Lords resounded with protests and petitions against the profanation
of the Park, and apprehensions as to the fate of the building erected
therein were equally rife: the great glass roof would be splintered by
hailstones, the walls would be overturned by the wind, the galleries
would collapse under the swarming multitudes, and Anarchism would seize
its opportunity amid the dismantled treasures of the globe. But one
unfailing factor was on the Exhibition’s side: the scheme was attacked
by the _Times_. And so Paxton’s building rose steadily till the great
day when through an avenue of three-quarters of a million spectators the
Queen and “that Queen’s indefatigable husband”—as a panegyrist of the
period put it—drove to declare it open to the elect thirty thousand who
had already found it so, while through glittering nave and transept,
with their fountains, trees, flowers, and statues, the “Hallelujah
Chorus” thundered from a thousand voices, two hundred orchestral
instruments, and a dozen giant organs; and the millennial hope welled up
in a grand climax of universal emotion. And hoary grandsires should
hereafter tell—proclaimed the poet of the Great Catalogue—what in this
famous century befell: grey Time should chronicle the victories gained,
since Mercy o’er the world and Justice reigned:

        _What time the Crystal Hall sent forth her dove_
        _And signed the League of Universal Love._

But although our Canadian pioneer had thus ample excuse for the unrest
that forbade him to miss this Messianic spectacle, it was not—even he
would have admitted—the Great Exhibition which had first unsettled his
stolid labours. That oscillation had been communicated some two years
earlier, and by a shock that had set the New World rattling even more
noisily than the Old was shaken by the Great Exhibition. The discovery
of gold in California was a seismic vibration that depopulated Eastern
towns, shot sober lawyers into wagons, sent clergymen flying along
mule-trails, swept timid tradesmen across the foodless and
robber-haunted Rocky Mountains, whirled schoolmasters fifteen thousand
miles round Cape Horn, and dumped them all waist-high in auriferous mud
and shimmering water, to be fed by Indian squaws. It was under the lure
of the Californian legend that Will had originally looked about for a
purchaser of his cleared acres. But by the time the farm was off his
hands, the glamour of easy gold had faded, and with a sum in his pockets
sufficient for a little respite, life seemed suddenly larger than lucre,
and he found himself possessed by a strange craving not to be away from
the old country in that year of years—the year of the Great Exhibition.


                                   II

Chipstone had seemed strangely shrivelled as the County Flyer tore
through it; the High Street unexpectedly narrow and the great, gorgeous
shops, against whose panes he had flattened his youthful nose, curiously
small and drab, with diminutive sun-blinds; yet the quaint, blistered
bulge of the old timbered houses was fascinatingly as he remembered it,
and when the spirited quartet of tinkling steeds slackened under the
archway crowned by the ironwork sign of “The Black Sheep,” he saw
through a warm dimness that the ancient inn still gave on the
stable-yard with this same Tudor bulge, and that the courtyard itself
was little less rambling than the picture he carried in his memory.
There was the same mass-meeting of cocks crowing on the same golden
dunghill, the same litter of barrels, boxes, baskets, and parcels of
laundry-work, while the gardens of the whitewashed old cottages backing
the black-tarred stables and cartsheds seemed caught up as incongruously
as ever in the horsey medley. Why, there was the very shed which had
sheltered the farm-wagon the Sunday he was to drive it to Harwich. And
there—yes, actually there on the same doorstep, under the same hanging
ironwork lamp, was Ostler Joe, the shambling, bottle-nosed hunchback,
whose figure—in its reassurance of stability—struck him as positively
beautiful, and whose head seemed aureoled by the mist. But where was
that more expected face, where was the hair-swathed visage of Caleb
Flynt? Brushing the mist from his eyes, he looked anxiously round the
seething, sun-drenched courtyard. “Hullo, Joey,” he said at last.
“Wouldn’t my dad wait?” It was a pleasant voice with something of a
twang: but the twang was no longer local.

“Oi dunno your feyther from Adam,” said Joe cheerfully, mopping his face
with his shirt-sleeve.

“Yes, you do—old Mr. Flynt—Frog Farm.”

Joe shook his head—it seemed no longer a saint’s. “Oi never heerd
nobody mention Frog Farm nowadays. It’s a dead place.” He shambled off
on his many tasks with an aliveness that tightened the contraction Will
felt at his heart. His father dead?

“But look here, Joe!” He pursued the factotum. “You remember me—little
Will Flynt?”

“Can’t say as Oi does—moind that box now.”

“It’s _my_ box—and I wrote to dad to meet me with a trap. Guess he got
tired of fooling around.”

“There’s warious traps.” The hunchback waved a busy hand.

“No—he’s not here. And how am I to get my trunk home?”

“Bradmarsh carrier goos at three—you’re in luck.”

He heaved a parcel now into a driverless tilt-cart, where a little white
dog boisterously mounted guard. “That’s ’er!” he said. “Take you too if
you’re smart.”

“Daniel Quarles!” A fresh wave of reassurance radiated from that old
household word on the familiar tilt. So the venerable carrier was still
plying, how then could the comparatively juvenile Caleb be extinct? The
May Day ribbons not removed from Daniel’s horse, and making it a
snow-white steed from fairyland, dispelled the last funereal images.
Surely had Caleb Flynt really died, old Quarles would never have left so
lively a topic untapped with Joey.

But here Will’s meditations were agreeably cut short by another vision
from auld lang syne—the laced mob-cap and blonde kiss-curls of Mother
Gander, to whom Dick Burrage was gloating over the train’s misadventure.
There were pouches under the blue eyes, and no gold chain now heaved
with her blue silk bosom: otherwise she was her old comely self. But
fresh from his grand hotel in Spital Square, Will no longer regarded her
as an awful and aristocratic personage, able to eat meat at every meal.
An easy accost and inquiry about the old Flynts of Frog Farm brought him
soothing information. Lord bless his soul, people living a healthy life
like that never died—unless they took medicine. She couldn’t say they
had been to chapel lately—indeed she had gathered from the postman that
the old wife had taken up with some New Jerusalem crankiness. “But
you’ll find the Bradmarsh carrier in the parcel-shed—that black one.
You ask _her_!” And with a wave towards the arch she turned again to the
beaming Dick Burrage.

Will thought the “her” referred to a chambermaid who was just passing,
but he saw no need of such guidance—the parcel-shed was obvious enough.
His mind was occupied with the odd fact that Mother Gander had
apparently become a sister in the spirit to his own father, while his
mother had moved on to another eccentric doctrine. Ah well, changes were
bound to come. Not everybody could be of the same immutable granite as
himself.

He found the parcel-shed deserted save for a young girl who, busily
heaping up parcels into the willing arms of Joey, did not even look up.
Somewhat depressed by the chapel-memories the landlady had conjured up,
he stood a moment, absently watching the operation, and wondering why
the agreeably pretty creature should be dispatching so many
parcels—wedding-cake came into his mind, though the oddly varying shape
of the parcels was not consistent with the hypothesis. He would
willingly have loitered—the chapel-cloud was dissipating—but the
carrier was clearly not here, and, as the church clock opposite was
booming three, he was afraid old Daniel might be starting off without
him, so he hurried back to the pranked and pawing steed, only to find
himself derided and defied by the little dog, which he now observed was
also adorned with a May Day bow.

And then he remembered he was hungry. The block on the line had robbed
him of his dinner, and he wondered whether to go off with that grim
Gaffer Quarles would be so enjoyable as walking—after a square meal.
No, why should he be thus whisked off? Why not a leisurely spread at
“The Black Sheep” preceded by another glimpse of the girl in the shed,
and then a long stroll home by the dear old field-paths, through Plashy
Walk and Swash End, dry enough doubtless under this sun? Besides, his
slow old parent might be on the way after all—there was no certainty
the carrier with his compulsory windings and detours would not miss him.
Yes, it would be kinder to his father to give him another hour or so.
“The May Queen” he murmured to the air, brooding over Methusalem’s
belated ribbons. Yes, they would surely have made her that; though
perhaps the old custom was no longer kept up. True, she hadn’t the blue
eyes or the plumpness of the girl in the train, and was not stately
enough for a queen—though of course you couldn’t really tell how
Victoria looked outside her royal carriage. But then you couldn’t
imagine the blue-eyed minx in a royal carriage at all: you placed her
smiling behind bars, manipulating beer-handles.

“It’s all right,” Joey startled him by announcing, toppling his tower of
parcels into the cart. “Oi’ve made inquirations. The old Flynt chap be
aloive and kickin’.”

“Oh, thank you.” Will’s last shade of uneasiness vanished. He slipped a
sixpence into Joey’s palm. “Put my box in—I’m not going myself—say
it’s for Frog Farm.” And he jostled back to the parcel-shed, through the
bustle of boxes and jangling of bells, barging into other carriers from
other circuits, stumbling over dogs that yelped, tangling himself in the
whip of a postboy who was frantically buttoning his waistcoat, and
nearly run over by the great coach just wheeling round. He was more
disappointed than surprised when he at last reached the shed to find it
empty, though far fuller than before of mere people. Still, there was
always dinner.


                                  III

But dinner was not always.

“No, I’m afraid it’s all gone,” said Mother Gander. She was blocking the
way at the foot of the stairs, where a painted hand under pendent
stag-horns directed you upwards to the “Parlour”—“The Black Sheep”
would have none of your new-fangled “Coffee Rooms”—and Will Flynt,
sniffing up the odours of beer, sand, tobacco, gin, snuff, and tallow
like an ambrosial air, felt a further elation in the thought of its
being now a beckoning not a monitory hand: to ascend to those unexplored
heights, mysteriously grand to the boy, seemed symbolic of his rise in
life.

“But haven’t you got _any_thing?” His face fell.

“Nothing fit to offer,” said the landlady.

“But I’m hungry—and I’ve got to wait here.”

“You’re not staying for the night?” she queried.

“I may,” he said, to encourage her to produce some food.

“Oh, but we haven’t a room empty.”

He reddened. Was it possible she recognized the hobnailed lad of yore,
refused to serve him or to allow him up her aristocratic stairs?

“You haven’t a room empty?” he repeated incredulously.

“There’s a poky garret,” she said, “and another man would have to go
through it to his bedroom, and he goes to bed very late and gets up very
early. But even our best rooms are stuffy and our corridors are that
dingy people are always tumbling against the brooms the maids leave
about; when they’re not tumbling down the stairs. Look how steep they
are! The whole house is badly built—it was never meant for an
hotel—and the service is disgraceful.”

Will, overwhelmed, stammered out deprecation of her abuse. The inn was
most picturesque, he urged, and it was not the fault of the house if the
coach was late; as for himself a crust of bread and cheese would suffice
to stay his pangs.

“Well, go up and see what you can get,” she rejoined sceptically, moving
aside. Relieved to find the barrier raised, he ascended the dog-legged
staircase; his boyish awe resurging. Alas! even the landlady’s
disparagement had not prepared him for this dishevelled scene—dirty
plates and greasy knives and forks and tobacco-stoppers and sloppy
pewter pots that had stamped bleary rims on the fly-haunted table-cloth,
and a waiter in his shirt-sleeves dining, like a gentleman, off the
ruins.

“Wegetables and pastry is hoff!” murmured this disturbed gentleman.

Will was retreating—bread and cheese at the bar amid the glinting
bottles and shining beer-handles seemed more appetizing—but the waiter
had sprung up, his mouth still masticating but his coat conjured on, and
had him fixed instanter on a Windsor chair at a clean little
sun-splashed table by a side window that was refreshingly open and gave
on the cheery courtyard.

A cut of the devastated joint, strong mustard pickles, a hunch of good
bread, a pint of porter and the freedom of the cheese to follow, soon
dispelled the dismalness of the room; an effect to which the attendant
magician contributed more literally by his great trick of vanishing
crumbs and disappearing plates, including his own half-eaten meal. How
good it was, this cold roast beef of old England, how equally redolent
of the dear old country those hunting pictures on the low wainscoted
walls, with all their gay bravado. There were four of them: _The Meet_,
_Breaking Cover_, _Full Cry_, _The Death_; all populous with spirited
pink gentlemen and violently animated dogs and horses, culminating in
the leading dog tearing the fox, and the leading gentleman waving his
tall hat in rapture. He quaffed voluptuously at his frothing pewter pot.
To the Queen of the May—ay, why not drink to _her_?

“How’s Mr. Gander?” he asked irrelevantly, with a sudden image of the
bull-necked landlord and his massive gold scarfpin.

The waiter—on the point of disappearing—materialized himself again,
and stared at the questioner.

“He ain’t _any_how,” he gasped at last. “At least that’s a secret ’twixt
him and his Maker.”

“Dead?” It was Will’s turn to gasp. Could so much gross vitality be
extinct, or even rarefied?

“Dead and married over. She’s Mrs. Mott now, though the old customers
will keep on with the Mother Gander, just as I have to bite my tongue
not to call her husband Charley.” He lowered his voice. “He was the
potboy once.”

Will whistled. “What women are!” was in that knowing note. How pleasant
it was thus to discuss—with beer and pickles!—life and death and the
sex.

“Yes, sir—the potboy, and busting with pride if I let him hand up the
plates at the Bowling Club dinner.” A sigh accented the cruel change.
“You’ve been away, sir, I presoom.”

“Half round the world,” said Will with airy inaccuracy. “But why didn’t
_you_ go in for her?”

“Me! With my old woman! Besides _I_ wasn’t going to turn Peculiar—no,
not for ten ‘Black Sheep.’ You’ve heard o’ Peculiars, sir?”

“Ye-es.” A cayenne pod in the pickles made him cough.

“Thick as blackberries about these parts—and as full of texts as the
bush of prickles.” The waiter’s voice sank again. “She made poor Charley
into one of ’em. He’s got to go to chapel three times every Sunday and
once on Wednesday.”

“Poor chap!” There was sympathy as well as mockery in Will’s tone. “But
can you tell me”—he had a sudden remembrance—“why she runs down this
place so? Is it her Peculiar conscience?”

“Ah! I’ve heard others arx that too. My opinion ain’t worth a woman’s
tip, but I can’t help fancying it’s more defiance than conscience. Time
was, you see, sir, folks kept away, and it sort o’ soured her. I don’t
want your rotten custom, she as good as says to all and sundry. Take it
to landladies who’ve arxed your permission to marry. And so they come
all the more, sir, yes, and cringing to have rooms, and pays her
whatever she asks. There was lots o’ grumbling in the old days: now you
never hear a complaint, except from herself. My stars, the money she’s
making! But I can’t say I envy Charley—not even when he bullies me.
Although in marriage if it’s not one cross it’s another, ain’t it, sir?
Or perhaps you’re one o’ the lucky ones.”

“I’m not married at all.”

“That’s what I mean.” And the waiter sighed again. “Got all you want,
sir?”

“Everything, thank you—not wanting a wife.”

His laugh, gurgling away into his pewter pot, evoked only a deeper sigh,
on which the waiter seemed wafted without.


                                   IV

Simultaneously—through the opening or closing door—something was
wafted within. Our complacent young man at his place in the sun, with
the glow of freedom at his heart and of porter at his throat, was
startled by something leaping on his knees, which, automatically fended
and thrust away, was felt as clinging claws scraping down his new
trousers. Coughing and spluttering, and with the beery glow changing to
a choke, he perceived that it was the carrier’s little white dog, the
very same that had warned him off its master’s goods; unmistakable by
its pink bow. So the doddering patriarch had not yet started, he thought
lazily, though he must now be back in his cart or his canine sentry
would not have gone off for a farewell prowl. He helped himself to
another cut of beef, and his thoughts wandered from Mother Gander to a
builder’s widow he had known in a Montreal boarding-house, a widow to
whom he could certainly have played the Charley had he cared to go so
far. He seemed to hear her foolish whimpering the day he left for the
backwoods, but he became aware that it was only the carrier’s dog
whining.

It was begging so prettily on its hind legs, looking so appealing in its
pink bow, that he was soon feeding it rather than himself, and morsel
after morsel fell to it, each gulped down with such celerity that from
the creature’s instantly renewed and unchangingly pathetic posture of
supplication, an absent-minded man would have doubted if he had fed the
brute at all. But finally the young man pushed away his cheese-plate,
and dropping with plenary satisfaction upon a horsehair and mahogany
arm-chair that stood by the empty grate, he lit his cherrywood pipe with
a brimstone match and followed his springtide fancies in clouds of his
own making. Thus the second pounce of the dog on to his knees found him
acquiescent, even caressing, and with a beatific grunt the animal curled
itself up as to an æon of repose.

Then a horn sounded, and with a convulsive start the creature was off
his lap and scratching and yapping at the closed door. Will, too, had a
moment of wild wishing he had engaged a seat in the cart—the thought of
walking in this heat was no longer alluring—but it was equally
unimaginable to get up now and rush like the animal. Besides, he hadn’t
paid his bill, he remembered not discontentedly. Meanwhile the
distracted little dog had darted back to the window and leapt on the
sill, but it was obviously cowering before the depth of the jump. He was
feeling he really must get up and do its will, when to the satisfaction
of the slothful man and the bliss of the active beast, the door opened,
and like a streak of lightning the white figure had forked across the
room and vanished. He turned his head lazily to the window to see if it
would catch its cart, but was only in time to see the tail-board with
his own box disappearing through the archway, pursued by Joe with a
belated bundle. Then the new-comers claimed his languorous attention.


                                   V

Strictly speaking, there was only one new-comer and he was hanging back
at the sight of the London-tailored guest, being himself in moleskins
and bent and fusty, though Mother Gander was clearly beckoning him
forward. “The gentleman’s just going,” she said sweetly. Will knew not
whether to be drowsily pleased at the status he had achieved in his own
neighbourhood, or sluggishly wrathful at this renewed attempt to be rid
of him.

“Plenty left,” he observed encouragingly, puffing immovably.

“Oi reckon, sister, Oi’ll feed in the taproom.” The voice sent strange
vibrations of resentment through Will’s being, and particularly through
his nostrils, where a mysterious smell of aniseed was called up, whether
from memory or the actual moleskins he could not make out.

“You’ll do no such thing,” said Mother Gander sharply. “It’s less
trouble here. Remember what James says.”

Who was James—was her husband not Charley?—Will was wondering
dreamily.

“Chapter two, warse two—Oi take your p’int,” answered this odd figure,
whose wizened face with the straggling whiskers seemed loathsomely
familiar. But though the beady eyes under the moleskin cap were turned
for a moment full on his, remembrance stirred but feebly through his
after-dinner lethargy, and it was not till the intruder had sinuously
and softly skirted the great dining-table and begun solemnly turning the
faces of the hunting pictures to the wall, like naughty schoolchildren,
that he was dully conscious of the secret of his abhorrence. There—on
the very first day of his return—was Joshua Mawhood, the
button-snipping villain of his story!

Mother Gander stood by silent, as one properly censured. Neither did she
protest when, slashing a giant gobbet off the beef, he carried it on the
point of the carving-knife to Will’s mustard-strewn meat-plate, and
bearing the same with its dirty knife and fork to the remotest corner of
the table, fell to with audible enjoyment.

“I’ll send you your milk, Deacon,” she said, turning to leave the room.

“Don’t copy Jael too far,” he answered, with a grimace.

“Copy who?” asked Mother Gander, mystified.

“Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite—her as killed Sisera. Like me he
asked for water, and, like you, she gave him milk. But she meant to nail
him like a stoat.”

“Me murder you!” said Mother Gander with a scandalized air. But she was
clearly impressed by his erudition.

“’Tis onny my fun. But you look up Judges, chapter fower. They’re
beacons to us—they old Hebrews and Hebrewesses—beacons.”

“Would you rather not have the milk?” Mother Gander was still a little
puzzled.

“’Tain’t for me to refuse a sister’s kindness. And the best way to repay
her is to take it with rum. Bein’ as there’s a wisitor, the leetlest
drop o’ rum in it, to show Oi don’t howd with your rebukers in that
regard. Send the bottle separate, to be plain to all beholders.”

“And send me another pint of porter, please,” added Will. He felt he
must justify his stay even as the Deacon must justify his drink. The
ecclesiastical preferment that had come to Elder Mawhood amused him—his
boyish resentment faded suddenly, and the respectable rat-catcher—after
all, the motor-impulse of his fortunes—now loomed through a cloud of
kindly indulgence; even touched with the glamour of early memories, with
the magic of those far-off winters whose approach had brought the expert
to Frog Farm, as surely as it brought in from the hedges the creatures
against whom he waged cunning battle in the war-zone of the barns and
outbuildings. How thrilled the boy had been by the great traps and the
pack of ferrets—nay, had not the strange old man seemed himself a
larger ferret, with his tight-fitting moleskins, sidling motions, and
curiously small shining eyes? What a joy his annual visit—with what
fearful interest the bunch of children had listened to the annual
contract, made for gross sums, or for particular buildings, sometimes
calculated per tail of rats! The Elder had always made a point of the
cost of the shoe-leather involved in the isolation of Frog Farm.
Aniseed, Will suddenly remembered, had played a considerable part in
beguiling the victims, and the scent of it, coming up
again,—dream-whiff or reality—was now incongruously mingled with a
flavour of youth and innocence, touching our rustic Ulysses almost to
tears. He wheeled his arm-chair window-wards to hide his emotion, and
puffed into the courtyard.

“Oi don’t object to your smokin’,” mumbled the Deacon.

“Thank you,” said Will. “You don’t remember me, I’m afraid, Mr.
Mawhood.” “Deacon” he could not bring his tongue to. “I’m Will Flynt,
the looker’s boy you were always so kind to. You let me set your traps
and dose the bait.”

The Deacon shot a beady look at him, but shook his head.

“Why, you let me smell your ferret once, don’t you remember, when it
came out of the hole by the Brad, and you said that though I hadn’t
heard a squeak or a scamper, your nose could tell there had been rats in
the run.”

“There was swarms of boys at Frog Farm, all bad ’uns. Oi never knew ’em
by tail—but Oi dessay Oi do remember ye in the rough.”

Will was strangely disappointed. “Don’t you remember I lent you my slate
to hide the trap from that cute old rascal?”

“Ay, warmints allus runs to cover,” said the Deacon vaguely.

“And when caught he wouldn’t eat the bait, surely you remember?”

“They never does. Rats has more sperrit than lions,” said the Deacon
with enthusiasm.

The abortive attempt to recall himself to the rat-catcher was ended by
the return of the waiter, whose delicate balance of rum-bottle,
milk-glass, and pewter pot on the tiniest of trays, was almost upset by
the sight of the blank backs of the hunting pictures. He seemed as
startled as though he was not in the conjuring line himself. Depositing
the drinks, with his usual sleight of hand, at both ends of the room
simultaneously, he made as if to reverse the pictures. But the Deacon
emitted a sibilance so terrifying that he did the vanishing trick
instead. The old man then produced from either pocket a pale-yellow,
pink-eyed creature, and emptied the milk-glass into a saucer. “How
thirsty they gets this weather,” he observed, as they lapped greedily at
the milk. “Pore things—their need is greater than mine.”


                                   VI

Will was sipping his porter _piano_, and the Deacon his rum
_strepitoso_—the ferrets back in his pockets—when the door opened
afresh, and a new figure protruded through it, likewise drawing back
when the room which should have been empty at that hour was seen to be
in occupation. This was, however, a very different figure from the
Deacon’s: a figure jovial and ponderous, sporting a floral dressing-gown
and carpet slippers, and with all the air of having just left an
adjacent bedroom.

“Come in—don’t mind me,” called Will cheerfully.

The smoker’s invitation not being negatived by the muncher and bibber,
the massive visitor padded forwards, revealing more clearly his
heavy-jowled hairless rubicund face and the motley multitude of stains
on his gay dressing-gown, and waving a roll of clammy-smelling posters.
“Just come by the coach—and in the nick o’ time,” he observed genially.
And espying in the reversed pictures a favourable background for his
operations, he circumvented the table (not without surprise and disgust
at the corner where the moleskinned man grunted, guzzled, and guttled),
and hung up two of the bills on the nails without any observable
astonishment at the state of the pictures or any apparent attention to
anything but his own interests; stepping backwards to survey the effect
with such absorption of mind that through the girdle of his
dressing-gown his spine collided with the table.

“No, my boy!” he addressed Will. “They can’t print like that in
Chipstone.”

From his arm-chair Will could easily read the more glaring headlines:

                      TO-NIGHT AT SEVEN—LIFE-SIZE
                           DUKE’S MARIONETTES
                         _Hamlet And The Ghost_
                           MARGARET CATCHPOLE
                           _Pantomime-Ballet_

                          THE MISTLETOE BOUGH
                     _The Beggar of Bethnal Green_
                      EDMUND, ORPHAN OF THE CASTLE
                      _The High Road to Marriage_

               AS PERFORMED BEFORE ALL THE CROWNED HEADS
                  _Of Europe, America, and Australia_

               N.B.—Miss Arabella Flippance at the Piano

“Sounds bully,” he observed politely.

“Bully’s the word, my young American friend,” said the Showman. “What a
pity the mail-coach was late—we might have had ’em stuck up for the
ordinary and caught some shilling patrons. You’re staying here for the
night, I hope.”

“No—I’ve got to go on.”

“What a pity! I was about to offer you a front seat.”

“Me? Why?”

“Must fill up somehow,” said the Showman frankly. “People never go to a
play unless they think they can’t get in. And as we only open to-night,
there’s not been time to advertise our bumper houses. You see, sonny, we
lay up here for the winter, and if we’d started before this heat-wave
we’d have caught more colds than coppers.”

“Is it open-air then?”

“No, but the next thing to it—a tent! By squinting out of that window
you’ll see the whole caboodle rising on the meadows like a giant
mushroom. Why not stop here and pick up a young lady? I’ll give you
_two_ seats.”

“Don’t want more than one seat when I’ve got a girl,” laughed Will. Then
the face of the girl in the parcel-shed came up, at once alluring and
rebuking, and he repeated that seriously he must be off.

“Never mind—better luck next act,” said the Showman, and tugged
furiously at the bell-pull, and the waiter appeared with a glass of
brandy and water, as though he added thought-reading to his conjuring
accomplishments.

“Well, here’s to our better——!” began the Showman. His eye, raised
towards Will at the window, caught suddenly something in the courtyard,
and setting down his untasted glass and snatching up his posters he
disappeared almost as frantically as the dog.

“He’s forgot he ain’t dressed,” chuckled the waiter.

“Seems to be a merry gent,” said Will.

“Lives here all the while the show is on,” said the waiter, not without
pride. “Pays me a shilling every time I go in.”

“I hope on the same principle Mother Gander will pay _me_,” said Will,
laughing, and ordered his bill: which he found as unreasonable as the
food was excellent. He did not, however, mulct the waiter of the
handsome tip, designed to show him not a woman but a man and a gentleman
at that, and the waiter finally disappeared with congees instead of with
conjurings.

“I know you will excuse me, old fellow,” said the Showman, re-entering,
“but business before pleasure. Fact is, I got up too late to catch the
carriers, but now I’ve got the postman to leave my bills at all the
public-houses on his next round. Good fellow, Bundock, though why he
should boast so over killing two frogs with one stone, I don’t
understand. It seems an operation as cruel as it is simple.” Here he
swigged at his neglected glass. “He made a point, too, of my not
employing the Bellman.”

“You’d have done better with the Bellman here in Chipstone and over at
Latchem,” volunteered Will. “Where Bundock mostly goes, you’ll never get
’em to come.”

“That’s what Bundock said. But don’t you believe it, sonny.” He held up
a huge hairy forefinger, half gilded with a great ring. “They’re only a
canting lot o’ sons of slow-coaches. They’ve never had the chance of
knowing what they like. Temptation’s the thing.”

The diaconal sibilance that greeted this sinister sentiment fell
unheeded on the Showman’s ear, or rather he did not distinguish it from
the worthy Mawhood’s general medley of guttural and nasal noises.

“There’s no greater temptation,” added the Showman, “than Shakespeare
and the Ballet.”

Will shook his head. “They don’t know one from t’other. Did—I mean, if
they did”—he had slipped into the old idiom—“they’d be scandalized.
Why, I went to see a piece of Shakespeare at Sadler’s Wells myself last
week, and I’m bound to say ’twas a bit thick—though splendidly acted,
mind you.”

“You needn’t tell me that. Phelps!” He smacked his fleshy lips
voluptuously. “Lord! What a job that man had to clear out the
beer-sellers, babies, and filthy-mouthed roughs, and now it’s the
quietest show in London. What was the piece?”

“Can’t remember the name—about a nigger.”

“_Othello?_”

“That’s it—sounded a rather Irish name for a nigger I thought.”

“Irish? Ah, yes—ha, ha, ha! You had me there! By Jove, that’s a new
wheeze!” And he roared genially, while the innocent, and it is to be
feared sadly illiterate, Will tried to look like a successful humorist.
“Anyhow,” he said, “you won’t get ’em from Little Bradmarsh, no, nor
Long Bradmarsh either. They think all actors are wicked.”

“And so they be!” burst forth the Deacon at last. “Hobs and jills ought
to be kept apart!” He stuck his knife towards the poster. “_The High
Road to Marriage_, indeed! High road to Hell!”

“Hear, hear,” agreed the Showman surprisingly, rattling his glass. “Well
put, old cock. But these ain’t actors; only puppets. You can’t be wicked
in wood.”

“I’m afraid I must be off,” said Will, rising.

“Then here’s luck to you.” He finished his glass. “And may you die
before you’re buried!”

“Thanks, I hope I shan’t do either, Mr. Duke.” He took his hat and
stick.

“Not Duke, old man. Flippance, Anthony Flippance, universally docked to
Tony Flip. Duke only goes with the Marionettes. I bought ’em lock,
stock, and barrel—-the oldest circuit in East Anglia, and the name
going well with the crowned heads.”

“But there are no crowned heads in America,” said Will, smiling.

“Pardon me, sonny,” contradicted Mr. Flippance.

“But I’ve just come from there,” said Will crushingly.

“And how about the Emperor of Brazil?”

“Oh!” said Will blankly. He seemed really to have heard of this
personage. Then recovering, he said: “But have you played before him?”

“That’s not my affair,” said Mr. Flippance. “It ain’t my responsibility
what Duke’s done or left undone—if Duke was his name, which I take
leave to question. ’Twixt you and I, I doubt if it would pay to work
Brazil. But, as I said, I bought it as a going concern, lock, stock——”

“And lies,” snapped the Deacon.

Mr. Flippance turned his large red face benevolently towards the
moleskins.

“Lies is a harsh word. Legends, old cock, legends.”

“Oi bain’t a bird,” rasped the Deacon. “Stick to the truth.”

“Lord love us, a Quaker!” Mr. Flippance winked at Will, who smiled—man
of the world to man of the world. “As if anybody would take a thing that
size and smell for a rooster!”

The Deacon reached for the rum-bottle in deadly silence. Will, with a
fear—soon proved superfluous—that he meant it for a missile, hastened
to remark that anyhow there were no crowned heads in Australia.

“Where were you educated, sonny?” retorted Mr. Flippance. And he began
whistling the then favourite air: “The King of the Cannibal Islands.” He
broke off to point out that kings and queens were as thick in the
man-eating islands round Australia as old cocks in Essex, though they
didn’t wear moleskins, or indeed anything but their own skins. Besides,
he added as an afterthought, wasn’t Queen Victoria monarch of Australia
too?

Will, taken aback again, had to admit it. “But you haven’t played before
Victoria?” he murmured.

Mr. Flippance winked more widely as he explained that a study of the
posters would show that the Marionettes themselves never claimed to have
performed before crowned heads. It was the plays that had been
performed. He turned suddenly upon the rum-soothed Deacon. “You’re not
denying, my Quaker friend, that Queen Victoria’s seen _Hamlet_?”

“You leave me and the Queen out of it,” growled the Deacon.

“Ha! Then you admit she’s seen _Hamlet_?”

“Oi don’t know nawthen about it. Why _should_ she see _Hamlet_?”

“Because he was the Prince of Denmark,” said Tony, winking again at his
now bosom friend. “But you Methody Quaker dead-alive go-to-meeting sons
of Sundayfied slugs crawl about thinking yourselves holier than
Victoria, God bless her, even when it’s wood, never having seen society
or ever had a drink outside Chipstone.”

The Deacon was roused at last. “Never had a drink outside Chipstone!”
His breast heaved with a sinister movement—was it a wheeze of wrath or
of laughter? “Oi’ll goo bail my round is bigger nor yourn. There ain’t
scarce a barn in East Anglia what don’t know me.”

Tony’s great jaw fell. “A barnstormer! You! Rats! What do you play?”

“It ain’t play—it’s work.”

“Yes, I know—but what’s your repertory?”

“My what?”

“Your pieces.”

“Oi bain’t onny a piece-worker.”

“In what?”

“In what you said. It ain’t always per tail.”

“Retail, do you mean?” said the puzzled Tony.

Will, who had listened to the conversation with an ever-expanding grin,
here burst into a guffaw. Tony turned on him.

“Is he kidding me?” he asked half angrily, half amicably.

The answer—like Will’s departure from this enthralling parlour—was
staved off by the advent of yet another head popped into the doorway.
This time it was a heavily greased head with scrupulously parted hair,
and was attached to a spruce young man with a spring posy in his
buttonhole. But his bear’s-grease out smelt his primroses.

“Hullo, Tony!” cried the aromatic apparition. “Up already!”

“_I’ve_ got to work for my living,” Mr. Flippance retorted. “The
dormouse season is over. You coming in, Charley, to see the show
to-night?”

“Me! I’ve got better things to do, old boy.” The young landlord turned
to the Deacon. “Can you let me have five or six live ’uns?”

The Deacon shook his head. “Oi don’t want to disoblige brother. Oi do my
duty according to Peter—‘nat’ral brute beasts made to be taken and
destroyed’—but they bain’t meant by the Almoighty to be taken for
sport, and Oi don’t howd with fox-hunting neither.”

“So I see.” Mr. Charles Mott glanced glumly at the backs of the
pictures.

“Ef you want to be riddy o’ warmints, shoot ’em, says Oi, or nip their
brushes in traps.”

“Oh, oh!” came involuntarily from Will at this blasphemy. The Deacon
transfixed him with his glittering eye, but went on without pausing:
“And ef you want to be riddy o’ rats, come to me. Don’t set
a-worshippin’ your prize-terriers, like Ephraim jined to his idols.”

“I did come to you to be rid o’ the warmints, and now I want
half-a-dozen spunky ’uns. Make your own price, but if you won’t supply
’em I’ll get ’em from Bill Nutbone.”

“That’s doubly sinful—to goo to the heathen.” He turned to Will. “Ef
you’re so fond o’ ferrets, young man, Oi could spare you this
pair—cheaper than you’ll get ’em from Nutbone.” He let their pink eyes
protrude from his pockets.

Will eagerly closed with the offer. If Frog Farm proved as dull as he
was now beginning to fear—after this contrast of Anthony Flippance and
Joshua Mawhood—ratting or rabbiting might be a providential diversion.

“But I can’t carry them in _my_ pockets,” he said impressively. “Just
made by Moses & Son, London. And I’ve got a long walk. Besides, I’d like
them in cages.”

“Oi’ll send ’em by the carrier on Friday,” promised the ratcatcher.
“Frog Farm, you said. Good day to you, Brother Mott.”

“Good day, Deacon. Sorry we can’t do business. Queer old cuss,” he said,
winking at Will as the door closed. “Belongs to the Peculiars.”

“I—I’ve heard of them.” Will coloured a bit.

Tony, who had listened to the dialogue with enlightenment, here stalked
out in half-genuine horror: “Holy Moses & Son! The publican and sinner
prefers rats to Shakespeare!”

“Stow it, Tony!” called the landlord after him. “One preacher’s enough.”
And, smiling, he changed the blanks into hunting pictures almost as
deftly as his waiter would have done it.

He had scarcely effected the transformation, however, before the Deacon
popped his head in again. Mr. Mott looked like a caught schoolboy, but
though the beady eyes looked straight at the flamboyant hunters, Mr.
Mawhood only said: “Oi forgot to lend a law-book.”

“What sort of a law-book d’ye want?”

“Miss Gentry’s got a counter-claim. Ef Oi won’t pay for my wife’s silk
dress as Oi never ordered, she says my ferrets killed her chickens.”

“That’s not a counter-claim, Mr. Mawhood,” advised Will.

“It’s a lyin’ claim, anyways. What killed her chickens was her own black
devil, Squibs. Her and her angels!”

“You go down to the bar and see if the missus can find you a book—but
wouldn’t a lawyer be better?”

“The good Lord forbid! Oi’d sooner goo to a doctor. Well, thank you
kindly, brother—one good turn desarves another. Foive, Oi think you
said.”

“Or six. First thing in the morning. Spunky ’uns, remember.”

The Deacon sighed and disappeared again.

“Poor old chap!” Sure of his rats, Mr. Mott was now touched to sympathy.
“His missus is a Tartar, no mistake. Still with them rounds of his, he
dodges her a good deal.” And he sighed like the Deacon and followed
him—bear’s-grease after aniseed—and Will, alone at last, followed too,
though without a sigh, being still—as the waiter said—“one of the
lucky ones.”

In the corridor he turned the wrong way, finding bedroom doors instead
of the staircase. He paused a moment to gaze at a stuffed specimen of
the sacred animal that stood with brush rampant against a scenic
background under a glass case, and a stuffed trout that swam movelessly
through a mimic stream. Then he became aware to his surprise that Tony
Flip, still in his dressing-gown and still hugging the balance of his
posters, was pacing the corridor restlessly, like a caged lion, though
it turned out to be really like a tame creature denied his cage.

“They won’t let me in,” he said miserably. And he indicated an open
bedroom door opposite the fox, with a view of housemaids at work, angry
at the hour. One was making his bed, thumping it viciously; another
raised swirls of dust with a broom. Slops stood blatantly around.

“They won’t even take free seats,” he groaned.


                                  VII

“What did I tell you?” said Will.

“Oh, it ain’t because they think it wicked, the hussies. They turn up
their noses at it, just because it’s _under_ their noses. If they had to
go to Greenwich Fair to see it, they’d fight to get in. Candidly, cocky,
have you ever seen a better bill?”

“It seems only too much,” ventured Will.

“It don’t say all at the same performance. In practice it all comes down
to _The Mistletoe Bough_, the silliest of the lot, a bride who shuts
herself in a chest for fun, you know, and moulders into a spirit. But
think of Richardson’s—what they cram into twenty-five minutes! You saw
that at Greenwich, I suppose, Easter time.”

“No, I only got to London in time for the Great Exhibition.”

“You’ve been to that?” The Showman’s eyes sparkled.

“What I came back for.”

“That’s a Show!!” And a note of immeasurable envy mixed with the rapture
of the rival impresario. “But what a chance missed!”

“How so?”

“No drinks.”

“I got lemonade.”

“That’s not a drink—that’s a gas. Lord, I thought, looking at that
bumper house, with a proper Christian bar, they could pay off the
National Debt.”

“You’ve seen it then?”

“Was there at the opening. Stood so near the Royal Party I patted the
head of little Wales, and the Goldstick and Chamberlain walking
backwards from the Presence nearly shoved me into the Chinese Ambassador
just as he was salaaming on his stomach. Didn’t little Albert Edward
look sweet in his Highland costume?”

“I wasn’t inside then,” confessed Will, “and I only had eyes for the
Queen and her cream-coloured horses. You’ve got a season ticket, I
suppose.”

“With the Prince Consort’s compliments. The fact is, I supplied the
elephant for the Queen’s howdah.”

“Did you?”

“Yes, didn’t you see it in the Indian compartment? They wanted to show
off the magnificent trappings she got from the Rajah, and they thought
of getting a real live elephant, which would have been no end of trouble
amid all those precious vases. But I happened to know of a stuffed
elephant at a show down here in Essex, so I entered into correspondence
with Buckingham Palace and loaned the beast for the season—buying him
up first, of course—and sent him up in my caravan that had to be roused
from its winter sleep and completely unpacked. Yes, trouble enough! But
talk of the Koh-i-noor, that elephant’ll be worth his weight in gold
when he comes back—Queen Victoria’s elephant as visited by the nobility
and gentry of the world. I annex the Great Exhibition. See!”

“I wish I’d noticed him,” said Will wistfully. “I only saw her statue in
zinc, seven yards high. But there’s so much to see—machinery and jewels
and Mexican figures, it makes your head ache, and I couldn’t even get a
look at that Koh-i-noor, such a crush round it. But did you see the
Preserved Pig?”

The Showman’s eyes twinkled. “Mr. Woods, d’ye mean?”

“Mr. Woods?”

“The Chancellor of the Exchequer. Haven’t you noticed how they’ve left
off abusing the income tax now they’ve got the show to talk about? By
Jove,” he chuckled, “what a haul for the Exchequer if they bring the
Crystal Palace under the window tax!”

“No, no! Best Berkshire breed. The real marvel of the Exhibition! None
o’ your stuffed creatures, but a natural pig cured whole. Weighs three
and a half hundredweight; five foot and a half from tail to snout. ’Twas
done by a provision merchant in Dublin—Smith—I took note of the name.”

“That name will be immortal,” said Mr. Flippance gravely.

“Yes, and there was a monster pigeon-pie!” said Will with the same
unsuspicious enthusiasm.

The church clock, striking four at this point, made the Showman bound
frantically to his doorway. “Not done yet, you snails and sluts! When am
I to get these bills to the tent? Do you realize we open to-night?
You’ll ruin the show.”

“I’ll take them,” volunteered Will. “My road lays by the field.”

“A friend in need is a friend indeed.” Tony thrust the heavy roll
effusively into Will’s hands. “Ask for my daughter—she’ll help you to
stick ’em up on the bill-boards.”

“Your daughter?” murmured Will. He would have resented his sudden
reduction to a bill-poster but for the romantic vision of the Bohemian
petticoat.

“I can’t pull the strings on both sides of the stage at once, can I? Not
to mention the women’s and boys’ voices, and the piping Gaffers. Lord,
she’s got a head on her, has Polly. And pops in and out to play the
piano too.”

With pleasant flutterings of the springtide fancy, the young man lightly
strode with his roll under his arm to the field where a long
chocolate-coloured caravan—apparently the vehicle that had transported
the elephant—stood horseless at an aperture in the mammoth mushroom
described by Tony Flip. Labourers in shirt-sleeves were carrying in
ropes and rough benches. Small boys and large dogs stood around, and
there was a litter of straw, cardboard, shivered packing-cases, and
dirty paper. Two trucks covered with tarpaulin, and a vast box with a
high-pitched roof marked “Duke’s Marionettes,” completed the confusion.
Will, peeping in, saw a stage already set, at the border of which a girl
on her knees was tacking a row of tin footlight-holders. The rear was
already roped off, and the benches seemed to rise like a gallery.
Evidently the thing was done in style—crowned heads or no crowned
heads. Not without a thrill he walked in, and across the grassy floor,
but romance fled when the girl, raising her head, presented a face
almost as massive as her father’s, and ravaged by smallpox to boot.
Polly had indeed “a head on her,” he thought, though long pendent
ear-rings preserved its femininity.

Politely concealing his chill, he murmured “Miss Flippance,” and
explained he had been instructed to deliver the bills to her.

She received them and him with an indifference that would have been
galling had she been prettier, and was not gratifying even from a
massive brain.

“Silly nonsense!” she grumbled, unrolling them. “To open before you’ve
done your posting and circularizing. There won’t be a soul!”

“Oh, surely—this weather!” he murmured.

Miss Flippance threw him an annihilating glance. “If dad once gets an
idea into his head, you can’t get it out with a forceps.” Will stared at
this vigorous young lady, who, with a poster unfurled in her hand,
proceeded to yell directions and rebukes at the bench-arranging
clodhoppers. It was an insult to his sex, he felt resentfully. No woman,
however ugly, had the right to order men about, men who were not even
married to her.

“Nincompoops! They’ll never be ready for to-night,” said Miss Flippance,
acknowledging his existence again. “Would to heaven dad had gone up to
London to see the Exhibition—and not hustled us like this.”

“But he was there at the opening.”

Miss Flippance stared at him. “Were you with him?”

“No such luck. I didn’t even see the stuffed elephant.”

“Has he stuffed you with that?” Miss Flippance emitted a mirthless
laugh, and Will looked at once angry and sheepish. “Not that way, you
hulking brutes! Turn ’em round. . . . And besides, it’s ridiculous to
give _Hamlet_. High art don’t take south of Scarborough.”

“Well, I saw _Othello_ in London last week,” he contradicted
sharply—she should see he was no mere gull: “And the pit was packed.”

“Yes—in April. But try it in the dog-days.”

“Too warm, eh?” he sniggered. She turned away as from an idiot. That
hurt him more than having swallowed her father’s royal rodomontade. Did
she then think the plot of _Othello_ glacial? Or had she no sense of
humour? Yes, that was it—the sex had been denied the sense of humour.
True, it shrieked with laughter if you tickled it, but the tickling must
be physical. Ah, she was at it again, bustling and bullying the superior
sex. Well, _he_ wasn’t going to paste bills under her. Let that lazy
liar of a Showman do his own dirty work.

“Good afternoon,” he called out huffily, and walked out of the great
tent in a far less romantic mood than when he had entered it. And then,
as he came through the opening in the canvas, his eyes nearly started
out of their sockets: Daniel Quarles’s cart stood outside the tent, and
there, perched on the driving-board, holding the reins, and calmly
instructing the shirt-sleeved yokels to deliver the big drum to Miss
Flippance, was the girl of the parcel-shed!


                                  VIII

Before his eyes could return normally to their orbits or his breath to
his windpipe, the incredible vision had vanished. Jinny had, in fact,
had an overdose of commissions in the other purlieus of Chipstone, and
having fetched the drum from its winter quarters as directed by Miss
Polly Flippance that noon—it had, in fact, been pawned, and the piano
was still irredeemable—she was hastening on her homeward circuit as
fast as Methusalem could be induced to go.

“Who was that?” Will gasped.

The rustic who had received the drum looked at him with unconcealed
contempt. A man who did not know that!

“That war Jinny!” he said.

It was as if he had given his drum a terrific bang. Jinny?—Jinny
Quarles then! Who else? In the boom of that name reverberated a clamour
of memories and of emotions, old and new. Images of a solemn-eyed mite,
of a merry little maid, of a sedate Sunday scholar, and of the amazing
creature of to-day, went all interflashing with one another. Yes, the
little Jinny who had shared the wagon and his secret with him that
fateful Sunday, and who if ever by a rare chance she had flitted across
his thoughts, figured always as this same little girl in her grand pink
Sunday pelisse, trimmed with pink velvet and fringes, was now grown up;
bonneted, bewitching, incredible.

“But where—where was her grandfather?” he stammered. “Asleep inside?”

“Asleep?” The rustic grinned. “A long sleep, Oi should reckon. Whoy, we
ain’t seen the Gaffer for years.”

“Don’t stand there gossiping.” It was the female martinet at her
sternest.

“It’s not his fault,” said Will. “I was asking about old Daniel Quarles.
Is he really dead?”

“Dead? Not to my knowledge. At least I have never noticed Jinny in
black.”

“Then where _is_ he? Why isn’t he looking after Jinny?”

“Eh? But he must be a hundred!”

“You don’t mean to say he lets Jinny go out and do his job?”

“The most natural person I should think,” said Miss Flippance. “Really I
haven’t time to discuss village carriers, if the show is to open
to-night. . . . Do be careful of that drum. No, not inside, blockhead.
Come back!”

As the tambour-laden slave did not seem to hear, his affrighted
fellow-serfs yelled to him to bring the drum outside again, and when he
was come, the despot’s skirts rustled majestically back into the
tent—they were long and hunched out quite fashionably, which
accentuated the humiliation of the male element. But Will remained at
the tent door, like Abraham after an angel’s visit, thunderstruck and
dumbfounded, but with consternation, not reverence. It was, he thought,
the grossest carelessness that had ever occurred in the history of the
globe. A respectable girl like that—why, what was the world coming to?
Sent gadding about the country like a trollop, perched up horsily behind
a carter’s whip—this was what little Jinny had been allowed to grow up
into! And that girl at “The Black Sheep”—she who had looked so
innocent, whom he had mentally seen as a May Queen, crowned with
garlands, dancing girlishly round a Maypole—this was what lay under her
poetic semblance. And at the same time—pleasing and perturbing
thought—both the unsexed Carrier and the maidenly May Queen were in
reality little Jinny: no stand-offish stranger, needing deferential
approach, but—in a way—his very own: the meek poppet whose cheek he
had always pinched patronizingly, in whose eyes he had always seen
himself as a grown-up god.

Miss Flippance, sweeping out again, and finding him still hanging about,
immovable, had a new thought. “Pardon me—has my father engaged you?”

He coloured up in anger. “I brought his bills in passing—that’s all.”

“Oh, I thought you might be looking for a job. There’s this drum, you
know.”

He could have knocked her down. But she was evidently quite in earnest,
this outrageous, humourless female, only second in self-sufficiency to
Jinny the Carrier. The world seemed suddenly emasculated.

“I’m no musician,” he said surlily.

“But you look a strong young man and it’s muscle we want, not music.
You’d only have to stand here about half an hour a day. This afternoon,
of course, you might join the Bellman round the town—I’ve ordered him
for five.”

“Miss Flippance,” said Will, mastering himself and speaking with
crushing dignity, “have you observed my clothes?”

“They don’t matter,” she assured him. “We provide the uniform.”

“Do I look,” he snorted, “like a drummer at a dime show?”

“If you’ve come as a walking gentleman,” replied Miss Flippance simply,
“you’ve come to the wrong shop. We’re only wires.”

“Oh, I know all about that.” And he slashed savagely with his stick at
the insulting tambour, which uttered a bass roar of agony.

“Splendid! But you might have smashed it!” cried Miss Flippance.
“Where’s the drumstick?”

“Am I the drumstick’s keeper?” he answered, with an odd Biblical
reminiscence.

“Nincompoops! Thickheads! Zanies! Where’s the drumstick?”

But nobody had seen the drumstick. Jinny hadn’t brought it, the slaves
assured her. She assured them, still more emphatically, that they had
dropped it off the drum in taking it out. And no inch of it being
visible where the cart had stood, she drew the deduction that it was now
speeding towards Long Bradmarsh.

She turned to Will. “Do run after her—the men are so busy—she can’t be
far, and she has to stop every now and again.”

He glared at her. Then something inside him whispered that that was the
obvious thing to do—impishly to pretend to obey her, and then to keep
her waiting for the drumstick—eternally. Yes, he would be revenged on
behalf of his sex.

“Yoicks! Tally-ho!” he cried with an advent of glee that he felt
justifiably malicious. And, waving his own stick wildly, he bounded with
mock frenzy towards the field gate by which the cart had gone off.

“You won’t catch her like that,” bawled Miss Flippance after him.
“Across the fields! Head her off!” But he would not take orders from any
woman, he told himself, so feigning deafness he ran doggedly into the
Long Bradmarsh road, and turning a sharp elbow, felt his heart leap up
to see the now familiar cart at a standstill before a wayside cottage.
But even as he gazed it started afresh.

He tore on madly. The back of the tilt vanished round another bend.
“Following a drumstick” passed grotesquely across his mind. What an odd
home-coming! What a queer renewal of acquaintance with Jinny—after that
solemn oath-taking in the wagon!

Presently he heard a wild scampering through the bushes on his right,
and his canine friend of the inn was leaping and frisking and joyously
barking beside him. They ran together—owing to the dog’s leisurely
tangents and curvatures he could just keep up with it. But with the
sweat now pouring from his forehead, the inner imp began asking what he
was running for, since he had already deceived and chastised Miss
Flippance, left her eternally expectant. Why not now drop into the
pleasant saunter home he had planned?

But the poor dog was panting in this heat—he answered the imp—it must
have run miles since its meal in the parlour. Apoplexy threatened
perhaps, hydrophobia even. Look at its lolling tongue! He snatched it
up: it must be restored to its inconsiderate mistress, to whom, at the
same time, a still more important rebuke could be administered, if
indeed any vestiges of decency yet remained in the minx. But the little
terrier struggled spasmodically in his arms—the ungrateful brute! He
must save it from itself, then, just as he must save its mistress from
herself. Clamping it to his breast with iron muscles, he toiled
frenziedly forwards. Then the far, faint sound of a horn came like elfin
mocking laughter on the sultry air, and with a sudden convulsion the
animal wrested itself free, and Will was left hopelessly pursuing, not
the cart, but the dog. He had indeed the pleasure of seeing the former
slacken to receive the latter, but the vehicle was wafted away again so
smoothly that to the poor perspiring pedestrian Methusalem appeared in
his original Mazeppa rôle.

The chase ran along wide horizons—great ploughed lands or meadows with
grazing cattle—the level broken only by ricks, roofs, and trees, mainly
witch-elms, with a few poplars. Sometimes these elms clustered in
groves, sometimes a few helped to make the hedge-line; as often they
rose solitary in arrogant individualism. To the right was a delicious
sense of the saltings and of mewing sea-birds; and mysteriously, as in
the heart of the fields, red-brown barge sails or the tall, bare poles
of vessels could be seen upstanding. And once where the road mounted,
Will caught a glimpse of the Blackwater, and ships floating, and the
dim, blue shore beyond.

But at the top of this hill he was too breathed to continue. He sat
down, wiped his forehead, and surveyed the view; far from soothed,
however, by its simple restfulness. If only his father had come to meet
him, as his letter had requested, he thought savagely, all this wouldn’t
have happened!


                                   IX

Anyhow there was no need to follow the glaring high road any longer. On
the left he could see the clump of Steeples Wood, and he knew that once
he had cut through that, he could find the swift field-path through
Hoppits that would save miles of the high road and not bring him out on
it till the Silverlane Pump. He strolled with a sense of relief towards
the wood, but hardly had its green groves closed refreshingly upon him
when, reminding himself he was a trespasser, he quickened his pace
again, and hurried through the oak plantations and over the wonderful
carpet of bluebells with but a slight eye to the sylvan beauty.

Even when he reached the field-path bounded by the ditch and the
dog-rose hedge, he did not relax his speed, having bethought himself
that the poor horse would surely be given drink at the trough of the
Silverlane Pump, and that there would probably be a delay at “The
Silverlane Arms,” even if he should not have succeeded in heading the
Carrier off altogether. And from that point she would surely need his
protection, so lonely was the road till you sighted Long Bradmarsh with
the drainage windmills and the bridge. And the no less necessary sermon
could be combined with the protection.

He found the wheel of the village pump chained up. Evidently the water
was running scarce. It looked not unlike a gibbet, this tall pump, and
he could imagine a criminal dangling from the spout. There was little
water in the trough, and the water-butt of the inn was almost equally
dry; a wayside mudhole haunted by geese represented a pool. He
remembered these arid villages in such strange juxtaposition with his
own oozy birthplace—was it here or at Kelcott that he had made a boyish
fortune, bringing water at a halfpenny a pint? His mother, he recalled
with a faint smile, had been against the business because Jesus had said
to the woman of Samaria “_Give_ me to drink,” though he had trumped her
text with the injunction to the Israelites: “Ye shall also buy water of
them for money.” It all made him super-conscious of thirst, and he went
into the inn, and ordering a pint of ale, inquired if the Carrier had
passed by.

“Which way be you a-gooin’?” said the tapster. It irritated him to be
questioned, and he replied tartly that he was going home. He gulped down
his liquor and put his question to a group of children playing around
the pump. They scratched their heads and gaped at him, and the youngest
put shy, chubby hands to its smeary face. “The white horse and the
girl!” he explained, and the shy child started screaming, and a woman
burst from a cottage door and dragged it within, glaring suspiciously at
the “furriner.”

A labourer riding a plough-horse barebacked, and leading another, came
from the Bradmarsh direction. “Has the Carrier passed you?” he asked.

“D’ye want a lift?” was the reply.

He lost his temper. “Haven’t you got enough business o’ your own?”

“Not much,” said the labourer naïvely. “Ground be as ’ard as the road.
Curous, baint it, arter all that soakin’.”

He replied more civilly, glad his rudeness was misunderstood. “Yes, it’s
always either too little or too much.”

“And ye can’t sow unless ’tis none-or-both,” added the philosophic
ploughman, plodding on. “Gimme a followin’ toime!”

The rustic meant a season in which rain and sunshine came in rapid
alternation, but Will ruefully reflected that the “followin’ toime,” in
the sense he was having it, was far from satisfactory.

But at that moment there was a cheerful bark, and that inconsistent dog
was curveting around him, its tall thumping wildly against his trousers
in an ecstasy of recognition. So he was too late, he thought with a
strange heart-sinking; knowing its rearguard habit. He pushed it away
with his foot. If the beast thought he was going to carry it again, it
was jolly well mistaken. No more cart-chasing for him. His “following
time” was over. And as the creature persisted in gambolling round his
legs, he made a swish in the air with his stick to drive it on its way,
and it uttered a fearsome yell; it being part of Nip’s slyness to cry
before he was hurt. But for once Nip was not a laggard, but an advance
courier, and Fate brought Methusalem round the corner at the exact
instant of his yell.

“How dare you strike my dog?” It was an inauspicious reunion. Jinny had
checked Methusalem, and her grey eyes were blazing down from their dark
lashes; her face framed in its bonnet glowed like a dark flower, and he
was confusedly aware that that lonely hamlet’s high-street was suddenly
pullulating with people—the tapster and gapers at the inn door, the
ploughman looking backwards, excited at last, the little children
mysteriously out again with their mother, and other mothers and infants
(in arms or at skirt) surging agitatedly from nowhere, whether at Nip’s
cry or Jinny’s. Even the pump seemed to have spouted an old man, while
an old lady arose, like an ancient Venus, from the pond. And every eye,
he felt, was stabbing at the maltreator of Jinny’s animal; the cackle
seemed a sinister clamour as of vengeance mounting from that swarm of
sympathizers.

“I didn’t strike him,” he answered sulkily. Clearly she had not
recognized him—a position not without its advantages. Doubtless the raw
youth of her childish memories was effectually buried beneath this manly
form, set off by the elegant London suit, this well-barbered head, and
the face that had exchanged freckles for the stamp of experience. “As a
matter of fact,” he added, “I fed the brute at the inn.”

“Which brute?” retorted Jinny sharply. But at this moment Nip, who had
been calmly lapping the dregs of the pool, intervened by leaping up to
lick Will’s hand.

“I beg your pardon,” she murmured, coming to a standstill.

“Granted,” he said, not to be outdone in graciousness, and beginning to
enjoy the advantage her ignorance of his identity gave him. “But that’s
no proof I haven’t beaten him. You remember the saying:

        _A woman, a dog, and a walnut-tree,_
        _The more you beat them, the better they be._”

“That’s all nonsense,” said Jinny, bridling up again.

He changed the subject quickly. “Have you got a drumstick?”

“Gracious! Do you want to try?”

He laughed. “It’s for the drum at the show. Miss Flippance thinks you
didn’t deliver it.”

“Why, it was tied on the drum. The fool of a man must have dropped
it—if he hasn’t poked it inside the drum. Did you look under the
benches?”

“No. That’s it! I remember now seeing the man take the drum inside by
mistake. He must have dropped it on the way back.”

“Don’t you think it would have been more sensible to look before you
leaped—especially such a long leap! And what a pace you must have come
in this heat!”

He flushed faintly. “I’m a good walker. I know the cuts.”

“Well, if you get back as quick as you came, there won’t be much time
lost.” She clucked up Methusalem. “Good afternoon—hope you’ll find your
stick, and that you’ll drum-in a good house.”

What! She too thought him capable of being a drum-banger, a minion of
marionettes. Had women then no eye—no perception of clothes—as well as
no humour? The mob was melting away under their amiable parley, but he
now rallied it afresh: “Stop!” he called desperately after Jinny.
“Stop!”

But Nip’s joyous bark at the resumption of the journey drowned all
lesser remarks, and again the cart receded on the horizon—an horizon he
knew houseless and arid, no region for a lonely, good-looking girl. Let
poor pockmarked Polly Flippance brave the wild, if female carriers there
must be: not his Jinny. No, he must reveal himself at the next stop, he
must remonstrate, protest.

But the trouble was that the thing would not stop, and that there would
be no stop now—he knew—for several miles. Perspiring, panting,
hallooing and waving his stick and utterly oblivious of the scandalized
street, he pursued at his swiftest, and Methusalem being no serious
competitor in the long run, Jinny heard him at last, and looking back
through the tilt over the dwindled packages, saw the pitiful, gesturing
figure, and to his infinite relief the cart drew up.

“What have you lost now?” she called. “Your sandwich-boards?”

“I’m not going back to Miss Flippance,” he panted, “I’m going Bradmarsh
way.”

“Then why ever didn’t you say so?” she replied calmly. “Jump up!”

Jump up? She asked a strange young man to jump up? Then what else could
she have done if he had said who he was—a fact of which he had indeed
been just about to make royal proclamation.

“You take passengers?” he gasped. He remembered now that Joey had told
him the cart would take him, but then he had had no idea that “her” was
not the vehicle.

She was equally surprised: “Why else did you run after me?”

Run after her? He did not like the phrase. Girls ran after men—girls of
a sort—to some extent girls of every sort: that was the doctrine in
_his_ set. And yet he _had_ run after her—it called for explanation. “I
wasn’t running after you,” he said slowly, “it was only that—that I
couldn’t believe my eyes to see you like that.”

“Like what?” She was frankly puzzled.

“Driving about alone in this God-forsaken part. It’s—” scandalous, he
was about to say, but before the glimmering fire in her eyes he altered
the word—“it’s dangerous.”

“Dangerous!” Her little laugh rippled out. “I thought you said you knew
these parts.”

“So I do—I’m an Essex man, even though I mayn’t look it, having been
half round the world.”

“Have you now? Well, it’s the big cities that are dangerous, Gran’fer
says.”

“Maybe he’s right,” he admitted, wincing a little before the candid grey
eyes. “But don’t you understand that a woman carrier is—” again he
toned down his word—“outlandish.”

Her amusement danced in her eyes. “Inlandish, I suppose you mean.”

“Don’t laugh,” he said, forgetting that the unrevealed Will had no right
to that tone. “You know it’s an unwomanly occupation.”

“Laughing?”

“You know what I mean. For one thing a woman can’t know much about
horses—and she oughtn’t to have to do with ’em anyhow—it’s not
natural.”

“May she have to do with donkeys?” Jinny inquired sweetly.

He frowned. “Chaff’s no good.”

“But I never give my horse any—do I, Methusalem dear?”

Such word-mockery was bewildering to his simpler brain. He opened his
mouth, but nothing came, and his vexation only increased for finding no
vent.

“May she have to do with pigs?” queried Jinny again.

“Pigs are at home,” he conceded.

“Not always,” she said demurely. “I meet lots on this very road.”

“And you might meet worse than pigs on a lonely road like this—you
might meet men——”

“Like I’ve met one now.”

“Yes, but it happens to be me!” he said, again all but forgetting her
ignorance of his identity. “Usually it would be dangerous.”

“Well, but wouldn’t it be just as dangerous for a male carrier?”

“Not at all. He can fight.”

“And if he met a woman?” she said slyly.

“There’s no danger in a woman.”

“Then why are you running away from Miss Flippance?”

“Miss Flippance!” he cried in angry astonishment. “Who says I’m running
away from Miss Flippance?”

“Well, you’ve run from her to me. And if you say you weren’t running
after me, you must have been running away from her.”

“Don’t you try to bamboozle me. I tell you I’ve been half round the
world, and nowhere have I seen a woman carrier.”

“If you’d ha’ stayed at home you would have,” said Jinny.

“So it seems. And in America there are those Bloomerites—come over
here, too, I hear, nowadays, the hussies. Want to wear the breeches.”

“Do they?” inquired Jinny with genuine interest. “I’ve often thought it
would be more convenient for me jumping up and down, and there would be
yards of stuff less. Some of those Chipstone ladies quite scavenge the
streets with their long skirts, padded out by all those petticoats,
don’t you think?”

He grew almost as auburn as his hair: such secrets of the toilette,
babbled by a young girl he still thought good at heart, outraged his
sense of decorum.

“No, I don’t think!” he answered angrily.

“Well, try,” she suggested sweetly. “Put yourself into our place.”

“It’s you putting yourselves into _our_ place that’s the trouble,” he
retorted. “What will women be up to next, I wonder.”

Here it was Jinny’s turn to flare up. She had never—it has been already
remarked—thought of herself as up to anything, rarely even thought of
herself as a woman, least of all as a representative of her sex. But
challenged now to her face for the first time, she felt she must hold
the pass for all womanhood.

“We women will be up to whatever we please.”

“Not if you want to please the men.”

Jinny’s young face flashed fire and roses. “And who wants to please the
men?”

He laughed complacently. “I never met a woman who didn’t.”

The girl’s fire died into cold contempt. “I don’t think you know much
about women.”

“Me? Why, I’ve knocked about since you were in pinafores—and pelisses!”

“I shouldn’t be surprised, Mr. Drummer,” said Jinny with judicial
frigidity, “if you knew less about women than I know about horses.”

“I’ve seen half the world, I tell you.”

She flicked up Methusalem. “But not the better half.”

He winced again. “Fiddlesticks!” was all he could find to answer.

“Drumsticks!” rejoined Jinny gaily, and with a mocking flourish of her
horn, she receded afresh.

Something stronger than his will now shot him forward crying: “I say,
Jinny!” He meant by crying that old familiar name to disclose himself,
and then to have it out with her, side by side on the driving-board.

She turned her head. “_Do_ you want to jump on or don’t you?” she
called.

It was the last straw. Jinny—he had forgotten—-was not a name
privileged for the friend of her pelisse and pinafore days: any male
might use it, just as any wayside rough might abuse its owner. “I
don’t,” he shouted savagely. “I’ll never patronize a woman carrier.”

“_A dashing young lad from Buckingham!_” She had started singing,
whether to herself or at him, he could not tell, and he strode behind
the cart almost as rapidly as Methusalem before it, to find out whether
she was still answering back.

But apparently she had forgotten him—that was the most pungent repartee
of all—and the gaiety of the chorus only added salt to the smart:

        “_Still he’d sing fol de rol iddle ol,_
         _Still he’d sing fol de rol lay——_”

The thin silver treble reminded him incongruously of her Sunday-school
singing, and the revival of that long-faded picture of himself driving
her home only emphasized the jarring present. He turned furiously down
Plashy Walk, where the rollick of the chorus soon ceased to penetrate
and the white fragrance of the wonderful hawthorn avenue made a soothing
passage-way. His tongue felt acrid with anger, ale, and running, and
Frog Farm, with the faces of his parents, now began to loom more
emotionally before him, because of the tea as well as the tenderness
awaiting him. For neither of these luxuries was likely to be absent,
even if his letter—or his father—had gone astray. Let her protect
herself, this minx of a carrier, Time’s odd changeling for his sober
little Jinny. Serve her right if some horrid instrument of fate should
take down her pride!

By the time he had come through the mile of hawthorn, and defied the
Plashy Hall dog with his stick, she had passed out of his thoughts, and
his indignation against her had changed to indignation against the
impudent attempt—obvious from the notice-boards—to deny him and the
public this old-established right-of-way. Things would not have got even
thus far had _he_ remained in Little Bradmarsh, he was thinking, and he
was already brooding over a plan of campaign as he was climbing over the
stile back into the high road. And then his vaulting leg remained
suspended an instant in air in sheer astonishment. Jinny was facing him
from her perch of vantage, smiling sweetly from her witching bonnet, her
cart athwart the road, in fact he could hardly step off the stile
without treading on Methusalem’s toes. Relaxing his motion, he sat down
on the stile, staring at her.


                                   X

“Why, Will!” exclaimed Jinny, and there was now a strange softness in
her face and voice. “How stupid of me not to recognize you when I’ve got
your box all the time!”

His mind, still perturbed about the right-of-way, and bent now upon
home, could not adjust itself so suddenly to the new situation. Again
his mouth opened without issue. Her smile faded.

“I’m Daniel Quarles’s granddaughter,” she said with a little quaver.
“Little Jinny of Blackwater Hall.”

“So you’ve remembered me at last!” His voice came out harsh, though
inwardly he was melted by this new sweetness.

“Then did you know _me_ all the time?”

“Of course—the moment I clapped eyes on you.” He was not consciously
romanticizing.

“That’s what I’ve been thinking as I waited here for you. I’m so glad.
Because that shows you were only teasing me, saying all those horrid
things.” Then a new thought struck her to self-mockery. “Of course—I’m
getting silly—it wasn’t so wonderful of you recognizing me, with the
name of Daniel Quarles on the cart.” And she laughed merrily. “Do you
know why I didn’t recognize _you_? It wasn’t only Miss Flippance put me
off, and that I couldn’t connect you with drums and marionettes—it was
you yourself that blocked the way.”

“I don’t understand.”

“The old you, I mean—I was thinking about him all the time we were
talking, and that funny new you wasn’t like him one bit.”

“Thinking of me!” He was touched. . . . “Whatever made you think of me?”

“Didn’t I just tell you I’ve got your box? And of course I knew you were
coming back. We’ve been expecting you for days.”

“Oh, then mother did get my letter!” His latent ill-humour flowed into
the new channel.

“Of course.”

“Then why didn’t dad come to meet me?”

Her mouth twitched humorously at the corners with the suspicion the
letter was still unread, but she replied: “I suppose because he’s old
and hasn’t got a trap any more, and he knew that Tuesday was my day.
Jump up, I’m ever so late!”

He shook his head. “I can’t jump up.”

“Why, what’s the matter, Will?” Her voice was anxious and tender. “Have
you hurt your ankle, running?”

“No, no!” he said petulantly. “Didn’t you hear me say I’d never
patronize a woman carrier?”

She smiled in relief. “Yes—I heard you say it. But that was the silly
you.”

His face hardened. “Silly or sensible, I stick to my word.”

“Drumsticks!” she mocked again. “Jump up and tell me all about your
affair with Miss Flippance.”

“Don’t be saucy, Jinny. It don’t become you:”

For the life of him he could not accept her as grown up, much less as an
equal, though she sat on high, dominating the situation, whip in hand
and horn at girdle, spick and span and cool; while he, astride the
stile, was a forlorn figure, with dusty shoes and hot, lowering look.

“It becomes me as much as silliness does you,” said Jinny.

“I don’t see the silliness.”

“Why, you can’t live a week at Frog Farm without patronizing me. Who
else is there? There isn’t hardly a trap to be had even miles around.
Why there was a young man I drove out to Frog Farm last week, and a fine
to-do he had getting home!”

It was not calculated to soothe him. “And what need had you to drive a
young man?”

“It was for Maria—your mother’s pig. She was ill; her whole litter
might have been lost.”

He frowned more darkly. Pigs, he had but just admitted, might reasonably
come into the feminine ambit: still, if girls did get to know coarse
facts, they might at least have the decency not to talk about them. “And
did he call you Jinny?” he grunted.

“He didn’t call me Maria.”

“Well, traps or no traps,” he said sullenly, “you’ll get no orders from
me. I’ve fended for myself in the Canadian backwoods, where there wasn’t
even a woman to sew on buttons, and I certainly don’t need one now.”

But she was still smiling. “Do you know the song of the dashing young
lad from Buckingham?”

“I know _you_ do. But what’s that to do with it?”

She re-started the merry tune, but markedly altered the words:

        “_A dashing young lad from—Canada,_
           _Once a great wager did lay_
         _That he’d never use Jinny the Carrier,_
           _But—he gave her an order straightway!_”

“No, he won’t.”

“Don’t interrupt. You’ve already given it.

        _But still he’d sing fol de rol iddle ol——_”

“_What_ order have I given you?”

“To carry your box, of course—

        _Still he’d sing fol de-rol lay——_”

“But that was before I had the ghost of an idea——”

“Do join in the chorus:

        _Still he’d sing fol de rol iddle ol——_”

“I’ll have my trunk at once!” he cried furiously, and sprang off the
stile.

“_Fol de rol arilol lay!_” she wound up with easy enjoyment.

“Give me my trunk,” he commanded again.

“What—on this lonely road—in this weather!”

“That’s my business!”

“No, it isn’t—it’s mine.” She touched up Methusalem and turned his
eager nose homewards.

Will ran round with the turning animal.

“Give me my trunk!” He was white with determination.

“And don’t you call that an order?” She cracked her great whip.

He sprang to the tail-board, hanging on by one arm, and clutched at the
trunk with the other, dragging it out. But he had forgotten to reckon
with the faithful guardian. Nip, excited as at a rabbit, sprang from the
basket in which he had been resting his four weary limbs and growled
ominously, and as the burglarious arm did not draw back, the terrier—O
almost human ingratitude!—sprang at it and made his beautiful white
teeth meet in its fleshy middle.

“You little beast!” Alarmed more for his finery than his flesh, he
snatched back the elegant London sleeve and dropped off the cart, which
soon disappeared down a grim and lonely lane.


                                   XI

He examined the wound in his coat, and finding to his relief that it
could be neatly patched up, he stripped off the garment and surveyed his
abraded skin, tooth-marked and red-flecked; Nip’s signature in blood.
Then the horrible thought of hydrophobia—he had witnessed a dreadful
case in Montreal—popped again into his mind: after all, it was as hot
as July, and no sane dog would have behaved so disgracefully! And then,
pricked up by the sound of the horn, which came vaunting and taunting
from the lane, he started running after the cart yet once more: he must
find out if the dog would drink. But even the rumbling of the vehicle
could no longer be heard, and he was slackening hopelessly when he
became aware how involuted was this lane, and that by trespassing across
a ploughed field he could gain several furlongs. Bounding over the ditch
with his coat slung over his arm, and nearly tearing it afresh in
breaking through the blackberry hedge, he ran as recklessly as a
fox-hunter across the furrows, breaking out again like a footpad when he
heard Methusalem’s leisurely trot, and catching that unreluctant animal
by the beribboned headstall. Jinny manifested no surprise.

“I thought you’d get over your silliness,” she said, smiling. “Jump up
then!”

“I’m not jumping up!” He was angrier and hotter than ever. “I’ve come to
give your dog a drink.”

“Eh? But we’ve passed ‘The Silverlane Arms.’”

“This is no joking matter. He must have water.”

“He doesn’t need any. Surely I can look after my own dog—that’s not a
man’s place, too, is it?”

“It’s not a question of that—but if he doesn’t drink, it may be fatal.”

“Nonsense. A kind cottager offered him water only a mile back—he didn’t
want it. . . . What’s the matter? You’re looking so strange. . . . Have
you had a sunstroke?” The alarm in her voice reflected the alarm in his
face, and his alarm was in turn augmented by hers. He had a weird vision
of that man in Montreal, thrown into convulsions by the sound of a
splash and trying to bite his attendants, and a ghastly memory came to
him of a Bradmarsh woman who had frizzled for her foaming child the
liver of the dog that had bitten it. “Suppose your dog should be mad?”
he asked, with white lips that already felt frothy.

“Nip? Nonsense.”

“He bit me.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry. Where? Let me see.”

“I won’t.”

“But Nip never bites.”

“All the more suspicious. Try him with some water, please.”

“Where can I get water? Nip finds his own.”

“You mean to say you don’t carry water?”

“I’m not a water-carrier.”

“How can you laugh? It’s a question of life and death. Surely there must
be a pond somewhere.”

“You know there’s nothing hereabouts. Why, you used to come to Kelcott
to sell water at a halfpenny a pint. Don’t you remember? You bought me a
monkey-on-a-stick out of the profits.”

“How you babble! Then I must go in suspense?”

“Drumsticks! Here, Nip!” The dog was in her lap in a twinkling. She
pulled off her driving-glove and thrust her fingers into its mouth.
“Bite, Nip, bite.”

Will felt his first conscious flash of romance in all that fagging
chase. It was like dying together.

But Nip’s teeth refused to close on his mistress’s fingers—instead he
growled ominously at Will.

“Bite, you naughty dog!” And she pressed his reluctant teeth together.

“There!” She held down towards Will two fingers faintly ridged in red
and white. But instead of feeling a reassuring sanity, an impulse he
felt really mad streamed through his veins to seize the little fingers
in his strong hands and to pull her down from the seat of the mighty,
down towards the inner breast pocket that held his bank-notes. But his
stick and his coat and Methusalem’s bridle, all of which he was holding
simultaneously, cluttered up his hands sufficiently to clog the impulse.

“That proves nothing,” he said sulkily.

“And wasn’t he lapping at the pool after you struck him?”

“Ah, that’s true.” His face lit up.

“Then you did strike him?”

“Don’t tease. Yes, I’d forgotten, he lapped then, or rather I scarcely
noticed it.”

“I suppose you shut your eyes when going for him, just like a bull
does.”

“I didn’t go for him, I tell you. I just swished my stick.”

“Well, if you’d kept your eyes open, you’d have seen him drinking and
saved your fright.”

He was disappointed as well as irritated. “Then when you let him bite
you, you knew there was no danger.”

“There’s _never_ any danger on these roads—didn’t I tell you so? Why,
there was more danger in that monkey you gave me, for I sucked the paint
off.”

“I don’t remember giving you any monkey.”

“I didn’t want a monkey, but you _made_ me take it—like that oath in
the wagon. Perhaps you’ve forgotten that too.”

“I can remember giving you a kiss,” he jerked defiantly.

“That I can’t remember,” said Jinny quietly.

“Suppose you’ve had so many since.”

“Lots!” said Jinny. “Good-bye again, if you’re so silly. Gee up,
Methusalem!”

But he clung to the bridle and was dragged along, to Nip’s shrilled
agitation.

“Let go,” said Jinny. “Don’t be silly.”

“Not till I have my trunk.”

“That’s sillier still.”

“Give me my trunk.”

“I think you _have_ gone mad, Will.”

“That’s not your affair, Miss Quarles, I want my trunk.”

“I was ordered to deliver it at Frog Farm.”

“And I order you to deliver it to me.”

“Let go.” She cracked her whip in his direction.

“You little spitfire! If you touch me with that whip I’ll have an action
against you—as well as against your dog.”

“Let go my horse then.”

“I’m within my legal rights, as any _male_ carrier would know. I demand
my trunk.”

“And I demand my horse. Let go!”

“I won’t.” He was running along with it now, keeping pace with the
mystified Methusalem.

“Oh, Will!” she cried. “And _you_ said that on a lonely road I might
meet a man.”

“Well—you have now!” he said viciously.

“Yes—the first in all my life to give me trouble.”

That hurt worse than any whip. He loosed the festive bridle, staggering
a little, and the cart rolled past him. Only what was that little object
in the road?

Ah, in the altercation she had forgotten to put on her glove again after
that dramatic offer of her fingers to the dog—it had tumbled down.
’Twould pay her out to lose it, he thought savagely. However, he thrust
it into the inner waistcoat pocket where his paper fortune reposed so
comfortingly. But as again he saw the tail-board with his now protruding
box vanishing round a corner, a blind rage began to possess him. Surely
he was not thus entirely to be thwarted and overridden. Surely, at
least, he would not endure her actual delivery of his box at Frog Farm.
No, he must head her off again, if only outside his own gate. Across his
border a woman carrier must in no circumstances be countenanced. And
once more the unfortunate Will Flynt ploughed through the hedges and
meadows, not always remembering the prickly places; and finally chased
by a bull on which he had to turn several times with his coat and his
stick, just like a toreador; though, remembering what Jinny had just
said about the bull shutting its eyes, he dodged it at the charging
crises, and thus saved both coat and skin. But he was forced to scramble
ignominiously over a fence into the high road, still a good mile from
Bradmarsh Bridge, at the very moment the cart came clattering up.

But if Jinny had observed the Spanish bull-fight she gave no sign. What
she said, as she reined in Methusalem, was much more surprising.

“I’ve been thinking you were within your legal right, Will. I’m sorry. A
carrier must deliver goods as ordered. So if you’re still silly——!”

If she had stopped before the final clause, he might have been touched
by the unexpected surrender. As it was, he only said icily, “How much do
I owe you?”

“Sixpence,” she said as frigidly, “unless you’d like a reduction for my
not taking it all the way.”

“No, thank you.” He passed the coin, grazing her warm fingers.

“By the way, you didn’t happen to see my glove?” she said.

“Your glove?” he repeated. Why, indeed, should he fetch and carry for
her? Let her be punished for her negligence. He moved towards his box.

“Oh, well—I suppose it’ll be there on Friday,” she said. “I’m the only
person who ever goes that cut.”

“Drumsticks aren’t the only things that are dropped,” he observed
maliciously.

“No,” she agreed simply. She did not even seem to remember how she had
trounced “that fool of a _man_.” No sense of humour in the sex, he
reflected again.

“Do hold the brute!” he cried, for Nip was again showing his teeth in
defence of the box.

“If you kept off a bull, you don’t need protection against a terrier,”
she replied, and to his further amazement there was a note of admiration
in her voice.

“The weaker the thing the harder it is to fight,” he rejoined
significantly. He had his back now to the cart, and he hoisted his trunk
upon it.

“You’re not going to carry it?” There was incredulity in her voice, for
it was a box that looked nearly as long as himself.

“Who else?” He shifted the box to his right shoulder, which he had
padded with his coat.

“I thought you’d go home and get a truck or something.”

“And leave it on the road?”

“It’s just as safe as my glove.”

“There’s no safety for either,” he said oracularly, “if a man like me
comes along.” And he swaggered forwards with his huge load.

“Why, you’re as strong as the bull!” said Jinny.

“I am.” He was flattered.

“And as obstinate as a mule!”

He increased his pace.

“Good-bye, Will!”

He did not answer.

Methusalem caught him up. “Since you _are_ going to Frog Farm,” said the
Carrier, “why not take your folks’ groceries too? I don’t usually get
’em till Friday, but when I got your order to go there to-day——!”

“Why should I do your jobs?”

“Just what I told you. You can’t live a week at Frog Farm without me.”

“Give me the parcel.” His forehead was already beaded with perspiration,
but his left hand heroically held out his stick: “Slide the string on
this.”

She shook her head. “_Still he’d sing fol de rol lay_,” she trilled, and
in a minute he was hopelessly left behind. The road had already begun
the ascent towards Long Bradmarsh, but he heard her goading Methusalem
to greater efforts, as though in fear lest he should repent under the
burden of his obstinacy.


                                  XII

As soon as she was safely out of sight, Will, breathing heavily,
slackened his showy pace, and very soon lowered his load altogether and
sat down upon it, while he wiped his streaming countenance. The physical
relief was great. A lark was singing overhead and his eyes followed it
restfully till he couldn’t tell whether the throb was singing or the
song throbbing. He must smoke his pipe by this wayside grass after all
that scurrying and squabbling. Fumbling for his matches, he felt the
bulge of the glove and softened still more. Anyhow he had been
victorious over the vixen, and he was resting on his laurels, so to
speak. Now that she realized he would never recognize her as a carrier,
he could afford to give her one of the Canadian fal-lals he had bought
at Moses & Son’s for his mother, and which now reposed in the box
arching beneath him. That would make her think he had not forgotten her
even in Canada, and anyhow it would show her he bore no malice for the
bite or even for her bark. Surveying the landscape, he recognized that
by going on a little he would strike the turning to the bridge and “The
King of Prussia,” where he might possibly find a trap. The hussy need
never know he had broken down. But as he sat there lazily smoking and
evoking his boyhood and her part therein, the best part of an hour sped
glamorously, and suddenly he saw red. Caleb Flynt, equally coatless, was
hastening from the Bradmarsh direction as fast as his aged limbs could
carry him.

“Hullo, dad!” he cried, startled. “Same old shirt!”

Caleb grinned. “Keeps her colour, don’t she?”

“But why didn’t you come to meet me?” said Will, recalling his
grievance.

“Oi did—soon as Jinny come and told us she’d passed you carrying your
chest and you might want a hand. Is that the hutch? Dash my buttons, you
must ha’ growed up like Samson! Fancy carryin’ that all the way from
Chipstone in the strong sun!”

Will did not deny the feat—the explanation would really have been too
complicated. In his embarrassment, he overlooked that his father had not
really answered his question. “And how’s mother?” he said.

“Mother’s in a great old state. ’Nation mad with Jinny.”

“Why, what’s Jinny done?”

“Sow neglectful. ‘Bein’ as you passed him by,’ says mother to she, ‘why
dedn’t you stop and pick up the chest?’”

He looked uncomfortable. “And what did Jinny say?”

“She said she dedn’t reckonize the old you when she dreft by, and
besides she was singing-like.”

He winced at the reminder of the song, but was grateful to her for
telling so truthful a lie: instinctively he felt that his folks having
accepted a woman carrier with such brainless acquiescence would fail to
enter into the fine shades of his feeling.

“Mother hadn’t a right to make a noise with Jinny,” he said.

“She only kitched of a fire for a moment. ’Twas more over you than over
Jinny, Oi should reckon. Bust into tears, she did, and when Oi said
maybe as Jinny was mistook she nearly bit my head off. ‘Too lazy-boned
to goo and give a hand to your own buoy-oy,’ says she. ‘Ain’t he shifted
for hisself nigh ten years?’ says Oi. ‘Can’t you wait ten minutes more?
Oi count he’ll be here before the New Jerusalem,’ says Oi. That dedn’t
pacify her much, bein’ a female. Cowld-blooded—she called me. ‘There’s
feythers,’ says she, ‘as ’ud be trimmed out with colours like Jinny’s
hoss—not leave it to a gal as is no relation to decorate even her dog
in his honour.’ ‘That’s for May Day,’ says Oi. ‘All wery fine,’ says
she. ‘But May Day’s over and gone six days’—she’s a rare un for figgers
is mother—‘time enough,’ says she, ‘for God to create the world in.’
‘Maybe you’d like flags flourishin’ and flutterin’, says Oi, jocoshus
like, ‘but Oi ain’t got no flags save my old muckinger.’ And with that,
bein’ more shook than I let on, Oi blowed my nose into it, wery
trumpet-like, and that seemed to quieten her, for her tantarums be over
now, and the onny noise she’s makin’ is the fryin’ o’ them little old
weal sausages for you.”

“Good!” cried the Prodigal Son, his face transfigured. “She remembered
my passion for veal sausages!”

“‘And there’s pickled walnuts too! Put them out likewise,’ says Oi, ‘for
’tis a poor heart that never rejoices.’”

“But that’s your passion, not mine.”

“That’s what mother said. ‘But baint Oi to get no compensation?’ says
Oi. And why dedn’t you write to her all these years, Willie?”

His face darkened again. “I’m no great shakes with a quill. And there
wasn’t anything to say. I did write once to tell you I was safe across
the Atlantic and was gone to make my fortune.”

“We dedn’t never get no letter.”

“No—it came back months after. I forgot to put England on it, thinking
maybe Essex was enough. But it seems there’s a Mount Essex in the
States, down Wyoming way, and the Yanks always think everything is for
them. So I thought I’d best let things be, being on the go in those
days.”

Caleb fully sympathized with the plea. “And have ye made your fortune,
Will?” he inquired meekly.

“That depends on your idea of a fortune,” Will parried. But he had a
complacent consciousness of those bank-notes behind the glove.

“My idea of a fortune be faith in God,” said Caleb.

“Yes, yes, I know.” The young man got off the box impatiently.

Caleb tugged at one of its handles.

“Lord, that’s lugsome!” he said, letting the long heavy chest subside.
“Ef you ain’t come back rich, you’ve come back middlin’ powerful. All
the way from Chipstone!” He clucked his tongue admiringly.

Having once left the miracle undenied, and feeling the situation now
altogether beyond explanation to the bucolic intellect, Will again
silently acquiesced in the Herculean imputation and took the other
handle. “But why didn’t you bring a cart or a truck?” he asked as they
began walking cumbrously towards the bridge.

“Ain’t got nowt but a wheelbarrow,” Caleb explained. “Times is
changed—-Oi ain’t looker no more, and there’s two housen now. Old
Peartree got to have a separate door, but ’twas a good bargain Oi put my
cross to with the son o’ the Cornish furriner what Oi warked for these
thirty-nine year. Mother will have it she’d ha’ made a cuter deal, she
bein’ a dapster in figgers and reckonin’ out to a day when the New
Jerusalem will be droppin’ down, but Oi don’t howd with women doin’
men’s business, bein’ as your rib can’t be your head.”

“I quite agree,” said Will, surprised to find such enlightened
sentiments in his queer old parent. “But tell me about Ben and Isaac and
the others.”

“They don’t write neither. We was lookin’ to you to tell us about the
others as went furrin. Ben should be a barber in America, and they say
as Christopher’s got a woife, colour o’ coffee.”

“Nonsense, dad!”

“Well, maybe ’twas Isaac.”

“No Flynt would marry a nigger woman,” said Will decisively.

“Oi’m right glad to hear it,” said Caleb. “For Oi count the young ’uns
’ud come out streaky and spotty like pigeons or cattle, and though they
likely turn white when they die, and their souls be white all the time,
Oi could never be comfortable along o’ finch-backed gran’childer.”

With such discourse they beguiled the heavy way, trudging behind their
tall shadows, till at the gate of the drive of Frog Farm they saw Martha
peering eagerly along the avenue of witch-elms. In another instant Will,
letting go his box-handle, was choked in her hug and wetted by her
tears.

“I can smell those sausages right here, mother,” he said, with a smile
and a half sob. “How do ye howd?” And he emphasized the homely old idiom
by patting her wrinkled cheek. She caught his hand in hers, and he was
touched by the thin worn wedding-ring on the gnarled and freckled hand.
His eyes roved round. “But surely this ain’t the house I was born in.
Why, that was a giant’s castle.”

Caleb looked a bit uneasy: “You’re sure this _be_ Will?” he asked Martha
in one of his thundrous whispers.

“Why, I’d know him in a hundred.”

“Well, there’s onny nine or ten.” And he laughed gleefully.

“Do be easy, Caleb. You’re getting as unrestful as Bundock.”

“I’m Will right enough,” Will intervened. “Only everything seems to have
got so small. Come along, dad.” He took up his side of the box:

“Gracious goodness!” cried Martha, perceiving it at last. “My poor Will!
Lugging that from Chipstone! Why didn’t you call to Jinny to stop and
take it?”

“How was I to know that that was Jinny’s cart dashing by?” he said,
moving forward quickly. “I suppose you didn’t ask her to stay for the
sausages?” he added lightly.

“I couldn’t ask her, dearie,” said Martha. “She was terrible late, she
said, and I know how crotched her wicked old grandfather gets at
feeding-time.”

“How big she’s grown!” he observed carelessly.

“Big!” They both repeated the word, but from a different surprise.

“You said you didn’t see her,” said Martha sharply.

“I saw a big young woman flying by in the cart—I didn’t know then it
was Jinny.”

“But you just said everything’s growed so little,” chuckled Caleb.

“So it has—all except Jinny.”

“And she isn’t so very big,” said Martha, “rather undersized, some folks
would say.”

“Well, I’m not so oversized myself,” said Will.

“Will’s seen her toplofty over Methusalem,” explained Caleb. “Wait till
he sees her on her pegs.”

“But I did see her on her pegs,” said Will, “at ‘The Black Sheep’!”

“Then why did you goo and carry that little old box?” inquired Caleb.

“She wasn’t in the cart then—how was I to guess she was the Carrier?”
he answered crossly.

“But you could ha’ ast for the Bradmarsh carrier.”

“The coach was late,” he snapped.

“But Jinny hadn’t started yet,” persisted Caleb. “Bein’ as you seen her
there.”

“Legends, my boy, legends.” Tony Flip’s euphemism for lies rang in
Will’s brain. But legends, he was finding, are not easy to sustain. One
lie breeds many, and he was sorry now he had allowed himself to be made
a champion weight-lifter. “I thought being so late ’twas no use asking
for the Carrier—’twas you I expected,” he said, turning the war back
into the enemy’s country.

But they had now lumbered up with the box to the twin doors, and the
task of dumping down the subject of discussion in a convenient place
stayed the cross-examination.

The feast for the Prodigal Son had been laid in the parlour, and the
scent of the fried sausages came appetizingly on the evening air, more
poetic than any of Nature’s competing odours.

“Why, there’s my letter!” cried Will at the parlour door, beholding it
on the mantelpiece. “You might have let me know you couldn’t meet me.”

He went in and took it down. “Not opened?” he cried crossly, the muggy
atmosphere of the sealed chamber adding to his irritation. “And I told
you exactly the day and hour I was coming!”

“We haven’t had time to get it read yet, dearie,” said Martha mildly. “I
was going to take it to the dressmaker, but Saturdays I’m so busy and
Sunday was Sunday, and yesterday I felt as if my ribs were grating
together, and to-day was too hot.”

“Well, I shan’t write again in a hurry,” he said peevishly, and was
about to tear the letter in twain. But Martha snatched it from him with
a cry and slipped it into her bosom.

“Sit down, Will,” she pleaded. “Your sausages are spoiling.”

But the Prodigal Son would not batten at once upon the fatted calf. He
felt too dusty, he said, and then, imperiously pushing at the
diamond-paned casement and realizing with disgust it would not open,
vanished in search of soap.

“He can’t be well,” whimpered Martha.

“Don’t worrit, dear heart,” Caleb consoled her. “Oi count even Samson
wanted a wash arter he’d lugged that little old gate up the hill from
Gazy.”



                               CHAPTER V


                              WILL AT HOME

           _Is not this the merry month of May,_
           _When love-lads masken in fresh array?_
              _How falls it, then, we no merrier be’n,_
              _Like as others, girt in gaudy green?_
                         SPENSER, “The Shepheards Calendar.”


                                   I

TIME hung heavy on Will’s hands the first few days of his return, as
heavy as the meals heaped before him by the adoring Martha. There was as
much for “bever” as for breakfast, yet quantity did not suffice him. He
became almost as finnicking and fractious as Cousin Caroline, not
content, for example, to strain the pond-water through muslin for the
larger insects, but insisting on its being boiled: indeed hinting
preposterously that the mortality among his unknown brothers and sisters
might have been connected with potations on which Caleb and Martha had
patently flourished. He held views on the house-refuse, ignoring Caleb’s
plea that “the best drain be a pig,” and by making hinges the very first
evening for the lower windows to open by, he had raised such a draught
in the house that it was all they could do to keep their bedroom and
their kitchen air-tight, and even Martha was glad when on the Wednesday
afternoon he went off to get some fishing in the Brad, and the windows
could all be closed up again.

But the few dace and bull-heads that rewarded his rod left too many
intervals for reflection, and in the unsettlement of his thoughts,
before settling down to a judicious expenditure of his ninety pounds, he
felt he needed more deadening exertion. He tried poling against the
stream to that ancient faery island—somebody’s half-decked shooting
punt was doing no good rusting on the bank in the off-season, he
thought—but the process soon became automatic and his mind was still
restless, while after the islands of the St. Lawrence this enchanted
playground of his youth seemed tame and its prettiness trivial.

He fed his fancy on a salt-water expedition for the Thursday: recalled
the great catches of flat-fish he and his brothers had made, the sport
to be got out of the voracious if inedible “bull-rout,” but it would be
a very long walk, and what if when one arrived the tide should be too
low? So he walked inland around Bradmarsh Common. But though it was, he
told himself, the “old haunts” that he went out for to see, he omitted
to revisit that venerable landmark, Gaffer Quarles. Conscience adjured
him he ought to look up the old carrier, whether for respect or
reproof—and he actually did hover around Blackwater Hall—but pride
forbade his entering, lest he stumble upon the new Carrier. The Hall
appeared even more dwindled to him than Frog Farm as he stood surlily
surveying it; even the Common—after the Canadian prairie—seemed no
longer to roll towards the blue infinities. He had a strong impulse to
burst in on that careless old Daniel and give him a piece of his mind,
even at the risk of meeting his gadabout granddaughter; but the bleating
of the goats sounded forbidding, and as he was hesitating he found
himself under the gaze of another gaffer, the crown of whose battered
beaver tied on to its brim with coloured strings gave him a festal
grotesquerie. Will remembered this ancient, though despite his gay
headgear he now seemed inexpressibly grimy in his patched corduroys, his
two ragged coats, and the dirty towel wound round his throat. It was the
Quarles’s nearest neighbour, “Uncle” Lilliwhyte, who lived in a cottage
also on the Common; trading in cress, cherries, and mushrooms, driving
home obstreperous cows and doing other odd jobs. This worthy was now
exercising his equal right of gathering sticks on the Common, and the
sordid association seemed to reduce Jinny to the same shrunken
proportions as her cottage.

“Buy a nadder, sir?”

“Sir!” Yes, after all, his father had been a “looker,” not a mere
labourer, he himself had a waistcoat lined with bank-notes and cut by
Moses & Son, why should he expect a sense of dignity from a girl of so
lowly a status? Let her earn her livelihood as she wished—it was not
his affair, except in so far as she should have none of his custom. A
cock crew lustily, and it subtly heartened him up. Yes, he would go in
now, give her back her glove, professing to have just picked it up, and
wash his hands of her for ever.

“No, thank you, uncle,” he said, with an irrelevant memory of the
ancient’s blind mother, “what should I do with an adder?”

“But that’s a real loive nadder, just kitched, sir.” He cautiously
displayed its hissing head and darting tongue. “There’s many a slowworm
killed for a woiper, pore things. Onny fowrpence, sir!”

“Well, here’s sixpence,” said Will graciously. “No, no,” he explained
hastily, as the ancient began handing over the wriggling reptile. “Kill
the beggar.” And he hurried homewards. On second thoughts—inspired
perhaps by some dim impression of a female figure flitting among the
clothes-lines behind the Hall—he would not risk an encounter with
Jinny, but make a special call upon poor, lonely old Daniel on the
morrow. Jinny would then be out on her rounds. And if he took care to go
at about the hour she was due at Frog Farm, he could avoid her at both
places. Yes, that were tactics worthy of a man of the world.

Casual conversation with his elders reminded him, however, that Jinny
was not expected that Friday. She had already left the parcel of
groceries on the Tuesday. He was thus safe from her for eight days—he
had only to remain at home. But the discovery that the whole of Friday
was free from any possibility of her appearance at Frog Farm, and that
Blackwater Hall was equally immune from her presence, seemed to remove
the zest of his diplomacy. Neighbour Quarles remained unvisited, his
solitude unmitigated, and Will wandered aimlessly on the high road
between Bradmarsh and Chipstone.

The year was at its most beautiful moment. The hedges were white with
hawthorn, and the fresh young leaves on the trees gave an exquisite
sense of greenness without blurring the structural grace of the
branches, while the unspoiled cadence of the cuckoo’s cry came magically
over the sunny meadows. But Will could only swish viciously with his
stick at the hedges and litter the lanes with ruined blossom.

It was with no little surprise that, as he and his elders sat at high
tea on this same evening, they heard the windings of Jinny’s horn. The
three sprang up: then Will sat down again.

“Ain’t you comin’ out to see Jinny?” asked Caleb.

“Let the boy drink his tea,” said Martha.

“But you ain’t never spoke to her yet,” persisted Caleb. “And you used
to give her eggs.”

“Let the boy eat his eggs himself,” said Martha sternly.

“Oi dedn’t mean they eggs,” laughed Caleb.

“Do go and see what Jinny can want,” Martha commanded him. “I shouldn’t
be surprised if it _is_ eggs—now that Mr. Flippance has opened his show
he’ll be wanting them regularly.”

“Whatever for?” asked Will.

“He sucks ’em raw, like weasels, him and his darter,” explained Caleb.
“They should say it’s good for the woice, and by all accounts showmen
fares to have a mort o’ pieces to speak.”

“But why doesn’t Jinny sell him her own eggs?” asked Will.

“How do you know she has them?” asked Martha quickly.

“Hasn’t she?” he said lightly, reddening like the comb of the cock he
had heard crowing.

“Not enough. That old sinner eats her out of house and home.”

“Mr. Flippance?” murmured Will.

“No, no. Her grandfather. Why don’t you go, Caleb?”

Will sat on stolidly, helping himself to more tea and pouring the milk
into the slop-basin. Presently Caleb returned, announcing that Jinny had
brought something for Will—she could only legally deliver it to Mr.
Flynt, junior, she said.

Will turned redder than at the egg-talk. “But I never ordered anything,”
he said.

“You can’t prewent folks sendin’ you presents, same as they’re foolish
enough,” Caleb reminded him.

A fantastic fear that the blue-eyed girl of the train was discharging
some proof of devotion at him made him drum nervously with his teaspoon.
“But who knows I’m back home?” he answered Caleb.

Through the open house-door came the gay strains of a fresh young voice:

        “_But still he’d sing fol de rol iddle ol!_”

“Don’t she sing pritty?” sighed Caleb.

“I’d sooner hear her singing about Zion,” said Martha. “She’s rather
flighty, to my thinking.”

“That’s the first time Oi heard ye say a word agen Jinny,” said Caleb,
“leastways behind her back.”

Will, tingling between the two tortures—the song without and the
table-talk within—sprang up brusquely. “Drat the girl—my tea’ll get
cold. Sit down, dad, I’ll see what she’s brought.”


                                   II

Jinny sat stiffly on her seat, Nip clasped in her arms. The singing had
ceased. Despite himself Will felt an odd pleasure in the sight of the
trim figure so competently poised above Methusalem, and he was touched
to note Nip’s tail agitating itself amicably at the sight of him.

“Good evening,” she said politely. “I am glad to see it has not
developed.”

“What hasn’t developed?”

“Your hydrophobia. And I am keeping the dog tight, you notice.”

He winced. “Oh, I’m not afraid of him.”

“But I am—he’s already bitten you once: get the cages, please, while I
hold him.”

“The cages?” He had a confused idea that Nip was to be caged, was
dangerous after all.

“They’re near the tail-board. Nothing to pay.”

He went behind the cart, wondering, semi-incredulous; did indeed
perceive a couple of cages in the dusk, and reaching for one, drew back
his hand in a hurry from some darting, snapping, creamy, pink-eyed
yellowness.

“Oh!” he cried involuntarily.

“What’s the matter? Oh, I had forgotten they bite too.”

“What is this practical joke?” he cried angrily.

“Eh?” said Jinny. “Didn’t you order a pair of ferrets to be sent by the
Carrier?”

His eyes grew wide. “I beg your pardon—I’d quite forgotten.”

“I thought Deacon Mawhood wasn’t a likely joker. Polecats, he said. Have
you got the cages?” she asked, not looking back.

“I’m—I’m getting them,” he stammered, and began cautiously haling them
towards him.

“The Deacon asked me to say the hob and the jill must be kept apart.”

“I know,” he grunted, almost as shocked as over her mention of Maria’s
litter. The impudicity of her calling was again borne in on him.

“Anything else?” burst from him sardonically.

“No—except there’s no need to cope them. I don’t know what coping is.”

“It’s what you want,” he said brutally. “Muzzling.”

“Afraid of _my_ bite, too?” asked Jinny, and turning towards the
interior shelf that held the smaller parcels, she began to sing softly
to herself:

        “_A dashing young lad from Buckingham._”

He had been expecting “Canada” at the end, and felt somehow disappointed
at its absence. “But when I gave the order,” he rejoined
notwithstanding, “I didn’t know that the Bradmarsh Carrier was a girl.”

“That didn’t prevent you using her when you did know,” she said quietly.

“When have I used her?” he cried hotly.

“Well, what about this?” She produced from the shelf in the cart a long
parcel half enclosed by a string in broken, dirty paper, within which
showed a layer of grimy straw.

“But what is it?”

“That’s not my business.” She tendered it downwards.

“I never ordered this.”

“Hadn’t you better open it?” she asked with a twinkle. He dumped down
the cages violently, to the alarm of the ferrets, and tore it open, only
to shudder back before the clammy-looking coils.

“An adder as well?” said Jinny. “You going to open a menagerie?”

“It’s dead,” he said.

“Did you want a live one?”

“I didn’t want one at all—I never ordered it.”

“Why, Uncle Lilliwhyte told me he sold it to you for fourpence and you
gave him twopence extra to kill it.”

“I beg your pardon—he misunderstood.” It was his second apology. “But
what a dirty way to deliver it.”

“Did you expect me to nurse a viper in my bosom?”

Again this indelicate speech, hardly atoned for by its wit. “The old
ragamuffin!” he muttered furiously. “How did the idiot know it was me?”

“Fellow-feeling, I suppose,” said Jinny.

“Now you’re saucy again. You must have told him it was me.”

“Right for once. Honest uncle was upset at your forgetting to tell him
where to send your purchase. I was milking my goats and saw you hanging
about.”

Again he flushed uneasily. “And how much do I owe you?” he asked
hurriedly.

“Twopence for the viper, being only a short way. The Deacon says he
prefers to pay the freightage on the ferrets, and to collect it from you
himself.”

He put down the straw-entangled snake on top of one of the cages, and
pulled out a coin. “Have you got change for sixpence?”

“Not unless I loose Nip.” She fumbled with one hand in her pocket.

He glowered. “Oh, next time will do,” he said angrily.

“Oh, then, there _is_ to be a next time!”

“Not so far as I am concerned.”

“Sure you don’t want any more wild animals?”

“No,” he shouted.

“Don’t be so fierce. The drumstick is found, you will be glad to hear.”

He grunted.

“And the show is doing big business, Mr. Flippance tells me. He was so
set up he gave me a pair of new gloves.”

“That old braggart! What business had he to give you gloves?”

“Didn’t I lose one through his drumstick?”

“But then ’tis me ought to pay for them,” he protested.

“You? What nonsense! Why?”

“It was on my account you lost the glove—through trying to get a bite.”

She smiled. “You talk as if I were an angler.”

“I wish you were! Anything but a carrier.”

“Don’t say that. Would you like me to buy another pair of gloves—on
your account?”

“If you would!” he said eagerly.

“Thank you!

        _But still he’d-sing fol de rol iddle ol._

“What size do you take?”

“Stow that fol-de-riddling—you know I don’t mean gloves for _me_.”

“Are you taking back the order?” she said, with feigned disappointment.

“I never gave you an order!” he said, goaded. “I’d cut my tongue out
sooner.”

“Keep your tongue between your teeth. You’ll want it to give me an order
with before you’re a week older.”

“Never! I’d as soon shoe a horse with a hairpin.” He snatched up his
cages decisively, one in each hand, and the adder rolled on to the
ground, bursting its strawy cerements.

The girl’s grey eyes flashed steel-like. “And can’t I drive as well as
Gran’fer? And don’t I know the roads?” And she uplifted her horn from
her girdle and blew a resounding blast of defiance. It set all the cocks
crowing behind the house and brought Caleb bustling from within it.

“Did you summon me, Jinny?” he asked. “Gracious, Will, whatever you got
there?” His eyes expanded to see the sinuous animals swirling fiercely
against their wires; in coming nearer to peer at them, he stumbled over
the snake and uttered a cry.

“It’s all right,” called Jinny. “It’s dead.”

“You killed it, Willie?” he asked.

“With a drumstick,” said Jinny gravely.

“Fiddlesticks, father!” said Will angrily.

“Oi don’t care what sort o’ stick you killed that with,” said Caleb, “so
long as it’s a dead corpse. But do ye come in now—mother’s grousin’
about the tea gittin’ cold.”

“I like cold tea. Go in, father. I’m just coming.” He harked back to her
blast of rebellion. “You may be able to drive, and you may know the
roads. But can’t you see how unnatural it is, you perched up there and
blowing a horn like Dick Burrage of the County Flyer?”

“And do I blow it as fine as he?” she asked eagerly.

“Anybody can blow a horn,” he answered curtly.

“Can they now?” She was piqued again. “I’d like to see anybody do it.
Why, Gran’fer can’t.”

“Gran’fer hasn’t got much breath left. I’m not talking of men in their
eighties.”

“He is in his nineties,” she corrected.

“Exactly. I meant anybody with proper lungs.”

“Can _you_ blow it?”

“Why shouldn’t I be able to blow it?”

“All right! Blow it!” said Jinny gravely. She unslung it with one arm
and held it down. He gazed at it, taken aback, sandwiched between his
cages.

“It’s no good opening your mouth,” she said. “I’m not going to stick it
in. You’ll have to put down those horrible beasts and do that yourself.
Why don’t they keep still? They make my head ache.”

He moved to the back of the house to place the ferrets out of the way,
kicking the poor adder before him—it was a needed relief to his
feelings. Returning, thus purged, he took the proffered horn—it was not
a professional coach-horn or post-horn, but just the little instrument
of a master of foxhounds curling into a circle above—and with but scant
misgiving put it to his mouth, and blew. But the silence remained
unbroken. He puffed on and on with solemn pertinacity. Not a sound
issued. His cheeks swelled to bursting-point, and grew redder and redder
with shame and vexation. But silence still reigned.

“You mustn’t put it inside your lips,” corrected Jinny. “Think you’re
tum-tumming into a comb.”

He readjusted it sullenly, but the music within was still coy.

“Slacken your lip,” she advised. “Try to splutter br-r-r-rr into it.”

But whatever he spluttered into it, nothing came out.

“I never realized it was quite so difficult, even the lipping,” said
Jinny simply. “Of course I didn’t expect you to do the double or treble
tonguing at once.”

“What do you mean, tonguing?” he inquired morosely.

“Dividing the notes. Say ‘Tucker, Tucker, Tucker’ into it.”

“But it’s blowing, not saying,” said Will obstinately.

But secretly he modified his methods, and at last a ghostly plangency or
a staccato squeak began to reward his apoplectic agonizings, and the
still prisoned Nip, who had been yawning in utter boredom, now
accompanied the music with a critical and lugubrious howling.

Upon this spectacle and situation reissued the guileless Caleb, and had
the Crystal City itself come down upon earth, his eyes could scarcely
have orbed themselves more spaciously.

“He _didn’t_ summon you,” observed the merciless Jinny.

“Go away, father! What are you staring at?” yapped the tortured young
man.

“You do be a fine musicianer!” And Caleb grinned. “But do ye don’t play
now—mother’s gittin’ into her tantarums over your tea.”

“The instrument must be out of order,” said Will, handing it up crossly
to Jinny. Remorselessly she drew from it a clarion call that made the
welkin ring and the poultry-yard respond in kind.

“How the cocks crow!” she observed artlessly.

“Thinks because she blows a horn she’s a devil of a fellow,” Will
remarked witheringly to his receding father. “Say, Jinny, why don’t you
wear the breeches?”

“Like those Bloomerites you told me of? I will,” she responded sweetly,
“if you think it more becoming.”

“Me! You don’t suppose _I_ notice what you wear.”

“Then how do you know I’m not wearing ’em now?”

“You have me there!” And he smiled despite himself. The smile lit up the
face under the aureole of red hair—it seemed to Jinny a sudden glimpse,
through a rift of Time, of the boy she had known. “All the same,” he
protested, “if I _had_ a horn, I could learn it in an hour.”

“Well, get one,” said Jinny.

“Where can I get one?” he retorted fretfully.

“Dearie! Your tea——!” It was Martha herself now.

“Oh, I’d get you one,” said Jinny carelessly, “but I’ll wager you won’t
blow it properly in a week, much less an hour!”

“A week! What nonsense! In a moment.”

“In a moment?”

“I was speaking to mother. What’ll you wager?”

“A pair of gloves,” said Jinny.

“Done!” said Will.

She clucked to Methusalem. “Good-bye,” she called to the couple as the
cart moved off. “I’ll deliver your order next Friday, Will—without
fail.”

“Dearie, whatever are you running after her for?” cried Martha.

He came back sheepishly: “I thought the gate wasn’t open.”

From the Bradmarsh road the sound of the “fol-de-rol” refrain came
sweetly on the quiet air.

“I wish she would sing of Zion,” repeated Martha wistfully.


                                  III

The pair of polecat ferrets—creamy white albinos, pink of eye and black
of belly—hung in the cages on the back wall of the farmhouse, with a
spare cage beside them as a retiring-place when a hutch was turned out.
But only once—on the Saturday in the first ardour of possession—had
Will taken them out a-hunting: on which occasion they had refused to rat
or rabbit. Indeed their leaps and gambols persuaded Will that they
pursued—as he remembered the Deacon once maintaining sympathetically
about rats—their “private sports.” Why indeed should sensible
creatures, comfortably fed on chicken-head and blackbirds, and provided
with straw to cocoon themselves against cold, go squeezing into holes or
drains? Restored to captivity, these fainéant ferrets spent most of
their day in squirming with desperate restlessness from one end of the
cage to the other and perking their quivering noses and little black
claws through the wires. And their master’s own plight was much the
same, for after the prairie, Frog Farm was only a hutch to him: his
father, too, being so unexpectedly on the shelf, there was nothing that
really needed him, nor was there any land for sale in the vicinity on
which he might commence operations. Like his ferrets, if with a larger
run, he swayed restlessly to and fro; from farm to river, from river to
Common, from Common to Steeples Wood, from Steeples Wood to Frog Farm.

When he was not thus oscillating on the landscape, he was sweating in
intellectual indecision in the parlour: trying to write a little note to
Jinny to inform her that she was to come to Frog Farm no more, inasmuch
as he intended to go into Chipstone himself once or twice a fortnight,
and could easily bring home whatever was necessary. He had thought that
when he had found a feather dropped by a green goose, cut his quill,
concocted an ink out of soot and water, and discovered a piece of white
paper wrapped round his bank-notes, that his difficulties were over. But
the worst now remained, for he could not satisfy himself as to the
phraseology of this note, being, as he had truly pleaded, no great
shakes at letter-writing. Such glibness as he could muster in
conversation was paralysed in fact by a pen. There was not even one of
those word-books he had seen scholarly people use to ensure the
spelling, and one must not unnecessarily afford material to a minx
who—having obviously to do with bills and accounts—might conceivably
be literate. He had a vague remembrance of her reading texts quite
easily at the Sunday-school, young as she was. Even if she could spell
no better than he, she might possess one of these spelling-protectors.

The only book at Frog Farm being his mother’s Bible, he tried to secure
accuracy by limiting himself to its words. But its vocabulary seemed
strangely lacking. He had decided, for example, to begin with “Maddam.”
One could not call such a stranger as the new Jinny “_Dear_ Miss,” he
thought, and “Miss” alone sounded thin and abrupt. No, “Maddam” was the
mouth-filling resonance necessary: it struck a note of massive dignity.
But did it really have two “d’s”? And to his amazement and anguish
neither “Maddam” nor “Madam” was to be discovered from Genesis to
Revelation. Adam, the nearest analogue, who came in his reference volume
with welcome promptitude, even precipitateness, had, he found, only one
“d,” but was he a sure guide to the orthography of the creature formed
out of his spare rib? This and the many other curious and amazing
passages that beguiled him on his route—presented thus to a fresh and
world-experienced eye—ran away with so much time that Martha would be
summoning him to the next of his many meals before he had even dipped
his quill into the soot.

“Mr. William Flynt presents his complements” was another promising
start—he had got a debt-demanding letter once at a boarding-house with
this austerely courteous overture—but alas!—marvel on marvel—there
did not appear to be a single “complement,” whether in the Old Testament
or the New. Not a very courteous people, the Jews, he thought, under
either dispensation. This happy-go-lucky hunt for words—an exciting
steeplechase in which one skipped over spacious histories and major
prophets with the chance of tumbling on the very word—began to be an
absorbing substitute for ratting.

“The Epistles of James” suddenly caught his eye. Ah, here was a complete
guide to letter-writing, he felt hopefully; what was good enough for
James would do for William. But when written out, “William, the son of
Caleb, of Frog Farm, to Jinny Quarles of Blackwater Hall, Little
Bradmarsh, greeting” did not seem quite the correct opening. An Epistle
of John was, even more misguiding. “The Elder to the Elect or
Well-Beloved!” Clearly inappropriate to the point of absurdity!

Still, with modifications, Epistles must surely be valid models. So he
started writing and re-writing, wrestling and hunting and polishing. But
the word-chase had now to be supplemented by a paper-chase. How keep
pace in paper with this orgy of penmanship? Every corner of the house
was ransacked, with meagre results: he even meditated stealing back his
own letter from his mother, knowing it had a blank fly-sheet, but it was
always jealously guarded. It was not till he came on Farmer Gale’s
boy—schoolward bound—and paid him twopence for the remains of a penny
copy-book that he could surrender himself freely to the labours of the
file. An hour before this large laying-in of material, he had gone
through a curious crisis. He had found in his purse, in a last desperate
quest, a piece of paper which, unfolded, afforded a welcome white
surface. He was composing quite a successful letter upon it when, on
turning it over, he came upon the address of the forgotten blue-eyed
charmer of the Chelmsford train. With frowning brow he tore it into
small pieces. It was not merely that the letter was spoilt for sending:
it was the juxtaposition with Jinny—back to back—that seemed suddenly
profane.


                                   IV

After several days’ gestation, many words and turns of expression having
to be rejected and replaced by phrases whose spelling could be
ascertained from the Bible, the letter emerged as hereunder in a pale
and aqueous ink:

    “William Flynt to the Damsel of Blackwater Hall greeting. This
    epistle doth proclaim in the name of the generations of Frog
    Farm that Methuselah shall not come to pass here henceforward,
    inasmuch as behold here am I to purchase whatsoever is verily to
    be desired from Chipstone, be it candles or oil or spice or any
    manner of thing whatsoever, nor shall you carry forth aught
    hence, for lo! we will make no further covenant with you or
    aught that is yours. Peace be with you, as thank God it leaves
    me at present.

                                                 “Yours truly,
                                                   “WILLIAM FLYNT.

    “P.S.—Let not your horn be exalted, nor speak with a stiff
    neck, for surely this is not the way to find grace in the eyes
    of the discerning.”

But even this exalted effusion did not survive the first glow of
satisfaction, for although it was treasured up as too good to destroy,
and did not sound unlike the language that the Brothers and Sisters held
in the meeting-house, he could not remember ever seeing a letter thus
couched. It was succeeded by a homelier version, in which the word
“Epistle” stood out as the only connecting-link. With a composition
playing now for safety, and mainly monosyllabic, it would be a poor
diplomacy not to work in one high-class word, of whose spelling he was
sure.

“This Epistle is to say,” the new version began abruptly, “that we don’t
need you to call on Frydays——”

Good heavens! Even Friday was not to be found in the Bible. Pursuing
this astonishing line of investigation, he realized that Sunday itself
was absent from its pages. The Bible without Sunday! O incredible
discoveries of the illuminated!

He altered it, following Genesis, to the “sixth day,” but then came a
paralysing doubt whether it was not the fifth, for how could you rest on
Sunday if that was not the seventh? He casually remarked to his mother
that it was odd they did not rest on the seventh day, as commanded in
Genesis. She explained to him that Sunday was the Lord’s Day, but he
seemed dissatisfied with the argument. Perhaps Moses & Son were not so
wrong, he remarked, repenting of his resentment against them for being
closed that Saturday.

He woke up the next morning with the solution of dodging the mention of
the day and merely relieving Jinny of the duty of “markiting” for them.
He felt sure that this word could be found, remembering a text about two
sparrows being sold for a farthing. But to his chagrin it was not in the
“markit” that they were sold. In steeplechasing for the word, he tumbled
on a text in Hosea: “Blow ye the cornet in Gibeah, and the trumpet in
Ramah,” and that seemed like an omen. Yes, he _would_ blow it in
Bradmarsh, if not in Ramah. Let him wait till she came with the horn;
then after whelming her with the wonder of his execution, he could, face
to face and free of orthography, bid her trouble Frog Farm no more. And
the postscript of his great letter, “Let not your horn be exalted, nor
speak with a stiff neck,” rang through his mind again, like a prophetic
warning against overweening damsels.

“He’s come back a new soul,” Martha reported to Caleb, with shining
eyes. “He’s found God.”

Caleb shook his head sceptically. “He’s too boxed up for that—he don’t
open his heart enough.”

“But he opens the Bible,” urged Martha, “and he won’t close it even for
meals. I can never get it for myself nowadays.”

“Dedn’t you read me as the Devil can spout Scripture?” said Caleb
shrewdly.

“For shame, Caleb. Anybody can see how changed the boy is—the only
thing that makes me anxious is his Sabbatarian leanings. Suppose he
should go and join the Seventh-Day Baptists.”

“Dip hisself o’ Saturdays?”

“No, no—’tis those that keep Sunday on Saturday. There’s two in Long
Bradmarsh, but I hope Will won’t go straying into strange paths.”

“You better enlighten him,” said Caleb. “Them as is powerful enough to
carry boxes from Chipstone ain’t allus bright in the brain-pan. Oi count
it ’ud be aukard if he fared to keep Sunday on Saturday, bein’ as he’d
want the Sunday dishes fust and we’d get ’em cold.”

“There’s higher considerations than the stomach,” said Martha severely.

“The stomach ain’t low and it ain’t high,” maintained Caleb. “The Lord
put the stomach in the middle so as we shouldn’t neither worship it nor
forgit it.”

“The only Sunday meal that matters,” persisted Martha, “is the bread and
the wine, and though there’s no Lord’s table nigh, such as I could find
dozens of in London, nor nobody to worship with except you, yet if you
go on scoffing, my duty to my Brethren and Sisters of the synagogue will
be to withdraw from you.”

“And where will you goo?” he asked in alarm.

“I won’t go anywhere—‘withdraw’ only means that it is forbidden to
break bread with you.”

He was relieved. “Oi don’t mind so long as you don’t goo away.”

“And what will you do in the day of Ezekiel thirty-eight, when Gog and
Magog dash themselves to pieces against Israel? And when the eighth of
Daniel comes to pass, and the Great Horn is broken and the Little Horn
stamps upon the host of heaven?”

“Oi count it won’t be just yet,” he said uneasily.

“You count wrong. To my reckoning the two thousand three hundred days of
Daniel are nigh up. In the great day of Isaiah four, when the Tabernacle
rises again with the cloud and smoke and the flaming fire, the people of
God shall rise too from their graves while the others sleep.”

“Then you can wake me up, dear heart,” he said, “bein’ as you’re sure to
be up.”

She shook her head. “_You_ were always up first, sweetheart, but that
day you’ll sleep on and I’ll have no power to rouse you—unless, says
Isaiah, you ‘look unto me and be saved.’ ‘Dust to dust’—that shows
we’re not immortal by nature.”

“But ef it’s comin’ so soon, Oi shan’t be in my grave at all,” he urged
anxiously, “and Oi can push into the Tabernacle.”

“No more easy than for wasps to push into the hive. You’ve seen the bees
push ’em back.”

“But one or two does get in and Oi reckon Oi’ll take hold o’ your skirt,
same as you been readin’ me.”

“I read you there’ll be ten men to take hold of it,” she said.

“Nine other men!” he cried angrily. “But they won’t have no right to
take hold o’ my wife’s skirt.”

“That’s what Zechariah says—‘ten men of all languages.’”

Caleb’s gloom relaxed. “He was thinkin’ o’ Che’msford and sech-like
great places full o’ furriners,” he said decisively. “Here there’s onny
Master Peartree, and the shepherd ain’t a Goloiath. Oi’ll soon get riddy
o’ him, happen he don’t hook hisself to you with his crook.”

“But I’ll pull in Will too,” said Martha.


                                   V

But Jinny did not appear on Friday with the musical instrument. Only the
unexpected arrived—in the shape of Bundock. That royal messenger was
visibly hipped as he delivered the letter to Will.

“A woman’s writing!” he observed reproachfully. “That means dragging me
here time and again!”

But Will had broken open the high-class adhesive envelope and was
already absorbed in the letter.

    “SIR,—Mr. Quarles thanks Mr. William Flynt for his esteemed
    order, but regrets to inform him that a coach-horn of suitable
    size for a man is not to be had in Chipstone. They have not even
    got a little hunting-horn like mine. I will, however,
    superscribe to Chelmsford and get you one without fail. Trusting
    for your further patronage,

                                                 “Yours truly,
                                                  “DANIEL QUARLES.

    “N.B.—All orders carried out—or in—with punctuality and
    dispatch. Goods sent off without fail to any part of Europe,
    America, and Australia.

    “P.S.—Please inform your hond. parents that as she brought q.f.
    of groceries that Tuesday I shall not call again till I deliver
    your instrument.”

So Jinny had got in first in the pen-fight! And her letter bowled him
over, not only by its bland assumption that she was already established
as his carrier, but by the fluency and scholarship of its style, with
its incomprehensible “superscribe” and “q.f.” He felt baffled too and
even snubbed by the signature, which gave her a businesslike remoteness,
and even a legitimate status as a mere representative of the masculine,
besides making him feel he had lost a chance by not sending off one of
his many scrawls to the address of this same “Daniel Quarles.” His
answer would now require the profoundest excogitation, he felt, as he
adjusted her missive between the bank-notes and the glove. There was,
moreover, the material problem of vying with this real and fashionable
correspondence paper. Ultimately he became conscious that Bundock was
still standing at attention.

“Do you want anything?” he asked tartly.

“I’m waiting for the answer,” said Bundock nobly, “or you won’t catch a
post till to-morrow night unless you trudge to Long Bradmarsh.”

“Oh, there’s no answer—none at all! Thank you all the same.”

“Thank _you_!” said Bundock. “It’s not often folks consider me
nowadays—especially when there’s a woman in the case. They just go on
shuttlecocking letters till my feet are sore.”

“But it isn’t a woman!” said Will stiffly. “It’s just a business letter
from Gaffer Quarles.” And he pulled it out, and the little glove fell
out with it: which did not lessen his annoyance.

“Daniel Quarles never put his fist to a pen this ten year,” asserted
Bundock. “He was glad to be done with writing, says my father, for
Daniel was never brought up to be a carrier, his parents never dreaming
he’d inherit the business.”

“Why not, isn’t he the eldest?”

“The contrairy. Blackwater Hall and the bit of land is one of those
queer properties that go to the youngest, if you die without a will.”

“The youngest?”

“Ay, and that’s what Daniel was. Borough English, ’tis called by
scholars,” said Bundock impressively. “However, he picked up a little
from his brother Sidrach, who had already set up as a carrier on his own
account round about Harwich, and a pretty business he did, old Sidrach,
says my father, before he was discovered to be an owler and had to fly
to America.”

“Were they so persecuted?” murmured Will.

“And didn’t they deserve it—smuggling our good English wool into
France! Pack-horses they loaded with it, the rascals.”

“Oh, I thought they were a sect!”

Bundock laughed. “That’s with an aitch; though I dare say many a man
owled all the week and howled on Sunday—he, he, he! Do you
know—between you and I—who it is writes the hymns?”

“The village idiot!” answered Will smartly. “You told me so when I was a
boy,” he added, seeing the postman’s disconcerted expression.

Bundock brightened up. “Ah, I thought ’twas too clever for you. But as
for this letter o’ yours, it’s clearly a woman’s handwriting, and if
Jinny once begins writing to her customers, it’s a bad look-out for me.”

Bundock might well feel a grievance, for this was the first letter Jinny
had ever written to a client, indeed to anybody with the exception of
old Commander Dap, who, clinging to the friendship struck up at his
wife’s funeral, sent her birthday presents and the gossip of the Watch
Vessel. To him she had written as her heart and her illiteracy prompted,
but the elegant epistle received by Will Flynt was not achieved without
considerable pains. She had the advantage, however, of not being limited
to the Bible for her vocabulary, possessing as she did an almost modern
guide in the shape of an _olla podrida_ of a Spelling-Book, whose first
edition dated no further back than 1755, the year of the Lisbon
Earthquake. “The Universal Spelling-Book” had originally belonged to the
“owler,” and it was from the almost limitless resources of this quaint
reservoir that, with a pardonable desire not to be outshone by her
much-travelled neighbour, she culled both the “superscribe” defined as
“to write over” and the q.f. (given in the “List of Abbreviations” as
standing for the Latin of “a sufficient quantity”), except that she
misread the long “s” for an “f.” The immaculate spelling was, however,
no mean feat, for the book’s vocabulary was very incomplete and devoid
of order, so that she had almost as much steeplechasing to do as her
rival letter-writer. Moreover, she must fain study whole columns of
traps for the unwary, where the terms of her own occupation appeared
with disconcerting frequency. If there was not in the letter any
necessity for distinguishing between “glutinous” and “gluttonous,”
“rheum” and “Rome,” or any risk of confusing a “widow” with a “relic,”
still “seller,” “fare,” “due”—any of which she might have needed—all
had their dangerous doubles, and she did not write “call” without
carefully discriminating it from “Cawl, of a Wig or Bowels.”
“Punctuality and dispatch” was lifted bodily from Miss Gentry’s
billheads, and if she did not offer to send off goods to Asia and
Africa, it was because only “Europe, America, and Australia” figured on
Mr. Flippance’s posters.

The recipient of this impressive communication was staggered by the
strides in female education made since his boyhood. He betook himself at
once—to his mother’s joy—to the Bible, like a Cromwell before a great
battle. Martha had stolen the book back to the kitchen and was pondering
texts anxiously when he wandered in to hunt for it.

“Who sent you a letter?” she inquired uneasily.

“Old Quarles,” he answered readily. “It’s about an order he can’t
supply, and he asks me to tell you his granddaughter won’t be coming
to-day.”

Martha’s face lit up. “What a pity!” she cried. “She might have taken my
bonnet to Miss Gentry to be re-trimmed.” Martha had become reconciled to
this minor vanity, now it was strategically unnecessary. “However, your
young legs can do that, dearie, now they’re back, can’t they?”

“With pleasure, mother,” he said, all unconscious of the lapsed plan.
“Why waste money on carriers?”

She kissed him passionately, but seeing his anxiety to be at the Bible,
she released him.

“I should look at Revelation, one, ten, Willie,” she advised, “and
you’ll understand why the Sabbath——”

“Yes, yes,” he interrupted soothingly.

“Also Colossians, two, sixteen and seventeen—the seventh day is but a
shadow of things to come.”

“I see,” he said, escaping.

It took hours of hard theological study—indeed till Saturday
morning—before the reply to Jinny shaped itself:

    “SIR,—Mr. William Flynt thanks Mr. Daniel Quarles for his
    esteemed epistle, and regrets to learn that a coach-horn of
    suitable size for a gentelman is not to be had in Chipstone. I
    beseech you, however, not to superscribe to Chelmsford as
    Methuselah cannot fetch such a compass, and the righteous man
    regardeth his beast. Neither do I require a horn at her hand now
    or henceforwards.

                                                 “Yours truly,
                                                   “WILLIAM FLYNT.

    “P.S.—Do you think that a maiden of your years aught to
    superscribe alone to Chelmsford, a city full of lewdness and
    abominations, where men use deceit with their tongues and the
    poison of asps is under their lips?”

“What are you writing, Will?” said his mother, coming in to sun herself
in his holy studies.

“Nothing.” He put his hand over the page of the copy-book, forgetting
she could not read it.

“Are you writing to Jinny?” she inquired suspiciously.

“No, no—-it’s Daniel,” he corrected.

“Daniel!” she said in amaze. “About the Sabbath?”

“No, about the horn,” he blurted out petulantly.

“The Horn!” She was wildly excited. “Is it the Little Horn or the Great
Horn?”

He was amazed. “Well it began with the little horn——”

Martha was radiant. She poured forth her own theory of the Beast in
Daniel, and emboldened by his silent agreement—when his daze changed
into comprehension of her misunderstanding—she proceeded to elaborate
her interpretation of the two thousand three hundred days of sacrifice.
He, meantime, was finally deciding to turn “Daniel” into “Miss” except
in the address.


                                   VI

But Will’s letter could not be posted—for many reasons. He possessed
neither an envelope to vie with Jinny’s, nor one that was closed with
outside devices, nor any sealing-wax to make his letter its own
envelope; he could only fold it into a cocked-hat and deliver it
himself. Apart from these material reasons, he could not well let
Bundock carry an answer, when he had denied there would be any, and he
shrank from conducting his affairs under that official inquisition:
moreover, haste was imperative if he was to save the girl from that
difficult and dangerous journey, for “superscribe” conveyed to him a
sense of precipitation, and he saw her cart almost stampeding to
Chelmsford. At any moment she might set out in quest of the Great Horn.
That was why he abandoned the idea of toiling to Chipstone to emulate
her refined writing materials. He must hie to Blackwater Hall that very
afternoon and play postman. He would not, of course, enter the house,
but would find a way of slipping the letter in.

The surreptitious deed he meditated gave him almost a skulking air as he
neared the Common, and he shrank from the observation of all he met,
though with the exception of Uncle Lilliwhyte in a corduroy sleeved
waistcoat, driving cows with a weed-hook, and an old crone who stopped
and muttered with twisted head, he saw only frightened partridges
whirring above or rabbits and field-mice scurrying at his feet. Near
Blackwater Hall he encountered two of Jinny’s milch-goats tethered,
pasturing on the hedgerows, and their bleat had a cynical ring. The
Common itself seemed almost to meet the sky, for clouds had gathered as
suddenly as the crowd by the Silverlane Pump. He was feeling dispirited
as he stole towards the house, but as he caught sight of the stables and
barn at the rear, it seemed a happy idea to plant his note in some
obtrusive coign. His heart beat like a raw burglar’s as he stood
surveying from afar the primitive sheds whose roofs were thatch, whose
gates palings, whose sides faggots, and in one of which he could see
Methusalem’s head in a trough of oats. The stable-shed would be the
surest place, he thought, or perhaps he could pin the note on to the
harness he saw hanging in an adjoining shed from nails in the beams.
Coming nearer to peer at Methusalem’s manger, he was startled by the
sight of a brown smock-frocked figure crouched on the littered, dungy
floor and belatedly brushing Methusalem’s fetlocks. Before he could
escape he saw the wizened, snow-bearded, horn-spectacled face turned up
at him, and heard himself recognized in a weakened but unmistakable
voice.

“Why, bless my soul! Ef that bain’t little Willie Flynt!”

Daniel Quarles rose and straightened himself to his full height, but
nothing in Little Bradmarsh had seemed to Will so pitifully shrunken.
“Little” Willie Flynt indeed towered over the patriarch who had once
seemed Herculean to him. Yet if the robustiousness that the old carrier
had preserved in his eighties had vanished at last, there was still fire
in his eye and a fang or two in his mouth.

“Hope you are well, Mr. Quarles,” said Will, recovering from the double
shock of discovering and being discovered.

“No, you don’t, my lad,” piped the Gaffer. “Did, you’d a come sooner,
seein’ as Time is gettin’ away from me.”

“Did Jin—did your granddaughter tell you I was back?”

“She ain’t scarcely told me nawthen else.”

Will’s cheeks burned.

“You ain’t come back improved, says she.”

Will’s flush grew redder.

“But Oi don’t agree with her—you’ve growed like a prize marrow. Come
into the house and she shall make you a dish o’ tay—Oi don’t drink it
myself, bein’ as Oi promised John Wesley.”

“No, thank you—I’d rather talk where we are.”

“Well, Oi can’t inwoite you in here—’tis too mucky.” He gave
Methusalem’s tail a final flick with the brush. “And it’s blowin’ up for
rine. We’ll goo into the barn.” And he led the way imperiously round by
a great and ramifying apple-tree that hid a little black door secured by
a padlock and infinite knots of string.

“One has to be witty,” he commented, patiently undoing the
complications, “with so many thieves about to steal my dole hay.”

Will had not heard of these thieves, and thought Little Bradmarsh must
be changed indeed, but he waited silently, wondering what to do with his
note. And as he stood thus, there came from the cottage the sound of a
girl’s singing. Fortunately it was not satirical, so Will could hear it
with pleasure:

        “_Of all the horses in the merry greenwood_
         _The bob-tailed mare bears the bells away._”

“Always jolly, my little mavis,” said the patriarch, fumbling on, and,
unable to resist the infection, his sepulchral bass voice took up the
Carters’ Chorus:

        “_There is Hey, there is Ree,_
         _There is Hoo, there is Gee——_”

“Oi wouldn’t unlock the barn,” he broke off to explain as the door swung
open, “ef Oi hadn’t such good company.” He stood peering suspiciously
into the tall raftered and beamed glooms; redolent of old hay and
punctuated with a few cobwebbed and rusty instruments amid the endless
litter. Will’s eye was fascinated by an old wine-barrel flanked by a
chaff-cutter and a turnip-cutter and covered with boards and weights. He
divined it held corn and was thus closed against rats, and a whiff of
aniseed came up in memory, and in a flash he saw the faces of Tony Flip
and the Deacon—and himself flying after a carrier’s cart.

“They’ve stole my flail,” cried the Gaffer.

“Why, there it is, under that straw,” said Will.

“Oh, ay. But there was more logs, Oi’ll goo bail. Drat ’em, can’t they
chop for theirselves? It’ll be that Uncle Lilliwhyte.”

“Oh, but he’s only too honest,” said Will incautiously.

“There ain’t nobody honest,” barked the Gaffer.

“But he sent me an adder——” he began.

“Not he. ’Twas Jinny told him to send the adder. He’d ha’ kept your
sixpence and let you whistle for your sarpint. But next time you want an
adder, you come to me.”

“Do you sell ’em too?” he murmured, surprised.

“Oi _be_ an adder!”

“What do you mean?”

His spectacles glowed strangely. “Read your Bible, young man—Dan is an
adder in the path, what biteth the horse’s heels, so that the rider
should fall backwards—that’s the blessing of Jacob—and let no man try
to ride roughshod over the likes o’ me.”

Will shrank back before the passion of his words. Indeed in that gloomy
old barn he began to feel a bit nervous.

“I’ve brought a note for Jinny,” he said hastily. “Will you give it to
her?”

The old man took the cocked-hat. “Mr. Daniel Quarles!” he read slowly.
“But it’s for _me_!”

Will’s blush was now papaverous. “No—no!” he stammered. It was a
conjuncture he had not foreseen.

The fire in the old eye leapt up at the contradiction, shot through the
spectacles. “Plain as a pikestaff—Mr. Daniel Quarles! And then you has
the imperence to say there ain’t no thieves. But ye can’t bamboozle me.
Oi could read afore you could woipe your nose with a muckinger, ay, and
my feyther afore me. Carriers ha’ we been for over a hundred year, and
my big brother Sidrach he had his own pack-horses loaded up with
waluable stuff and writ me a piece ten year ago come haysel, sayin’ as
he hoped Oi should jarney to see him, and please God Oi will, he gittin’
old.”

“But where is he?” asked Will, glad that the Gaffer’s monologue had
drifted from its angry beginning.

“In Babylon!”

“Babylon?” gasped Will, whose recent theological excursions had made him
almost at home in that purpureal city.

“That’s my nickname for Che’msford, chuck-full o’ lewdness and
Church-folk. But Oi’ve been meanin’ to goo and look Sidrach up and hear
all about his travels, he bein’ a rare one for adwentures, but somehow
what with my carryin’ work and one thing and the tother my days fly
by—like the Book says—swifter than a weaver’s shuttle. Happen lucky,
though, Oi’ll git over there to-year.”

“I hope so,” murmured Will vaguely.

“No you don’t, drat you!” said the veteran with sudden viciousness.
“Tain’t your care whether Oi ever clap eyes on my beloved brother agen.
A ’nation cowld day it was he had to goo away—the Brad all ice and they
should be tellin’ of the Che’msford coach as come in without the driver,
and he fallen down on the road, frozen stiff as a sparrow.”

“What year was that?” asked Will, to keep the conversation on this more
agreeable level.

“It was the year my brother Sidrach went away,” said Daniel Quarles
simply. “’Nation cowld. We heerd that in Lunnon the river was as froze
as ourn, and flue-full o’ sports—booths and turnabouts and pigs roasted
whole, and great crowds to see a young bear baited. But feyther’s cart
went to and fro Chipstone just the same, and brought the news as how a
woman was burned at Newgate for coinin’—it dedn’t seem wery dreadful in
that weather. Waterloo year that was another cowld winter—all the marsh
ditches was solid ice, and all the eels was found dead and frozen.
Couldn’t eat ’em neither, not after the first day, they stank so. That
numb was my fingers Oi could scarce howld the reins, and you’d ha’
thought by my breath Oi was a wicked smoker. But ’twas wunnerful times,
and we heaped up a deadly great pile o’ fagots and bushes for the
beacon, top o’ yonder rise where ye see Beacon Hill Farm.”

“Ah, the bonfire to celebrate the victory!” said Will, rejoiced to find
irascibility cooled into reminiscence.

“Wictory! That was the name o’ Nelson’s ship as that silly old Dap
should say he sarved in. Nay, this was but a bonfire to be lit when Bony
landed. All along Blackwater we was ready for the inwasion, and when the
beacon was fired, that was to be the signal. The soldiers was to goo to
the coast and the ciwilians inland. But Bony never come, and ’twas a
great waste. And Sidrach never come neither. ’Nation cowld the day he
went away—Oi moind me gooin’ through a foot o’ snow across Chipstone
poor-piece to the Church to see the Knight Templar what was dug up in
the north aisle, pickled inside three coffins, but they’d put him back
in the outer lead time Oi arrived. They should say it was a sort o’
mushroom ketchup as kept him together for the Resurrection Day—a bit
blackish, but wellnigh as sound and good-lookin’ as you.”

It was a compliment that made the young man shudder again.

“Ah, there _is_ the rain!” he exclaimed, with relief at the hearty
patter on the apple-tree.

But the old man would not be fobbed off so enjoyable a topic. “Three
coffins—lead, ellum, and a shell—’twas a witty way agin them
body-snatchers—you ain’t safe agin thieves even in your tomb. And when
you’re above ground they tries to steal your wery letters.” He pulled
open the note.

“It’s merely addressed to you as head of the business,” Will explained.

“Ay, that Oi be, though the youngest. He that is last shall be fust,
says the Book, ay, and the Law too, though ’twasn’t fair to Sidrach to
my thinkin’, bein’ agin nature. And next time a letter comes for me, do
ye don’t bring it and play your tricks, but let it come natural through
Bundock’s grandson. What’s this? ‘Mr. William Flynt thanks Miss Quarles
for her esteemed epistle.’ And who is Miss Quarles, and what’s she been
writin’ to you?”

“About—about business,” said Will.

“There ain’t no Miss Quarles in the business,” said the old man testily.
“That be my business, and Oi lets Jinny amuse herself jauntin’ to and
fro, pore gal, she bein’ that lonely on the Common and afeared o’
dangerous charriters. Rare mistakes, she makes, bein’ onny a gal, and
costs me a pritty penny. But it ’ud cost me more ef Oi dedn’t stop at
home and guard the house from thieves. And now she wastes more o’ my
hard-earned dubs writin’ to you as is a neighbour—drat the child, ain’t
that got a tongue? ‘A suitable horn?’ Dash my buttons! What do you be
wantin’ with a horn—you bain’t a guard or a postman, be you?”

“No, but——!” he stammered. The explanation was not simple.

“‘Oi beseech you, however, not to superscroibe to Che’msford’ . . . ‘the
righteous man regardeth his beast.’ Dang your imperence! Why shouldn’t
Oi goo to Che’msford? Oi ain’t seen him these sixty year, and do ye
don’t come interferin’ ’twixt brothers. Sidrach writ me a piece ten
years agoo come haysel, arxin’ me to superscroibe to Che’msford, and
Oi’ll not be put off by the likes o’ you. You look here, my lad, ef
you’re come home to meddle or make, the sooner you goos furrin agen, the
better.”

“But it’s not you—it’s Miss Quarles I don’t like journeying to
Chelmsford. Look at the P.S.”

It was imprudent counsel, for, as the Gaffer followed it, his face
became a black cloud, the fire in his eye was lightning, the odd fangs
in his mouth showed like tigers’ tusks, and his beard seemed like a
tempestuous besom sweeping all before it.

“‘Lewdness and abominations.’ You call my Jinny a Jezebel! Git out o’ my
house!”

“I’m only in your barn,” Will reminded him, “and it’s raining, and you
just said yourself that Chelmsford is a Babylon chock-full of
abominations. And you’d let a young girl superscribe there all alone!”

“Jinny shall superscroibe where she pleases!” roared the Gaffer. “For
over a hundred year the Quarleses have superscroibed in foul weather or
foine, with none to say ’em nay, and it ain’t for a looker’s son to come
here dictatin’.”

“I didn’t dictate,” said Will, with a fleeting schoolboy memory. “I
wrote it with my own hand. Look here, Mr. Quarles,” he went on, trying
another tack, “you’re a sensible old gent with great experience of the
world, and it makes me frightened to see that grandchild of yours
gadding about so far from home, and sometimes not getting back here till
dark.”

“That ain’t timorsome—onny when she’s alone here,” he added cunningly.

“Maybe, but with such a pretty girl——!”

“Ay, she’s like a little bird with her little fitten—and allus singin’
like one too—all the day that goos about singin’, ‘Fol de rol——’”

“Yes, yes,” said Will, wincing.

“And Oi’d best tear up your letter—she don’t want to read about
lewdness and abomination except in the Howly Book. And Oi count she has
enough o’ that on Sunday with you Peculiars.”

“It is better she should read about it than scutter about seeing it. A
cart ain’t a suitable place for a girl.”

“A cart’s as suitable for Jinny as a horn for you,” retorted the old
man, bridling up again. “Oi suspicion you’re plottin’ to steal her away
from me.”

“What!” Will’s cheeks burned with indignation.

“And Oi count you’ve got your eye on the cart too, like you bolted off
to Harwich with your feyther’s wagon. There won’t be naught left for me
but the poorhouse. But Oi’d die sooner.” He was almost blubbering now
with self-pity.

“Oi saved a mort o’ money once,” he said, “though it took a deadly time
scrapin’ the dubs together, what with the expense o’ dinner at “The
Black Sheep” and the hoss’s feed—fower parcels or fowerty, Oi never
stinted him o’ his peck o’ chaff, and three and a half pound o’ oats and
the same o’ ground beans, and there’s folks as grumble to pay accordin’
to the soize and compass o’ the parcel, though there’s nights your hoss
goos so lame and you’re that pierced with wind and snow you got to knock
up a farm and borry a hoss to git home with, and them days it was the
barges took away custom. Old Bidlake used to goo along canals and cricks
as ain’t there no longer, thank the Lord, bein’ as they sea-walls have
made a many willages high and droy. But Oi had to pay all my savin’s
away to keep our name from disgrace, so as Emma should howd up her head
in Kingdom Come. He hadn’t the bed he died in, for all his traipsin’
around in _Tommy Devils_; but time Oi went down to git Jinny, Oi made
inquirations among the tradespeople and paid ’em to the last farden,
aldoe soon as my back was turned, my own sister plots with her one-eyed
little ship’s monkey to pay for a stone, as ef Oi’d neglected my own
darter, and all spiled with wicked words—did you ever see such words in
a Christian churchyard?”

“No, of course not,” soothingly murmured Will, to whom the long
rigmarole conveyed nothing except: a sense of pathetic and loquacious
senility.

“Ha!” said the Gaffer with satisfaction. “Oi says to Dap, says Oi, ‘A
Churchman like you may not see the blarsphemy, but think what John
Wesley would ha’ said to it.’ ‘Sir,’ Oi says to the old gentleman, ‘you
jump into my cart,’ says Oi, ‘and not a sowl here shall harm a hair o’
your wig’; and with that Oi wheeled round my whip, and bein’ then an
able-bodied young man (’twas the wery fust year arter feyther died),
them as was throwin’ stones and cryin’ ‘Knock his brines out’ slunk away
like blackbeadles, which was a pity, seein’ as they missed the
be-yutiful words he preached from my cart. From Chipstone to Che’msford
Oi carried him—a dogged piece out o’ my way, bein’ as he wanted to
preach there and his own hoss had gone lame—’twas the wile o’ that
great old murderer, Satan, says he, but the Almoighty sent you to
confound his knavish tricks. That was a man of God, my lad, never out of
heart, roighteous and bold as a lion, would preach even in front of a
gin-shop where ’twas writ up: ‘Drunk a penny, dead-drunk twopence, clean
straw for nawthen.’ Pounded glass mixed with mud the sons of Bellal
threw in his face, but his eye-soight was not dimmed, nor his nat’ral
force abated. Used to preach as much as foive times a day, gittin’ up at
fower o’ the clock, and travellin’ a bigger round than me, but wunnerful
healthy, slept like a baby in my cart, and that saintly he said all his
life he’d never done naught as ’ud bear lookin’ at. He made me sing a
hume with him and we was singin’ it as we come into Babylon:

        _Oi the chief of sinners am,_
        _But Jesus died for me._”

As the sepulchral bass quavered out the tune, Jinny’s fresh voice could
be heard from the back door calling “Gran’fer! Gran’fer! Where _are_
you?”

“She thinks Oi’m out in the rine,” chuckled the old man, “but let her
come and find me. His blessin’ he gave me at partin’, did John Wesley,
and do ye don’t never smoke nor drink that pison stuff, tay, says he.
‘Oi’ll promise ye tay and gin too,’ says Oi, bein’ as Oi liked beer
best. ‘But to give up baccy, that’s main hard,’ Oi says. ‘There’s
harder,’ says he, lightning-like. ‘Promise me as ye won’t be friends
with a woman as is younger than your wife, for there’s unhowly sperrits
about,’ says he, ‘as brings gales and earthquakes and tempitations, and
the best o’ men may git capsoized same as the _Royal George_, our best
ship, t’other year.’ Lord, that fair capsoized me, for how could this
furrin ole gen’leman in his eighties know about Annie, as wasn’t
seventeen yet for all her wunnerful fine buzzom, and the missus older
than me, in looks Oi mean, bein’ as she was two years younger the fust
time that worritin’ census paper come along.”

“When was that?”

“That would be the year Oi put new thatch on this wery barn for the new
century.”

“And what year did you meet John Wesley?”

“Ye’d best git Jinny to work that out. But it couldn’t be many year
afore the Jew Mendoza boxed Dick Humphreys for the Championship, for Oi
wouldn’t goo, ne yet bet on it, bein’ as my sowl was saved, and when Oi
lifted up my woice at the camp-meetin’s and chapels in praise and
repentance and shouted ‘Glory! Glory!’ dancin’-like, with the tears for
my sins runnin’ down my cheeks, that was more joy to me than Annie and
the prize-ring and cock-foightin’ rolled into one. And Oi ain’t never
backslided, praise the Lord, bein’ as Annie married a sedan-chair man
and was hiked away to Cowchester, and Oi hope for your immortal sowl’s
sake, my lad, you bain’t like what Oi was at your age.”

“I hope so,” said Will, not without uneasiness.

The patriarch shook his head. “There’s the old Adam in you, plain to
discern. Ye won’t be safe till ye’re married. But do ye don’t marry an
old gander of a widow like that potboy they should be tellin’ of,”—he
began to cackle—“that’ll onny lead to wuss mischief. Wait till you
happen on a clean little lass, rosy and untapped.”

“A girl like your granddaughter, you mean?” Will heard himself saying.

The cackle ceased abruptly and the grin was replaced by a glare. “That
ain’t gooin’ to be married! That’s got to goo out with my cart, whenever
Oi’m too busy workin’. Ef a rich man like Farmer Gale as drives her to
chapel Sundays should be wantin’ her all the week, Oi don’t say Oi
wouldn’t goo with her to the big house, but that ain’t likely, and she
can’t have nawthen to say to a rollin’ stone as mebbe left a pack o’
wives among they Mormons.”

Will was nettled. “And who asked for your granddaughter?” he retorted.
“Besides, you’re quite right. I married dozens of wives in America—all
widows too!”

The veteran chuckled afresh. “Dash my buttons! How you do mind me o’
your feyther when he was your age—always had his little joke. Not that
Oi count him growed up yet, he havin’ never cut his wisdom teeth, but
gooin’ off as skittish as a colt arter peculiar doctrines and seducin’
sperrits.”

“Oh, there you are, Gran’fer!” And pat as to a cue a most “seducin’
sperrit” flashed, like a shaft of sunshine, through the half-open door
into the gloomy old barn. But she was aproned and bare-armed to the
elbow, and rain-spotted, and a ringlet of hair was blown almost across
her mouth, and the instant she perceived Will, she drew back in
confusion, patting her hair tidy.

“Sorry, Gran’fer. I didn’t know you had visitors.”

But Will, to whom the sense she conveyed of brooms and dusters was
sweetly reassuring of a still unsubmerged femininity, cried out as
hastily:

“No, I was just going. You’ll get drowned.”

And he tried to pass her.

But the old man dramatically extended the uncocked hat.

“Howd hard, sonny.”

Will, disconcerted, found his feet sticking to the floor.

“He’s writ me a letter, imperent little Willie, and brought it hisself.”
Then a flash of amusement toned down the asperity. “Aldoe he had his
tongue with him!” And the old man chuckled.

“Shall I read it?” murmured Jinny, putting forth her hand.

“Nay, nay!” He snatched the note back and tore it into careful pieces.
“Ain’t fit to be seen.”

“No more am I,” said Jinny with an uneasy laugh, and again she essayed
to escape.

“Stop!” commanded the ancient, kindled afresh. “Willie’s got to tell you
what’s in they scraps.”

Will was silent.

“Don’t stand gawmin’. Out with the abomination.”

But no sound issued from the young man’s lips. It was not merely that
this new housemaidenly figure seemed safe enough even in Chelmsford,
wrapped in its own sweet domesticity, and that adjurations designed for
the minx bade fair to blunt themselves against this sober angelhood; but
that the girl’s radiance against the littered gloom within and the
rainfall without, robbed him literally of breath.

“Speak out, Willie!” said the Gaffer, softened to contempt by his
obvious confusion.

“Perhaps he _hasn’t_ brought his tongue,” suggested Jinny, recovering
herself.

“Then Oi’ll lend him mine. You ain’t to goo to Che’msford, he says.”

“But I don’t want to go to Chelmsford, Gran’fer. Why should I go to
Chelmsford?”

“To get his horn, you baggage. And he don’t be wantin’ it.”

“Oh, but he ordered it—it’s too late now.”

“Ay,” said Daniel Quarles, “and goo you shall to git it ef the adder has
to bite Methusalem’s heels.”

“But I don’t have to go to Chelmsford for it!”

“You said you’d go to Chelmsford,” burst out Will at last.

“Nothing of the sort.”

“But I’ve got your letter!” He pulled it out, and again that awkward
glove fell out. “Ah, there’s your glove I’ve found on the road,” he
said, crimsoning furiously.

“Thank you!” She took both letter and glove placidly. “Now I shall have
two pairs! But where do I say anything about going to Chelmsford?”

Thus invited, he came and looked down at the paper she held, and gripped
an end of it himself, very conscious of her near fingers, and her bared
arm, and her bending head. He was about to cry: “Why, there!” when a
horrible doubt lest “superscribe” did not mean dashing away, or
stampeding, or scurrying, or driving, or even going, checked the
exclamation.

“I must ha’ misread it,” he said. “I beg your pardon.”

“Spoken like a Christian!” said the Gaffer. “And Oi count John Wesley
’ud a said let bygones be bygones. Sow bring out the beer, Jinny.”

“Thank you—I’m afraid I can’t stay,” said Will. He had a sullen sense
of defeat, which the loss of the glove seemed to accentuate and
symbolize. “My folks’ll expect me home to tea.”

“Your Mormon wives? Ay, Jinny, you may well blush,” the Gaffer chuckled.
“Willie’s been and married a pack o’ widows in America.”

“And left them there!” said Will, permitting himself a faint smile.

“Left all those widows!” laughed Jinny. “How deadly dead you must be!”

But despite the merriment in which the episode had so unexpectedly
ended, and despite the rain which had now grown torrential, he tore
himself obstinately away, even refusing the “umberella” which the old
man suggested and Jinny offered to fetch; though as he stepped under the
plashing apple-boughs, he felt himself doubly foolish to refuse what
would have been a literal handle for a return visit. And now that he had
caught a glimpse of what he told himself was the real Jinny, not the
Tuesday and Friday swashbuckler, but the Saturday-cleaning-up-for-Sunday
house-angel, he did not despair of inducing her to shed these husks of
bravado. But he had said “no,” and “no” to his great annoyance it must
be.

“When do you propose to superscribe?” he asked with crafty lightness, as
he raised his hat.

“Oh, but I _have_ superscribed,” said Jinny. “But of course if it
doesn’t come soon, I shall write over to Chelmsford again.”


                                  VII

The first Sunday of Will’s home-coming, nothing had been said about
chapel. That, his elders thought, might be still a sore subject with the
boy whose resentment at sacrificing his buttons on the altar had driven
him “furrin.” Still more delicate was the theological position into
which the couple themselves had gradually drifted, and of which they
now—before a spectator and critic—grew uneasily conscious. Martha’s
Ecclesia in Long Bradmarsh having collapsed almost as soon as she had
been converted to it, she had no meeting-house to go to, and, almost
simultaneously, Caleb, whose farm-wagons had recently been shifted to
the new “looker’s” headquarters, ceased to attend his Chipstone Chapel.
This was partly to keep his wife company of a Sunday, partly because so
many miles there and back was getting too much for his legs. In
consequence the pair had arrived by compromise at a Sunday ritual of
their own, a sort of Peculiar Christadelphianism, and Uncle Lilliwhyte,
who never entered any of the many houses of God—it was popularly
supposed he would not or could not remove his gay-stringed beaver—would
often loiter outside Frog Farm in Church hours, listening to their
loudly trolled and hybrid hymnology in a sort of pious eavesdropping.
That was Uncle Lilliwhyte’s individual contribution to the chaos of
creeds that reigned in Bradmarsh.

But even this minimum of religion was denied the honest snake-seller
when Will returned. The first Sunday, Caleb and Martha held their
services furtively in their hermetically sealed bedroom, hardly daring
to hum what they had so lustily intoned: by a common instinct they
shrank from obtruding their departure from that straitness of doctrine
in which Will had been reared. They were indeed secretly relieved that
he made no reference to religion, nor seemed to expect them to go to the
old chapel, nor even noted the Sundayness of the dishes that Martha
served up with the same careful everyday air with which Caleb consumed
them. They were equally relieved, however, that he did not go out
rabbiting on the holy day with his new pet ferrets. “Oi’ve known some as
dedn’t consider that work,” said Caleb, as they discussed this dread
possibility. “But to my thinkin’, if ye goo out with a spade, ye might
as well be ploughin’.”

That was what they said in bed on the first Saturday night. Very
different was their conversation on the eve of the next Sunday. The
problems all came now from Will’s over-interest in religion. True, the
Sabbatarian peril had not yet materialized: he had neither worn his best
clothes on the Saturday nor demanded priority in the Sabbath dishes. But
he had dropped more than one perturbing remark. Old Quarles, he
supposed, was now too old to worship at his Wesleyan Chapel in Long
Bradmarsh, to which Caleb had replied naïvely: “Ay, he sleeps at home
Sunday mornings.” Presumably, then, Jinny would not leave the old man
alone on Sunday as well as on Tuesday and Friday: to which Caleb had
answered cautiously—and without admitting that his observations were
not up to date—that doubtless Jinny could only worship occasionally
with the Peculiars and it depended on her getting a lift, Methusalem
being a strict Sunday observer. Yes, he _had_ heard Farmer Gale
sometimes gave her a lift—who had told Willie? he wondered—but he
supposed it was because the farmer, like her grandfather, was a
Wesleyan. Later, Will had remarked casually to his mother that he didn’t
suppose Miss Quarles would be able to get to chapel on the morrow, as he
had happened on her old grandfather, who seemed quite breaking up.
Martha, murmuring sympathetically that Mr. Quarles must be getting old,
was likewise compelled to gloss over her inacquaintance with Jinny’s
latest Sunday habits: she shocked and surprised herself by remarking
that one’s grandfather would hardly count against Farmer Gale, and
hastened to add—especially as Will seemed shocked too—that such was
Jinny’s devotion to her grandfather that not for some years had she been
able to stay longer than the Morning Service. Rejoiced though the old
woman was at Will’s mingled concern for the religion of the young and
the weal of the old, she was a little uneasy at this personal turn of
his theological thinking, and she quickly changed the conversation to
the Great Horn and the Beast, a discussion which in her eagerness she
hardly noticed was practically a monologue.

By nightfall that Saturday Caleb had gathered, with a sinking of the
heart, that Will designed to accompany his elders on the morrow—and to
Early Service! The boy had apparently failed to remark the breach in the
old chapel routine the previous Sabbath: the Sunday had been hushed up
only too successfully. It was as far as Caleb dared go, in the first
plunge of confession, to say that, in the absence of a vehicle, Early
Service at Chipstone was out of the question nowadays.

Such was the situation that faced the old couple in the sleepless
watches of the second Saturday night, and dimmed even Martha’s joy in
the prodigal’s return to religion.

“Best go with him, like when he was little,” she decided. “We mustn’t
unsettle him so soon, now he’s found God again.”

“Ain’t so sure he’s found God,” said Caleb shrewdly. “God ain’t in a
goose-quill, and writin’ a piece about Daniel ain’t the road to heaven,
else where would me and most o’ the Brethren be? To my thinkin’ Will’s
onny lost the Devil.”

“It’s the same thing. What else does he want to go to chapel for, and
Early Service at that?”

“To make trouble,” said Caleb fretfully. “We was all so happy till he
come—and you had Maria.”

“Oh, Caleb, you don’t deserve the Lord should give him back to you! And
if you don’t go to-morrow, I’ll withdraw from you.”

“That ain’t right,” said poor Caleb, puzzled by the unscrupulous threat.
“But ef it’s onny for Morning Sarvice he’ll expect you to goo too.”

“He knows about my rheumatics, dear heart,” she said casuistically. “He
knows I couldn’t walk even to get my bonnet cleaned.”

“But ef you were to tell him about the New Jerusalem——?”

“He’d best find that himself, now he’s on the way. It’s not far from
Daniel.”


                                  VIII

Thus it was that Uncle Lilliwhyte was again defrauded of his ritual and
that after a still more furtive and still earlier service in the
sanctity of their airless bedroom, with hymns muted and prayers guiltily
whispered, the couple appeared at an eight o’clock breakfast with an air
of devotions unpaid, and Caleb, hurrying the meal, remarked that ’twas
time to get ready for chapel or they would miss even the Morning
Service.

At this, Will, who was in his fashionable London jacket—to the admiring
awe of his elders—sprang up, and rushing to the back of the house near
the water-barrel, brushed away hastily at a dull speck on his boot where
a spurt from the boiling kettle had blotted out the shine he had so
laboriously imparted. The male ferret, caged just above his stooping
head, awoke at the agitation, and started rubbing itself under the neck
as if in parody, but far more swiftly and persistently; then it jerked
its nose and its thin whiskers through the wires.

“Not to-day,” laughed Will, jabbing its nose with the blacking-brush. He
felt very gentlemanly and happy, for the brief rain of the evening
before had dried up, and the day was as fine as his clothes. As Caleb
came out in quest of Will, the ferret was just snuggling back to
slumber, and the old man, yawning with the loss of his Sunday morning
sleep, looked enviously at the creature coiling itself so voluptuously
in its straw.

“Lucky Jinny brought me sech a noice Sunday neckercher,” he said, “or
Oi’d ha’ been ashamed to walk with ye. Ye look like our Member o’
Parlyment.” He himself looked, however, a respectable figure enough in
his tall hat and finely stitched and patterned Sunday smock, his
high-lows and gaiters, and it was not till they were getting over the
stile that led to the short cut through the Green Lane that Will
observed that his senior carried, like a tramp, a bundle in his
handkerchief.

“What’s that?” he inquired fretfully, becoming aware too that the Green
Lane, even at its best, offered perils to his boot-polish.

“That’s my hume-book and our dinner and tea. There’s two packets for
each on us, and we must be home for supper. Don’t, your poor mother will
be lonely.”

Will had forgotten these meals: they had, in his boyhood, been carried
decorously in the wagon. But the sunshine of the mid-May morning did not
permit ill-humours, and they strode happily along the dappled by-ways,
bounding over the shrunken sloughs, the son uplifted even beyond
boot-polish by the intoxication of the Spring, and the father by the
intoxication of the Spirit. For, the moment Caleb had crossed the stile,
the old rapture of fellow-worship had returned, and the absence of
Martha seemed to lift the shadow of her criticism; while doubts of his
son’s regeneration could hardly survive the sight of his springy step
chapelwards.

Will was indeed living over again his childish memories of these Sunday
journeys, and, somewhat to his surprise, something fresh and delicious
seemed to emanate from them. It had after all been a pleasant change in
the weekly round, this family jaunt with the big double-lidded provision
basket, while the congregational picnicking in the chapel had not been
without its jollity.

But Caleb did not leave him long to his memories. The old Peculiar was
anxious to have a problem solved that had been weighing upon him these
two years. In the New Jerusalem, whose descent to earth—ready-made and
complete—was, according to Martha, imminent, to the impending confusion
of disbelievers, there was to be “A street of pure gold, as it were
transparent glass.” Martha—as if to immunize him against his visit to
the old Peculiar Meeting-house—had read out the text that very morning
at their surreptitious service. And his ear had always heard “brass”
instead of “glass.” But how could gold be brass or either transparent?
He did not like to shock her by questioning the letter of a text—his
differences from her turned merely on the relative importance and
significance of her texts as compared with those he had picked up from
the Peculiars. Yet this puzzle was perhaps what really prevented him
making the final plunge into Christadelphianism. It is true he might
have demanded her solution of it—often through those long months of
controversy as he looked at her saintly face so quiet on the pillow
beside him, it was borne in upon him that in that bookish brain, under
that frilled cotton nightcap, lay the explanation of the holy mystery.
But possibly, with the subterranean obstinacy of the peasant, he shrank
from an elucidation which might have left him irremediably at her mercy.
A vindication of the text by Will, on the other hand, would give him
time to turn round, take his new bearings. And a young man who was
capable of composing a thesis upon the Little Horn and the Great Horn,
could surely wrestle with this mystery.

“Oi hear you writ a piece about Daniel,” he began tactfully, as they
crossed the bridge.

Will frowned. He had forgotten Martha’s misunderstanding. “Has he been
round telling you?” he asked angrily.

“Me!” Caleb stared. “Oi bain’t howly enough for wisions.”

Will was puzzled in his turn. “You mean he can’t walk so far!”

“Oi wouldn’t say that: happen he can fly if he wants to.”

“Fly!”

“Surely! A man so howly in his life—him what——”

Dead! So suddenly! Will stood still. This altered many things. The
winged image of the Gaffer faded before the picture of a lonely Jinny.
“When did he die?”

“You know that better than me,” said Caleb meekly.

At this the thought that his “epistle” had over-excited the patriarch
and stilled that aged heart, shot up, agitating the young man. That was
why relief mingled with a vague disappointment when Caleb went on: “They
lions couldn’t kill him, but Oi reckon he had to die some time. But many
of them what sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, he tells us,
and maybe”—he added with a flash—“they’ll wake up in that golden
city.”

Will grunted a vague “Maybe.”

“Touching that there city,” said Caleb, “the gold of the street thereof
will be transparent.”

“I know,” murmured Will, suppressing a yawn.

He knew! And the contradiction did not strike him! Instantly, as by
another flash, the text solved itself in the old man’s mind—gold in
those millennial days, while it retained its sacred splendour would also
lose its gross opaqueness, becoming rarefied, disembodied,
spiritualized, so that gold was as brass since both were like glass,
making thus a harmony of light with the jasper wall, clear as crystal,
and the twelve giant pearls of the gates.

“It’ll be a pritty sight!” he mused aloud.

“Yes, like the Crystal Palace,” sneered Will.

“You seen that?” asked Caleb eagerly.

“A man couldn’t be in London and escape seeing it,” said Will. “Every
cad drags you into his omnibus bound for Hyde Park. Such a crowd!”

“Yes, the chimney-sweep got his pocket picked, Bundock’s buoy-oy was
a-tellin’,” said Caleb, “but the streets thereof, be they of gold?”

“The streets of London?” said Will, smiling.

“Noa, the streets of the Crystal City?”

“No, of course not, father.”

“Then they can’t be brass neither?”

“More like grass,” Will laughed. “For there’s real trees left standing
inside.”

Caleb joined in the boy’s laugh. Though he had never really believed
that the Crystal Palace represented the Millennial City, it was well to
have the danger finally cleared away. And, abandoning the gold-brass
puzzle, his mind flew back illogically but passionately to his Peculiar
Brethren and the joy of the awaiting ritual.

“Ah, here’s Plashy Hall!” said Will. “And the dog seems having his
Sunday nap.” He threw open the white gate marked “No thoroughfare!”

“But that’s closed.”

“Closed!” said Will in fiery accents. “I shan’t even close it after us.”

“I count they won’t mind _you_ in your Parlyment coat, but——”

“Go along, dad.” And Will pushed the old man into Plashy Walk and strode
forward like a village Hampden. Within a minute he missed Caleb, and
looking back, saw him hurrying back from the gate.

“Must allus shut ga-aites!” he apologized with his rising accent.

“I’ll burn it next time,” said Will. “Why, this saves us a mile.”

“But we’ll miss the Early Sarvicers,” complained Caleb. “You’ve forgot
how they walk out to meet the Brethren, what come footin’ it from afar,
and have an extry sarvice at a half-way house back o’ Long Bradmarsh.”

“Surely the regular services will be enough.”

“But ’tis noice to git an extry snack,” said Caleb wistfully. “Many’s
the Sunday Oi’ve had foive sarvices.” He sighed voluptuously.

“Well, better luck next time,” said Will lightly.

The tone was not unkindly, but Caleb took it in full earnest, and his
long secret grievance against Martha began to ooze into speech under the
spell of his son’s sympathy. Her warning against unsettling the boy was
forgotten in this natural gravitation of male to male against female
fantasy.

“Yes,” he said, “I’ve allus been fast and faithful all along. ’Tis
mother that’s allus gooin’ forrard. And woundily wilful—Oi never met
nobody loike her, barrin’ old Quarles. When we married we was both
Sprinklers, but scarcely had we got six childer afore she says she must
be baptoized. Wait till the summer, says Oi, for ’twas a black Feb’ary.
But no—sow headlong is her natur’ they had to break the ice. She give a
deep soigh when the water took her—it a’most unhinged me. But she would
have it she felt sow happy and contented. She drilled me hard to make me
take the total immersion too—’nation obstinate is mother, but Oi’ve
allus stood out stubborn for the Truth. Fast and faithful,” he repeated,
as if to reassure himself.

“Well, but you changed too!” Will reminded him less kindly. “You weren’t
born a Faith-Healer.”

“That ain’t my fault, bein’ as the truth wasn’t found out in my young
days, though they warses o’ Jeames was there all the time. But the fust
day Oi met the Brethren Oi knowed they were the people for me. There was
one on ’em among my own labourers. When Oi said as we didn’t know
’zactly what God was, he said, says he: ‘God’s like you and me, bein’ as
He made man in His own image.’ That was an eye-opener to me. But the
others parsecuted him and called him Brother Jerusalem as a rewoilin’
word. He had a fork to pitch a high load—cost foive shillin’s, fancy
what a good fork that must ha’ been—and they went and broke it. Oi was
grieved, but naught grieved him except to grieve the Lord. He dedn’t
drink neither, and you look so odd if you don’t drink. But when they
wanted to stand treat, he said he’d take bread and cheese. ‘Goo to
hell,’ says they. ‘There ain’t no hell, even for you,’ he answers soft;
‘you’ll be in the same darkness as now, that’s all.’ That was another
eye-opener. Oi was taken with that hell—not bright and burnin’, but all
black and cowld—so Oi came out o’ my darkness and jined the Brethren,
and gave up beer, barrin’ harvest-time, which rejoiced mother and was
money saved for the childer. Be-yu-tiful things were brought to pass and
be-yu-tiful things were said the day Oi went to my fust sarvice, and ef
the Lord is with you to-day when you speak o’ your experiences, Oi count
be-yu-tiful things will be brought out agen.”

Will shuddered. He stopped abruptly and was nigh turning back. He had
forgotten that the Brethren would expect his soul-experiences and
confessions—especially after this spacious and adventurous interval.

“What’s-a-matter?” asked Caleb.

“Nothing, nothing,” he said, remembering his own power of sullen
silence. And to say something, he asked, as he walked on: “And what’s
wrong with mother now?”

“Wrong?” Caleb was shocked at this crude interpretation. “Oi don’t be
meanin’ she ain’t in her rights to hunt out new texts, she bein’ a
scholard. There was allus a bran-span-new one, Oi mind me, the Sundays I
used to goo a-courtin’ her. A wery long way she lived—they talk broad
and careless where she comes from, not moist and proper like here—and
Oi had to git up early and goo along the sea-wall—deadly dark and
lonesome it was winter nights and mornin’s, but her face was allus with
me like the moon.”

“Why, was she pretty then?” asked Will.

“Can’t you see?” replied Caleb, with a faint surprise. “She ain’t
changed much, she havin’ allus the peace of God in her heart.”

Will was touched and astonished by this revelation of romance in the two
elderly people foisted upon him as parents, whom he had all his life
taken as eternally elderly. But still more surprising was the
realization forced upon him that the religion which to him was a bore
was to them a thrill.

“Shall I carry the parcel, father?” he asked gently.

“Nay, nay, that don’t goo with Parlyment clothes. And it ain’t as
sizeable as the box you carried from Chipstone.” He chuckled in freshly
admiring glee.

Passing adown the long hawthorn avenue, they now issued from Plashy
Walk, the rights of leg vindicated, and soon they began to see signs of
other pilgrims faring towards Chipstone, that great gathering-place of
faiths and creeds.



                               CHAPTER VI


                          SUNDAY AT CHIPSTONE

                              _This zealot_
                 _Is of a mongrel, diverse kind;_
                 _Cleric before, and lay behind;_
                    _A lawless linsey-woolsey brother,_
                    _Half of one order, half another._
                                    BUTLER, “Hudibras.”


                                   I

AS old England has always been rich in “characters,” in those grotesque
or gnarled individualities that have escaped the common mould, the
superabundance of sects, which, in conjunction with the paucity of
sauces, amused Voltaire, has its natural explanation.

John Bull—himself a “character” among nationalities—could not long
endure the Papal leading-strings, and ever since the days of Wycliffe a
succession of free spirits has founded “heresies,” not a few based on
misunderstood mistranslations of Greek or Hebrew texts, torn from their
literary and, above all, their historical context. But why during these
five centuries Essex has been a breeding-place for Nonconformity, second
to no other county, is a problem to tempt the philosopher. For its
ministers have been silenced or ejected in numbers almost unparalleled;
some indeed merely for tippling, dicing, carding, and womanizing, but
the majority for the more serious offences of heresy or disrespect
towards Parliament; while simple peasants—men, women, and girls—for
their participation in seditious conventicles or practices, have been
fined, jailed, transported to “His Majesty’s plantations,” and even
nailed to stakes and burnt alive, clapping their hands the while with
joy. Some of the most moving scenes of “Foxe’s Book of Martyrs” and
Bloomfield’s “History of the Martyrs” are laid in Essex. Triumphant
descendants of these opinionated saints were now converging on Chipstone
from every quarter of the compass—it was but a toy-model of a town, yet
it held in its petty periphery chapels, meeting-houses, or
churches—ancient-towered or drably wooden or offering the image of a
tinned congregation, tightly packed—for Baptists (Particular or
General), Quakers, Wesleyans, Congregationalists, Peculiars, and
Primitive Methodists, as well as your everyday Churchgoer; nothing
indeed was wanting except an Ecclesia for the variation represented by
Martha. And as most of these structures were in the High Street, or just
off it, you beheld in that ancient thoroughfare of a Sunday a crowd of
Christians, as like to the naked eye as a flock of sheep, sorting
themselves into their denominational pigeon-holes, and disappearing as
suddenly to right or left as the pedestrians in “The Vision of Mirza”
vanished downwards through the trap-doors in the bridge.

Of all these types of Christian none seemed so indigenous to Essex as
that aptly christened “Peculiar”: it was as though peculiar to the
marshes, an emanation of the soil. Though the first apostolic fervour
was over in Chipstone, and the spirit was moving rather towards Woodham
and Southend, the sect was still young and persecuted enough to be a
devoted brotherhood, as Will soon realized from the greetings which his
father exchanged with fellow-pilgrims, who grew more and more frequent
as they drew nigh the outskirts of the theological town.

There was, among others, a cheerful-looking woman pushing a four-wheeled
baby-cart, which held an infant back and front, and a food-parcel
sandwiched between them. Caleb, addressing her as Sister, offered to
wheel it, but she replied that the children would cry at a stranger.
“Well, you’ll soon be comin’ to your destiny,” said Caleb. But before
Will and he had forged ahead of her, she had begun pouring out a
premature confession. Two or three were gathered together, and the
Spirit seemingly blew through her. That time last year she hadn’t
trusted the Lord: when they were wheeling the cart to chapel, she had
wondered to her husband how she could fit in the coming baby. And the
Lord had now made room by taking the prior baby, so that she was well
chastised: moreover they had “parsecuted” her husband before a
magistrate for not calling in a doctor for the child, but as it wasn’t
insured, they had only put him in prison for a little. All the same he
was “broke up,” having always been a “forthright” man. The Lord was
indeed trying him by fire.

“Ay, ’twas the same, Willie, when your brother what’s-a-name died,” said
Caleb as they drew ahead of the labouring baby-cart. “But the Brethren
now exhort one another not to insure their childer, Satan being swift to
cry child-murder.”

“But _isn’t_ it child-murder if a doctor might have saved it?” asked
Will coldly, for the woman’s story had shocked him.

Caleb looked pained. “Ef the Lord wouldn’t listen even to prayers, is it
likely He’d regard doctors? Howsomever the Brethren stand fast and
faithful—they goo to prison even at harvest-time when you’re worth
forever o’ money. But the Lord’s people are wunnerful good to one
another, and the Elders look arter the families. Oh, what a joyous
Harvest Thanksgivin’ we had two years agoo, time the martyrs came out o’
their cells. All in the open air it was, and Deacon Mawhood brought out
be-yu-tiful lessons. No matter you lost your harvest money, he says, you
won the palm and the crown, and ’tis the Second Harvest in the heavenly
fields with angels to squinch your thirst from golden wessels that shall
be yourn, says the Deacon.”

Will received the rat-catcher’s rhetoric with a snort, which put Caleb
again on the defensive.

“Oi’ve never took no medicine for ten year,” said Caleb. “And look at
me!”

“Well, I’ve taken plenty,” said Will. “And look at me!”

“Oi allow Oi ain’t a Samson like you,” admitted Caleb honestly, “nor
couldn’t carry a box that far. And when Oi say no medicine, Oi don’t
mean when Oi’m not ill. For same as Oi’m well, mother makes me take a
little pill afore meals, bein’ a wegeble as stops the gripes. There
ain’t naught about that in the Bible, seein’ as the text starts onny
when you git sick. And arter she lost your brother Jim—or maybe he was
Zecharoiah—she did fetch a doctor for the tothers, argufyin’ that when
the child’s too young to seek grace of itself, oil inside ain’t no wuss
than oil outside. And then they Christy Dolphins come along——”

“Who are they?” inquired Will.

But Caleb drew up with a sudden remembrance. “You’ll find that out for
yourself. They ain’t far from Daniel.”

“Live on the Common, do you mean?”

“Noa—there ain’t none near us—there was two in Long Bradmarsh, but
they’ve gone back to the Joanna prophet woman, so your poor mother ain’t
got—” he broke off again. “Oi don’t say ef mother was took real bad, Oi
shouldn’t goo and git Doctor Gory, seein’ as she threatens to goo for
him same as Oi’m ill. It ain’t the doctor, it’s the faith, says mother,
and so long as you don’t believe in the doctor, there ain’t no harm in
lettin’ him thump you about. So long as your heart turns to God, says
mother, the doctor can listen to it all he likes.”

“Then you do have the doctor!” Will was amused at these compromises
exacted by his masterful mother, whose heretical evolution after the
loss of offspring he could, however, well understand.

“Noa—noa, not for us—leastways not yet,” Caleb protested. “That was
onny for the childer. That made us feel free.”

“Free?” Will queried.

“Not responsible like.” He was somewhat embarrassed. “Faith-healin’
ain’t the main thing,” he expounded anxiously, “it’s faith-gittin’; it’s
lovin’ God and seekin’ His grace, just as you’re doin’ to-day.”

Will was silent.

“Bless me!” cried Caleb suddenly. “Ef that don’t look tempesty!”

Will’s eyes went skywards and found indeed a livid patch of gloom, like
a ghastly sag of sky, suddenly splotched in the warm blue. And as he
looked, a zigzag flash stabbed through it.

“Quick,” cried Caleb, indicating a fairly leafy oak, “git under that
tree!”

“No, no,” said Will, “it’s dangerous.” And a terrible peal of thunder
accentuated his words.

“Oi’ll hazard it,” said Caleb, hastening towards the shelter. “The Lord
is marciful—He can kill us when He pleases. He ain’t got no need o’
lightnin’. But that’s gooin’ to pour like billyho—and the rine falls
alike on the just and the unjust—unless the roighteous man’s got an
umberrella.”

Will smiled, though humour was as far as ever from Caleb’s intentions.
Unwilling to desert the old man, and perhaps weighing the improbability
of an electric stroke against the certainty of spoiling his jacket, and
the last surviving sheen of his boots, Will stood pluckily beside his
parent, while, after another celestial salvo, great drops began to
patter on the leaves and even to drip through them. “Lucky that thunder
dedn’t come in the middle o’ last night,” mused the old man gratefully
as it roared on. “It’s sech a bother dressin’ yourself agen to set up
till it stops. Hark at they Tommy Devils squealin’,” he cried,
indicating the startled swifts. But after a few minutes Caleb’s patience
gave out: the distant chiming of Chipstone Church bells, with which the
way had been piously enlivened, was now chillingly inaudible; the
thought that they would be late for chapel gnawed at his heart; and
dryness seemed a poor equivalent for those missed moments of spiritual
ecstasy. He was about to dash through the storm, when the rain ceased as
suddenly as it came, the blackbirds began to whistle and forage merrily,
and the sun, bursting out more brilliantly than ever, soon licked up the
modicum of moisture that had percolated to their Sunday exterior. But
Caleb’s apprehensions were justified. He had overrated the pace of his
aged legs, and despite the gain through Plashy Walk, he got no
compensation for the missed Half-Way Service, for when they arrived at
the little meeting-house, the Morning Service proper had begun.


                                   II

The chapel of the Peculiars was one of the minor religious edifices that
did not aspire to the High Street. Behind an iron gate and a petty stone
courtyard, it displayed a gabled front, with a roof of pantiles, and a
row of dull windows of an ecclesiastical order on either side.

As Will passed through the door, all his tardily born sympathy vanished,
and a wave of the old insufferable boredom smote him like a breath of
the steerage on his Atlantic steamer. Almost ere his hat was off, his
eye had taken in the whole once-familiar scene, the painfully crude
walls, a little dingier with the passing of the years, the broad
table-desk at the head of the hall, at which Deacon Mawhood and the
Elders throned it in Sunday black, the rows of spruce wooden chairs
sexually divided by a gangway, and exhibiting in its left section a
desert of elderly females with a few oases of hobbledehoy girls. He
thought of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and calculated whimsically that if that
cost twopence to see, how much ought one not to pay to escape seeing
this!

But if his entry meant ennui to himself, it was a most dramatic event to
the congregation. At first, indeed, this stranger in the fashionable
jacket was not associated with Caleb, whose return to the fold was a
separate thrill. It was believed for an instant that a veritable
gentleman had succumbed to the Truth, and even when it was perceived
that he was no other than Will Flynt, the news of whose home-coming had
reached the majority, the sensation did not abate, for was not God still
visibly with His peculiar flock, turning back the hearts of the
wanderers, whether of the old generation or the young? A breath of new
inspiration shook the hall, and the grey-haired Brother who had just
begun reading the thirteenth chapter of Acts faltered in his
mispronunciation of Cyrene. As he went on droning out the
chapter—surely the longest in the Bible, chosen maliciously to depress
him further, thought Will—its burden of the people of God, set for a
light to the Gentiles, evoked a mounting exaltation, and those who had
come with no thought of testifying, found themselves possessed of the
Spirit. There was in particular a man with mutton-chop whiskers, on the
bench in front of Will, whose body swayed with excitement, and who
punctuated the reading with breathless jerks of nasal interpolation.
“Be-yu-tiful!” “Yes!” “Amen!” “Thank Gord!” “Mercy!” and the like. And
when at last the chapter ended on the verse “And the disciples were
filled with joy and with the Holy Ghost,” it lifted the man to his feet
and he poured forth the story of his sinful past.

“Oi was Church of England—in the choir—and wore black and whoite
gowns—and rang the bells—and was confirmed and all—but Gord had never
pardoned my sins.”

Will stifled a yawn and looked towards the door. But the rest of the
audience hung upon the tale—the tale of a death-bed repentance of
Churchmanship and the miraculous recovery to lead the better life of the
Peculiar Brotherhood.

“Oi asked the Elder to howd up my hands, so that Oi might die praising
Gord for the revelation.”

Sobs came from the left benches, but they only fevered Will. He sat in a
dull fury, dazed by words that passed over his brain without leaving a
meaning.

“Oh, what a thronging boy and boy—a land where we shall never say ‘Good
noight’—engraved in eternal brass—the Lord shoines on your
heart—sheep and goats—streets paved with pure gold as it were
transparent glass!” It was not till he felt his arm clutched by Caleb in
the old man’s excitement at hearing this last phrase that Will connected
such words with reality at all, and they faded back into mere religion
till a sudden mention of “John in the oil of Patmos” shot up a quaint
picture of a too profuse anointment.

Other speakers followed with the same transcendental vocabulary, and
then hymns, in an interval between which, the black-garmented Deacon
with a royal gesture, that seemed to sweep away the remotest effluvium
of aniseed or moleskins, sent Will a hymn-book by a deferentially
wriggling Brother. It seemed an ironic revenge for the book he had flung
into the bushes, but it saved him from the oppressive proximity of his
father’s, which he had been sharing; for the old man, though he could
not read the book, liked to hold it as he had always held it with
Martha, and indeed could not have sung without feeling it at his
fingers’ ends. Will turned its pages with curiosity, thinking of
Bundock’s “village idiot,” and noting that it was still published by a
village barber. Then a gaunt, horn-spectacled man was seized of the
Spirit.

“I’ve been looking for a han’kercher,” he began, to Will’s surprise.
“I’ve been looking for a han’kercher,” he repeated. “I’ve been looking
for a han’kercher,” he recapitulated with rising rhetoric, “to wipe my
tears away.” But the thrilling level, of this exordium was not
maintained, and the stock phrases started again, merciless, unendurable,
beating on Will’s brain till they beat vainly against the depths of his
reverie—or was it his doze? Ah, surely that was Jinny’s horn at last!
No, it was only his father blowing emotionally into his red cotton
handkerchief—too huge to need looking for—a duplicate of that which
held their meals. Besides, Jinny wouldn’t be blowing her horn of a
Sunday. But why didn’t she come to chapel, the graceless minx? Was she
careering around with that Farmer Gale, or was it her grandfather’s
illness?

If flighty young girls, with hearts sound at bottom, would come here and
unfold the error of their independent ways, the practice of confession
might be justified, and chapel-service become both useful and exciting.
But these faded people, these ungainly men and fubsy females! Who on
earth cared for their drab histories? Ah, there was Mother Gander, not
so podgy as most—in the blue silk of auld lang syne—if only _she_
would get up—or even Charley Mott—there would be some spark of
interest. But no, the horn-spectacled bore held the floor pitilessly,
and the phrases beat on.

“Be-yu-tiful, be-yu-tiful words—I thought I should die!—Poor me! What
a comfort in them words!”

And the nasal voice, its fervour unallayed by its own outpouring, still
punctuated the other speeches with jerky interpolations. “Praise the
Lord!” or “Glory!” came with fiery iteration, and sometimes this saint
with the mutton-chop whiskers said “Lord bless me!” or “Lord bless my
soul!” and these frayed and almost meaningless ejaculations seemed full
of a startling significance in _his_ mouth and nose.

“Brother Bridges, they said to me, how’s your soul? I couldn’t give ’em
a straightforward answer.”

Will woke up again. It was not now the horn-spectacled speaker—he had
apparently been wiped off the floor at last, and was not even
visible—it was a man with a humorous twinkle and a red beard.

“But if they had asked me, how’s your body——?”

There was a faint snigger from a thick-set girl, instantly repressed by
her shocked mother; but after Will had extracted what relief he could
from this incident, he tried vainly to extract from the anecdote the
exciting edification it held for the others. “How can I go to Romford
and tell people I haven’t got salvation?” A dramatic crisis indeed for
all save Will, who did not even stifle his yawn. The man’s journey to
Romford seemed infinitely unimportant compared with journeys going on
every Tuesday and Friday, and despitefully checked on Sunday.

Once the door opened, but it was only for a shambling youth in his
teens, and Will did not share the satisfaction of the congregation at
this new, if belated, proof of their vitality.

“We’re not afeared, no, not the humblest of us,” pursued the red-bearded
man, catching fresh inspiration from this continuous rise in their
numbers. “And why? Because we don’t go to work without a Partner.”

Here at last was a definite image through the blur, and if Will in a
vivid flash saw a working-partner for himself in a less sublime
incarnation than the speaker had in mind, he was for once as a-quiver as
his father, who now, albeit with the stock exclamation of “Be-yu-tiful!”
proceeded to add real tears to the contents of his capacious
handkerchief.

When Will became attentive again, it was a new voice testifying, and the
matter seemed quite sensational.

“They used to be carried away and buried in a day. But when our Brother
Bundock’s boy got it, we had a special prayer-meeting, and even the
marks were light!”

Oh! So it was only the postman’s smallpox. He looked round in vain for
Her Majesty’s servant: indeed a general consciousness that the hero of
the story was ungratefully absent, damped its appeal—only the man with
the mutton-chop whiskers called out with unabated ardour, “Glory!” Will
felt that the glory was to Bundock, thus valiantly sticking to his lack
of convictions. More than even during the last week, life at Little
Bradmarsh seemed impossible, as impossible as in his boyhood; better had
he rushed with the mob of his mates to California; even now it was
probably the best thing to do with his ninety pounds, unmanly though it
were to flee and leave this girl carrier with her arrogance unbroken.

In her absence, if only one of the females would get up! That would be
at least a change. But no! The sex was shy to-day, though the forenoon
was, he remembered, the traditional time for its testifyings. Perhaps it
was the presence of this stalwart young stranger that tongue-tied it.

But the males seemed to be telling their soul-stories _at_ him,
challenging his eye, appealing to his black jacket—or was that only a
morbid impression of his? An outsider might have been touched by the
thread of spiritual poetry in these outwardly commonplace lives, but
Will, being of them, had the familiarity that breeds boredom, if not
contempt. And contempt, too, was not wanting to this elegantly clad and
much-travelled connoisseur of men and women and creeds, who had seen
even French cathedrals in Canada, and knew that Roman Catholics were not
the scarlet beasts his infancy had somehow imagined them. Once he caught
Mr. Charles Mott’s eye fixed upon him with a curious, wondering gaze,
which seemed to change to a wink as eye met eye. Will’s eye, however,
remaining serious, a flush overspread the ex-potboy’s face, and he
looked away.

But Will’s contempt passed into alarm when, at a sudden pause in the
testifyings, all other eyes unquestionably converged on him. He turned
as red as Charley Mott, and glued his eyes to his hymn-book, not daring
to look up till another voice indicated that the Spirit had found a more
willing tongue for its organ. But his relief was mixed with disgust, for
it was the dry voice of the original grey-haired reader, and it seemed
bent on a sermon which had not even the mitigated brightness of a
confession. Then, autobiography seemed suddenly to break through it, for
Will’s wandering thoughts were fixed by an anecdote about riding to
Rochester seven miles on a donkey on a winter’s evening. “Lord bless
me!” interpolated the nasal voice, so distracting Will that he never
understood how the story led up to a doctor’s remark: “I must have your
leg off,” a design the medical materialist appeared to have carried out.

Will tried to peer under the table to see the preacher’s peg, but
failing to perceive any signs of corkiness, concluded that the anecdote
was not personal. He gathered that after this melancholy amputation by
impotent Science, Faith had sufficed to keep the rest of the man
together. Medicine had subsequently proclaimed he was in a galloping
consumption, “but he ain’t dead yet—he’s still sound and whole,” cried
the preacher paradoxically, to the applausive “Glory!” of the tireless
commentator.

Another illustrious example of regeneration—the preacher kept Will
awake by recounting—had begun life as a parson. But none is beyond
hope; even in the sacristy one is not safe from the Spirit, and unable
to go any longer through the flummeries and mummeries of the Established
Church, he had given up his living and fallen—at one time—so low that
he was glad to become a potman in a public-house.

All eyes were here turned towards the unfortunate Charley Mott, and from
his squirming figure to Mother Gander, sitting so stern and stiff; but
the tension relaxed when the preacher—perhaps tactfully—went on to
mention that it was at “The White Hart” in Colchester: where the
landlord and landlady had both “parsecuted” him. They were now both
dead. (“Glory!” from the nasal punctuator.) “I am sorry they are dead,”
said the preacher magnanimously. “But the Lord’s arm is not short.” And
while they were well dead, Will learnt that their poor, persecuted
potman had now a chapel of his own, where he preached “Full Salvation.”
Twenty or thirty were, it appeared, saved regularly and punctually every
Sunday evening. “Glory!” trumpeted the nasal voice, and again Will,
sullen and glowering, felt that the whole congregation was palpitating
with expectation that he would leap to his feet and declare himself
similarly saved, or at least not lost during his long absence. But he
was not going to make a fool of himself, he told himself harshly. He
would sooner face the ordeal of escape, of running the gauntlet of the
Brothers and Sisters, and he looked round wildly towards the door,
perceiving with satisfaction that the late youth had left it slightly
ajar. Then, to his joy and the congregation’s disappointment, another
worshipper took the word, or was taken by it; Bidlake, the bargee, with
his dog-eyes now shining and his shaggy face sublimated, who declared
with touching fervour that he would praise God as long as breath was in
him, and with the death-rattle in his throat he would cry: “You can do,
Gord, what you like with me!” Ephraim recalled the coup by which he had
converted his wife, whom family sorrows had made an infidel. “Ef you
won’t goo to heaven with me, says Oi, Oi’ll goo to hell with you!” Now
they both pulled and poled together and were happy—so happy, despite
family losses and troubles. “Most men ain’t fit to live nor ready to
die. Just drifters. Throw ’em the life-line—the life-line afore they
drift away!” And with a vivid gesture he threw an imaginary rope. By
accident or design it was in Will’s direction, and again the poor young
man, with a stifling sense of being lassoed, became the cynosure of
every eye. But, fortunately for him, Ephraim Bidlake did not pause here,
and his rhapsody poured on; “Glorious truth”—“one generation to the
tother”—“the prayer of roighteousness”—“come as you are”—“wain to
trust in man”—a veritable cascade of phrases that, falling on Will’s
head, gradually lowered it in sleep. An impromptu speech is usually one
the speaker cannot wind up, and the worthy bargee went on tangling
himself up more and more, till it looked doubtful if he would ever have
come to a stop, had not something happened which stole even _his_ breath
away.

Through the interstice of the door came suddenly sidling a little white
dog. But this accession to the congregation produced no joy, merely a
sense of profanity as it pattered up the central parting, leaving,
moreover, wet prints of its paws. Springing without hesitation or
apology upon the sleeper’s best trousers, it curled itself up
comfortably with a grunt. Assuredly Will was not fated to-day to escape
the centre of the stage.

The young man recognized Nip instantly, and his yawn of awakening
changed into a gasp, and his somnolent pulse into a precipitate beat.
The animal’s leap was indeed sudden enough to startle the strongest
heart. Will turned his head instinctively towards the door—oblivious
even of his damped trousers—but there was no sign of Nip’s mistress.
Still, whether she was in the vicinity or not, the dog was clearly out
of place. Grasping his pretext of escape firmly by the collar and
clasping his struggling opportunity to his breast, he stole from the
meeting-house.


                                  III

He expected to see Nip’s owner outside. In his reading of the situation
she had arrived so late that while she was hesitating whether to come
in, the shameless dog had burst through the door, attracted doubtless by
the aroma of all those dinner-packets, and this had made her still more
ashamed to enter. But the quaint little street was bare of Jinny. So
sunless did it appear without her, that he scarcely noticed that the sky
was actually overcast again, and that the black cloud had regathered. He
stood still, hesitating; in which relaxed mood of his the spasmodic
struggles of the animal were successful, and Will became painfully aware
that he was alone with his moist trousers and his London coat snowed
over with little hairs, while Nip, after some preliminary gambollings
and barkings at the recovery of the liberty he had himself abandoned,
was vanishing into the High Street. So assured were Nip’s movements that
Will divined at once he had only to follow him to restore him to his
mistress, and without waiting even to brush off the little white hairs,
he darted towards the street corner, and was happily just in time to see
the excellent creature trotting into the courtyard of “The Black Sheep.”

His pleasure was not, however, free from surprise. What was Jinny doing
at her business headquarters on the Lord’s Day? Or had she come in her
cart to chapel, and put it up there? He ran towards the picturesque
stable-yard. There were a good many chaises, gigs, dog-carts and even
carriages standing—the countryside drove to its churches—but there was
no trace of either Jinny or Methusalem, while Nip was standing with
hang-dog air by the doorstep, under a poster of “Duke’s Marionettes.”
But as Will drew nearer, he turned tail, sauntered down the passage,
surveyed the painted hand, and then with an air of decision bounded up
the stairs. Ah, she would be in the parlour! And Nip’s follower bounded
upstairs too, keeping closely to heel. But no! Nip was not on dining
bent, though the door was open. Rejecting all the appetizing scents that
already emanated from the eating-room, Nip pit-patted along the dusky
corridor and began whining and scrabbling outside a closed and numbered
door. Very soon it receded before his pleadings; and as he scampered in,
“You poor dog!” came out in the girlish voice that had so lacerated him
with “Fol de rols!” But not the worst of that musical torment could vie
with the jar to his heart-strings when, through the reclosing door, came
another unforgettable voice with the jovial interrogatory: “Well, Nip,
and what was the parson’s text?”

He remembered now—with a cold sick horror—that this was the very
bedroom from which indignant housemaids had excluded its tenant—yes,
there was Reynard opposite with his glassy eye and his erected brush.
Possibly Tony Flip was not even up. That was what came of minxes driving
Methusalems! Instead of being at divine service, like all God-fearing
humanity, she was coquetting—or worse—with a mountebank in an inn
bedroom. Yet he felt he must not spy upon her—any moment, too, she
might come out—and he hurried downstairs and stood on the step under
the ironwork lamp, louring like the great black cloud, which he now
perceived to be in heaven-sent harmony with his mood. And that
drivelling patriarch had foamed at the mouth when he had hinted that
woman’s place was not a cart!

But Jinny did not keep him more than five endless minutes.

“Hullo, Will,” she cried gaily, as she tripped from the passageway with
Nip in her arms. “What are you doing here?”

How the broad frame of her bonnet set off the picture of her face! Small
wonder a loose-living showman found it bewitching. Not so William
Flynt—with his high ideals of womanhood! Even to be called “Will” was
provoking rather than flattering: he felt it now less the perquisite of
the old friend than the proof of an indiscriminating levity.

“I’ve come for the dinner,” he said coldly. Nip gazed straight at him
with his mild brown eye, but although Will did not suppose that the
brute would open its mouth like Balaam’s ass and give him away, he could
not look it in the head. He turned his shoulder on dog and damsel and
stared at the poster.

“I wish I could have dinner with you,” replied Jinny frankly. “But I
must be off to feed Gran’fer. Farmer Gale’s trap should be here by now.”

“He drives you home too?” He turned towards her, startled.

“Within half a mile—it _is_ a treat for me to have another carrier.”

“But he isn’t a Peculiar,” he observed severely.

“No, he’s a Wesleyan like Gran’fer, who used to drive his father about.
He puts up at ‘The Chequers’ hard by his chapel—his service ought to be
over. I hope his horse hasn’t taken fright again—we had just got to the
High Street when the storm broke, and at the first flash the horse was
off, galloped miles beyond the town before he could be got to a
standstill.”

“He might have killed you, the silly!” cried Will, meaning the farmer.

“Yes,” said Jinny simply, meaning the animal. “By the time he was walked
warily back, it was too late to go in. But I don’t wonder Nip was
worried about me. You see he likes to run behind the trap, poor
fellow”—she wasted a kiss upon his unresponsive head—“and he always
comes up in time to say good-bye at the chapel door, where he hangs
about till I come out. But this time, of course, he must have been
wandering about in search of me. He wasn’t there when I passed just now.
Mr. Flippance declares he must have gone to Chipstone Church, in the
idea I’d suddenly joined it.”

And the girlish laugh rang out, dissipating some of his humours as much
by its joyousness as by the innocent mention of the Showman.

“But why shouldn’t you join it, Miss Quarles?” he said. “It can’t be
duller than chapel.”

“Now, now, Will.” She shook a serious finger. “You ought to have gone to
chapel yourself this morning. And don’t call me Miss Quarles.”

“But I prefer to call you Miss Quarles.”

“But why not Jinny?” Her voice was plaintive.

“Because everybody else calls you that.”

“Is that any reason why you should call me Miss Quarles?”

“If you can’t see it——!” he began.

“I can’t, and I hope you won’t call me Miss Quarles.”

“And why shouldn’t I?”

“Because I won’t answer to it.”

“And why not?”

“Because, Will, it’s not my name.”

He gasped. “Not your name?”

She laughed merrily at his discomfiture. “It’s a long story and Farmer
Gale will be here. Hulloa,” she went on, making his confusion worse
confounded, “how did Nip’s hairs get on you?”

He flushed, and flicked nervously at his coat. “There are other white
dogs,” he said evasively.

“Well, don’t let him spoil your coat.”

“And what about your bodice?”

“Oh, mine isn’t new and Londony.”

He was gratified at her perception: still more at her setting down Nip.
That animal, however, was in the rampageous mood which always followed
his restoration to freedom, and he began leaping up at his mistress’s
hand.

“Down, Nip, down! Oh, I do believe he’s bitten through my new glove!”
She pulled it off ruefully to examine the damage.

“Sensible dog!” Will growled. “He knows you oughtn’t to be wearing Mr.
Flippance’s gloves.”

Her own little white teeth flashed out in a mocking smile: “Lucky you
are going to buy me another pair!”

“Me! Why, you wouldn’t let me when I offered.”

“Of course not. I’m thinking of the pair you’ll be owing me.”

“Owing you?”

“You don’t suppose you’ll win the wager, do you?”

“Oh, that!” He was disconcerted again. “Of course I’ll win it,” he said
defiantly in a bombastic burst. “It won’t take me a day’s practice to
blow down the walls of Jericho.”

She laughed. “So you do remember your Bible. Well, I’ll be satisfied if
you blow Nip back from a rabbit.”

“We shall see. Have you superscribed again?” he asked pompously, assured
of his accuracy this time.

“Not yet—I expect the horn’ll be at Chipstone by Tuesday—you shall
have it the same evening.”

“And the next day I’ll be wanting gloves,” he said loftily.

“We shall see—or rather hear. What size do you take, though?”

“Oh, I don’t know—twice yours, I suppose.”

“Oh, not twice!”

“Why, sure!” And he suddenly prisoned her little ungloved hand between
his brawny palms. “I could easily crush it,” he said, with a strange
desire to do so, pressing it indeed almost to hurting-point. At that
instant a far-palpitating blueness transfigured the courtyard, and from
above-stairs came a terrific racket as if all the plates and dishes in
the dining-room were hurling themselves at one another. Will felt the
girl’s fingers curl spasmodically round his and hold them tight: her
face went white, and he seemed to hear her heart thumping.

“Don’t be frightened!” he said, with his first manly satisfaction in
her. Surely she was clinging to him for protection.

“That’ll be a fireball down the chimney,” she observed with
disappointing coolness. “There was one came down last year in Long
Bradmarsh and killed a poor little chimney-sweep who had got stuck in
the flue. It’ll set the chimney on fire, I expect.”

“This rain will put it out,” he said, still cheerfully conscious of her
warm fingers, and feeling a joy in the deluge that had been so damp in
his father’s company. She drew back, however, into the passage to avoid
the big plopping and ricochetting rain-drops and her hand got
disentangled. “What fun if it’s fallen down Mr. Flippance’s chimney,”
she laughed. “Make him get up early.”

Her laughter seemed to ring untrue, hysterical.

“Isn’t he up yet?” he asked, trying to speak lightly.

“Oh, he never gets up on a Sunday—not properly, I mean. I saw him half
up, but he’s gone back to bed and is already snoring—I heard him.”

“But how could you hear him?” he asked, with careful carelessness.

“Oh, I was in his daughter’s room, whiling away the time of
waiting—she’s got ten times his sense—when, woke up by our voices, I
suppose, in he trails through the communicating door in his fancy
dressing-gown, yawning like a mouse-trap, and asks me to buy him a horse
at the fair.”

“A horse at the fair!” Scarcely had he enjoyed the relief of working out
that he had taken the harmless adjoining bedroom for the Showman’s, when
this new blow struck him, like hooves on his chest.

“Of course I wouldn’t listen to him,” she said.

“Of course not!” His breast expanded again. “How can a woman understand
buying horses?”

“Oh, I don’t mean that.” Jinny was distinctly colder. “I mean it’s the
Lord’s Day. He’ll have to repeat his order on Tuesday.”

“But surely you wouldn’t go to a horse fair?”

“Why not?”

“Because—it’s—it’s so horsey.”

She laughed again. “And so fairish, too, isn’t it?”

“What does he want a horse for?” he asked sullenly.

“I don’t suppose it’s for dinner—he isn’t a Frenchy. But he’s got a
caravan, hasn’t he?—and he has to begin his summer tour soon.”

“And why can’t he buy his own horses?”

“That infant? Why his last horse died of old age at four!”

“And what about that sensible daughter of his?”

“She hasn’t got horse-sense,” said Jinny, smiling.

“Well, I don’t see how it comes into your business.”

“A carrier has to buy whatever she’s asked.”

“Whatever she can carry. You can’t carry a horse.”

“No, but it can carry me. Besides, I’ve often carried a calf or a pig,
and where am I to draw the line?”

“You’ll be buying elephants next,” he said, with a bitter remembrance of
Mr. Flippance’s story.

“I’m too old for gingerbread,” she replied unexpectedly. “But I haven’t
forgotten the one you gave me once.” He trembled under her radiant
gratitude, with its evocation of the poetry of childhood. But a
convulsive bound forward on the part of Nip broke up the argument. “Ah,
here’s Farmer Gale coming along,” she said cheerfully.

Just like the fellow, he thought, to come just at that moment. And his
resentment at the arrival of the dog-cart was not even mitigated by the
watery spectacle presented by its red-faced driver, whose personable and
still youthful figure rose from a streaming tarpaulin, to which a hat
with an unremoved mourning-band contributed its drippings.

“You can’t go in that rain,” Will protested. “Let him go without
you—I’ll order a trap myself.”

“But you said you were dining here—I can’t wait.”

He winced—his white lie had come home like a curse to roost.

“You can dine with me!”

“And what about Gran’fer?”

“Well, I can dine at home.” But she scarcely heard him. She was already
fastening a handkerchief over her Sunday bonnet—a fascinating process.
“There’s a good cover—I’ll snuggle right in.”

Shameless, he thought, riding about cheek by jowl and skirt by trouser
with a young man not even of her own faith. That thin tiny boy
sandwiched between was no real separation: why, the tarpaulin almost
swallowed him under! They ought at least to sit back to back, and if
there was any chivalry in the pudding-faced lout, he would transfer the
tarpaulin to the back seat. How could Jinny forget that the magnate of
Little Bradmarsh—cursèd Cornish interloper—was no fit company for the
likes of her? He wondered that people did not warn her: but they were
inured to her vagaries, he supposed. And even if the man meant
honourably, in his reckless passion, how dare a widower with a great
thumping boy approach a rosebud? Ah, now she was talking to this
second-hand, warmed-up aspirant, who had already killed off one wife;
inquiring sweetly about his animal’s behaviour under the recent flash.

“Steady as a plough-horse!” came the cheery reply. “My eye, Jinny, you
did handle him wonderful. I reckon you saved my life!”

“And what about my own?” With a laugh whose gaiety stabbed, she sprang
upon the step. “Good-bye, Will. Hope you’ll enjoy your dinner.”

“Good-bye, Miss Quarles,” he said coldly. “I mean, Miss——” But before
he had realized he could not fill up the blank, the trap had started,
and he could not even bound behind, like the joyous-barking Nip. Nothing
tangible was left of the whole delectable and distressing episode except
some white hairs on the fashionable fabric of Moses & Son.


                                   IV

“Hope you’ll enjoy your dinner!” Her last words still rang in his ear.
His dinner! Cold meat wrapped in a “muckinger,” and consumed on chapel
benches among drab Elders and elderly Sisters and better-lost Brothers
and dismal rat-catching Deacons. No, sooner a crust and cheese at the
bar. But why not roast beef and Yorkshire pudding in the parlour—why
not make his lie true? Yes, lies were reprehensible: truth was always
best, and his chaps began to water with ethical excitement. But alas,
with a sudden misgiving he put his hand in his pocket. Not a farthing!
In the agitation of his chapel-going, he had forgotten to transfer his
purse to the Sunday suit—nay, even the ninety pounds were left in the
discarded waistcoat, he remembered with an unreasonable chill. He was to
be nailed to his lie, then. True, he might possibly get credit, but it
was an awkward situation at best. No, better go back to his cold
meat—besides, his poor old father would be wondering and waiting. It
would be cruel to desert and distract him, and, the rain appearing
somewhat thinner, he turned up his coat-collar and started out, almost
colliding at the archway with the Mott couple, lovingly entwined under a
spacious umbrella. They at least had no need to dine in chapel. Mr.
Charles Mott looked at him again with the same curious wonder. “You’re
not going back?” he cried involuntarily.

“I can’t desert my dad!” Will answered, somewhat shamefacedly.

“And he must eat, Charley darling,” Mother Gander intervened. “You know
how bad our Sunday dinners are.”

“I haven’t even got any money with me,” he cried, with a last wild hope.
But Mother Gander did not respond to his longing for truth. “Lend him
the umbrella, dearest,” she said ruthlessly. “We’ve another for the
afternoon service.”

Accepting it with mitigated gratitude—the umbrella he was trusted with
was worth more than the dinner, he thought bemusedly—he moved more
slowly to the chapel; wondering, too, how hotel-keeping could be
reconciled with the Sabbatarian conscience.

He found the meeting-house now turned into an eating-house. The
congregation had, however, visibly thinned: only those who had no hosts
or homes in Chipstone remaining for this love-feast, with the exception
of Deacon Mawhood, who, rather than go home to his wife, remained at the
table as presiding dignitary, flanked by great glass jugs of water. The
ravages in the ranks appeared to Will an eloquent testimony to the
spread of the doctrine in Chipstone proper: in his young days the sect
had been more suburban and rural, and the chapel at that hour had
seethed with hungry pilgrims. Still, there was quite a happy hubbub, and
the spectacle, with its real sense of brotherhood, struck from him more
sympathy than anything in the service; and when a Sister told her cherub
not to “goffle” so, he was mysteriously touched by the old word, and the
memories it roused, to a sincerer respect for the creed which satisfied
Jinny. What fun the boys had had in the wagon, driving home with her!

Caleb was chewing a hunk of bread and meat. The
handkerchief-parcel—shrunk like the congregation—incarnadined the
bench. “Oi had to begin,” he explained apologetically, “seein’ as Oi’d
said grace, expectin’ you back every second, and it seemed foolin’ with
the Lord to wait more than ten minutes. Pity that dog worrited you.
Be-yu-tiful things were brought out when you was gone. Where did you git
to?”

He evaded the question. “I’m not hungry.”

“Not arter that walk of ourn!” cried Caleb incredulously. “Oi count
you’ve had your dinner somewhere else.”

“Yes, off the dog!” he said a bit crossly.

Caleb smiled. “Oi’ll not believe that,” he said with an air of infinite
cuteness.

“I’ll have a drink,” condescended Will.

“Do!” Caleb passed him a large tin mug of water. “And there’s plenty
more where that come from.” Will knew it was Brother Quint—the “snob”
or shoemaker who lived next door—who supplied these limitless streams.

“Ain’t she beautifully polished?” Caleb went on naïvely, when his
thirsty son set the mug down. “Holds noigh a quart—Oi never see sech
mugs nowhere else! And Brother Quint’ll fill it with biling for our tea.
There, Will! There’s your favourite sausages mother put in for you,
special. None o’ your dogs in that!” And he chuckled, brimming over with
holy glee.

Cooled by the long draught, Will allowed himself to be seduced by the
veal sausages, and, finding with surprise that the first slid down his
throat in a twinkling, he was soon depleting the parcel into a mere
“muckinger.” And at this Caleb’s innocent happiness was complete.

But the fate that stalks mortals at their culminating felicities now
sped its arrow. In excavating a pickled walnut from the remains of the
parcel, Caleb loosed a minute cardboard box, which sprang maliciously to
the floor and then, to the agitation of the neighbours, rolled round and
round towards the table under the very eyes of the rat-catcher.

The Deacon stooped down zealously to pick it up, and then held it on
high. It was a pill-box! “Who brought this?” he cried in stern prophetic
accents, across the table.

The happy hubbub ceased, the holy glee was frozen. In a tense silence
all eyes were turned on the profane symbol. Will saw his wretched
father’s face go red and white, and his scraggy throat work painfully
below the ragged white beard. Both the Flynts guessed at once that the
careful Martha had slipped into the packet her husband’s usual pill
before meals!

It was a dreadful moment. For a space in which all nature seemed to hold
its breath, Caleb sat rigid and dumb.

“Whose propity is this?” asked the Deacon still more sternly, and Will
divined the mighty struggle going on in his father’s quaint conscience;
casuistic questions as to how far a pill-box conveyed unconsciously had
been “brought” by him, or in what sense pills administered to him
remorselessly from without could be said to be his “property.”

Then suddenly Caleb’s lips opened. “Oi count ’twas in my parcel,” he
said in tremulous accents.

The sublimity of the confession thrilled Will: he even felt a curious
moisture at his eyes. But before the Deacon, sitting there like a judge
about to pronounce sentence, could say a word, a blinding glare,
followed almost instantaneously by an appalling crashing and smashing
right overhead, showed that nature had indeed held its breath and had
now spoken in flame and thunder. Will’s first reflection when the daze
had passed away, and the congregation found itself and its building
providentially safe, was that it was indeed lucky his father had spoken
first; otherwise his confession might have seemed extorted by terror.
But Joshua Mawhood was not the Deacon to let such a situation pass
without profit. “The Lord havin’ spoke, brethren,” said he, “there ain’t
no need for _my_ opinion. The thing Oi hate most in this lower world is
hypocrisy and dissemblin’. ‘Roight up and down, Jo Perry,’ as the sayin’
goos. Ef we ain’t been destroyed, as we sat here guzzlin’ and guttlin’,
’tain’t no merit of the congregation, ’tis because the Lord bein’
marciful don’t destroy Sodom and Gomorrah so long as there’s one
roighteous man.” He rose majestically and drew himself up to his full
height, and held the pill-box even higher. “Brother Flynt, if you’ll
kindly step out, Oi’ll hand you back your propity.”

No fiercer punishment could have been devised for Caleb’s gentle soul:
the sinner, isolated, passing through his shrinking Brethren and
Sisters, must come forward as to a confession table. No wonder the poor
man held back.

“Oi don’t need it now, Deacon,” he said, with lips almost as white as
his hair. “You can throw it away ef you like.”

With malicious enjoyment the Deacon slowly and solemnly lifted the lid
of the pill-box and dipped in his fingers, to hold up the impious
contents to the public execration. Then his face changed.

“Why, it’s salt!” he cried in angry disappointment. It was as if the
devil were playing thimblerig with him.

“Oi was thinkin’ the missus had ought to put some in,” said Caleb,
beaming again.

The woman of the baby-cart now found herself possessed of the Spirit.
She sprang to her feet, a baby on either arm.

“We are the salt of the earth,” she shrilled, “wherewith the others
shall be salted.”

“Hallelujah!” burst from the mutton-chop whiskers.

“Hallelujah!” responded the congregation, and a great anthem rolled out,
outshouting the thunder.


                                   V

To the disappointment of his father, who still hoped he would testify,
Will would not stay for the Afternoon Service. But his worthy sire could
bear a disappointment after the revulsion in his favour, he thought. He
had to take back the umbrella to the Motts, he insisted, or, with this
weather, the good Samaritans might be unable to return to their
worshipping: in any case he had to see somebody at “The Black Sheep” on
urgent business: business, he corrected hastily, of a spiritual nature,
calculated to save certain souls from temptation.

“Well, Oi’m glad the Sperrit’s workin’!” said Caleb, “and do ye git back
to mother quick as you can, for it ain’t fair as she should be left at
home, time Oi’m enjoyin’ myself. Not that ’tis my fault there ain’t no
chapel for Christy Dolphins—!” He checked himself and added hurriedly:
“Do ye don’t tell her about the pill-box: happen she’d think Oi was
wexed.”

“And do ye don’t say you can’t carry a box to Chipstone!” mocked Will
gaily, glad to be released. “And of a Sunday too—you old
Sabbath-breaker!”

Caleb did not smile: the episode had left too deep a scar. “Oi count the
Deacon’s in the roight,” he said. “’Tis hypocrisy and dissemblin’ to
take pills at home and salt in public. Oi count Oi’ll testify to the
truth this arternoon.”

“But you only take pills to keep off the indigestion, not to cure it,”
urged Will, giving him his own plea back. “Besides, salt is a sort of
medicine too: without it you might get scurvy and goodness knows what.”

Caleb shook his head. “Lot’s wife wasn’t turned into a medicine. Any man
in his seven senses knows the difference ’twixt puttin’ salt or medicine
on his wounds.”

Leaving his father to execute his sublime purpose, Will went off on his
own mission under protection of the big Mott umbrella. In returning it,
he learnt that even its great ribbed dome had not saved Mr. Mott from a
wetting, in consequence of which and his delicate health he was now
imbibing stiff glasses of grog in his bedroom, hovered over by the
anxious Mother Gander. It was pathetically out of the question, Will
gathered, for Brother Mott to attend chapel again that day. Will’s
“urgent business” lay, however, with Mr. Anthony Flippance: the soul to
be saved being Jinny’s, now menaced with still further soilure from the
gross contacts of horse-copers, cadgers, kidders, butchers, drovers,
shepherds, swineherds, touts, tramps, and all the tricksters and
pickpockets of the cattle-market.

The mission did not loom unpleasant, for although he resented the
fiction about the Crystal Palace and the stuffed elephant, the tall talk
was harmless enough—he had heard taller in America—and he was not
indisposed for ungodly society after the reek of the chapel. That the
genial Showman would instantly see the matter from his point of view he
did not doubt.

But Tony Flip was not in the dining-room even in dishabille, and the
waiter was still so occupied with late or leisurely diners as apparently
to be unable to conjure him up. “I’ve just taken him up his breakfast,”
he said, with an envious sigh. “No. 42. You’ll find him.”

But to intrude thus on the Showman’s privacy seemed indelicate: he
waylaid a chambermaid in the corridor and asked her to tell Mr.
Flippance a gentleman would be glad to see him when he had finished his
meal. She brought back a mysterious answer as from Miss Flippance that
he never saw clean-shaven gents.

Will fired up as at an insult. Evidently the rogue was not going to be
so malleable: that daughter of his, too, he remembered, had no proper
respect for Jinny. “Tell ’em I’ll wait here till my beard grows!” he
commanded.

The chambermaid hung back, giggling. He felt in his pocket for a
sixpence—again encountering only lining. “If you don’t take my message,
I’ll kiss you,” he menaced. It was a jest that never failed him, and it
did not fail now, though the fleeing “tucker-in” giggled more than ever.
He watched her enter the lion’s den, but hardly had she done so, when
the noble animal himself padded forth, grinning like a Cheshire cat, his
fork protruded like a claw, and just-spluttered coffee dripping from his
great jaws over the breast of his flamboyant hundred-stained hide.

“Where is he?” he roared genially to the dark corridor. “Come in! Come
in!”

Will advanced defiantly.

“So it’s you! I was wondering what wit heaven had dropped with the
thunder! Yankee yumour—I ought to ha’ guessed it.” And he nearly
spitted Will on his fork in his enthusiastic effort to shake hands.
“‘I’ll wait till my beard grows’—ha, ha, ha! That goes in this very
night—no, there’s no show to-night, hang it! Don’t go, Polly,” he
called, as he pulled Will into the room over a barrier of Bluchers and
Wellingtons and even Hessian boots with silken tassels, “we must get
that into _Hamlet_. When I say to Ophelia, ‘Get thee to a nunnery; go,
farewell’— I’ll wind up ‘Until thy beard grows.’ That’ll be your new
cue, Polly.”

“But that’ll spoil the scene,” Miss Flippance protested, poised in a
morning wrapper in the open doorway between the two rooms. She was
mysteriously mantled in aromatic clouds, like the spirit in _The
Mistletoe Bough_, yet her father did not seem to be smoking.

“Not at all, Polly,” he persisted, “it’s just the right grotesque
spirit.”

“There’ll be a laugh.”

“The one thing _Hamlet_ needs. Even the ghost don’t carry it off.”

“You’d better give _me_ the line,” persisted Miss Flippance. “It’ll come
better in the mad scene.”

“Well, we’ll talk about it—I think you’ve seen our American friend
before.”

“Before and behind,” said Miss Flippance viciously, a scowl traversing
her pockmarks. “And since he left me in the lurch, I wasn’t sorry to
think I’d seen the back of him.”

“But as Miss Quar—as the Carrier hadn’t got your drumstick, there was
nothing to return for,” apologized Will.

“Then why _have_ you?” she snapped, and closed the door behind her with
a similar snap.


                                   VI

“Polly’s in a pet,” commented her parent. “She don’t like being worried
by actors in search of jobs, specially on Sundays. It’s your hairless
phiz, you know.”

“But I’m not an actor.”

“Of course not—she ought to have seen you haven’t the face—only the
razor: ha, ha, ha!”

Will was vaguely resentful. “But I dare say I could black my face.”

“There’s more to the drama than Othello, and more to Othello than burnt
cork.” And Mr. Flippance laughed again as he dropped into his wooden
arm-chair and resumed his breakfast at a little table ’twixt the
bed-canopy and the window. “Sit down, won’t you? Excuse my back—I can
hear all you say behind it. Ha, ha! That’s another good gag, eh?”

Will, glancing round, saw that the chair not occupied by his host was
hopelessly littered by his garments, mixed with papers: he therefore
dropped on the high four-poster—it was now made—and cleared his throat
for action.

“You’ll have a drop of something,” Mr. Flippance threw backwards,
mistranslating the sounds.

“No, thank you!” He must not be bribed or drugged, Will felt: he had
stern work before him. It was as well, however, to placate the
adversary. “Glad to hear the show’s a big draw,” he said.

“And who told you that?”

“Er—the Bradmarsh Carrier!”

“Bless her—she carries all the lies I tell her.”

“Aren’t things rosy then?”

“I never lie on Sundays. Ha, ha, ha! Perhaps it’s just as well Jinny
won’t do business with me to-day. No, old man, I ought to be middling
mollancholy, as they say here. But I’m as happy as the day is long—and
it’s getting longer every day.” He drained his coffee-cup voluptuously.
“Never mind my business—what’s yours?”

“Mine? I haven’t come on business.”

“Then you _must_ have a brandy.” He reached out and pulled the green
bell-rope.

“No thank you. You see—” Will swung his legs hesitatingly. “Surely you
don’t think she ought to carry lies——?”

“Who?”

“The Bradmarsh Carrier.”

“Jinny! She has to carry anything—at the proper tariff.”

“But is it fair to her?”

“If you mean our doing bumper business, she don’t know it’s a lie, and
her telling it helps to make it true. Why, you were itching to see the
show yourself, as soon as you heard other fools were flocking.” He
turned a grinning face. “Come now, confess.”

“I didn’t come to see the show,” Will contradicted, feeling vaguely
baffled.

“Of course not, being Sunday. But what _did_ you come for? Cut the
cackle and come to the ’osses.”

“I will,” he said eagerly. “I hear you want to buy one.”

Mr. Flippance swung round, chair and all. “Then you _have_ come on
business!”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Well, have you got a horse?”

“No, but I could get one.”

“And you don’t call that business!”

“I didn’t mean to—!” Will was getting embarrassed. “It just slipped
out. What I want to ask of you is——”

“Where the devil is that waiter?” broke in the Showman, reaching for the
cord again.

“What I mean is,” said Will, determined to get it out before the waiter
popped up, “that there’s a girl you’re leading into brazen courses!”

“A girl! Me!” Mr. Flippance pulled himself angrily to his feet, and
stood glaring at Will, with the snapped bell-cord in his hand like a
green serpent. “You son of Ananias, if you’ve listened to any of those
scandal-mongering swine you ought to be jolly well ashamed of yourself.
There isn’t a cleaner man—for a widower—in all the circuit. Why, I
could pile up the dollars—as you call it—if I’d only darken my tent a
bit, so that the lovers of the drama could go rubbing their noses and
licking one another like the calves in the next field. But there isn’t a
brighter show this side of the Atlantic. Besides, my girls are all
wood—there’s not a flesh and blood female with me except Polly, and
she’s my own daughter, born on the right side of the blanket, too. Which
is more than can be said for all of us. What may be _your_ name, now?”

“What has my name to do with it?” He got off the bed.

“What has his name to do with it?” asked Mr. Flippance of the waiter,
who now shot in with a well-divined bottle and appurtenances.

“Beg pardon, sir?”

“And so you may, you son of a slug. Here, take this rope and hang
yourself with it! So you won’t tell your name, you son of a flea,” he
went on, when the waiter had spirited off the breakfast-tray. “Well,
here’s my back—bite away.” And with a high tragic gesture he turned to
open the brandy-bottle.

“I’m not a backbiter,” said Will angrily. “I’m a front-puncher, and my
name is——”

“Never mind your name. I accepted you. You came like the spirit of the
May Day—mixed with the _Mayflower_. I opened my heart to you. I gave
you three names. I was Duke, I was Anthony Flippance, I was Tony Flip.”
He gurgled the brandy into his glass. “I demanded no references. I
entrusted you with posters for my daughter.”

“Which I delivered honestly.”

“But anonymously.”

“My name is——”

“Hush! Not for a million pounds would I hear it now. But the girl’s
name?” he turned round, glass in hand. “That at least I beg.”

“I’ve mentioned it already. It’s—it’s the Carrier.”

“Jinny!” Tony Flip burst into an explosive laugh of relief. “Fancy
calling Jinny a girl!”

“And what else would you call her?”

“What _you_ just called her—the Carrier.”

“Then if she is a carrier, why should you degrade her into a
horse-broker?”

“Oh, that’s all you mean, is it?”

“Isn’t that enough?”

“Don’t be an idiot. Here, have a drink.”

Will waved the glass away.

“Would you like to send your daughter bargaining among a lot of rough
men?”

Tony grinned. “I don’t think Polly ’ud mind the men. It’s the horse
she’d come a cropper over. Jinny’s had a long experiance of horses, and
she’s smart enough to buy anything. If I wanted the moon, she’d get it
for me—and cheap too!”

“And why can’t you buy your own horses?”

“Why? Because I’m a child of nature—a simple player—who wears his
heart on his sleeve for daws to peck at. My last mare crocked up in a
week in the flower of her youth—seems to have been bought in a
knacker’s yard, shaved and singed and brushed and combed till she was as
shiny as a Derby winner. They gingered her ears and jaws and
cayenne-peppered her nostrils till she seemed clothed in thunder, like
the war-horse in the Bible.”

Will smiled despite himself. “And you expect a girl to see through all
that! Look here, I’ll buy your horse.”

Mr. Flippance paused in the act of imbibing. “Oh, _there_ we are,” he
said, looking shrewd. “Want to cut out Jinny’s business!”

Will’s cheeks became chromatically indistinguishable from his hair.

“Me! Do you think I want your dirty commission?”

“And do you think I want your stinking horse? Why the devil do you come
interfering?”

Will was silent. Tony finished his glass like a victor.

“If it ain’t the commission, what _are_ you after?”

“That’s my business,” said Will sullenly.

“Just what I said!” crowed Tony. “But I’d rather pay Jinny a quid than
you a bob. She’s got her old grandfather to keep!”

“Yes, and he’s as selfish and inconsiderate as you. But she _shan’t_ get
you a horse, and there’s an end of it.”

“Oho!” Brandy had made him genial again. “Who’s going to prevent it? Now
don’t say ‘_I_ will,’ because that’s in our dramas—attitude and all.
Though judging by the way you’ve been going on, Mr. Anon, I’m not so
sure you _wouldn’t_ make an actor! Perhaps Polly smelt right and you
_are_ one after all. But don’t you come disturbing my peace of mind, you
son of a star. Wild horses wouldn’t drag me back to the legitimate.”

“We’re talking of caravan horses,” said Will, at once mystified and
mollified.

“You seem to know all about it. I guess you ran a show yourself in the
States.”

Will smiled darkly. “That’s not your affair.”

“But it might be. I’m not above a partner with capital. Duke’s
Marionettes are getting shabby. The ghost is nearly black; Ophelia wants
a new coat of paint. Harlequin is out of joint and the Clown’s cheeks
are worn white. And we’ve got too few characters and too many plays. The
public are on to it when they see Hamlet turning up again in _The Beggar
of Bethnal Green_. Some new scenery too would smarten up the show. I
shan’t expect you to pull the strings—just put up the chinkers and
we’ll divvy up, you and me and Polly. Now don’t say ‘No’ too quick.
Drink it over.” And, beaming beneficence, he again tendered Will the
other glass.

This time Will took it, hearing himself clink it against Tony’s through
a daze, as he asked himself whether, after all, this notion—utterly
fantastic and unexpected as it was—mightn’t be as good a way as any
other of investing his ninety pounds: he would certainly be in a
position then to stop Jinny from buying the horse!

“Well, what do you say?” cried Tony.

“But you don’t know my name?” murmured Will, with the stir of adventure
and brandy in his veins.

“Pooh! What’s in a name? A nose by any other name would swell as red.”
And, laughing, he clapped Will on the shoulder. “We’ll spruce up the
tent too, and slick up the caravan—a dingy old hearse ain’t the best
advertisement on a tour. And why shouldn’t you take some of the parts?
Pity to waste your twang. We’d get some American figures made—cowboys
and slave-dealers and such—and spice our ghosts and goblins with
Colonel Bowie knives and Yankee yumour. We might even turn the
bridegroom in _The Mistletoe Bough_ into a rich New-Yorker, and make the
bride moulder away in an American trunk. There’s a fortune in it. I
don’t mean in the trunk—ha, ha, ha!”

With a last instinct of sanity Will observed maliciously that it was
Sunday. He merely meant to remind Tony that that was his day for truth.
But the Showman’s glass nearly fell from his fingers.

“You too!” he said. “And that Jinny—as lively a girl as ever stepped.
And Mother Gander—as buxom a landlady as ever bussed a bagman. What’s
come over the East Anglian circuit? And I took you for a man of the
world.”

Unwilling to repudiate that status, Will remarked flabbily that
precisely as a man of the world he didn’t see any money in marionettes.

“No money!” Mr. Flippance swelled with indignation as he pointed out
that Drury Lane and the mines of Golconda were not in it with
marionettes, properly equipped and spring-cleaned; the public was simply
panting for high-class puppets.

It goaded Will to emphasize his meaning. “Is this your Sunday talk or
your week-day talk?” he interrupted dryly. “Didn’t you just tell me that
you’re doing badly?”

Mr. Flippance admitted it almost without a wince. And had he not given
the reason? To take money out you must put money in. “I tell you there’s
a fortune in it,” he repeated.

“Sunk?” asked Will blandly. He added vengefully that he would consider a
partnership when the stuffed elephant came home from the Crystal Palace.
Tony, in crimson comprehension, rushed at the litter on the spare chair
and dragged out a newspaper from under the neckties. “Read that!” he
said sublimely, “the _Essex County Chronicle_!” And his semi-gilded
forefinger indicated a heavily blued passage. “Our readers will be
interested to know,” read Will, “that it is a local showman who supplied
the great stuffed elephant that holds Her Majesty’s gorgeous howdah in
Mr. Paxton’s marvellous glass——”

He dropped the paper. “I beg your pardon!” he said, too disconcerted to
realize that the “local” showman need not necessarily be Tony Flip. “But
I really would rather not talk business to-day, and I don’t know
anything about yours—that wasn’t my line in the States. I never even
saw a puppet-show in my life, outside Punch and Judy. A real live drama
now——” he concluded vaguely, meaning that he had at least seen real
plays, and utterly unforeseeing the effect the remark would have upon
his host.

For Tony Flip bounded like a large mechanical toy, plumped down again in
his chair, turned its back and his own to his guest, and stuffing
jewelled forefingers into both his ears cried out: “Get thee behind me,
Satan! Avaunt! Avaunt!”


                                  VII

“Me, Satan!” said Will, astonished. “Who ever heard of Satan refusing to
do business on Sunday?”

If his last innocent remark had produced convulsive effects in a
perpendicular direction, this set Tony Flip rolling from side to side in
his chair. “Yankee yumour,” he gasped between the spasms. “Lord!” he
said at last. “You’ll drive me to set up a minstrel show, only to get
that in.”

Will, though puzzled, could hardly help being flattered by these proofs
of his facetious talents. It was strange, he thought, how different the
conversation went when he was with Jinny. Then the laugh seemed always
at his expense.

“I should think a minstrel show would be more fun,” he observed.

Tony veered round with his arm-chair, ceased to laugh, and regarded Will
with large, reproachful eyes. “And you cant about Sunday!” he said. “And
then to come tempting me back to that Witches’ Sabbath of a profession.”

“Nigger minstrels?” Will murmured, more dazed than ever.

“As if nigger minstrels weren’t half-way to your _Othello_. No, you son
of Satan. To hell with your capital! Didn’t you hear me say ditto to the
rat-catcher? They _are_ dens of the devil—theatres.”

“Then why do you run one?”

“Me! I don’t class my show as a theatre. Marionettes keep themselves to
themselves.”

“But you play Shakespeare.”

Tony held up his fat glittering forefinger. “We pull Shakespeare’s
strings—Polly and me. But there’s no actors the public can drag before
the curtain.”

Will admitted the difference, but not the moral distinction.

“You ever met any actors and actresses?” said Tony.

Will could not pretend to that privilege—if Mr. Flippance and his
daughter refused to be counted—and there was a long silence, in which
Tony seemed to the outer eye to keep sips of brandy-and-water lingering
on his palate, though he was really—it transpired—chewing the cud of
bitter memories. For suddenly he burst out: “I lived all my life with
’em. I’ve managed ’em for years—or, rather, failed to manage ’em. Born
in a Green Room, rocked in a Witches’ Cauldron, and baptized in
grease-paint. My ma was a leading lady—she played heroines and my
father wrote the melodramas. And they know a good melodrama at the
‘Eagle.’”

“Yes—I’ve heard of the ‘Eagle’ in London,” said Will.

“Ah, you know it by the song, perhaps:

        _Up and down the City Road,_
          _In and out the ‘Eagle.’_
        _That’s the way the money goes,_
          _Pop goes the weasel!_”

“I never heard a weasel go pop,” Will laughed. “It was the mouse, if
anything, though I did once see a stoat crack up before a cat.”

Tony’s mien relaxed in a faint smile.

The weasel was a tailor’s iron, he explained, pawned by the reckless
snip to raise money for treating the damsels who danced with him on that
open-air platform to which the “Eagle’s” audience streamed out betwixt
the drama and the farce. He added simply: “That’s where my Don Juan of a
dad first clapped eyes on a girl, pretty, of course, but with no more
acting in her than Mother Gander. Yet, would you believe it, he shoved
her into the lead instead of ma, and wrote a piece all for her, and what
was worse it was a big go. That was the last straw, and clasping me to
her wounded bosom, she left him, poor ma.”

“I should have thought she’d ha’ left him sooner,” murmured Will,
vaguely uncomfortable under these frank domestic revelations.

“It isn’t so easy to leave a man you’re not married to!” said Tony.

Will gasped.

“Ah, that surprises you?” said the Showman complacently. With a cautious
glance at his daughter’s door of communication, he produced two cigars
furtively from his washstand drawer—was he forbidden to smoke, Will
wondered. “You’ll find that good,” he said, pressing one upon his guest.

“You see,” he explained, as they puffed at these excellent weeds in a
new intimacy, “if a woman leaves her husband it makes a scandal he don’t
like, whereas a man that’s not tied is only too glad to be rid of her.
Oh, I ain’t defending ma, mind you—it only shows she was a born
actress. I dare say she’d only sucked up to pa to get parts. But when he
unstarred her, fine emotional actress as she was, she could never get
her foot in again in London, to play leads I mean, for she was too proud
to play anything else. ‘I can play anything except second fiddle,’ she
used to say, and rather than cave in, she married a fifth-rate manager,
called Jim Flippance, who had only a fit-up theatre (carries its own
props, scenery, and proscenium, but not open-air, you know), and made
him put up pieces with a kid in ’em to keep me out of mischief, but it
wasn’t long before I soared out of the parental nest, and by the time
they both joined the majority, poor old birds, I’d been leading man or
manager or both in half a dozen theatres, two of ’em London houses.”
Will receiving this information with a silent curl of his smoke, as
though it were another elephantine claim, Mr. Flippance added
vehemently: “Real London theatres, mind you, not those swindling gaffs
for paying amateurs described by Boz—that’s Charles Dickens, you know.
You’ve read Dickens?”

Will shook his head. “Too heavy and high-class for me. They don’t like
him in the States either—I’ve heard he wrote a piece against them——”

“Ah, but you should hear him read his ‘Christmas Carol!’ There’s a
wasted actor for you! Lord, if I’d had the running of that chap!”

Will was more interested in the girl who cut out Mr. Flippance’s ma. “I
hope your father—your pa—” he substituted politely, “married his new
flame,” he said. Even through the glow of the brandy and the blur of the
smoke he was dismayed by this dishevelled life.

“How could he? He had a wife in Cork. Yes, I forgot to say pa was Irish.
I’ve always gone by my mother’s married name, but you can have my
father’s name if you wish!”

“Not for a million pounds,” said Will.

“You Yankee yumorist!” Tony blew a playful puff of smoke at him. “Well,
you’ll see it if you come across the old ‘Eagle’ playbills or those of
Flippance’s Fit-Up for that matter, for we did all pa’s plays—ma had
played them so long she knew all the parts. Pa sent her a lawyer’s
letter—for she didn’t even trouble to change the titles or the author’s
name—but she defied him to wash his dirty linen in court, knowing how
virtuous his ‘Eagle’ public was, and that it might ha’ ruined him and
his moral melodramas.”

“They seem a funny lot—stage folk,” Will commented.

“Bless you, there’s no bearing of ’em.”

Will, relieved, said he was glad Mr. Flippance didn’t approve of such
morals.

“Morals!” Tony glared at him. “Who’s talking of morals? Men will be men
and women women whether they’re pro’s or public. You didn’t find America
a Sunday-school, I reckon?”

Will, coughing over his liquor, supposed a man could have his fun
anywhere.

“That’s what I say!” said the Showman. “And on the other hand I’ve known
actors as respectable as your rat-catcher. I’m one of ’em myself, as I
told you just now. I’d seen too many dead flies in the honey—and my
Polly’s as pure as her poor dead mother. No, it ain’t their morals that
bother me, it’s their ways. Holy Moses! To think of the time I had
travelling round managing these sons of dragons and hell-cats! I envied
ma and Flippance in the churchyard under their favourable stone notices.
The jealousies! The cat-and-dog bickerings! The screams and hysterics!
Who should play this or that, who should be largest on the programmes
and posters, who should stand in the limelight, who should take the
call—they never quarrelled who should take the bird: that’s the hiss in
our lingo. They were always hissing at one another, or at the poor
manager, that’s me! I’ve seen the leading man and the leading lady take
their call hand in hand, and the moment the curtain was down resume
spitting fire at each other. It wasn’t that they had any vanity, they
said, it was only that their position demanded they should take calls
singly or be printed larger than each other. Cocks and catamarans! I
tell you if I hadn’t swopped with Duke for his marionettes, I should
have had little rose-bushes growing out of me now, and that favourable
stone notice over me. Oh, the peace of it—it’s Sunday all the week!”

“I can see marionettes would be easier to manage,” said Will, smiling.

“Ah, but to feel it as I do, you must have lived through it.” Mr.
Flippance rose in his emotion and paced animatedly. “You must have had a
hornets’ nest for your seat and a brood of vipers in your bosom, and
shared diggings with the Furies. Oh, my radiant juvenile, your
sun-coloured hair would have been snow if you had gone through what I
have! If you’d had Ophelia in hysterics and Hamlet in liquor and even
the ghost hardly able to walk, and the call-boy crying the curtain was
up, and the audience stamping and whistling, and short-tempered people
at the box-office demanding their money back, you’d be able to measure
the feeling of thankfulness that comes over the cockles of my heart when
I stand in my theatre and see my leading lady sitting so angelic on her
wires unable to move hand or foot without me, or when I jerk my leading
man out of the centre of the stage all in a heavenly calm; And to see
the curtain come up and down with nobody scuffling behind it to bob and
smirk—oh, the Jerusalem restfulness! There mayn’t be as much rhino in
marionettes as in flesh and blood——”

“You just said there was more,” Will reminded him, unkindly.

“I meant compared with the capital put in,” said Tony, without turning a
hair. “You don’t risk much when you don’t have to pay your actors. But
Duke wasn’t mercenary, and it was the glory that appealed to him, poor
man. He’d inherited the business, like me, but he’d always been
ambitious after high art, he told me, and Flippance’s Fit-Up was his
boyhood’s dream. We did the swop over mulled claret last Christmas Eve
in this very inn. Peace and goodwill, thinks I, as we clinked tumblers
on the deal. You’ve got the goodwill, but peace, no, that you’ll never
see again.”

Will smiled. “I’ll really have to come and see those blessèd puppets,”
he said, as the Showman replenished the glasses.

Tony replied that he should see the whole boiling of them either before
or after the show, neatly packed in their big box. “And if there’s any
you’d like to kick, you’re welcome,” he said.

“What! Damage your property?”

“It would work off my bitter memories.”

“But they’re not the real live actors.”

“No—there’s the pity!” said Tony. “But they look so real—they’re
life-size, you know—that I sometimes yell at ’em and abuse ’em just for
the satisfaction of their not answering back. And the leading lady looks
as if she had a tongue to her—I promise you. A tongue—but thank the
Lord it can only talk Shakespeare or noble sentiments—can’t even nag
the management for a new dress. As for the juvenile lead, I can’t help
tweaking his nose sometimes for the sake of auld lang syne. Polly can’t
understand my spoiling his beauty—I can’t make her see I’m getting a
bit of my own back—and when she catches me punching the low comedian’s
head with a boxing-glove she saucers her eyes, as though I was going
dotty. But she never had to manage ’em. And I had to travel ’em
too—don’t forget that. Fancy carting around a menagerie, all in the
same cage! But I have my revenge when I travel ’em now—into the box
they go—leads below and the heavy man sitting on their heads, ha, ha,
ha!—and utilities and supers on top of all! And it don’t raise a
whisper. Talk of the lion lying down with the lamb. Believe me, old
cock, that there millennium will never come till we’re all on wires.” He
drew vigorously at the cigar his eloquence had all but extinguished.

“There’s a lot of the brutes,” he mused between the puffs, “that don’t
know Tony Flip’s escaped out of hell, and they write and call for
engagements—same as Polly thought you did—and if it isn’t Sunday I
take ’em to see my company and rub their noses into ’em, so to speak.
Look at ’em, I say, every man and woman knowing their place, and when to
speak and when to hold their blooming tongue, every one knowing their
parts too, which is more than you ever did, I’ll be bound. No wigs, no
make-ups, no dresses, no young bloods or decrepit dandies coming behind,
no prompter, nobody missing their cue, or unpunctual or hysterical. No
Bardell _versus_ Pickwick. Nobody drunk, married, divorced, deceased,
laid up, locked up, or run over, between the dress rehearsal and the
first night. No understudies, eating their heads off: in the way when
they’re not wanted, and missing their cues when they are. No sore
throats, no funerals to go to, no babies to get—if there’s a baby
wanted, I order it from the makers. And above all, my boy, say I to ’em,
no treasury.”

“What’s that?” inquired Will.

“What’s that? Well I’m blowed. That’s pay-day. And kindly note, I say to
’em, that lead don’t get more than utility, nor responsibles than
walking gentlemen. It’s Owenism, you sons of Mammon, I tell ’em, sheer
Owenism. Everybody getting the same nothing, and nobody coming carneying
for advance half-crowns. As for curtain-calls, the singing chambermaid’s
got the same chance as Lady Macbeth. And when it is a leading man that’s
come for a berth, I take him to the front of the booth where there’s a
retired village idiot I picked up, banging the drum. Look there, says I,
he’s not got much brains but he isn’t wood, and that’s the only
flesh-and-blood job I’ve got left in this blooming shop. If you like to
take it, why, in recognition of your position, I’ll throw in an extra
naphtha flare.”

“And what do they say?” laughed Will.

“It can’t be repeated on a Sunday! But you can picture ’em black in the
face—all except the nose. That gets redder than ever! Hullo, Charley!
Come in! Come in!”

Through the open door he had caught sight of the landlord in the
corridor.

“Can’t stop, Tony.” Mr. Mott was, in fact, hurrying to take advantage of
his spouse’s return to chapel.

“Gander-pecked again, I suppose,” laughed the Showman. “Ah, Charley,
you’d be much happier if you had a wife on wires.”

“There you go again!” And Mr. Mott, eager to join old pals at their
fishing, sniggered past, leaving a reek of hair-oil.

“Poor chap!” sighed Tony. “But there’s always hope for a man whose wife
won’t call in a doctor.”

Will laughed, and cunningly took advantage of all this expansive
geniality to escape from the room and the threatened transaction and to
call from the doorstep as he took his farewell, “Then it’s settled—_I_
get the horse.”

“If you bring it into the partnership,” cried Tony after him, “not
otherwise.”

Will found himself waylaid by Polly as he passed her doorway. She
beckoned him within with a mysterious, masterful forefinger, and he,
seeing the moreen curtains of her four-poster discreetly drawn, entered,
though not without Puritan misgivings. She drew another curtain over the
closed door communicating with her father’s room, and turned the key.
“Don’t waste my cigar,” she said as he held it behind him. “I can see
pa’s given you one of mine.” And taking up her glowing fag-end from the
ash-tray, she resumed her suction of it, sipping in the intervals at a
glass of milk. “I suppose you won’t share my drink,” she said simply.

“No, thank you,” he said, hardly believing his eyes, though he now
understood whence came the clouds in which he had found her mantled.
Perhaps she was really a man in disguise, despite her long ear-rings.
But then, would ever a male take milk with his cigar? What with tobacco
and horsiness, what was the sex coming to? And yet there seemed
something symbolic in this combination of stimulants, this masculinity
mitigated by milk! “What do you want to say to me?” he asked, keeping
the front door open with his hand.

“What’s this about a partnership?” she said softly. “I couldn’t help
hearing.”

“Don’t ask me,” said Will in tones hushed as cautiously. “Mr. Flippance
did speak of it, but I’ve never thought of the theatre as a business,
only as a spree.”

“Did he want you to take a theatre?” she asked anxiously.

“Good heavens, no! He called it hell!”

Miss Flippance smiled sadly. “That’s his way of consoling himself. He’s
dying to get a stock company again. But he _mustn’t_ have even a theatre
for amateurs. I’d fight it tooth and nail.”

“It’s bad for him, I know.”

“It’s bad for _me_,” said Miss Flippance. She puffed out a cloud. “You
see, there’d be no place for me. I can wipe most actresses off the
stage, but I’m not pretty—at least, not since my illness—and the
public won’t have me—except at the piano where I turn my back on them.
Plain actresses must be heard and not seen.”

“Oh!” Will was taken aback by such candour.

“Besides, one of the women would probably entangle him into marriage. I
don’t mind his having a wife on wires!” And a smile came travelling over
the pits of her face.

“You don’t mean to say he really wants to go back to hell?” said Will,
dazed.

“Don’t the moths after you’ve saved ’em from the lamp? And it was no
easy task saving him. Christmas after Christmas I used to jest: ‘Peace
and goodwill indeed! You’ll never have peace till you’ve got rid of your
goodwill.’”

“But that’s what he says himself,” said Will naïvely. “So he can’t be
craving to go back—it’s the marionettes he wanted me to stand in with.”

“That’s all my eye. He don’t know how happy he really is nowadays,
playing all the men’s parts. That was always the trouble in a real
theatre, especially when he was cock-of-the-walk—he never could make up
his mind which part he wanted. First he’d try one, and then think
another was better and throw it up in the middle and take away the other
man’s part. Nobody likes to give up a half-digested part, and it doesn’t
make things easier when, after all, you get it back again. Imagine the
ructions he was always making, and I’m not going to have it all over
again. He’s got _all_ the parts now, and so it’s going to stay.” With
which ultimatum she held out her hand and gripped him with what he felt
a manly clasp, and an honest. “Don’t you be his partner,” she
counselled. “He’s lost all his own money and it’s not likely he’d
multiply yours. He might have been a big London actor or manager, but
the Bible sized him up before he was born. ‘Unstable as water, thou
shalt not excel.’ If only at least one can _keep_ him to water! No, you
stick to your cash. There’s no money in the show for more than him and
me—my last jewellery will have to go for the horse—and if you’ve
really got the dollars, he’d have a theatre, with you as juvenile lead,
before you could say Jack Robinson, and then he’d steal your part and
drive you to drink.”

Will replied firmly, still holding her hand, that he was going to put
his money into farming, and by the way, would she countermand that order
to the Carrier for the horse?

“Oh, but we must have a horse,” said Polly.

“Quite so, but why through Jinny?” He was prepared himself, he
explained, to get them the best animal at the lowest price.

“And for what commission?” she queried.

“For love!” said Will.

Polly withdrew her hand. “No, thank you. We’d best let it go through
Jinny—like everything else.”



                              CHAPTER VII


                    COMEDY OF CORYDON AND AMARYLLIS

         _Among the rest a shepherd, though but young,_
           _Yet harten’d to his pipe, with all the skill_
           _His few years could, began to fit his quill,_
         _Willie he hight. . . ._

           _Fair was the day, but fairer was the maid_
           _Who that day’s morn into the green-woods stray’d._
         _Sweet was the air, but sweeter was her breathing,_
         _Such rare perfumes the roses are bequeathing._
                              BROWNE, “Britannia’s Pastorals.”


                                   I

It was the shepherd-cowman, and not Jinny, who delivered the horn to
Will. She had “happened of him,” Master Peartree explained tediously, in
the remote field to which he had taken the sheep to feed off the winter
barley. “Powerfully trumpeting” for him with it just when he was looking
for fly, when indeed in the very act of discovering a maggoty rump, she
had besought him to convey that “liddle ole horn,” she being so late and
Gran’fer likely to be “in a taking.”

Now this “liddle ole horn”—when Will saw Master Peartree and his
sheep-dog coming along in the evening light—he took to be the
shepherd’s crook or his great umbrella folded, so lengthy did it loom,
and when he perceived that it was what he was expected to perform on, he
was taken aback. It was not that he had not seen coach-horns in plenty,
but he had seen them in their proper environment and at their proper
altitude, their elemental straightforwardness making an exhilarating
right-angle with the guard’s mouth, a sort of streaming pennon. But a
coach-horn in its bare quiddity, quite as tall as the shrunken old
shepherd, and hardly a foot shorter than Will himself, dissociated from
jovial visions of scarlet, rum-soused visages and spanking steeds, was
as ungainly to behold and as awkward to handle as it was difficult to
explain away. Evidently the jade had bought him the largest size on the
market; he knew not whether to be flattered or vexed at her idea of the
appropriately virile. But to send it by this alien hand—to make a
village wonder and scandal of it! How, indeed, was he to explain to the
bucolic mind his sudden passion for the instrument? Flutes and
concertinas folks could understand, even tin whistles; but what could a
man looking round for a farm want with a colossal coach-horn? He was
glad at least he had met Master Peartree out of sight of his parents.
There was a note attached to the case, and he opened it the more eagerly
that it delayed the explanation which Master Peartree seemed to his
morbid vision to be grimly awaiting.

    “SIR,—Mr. Daniel Quarles has pleasure in forwarding per favour
    of bearer Mr. William Flynt’s esteemed order. Bill enclosed. I
    hope you will find the stature agreeable to you—it was only by
    casualty I got such a protracted one, and as the compass
    protracts with the stature you could easily educe three octaves
    from it. Half-tones of course I shall not expect as without
    holes only a musical Arabian spirit like my granddaughter can
    evoke them, but when you can play the ‘Buy a Broom’ Polka with
    concinnity, I shall consider the gloves fairly conquered.

                                                   “I remain

                                                “Yours obediently,
                                                    “DANIEL QUARLES.

    “P.S.—The mouthpiece unscrews being mutable, so I can exchange
    it for another, if this does not suit Mr. William Flynt’s lips.”

How the deuce was he to play a polka he had never heard, especially
“with concinnity” (whatever that might be), was the dominant thought in
his perturbed brain. But as Master Peartree seemed still expectant—was
it even of a tune?—Will stooped down to pat the dog, whose black-tipped
tail was hoisted like a friendly signal. It was a ragged animal just
between two coats—a canine counterpart of its shabby, straggly-haired
master—but Will caressed it like a velvety lapdog while he inquired
carelessly—his horn tucked like a telescope under his arm—how the
Carrier had carried herself, what exactly she had said. But he only
provoked—after the briefest glimpse of the girl—a rambling narrative
about a sheep that had broken its arm in a “roosh,” in the panicky
restlessness of the thundery Sunday: it had fallen down a steep and
another had rolled on top of it. And even with this “meldoo” the sheep
were so pernickety you could do naught with ’em. Doubtless in this
cloudy heat they felt the weight of their wool—he should be shearing
some for the early market as soon as they could get the labour, which
was not easy in these migrating days. Even young men who came back lazed
about, he added pointedly, when they might be earning good money. Will
hastened to inquire whether the shearers were as merry at their work as
he remembered them. He could never forget the beautiful bass voice of
Master Peartree, but he supposed time had now abated its resonancy, or
was he mistaken? He _was_ mistaken, he admiringly admitted, for the
ancient was soon quavering out in a piping voice:

        “_There was a sheep went out to reap_”

and Will, beating time with the great horn, was solemnly singing the
chorus:

        “_Chrissimus Day, Chrissimus Day_”

And now would the famous singer oblige with the “Buy a Broom Polka”?
Alas, he did not know it, with or without “concinnity”! But young Ravens
might know it, he who was as full of tunes as a dog of fleas, and with
his perpetual flow of melody made bread and tea like harvest suppers,
and shearing days as jolly as Chrissimus. But where was this musical
box? Alas! he had “gone furrin,” being somewhere beyond Southend. But
master expected him back for the shearing; he was a rolling stone, was
Ravens, but he usually rolled back this time o’ year. No, not rolled
with liquor, nor yet like the sheep that broke its arm. Had it been a
fat sheep, he would have butchered it, but as it was only store he had
set the arm himself. No, he had no need of a vet. for that, like the
degenerate young shepherds nowadays; he wouldn’t be beholden to
cattle-doctors, not he, keeping for ever o’ salts and gentians and
bottles of lotion in his hut, although “suspicioning shab”—it might
even be rot from the river-marsh—in one of the sheep which he had just
been examining for fly, he had taken the opportunity to ask Jinny to
send round Elijah Skindle. ’Tis a long talk that has no turning, and
Will, when the narrative thus came, by a wide detour, back to Jinny,
ceased fidgeting with the horn, and demanded what she had said to that.
It transpired that she had refused to order Elijah, despite that Mrs.
Flynt had recommended him as cheaper, alleging, drat her, that Jorrow
was the better man. Will, curiously forgetting Mr. Flippance and his
horse, concurred in the view that carriers cannot be choosers. He also
started another current of indignation against carriers getting other
folks to fetch and carry for them. Would the hard-working shepherd, who
was too easily put upon, kindly not encourage the girl in future to
shirk her job?

Touched by the sense of his own magnanimity and the sixpence slipped
into his palm, the good shepherd promised to repress his obligingness in
the interests of the higher ethics, and Will, bidding him farewell,
slipped behind the row of stag-headed poplars opposite the gate of Frog
Farm, and strove—before entering the house—to adjust his horn down his
trousers and up his back. It was no easy process with such a
“protracted” object: fortunately it was thin, save at the swelling end,
but by keeping this bulge below, he could avoid humping his back. To
walk with such a ramrod up it and adown one leg would, however, have
taxed the talents of the most graceful damsel training for deportment.
He hobbled painfully to the rear of the farmhouse, designing to hide the
horn before entering, but lo! there was his mother filling the food-pot
of his neglected ferrets.

“Oh, my poor Will!” she exclaimed. “I told your father you’d have
rheumatics—sitting in chapel in your damp clothes.” She tried to take
him pitifully in her arms but he limped away, fearing she would imagine
his backbone had come outside.

“It’s only one leg a bit stiff,” he said ungraciously. But she hooked
her arm in his and drew her halt offspring towards the back door; a
brief but parlous journey, for he felt the horn slipping towards his
boot.

“Why, your ankle’s swollen,” said Martha tragically.

“It’ll soon go down,” he assured her.

A terrible struggle agitated the maternal heart. Even Will, preoccupied
with his grotesque position, could see her face working.

“You’re sure you wouldn’t like to have the doctor?”

“Oh no, mother. What nonsense!”

Her clouds lifted a little. “But this may be Jinny’s evening for
coming—I could tell her to go for him to-morrow.”

“To-morrow it’ll be better—I feel certain, mother.”

She beamed. “I’m so glad you’ve found faith, dearie. I knew when once
you began studying the texts you couldn’t miss it. King Asa, too,
suffered from his feet. But he sought to the physicians and displeased
the Lord. Have no confidence in man, dearie. There’s days I get pains in
my side as if my ribs grated together. But I’d be afraid to put myself
out of the Lord’s hands, after I’ve trusted to Him all these years.”

Will winced. He seemed to himself vaguely blasphemous. As soon as he was
alone in his bedroom, the swelling was transferred to the capacious box
so miraculously carried from Chipstone. He dared not descend to supper:
so speedy a miracle might have seemed _too_ “Peculiar.” But next morning
(after a family breakfast which was for his elders a veritable feast of
faith) he stole out with the horn and his fishing-rod and creel to the
river, which in the watches of the night he had decided upon as the
loneliest spot for practising, while the open ramshackle boat-house,
where the rusty punt usually nested, was to afford a hiding-place for
the instrument.

It was worth while going down that pastoral slope these days, even were
one not bent on music, solitude, and the winning of gloves. In weather
so prematurely sultry, the river was so sweet and still and green, with
its shadowy reflections, its blobs of duckweed, the sedges and flags
along its banks, and the willows—grey-white or silvery—along its
borders: gliding so tranquilly in its reaches and lapping so lazily
round its islands that only at bends did the water seem to flow at all.
In the undulating meadows that sloped to it, silted with cow-droppings,
Master Peartree’s kine lay around chewing, and the sense of brooding
heat gave to the landscape a dreamy magic, suffused with a sense of
water.

It was to this idyllic retreat that our Tityrus or Corydon repaired to
essay his metallic pipe. And, standing on the bank like a watchman, his
horn to his lips, “Tucker, tucker,” he breathed industriously into the
unresponsive instrument. In vain did he lip and tongue the notes as
instructed, nothing broke the sultry silence. Surely the mouthpiece
could _not_ suit Mr. William Flynt’s lips. Suddenly, in his shamed
impotence, he had a sense of a breathing presence. In his agitation the
horn slipped from his nervous fingers and went souse into the water,
while the startled beast—for the observer proved to be only one of
Master Peartree’s cows—lumbered bouncingly back along the pasture.

Fortunately the instrument had lodged in the shallow mud of the bank.
Fishing it up—it was his sole catch that week—he found to his joy that
it emitted a faint toot, and he rightly divined that a little water was
just what it had needed. Encouraged by this intervention of Providence
in his favour, his performance bore henceforwards some proportion to his
pains.

It was embarrassing though to return from these painful puffings without
a single bite. Every dinner-time he had to sneak in as best he could
with empty basket after a morning of pertinacious tooting, successful
enough to frighten off the deafest fish. Once, indeed, going home by a
somewhat roundabout route that skirted Blackwater Hall, he chanced on a
Chipstone fishmonger serving Long Bradmarsh, and was able to take home
some fruits of his rod. But the only time our piscatorial swain ever
tried for an honest bite was when he saw or heard somebody or something
coming along. Then, drawing in his horn like a snail, he presented the
picture of the complete angler. Usually it was only Bidlake’s barge that
disturbed his strenuous solitude, and the transient mockery of the twins
was for the futile fisher, not for the unsuspected musician. Not even
Master Peartree’s cows ever munched their way again to the bank while
the horn was at its fell exercises, for, like the horn which the fairy
Logistilla presented to Astolpho in “Orlando Furioso,” its blast seemed
to put all creation to flight. His sole auditors were a pair of swans
who refused to quit their normal haunt, though they hissed him fiercely.
Possibly they were accustomed “to hear old Triton blow his wreathèd
horn,” and so had a standard of musical taste. Is not the swan’s own
song, too, celebrated, though it appears only to perform before it dies,
as if to evade criticism?

But however soundly the swans might hiss, Will, after three days of
red-faced rehearsal on the pleasant bank of the Brad, felt ready to
challenge his female critic in all save the polka she had set for
examination, and this he determined—after failing to hunt it out—was
no fair part of the wager. A whole evening he had spent reknitting the
thread of old acquaintanceship with carolling cottagers, gleaning much
gratitude for his kindly attentions, but not the melody he was after,
and being forced politely to abide while gaffers piped “Heave away, my
Johnny,” or gammers ruthlessly completed “Midsummer Fair” or “Dashing
away with the Smoothing Iron.” However, he could now turn out such
complicated military flourishes that he excited his own military ardour,
and felt like marching in his thousands, and doing such deeds of
derring-do that the lips of all the damsels of Essex would vie to change
places with that mouthpiece. It was high time then that this particular
damsel should understand how vain was her hope that he could be baffled
by a tube. Though he might not know that polka, he was sure that
whatever “concinnity” might be, he could perform with it, and impatience
began to steal over him at the delay in the test performance. For if
Jinny had fobbed him off with the shepherd on Tuesday, she evaded
service altogether on Friday. Even Nip might conceivably crop up with
some small groceries tied on to him, and he could not try it on the dog.
Also, unless he saw her soon, the cattle fair would be upon them, and
she still unsaved. He must, with the relics of his copybook paper,
compose a new note, formally citing her to stand and hear, and deliver
the gloves.

But it was not easy to fix the place for deciding the wager. The
riverside meadows she could not well get at in her cart, and for her to
come specially on foot was hardly to be expected, in view of her
household labours. To cut her off and perform to her on a high road was
to run risks of being publicly ridiculous: even by-ways have ears.
Suppose his nerve or his breath failed, suppose some impish accident
muffled up the horn: there would he be with swollen cheeks, a mountain
in labour, producing not even, a mouse-squeak; the mock of man and
beast. But there was Steeples Wood—not too far back off the high road,
but approached by a tangly brake that few ever penetrated: there—if he
could persuade her to it—was the ideal place for the great horn solo.
In a postscript he would express his willingness to take off her hands
the purchase of the Showman’s horse. To convey all this by
correspondence involved almost as much effort as the practising, though
his renewed call upon the Bible came to Caleb and Martha as the natural
sequel of his faith-cure. It was no small feat of composition, this
particular letter, in face of a people, which, however abundant its
horses, appeared to have had neither “wagers” upon them, nor “gloves,”
riding or other.


                                   II

That gloves were unknown to the ancient Hebrews, Will could hardly bring
himself to believe, even by hours of searching, especially after coming
upon a Fashion Catalogue for Ladies, which showed a surprising wardrobe.
Bonnets they had, it would appear, and headbands and tablets and
changeable suits of apparel, and mantles and wimples and crisping pins
and fine linen and hoods and vails, and mufflers and girdles and
stomachers: as for their jewel-cases, they seemed stuffed not only with
rings and ear-rings and charms and bracelets and moony tires, but
likewise with jewels that dangled at the nose or tinkled at the feet.
How then should so elegant a world have dispensed with gloves? But
so—after scouring the sacred Book from Genesis to Revelation—he must
finally fain believe. Not a single patriarch, priest, satrap, shepherd,
physician, apostle, publican, or sinner had ever sported gloves, and the
Queen of Sheba fared no better in this respect than the Witch of Endor.
Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed with even one of these. The
Pharisees, it would appear, covered their foreheads with
phylacteries—whatever these might be—but left their hands bare. And
yet, Will thought wistfully, reading so early in the sacred Book how
Rebekah “put the skins of the kids of the goats upon Jacob’s hands,”
they might surely in all those centuries have gone on to the idea of
gloves, especially for winter wear. But no, thousands of years after
Rebekah, the knuckles of Dives were apparently as raw as those of
Lazarus. Oh, why had he not betted something Biblical—a muffler now
would have suited either sex: even handkerchiefs were available. Not
that he could not risk spelling “gloves” to accord with “loves,” which
he found with no great difficulty in the holy text: he felt it romantic
to throw himself thus trustfully upon “love,” even should it prove
misleading.

Yet the search was not altogether vain, for though he could find no
gloves, the prophets, he found, were full of exhortations to Jinny,
which he carefully dog-eared and committed to memory and kept up his
sleeve for contingencies. “How canst thou contend with horses?” Jeremiah
asked her. Ezekiel warned her against the cattle-dealer. “By reason of
the abundance of his horses their dust shall cover thee.” As for Isaiah,
he remarked plumply: “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of
vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope.”

To himself, on the other hand, the prophets were kind; abounding in
promises for the prosperity of his horn. And it was Amos who supplied
his letter with its opening sentence, abrupt but dramatic:

“Can two walk together except they be agreed?”

But the letter written, there was the problem of sending it. The
intervention of either Bundock or Daniel was intolerable. He must find
an individual way. One verse that he came upon—it was in the Book of
Esther—enchanted him with its images, telling how Mordecai wrote an
order in the King’s name “and sealed it with the King’s ring and sent
letters by post on horseback, riders on mules, camels, and young
dromedaries.” How he would have liked to seal his letter too with a
royal ring, and send it “by post on horseback.” He had a vision of the
long procession of mules, camels, and dromedaries filing along the
grass-grown lane to Blackwater Hall. How old Daniel would rub his eyes
at the strange humped beasts—yes, and Jinny too. She would perhaps
think that Mr. Flippance had acquired a new show and was paying her a
processional visit. Possibly these animal images did lead him to the
invention of his postal method, or possibly it was his prior
apprehension of Jinny’s utilizing Nip as a package-bearer. At any rate,
after having wondered whether Martha’s pigeons could be trained up in
the way they should go, he hit on the device of tying his note to Nip’s
collar. The creature was friendly, and that Saturday afternoon it would
be at home. He would only have to hover long enough around Blackwater
Hall for his post-dog to fawn upon him. Of course there was no certainty
the dangling missive would escape Daniel’s spectacles, but Nip being
providentially of the colour of paper, it was possible heaven had not
blanched him in vain. Besides, this time the note was carefully
addressed to Miss Jinny Quarles, with the “Quarles” scratched out by an
afterthought when he remembered that it was not her name.

But, alas! Nip did not play up; that longed-for quadruped did not appear
in the purlieus of the Hall. Will, tired of carrying about the note,
thought again of sticking it up in the stable and ventured near, but his
fear of encountering Daniel Quarles was too lively, and finally he
essayed—with some obscure remembrance of Bowery melodrama—to fix it
gleamingly in the fork of a tree by which Methusalem stood when
harnessing and unharnessing. To his amaze a chaffinch flew out of the
fork in violent protest, while her gaily coloured consort dashed up from
another quarter, crying “U-whit” at him like an avine Flippance. Peeping
into the hollow of the fork he saw a couple of rather belated
youngsters, ugly, bald-headed, and featherless, apparently new-hatched
and almost savouring of the egg: yet when he touched them with the note,
opening great eyes and yawning with yellow beaks and kicking each other
with skeleton legs. But before he could bethink himself of a new
posting-place, lo! as sudden as the chaffinches but far more welcome,
with a yelp of joy and a perpendicular tail wagging like a mad pendulum,
Nip was upon him; and having succeeded with a desperate bound in licking
the tip of his stooping chin, rolled himself on mother-earth with
voluptuous grunts. Will profited by this supineness to attach the note
by the thread he had passed through it.

The new postal system was a success. For when Will after high tea
sneaked out to the Common and sounded his horn—with a happy combination
of challenge, salute, and signal—Nip actually appeared with a reply.

It was, however, unsatisfactory. Miss Boldero—the very name, though he
divined it denoted the same Jinny, came like a glacial blast—presented
her compliments to Mr. William Flynt, but she had no time to be romantic
in woods (she said) nor, even at their homes, could she ever pay more
than volant visits to anybody, and that strictly in the way of Daniel
Quarles’s business. He could almost always find her at Blackwater Hall
except Tuesdays and Fridays, but she trusted he would not be too turgid
and thrasonical about his playing, even if his contumacious serenade
should be puissant enough to extort the pair of gloves.

All these strange words came, of course, from “The Universal
Spelling-Book.” Will, though he would still have refused to toot before
her grandfather, might have felt less crushed had he known that in that
ancient authority, “romantic” was defined as “idle.”


                                  III

It is possible that persons of strict ethics—like Miss Gentry,
say—would have lost sympathy with Jinny in these epistolary efforts of
hers to stand on tiptoe, so to speak, and write beyond her education.
But in thus titivating her style with gems of speech she knew not to be
false, she was moved by the necessity of countering an overweening,
overbearing, interfering young man, who was subtly assuming a sort of
critical wardenship over her and her life: he needed a good vibration
(“_shaking_ or _beating_”), she must teach him by her gelidity
(“_coldness_”) to be less conversant (“_familiar_”), and that she was
quite his parallel (“_equal_”). He must be made to feel that her company
was not to be had for the rogation (“_asking_”), in short that she was
no housekeeping ignoramus to be ridden over by world-travelled wisdom,
however genuine. No, she was not going to incurvate (“_bow or bend_”) to
Mr. William Flynt.

This rigidity was the more necessary as, ever since in that thunderstorm
his hand had tightened on hers—or was it the reverse?—the lightnings
seemed to pass through her, the reverberations to shake her, whenever
she thought of him, and even when she did not. What there was in him to
rend her thus elementally she could not understand; doubtless it was the
memory of the storm now for ever associated with him. He seemed—it was
perhaps his life of adventure—to be in mystic unison with tempests and
floods and that sea-creek of her childhood, now remembered exclusively
as tossing and white-flecked. Even when she was turning over her
Spelling-Book to find words to “vibrate” him with, it was the pages that
vibrated: when she copied its gelid trisyllables, she felt her hand
again in his, and her quill quivered as if the lightning were going
through it.

And even Miss Gentry, though she would have derided Jinny’s new
vocabulary, might have admitted that there was a laudable side to her
pursuit of learning: the Spelling-Book itself overflowed with
commendation of such scholastic zeal. Jinny no longer knitted or sewed
in her evening hour of leisure. It was occupied—even after the
concoction of the grandiose letter—in a feverish study of the volume
neglected since her first scholastic period. She must make herself a
greater intellectual power, she felt: she must master all human
knowledge. And that all human knowledge lay in the hundred and fifty
pages of this little book, our simple village girl, who was not romantic
in any sense of that word, who, except for Bible and hymn-book, had
never read a book—not even a novel—and who approached life with senses
fresh and virginal, sincerely and crudely believed.

Nor was the pose of “The Universal Spelling-Book” calculated to
dissipate her delusion. This wonderful work, which was now destined to
become Jinny’s guide, philosopher, and friend, had nothing in common
with those shallow productions of a later period, concerned mainly with
correct combinations of letters. Dating from the age of folios and
exhibiting, despite its diminutive size, the same solid solemnity, it
did really take all knowledge for its province. (You learnt, for
example, how to make the very ink you spelled with—and although you may
rarely have possessed those best blue galls of Aleppo which formed the
base of black, still you might hope to get the three pints of stale beer
that were the substratum of red.) And not only all knowledge, but all
morals formed the farrago of this book. Well might it ostentate among
its “Patronizers” clergymen, private gentlemen, philomaths, writing
masters, and heads of academies.

Originally published—as already related—in the year of the Lisbon
Earthquake, and creating apparently as great a sensation (in England at
least), it constituted an _omnium gatherum_ so peculiar and extensive
that there was no earthly (or heavenly) subject you could be certain of
not meeting there, though there was one subject you could be certain of
never escaping, for it cropped up in the quaintest connexions—and that
was Virtue.

As the author—who hailed oddly from the Royal Exchange Assurance
Office—justly claimed in his dedication to the Right Honourable
Slingsby Bethell, Esq., Lord Mayor of the City of London, and One of its
Representatives in Parliament (an encourager of everything tending to
“the Practice of Piety” and “the Good of Mankind”), it was designed to
do more than barely teach the young idea how to spell. “To inculcate
into the Minds of Youth early Notices of Religion and Virtue, and to
point out to them their several Duties in the various Stages of Life”
was no less its aim. “And I should be very thankful,” explained His
Lordship’s obliged, obedient, and most humble servant, “should I prove
an instrument in the Hand of Providence in preventing but one of the
rising Generation from falling a sacrifice to the pernicious Doctrines,
secret Whispers, and perpetual Insinuations of _Popish_ Emissaries.”

It was a passage that had always swelled Jinny’s bosom with emotion and
the vow to ensure the gratification of this saintly aspiration by
supplying in herself the minimum one member of the rising Generation to
baffle these minions of the Scarlet Woman. It had been at first a little
bemusing to reflect that for her Peculiar friends, the Established
Church was little less pernicious: still, fended by the double buffer of
her sect and Protestantism, she had thus far resisted the Emissaries she
had never encountered (for certainly the Rev. Mr. Fallow, whatever the
Chipstone curate might say of his Puseyite practices, had never tried to
pervert her even to the Establishment).

With three generations brought up on this pious pabulum—the copy from
which Sidrach the Owler had educated himself for smuggling was already
beyond the fiftieth edition—-it seemed strange that the century should
have had any declensions from virtue to note; that papistry should have
progressed was incredible.

If in her dim, childish way, Jinny had ever felt a jarring note in this
treasure-house of virtue and information, it was the assumption that
both these existed primarily for little boys. True, among the
fascinating woodcuts was one depicting little girls at school, but even
there the mistress occupied the stiff chair, while the Dominie of the
boys’ school, majestic in a full-bottomed wig, sat throned on a chair
with arms. “A good child will love God,” she read with humid eyes, only
to be pulled up short by “he will put his whole trust in Him.”
Everything seemed to be masculine, from God downwards: there was no
place for women even in punishment: to be “well whipt at School and at
Home, Day and Night”—a recommendation she found it difficult to
reconcile with the definition of “Ferula,” as “_a foolish Instrument,
used in some Schools_”—was a Nemesis held out only to the boy who
minded not _his_ Church, _his_ School, and _his_ Book. Such a one would
live and die a Slave, a Fool, and a Dunce. But as to the fate of bad
little girls there was a mysterious silence. Even for their goodness
there was no sure reward: for though presumably they were included in
the well-behaved who would be clothed in Garments of Gold and have a
Crown of Gold set on their Head, while Angels rejoiced to see them,
these joys were never definitely attached to an exclusively feminine
pronoun. A virtuous “woman” appeared once to her relief, but it was only
to be a crown to her husband. Even in the foot-notes Jinny could not
find a female. “If the young learner has learnt to read these lessons
pretty perfectly,” said one note, “let him go over them once more.” As
for the Useful Fables, it was the boy that stole Apples or went into the
Water instead of going to School; and when it came to the longest story
of all, “Life truly painted in the Natural History of Tommy and
Harry”—the story that professed to show “Youth the ways of life in
General,” and did indeed show how wickedness wrecks you on the Coast of
Barbary, where you are torn to pieces by wild beasts as per woodcut,
while the pattern of Virtue and Goodness still lives happy—it appeared
that even a realistic picture of life may be complete without girls.


                                   IV

Behold, however, Jinny—despite her sex—embarked on a learned career,
and burning the midnight oil in her fat little lamp instead of curling
up in her chest of drawers. Puckering her brow she sat on a squat wooden
arm-chair in that dun papered living-room, imbibing virtue and
information, till the Dutch clock in the outer box-room startled her
with its emphatic declaration of the hour, and the cracked mirror
revealed eyes heavy-lidded. Far out over the Common streamed the
curtained light of that midnight oil, for the shutter could not be
closed, owing to a pair of blackbirds that had set up house in the
eaves. Jinny had found one of the young fallen on the grass: she had fed
it with morsels of meat which it swallowed with great yellow gulps,
following up the meal with a fluted grace. She had restored it to its
nest—touched to mark the domestic virtue of its co-incubating parents.
It had grown quite big now and flown hoppingly away with short sharp
cries, but Jinny still cherished the nest and felt no need of the
barring shutter. In the silence the creakings of the cottage often
sounded like footsteps outside, but Jinny was not nervous, and a real
footstep would rouse Nip, she knew. Sometimes, these warm May nights,
she heard the cuckoo keeping hours as late as hers, sometimes the
nightingales would sing passionately in the lane. There was one, she
knew, that niched in a mutilated, ivy-swathed trunk bordering on the
Common, and she would hear it answering the faint melancholy calls from
afar with throbs and gushes of melody as well as with a series of quick,
piercing notes. And sometimes when the air was clear she could hear the
distant church clocks. But all these sounds, like Nip’s and the Gaffer’s
snoring, were but a restful accompaniment to the acquisition of
omniscience: even the nightingale, in her ignorance of literature,
failed to romanticize her thoughts, painfully bent on mastering all
there was to know.

Meanings, we have seen, played a great part in these studies:
“Dollar—_a Dutch coin_”; “Engineer—_an Artist_”; “Gambadoes—_a Sort
of Boots_”; “History—_an Account of Things_”; “Interview—_Mutual
Sight_”; “Logarithms—_Artificial Numbers_”; “Mahomet—_the Turkish
Impostor_”; “Replevin—_a Writ so called_”; “Stolidity—_Foolishness_”;
“Tarantula—_a Baneful Insect_”; “Valentine—_a Romish Festival_”;
“Upholsterer—_an Undertaker_”; “Zodiac—_a Circle in the Heavens_”:
such were the strange vocables she kept muttering and misunderstanding:
believing indeed that “Paramour” was merely a grander word for “_Lover_”
and connecting divorce with “Schismatic—_one guilty of unlawful
separation_.” It pained her to meet the “Sadducees—_a People that
Denies the Being of Angels_,” slurring, as did these unimaginable
heretics, the status of her own mother. Surely it was for such that
“Damnation—_the punishment of Hell Torments_” had been designed.
Punctuation too she studied, growing learned in Apostrophes, Asterisks,
Carets, Crotchets, and Obelisks; other hours were devoted to Grammar,
Tenses, Degrees of Comparison (always between good and better _Boys_),
Genitives, and even Scraps of Latin. Pronunciation, however, was her
great stumbling-block. How was it possible to keep one’s feet in the
chaos, say, of four-syllabled words, each accented on a different
syllable? Antiquary, Ambassador, Affidavit, Animadvert—it was
heart-breaking and head-splitting. Her memory, so marvellous when
vivified by realities, broke down before this procession of shadows.

With what relief she turned to the rich riot of “Moral and Satyric
Poems”—though her sex was still distressingly ignored, and through
every loophole the eternal male popped up.

        _He most improves who studies with Delight_
        _And learns Sound Morals while he learns to write._

Still, where “Swearing, Gaming, and Pride” were rebuked in lashing
lines, she was not sorry to find the petticoat conspicuous by its
absence. It was a rare joy to come on Queen Anne in a “List of
Abbreviations” under the unexpected guise of A.R.; in the list of kings,
too, she appeared again, together with Mary and Elizabeth; not a large
proportion, Jinny thought, rejoicing at the Victoria unforeseen by the
learned author, whose “Chronological Account of Remarkable Things”
stopped, like her friend Commander Dap’s, at the Battle of Trafalgar.

This table was indeed one of her favourite pages—it gave her, she felt,
a bird’s-eye view of all history—and with her head for figures she
never forgot that the Ten Commandments and the Ten Plagues were given in
1494 B.C., and that the sun stood still at Joshua’s word in 1454, while
Daniel was in the Den of Lions in 536. She was puzzled, though, at the
destruction of Troy which intervened between Joshua’s interference with
the sun and Saul’s anointment. Of the twenty-two great events that
preceded the Christian era, this was the only one that the Bible forbore
to mention. Subsequently to Christianity things seemed to her to have
moved fast, for up till the year 1600 alone, fourteen “remarkable
Things” occurred—two-thirds as many as had happened in the whole
previous 4007 years since the world was created—while after 1600,
extraordinary events sprouted like blackberries, no less than fifty
crowding to their grand climacteric in Trafalgar.

In these fifty she was glad to see included the Confutation of Popery by
Martin Luther—a personage with whom Miss Gentry had made her
familiar—and she thrilled almost with local pride to find “Arts and
Sciences first taught at Cambridge, 1119,” for the Cambridge carriers
sometimes penetrated eastwards as far as Chipstone itself. As a carrier,
indeed, she was immensely excited by the “Eleven Days successive Snow”
of 1674, the “Frost for thirteen Weeks” of 1684, “The Terrible high Wind
of November 26, 1703,” “the great and total Eclipse of the Sun, April
22, 1713,” and the “severe Frost for nine Weeks” beginning on Christmas
Eve, 1739. She could vividly sympathize with the unfortunate carriers of
those days, and she did not wonder that these brumal phenomena should
form so great a proportion of the few score happenings of Universal
History, for frosts and winds must be terrible indeed to be recounted as
on a level with the shooting of Admiral Byng, the American Declaration
of Independence, the Birth of the Prince of Wales, and the “Attempted
Assassination of George III at Drury Lane by Hadfield, a lunatic.”

These studious vigils were invariably wound up with a prayer from this
same limitless thesaurus: on her knees by the transmogrified chest of
drawers, and with her hair hanging down her back, and the lamplight
falling on the coarse grey-typed page of the Spelling-Book, Jinny
repeated one or other of its masculine supplications, prose or verse,
and only a cynic (“Cynic—_a Sour, Crabbed Fellow_”) would have laughed
at the solemnity with which she swallowed all those motley lucubrations,
whether lay or clerical. An impromptu prayer for her grandfather was
invariably slipped in, for this holy book of hers finished as terribly
as the Old Testament, and what made it worse was that this awful
culmination of the Spelling-Book was printed in black-letter. It was a
gruesome recital of the miseries and follies of “the Seven Stages of
Life”—none of which seemed worth living even with the correctest of
spelling, while death seemed worth dying to escape the depravity and
decrepitude of the final stadium. But although her grandfather, with all
his peevish humours, could hardly be counted so steeped in sin as the
old man of the text, while his infirmities were still rudimentary, yet
the physical prognostication was terrifying—“_for when we come to those
years, that our Eyes grow dim, Ears deaf, Visage pale, Hands shaking,
Knees trembling, and Feet faltering, then it is evident the Dissolution
of our mortal Tabernacle is near at Hand_.”

Jinny could never read those dreadful words but she would creep
anxiously to the foot of the dark, twisting staircase and listen for the
reassuring sound of the Tabernacle snoring. And if she bore so patiently
with his whims and crotchets, not none of the credit must be given to
this sanctimonious Spelling-Book.


                                   V

While Jinny was thus pursuing omniscience and equipping herself to meet
the masterful young man, and while the young man in question was adding
the mastery of the horn to his conquests, their roads failed to cross.
Jinny went to chapel the Sunday following the thunderstorm, but Will was
too alarmed by the communal expectation of public autobiography to
venture there again, and his parents were only too glad to ignore his
home-staying and to resume their private Christa-peculiar-delphian
service, being sufficiently fortified by his preoccupation with the
Bible. What had driven Will to the Book again was the outrageous
appearance on Saturday night of Uncle Lilliwhyte as parcel-bearer.
Recovering from his relief that the parcel did not contain snakes, but
the conventional household stores, Will found himself angry on his
mother’s behalf. What right had Jinny to foist such a fusty ragamuffin
upon them, the gay strings of whose rotting beaver only accentuated his
griminess? Jinny must know that his mother ranked uncleanliness next to
ungodliness. And Uncle Lilliwhyte would be a fixture too, unless
violently shaken off—he was Jinny’s neighbour; as natural a go-between
as Will’s own neighbour, Master Peartree. He had already bribed off the
shepherd: must he be blackmailed by both?

And so, while Essex was at prayer, Will was concocting a furious
Oriental epistle, demanding a clean envoy, if Jinny was too lazy to come
herself. This was not so difficult to demand, though laziness seemed as
unknown to the Hebrews as gloves. He had dallied, indeed, with his
original idea of fetching the household parcels from Chipstone himself,
but somehow he could not bring himself to so complete a severance of
relations with Jinny, especially as after the appearance of Uncle
Lilliwhyte in the new rôle of goods-deliverer, his mother had
surprisingly suggested that to spare Methusalem’s legs, the old
nondescript might always in future bring the weekly parcel for a penny
or two. Will had put this suggestion emphatically aside—it would mean
exposing his mother to a contact she detested—but he wound up his
letter to Jinny by threatening to become his own carrier unless the
service was conducted with propriety. Nip duly returned that same Sunday
afternoon with the answer that if he would send his esteemed order in
writing, Mr. Daniel Quarles would have pleasure in executing his
commission through a scrupulously scoured ambassador. Will started
replying instantly that it was not _his_ order: let her mark that he was
not the householder, merely the “scribe.” To write out the order,
however, gave him unexpected pause. Who could have realized that
“parrafin,” “sope” and “shuggar” were alike unenjoyed by the heathen
Jews? A pity that Frog Farm was itself so “flowing with milk and honey”:
with what confidence he could have drawn on the resources of Palestine!
True, one might dodge—lamps and oil were abundant enough in Judæa, and
purification and sweetness could be suggested with airy allusiveness.
But in the end he only wrote grandly, “Household order the same as
uzual.”

Before this order had been executed, however, chance brought about a
meeting. Not that Miss Gentry, near whose wayside cottage it occurred,
would have called it chance. For that deft needlewoman, besides
believing in her own stained-glass miracle, cherished, as we know, a
naïve faith in “Culpeper’s Complete Herbal”—a faith doubtless sustained
by the attacks on the Pope or on infidel physicians that might lurk
snakelike in its most innocent-seeming herb. Under the stimulus of this
elementally indelicate work—never permitted to stray from her bedside,
though imparted in filtered form to Jinny—she would tie woody
nightshade round her neck for her dizziness, and buy watercress from
Uncle Lilliwhyte to wash away pimples with the juice. And if these herbs
were, as Culpeper testified, under the respective governance of Mercury
and the Moon, how much more so human life! Miss Gentry had indeed
remarked to Will that very afternoon (when he at last brought his
mother’s bonnet to be “bleached as good as new”) that her own horoscope,
cast in infancy by her aunt, had shown that the first time she went upon
a voyage she would be drowned: a reading whose infallibility her happy
survival demonstrated, since she had never been foolish enough to set
foot upon a vessel. “But for the deciphering of this horoscope,” she had
pointed out, “I should surely now have been drowned, for I am naturally
as fond of voyages as you.”

It must be admitted that if Miss Gentry had thus pathetically perished,
Will would not have taken his mother’s bonnet to her, nor met Jinny that
afternoon. But then would he have met Jinny but for the foolish sheep?
Even the ovine fates, it would appear, are interblent with the human.

This sheep suddenly dawned upon Jinny’s vision as Methusalem with his
cunning nose was trying to open a gate that led over a private road, on
either side of which its fellows grazed. Preoccupied with the task of
clasping Nip so that he should not frighten the flock in his passage,
she did not at first observe that in the gap between the hinge of the
gate and the post, a sheep’s head was jammed, and that Methusalem’s
success in lifting the latch bade fair to asphyxiate it. The silly
creature, having escaped from the flock, had evidently tried to jump
back again through this gap, at a point just large enough to admit its
head, and with the failure of the leap, the head had descended into the
narrowest portion and there remained in pillory. In the creature’s
terror at the approach of the cart and Nip’s excited barking, its
efforts to free itself became more convulsive than ever. Checking
Methusalem in the middle of his pet trick, and fastening up Nip, Jinny
jumped down and with soothing words seized the head of the frantic
sheep, which was still thrusting itself backward and forward, though
without the sense to jump upwards towards the broader space. But alas,
its spasmodic struggles prevented her from getting a sufficient grip on
it to lift the wedged and weighty head. She saw its ear was torn and
bleeding, and to her imagination it was going black in the face. She
looked round desperately. On the other side of the gate lay the flock,
scattered apathetically over the pasture they had reaped and manured,
chewing a tranquil cud, like self-righteous citizens before the
writhings of one of their own black sheep: of a good Samaritan or
shepherd there was no sign. She climbed over the gate and strove to lift
the agonizing head from the other side, but she only increased the
sufferer’s frenzy as well as Nip’s.

“Be quiet, Nip!” she shouted, almost hysteric herself. And as she raised
her eyes to admonish the yapping terrier, she espied to her joy a
puffing pipe and a stick advancing towards her cart; whether a young man
or old she was not aware. He was simply man as saviour, and he was at
the gate and working at the rear of the struggling head before she had
quite realized it was Will, and a certain added pleasure at the sight of
this man in particular had scarcely time to well up before it was
swamped by the far greater pleasure of seeing the sheep deftly released.
It staggered, however, as Will let it go, and lay sideways on the road,
gasping, and Jinny observed with horror a raw ring round its throat
where the wool was cut through as by a cord. But before she could get
through the gate to its assistance, it had risen feebly, and as she came
towards it, it trotted off timidly. Vastly relieved, she tried to coax
or chevy the truant back to its companions. But it refused to go: on the
contrary, it retreated, and in solitary self-sufficiency began to crop
the wayside grass.

“Hasn’t spoiled her appetite!” said Will, with a laugh.

“They don’t seem to feel things as much as us,” agreed Jinny.

“No, indeed.” He knocked the ashes out of his pipe and pocketed it.
“Fancy, if you’d got your head nipped like that!”

There seemed something aggressive in the suggestion. “_I_ should have
known to lift it up without waiting for a man,” she said.

“All very well, but when one’s head’s caught, one is apt to lose it: one
struggles blindly.”

“We’re not all like sheep to go astray,” she said uneasily. “But thank
you for your kind help.” She jumped up and drove slowly through the
gate. He closed it behind her and ran to open the gate at the opposite
end of the private road.

“Thank you again,” she said, passing through.

“But surely you’ll come into the wood now you’re so near,” he cried
through the arch of the vanishing tilt.

The cart unexpectedly slackened, Jinny’s head was turned backwards. “If
you won’t be long,” she said.

He shut the gate briskly and kept pace with her slow progress along the
leafy lane towards the wood-path they both knew. Nip, untied, sprang to
fawn at his feet, and then bounded into the hedge after something smelt,
and barking raucously, wormed his way along like a weasel.

“Why didn’t you come, Will?” said Jinny softly.

“Why didn’t you?” he evaded. “Why did you send Uncle Lilliwhyte?”

“I didn’t come because you didn’t,” she answered simply.

“I—I—your grandfather,” he stammered. “I couldn’t well play before
him.”

“You mean you couldn’t play well,” she flashed.

“That’s all you know about it. I can blow better than Dick Burrage.”

“Then why be nervous of poor old Gran’fer? He might have been umpire.”

He was shocked again. “Good gracious, Jinny! Where did you get those
betting words from?”

“That’s my affair.” She pursed her pretty lips. “But never mind—however
you blow—you’ve deserved a pair of gloves to-day—in sheepskin.”

He smiled. “I’m not above taking two pairs.”

“If you win!”

“Of course I’ll win.”

“Don’t brag. Save your breath for your blowing. We shall soon be there.”

“Oh, but I’m not going to blow now,” he pointed out.

“Not now? Then why have you lured me here?”

“But how could I guess I should meet you? How could I lure you? You
could see I hadn’t got my horn.”

“I hadn’t noticed,” Jinny murmured.

“It’s big enough,” he said grimly.

“Then I certainly shan’t go into the wood. I’m much too busy. Good-bye,
Will.” She flicked her whip, but ere Methusalem could quicken a leg, a
terrible yelping came from the bushy hedgerow—it was the voice of Nip,
but not of Nip the hunter, rather of a hunted, trapped Nip.

“Oh, poor Nip!” And in a moment Jinny had leapt down and was peering and
pushing into the hedge. But she could penetrate scarcely at all: the
wood behind was firmly guarded by a broad chaotic belt of thistle and
nightshade, burr and bramble, furze and stinging-nettle, a veritable
riot of prickliness; and this thorny tangle had closed upon
Nip—trespassers prosecuted indeed!—though it was a relief to his
mistress to find the trap was natural, not wickedly human. Stuck full of
burrs, and looking like a spotted pard, her pet was shrieking for first
aid. But even while she was hesitating to pierce farther, despite her
gloved hands, Will brushed by her, thrilling her with the sense that
this was his second feat of animal salvation; while the woodland savours
and the rich prodigality and ruin of nature—for dead wood lay around as
profusely as rank vegetation sprouted—seemed to stir in her the same
sense of elemental forces as the thunderstorm. She scarcely noticed that
Will had the aid of his stick in parting the jungle, and when he
restored the whining animal to her arms, gratitude and hero-worship
mingled in her emotion, though for a moment she was too occupied in
picking Nip clean to say much, while Will, for his part, was engaged
with equal industry in removing thorns from his sleeves and burrs from
his trousers.

“Oh, you’ve hurt yourself!” she said at last, catching sight of blood
and scratches on his hands and wrists.

“It’s nothing.” He tried to pluck out something from a finger.

“Shall I help you?” She pulled off her driving-gloves, took his finger
and squeezed at the flesh, perceiving the microscopic protrusion of the
thorn, but her own fingers were shaking and she could not extract it. He
said it did not matter, it would work out; then he started sucking it.
She somehow would have liked as with a child to kiss the place and make
it well—the whole back of his left hand seemed reticulated in red—but
instead she carried Nip back to his basket in the cart. He, too, was
scored in red, though he did not seem to mind any more than the sheep.
As she bent over her scratched pet, Will came up to the tail-board,
still sucking at his finger.

“I shall need gloves now,” he said, glancing with comic ruefulness at
his scratches.

“You poor hero!” she said, with eyes softly flashing. “I _will_ come
into the wood and you shall win them.”

His face lit up; then fell. “But how?” he asked.

“Isn’t there _my_ horn, silly?”

He laughed gleefully. “You’re right to call me that.” She leaped down,
the horn dangling at her girdle, and fastened Methusalem to a tree. “Not
that he’s likely to move: still his head _is_ homewards.” Methusalem’s
head, however, was already grasswards: he was munching with gusto, while
his great tail swished at the flies.

“But suppose somebody steals the parcels!” said Will with sudden
compunction.

“This isn’t Babylon—or America,” said Jinny witheringly. “Besides,
there’s Nip.”

Only a few yards farther was the opening they had been making for, but
they now found it almost as overgrown as the entry chosen by Nip, and
had it not been for the rare fern-leaf elders in the hedge, that marked
their memory of the spot, they might have passed it by. “Might be in
Canada,” said Will. However, he pioneered with his stick, and, following
him closely, she had a sense of safety and protection unknown since the
days she was escorted from chapel. It was quite strange—yet not
unsweet—to be thus guarded from the venomous vegetation thrusting at
her from all sides, and she was not sure she was relieved when the
menace and novelty were over, and they were in the wood. The struggle,
moreover, had made the humanized part of the wood, on which they
emerged, somewhat tame. The grove of young ash, beautiful as the slim
silver-grey trunks were with their new green livery—too light to cast a
shadow—suggested commerce to both of them, and the suggestion was
emphasized by the charred remains of a bonfire of elm-loppings, and by a
deserted charcoal-burner’s hut in a clearing. But poetry had gathered on
the mossy stumps of other trees, long since felled, and they came down a
wonderful azure river of bluebells running as between wooded green
banks. As they waded through the tall thin stalks, they chanced here on
a patch of late-lingering primroses and there on green advance waves of
foxgloves, with their long leaves. Primrose, bluebell, foxglove—what a
beautiful succession, thought Jinny. How marvellous was earth in its
changing loveliness, and Heaven in its unchanging bounty! On another
slope, crowned by Spanish chestnuts, glittered a stream purling down to
lose itself in scrub. Here rosemary was in bloom, humming with bees, and
yonder was broom, its yellow blossoms showing against a lighter green
than the earlier gorse, which flowered in great golden clumps.

“The gorse looks fine,” said Jinny.

“And smells finer,” said Will. “Let’s sit down.”

“Not here,” said Jinny, coyly shrinking. “There’s nettles.”

“They’re dead!” he said, grasping their yellow brittleness. But they
walked on.

They came over baby bracken and crisp beechnuts to a sort of ring
surrounded by blushing young oaks, and little silver birches with their
flat green leaves, and tall aspen-trees, and one lonely mountain-ash
with white flowers. Overhead, early as it was, the moon had long been
hanging at three-quarters, white and magically diaphanous: a
dream-planet. Unseen wood-pigeons purred, and a tomtit was singing.

“Here!” said Will, beginning to sit down.

“No, no!” She clutched his arm to keep him up. “An ant-heap!” This time
her shyness had found sounder cover.

He gave a comical “Oh!” and stood watching the squirm of seething life,
absolutely black at the central congestion, where ants walked
indifferently under or over one another: they were like the moving
grains in an hour-glass, Jinny thought. Will poked his stick into the
great piazza.

“Don’t,” said Jinny.

“I’m not hurting them.” The ants were, in fact, already using the rod as
a causeway. “Why, they’re like you, Jinny!”

“Like me?”

“All carriers and all busy.”

She laughed, and followed their movements with a new sympathy, though
she was rather disgusted by those that carried dead flies or dead ants.

“Those are not carriers—those are undertakers,” she insisted.

They sat down at last on a mound of spongy moss, free from formic
activity, and there was a silence. The little purling stream was too far
off to break it, but they heard a chaffinch and the peep-bo-playing
cuckoo, with that golden human note that floats through the warm,
brooding May. And then the irrepressible and unbasketable Nip came
rushing and tearing, not making straight for them, but appearing and
disappearing like a giant fungus in the rich masses of blues or greens
or yellows.

He made an opening for conversation, and presently when he came
snuggling into Jinny’s arms—poor scotched creature!—an opportunity for
joint patting and petting: a process in which hands do not always
succeed in partitioning out the pattable and pettable surface rigidly,
but graze and brush each other, and even lie passively in abstracted
contact.

“Why shouldn’t I buy this wood?” said Will, after one of these sustained
manual juxtapositions.

“Wouldn’t that be lovely?” said Jinny.

“Yes—I must settle something soon. Those aspens, though, I’d cut ’em
down. They’re only a weed. And yonder ashlings weren’t planted quite
close enough—you’ve got to make ’em fight for air if you want ’em
straight enough to sell.”

Jinny was vaguely disappointed at the turn of this conversation; not
following the romantic dream vaguely underlying it.

“But could you afford to buy such a big wood?” she murmured.

“Big wood? Why, in Canada you get forever of land for nothing!”

“Then why didn’t you stay there?” she asked.

“This is better than America,” and his hand touched Jinny’s too
consciously.

“Why, what was the matter with America?” she murmured, withdrawing the
hand from Nip’s flank with a little blush.

Everything was the matter with America, it appeared. He was, indeed,
more anxious to explain how nothing was the matter with Essex, but under
Jinny’s physical bashfulness and intellectual curiosity he found himself
headed off his native county and kept closely to Transatlantic
territory. And under the spell of her eager attention he was soon
discoursing fluently enough, sketching a discreetly selected picture of
his adventures, beginning with the emigrant sailing packet in which he
had gone out as a stowaway, but wherein he fared little worse than the
emigrants proper, who in the first six of the thirty-seven days’ voyage
had had none of the stipulated provisions served out to them, despite
their contract tickets, and no meat during the whole voyage. They had
had to be satisfied with their daily water and the right of cooking, and
complaints were met with oaths from the officers and doctors, and
sometimes even with fists or rope-ends from the sailors. Once or twice
the hose had been turned on them, but there were over nine hundred of
them, he said, so she might imagine the Babel and confusion, though
there were two great passenger decks on which the tallest man could
stand, and on whose shelved sides they could all find sleeping-space,
with never more than six to a berth. And then from the moment America
had burst upon the vessel in the guise of touts, runners, and employers,
all anxious to mislead or enslave, he had borne through the continent
the banner of a steady disapprobation.

In the States, where his first clutches at Fortune had been made,
peculiar perils awaited the British immigrant. If he gravitated, as was
natural, to the cliques and boarding-houses of his countrymen, he was
likely to be soon “used up” by the gambling and drinking sets that
feigned to make him welcome. And if he escaped this pitfall by his
resourcefulness, he would strike the native American prejudice against
English immigrants, popularly supposed to consist of the paupers and
wastrels whom the parish overseers of Old England, anxious to be quit of
the burden of supporting them, bribed with free Atlantic passages and
dumped on the struggling New World: a prejudice, Will admitted
laughingly, which his own purse had done nothing to diminish.

At first he had got a job as car-driver and fed at the market-houses,
but though the food was good and cheap, the company was rough of manner
and language. And even when he was earning good money—at a boot-store
with the sign of a gigantic boot made of real leather reaching to the
first-floor windows—he had disliked the “go-along-steamboat” pressure
of existence, and the Mechanics’ Boarding House where gabbling Yankees
gobbled at a pace both unhealthy in itself and unchivalrous to the
unpunctual. The habit of loading the table with all the courses
simultaneously took off the edge of his appetite if he was early, and
left only universal ruins if he was late. He had no patience with clams
that were not oysters, egg-plants that were not eggs, and corn that had
to be munched cow-like. Accustomed to the clean linen of the paternal
farm, he loathed the insect-ridden bedrooms one divided with a varying
number of strangers. He liked to see pigs, but not perambulating and
scavenging the streets; why, in New York they were more numerous than
the dogs! Providence had designed tobacco, he opined, for smoking and
not for chewing; and saliva for swallowing, not for spitting.

It was, in fact, a most unpleasant America that loomed up to Jinny’s
vision that day, especially in contrast with this lovely wood,
overbrooded by the white moon now growing faintly golden: a sort of
spittoon of a continent, mitigated by dollars and dancing. Even in
Canada, for which Will had felt a more personal
responsibility—accentuated by the British soldiers to be met at every
turn—and in which he gladly picked out points of superiority to the
States, a similar sense of massive untidiness had weighed upon him and
jarred every home-born instinct.

He tried to convey to Jinny the desolation of zigzag rail-fences that
took the place of these hedges now glorious with hawthorn and
fool’s-parsley and the starry stitchwort; the raw settlements, the
half-built log huts hardly superior to yon derelict charcoal-burner’s
hut (their windows stuffed sometimes with old straw hats), the
unachieved roads, full of mud or dust, the ubiquitous stumps that were
once trees, the piles of logs that were not yet habitations, all that
crude civilization arising shoddily out of the virgin forest on the sole
principle of the cheapest practicable, with nothing whole-hearted but
the lust for dollars. Caleb Flynt’s slow English conservatism, Caleb’s
unworldly standards, spoke again through his son. But even Will was too
inarticulate to put his feeling precisely into words—and when Jinny
reminded him that in this very wood trees had been cut down and burned,
and that he himself had spoken of cutting down the aspens, he could not
quite make clear to her, who had never known any but long-humanized
places, the peculiar indecency of a forest at the stage of
semi-transformation into a mushroom settlement.

Beautiful enough the backwoods, he laboured to explain, where man’s
fight with the forest was only begun, where great beeches and maples,
and wild flowers still possessed the black mould the settler was to lay
bare for wheat; where his pioneer hut was circled by a green gloom, and
the chink of his cow-bells or the laughter of his children alone vied
with the ring of the axe and the thunderous fall of the giants. But
later on—“it’s like that plover’s egg you opened once,” he burst forth
with a sudden inspiration. “No longer an egg, not yet a bird; only a
smell!”

“But it was you who gave it me,” laughed Jinny. There was a great
content at her heart, sitting here and seeing her little world open out
in forests and seas and emotions still stranger. And he—he for the
first time enjoyed the society of woman as spiritual counterpart, had
moments in which he forgot Jinny was pretty, in which her hand—now
unconsciously nestling in his in her absorption in his narration—was
felt as a friendly rather than as a physical glow. Unfortunately in this
sense of a sympathetic Jinny lay the serpentine temptation which
shattered their paradise. For, beguiled by her apparent subjugation, he
went on to improve the occasion. “And it’s just the same with women who
are neither women nor men. A woman’s place is the home.”

The slipping of Jinny’s hand out of his was the first sign that he had
roused her to reality. Her cry, “How late it is!” was the next. And she
looked at the sunset glowing in glamorous gold through the trees. There
was a magic peace in the air, and a rare thrush sang as in a dream. It
seemed a tragedy to move.

Will protested vehemently. “It’s not late at all. You were unusually
early this afternoon. No, don’t go—you’ll wake up poor Nip.”

“Did your story send him to sleep? Rude dog! But I must go—a woman’s
place is the home!” She got up, smiling, with the snoring dog in her
arms, but her mockery was friendly enough: the intimate atmosphere could
not be dissipated at a jerk. He was constrained to follow her, if only
to precede her through that jungly path: the prospect of driving home
with her still shone rosy.

“By the way,” he said lightly, “I’ve been talking with Mr. Flippance
about getting that horse for him.”

“What!” She stopped and turned on him, her eyes blazing.

“His last animal was faked,” he explained mildly. “He was badly taken
in, and you can’t know all the tricks of the trade as well as a man.”

“And isn’t Mr. Flippance a man?”

“Yes, of course. But—but——”

“It all depends on which man, you see—and which woman.”

“But I’m sure no woman knows properly about horses,” he said. “How would
you tell the age, for instance?”

“By the teeth, of course.”

“Which teeth?”

Jinny flushed. She really did not know, and that made her only angrier:
“If I wanted your help in my affairs, I should have asked you.”

“Well, there’s nothing to be mad about.”

“There is everything to be mad about. How did you know he wanted me to
get a horse? Only because I told you. And then you go to him and
interfere with my business and insinuate I’m incapable.”

“It’s not so much you’re incapable——” he began.

“It’s because a woman’s place isn’t the cattle-market, I know. But why
can’t we buy cows as well as butter, and horses as well as
horse-collars?”

“Because only men go—and it’s rough.”

“Well then, let women go and it won’t be.”

“And do you want women to be horsemen too, get up at four o’clock and go
ploughing?”

“Why not?”

“They haven’t the strength, for one thing. There’s lots of things they
can’t do, and never will. Take thatching, for instance—you can’t
imagine a woman sprawling along a roof.”

“Yes, I can.”

“Of course _you_ can,” he sneered. “You can imagine her in breeches.”

“If petticoats get in the way.”

“There’ll never be Bloomerites in England,” he said grimly. “You mark my
word. If a woman can’t plough or dig without leggings, that’s a proof
she wasn’t meant to plough or dig.”

They had reached now the pleached and tangly path back to the road, but
she darted ahead of him, battling with the branches herself in her
revolt from dependence. He could not regain the lead unless he jostled
rudely, and every now and then—not with wilful malice, but no less
maddeningly—she held back for him the boughs she had parted. And all
the while the sleeping Nip was protected too: clasped by one hand to her
bosom.

Suddenly the circle of her little horn got caught in the bushes like the
horn of Isaac’s ram. “Why, Jinny,” he cried, “we forgot all about the
horn! Wait! Wait!”

She disentangled it calmly. “You shan’t blow mine. You must blow your
own now.”

He fired up. “You want to get out of the gloves.”

“Now you’re going horn-mad,” she jested icily, emerging on the high
road. “Good-bye, Mr. Flynt.”

It was the first time she had withheld the Will.

“Good-bye, Miss Boldero,” he said as frigidly, removing his hat with an
exaggerated gallantry. Each felt that the parting was final: never would
they even speak to each other again.

But they had yet to reckon with Nip. For that intelligent creature,
waking into the distressing atmosphere that had been generated while his
vigilance was relaxed, would be no party to the breach. When he
perceived that the cart was to go off without Will, he jumped down and
tried to chevy him into it, and as the parties went off at a tangent, he
ran desperately from one to the other, striving to shepherd them
together, barking and pleading and panting like a toy engine. It was
only a peremptory blast from a distant horn that at last persuaded the
distracted animal where his first duty lay.

The dying day still flooded the earth with warmth and radiance: the
little coffee-and-cream-coloured calves still frisked in the meadows
that the buttercups turned into fields of the cloth of gold: the
forget-me-nots were still gleaming in the cottage gardens, the lilac was
still peeping over manorial walls, the laburnum still hanging down its
yellow chandeliers, and the horse-chestnut upholding its white
candelabras. But for these twain, obstinately and against the best
canine advice going their separate ways, the colour had been sucked out
of the landscape and the clemency from the air. Before Will, wandering
deviously, had remembered his evening sausages, these also had grown
cold; mist and clouds had turned the moon to a blood-red boat, and the
bats were swooping and the wood-owls shrilling where larks had soared
and sung.



                              CHAPTER VIII


                            CUPID AND CATTLE

                 _Wit she hath without desire_
                 _To make known how much she hath;_
                 _And her anger flames no higher_
                 _Than may fitly sweeten wrath._
                   _Full of pity as may be,_
                   _Though perhaps not so to me._
                      BROWNE, “Britannia’s Pastorals.”


                                   I

IT is to be feared that the sting of Mr. Will Flynt’s offence lay
precisely in Jinny’s ignorance of horses, and that if her old companion
had come to her aid more tactfully, she would have welcomed his
co-operation in the great purchase. But her pride in her work would
hardly allow her to admit even to herself that here was a commission
perhaps beyond her capacities. Had she not enjoyed an almost lifelong
experience of Methusalem? As a monogamist would resent being told he
knew nothing of matrimony, so Jinny repudiated the notion that she knew
nothing of equinity. Besides, the cattle-market was far from seeming so
strange a world to her as Will had imagined. Had her cart not often
conveyed thence or thither a netted calf, had she not marketed even his
own mother’s piglings? A fig for the masculine aura! If Mr. Flippance
exaggerated after his fashion in declaring she would have undertaken to
get him the moon—at any rate it was not the man in it that would have
kept her back.

It was, therefore, with a bruised and burning but indomitable heart that
Jinny went about her work these ever longer days. For women must work,
though men may mope. Poor Will, who had nothing to do but to chew his
bitter cud of memory, was the more pitiable, and his temper was not
improved when early Friday evening the comparatively clean Master Gale,
evidently caught on his way home from school, arrived with “the same as
uzual.” This apple-cheeked and white-collared understudy for Jinny was
no less an eyesore than Uncle Lilliwhyte, and Will made Martha refuse
the parcel on the ground that if they encouraged the lad, it would lead
to truancy. Such was his solicitude for the schoolboy whose copy-book he
had diverted from its scholastic function. But he was not less furious
when Farmer Gale brought back the parcel the next morning on horseback
and explained amiably that he had seen Jinny about it, and that
henceforward this overburdened damsel would leave the Flynt parcel with
his, and he would have pleasure in delivering it in the course of riding
about his farms.

The rain and the cold snap, that had come so suddenly after the quarrel
in the wood, was welcome to Jinny in her present mood. For her the
summer was over. True, she espied its first wild rose, but it reminded
her only of a round strawberry water-ice, such as her well-to-do clients
spooned at the Chipstone confectioner’s. Everything was gelid, except
Nip’s nose, and that but added to her depression. Was the darling
feverish from the scratches of his spiny crawlings, or did he share his
mistress’s heavy humours? Her distraction might have led to a nasty
accident had not the last of the trio kept his head, for in a lonely
lane Methusalem, who in these days seemed to whinny his sympathy and
nuzzle into her palm with enhanced tenderness, deftly avoided the
prostrate antlered trunk of an oak-tree which had been split and
splintered by lightning. Possibly it had lain there since that Sunday’s
storm, for her work had not brought her that way. The bark of the whole
tree had been peeled off, save for a small patch where a few buds still
suggested vitality, and Jinny had a grandiose sense that all nature
sympathized with the strange desolation that had come over her joyous
self.

Her mind turned to fate and constellations as she drew up at Miss
Gentry’s door and summoned with a blast that fantastic female, who was
feeding the chickens with which she variegated life and tantalized
Squibs. Miss Gentry did not need anything beyond her usual depilatory.
It was a standing grief and astonishment to her that though white lilies
(under the domain of the moon) will “trimly deck a blank place with
hair,” neither Culpeper nor the planets had provided against the
contrary contingency: even fig-wort (owned by Venus) merely removing
wens and freckles. Hence she was reduced to a mere chemist’s
prescription: a solution of barium sulphide swayed by no known planet.
The stuff came in a pot.

Miss Gentry in ordering it did not shirk the word “depilatory.” On the
contrary she pronounced the five syllables with a pomposity which was
the more impressive to Jinny because even “The Universal Spelling-Book”
stopped short at four syllables. Not for worlds—whether to her client
or the public at large—would Jinny have betrayed her knowledge that the
hair-destroyer represented a never-ending battle with Miss Gentry’s
moustache. And for the sensitive dressmaker herself the polysyllable was
a soothing cover. Ostrich-like she hid her head in its spacious
sandiness.

There was, however, the little matter of Martha’s bleached and
new-trimmed bonnet, which Jinny might convey to Frog Farm, and the
casual mention that it was Will who had brought it led to considerable
conversation. Jinny’s equipage was drawn up outside the little garden,
where tulips (red, damask, and pink) stood like tall guards before a
tropical palace; and Miss Gentry, despite the chill wind, leaned on her
garden-gate, carefully nursing her black cat against Nip’s possible
swoops.

The excellent lady, whose erudition Jinny had always absorbed with the
reverence due to a reader of _The Englishwoman’s Magazine_, was always
delighted to have the girl sitting at her feet—even though to the crude
physical vision Jinny always appeared to be sitting above her head, and
Miss Gentry to be looking up to her. Sometimes real information from the
aforesaid magazine, which bore the sub-title of “The Christian Mother’s
Miscellany,” was thus transmitted to Jinny; but Miss Gentry’s brain was
obviously too cluttered up with archaic notions to be really beneficial
to her young devotee. Thus, although Miss Gentry enlarged Jinny’s mind,
it was more a matter of range than of accuracy.

The conversation to-day, however, was on a more personal plane. Jinny
was resolved to speak no further word to Mr. William Flynt: his
interference was unforgivable. But when it transpired that he had
brought the bonnet, she did not attempt to check Miss Gentry’s flow of
favourable comment, still less to contradict it. For a Peculiar he was
quite the gentleman, Miss Gentry opined, especially after that coarse
and flippant Bundock. Not tall enough for her taste, because she thought
you ought always to look up to a man; still, handsome in a rough way,
despite his ginger hair.

“Not ginger!” Jinny protested.

“It shades to ginger,” the dressmaker replied severely, as an authority
upon colours. “But it served to brighten up his face, which was none too
cheerful. Born under Saturn, I should think, and the sign of the
Scorpion.”

“And what effect has that?” asked Jinny, alarmed.

“Well, for one thing it qualifies the unruly actions and passions of
Venus.”

“The goddess of Beauty,” observed Jinny, airing her Spelling-Book.

“Of Love,” corrected Miss Gentry.

Jinny’s face shaded towards the colour under discussion, and she cried:
“Down, Nip,” to that recumbent animal’s amusement. “He nearly jumped on
the bonnet-box,” she explained.

“He should eat herbs under the dominion of the Sun,” said Miss Gentry.

“Nip?”

“No—Mr. Flynt. He needs vital spirits.”

“Still, ginger is hardly the word,” murmured Jinny.

“It looks ginger against his clothes,” persisted Miss Gentry. “Of course
a man can’t understand dressing himself.”

“Why, he’s better dressed than anybody in Long Bradmarsh—except Mr.
Fallow,” said Jinny.

Miss Gentry was mollified by the compliment to her pastor. “All the same
his coat wrinkles at the shoulders,” she said. “You notice next time.”

“I’ve got better things to do than to look at Mr. Flynt’s coat-sleeves,”
said Jinny. “And I’ll be going on.”

“Well, if you do see him, give him my kind regards,” said Miss Gentry,
“and say that any time he’s passing and would like a cup of tea, I’d be
glad to discuss the tract I gave him.”

“Oh, it’s no use trying to convert him,” said Jinny. “He’s nothing at
all.”

“Then why did he go to your chapel the other Sunday?”

“Did he go?” said Jinny, amazed. “I dare say that’s what has depressed
him.”

“He not only went, but with your _peculiar_ ideas of the House of God,
he had his dinner there!”

“Oh, no! Why he was dining at ‘The Black Sheep.’”

“Nothing of the sort. A dressmaker has ears.”

“But a carrier has eyes. And I saw him there.”

“Then I’ll never believe Isabella Mawhood again.”

“I hope you haven’t been making her more vanities,” said Jinny, as she
slowly turned Methusalem’s nose the other way.

“Only a new bonnet, you funny little Peculiar. You see the case was
coming on at the Chelmsford Sessions, and I should have got a verdict
against Mr. Mawhood not only for his wife’s silk dress, but for the
chickens his ferrets killed——”

“You issued a replevin, I suppose,” put in Jinny grandly.

“I could have had a tort or a subpœna or anything,” assented Miss
Gentry, with equal magnificence. “But the defendant thought best to
compromise. He’s got to clear this cottage of rats for nothing this
winter—you know how they come gnawing my best stuffs—and in return my
landlady has to pay for a new bonnet for his wife.”

“But Mrs. Mawhood’s silk dress—who pays for that?” asked Jinny
mystified.

“Oh, Mrs. Mott pays for that.”

“But why Mrs. Mott?”

“She didn’t want to have a scandal in the community, and your so-called
Deacon swore he hadn’t got the money. They make Mrs. Mott pay for
everything nowadays.”

“It’s too bad,” said Jinny. “And Mrs. Mawhood comes out of it all with
her dress paid for and a new bonnet.”

“Well, she does become clothes more than her sister-Peculiars, I must
say that—present company excepted! That old rat-catcher’s lucky to have
got such a young wife for his second, even though he was _her_ third.”

“She’s not so young,” said Jinny.

“She’s no older than I am,” persisted Miss Gentry. “And born, like me,
under Venus.”

Jinny suppressed a smile. Despite her respect for Miss Gentry she had
never accepted her standing invitation to explore the Colchester
romance. Unread in the literature of love though she was, the girl’s
natural instinct refused to see the middle-aged moustachio’d dressmaker
as the heroine of a love-drama. Her affair with the angel seemed,
indeed, to place her apart. “I think it’s disgraceful to have had three
husbands,” she insisted.

“Not at all, when each is a Christian marriage, and the first two
spouses have been duly taken by an overruling Providence. Of course the
unhallowed romance one inspires is another thing. As I always say to
Bundock—oh, we ought not to have mentioned names, ought we, Squibs
dear? Please forget it.” She stroked the cat in her arms. “But there,
Jinny! You can’t understand these things—you too were born under
Saturn.”

“How do you know that?” Jinny was vaguely resentful.

“You’re so cold-blooded—perhaps it was even under the constellation of
the Pisces—the Fishes, that is. You’ve never taken the faintest
interest in Love. Do you know, I made a rhyme about you the other day.”

“A rhyme!” Jinny was excited. “Do tell me!”

Miss Gentry shook her head. “You wouldn’t like it.”

“Oh, but I _must_ hear it.”

Miss Gentry continued obstinately to stroke Squibs. But finally, as if
electrified by the fur, she broke out like an inspired pythoness, in a
weird chanting voice:

        “_When the Brad in opposite ways shall course,_
         _Lo! Jinny’s husband shall come on a horse,_
         _And Jinny shall then learn Passion’s force._”

Jinny was so overwhelmed with admiration at the poetry—quite on a par,
she felt, with the pieces of “The Universal Spelling-Book,” especially
as the Rhyme or “_jingle in the ear_” was on the very pattern of the
model verse there given:

        _Prostrate my contrite Heart I bend,_
        _My God, my Father and my Friend,_
        _Do not forsake me in the end_

—that she could hardly take in the sense at the moment.

“How lovely!” she said.

“I’m glad you’re satisfied. It means, of course”—Miss Gentry firmly
explained the oracle—“that you’ll never marry, being as incapable of
Passion as the Brad of flowing backwards and forwards at the same time.”

A strange protest as written in letters of fire crept through all
Jinny’s veins. Even her face flamed. She began “clucking” to Methusalem
to start.

“And I’ve made one about Mrs. Mawhood too,” pursued the pythoness, now
irrepressible. “I don’t wish her ill, but I’m afraid it’ll prove true,
poor thing.” And without waiting to be discouraged, indeed, following
the already moving cart, she chanted:

        “_She may look to South, she may look to North,_
         _But the finger of fate hath forbidden a fourth,_
         _And the rat-slayer, clinging to life and his gold,_
         _Shall dance on the grave where she lieth cold._”

“Not dance!” laughed Jinny, relieved at this diversion.

“Well preach—it’s just as bad, when a man’s not ordained,” said Miss
Gentry, and this being the signal for a theological assault, Jinny drove
off rapidly.


                                   II

But she had no intention of bearing the bonnet to Frog Farm. Nor,
despite the account that Farmer Gale had given of the new parcel
arrangement, had she really agreed to establish him as
sub-carrier-in-ordinary. He was too moneyed and important for that, and
she found it hard enough to accept the favour of being driven to and
from chapel in his dog-cart—a favour necessitated by her grandfather’s
and even her own ideas as to the indecorum of their business cart.
Besides, she had almost resolved to seek his advice, perhaps his help,
in the famous horse-purchase: anything rather than break down before
Will! So she must not overdo it. No, Master Peartree, for all his novel
churlishness, must convey the bonnet. He could scarcely be treated like
Farmer Gale’s boy, and if they did refuse it at his hands, still it
would only abide next door.

The shepherd-cowman was not, however, to be found in his accustomed
haunts, and she lost a good hour in hunting for him in the various
mutually distant pastures to which he led his ever-edacious sheep. None
of the men ploughing the great red fields for turnips had seen him pass.
At last, by the aid of a taciturn lout, who was driving a tumbril laden
with hurdles and backed with a tall crate, Master Peartree was located
in the farm buildings at the other extremity of Farmer Gale’s estate in
a barn-like structure facing a long row of cart-sheds.

Skirting a sunless pond that was scurvy and ill-smelling, she drew up at
the gate and blew a summons on her horn, but its only effect was to
startle the chickens pecking in the litter, and the piglings fighting to
snatch their mother’s garbage from her tub or to nuzzle at her teats.
There was nothing for it but to carry the bonnet-box to the barn, for
the great farmyard was too mucky to drag her cart through. Picking her
way among the strawy compost heaps, she divined why her horn had brought
no answer: it had been deadened by a melody proceeding in a lusty tenor
voice from the tall folding-doors, and this—somewhat to her
surprise—was none other than the air of “Buy a Broom.”

It forced her to polka to it the rest of the way, and although she must
fain trip gingerly mid the manure-heaps and the melody had ended with
applause before she reached the thatched structure, still it was with a
brighter feeling that she found herself at the open doors. But the first
glimpse within made her turn pale and draw back a little. The scene she
had so unexpectedly stumbled upon was the stranger and grimmer for the
silence that had now fallen, though the faces of the shearers astride
the struggling sheep were still lively enough. Master Peartree had his
boot over the head of a recalcitrant lamb, which but for her recent
adventure she would have imagined choking.

But it was not the ungentle shepherd that made for her the centre of the
picture, for among these men in dirty green corduroys and rolled-up
check shirt-sleeves, whose legs gripped grunting, wheezing, struggling
or feebly kicking sheep, was one in cleaner clothes, whose bare, brawny
arms gave her a sharp sensation, almost as if he had nipped her with the
shears he held in his palm. Was it boredom or the need for his labour
that had enlisted Mr. William Flynt in this service? She did not know,
but pale and dumb she retreated from the unconscious Will, whose sheep,
wedged between his legs, hung limp with meek, helpless eye, the very
image of a sacrificial victim, and was being sheared with the meticulous
concentration of the outsider bent on showing he is not inferior to the
professional. And indeed Will’s was the sole sheep, she saw at once and
with admiration, that though nearly bare of its wool showed without
blood-fleck: a consummation to which its prudent lethargy had doubtless
contributed. Young Ravens, on the other hand, who was now lying with
both feet on his animal, had nicked it on ear, leg, and breast:
apparently one could not serve two masters—song and scissors.

Perceiving Jinny with her bonnet-box, this young humorist now sang out
the old street-cry: “Buy a band-box!”

The chaff stayed her retreat and stiffened her trembling form.

“Hullo!” she retorted, with less than her usual wit. “Back again like a
bad penny.”

Even as she spoke she saw Will and his sheep give a spasmodic start, and
the first speck of blood appear on the flawless skin. But the shearer
did not look up, although he automatically stretched out his hand for
the ointment.

“Do ye don’t struggle,” observed Master Peartree amiably to his youthful
ewe. “Oi’m not so strong.”

As nobody said anything further, and Master Peartree, intent on his
lamb, did not look up, Jinny too stood silent for a moment with her
incongruous bonnet-box; recovering her sang-froid, and watching a
catcher trying to drive in an unshorn lamb from the pen in which it had
cowered and which it now ran round, bleating, terror-stricken and
unseizable. She wondered if its heart were thumping more wildly than
hers. Not that there was terror in her own breast—rather a strange
exultation that her presence had had power to incarnadine the immaculate
sheepskin. But her eyes roamed shyly from Will and his nipped victim,
and studied with elaborate attention the divers coloured show-cards of
the successful ram lambs that made their vaunt upon the beams or along
the sloping walls, through which the thatching stuck pleasantly. Her
mind went back to that sunny, bracing day in February, to the immense
pastoral landscape of straw-roofed sheep-pens, ooze, mangold heaps, and
haystacks, on which she had chanced when the lambs now so agitated were
new-yeaned: some only an hour or two old, with long skeleton legs and
bodies smeared as with yellow gold. How friskily they had soon learnt to
leap on their mother’s back! That day she, too, had been as untroubled,
needing no outside melody to brisk up her pace.

Young Ravens, inspired by his new audience to a fresh burst of melody,
started on “The Mistletoe Bough,” the old ballad she had heard sung in
the cottages at Christmas sing-songs, and which she now for the first
time connected with the play on Mr. Flippance’s posters.

“Hullo, Jinny,” said Master Peartree at last, her presence slowly
percolating. He finished his rebellious lamb and patted it forgivingly
on the back, remarking genially: “Get up and let’s have a squint at
you.” And as it trotted out happily, he threw its fleece—too small to
wind up—on to a great heap in the corner and fell to work on a sheep.

“You’ve just done’em when it’s turned cold,” protested Jinny.

“Ay, ’tis a pity,” said Master Peartree. “But first we couldn’t get the
labour, and then that rined and their wool was too damp, but Oi need ’em
now for the early market.”

“I know. I’m buying a horse there,” said Jinny.

Another tinge of red appeared on the blameless skin of Will’s victim.

“Methusalem ain’t damaged hisself?” asked Master Peartree in concern.

“Oh, no, he’s outside your gate, damaging your hedge.”

“Then whatever do you need another for?”

“Oh, just to ride over somebody. But I wish I’d known you needed
labour.”

“Why, want a job?” grinned Jim Puddifoot, a giant in a brimless hat, who
was sharpening his shears on a piece of steel. There was a snigger from
his mates.

“What’s the pay?” said Jinny, who had been thinking of Uncle Lilliwhyte,
lately gravelled for lack of purchasers of his woodland pickings.

“There’s half a suvrin a hundred,” said Master Peartree as seriously,
“and four quarts o’ beer.”

A great shout of laughter rose from the hired men: only Will went on
shearing with apparent imperturbability, while a third carmine speck
defaced the smooth surface of his martyred sheep.

“Where’s the laugh?” inquired Master Peartree.

“_Don’t rob a poor man of his beer_,” carolled young Ravens. “She don’t
drink,” he broke off to explain.

“Yes, I do, I drink like a fish. Water, that is, like that does.”

This time even Master Peartree laughed, while Jim Puddifoot, raising his
tin mug without a handle to his mouth, cried “Here’s to you,” and young
Ravens lifting up his pleasant voice trolled forth:

        “_Robin he married a wife in the West,_
           _Moppety, moppety, mono._”

Little stabs and pricks were going through Will’s breast, and still more
through the skin of his sheep. As the chorus, from which Jinny’s little
trill was not excluded, took up:

        “_With a high jig jiggity, tops and petticoats,_
           _Robin-a-Thrush cries mono,_”

it seemed to Will as if Jinny was carrying on like a flash lady in a
boon company. A high jig jiggity, indeed! Releasing his victim at last,
he picked up its fleece sullenly and teased a tail out of it, wherewith,
rolling up the rest, he proceeded to tie the bundle in a silence that
the singing rendered still grimmer.

“What’s that you’ve got there, Jinny?” asked Master Peartree, becoming
suddenly aware of the bonnet-box.

“That’s for you,” she said.

“Me! Oi ain’t got no womankind, thank the Lord.”

Again Master Peartree had touched unintentionally the springs of
laughter. Will pinned the frightened ewe-lamb, now caught and as dumb as
himself, between his legs, and plucked a few preliminary bits from its
breast with his fingers.

“But it’s Mrs. Flynt’s bonnet,” explained Jinny, “and will you oblige me
by taking it back to-night?”

The snick of young Flynt’s shears sounded savage.

“That Oi won’t,” said Master Peartree, “seein’ as here stands her boy
Willie hisself.”

“Oh, does he?” said Jinny. “I hadn’t noticed.”

“Ay, that he do. And even dedn’t, he arxed me not to do your job agen,
time Oi took in that liddle ole horn.”

The new ovine martyr bounded. Quite a patch of its skin had been
replaced by blood.

“Steady, Willie, steady!” cried Master Peartree. “Oi was afeared
musicianers ain’t no good for shearing.”

“It’s this silly, jumping beast,” growled Will, breaking his obstinate
silence.

Jinny was still tendering the bonnet-box to Master Peartree. “Well, give
it to him then.”

“Can’t he take it straight?” asked the shepherd, clipping busily.

“That silly, jumping beast is too much for him as it is. He daren’t let
go. I’ll leave the bonnet-box for him.”

“Ain’t no place here—’tis too mucky.”

“‘Buy a Broom,’” hummed Jinny, and young Ravens, smiling, seized a besom
and swept vigorously at the stale and droppings. “Oh, I can’t leave it
here—the sheep might stave it in,” she said.

“Leave it in the store acrost the yard—the key’s in the padlock,” said
the shepherd. “Oi count Willie’ll take it home, same as he ain’t cut
hisself to pieces.”

Another roar from the others—this time Master Peartree beamed, and it
might have gone ill with Will’s lamb had the shears not slipped from his
palm.

“Well, but when folks go woolgathering,” remarked Jinny blandly, “they
forget things. I’ll put it in the store, but I won’t be responsible.”

“Tell her I won’t forget it,” roared Will, who was picking up his shears
in the gymnastic attitude necessitated by the palpitating sheep between
his legs.

“Oi reckon she can yer for herself,” said the shepherd naïvely.

“Of course I can hear,” said Jinny. “But tell him to tell his mother
that the bill’s inside.”

“Oi reckon _he_ can yer too,” said the puzzled Peartree.

“He doesn’t listen much to women,” explained Jinny. “You ask him if his
family wants anything else from Chipstone.”

“Well, there he stands—you can arx him, can’t you?”

“Well, don’t I stand here, too?” said Jinny. “And why doesn’t he
answer?”

“He’s too shy,” sniggered Ravens, and burst out again:

        “_With a high jig jiggity, tops and petticoats._”

“Shut up!” snarled Will.

“’Twas you asked me to sing,” retorted Ravens.

“That’s so, Willie,” said the shepherd. “You should say you loved to yer
‘Buy a Broom’ and all them old songs. Why don’t you answer, Willie?”

“Because there’s nothing to say,” Will roared. “We don’t want nothing
whatever from her.” He was not often so ungrammatical, but anger knows
no pedantry.

“Well, why couldn’t he say so at once?” said Jinny, and whistling “_A
dashing young man from Buckingham_,”—whistling was a new brazenness in
Will’s ears—she picked her way across the miry yard to the
weather-boarded, tarred, and tile-roofed structure that stood on six
mushroom-topped pillars, whose smoothness offered no purchase for rats.
Ascending the steep steps, she deposited the bonnet-box betwixt the
chicken-corn and the eggs. While padlocking the door again, she saw to
her surprise that Methusalem was inside the gate, labouring towards her
through the mud. The faithful animal, impatient for her, had evidently
lifted the latch with its nose, aided perhaps by its teeth. The tears
came into her eyes: some one at least did want her, and there was a
long, affectionate contact between that clever, velvety nose and Jinny’s
palm. Then she returned to the shearing-barn and handed Master Peartree
the key.

“Good day and thank you,” she said. “I reckon I shall meet you at the
cattle fair.”

She did not wait to see if she had drawn blood from the sacrificial
lamb; but, rounding her lips again, whistled her way jauntily back to
her cart. As she drove along, the sun, struggling through a high
cloud-rack, showed like a great worn silver coin, and the shorn sheep
gleamed fairily white on the great green pastures. But there was an ache
at her heart, which the delicious wafts from the early-mown hayfields
only made emptier.


                                  III

The shabby little cart with the legend of “Daniel Quarles,” and the
smart dog-cart of Farmer Gale, rolled side by side of a Monday morning
in the restored June sunshine towards the Chipstone cattle-market. Jinny
had timed this coincidence, and meant to extract the farmer’s opinion of
the horses for sale. She had already gleaned from her grandfather what
particular teeth were chronological, but such confidence as she
possessed in her own “horse-sense” had been rudely dissipated by a
volume on the noble animal, which she had unearthed in Mother Gander’s
sanctum. The lists of diseases and defects from which it might suffer
was paralysing, and even when it was a thing she had heard of—like
grogginess—it grew more sinister by being called “navicular disease.”
Methusalem’s maladies had been simple enough, and she had dared to
drench or anoint him with divers remedies. But now that knowledge had
dissipated the bliss of ignorance—now that warts had enlarged into
“angleberries,” rheumatism had darkened into “felon,” and farcy,
quittor, _Ascaris megalocephala_, and countless other evils were seen
hovering around Methusalem, thick as summer gnats, she marvelled how he
had staved them off. That poor Methusalem! An affectionate animal by
nature was the horse,—the book told her—he _wanted_ to please man,
only sometimes he was in agony and the flesh could not obey. Good
heavens, what if sometimes when she was in a hurry to get home, she had
wronged Methusalem, even in her thoughts! Remorsefully, and with a new
and morbid anxiety, she caressed his delicate, nose, amazed at her
ancient, easy assurance of his immortality. It even shook her faith in
the all-sufficiency of the Spelling-Book that it contained no intimation
of the ills that horseflesh is heir to.

And the animal she had now to buy for Mr. Flippance might be affected
with all or any of these ills, and even if one could detect such obvious
defects as windgalls, spavin, thorough-pin, or broken wind, how avoid a
crib-biter or a wind-sucker, how grapple with the bot-fly, two hundred
of which could hook themselves horribly to a single equine stomach, or
with the still more formidable Palisade Worm, which even its name of
_Strongylus armatus_ could scarcely worsen, a thousand of it having been
counted by a patient authority on a surface of two inches, and its
census taken at a million for a single horse!

Farmer Gale, however, failed to throw much light on these alarming
questions, which he did not know, indeed, were being asked. His
conversation kept gliding away to his grievances, for it consisted, like
that of most farmers, of grumbles. Usually these started from the little
string-tied sample bags of threshed grain he carried in his pocket to be
blown and tasted by hard-bargaining customers. But to-day, though he was
not bound for the corn-market, he was nevertheless not to be baulked of
his grievances. They were not, this time, against Nature, but against
Man; for, as the fields they passed showed, the corn was particularly
forward. It was not Providence that had run down wheat to thirty
shillings a quarter. Free Trade was in reality the ruin of free Britain.
For the labour of Continental slaves, who went with the soil, and were
sold with it like cattle, who subsisted on black bread, skim-milk, and
onions, was brought into competition with that of the freeborn Briton,
who must thus be dragged down to the same level.

The bluff, freeborn Briton was Farmer Gale’s favourite rôle, and his
ruddy face, grey bowler, and smart gaiters made him sympathetic enough
superficially, while the potent landowner’s consideration for Jinny’s
religious necessities had not failed to evoke a flattered gratitude in
her humble breast when they drove together of a Sunday to their
respective chapels. This amiable image of himself the breezy Briton was
now destined to shatter. For after some critical comment on the
ploughing of the fields they passed and the activities of the
poachers—he would certainly have to get rid of that suspicious
character, “Uncle Lilliwhyte,” who occupied a cottage badly needed for a
farm-hand—he pointed out the impossibility of building another cottage
as Jinny had so crudely suggested. Prices were simply ruinous.

“I tell my labourers as man to man,” he said emphatically, “that they
can’t have regular employment _and_ their present wages. Take your
choice, boys, says I. Look at other countries, do they get more than
their six or seven shillings a week? No! Then that’s what you’ll have to
come down to.”

“But how can they live on it?” asked Jinny.

“How can farmers live?” he retorted. “We must go by the price of corn.”

“But did you go by the price of corn after the Battle of Waterloo?”
asked Jinny shrewdly. “For I remember Gran’fer once telling me you
got—I mean your father got—a hundred shillings a quarter then, yet
folks were so starved they went burning the ricks.”

“I was only a baby then. I can’t say what happened.”

“But the same thing happened nearer our time,” she reminded him,
thinking of the Bidlake tragedy.

“Oh, that silly rioting and machine-smashing. That always came out of
the poor not understanding politics. If things were bad after Waterloo,
it was all Bony’s work. And as for the unrest twenty years ago, we
caught that from France, too, I remember dad telling me. They had risen
against their king—such an unsettled people. But to-day it’s our own
British Government that’s the enemy, and the money we farmers have lost
this year is something dreadful.”

“But you don’t look as starved as some of our labourers’ families. I’ve
seen the Pennymole children crying for dry bread, and the father saying,
‘I darsn’t cut you no more—do, ye’ll have none Saturday.’ And Mr.
Pennymole’s always worked for you.”

“You don’t understand politics, Jinny.”

“I understand poverty. The Pennymoles are better off, now they’ve got
two boys grown up and earning sixpence a day. But I’ve seen Mrs.
Pennymole making tea with charred bread, and her husband compelled to
steal the cabbages left for the cows. . . . Oh, I oughtn’t to have said
that,” she added in alarm.

“You certainly oughtn’t! _Compelled_ to break the Eighth Commandment—a
pretty doctrine! And such liars, too. I saw quite a little girl munching
a turnip she’d just filched from my field, and when I complained to her
mother, the woman unblushingly said, ‘’Tis me fats her up with swedes
and turnips.’”

“They can’t see their children hunger.”

“They can put some of them in the poorhouse.”

“Look at the mites there, white and half-starved. Sometimes I’ve got to
deliver a parcel to Mr. Jims, the porter, and I hear the Master
thrashing ’em with a stick.”

“And it’s what boys need—even my brat. Carrying parcels, indeed!” He
stopped abruptly.

“Well, but they make the old folks of eighty and ninety scour the stone
steps and do the washing!”

“They needn’t go in—they can get relief from the parish.”

“The parish! Eighteenpence a week for the family when the father’s
bedridden.”

“There’s the parish loaves!”

“Have you ever seen one? Half-baked, without real crust, all raw and
soft, where it stuck to the next loaf.”

“Beggars can’t be choosers. Besides, there’s plenty of work after
harvest.”

“Yes, even for babies of six,” said Jinny bitterly. “And to keep boys
from their beds after hard field-work. And at White Notley where they
make the silk, there’s little girls standing on stools to reach the
weaving-desk.”

“If you understood politics,” Farmer Gale persisted, “you’d understand
that prices make themselves, and that what we get with one hand we have
to give away with the other. Have you ever heard of the Income Tax now?”

“No,” admitted Jinny.

“Ha! You’d change your tune if you had to pay a shilling on every pound
you earned. But that’s merely the last straw that breaks the camel’s
back, for it isn’t only as a farmer I’m put upon. But think of the Malt
Tax! It’s simply a scandal.”

“Is it? I should have thought ’twas six shillings a week would be the
scandal.” Her eyes and cheeks blazed prettily, and she was beginning to
shelve the idea of consulting her companion at the horse-market.

“I don’t say you’re altogether wrong,” conceded Farmer Gale, admiring,
despite himself, her fire and sparkle. “But it’s the Government that’s
responsible. There was a great old meeting t’other day at Drury Lane
Theatre in London. Two thousand people, if a man. The Duke of Richmond
he up and said by Heaven we’ve got to have Protection, and we will have
it. Oh, it was a grand speech. I went up for it express. And we’ve had a
meeting of farmers down here, too, and we’re going to wake up the
country, we Essex chaps.”

“Are you?” said Jinny, secretly amused at this “furriner’s” complacent
identification of himself with her county.

“You wait! We’re going to come out with a Proclamation.”

“But that’s a Royal thing,” said Jinny.

“Not always: besides we shall end with _God save the Queen_. Yes, that’s
it: ‘Down with the Malt Tax and God save the Queen!’ And the beginning:
‘To our worthy labourers, greeting.’ I’ll draw that up soon as I get
home.”

“I should offer ’em ten shillings a week,” said Jinny.

“You’re joking!”

“I’m dead earnest. A family can’t live under ten shillings a week. Then
they wouldn’t want to shoot your rabbits and steal your turnips and
cabbages.”

“Prices make themselves, I tell you. Folks can’t have more than they’re
worth. Why, my dad paid as much as thirteen shillings a week to our old
looker, Flynt, when he had his strength. Yes, though nobody ever
suspected he got more than twelve.”

“But besides his duties as bailiff he had to see after feeding the stock
night and morning, including Sundays.”

“That was why my father paid him the extra shilling. And you can’t say I
haven’t treated him generously over the farmhouse.”

“I wonder he could bring up such a large family so genteelly,” mused
Jinny at a tangent.

“The more the easier. A brat of four can scare the crows: the only pity
is that his boys wouldn’t stay on the land.”

“What was there to stay for? I think there ought to be a law that nobody
gets under ten shillings,” persisted Jinny.

“What a blessing we haven’t got women over us,” said the farmer, smiling
at a heresy too unreasonable for argument. “Men Governments are bad
enough, but women would drive us to the workhouse.”

“And what about the Queen?” asked Jinny.

“Well, _what_ about the Queen?” he repeated vaguely.

“Isn’t the Queen a woman?”

“The Queen a woman!” He was dazed. “But she doesn’t really govern—not
nowadays. It’s Lord John!”

“Well then, what about Queen Elizabeth?”

“Ah, that was some time back,” he said evasively.

“Yes, she put on the crown in 1558, November 17,” quoted Jinny from that
Spelling-Book.

“I didn’t know you were so well up in history,” he said admiringly. “I
reckon you’re ready at ciphering too?”

“How could I do my work without it?”

“Ah, that’s true. And a good hand at a pen, I suppose?”

“I can scratch what I want.”

“Ah!”

He fell silent.

“You don’t play the piano?” he asked after a pause.

“No,” said Jinny. “Only the horn.” And she blew gaily upon it: whereupon
to her surprise and satisfaction—for she had forgotten him, and it was
necessary to tie him up against the sheep—Nip appeared, tearing from
the rear. Farmer Gale watched musingly the operation of confining him to
his basket by one of those pieces of hoop-borne rope that had excited
the speculation of Mr. Elijah Skindle.

“I suppose you could play a polka on it,” he remarked.

Jinny obliged with a few bars of the “Buy a Broom.”

“If you had a piano,” he observed with growing admiration, “I expect
you’d soon learn to play it on that.”

Jinny shook her head. “I shall never have the time. There’s the goats,
and the garden, and Gran’fer, and Methusalem——”

“Nearly all g’s,” laughed Farmer Gale, exhilarated by his own erudition.

“And isn’t Methusalem a gee?” flashed Jinny, and exhilarated him further
by her prodigious wit.

They were both smiling broadly as, just outside the market, they came
upon Will leaning against a lime-tree, a pipe between his teeth and a
darkness palpable on his forehead despite its “ginger” aureola.

Jinny’s smile died and her heart thumped. Instantaneously she decided
that as the farmer had seen them together at “The Black Sheep,” to
ignore Will absolutely would be to betray their quarrel to the world.

“Fine morning!” she cried as the vehicles passed. Will sullenly touched
his hat.

He was amazed that the Cornish potentate should countenance her
presence, so incongruous amid this orgie of untempered masculinity, this
medley of unpetticoated humanity of every rank and class, of which
drovers twirling branches or leaning on sticks formed the ground
pattern: small farmers rubbing shoulders with smart-gaitered gentry in
frilled shirts; blue-aproned butchers with scissors at breast jostling
peasants in grimy smock-frocks and squash hats or ruddy, whiskered old
squires and great grazier farmers in blue, gilt-buttoned coats, white
flap buff waistcoats, and white pot or broad-brimmed hats; still more
elegant town types in glossy, straight-brimmed cylinders and
double-breasted, green frock-coats galling the kibes of bucolic,
venerable-bearded ancients in fusty sleeved waistcoats and greasy
high-hats, who blew their noses with black fingers. It was a fantasia of
pipes and caps, of immaculate collars and dirty scarves, of broadcloth
cutaways and filthy Cardigan jackets, of top-booted buckskins and
corduroy trousers tied with string below the knee. As Jinny and Farmer
Gale alighted, and mingled with this grotesque mob swirling around the
pens in the sunshine, Will’s heart was hot with resentment against the
girl who, while rejecting the counsel and co-operation of her old friend
in the great horse-deal, had brazenly accepted the guidance of a
bumptious “furriner.” How shamelessly she walked amid that babel of
moos, baas, grunts, shouts, and bell-ringing, as if here was her natural
place. Really, to see smoke puffing publicly out of her mouth, as it had
puffed privately out of that Polly’s, would hardly be surprising now.
And the men were looking after her, there could be no doubt of that,
appraising her as if she, too, was in the market. He could not but feel
a faint relief that she was under substantial masculine escort, however
abhorred.

The market-place, along which our quite unconscious Jinny was now making
so indiscreet a tourney, was constructed outside the town proper,
bordered on two sides by lime-trees and open to the sky save in the
auction-room and bar, where walls and roofing gave a grateful shade,
though the company in either did not contribute coolness. The cattle
were shuffling about restlessly, jostling, mounting. The store calves
and bullocks lay in pens; the fatted calves had already been sold:
pathetic plumpnesses about to be butchered. Butchers, indeed, were
already emerging from the auction-room leading struggling strap-muzzled
calves by head-ropes, and holding on—for extra precaution—to their
tails.

“Poor creatures!” said Jinny, with tears coming to her eyes.

“Yes, a poor lot!” assented Farmer Gale, and if Will could have felt the
flash of scorn that went through Jinny’s heart, he would have scowled
less. There was a store calf, stamped in blue, so tiny that Jinny longed
to mother it. Here again the farmer blundered: he doubted if anybody
would buy it; at least it would be killed instanter to be mixed with
pork for sausages.

He was a widower, Jinny remembered, and the line in the Spelling-Book
defining that word floated suddenly before her illumined mind:
“Widower—_One who has buried his wife._” There had always seemed to her
something superfluously sinister in that definition—as if the husband
had personally put his wife out of the way, or at least made sure she
was disposed of. Was a man a widower whose wife had been burnt up, she
had wondered whimsically. Or if Miss Gentry had been married and gone to
sea and been duly drowned, would her husband have been free to remarry?
But for Farmer Gale at least, how pat was the definition, she felt. He
assuredly suggested the wilful widower: this man without entrails of
mercy, whether for the poor or for beasts.

She moved away silently, trying to lose him, looking for the horses. She
passed pens of sheep, and dogs (only a few of these, and tied), and cows
with swollen, oozy udders. There was a sheep nibbling at a fallen lime
branch outside its pen, and another shoving hard to displace him. Jinny
picked it up and gave it to this covetous creature, who sniffed and then
turned away. There seemed to be a sort of Spelling-Book moral in it.
Before the pigs (red-crossed and blue-marked) she found Master Peartree
in rapt contemplation.

“The pegs be lookin’ thrifty and prosperous,” he observed, in response
to her asking how _he_ found himself. “They don’t need no auctioneer’s
gammon.”

“No pig does,” punned Jinny.

“Ah, here we are!” said a less welcome voice—Jinny maliciously referred
Farmer Gale’s “we” to his juxtaposition with the pigs. The uneasy
capping and ducking of the shepherd-cowman before his master, and his
moving off towards his own animals, suggested that pigs were a private
passion with Master Peartree. But he had brought up the memory of the
shearing-shed, and with it the renewed thought of Will, and it was a
tenderer thought than for the potentate at her side. Will might be
stubborn and silly, but never, surely, would he deny that no family
should have less than ten shillings a week: she felt relieved she had
broken the ice between them, even though “Fine morning” was only a
little hole in it.

As if echoing her thoughts, “Fine morning!” said the pig-auctioneer to
Farmer Gale. It was a special mark of attention from this
gentlemanly-looking man, elevated on a massive stool, who wore gaiters
and a great gleaming signet-ring that showed as he turned the pages of a
written catalogue. This was kept by elastic strings in a grand calf
cover, though pigskin would have seemed more in keeping. Two acolytes,
standing on the ground, scribbled in their lowliness. Buyers sat on the
rim of the pens, with their feet dangling over the pigs, and the
pig-drovers hovered near, in their long high aprons of coarse brown
sacking.

Soon Farmer Gale became as fascinated as Master Peartree, for the pigs
did indeed look “thrifty and prosperous,” and as the penful was on the
point of falling to a low bid, he nipped in and secured a bargain. While
he was complacently cutting away bristles, signing his acquisition with
his scissors, Jinny stole away, feeling he was safely penned.


                                   IV

Will had long since disappeared from her ken, but when she came to the
long roofed place, open at the side, where beribboned and straw-plaited
hacks and draught-horses were tied to their staples, there he was,
chained just as firmly by a sort of sentinel stubbornness. It was as if
he was saying “Through my body first!” The thrill his proximity gave her
was shot through with a renewed resentment against this obviously
undiminished opposition of his. But she was resolved to meet him with
banter rather than with anger.

“You buying horses?” she said genially.

“No, I am not buying horses!” he answered roughly. “But aren’t you
ashamed to be here—the only one of your sex?”

“Surely not!” said Jinny. “Where’s your eyes?”

He looked round, wonderingly.

“Under your nose!” guided Jinny. “There, isn’t that a mare? And I passed
sows and ewes and heifers by the score.”

“And that’s what you class yourself with? And then you deny you are
lowering yourself!”

“I always lower myself when I get off my cart.”

“Well, you get up again! That’s the best advice I can give you. Drive
home!”

“And shirk my job!”

“_I’ll_ do your job.”

“You! I thought you were not buying horses.”

“You know what I mean. How much does old Flippance want to give?”

“Oh, he’s not so old,” she said evasively. She was scanning the horses
with troubled eye, perturbed even more than by her own affairs by the
thought of the innumerable diseases and defects and doctorings which
might be lurking beneath their sheen of health and vigour. Her innocent
faith undermined by literature and Mr. Flippance’s experience, she had a
cynical sense of horsey hypocrisy, of whited, blacked, or browned
sepulchres, within which fearsome worms burrowed in their millions. She
would have gladly consulted Will, had he not been so tactlessly
intrusive. Even as it was, she murmured encouragingly: “There doesn’t
seem much choice to-day.” Indeed, the animals were mostly huge shire
horses with their heavily feathered fetlocks. Of hackneys there were
only two or three.

“I should take that Suffolk Punch,” advised Will, indicating a chestnut.
“He’ll have the strength to draw the caravan, and doesn’t look so clumsy
and hairy-legged as the others.”

“I like the star on his forehead,” said Jinny. “But I can’t bear a
cropped tail, it’s cruel. Besides, Mr. Flippance hasn’t got a caravan.”

“Well, how does he carry all that truck I saw?”

“Oh, that goes in wagons with horses just hired from town to town. They
don’t even live in a caravan like Mr. Duke’s got. No, but they have a
trap that they drive over in, ahead, and then Mr. Flippance uses the
trap to look for a pitch to hire, or to bring home naphtha for the lamps
or timber for mending the theatre—something always goes wrong, he
says.”

“Then I’d have the Cleveland?”

“Which is the Cleveland?”

“That tall bay with black points and clean legs. I’ve hardly ever seen
one at an Essex fair, but they’re strong as plough-horses and handsome
as hackneys.”

“But don’t you think that couple there are handsomer?”

“The black—of course! They’re a pair of real carriage horses. Splendid
action, I reckon. But Mr. Flippance won’t want anything so showy as
that.”

“Just what a show does want,” laughed Jinny. “You see he also rides
about the town, blowing on the horn and scattering handbills.”

“I didn’t understand that. And can he blow a horn as well?”

“As well as who?”

“As me!” said Will boldly. “And when am I to have my gloves?” He sought
her hand in the press and it was not withdrawn.

“When you go blowing it for Mr. Flippance in his next town,” she laughed
happily.

“Then I must choose the horse I blow behind,” he said with an air of
lightness. “What’s the most old Flippance will go to?”

“Thirty pounds is his last word, I’m afraid.”

“Much too little. But we’ll see. Now I’ll take you back to your cart.”

“What for?” Her hand unclasped. “I’ve got to buy the horse, I must wait
here.”

“But they’ll be taken in there.” He pointed to the cattle
auction-chamber. “And there’s no need for you to bid personally.”

“I shall enjoy bidding.”

“Among all those men? You won’t even get a look in.”

The chamber was indeed besieged by a seething crowd, some standing on
tiptoe, astrain to get their bids marked.

“I’ll borrow one of those pig-dealers’ stools,” she said.

“Do be serious, Jinny.”

“And do you suppose my work is a joke?”

“But you can’t squeeze in that crowd? Suppose we find out the owner and
get one of the black horses by private treaty?”

“And pay the market fee? Not me! Besides, he’ll want a top price and
there’s more fun and chances in bidding. Oh look! that poor Cleveland’s
got himself all tangled up! Do help him!”

It was not easy to release the animal which, having encoiled its legs in
the rope attached to its staple, was getting more and more frightened as
its own efforts lassoed it the tighter. Jinny’s heart beat fast lest
Will should get kicked, and still faster at the nonchalance with which
he accomplished his dangerous task.

“Thank you,” she said sweetly, when the animal stood shaking, but quiet.

“It’s not your horse.”

“But I asked you to do it.”

“Then you might do what I ask _you_?” he retorted.

She frowned. She did not like this tricky tit-for-tat. It was
unchivalrous. It undid his deed of derring-do.

“You must not interfere with my business,” she said severely, and swept
to the nearest door.

“Jinny! Where are you going?” He had followed her.

“To the bar!” she said solemnly, perceiving the nature of the forbidden
chamber. “Why can’t I have a drink and a smoke? What will you take?”

He gasped, believing her serious. So female smoking even in public was
no impossible foreboding. To this buffet, blockaded by laughing,
swilling, tobacco-clouded masculinity, mitigated only—if not indeed
aggravated—by a barmaid, Jinny was actually going to wriggle her way!
And the buffet did not even sell milk!

“You shan’t go,” he said in a low hoarse tone, clutching at her arm. “By
God, you shan’t!”

But he succeeded only in grasping her dangling horn, and, in her dart
forward, it was left in his hand. “I didn’t ask you to ‘take’ that!” she
laughed back as she crossed the threshold. “I meant, what’s your drink?”

“Jinny!” he breathed, his voice frozen.

“Mine’s ink!” she called out gaily, and the males, now aware of her
presence, vied with one another to pass the bottle and pen on the
counter to her, together with the little bowl of sand, all of which she
bore to the quiet side of the room, where a protracted desk supplied
facilities for notes and accounts. Reassured, but still resentful, Will
stood at the door, awkwardly holding her horn with its bit of broken
girdle, and watching her protectively as she scribbled on a piece of
paper, and blotted it with the sand. Then coming back to him, she took
away her horn—not without a reproachful glance at the snapped cord—and
putting her folded paper into his hand instead, glided past him and was
lost in the hurly-burly.

Disconsolate, yet excited, he opened the note, and read this wholly
unexpected quatrain:

                      SWEARING

        _Of all the nauseous complicated crimes_
        _That both infect and stigmatize the Times;_
        _There’s none that can with impious Oaths compare,_
        _Where Vice and Folly have an equal Share._

This rebuke, drawn from the endless thesaurus of “The Universal
Spelling-Book,” and not original even in spelling, Will believed to be
Jinny’s own composition, and as inspired as it was, alas! deserved.
Wonderful that Jinny could sit down in all that turmoil, in that smoky,
gin-laden atmosphere, and pour out these pure bursts of song. Surely
Martin Tupper, the mighty bard of the day, whose renown had reached even
Will’s illiterate ears, could not better them. And what was he, Will,
beside her, he whose own claim to literature rested upon an imaginary
exposition of Daniel! Smarting with self-reproach, he deposited the note
where once her glove had rested—it should be a text of warning
henceforward.

But if she was thus marvellous, still more necessary was it to withdraw
her from these unfitting atmospheres, and he returned more tenaciously
than ever to his equine watch, like a picket in a camp.


                                   V

Meanwhile Jinny had blotted herself out in the crowd around the
sheep-auctioneer, who towered in the midst of his dirty-white sea,
yelling “All going at thirty-five shillings apiece!” or striding from
pen to pen across the bars, while the buyers ruddled their lots with
their mark, and the drovers cleared for him ever fresh passages among
the swirling sheep, and acolytes kept parallel to him outside the fold
with their ink-horns and notebooks.

But she had only fallen from the frying-pan into the oven, for suddenly
she became conscious that Farmer Gale was again at her side.

“Got your horse yet?” he inquired, with his breeziest British smile.

“Sale not on yet,” she answered coldly.

“Then come and see the bullocks sell.”

Jinny, pleading she must go to the horse sale-room, moved away towards
the congested chamber. He followed, smiling.

“Why, that _is_ where they’re selling the bullocks now,” he said.

Her brain was seeking for a further pretext, when she caught sight of
the sentinel Will frowning furiously in her direction. If she slipped in
now, further argument from him would be nipped in the bud, and silently
she followed the robustious widower through the hole he bored into the
seething mass.

The entry of a female attracted no general attention, for it was
impossible for the squeezed buyers to see more than the backs and sides
of their immediate neighbours, even if all eyes had not been on the
auctioneer and on the beasts which occupied the central ring, in the
brief moments of their glory.

He stood at a raised desk, this master of the revels, in his
shirt-sleeves, with a little stick for hammer: a clean-shaven man, with
the back of his long head almost straight, and further lengthened and
straightened by the continuation down it of the central parting of his
neatly combed hair; the face bulging forward and into a massive mouth
and chin. He was flanked by two young bookkeepers, one spotty-faced and
spectacled in a Scotch cap and loud tweeds, and one bareheaded and
demure; and around him on the rising benches of an amphitheatre rose a
mass of masculinity surmounted by small boys. Drovers chevied in the
“lots”—stuck with paper numbers—through large double wooden gates, and
back—after their great moments in the ring—to their pens, through a
smaller folding gate. The beasts did not always listen proudly to their
praises: the more modest, instead of showing off their beauties,
preferred to nose restfully about the straw of the floor, and had to be
prodded into circular activity by the sticks of drovers who, as the
bullocks went sullenly round, looked like a prose variety of picador in
a toy arena. And throughout fell the auctioneer’s patter, sometimes
suave and slow, but for the most part staccato and breathless. “Who will
say seventy shillings? Property of Mr. Purley of Foxearth Farm. And a
crown. You all know Foxearth Farm. You all know the hurdle-maker. And
his herds are even better than his hurdles! Who makes level money?
Going, going——”

“No, don’t _you_ be going,” said Farmer Gale smilingly. For the girl had
begun to edge out. She felt herself uncomfortably pressed. Why, it
almost seemed as if Farmer Gale’s arm were round her waist. Good
heavens, it was! And what was more, his body barred her movement
outwards.

“Take away your arm,” she whispered fiercely.

“I’m protecting you from the crowd,” he whispered back. “They’ll break
your ribs in.”

“Take it away!” she hissed. But he feigned not to hear, and his eye
being now on the arena, not on her, she was too shy to struggle and make
a sensation. The horn in her hand also impeded her efforts to extricate
herself. Furious and flushing, she was forced to stand there, while the
auctioneer’s prosy patter beat down on her brain in a maddening
ceaseless pour: “Selling to the highest bidder—no reserve. A big
bullock. In your hands. Start the bidding, please. To be sold without
reserve, I say. How much? Come on! Look at his fat! Thank you. Seven
pound, fifteen—nine pound, ten—a great big bullock. I’m selling him
without reserve. He is to be sold whatever he fetches. Ten pound, two
and six. Going! No, not gone yet! Going——!”

“I must go!” repeated Jinny. “I must inspect the horses.”

“You’ll see them better in the ring here.”

“Let me go! I’ll never drive to chapel with you again!”

“Why not, Jinny?” He bent down with sudden passion, all the cautious
Cornishman’s long-wavering desires clenched by the discovery of her high
educational endowments and concreted by actual contact with the
desirable waist. “Why not go to chapel together and be done with it,
once for all?”

“Done with what?” she murmured, reddening.

“Separating. Let me keep off the crowd always.”

“Hush! They’ll hear you.”

“No, they won’t. What do you say?”

“Be quiet! I want to hear the bidding.”

“Shall we publish the banns?”

Jinny closed her lips obstinately.

“Won’t you speak? You know I can buy out half Little Bradmarsh.”

In her silence the voice of the auctioneer possessed the situation.

“The best heifer for the last—maiden heifer, beautiful quality.
Fourteen pound. Marvellous creature, marvellously cheap. Won’t anybody
start me?” The drover prodded the prodigy up, and she trotted round
dismally.

“Fifteen,” cried a squeaky voice.

“Fifteen,” echoed the auctioneer, cheering up. But his gloom soon
returned. For the bidding refused to advance. “Being badly sold, this
heifer,” he wailed.

“By crum, he’s right!” quoth the Cornishman, pricking up his ears.
“Sixteen pound!” he cried aloud, and was already congratulating himself
upon his bargain, when, like the voice of doom, came the squeaky
“Seventeen!”

Farmer Gale was piqued. “Eighteen,” he said surlily.

“Twenty!”

It was a staggering blow. But it only raised the farmer’s blood.
“Guineas!” he cried.

“Twenty-two pounds!” chirped the voice.

“Twenty-two pounds!” repeated the auctioneer insatiably.

Beads of perspiration and hesitation appeared on the farmer’s brow. In
his concentration on the problem his arm relaxed. Jinny stepped aside,
and men unconsciously made way for her.

“Guineas!” cried the farmer.

“Twenty-two guineas!” repeated the auctioneer. “A beautiful maiden
heifer—never had a calf. Going——”

But this time Jinny was really gone. She would not even risk waiting
outside to hear the result, but in generous gratitude at her escape, she
hoped he would at least secure the maiden heifer.


                                   VI

The sight of Will still at his post suggested to her with a little qualm
that he was not so wrong: these male environments were not without their
drawbacks.

“Those horses seem to fascinate you,” she said, with a little tremor in
her voice. Whether Will or the violence just done to her was the cause
of it, she did not quite know. But her mood was melting and her eye the
brighter for a soft moisture.

But how was Will to follow her vagaries and adventures?

“That’s my business,” he answered gruffly.

“I thought it was mine,” she laughed. She was quite prepared now to make
it a joint affair.

“You know my opinion on that,” he said icily.

“You haven’t changed it yet?” she bantered.

“Why, what should happen in these few minutes to make me change it?”

“Things do happen in a few minutes,” she said mysteriously. “Why, I
might have come back and bought up the whole show.” She waved her horn
comprehensively over the horses.

“What rubbish you do talk!” he said impatiently.

“Do I?” She fired up. “There’s others think differently.”

“If they think differently, it’s because they think lightly of you.”

“Lightly, indeed!”

“Yes—they do. To drag you into an indecent sale-room!”

“Indecent?” She flushed, wondering if Will had seen that circumambient
arm.

“It’s all indecent—all that talk about heifers. I don’t wonder you
blush.”

She laughed, relieved. “I’m blushing for you. You do talk such rubbish!”

“There you go with your cheek!”

“It’s only what you just said to me.”

“I said it because you do talk rubbish.”

“And you talk rubbish in saying it.”

“Well, go to those who talk sense, Miss Boldero!” And he pulled out his
pipe and matches with a symbolic gesture.

“What an obstinate creature you are, Will!”

“Me obstinate! Why, ain’t it your obstinacy that keeps you here, when
I’m ready to do your job?”

“I told you I preferred to do my own jobs.” And with that she went
straight up to the black hackneys, and while Will puffed volcanically,
she learnedly examined their teeth through tear-misted eyes that saw
neither incisors nor age-marks. Then, after carefully prodding their
ribs and punching and poking them about, as she had seen purchasers do
with bullocks, she swept haughtily towards the auction arena, but afraid
of encountering the farmer, she hovered uncertainly on the threshold,
feeling like a bundle of straw between two donkeys.

Gradually she realized, and with enhanced resentment, that _she_ was the
donkey; that both these men had deceived her in representing the
cattle-arena as the selling-place for the horses. By the crowd that
began to accumulate round the horses, and to blot out the patient
sentinel, as the hour for their sale approached, it became plain that
they would be sold where they were tied, and presently the motley crowd,
swollen by many of the cattle-auctioneer’s audience, thrilled with the
coming of this heavy-jowled worthy, who had not turned a hair of his
neatly combed chevelure.

The biddings were not brisk. To Jinny’s joy only the heavier animals,
the plough-horses and the cart-horses, seemed in demand; the cobs and
the ponies went for a song. The sable steeds she had selected as the
only suitable ones came late—most of the animals had been released from
their staples and led off by their new masters. To her dismay the
hackneys were put up as a pair, and all her pride seemed falling into
ruin. Fortunately, not provoking a bid, they were then put up
separately, and Jinny set the ball rolling for the first with a brazen
offer of ten pounds.

For a moment she thought gleefully that the horse was to be hers at
that—for nobody there seemed in quest or in need of carriage
horses—but under the auctioneer’s scoff a few bargain-hunters soon
raised it to twenty, and then to Jinny’s alarm—for her margin was
getting dangerously narrow—to twenty-four. At twenty-five the
bargain-hunters fell off, and a new voice intervened—a husky voice that
seemed to mean business, and whose every counter-bid filled her with
dismay. At its twenty-eight pounds the auctioneer still upheld his stick
with scorn and incredulity. She was almost at her bids’ end.
“Twenty-nine pounds,” she cried crushingly. This time the voice seemed
indeed silenced. She fully expected the stick to fall. But at the first
“Going,” though there had been no sound, the auctioneer cried cheerily,
“Thirty pounds.” Evidently somebody else had nodded or held up a finger.
Inflamed by the fever of the struggle, she was impelled to risk even her
own earnings, if Flippance would not go so far. “Thirty-one pounds,” she
cried ringingly. “Thirty-one pounds,” echoed the auctioneer with a
promising accent of finality. “Thirty-two pounds,” he added instantly,
and this silent competition was even more crushing than the huskiest
bid. It put out her flame of recklessness, and her heart sank with the
stick, as despite all the auctioneer’s derisory deprecation, that wooden
finger of fate fell finally at this truly absurd figure.

Then the name of the unseen silent buyer transpired. “Mr. William
Flynt!” proclaimed a familiar voice. A blaze of positive hatred ran
through all Jinny’s being. The brute! The obstinate pig! To come
interfering with her daily work, with her bread and butter! To ride his
will roughshod over hers! And not only roughrider, but coward, sneak,
traitor! Had he not wormed and wheedled out of her the limit of her
commission and thus romped in, an easy winner! And he would take his
purchase to Mr. Flippance, she supposed. Yes, he was already paying in
full—she saw him now, near one of the clerks, drawing a pocket-book out
of the region of his black heart; he was in a hurry, he would hasten
with the animal to Tony Flip. But not so fast, O dashing young man from
Canada! Flippance is a man of honour, he will repudiate the purchase.
And the second hackney still remains. The biter is bit—the pit you have
digged shall engulf you.

But what was Jinny’s horror and indignation when this young man from
Canada, now shamelessly revealed, instead of going off with his spoil to
Mr. Flippance, remained and ran up the second horse with his serpent’s
tongue at still greater speed, as now cocksure of her limit. This time
in her fury she ventured as far as thirty-five—it was useless. With a
recklessness still more magnificent he cried “Forty,” and with a chill
at her heart in curious contrast with the glow of hate at it, she felt
that all was over. Was it of any use bidding even for the few mediocre
animals still possible? Would not this brutal monopolist buy up the
whole bunch—even as _she_ had, oddly enough, hinted a few minutes
before about doing? Yes, there was nothing his masterful obstinacy would
boggle at in its resolve to crush her will. He still stood by the
horse-enclosure in unrelaxed vigilance. Before she could arrive at any
decision, her mind was still further unhinged by the simultaneous
appearance of Nip and the advent of pandemonium.

Whether it was Nip that had produced the pandemonium, or the pandemonium
that had liberated Nip, Jinny never knew. The fact was, however, that
Farmer Gale, waking to find himself outbidden for the heifer and
disappointed of his maiden, had retreated fuming to his trap, and
hearing Nip’s revolutionary yaps for freedom in the adjacent cart, had
loosed him out of some vague instinct of malice—kindness he called it
to himself, so unacknowledged was his desire to thwart the will of the
creature’s mistress. A final kick administered to the retreating
jump—also apparently as a kindly encouragement to the freed dog’s
progress—had not proved conducive to the equilibrium of an animal
already deranged by a long-iterated grievance and an unexpected freedom,
and his helter-skelter pelt through the market-place not unnaturally
startled the nerves of not a few fellow-quadrupeds, already shaken by
the strange journeyings and novel experiences of the day. But it was not
until the sheep were reached, that Nip’s passing became a public
episode.

There had even before been numberless difficult scenes with the sold
lots; the effort to muster them for their new journeyings had
sufficiently taxed the lungs and tempers of men and sheep-dogs. When Nip
appeared, the normally stolid Master Peartree was waving a giant red
handkerchief and screaming wildly, while demented-seeming drovers,
formed into a half-ring, danced and shrieked like savages at a religious
service, and waved sticks with a ritual air, and the sheep-dog leapt
round and round, chevying the flock in the desired direction. In this
delicate crisis, Nip’s rush of recognition at Master Peartree proved the
last straw. One super-terrified wether threw the flock into a panic. The
sheep rushed to and fro and everywhere (save where the sticks and
shrieks pointed); and going thus everywhere, they went nowhere, jumping
on and over one another’s backs as in a game of leap-lamb. Some darted
back into alien pens, and the sheep-dog, itself distracted, leapt from
back to back of these, baying and menacing with feverish futility. It
was like a stormy sea of sheep, in which man was tossed about as in a
tempest. There were sheep standing on their hind legs as if dancing,
there were men clinging on to these legs or to tails or to rumps, and
pushing, pulling, and wrestling with them, but never ceasing to yell and
chevy. Finally a rescue party appeared with a five-barred gate, which
they moved this way and that, striving to cut off at least one of the
ways of escape. But this only drove more sheep back into the wrong pens,
where they seemed hopelessly mixed up with lots still unsold. Jinny had
never imagined sheep such lively and individual lunatics. Now the
intruders were being dragged out by the wool of the head or the rump, or
half-carried, or wholly kicked; again the five-barred gate was brought
into play, this time to keep them away from the pens, and then, wherever
the eye turned, were these tempestuous billows of sheep. They bounded,
reared, wrestled, danced, pranced, flew wildly at tangents: some escaped
towards the town, and everywhere men screamed, scurried, bellowed, waved
hands, or brandished sticks. Nip, his head equally lost, seemed to be
doing every one of these things at once, whether ovine or human. And
Jinny, in her anxiety to capture him, to remove him, unseen, from the
Witches’ Sabbath she feared he had called into being, forgot all about
the other possible, if inferior, horses. By the time she had refastened
Nip and returned to the sale, the stick had fallen for the last bid. She
was just in time to see Will springing on one barebacked steed, and
leading his beribboned brother by a cord. And despite all her anger and
contempt, she could not avoid a thrill of admiration for the grace of
his poise and the fearlessness of his carriage. And a dull aching pain
began at her heart. She felt she wanted something; she had missed
getting something—and obscurely she told herself it was the horses he
was leading away. Yes, as a Carrier she was a failure.


                                  VII

And then suddenly the jovial figure of the Showman panted into view. His
face was unshorn, unwashed even, although abundantly irrigated with
perspiration, and he wore a low-crowned vast-brimmed hat and an
unseasonable fur-lined cloak reaching almost to his slippers and
fastened at the neck by a brass buckle. Although Jinny always had a soft
place in her maternal heart for Mr. Flippance, nobody could have been
more unwelcome at this moment of her professional humiliation. But
before she could confess her failure, Tony Flip gasped out: “A horse! A
horse! My kingdom not to have it!”

“How do you mean?”

“Am I too late? Have you bought it yet?”

“Not yet!” said Jinny.

“Thank God!” He grasped effusively at her hand, but encountering the
horn first, shook that instead, without apparently noticing the
difference. “Just as I woke up, it popped into my nut that this was the
morning of the cattle fair. Out of bed I flew like from that bed in the
Crystal Palace that chucks you out by a spring, and though I mayn’t have
beat the half-mile record, I’m beat myself! Whew! Not a bad gag, that!”
And mopping his brow, he grinned through a grimy handkerchief.

“I thought you looked odd,” said Jinny, equally relieved.

“Yes, I know my collar’s a rag. But better sweat than debt, eh?”

“It’s not your collar—it’s seeing you out of your dressing-gown at this
hour!”

“You’re a quiz, that’s what you are,” laughed Tony.

“Never mind! That cloak comes nigh it, and you’ve still got your carpet
slippers.”

“Have I? O Lord! I thought the road was feeling hard. Is that a bar I
see before me?”

“It is,” said Jinny severely. “But while you’re still sober, perhaps you
will tell me why you’ve changed your mind about the horse?”

“Because I’ve done with marionettes. I’m going back to the legitimate.”

Jinny was puzzled. “To your wife, do you mean? I thought she was dead.”

Tony roared with laughter. “You little country mouse! And yet you’re
right. The legitimate is the missus I should never have left—the drama
with a big D. I don’t mean the drama with swear words—ha, ha, ha! but
the real live article. You see, Duke and me, we’ve agreed to swop back.”

“What for?”

“What for? Why, that’s just the trouble. For a consideration, says that
son of a horse-leech. And I say that’s blood-sucking. Good idea! Why
shouldn’t you be arbitrator?”

The word, which was unfortunately absent from the Spelling-Book,
suggested nothing to her but being hanged, drawn, and quartered, like a
rebel whom Gran’fer had once seen executed. But she was afraid of being
again set down as a country mouse, so she replied cautiously: “I haven’t
the time!”

“Oh, I’ll pay you your time. Yes, you’d be the ideal arbitrator,” cried
Mr. Flippance, catching fire at his own idea. “To begin with, you know
nothing about it. So that’s settled, and you shall drive me to Duke’s
caravan this very morning.”

“Not if I have to wait for your drink.”

“The way you drive a man not to drink is awful,” he groaned. “Never
mind. I’ve got cool again. Talking to you is as good as a drink.
Guardian angel!” He squeezed her horn.

“You see,” he narrated, as they drove townwards, “Duke turned up here
with the Flippance Fit-Up on Saturday night, and struck an awful frost.”

“So he told me,” said Jinny. “I met him yesterday when I came out of
chapel, and I told him what a roaring trade you were doing.”

“My preserver! Then it’s to you I owe it he’s hankering for his own show
back again! Not that he could expect to do any business in my own town,
or indeed any other. He forgot that while I, unseen, can be Duke, the
public won’t look at him for a moment as Flippance. He takes the name of
Flippance in vain—the public knows the difference between a barnstormer
and their own Tony. To say nothing of that mincing little Duchess after
my full-throated, full-bosomed Polly. Poor dear Polly—pining away
pulling strings!”

“Why, she told me,” said the astonished Jinny, “that she wouldn’t go
back on the stage for all the treasures of the Crystal Palace.”

“Ah, that’s her unselfishness—bless her!—her own crystal soul. She
knows how the stage tries her pa’s nerves. But haven’t I stood by her
side as we jogged the figures and seen her poor phiz working at the
thought of being cut off from her public like in a diving-bell? She
takes things hard, does Polly, not like the Duchess, who’s got no more
temperament than a tinned sardine. You’ve seen her, haven’t you?”

“If you mean Mrs. Duke, she was with him yesterday. A pretty, blue-eyed
woman, with golden hair.”

“Oh, is it golden this season? But have you seen her act, I mean?”

“I’ve never seen a play at all!”

“Tut, tut, tut! Then you’ve never seen Me!”

“Oh—you seem to me a play all the time,” she said candidly.

He was not displeased. “Then you do have an idea what a play is?”

“I’ve seen _Punch and Judy_—and the Christmas mummers.”

He laughed. “Well, if Polly was working _Punch and Judy_ from behind,
there’d be more life and go in her than there is to the Duchess when
she’s on the stage playing Juliet. The public won’t pay to see a china
doll. But my Polly! I tell you that standing with the strings in her
hand, with nobody’s eye on her but mine and her Maker’s, and in a space
where there isn’t room to swing a cat, I’ve seen that girl raging and
shouting and tearing about with the passion of the scene till I’ve had
to wake up too, and we’ve gone at it ding-dong, hammer and tongs. And
with three figures each to work, and voices to keep changing, it’s no
mean feat, I can tell you. Duke and his Duchess now, when they worked
the figures, used to just stand like stocks, saying the words, no
expression or movement, except in the marionettes.”

“But if the public sees only the marionettes——!” said Jinny.

Mr. Flippance shook his head. “There’s no art in cold blood. Not that
marionette art hasn’t got its own special beauties, and I freely admit
that in puppetry proper I’m not in it with Duke, who was born into the
business, and who cut and fitted the figures himself. Lazy though you
think me, how I’ve sweated to get those things right! What an ungrateful
swine the public can be for one’s pearls!”

“What kind of pearls?” asked Jinny.

“Why, when a character takes up a glass of wine, for instance, and
drinks it.”

“Well, I shouldn’t applaud that,” laughed Jinny.

“There you are!” he said with gloomy triumph. “The public can’t see the
cleverness of it. But if you remember the delicacy it takes to
manipulate the figure from behind, to make it clutch the glass just
right, instead of pawing the air, to make that glass come accurately to
the mouth, you’ll see the countless chances against perfection. Talk of
the corkscrew equilibrist at Astley’s! Why, Jinny, when that glass sets
itself down again without accident, there ought to be applause to make
the welkin ring. But not a hand, not a hand!”

“Well, but it can’t seem very wonderful from the front,” said Jinny.

“It would if people had brains to think. For every joint in the human
body there’s a joint in Duke’s marionette, and for every joint in Duke’s
marionette there’s a separate string to pull. Every art has its own
ideal, and for a puppet to sit down safely is a greater success than for
a Kean to play Shylock. Though, of course, all this must be Greek to
you.”

“But when I’m thinking of the _fun_ of _Punch and Judy_,” said Jinny
shrewdly, “I can’t think of the cleverness of the showman pulling the
strings—otherwise I should forget the figures weren’t alive, nor the
story real—the two things contradict one another.”

“By Jove! I think you’ve hit it,” said Mr. Flippance, more gloomily than
ever. “They take the standard of drama—not of mechanical miracles. And
that’s why they applaud most at the easiest effects, just shouting and
blood and thunder, and that’s why I’m sick, I mean, why Polly is sick of
the whole business. Take our tight-rope dancer now. I don’t say she’s as
graceful as a live dancer at Richardson’s, or pirouettes like the Cairo
Contortionist of my young days at Vauxhall. But she’s far more
wonderful. A live tight-rope dancer can, after all, only fall downwards
if she makes a slip. But ours, instead of tumbling down, might fly up
like a balloon, or even just miss the tight-rope and dance on nothing
like you see a murderer at Newgate. But the public take the standard of
the ballet or the queens of the tight-rope, and instead of giving us a
hand for the cleverness in the making and dressing of the puppet, and
another hand for the putting life into it, and a third hand for the
dexterity of the manipulation, there’s times when we get no more
recognition than if ’twas a monkey-on-a-stick. I tried to educate ’em by
letting ’em see the strings or the wires—I mustn’t tell an outsider
what they are exactly—I flooded my stage with light. Duke, now, used to
keep his scene particularly dark with the _fantoccini_.”

“What’s fantokeeny?” asked Jinny, imitating his mispronunciation as best
she could.

“They’re the figures that are more mechanism than character—balancers,
pole-carriers, stilt-walkers, spiral ascensionists, and this tight-rope
dancer I’m telling you of. Duke’s idea was to keep the mechanism dark.”

“That seems to me best,” said Jinny.

“I don’t agree,” said Mr. Flippance. “There’s the scenic effects to
consider. Darken your scene and you hide it.”

“But if you light it, you show up the way it’s done,” Jinny urged.

“Unless you show ’em the way it’s done, how can they appreciate the way
you do it? But there, I’m done with it! Let Duke have his pony. Polly
shall tread the boards once more.”

“Does he want you to give him a pony then to change back?”

“That’s it, the son of a Shylock.”

“Then you will want a horse after all?”

“A pony—you little innocent—means twenty-five pounds. I suppose,
though, that’s about the value of a pony.”

“It depends who’s bidding against you,” said Jinny ruefully.

“Well, anyhow, that’s what the bloodsucker wants—the twenty-five pounds
he gave me he wants back again.”

“But if he gave it you, why isn’t it fair to give it back?”

“Ah! You’re beginning to arbitrate, are you? Well, then! It isn’t fair
because I get back the Flippance Fit-Up tarnished and depreciated by the
performances of that howling amateur and his squeaking doll of a
Duchess. Besides, I don’t want the ‘Fit-Up’ particularly, only my
trade-mark back, the world-famous word, Flippance, for I am going to
stay the whole year here in Chipstone—you see what lots of people there
are on market days—-Mother Gander’s buying a bigger hall for you
Peculiars—haven’t you heard?—and me and Charley have worked it with
her to sell me the old chapel. I’ll easily get it mortgaged, licensed,
knocked into shape, and enlarged—that piece of ground between the gate
and the doors is wasted at present, and there’s an American capitalist
keen to come in—I met him just now riding a black horse and leading
another—and what better omen could man desire? The Flippance Palace I
shall call my theatre—suggests the Hyde Park success, d’ye see? And
when that Crystal show is over—it won’t run beyond October—I’ll have
the Queen’s elephant standing in my lobby! Lord, it’ll draw all Essex!
Chipstone’ll become the capital!”

These sudden pieces of information left Jinny gasping. The old chapel
thus whisked away from under her feet, and turned into a gigantic
Punch-and-Judy show sent her world reeling; while Will, transformed into
a theatre proprietor, seemed rapt away to unimaginable heights—or
depths. But she did not quite believe it all.

“And what does Miss Flippance say?” she murmured.

“Polly? She’ll be off her nut with joy. Why, she’s such a glutton for
work, is that girl, that when we played _The Mistletoe Bough_ she used
to play Lady Agnes in Act I and her spirit in Act II (after she’s killed
by being shut up in the box, you know), and actually double the part
with that of her maid, Maud, who has two quick changes from jacket and
petticoat to tunic and trunks, and back again to bodice and skirt, not
to mention slipping to and fro ’twixt spirit and flesh. She’s pining
away to a spirit herself, poor dear, for lack of her real work. Only we
mustn’t break it to her before the deed is done—or rather signed. The
poor girl would insist on sacrificing herself. But after all I’ve saved
thirty pounds—you realize I won’t need a horse now—so even if I pay
him twenty-five, I make a fiver. Not a bad morning’s work, eh, my dear?
We’ll get a good stock company and give ’em everything from the Bard to
burletta, and I’ve got some lovely ideas for taking plays out of Mr.
Dickens’s novels. Oh, we’ll wake up the old place. Charley knows some
local girls that would come in splendidly for ballets and choruses, and
there’s a wonderful scene-painter, too, down here—a chap I knew at the
‘Eagle’ in London—he’s lost his job and come down to his folks to get
cured—his hand shakes a bit still, but he’s a marvel, I promise you,
the days he’s not sewn up.”

Accepting this synonym for intoxication as referring to the medical
operations upon the unfortunate artist, Jinny received the statement
with an admiring commiseration.

“And haven’t you got a friend, a wonderful expert in costumes?” Tony
rattled on.

“Me?” she murmured, puzzled.

“A sort of bearded lady from a French convent, a cranky old Catholic who
talks with angels, but is a dab all the same at dressmaking——!”

“You don’t mean Miss Gentry?”

“That’s the name. We’ll appoint her wardrobe mistress.” Never had Jinny
known him so happy and gaseous—and, paradoxically enough, the more he
poured out, the more inflated he got!

“Miss Gentry’ll never enter a theatre,” said Jinny assuredly.

“We shall see. Wardrobe Mistress to the Flippance Palace, Chipstone.
Think how that will improve her billheads! And there’s you, too! Why
should you waste a first-class stage presence on carrying? You carry
yourself too well for that, eh? Ha, ha, ha! A thinking part, perhaps, to
begin with, but with your good speaking voice——”

Before Jinny had encountered the full shock of this new proposition, Mr.
Flippance broke off and besought her frenziedly to drive down a side
street. As she obeyed, she realized that they had just escaped
Polly—though a Polly hardly recognizable in that houri in white,
creamily jacketed, bonneted, gloved, and, above all, veiled, whom only
her massive tread betrayed as charmless.

“You see,” explained Polly’s pa, “it doesn’t do to argue with women
you’re fond of: you’ve just got to do what’s best for ’em. Duke now,
he’s very weak with women: ’twixt you and I, he only got my Fit-Up
because the Duchess, tired of working in the dark and of blushing
unseen, wanted to show off what you call her blue eyes and golden hair.
She tried pulling his strings—see?—and he, having no backbone, jigged
about at her pleasure. But now, to my thinking, Duke’s found out what a
fool she’s made of him and of herself, too. For, of course, she’s mucked
up his business. Polly mayn’t be a Venus, but she’s stunning in her
make-ups—I assure you such a great artist is that woman, that seeing
her standing in the wings at the first dress rehearsal, I’ve more than
once fallen in love with her myself—till, of course, she opened her
mouth. Yes, Polly can always have blue eyes and golden hair, but the
Duchess will never have talent if she rehearses till doomsday.”

“Then is Mr. Duke satisfied to go back to the illegitimate?” asked
Jinny.

He laughed at the word. “To the marionettes? That’s what Duke wants the
twenty-five pounds for,” he answered. “He’s lost heavily, and he’ll be
able to show her a _quid pro quo_—or rather twenty-five of ’em—ha, ha,
ha! All the same, we’d better not talk business if the Duchess happens
to be at home. She may have her hand too tight on his strings.”

“But what shall we do if she’s in?”

“I shall only say I’ve looked in to congratulate her on her successes!”

“Oh!” Jinny was seriously shocked, and Mr. Flippance, realizing that her
conscience was as “country” as her vocabulary, had the shrewdness to say
he was only joking. “Besides,” he added, “she’s sure not to be at home
in the morning.”

“Why not?”

“Because she won’t have her hair on.”

“But how could she go out then without it?”

Tony made as if to pinch her cheek, as if nothing else could adequately
express his acute sense of her simplicity, but she guarded deftly with
the horn; rapping him, indeed, on the knuckles with it.

“Why, Jinny, you hurt me,” he said ruefully.

“Well, remember I’m not a marionette.”

“You’re certainly not a woman of the world. The Duchess wouldn’t let us
in, I mean, but that’s just what we want, provided we can get Duke to
exit.”

In another minute or two she drove him up to the back of “The Learned
Pig,” and alighting, they picked their way through the undulating and
muddy enclosure, grass-grown, and strewn with logs, where the caravan
was stationed. There was really a pig there (duly styed in his very
dirty academy), besides pecking poultry and pathetic rabbit-hutches
agleam with eager sniffing noses, and a flutter of washing, and two
shabby traps, holding up their shafts like beggars’ arms. But the
caravan itself illumined the untidy space with its gay green paint, its
high yellow wheels, its spick-and-span air, culminating in the lace
curtain of its tiny arched window. Mr. Flippance dragged his slippers up
the step-ladder, and Jinny, having by this time gathered what an
arbitrator was, followed in his wake, prepared to undertake this or any
other job.

But the Duchess did let them in—more, she opened the door herself,
looking indeed too lovely for anything but a doll, and suggesting by her
rising and falling eyelids, her smiling lips, and her mobile hands that
she was equipped with all the most expensive devices.

Duke, habited in an old-fashioned blue coat with brass buttons, was
discovered poring at a desk over a long, narrow account book: he was an
elderly and melancholy young man, with bristly black-and-white hair and
small pig-eyes set close together. The stamp of aspiration and defeat
was set pathetically upon the sallow face he turned over his shoulder to
his visitors.

Jinny was not edified by Mr. Flippance’s pretence that she—Jinny—was
the sole ground for the visit. She had, he said, been driving him home
from the market, where he had gone to dispose of a horse, and he had
taken the liberty of bringing her to see their “wonderful” caravan,
finding, to his amazement, that she had never been inside. For once the
stock Essex epithet was justified—it was indeed a “wonderful” caravan,
and the interior so took up her attention that for some time she failed
to follow the conversation, though she had a dim uneasy sense that it
continued—as it began—with scant regard to the ethics of the
Spelling-Book. The gay paint and the neat lace curtains had prepared her
for an elegance, and even an airiness, that were not to be found within
the caravan. But little else seemed lacking. For into this cramped
wheeled chamber, looking scarce larger than her own cart, and certainly
not so large as Commander Dap’s cabin in the Watch Vessel, was packed
not only a complete cottage with its parlour, living-room, bedroom,
scullery, and kitchen, but the mantelpieces and chests of drawers were
as crowded with china dogs and shepherdesses as Blackwater Hall itself,
besides a wealth of pictures, objects of art, posters, and inhabited
birdcages, to which Daniel Quarles’s domain could lay no claim. Not that
there was really more than one undivided space, or that you could tell
where one room ended and the other began. Nevertheless, all the
different sections were clearly visible, though a square yard here or
there did double or treble service, forming part of this or that room
according as you looked at it. Most clearly marked, of course, was the
bedroom, consisting of a raised, neatly counterpaned bed, like an upper
berth in a ship, and a chest of drawers topped with ornaments, though
the kitchen with its grate and oven and flap-table ran it close, in
every sense of the phrase. Amid these poky surroundings, the Duchess’s
blue eyes and golden hair shone so sunnily and veraciously—taken
unawares as she seemed—that Jinny, ignorant she was expecting a
visitor, felt that Mr. Flippance was as unjust of judgment as he was
loose of statement.

But an interior so foreign to her experience affected her with all the
pleasurable interest of drama, apart from the comedy of which she felt
it to be the setting, as, awaking again to the conversation, she heard
the two males still keeping it carefully away from the negotiation
pending between them, and evidently hard exercised—despite gin from an
improbable corner cupboard—to keep the ball of nothingness rolling.
Painful silences fell, which a linnet and a goldfinch mule strove
loyally to fill, but which remained so awkward that she herself was
constrained to enter into the conspiracy, though only by way of genuine
admiration. Admiration of the caravan—a ready-made thing that went with
Duke—was by no means, however, the admiration the Duchess wanted, and
as she failed to extract it from poor Mr. Flippance, fidgeting under
Jinny’s Puritan eye, she fell back on a tribute of her own to herself,
recounting tediously the triumphs of her tour, and calling on her
partner for corroboration, which he supplied in joyless monosyllables.

All Flippance’s interjections with a view to stem the stream and divert
the conversation to a pretext for Duke’s exit with him were like straws
tossed before a torrent. But presently there came relief—though the
plot thickened, Jinny felt. There was a sound of footsteps on the
ladder, and, “Ah, there’s Polly!” the monologist broke off.

If Jinny was already steeped in a sense of the dramatic, if, stimulated
by the novel setting, she had begun to feel that in such cross-currents
and mutual deceptions must lie the substance of that unknown article of
commerce these people lived by—a play—how strongly was this intuition
confirmed and this sense enhanced when Mr. Flippance, whispering in
apparent facetiousness, “I’m in my slippers—she’ll rag me,” kicked them
off under a chair, slid back mahogany panels below the bed, disclosing a
lower berth, and tumbled in, with his finger roguishly on his lips,
closing the panels from within!

“_The Mistletoe Bough!_” he sibilated. So there it was! They were
actually imitating a play before her very eyes. Duke and the Duchess,
grinning, drew the panels tighter. The theatre was so in their blood,
Jinny felt, that these things came as natural to them as carrying to
her.

It was thus that Jinny saw her first farce—unless the high tragedy of
_Punch and Judy_ be degraded by that name.


                                  VIII

Polly, it soon transpired, was come to the midday dinner with her
friend, and the dinner itself was coming in presently from “The Learned
Pig.” The real purpose of the invitation was, it transpired equally,
that Polly might explain to the Duchess the reading of a part alleged to
be confused in the manuscript acquired with the Flippance Fit-Up: she
was obviously fishing for tips. While these things were transpiring,
poor Flippance in his fur was perspiring. Gradually Jinny saw a rift
appearing in the bed-panels and widening to a cautious chasm of a few
inches. It made her feel choky herself, especially as the caravan’s
little window was closed. She signed apprehensively to Mr. Duke, who,
however, was already revolving feverishly how to clear the stage for
himself and his fellow-negotiator. And presently he broke into the
feminine dialogue with, “I’m sure, dearest, Polly wouldn’t mind acting
that bit for you. But there ain’t room for Polly’s genius here—she’d be
breaking up the happy home! Hadn’t you better go into the inn-parlour,
Bianca? There’ll be nobody there yet.”

The Duchess might have lacked talent, but she had not played in farces
without learning how to behave in them: so without even needing a wink
from her spouse, she made a kindly exit behind Polly, not, however,
without turning back a grinning doll’s head at Mr. Flippance’s beaded
countenance emerging gaspingly from his berth. But Jinny, who had
already witnessed comedy and farce, was now more conscious of the
tragedy of the situation than of its humours, as she saw the Duchess
tripping down the ladder, with silken stockings revealed by the raised
skirt. It seemed to Jinny that the poor lady was tripping thus blithely
to her dark doom, behind the scenes of the puppet show; that her blue
eyes and golden hair had flaunted their last upon the stage. And the
irony of her grinning exit was accented by the manuscript in her hand:
she was going off to study a part she would nevermore play. It all gave
Jinny a sense of the Duchess being herself a puppet, with an ironic fate
pulling the strings, and she was frightened by a thought hitherto beyond
the reach of her soul; by a dim feeling that perhaps she too—and
everybody else—was similarly mocked. Who was perpetually jerking her
towards that young man, and then jerking her back? What force was always
putting into her mouth words of fleer and flout, and pulling away the
hand she yearned to lay in his?

“Whew!” exclaimed Mr. Anthony Flippance, as Jinny shut the door safely
on the Duchess—for that lady never shut doors, partly because the
process interfered with the sweep of one’s exit, partly because what
concerned a scene from which she was absent never entered her golden
head.

“Whew!” repeated Mr. Flippance, scrambling out. “I know now what Lady
Agnes felt like. ‘_Help, Lovel!—Father, help!—I faint—I die—Oh!
Oh!_’ But I’m disappointed in Polly,” he added, diving under a chair.
“Fancy being all her life on the stage, and not espying these slippers!”
He dug his feet into them.

“There’s no time for joking,” said Duke anxiously, as he tugged open the
drawer of a desk in his “parlour.” “I suppose Jinny is in the know?”

“Jinny’s come as arbitrator!”

“What!” Duke wheeled round, his hair still more on end.

“Get on with your mystery-desk. It stands to reason a runaway financial
imagination like yours needs a brake.”

“Ain’t you brake enough?” Mr. Duke’s tone was bitter.

“And you want me to be broke!” retorted Tony. “I give you my beautiful
marionettes, life-sized and life-painted, all carved by the best
maker——”

“Oh, I know all about that!” interrupted Duke impatiently.

“Well, you’re not going to deny your own skill, I hope?”

Duke glared impotently with his little pig-eyes.

“And with the costliest costumes,” Tony went on blandly. “And all these
puppets moreover with the latest mechanical contrivances, regardless of
expense——”

“And don’t I give you the finest goodwill in East Anglia,” burst in Mr.
Duke, “the Flippance Fit-Up with all its plays, prestige, and unique
takings?”

“One thing at a time, old cock. Packed into a box that itself opens out
and forms part of the stage, combining portability of props with——”

“Do dry up!” cried the maddened Duke. “If you’re not quick, Bianca will
be back.”

“What’s that to me? To cut it short, I give you the finest marionette
show in the world, with scenery, sky-borders, and plays complete, and an
old-established reputation, a show that has played before the crowned
heads of Europe, America, and Australia, and, like the workhouse boy in
Mr. Dickens’s book, you ask for more. What say _you_, Jinny? Thinkest
thou the Duke should have more?”

“We all want more,” said Jinny. “Air! Mayn’t I open the window?”

“Oh, excuse me.” Mr. Duke, evidently trained by his big doll, rushed to
do it. “But haven’t I lost enough without losing my twenty-five pounds
too?”

He turned back to his desk, and extricating from its remoter recesses
another large narrow fat account book—the twin of that he had been
poring over—held it up theatrically. “Here’s my marionette accounts for
sixteen years—look through ’em and see if you can find any single
week—ay, even the week of King William’s funeral—as low as the best of
the weeks since I touched your wretched show.”

“My wretched show!” Mr. Flippance lost his blandness. “Why, if that’s
the case, it’s you that have depreciated it. _You_ ought to pay _me_
compensation.”

But Duke had dramatically dumped the book down side by side with its
twin. “Look on this picture and on that!” he said. “Duke’s Marionettes,
week ending March 10th, 1849, Colchester. Total, £23 18s. 10d. Flippance
Fit-Up, Colchester Corn Exchange, week ending March 8th, 1851. Monday.
Eleven shillings. _There’s_ an opening! Tuesday——”

“Oh, come to the d——d total!” said Tony impatiently.

“There ain’t any total,” said Duke crushingly. “Tuesday, sixteen
shillings and sixpence.”

“Always rising, you see!” said Tony.

“Wednesday,” Duke went on implacably, “nine shillings and fourpence——”

“Why, how do you get fourpence?” interrupted Tony severely. “You haven’t
been letting down the prices, I hope.”

“That’s noted at the side. See!” said the careful Duke. “A swindler
passed off a groat as a tanner. Thursday, Eight and sixpence—imagine
the Colchester Corn Exchange with eight and sixpence! Friday. Nine
shillings——”

“Rising again, you see,” chirruped Tony.

“Saturday. One pound thirteen and six.”

“There you are! That pulls you up.”

“Saturday evening,” concluded Duke. “Two pounds eight.”

“And then he grumbles!” Mr. Flippance raised his great ringed hands
towards Jinny.

“Total, six pounds five and tenpence!”

“And isn’t that enough to live on?” cried Tony. “Only two in family and
a little bird or so! And if your box-office man had been smart enough to
tell a groat from a tester, you’d have had six guineas!”

“He wasn’t such a fool,” said Duke dryly, “for on another night it’s
noted that a half-sovereign was passed off on him for sixpence.”

“And then you outrage Providence by complaining of the takings,” said
Tony.

“Rent of Corn Exchange,” continued Duke doggedly, “three guineas.
Salaries (to company, including check-taker), four pounds eight.
Lighting, a pound. Advertising (including bill-poster), three pounds
ten——”

“But, my dear chap, what extravagance! No wonder——”

“Travelling expenses (company and scenery, excluding caravan), eighteen
and ninepence. Drinks to Pressmen—one and sixpence——”

“Oh, not enough! No wonder——!”

“Net deficit, seven pounds sixteen and threepence, _plus_ the salary of
Bianca and me!”

“What! Why, you said salary of company, four pounds eight!”

“You don’t suppose I included ourselves with the check-taker!”

“You didn’t? Oh, my dear fellow,” said Tony sympathetically, “no wonder
you’re down in the mouth. A wise manager always pays his salary before
any other expense; then he’s always sure of a stand-by!”

“It isn’t the money that’s the worst,” Duke explained. “It’s the
dreadful loneliness.”

“Why didn’t you stuff the house with paper and put up ‘Free List
Absolutely Suspended’?”

“Easier said than done in a place where you don’t know a soul. Why,
Bianca had a Benefit Night, and how many do you think were in the
stalls? Two women and a boy.”

“I’ve known only the theatre cat——” began Tony cheerfully.

“And the boy went to sleep!”

“Wasn’t it his bedtime? But I _will_ say it’s not entirely the fault of
your acting. I’ve noticed ever since that Crystal Palace loomed on the
horizon, it’s unsettled the public within at least fifty miles from Hyde
Park. I was talking to a showman who told me that in March and April
this year business fell off everywhere—there was no interest in giants,
dwarfs, fat men, pig-faced ladies, and even jugglers, animal
magnetizers, lion-tamers, performing elephants, ventriloquists,
prestidigitators, and professors of necromancy. Didn’t you hear of the
fate of poor Wishbone, the conjurer, at Chelmsford Fair? Not even a kid
dropped into his booth, so he went out to perform outside, but before he
could ‘hey, presto!’ the purse back to the owner, the peeler copped him.
The magistrate wouldn’t listen to his patter, and he can’t tap himself
out of quod either, poor chap. Besides, we all remember the awful
weather in March, yes and up to the very opening of the Crystal
Palace—rain, rain, rain.”

“Well, take the March of 1849,” said Duke, turning back his oblong
pages, “and don’t forget people’ll sit in Assembly Rooms or a Corn
Exchange when they won’t risk a draughty tent. Now look at the weather
that year—when I pulled my own strings. Tuesday, W.S.—that is, wet,
snow. Wednesday, R.N. (rough night). Thursday, S.H.T. (storm, hail, and
thunder). Saturday, W.T. (wind, tilt OFF!). Come now, you could hardly
have a worse week, could you? Everything except B.F.1 or B.F.2 (black
fog or big funeral). Yet see, my takings for that week were——”

Tony flipped away the book with his jewelled hand. “What you’ve got to
compare with your Colchester week,” he said, “is not your marionette
week in March ’49, but my Fit-Up week for that date.”

“I don’t see that.”

“It stands to reason.”

They debated the point warmly: finally Tony referred it to Jinny: that
was what she was there for, he recalled.

“I certainly think,” arbitrated the little Carrier, “that we ought to
see what Mr. Flippance’s live theatre could do in the same weather.”

“Oh, very well,” acquiesced Duke sulkily. “And what _did_ you do that
week?”

“Heavens, man, how on earth can I remember?”

“But haven’t you got it written down?”

“What do you take me for?” asked Tony. “A tradesman? A bookkeeper?
Unless Polly——”

“You told me the other Christmas that you averaged twenty-five,” said
Duke bitterly, “and I paid you one week’s takings by way of douceur.”

“Well, then you do know my weekly takings,” said Tony loftily.

“I can’t stay here for ever,” put in Jinny. “I’ve got my work.”

“I’m paying you, ain’t I?” Tony rebuked her.

“But not giving me work.” She assumed a judicial air. “Do you, Mr.
Flippance, maintain that your theatre is a more valuable concern than
Mr. Duke’s marionettes?”

“Of course I do.”

“Then,” said the young Solomon in petticoats, “surely if you get it
back, you ought to pay him the difference in value.”

“Bravo! Bravo!” Mr. Duke’s little pig-eyes gleamed. “A sensible girl!”

“Oh, Jinny!” groaned Mr. Flippance: “To desert your old pal!”

“And do you, Mr. Duke,” went on Jinny imperturbably, “maintain that your
marionettes are a better property than the Flippance Fit-Up?”

“Certainly not,” said Mr. Duke, not to be caught.

“The marionettes are a worse property then?” she asked.

Duke banged his book. “Much worse.”

“Then why do you want it back?”

Tony uttered a shriek of delight. “A Daniel come to judgment! Oh, Jinny,
I could hug you!”

A sweep of her horn kept him at arm’s length. “You say, Mr. Duke, that
the Fit-Up property is the better, and yet you want to give it up?”

Mr. Duke leaned his elbows on the desk, and dropped his head in his
hands. “You confuse me—I must have time to think.”

“Hamlet!” observed Tony pleasantly. “But I don’t think the ghost will
walk.” His hand moved towards the gin decanter, but again that baffling
horn intervened.

“Look here!” said Duke, rummaging in his drawer. “I’ve got the transfer
written out, ready for signature, two copies—the exact words of our
last agreement, only turned the other way, of course. I’m a plain
man—is it to be or not to be?”

“That is the question,” said Tony sepulchrally. “But you see it isn’t so
plain as you. You’ve depreciated my theatre and it’s not worth the extra
pony. Why can’t you make a reasonable compromise and just swap back?”

“What! And be a pony out of pocket?”

“You’ll be an elephant out of pocket if you don’t,” Jinny reminded him.
“Seven pounds sixteen and threepence a week mount up.”

“Ah, that was a particularly bad week.”

“Then there _were_ good weeks?” flashed Tony.

“I tell you the best weren’t as good as the marionettes’ worst.”

“Come, come, old cock, draw it mild!”

“If you don’t believe me,” said Duke, firing up, “look for yourself! And
what’s more, if you find I’m wrong, keep the pony and be hanged to you!”

“Easy! Easy! But I was never a man to refuse a sporting offer—tip us
the tomes!”

Duke handed him the twin account books, but soon, tiring of the rows of
figures, Mr. Flippance begged Jinny to pursue the investigation while he
studied the document of transfer.

It was not without a thrill that, setting the volumes on a hanging flap
that Duke had changed for her into a table, she went back over the pages
of faded ink that told of toils and tribulations in the years before she
had come into being: as a carrier she was peculiarly sensitive to these
records of wrecked tents and ruined takings. Through the peace of the
summer morning in that poky caravan, the winds from that pre-natal
period seemed to be rushing, its snows falling, its hails and thunders
crashing, and with these imagined tempests came up the thought of Will.
What was he doing now, with his beautiful black horses? Was he looking
for Mr. Flippance at “The Black Sheep”? But the thought of him was too
agitating; she crushed it down and got absorbed in her task and the
tales the figures told: the blanks carefully explained by Good Friday or
royal mourning or the journey to some distant pitch; the varying cost of
these pitches in publicans’ meadows; the varying expense of cartage; the
sudden jumps in the takings, due—as annotated—to high days and
holidays, or to royal weddings, or to favourite pieces. She wondered why
Mr. Duke ever played any others. “What is D.F.N.?” she asked suddenly.

“Dismissed. Fine night,” said Mr. Duke in melancholy accents. It was the
supreme tragedy. “_Although_ a fine night,” he explained, rubbing it in
to himself, “not enough to be worth playing to.”

“You didn’t always do good business, you see,” gurgled Tony from the
gin-glass he had imperceptibly acquired.

“Accidents will happen,” Duke retorted.

“And what is D.S.?” put in Jinny. “Dismissed. Snow?”

“D.S. is diddling show,” explained Duke gloomily. “I struck one only
last week at the very public-house I hired my pitch from.”

“That wasn’t playing fair,” said Tony.

“No, indeed. They stuck a placard in the window, ‘Great Water Otter.
Free.’ And when you’d had your drink they took you to the stables to see
it in its tub. There were crowds every night. It was put in the paper.”

Tony grinned. “‘Lord, what fools these mortals be!’”

“But why?” asked Jinny. “I’d rather see a water-otter than a dancing
doll.”

“You’re not even a country mouse,” said Tony. “When the fools push and
squeeze to get near the tub, they warn ’em, ‘Don’t go too near!’ And all
the while it’s only a big iron kettle—a water-’otter. See!”

Jinny laughed.

“Yes, that’s what they all do,” said Duke dismally. “Laugh and help to
gull the others. And between them the legitimate goes to the dogs.”

“Or the otters.” Jinny bent in lighter spirits over the twin volumes.
“I’m afraid you’ve lost, Mr. Flippance,” she announced at last. “I can’t
see any drama week of Mr. Duke’s that goes as high as the worst of his
marionette weeks.”

“Right you are!” said Tony, cheerful under his liquid. “Sport is sport
and the pony is yours. Here goes!” And picking up a pen from the desk,
he signed one of the documents with a long thick line sweeping backward
from his final “e.” Duke signed the other copy more soberly, and Jinny
witnessed both signatures with careful calligraphy. “It only remains,
old cock,” said Tony, “to deliver the twenty-five pounds.”

“Hear, hear,” agreed Duke.

“You don’t suppose I carry it about with me?”

Duke’s face fell. “But without money passing, it ain’t legal.”

“But I jumped out of bed in a hurry—Jinny’ll bear me out. I mean,” he
added hurriedly, as a dramatic interest flickered across Duke’s face,
“look at my slippers!”

“Oh, I’ve seen your stinking old slippers!” Duke was getting unpleasant.
“What I want to see is my money.”

“Sorry, old boy—no use letting your dander rise—it’s a case of
H.G.I.—haven’t got it, and M.O.I.U.—must owe it you! Still, I dare say
we can rake up something on account, to make a legal consideration.
Doubtless Jinny has got half a crown. Give me one, Jinny, till I get
home.”

Jinny, who had always hitherto dealt with Polly, and been scrupulously
paid, had no hesitation in handing him the coin. She did not know it was
the cost of her arbitration. Duke accepted it ungraciously as earnest
money.

“And if I may advise you how to run your own show, now you’ve got it
back,” said Tony handsomely, “don’t go so much by the fairs. There’s not
only the waste of time and travel in between one and t’other, it’s
lowering a fine art to the level of a merry-go-round or the talking
lobst——”

“I can’t wait for ever,” interposed Jinny. “Are you coming?” She opened
the door.

“Your time’s paid,” said Mr. Flippance severely. “However, Duke takes my
meaning. Here’s luck to him!” And with a last gulp at Duke’s gin, he
followed her to the door. “Send me my scenery and props and the same
cart can take back yours and the box of figures.”

“No, no,” said Duke, “that’ll need several journeys or carts. We divide
the freightage.”

“What! When I throw in twenty-five pounds! O Duke, Duke, if you ain’t
careful there’ll be a show of the meanest man on earth.” And shaking his
fat jewelled forefinger waggishly at the caravan proprietor, he followed
the Carrier. “Now for a last kick at the company,” he observed to her,
as the door closed upon the dismal Duke.


                                   IX

But at that moment the ground resounded with gallant hoofs, and a
handsome red-haired cavalier riding a barebacked black horse and leading
another steed of Satan, and followed by a bounding little white dog,
brought life and spirit into the scene. The rabbits poked their noses
greedily through their wires, and the pig grunted in perturbation.
Jinny, shrinking back behind Mr. Flippance, remained paralysed on the
steps of the caravan, while Tony, unconscious that he was needed as a
screen, hurried forward with a joyous greeting and a query which served
the purpose as effectually, for Jinny was left unnoted on her pedestal.

“You looking for me?” asked Tony.

“I was,” answered the horseman. “But now I’m looking for the stables.
‘The Black Sheep’s’ full up, and I thought I’d put up my spare horse at
‘The Learned Pig’ till I could find you. However, here you are.”

“But you crossed me, man, just outside the market!”

“Did I? Is Jinny here? I see her cart outside.”

“Never mind Jinny—you’re just in the nick of time. I want to talk
business to you.”

“And so do I to you. If I crossed you, ’twas because I was galloping to
you with the horse you ordered through Jinny.”

“And I was galloping to her to cancel it!”

“What!” cried Will. But the joyous rush and gambollings of Nip now
directed his attention to Nip’s statuesque mistress.

“I’m afraid you’ve let yourself in for those horses,” she said,
descending. She did not speak maliciously—the sting of her defeat was
over, now that his victory had recoiled on the victor, and she was
really a little sorry for him. But all other feelings were overwhelmed
for the moment by this new sense of dash and grace, in which he and the
beautiful pawing steeds were mixed up centaur-like, his figure looking
so much taller on horseback that it almost corresponded to Miss Gentry’s
ideal. Unfortunately Will himself had no sense of the horses except as a
costly and burdensome mistake: the iron issuing from Jinny’s soul was
entering into his.

“But surely you want one of ’em,” he said, addressing Mr. Flippance. He
had cherished a dim hope that the Showman might launch out into binary
grandeur, but at the worst he was prepared to keep one horse—it would
be useful for riding into Chipstone—pending its sale. But to have two
horses on his hands, eating their heads off, after consuming practically
the whole of his capital—this was too much. Nor could he believe that
Jinny was not gloating over the Nemesis that had overtaken his attempt
to crush her will.

“I don’t see what I should do with a horse,” said Tony, “seeing that I’m
setting up the Flippance Palace Theatre as a local landmark. Of course I
might have a play written round him,” he mused, “or even round ’em both.
They would certainly ‘draw’ all Chipstone, especially with a carriage
behind ’em. Odd, isn’t it? There’ll be scores of carriages waiting
outside my theatre, yet to see one on the stage gives everybody a
thrill. Lord, how the public does love to see natural things in
unnatural places! As my old pa used to say—my real pa, I mean—put an
idiot on the stage and he gives pleasure, put him in the stalls and he
writes dramatic criticism! Ha, ha, ha!”

“Then you do want ’em?” said Will eagerly.

“If you’re ready to bring in the noble animals as part of the capital,
I’ll look around for a dramatist to work ’em in.”

“You’d best look around for a capitalist,” retorted Will in angry
disappointment. “I’ve told you before, I’m going into farming.”

“Then you’ll want the horses yourself.”

“They’re no good for farming,” Jinny corrected.

“Ain’t they?” said Tony, surveying them with a fresh eye. “Then why did
he buy them?”

Will got angrier. “That’s my business. Do you want them or not?”

“I can always do with anything. A play’s a pie you can shove anything
into. You’d look bully yourself, as you Americans say, riding just as
you are: just a cowboy costume, that’s all you need. Will you do it?”

“Will I do what?”

“Play lead and supply your own horses.”

“Don’t be a fool—or try to make me one. I’m a plain farmer.”

Tony grinned. “Jinny don’t seem to think ’em suitable for plain farming.
I reckon you’d better set up as undertaker. They’ll go lovely with a
hearse. All you need is a corpse.”

“And I shan’t be long finding one!” hissed Will.

Tony clapped his hands. “That’s the style. Lord, man, what a wasted
actor!”

Jinny could not suppress a smile. It brought Will’s temper to
breaking-point. “These horses at least won’t be wasted,” he said to her
at a white heat. “For I’ll take our friend’s advice.”

“Harness ’em to a hearse?” murmured Jinny.

“No, to a coach. I’ll put an end, miss, to your mannish ways.”

“Indeed!” Jinny bridled up, without, however, quite following the
threat.

“You’ve done for yourself,” he explained. “You’ve forced me into
competition. You’ve got me the horses—there’s no end of out-of-work
coaches on the market to be got for an old song. I’ll carry passengers
and luggage faster and cheaper than you, and heavier stuff too, and I’ll
wipe you out.”

Jinny grew white, but at the venom of his words, not their business
significance. Her instinct retorted with a smile. “And I got you the
horn, too, don’t forget that.”

“I don’t—I was thinking of that. It’s all your doing—and serve you
jolly well right.” He turned sneeringly to Mr. Flippance. “So I won’t be
a wasted musician either.”

“Oho!” said Jinny. “And shall we see you on the box-seat all a-crowing
and a-blowing?”

“I know you still think I can’t blow—but you shall see.”

“_Seeing_ isn’t believing,” said Jinny.

“Had you there, old cock,” said Tony.

“She knows what I mean, right enough. I’ll start a coach-service ’twixt
Little Bradmarsh and Chipstone, ay and farther too, passengers inside,
luggage on the roof. I’ll wake up this sleepy old spot.” And his vigour
seemed to communicate itself to his horses: they caracoled and stamped.

“Better let sleeping spots lie,” said Jinny. “I thought you hated Yankee
going-ahead.”

“It’ll save _you_ going ahead, anyhow,” said Will. “Why didn’t you let
things sleep?”

“Me! How could I help helping Gran’fer?”

“Women have always got an excuse. ‘And the man gave unto me and I did
eat.’”

“Lord! He’s been reading the Bible!” laughed Tony.

Will flushed. All those hours in quest of orthography passed through his
mind. And what had all his painstaking letters led to? Quarrels,
recriminations, miseries. Well, let him have done with it all. Ignore
her, crush her, that was the best way. Once he had driven her out of the
business, that tongue of hers would wag more meekly. Then, perhaps——!

A rousing blast on Jinny’s horn cut defiantly into his thoughts. It was
at once a challenge and a mockery. Will turned his horses’ heads sharply
and trotted out, Nip at their heels. But at the edge of the enclosure
Nip looked back wistfully to beg his mistress to join the party. She,
however, lowering her horn, cried, “Come here, you naughty dog. Come
here at once.”

Nip stood in pathetic hesitation.

“It’s that animal my play shall be written round,” said Tony decisively.
“How much do you want for him?”

“You know I wouldn’t, part with him for love or money,” said Jinny.

“Well, I haven’t got any money,” said Tony slowly. “But if you’d like
the other thing——”

“Don’t be silly!” Jinny moved towards her cart.

“I mean it—a wife like you would be the making of a man.”

“Now you’ll have to walk home!” said Jinny, springing into her seat. It
was too ironic a climax to the morning.

“Not in my slippers!” gasped Tony.

“You should have put on your boots!” said Jinny sternly.

“But listen!” He clung to the cart as if he would stop it. “It’s a
heaven-sent opportunity.”

“It must be sent back,” said Jinny gravely.

“I mean for me,” he explained desperately. “You know how Polly objects
to my marrying again. But I’ve got to break the deal with Duke to her,
so I could work in the two at once. It couldn’t be worse.”

“I shall never marry,” said Jinny. “Gee up!”

“But whoa, whoa, you don’t carry only your husbands,” cried Tony.
“Stop!”

He pursued Methusalem for some yards, but even Methusalem was too quick
for him. And then, as he stood panting and perspiring and overcome by a
dark upwelling of disbelief in life, he perceived the Duchess with her
manuscript and his daughter returning from the histrionic consultation
at “The Learned Pig.”

“Thank the Lord, Polly’s feeding out,” he murmured, as he slunk into a
doorway. Then his face brightened up. “After all,” he thought, “I’ve
only got to break to her about the theatre.”



                               CHAPTER IX


                             TWO OF A TRADE

            _This comic story or this tragic jest_
            _May make you laugh or cry, as you think best._
                  GAY, Prologue to “The What D’ye Call It?”


                                   I

THE darkest season in Jinny’s life—outwardly a feast of light—was come
to the crowning mockery of its August splendour. Day after day there was
the lazy pomp of high summer; massive white clouds in a blue sky, a
spacious voluptuousness, a languid glory. But Jinny felt less melancholy
on the rare days when sea-mists rolled in from the marshes and spectral
sheep were heard tinkling from dim meadows. The corn was now cut, and
this too was a curious alleviation of the gnawing at her heart. When the
far-spreading wheat-fields had rustled in the sun like the hair of the
earth-mother, an auburn gold touched with amber and purple lights,
infinitely subtle and suffusive, the beauty of it all had been almost
intolerable. Now that remorseless reapers had turned the wheat into rows
of stooks that were more suggestive of the hair of a village girl in
curl-papers, Jinny found it easier to jog on her sorely diminished
business along the sunbaked roads.

It was not merely that Will had turned from a swain into an enemy, and
from a figure of romance into a business rival. It was not merely that
his hated handsome visage kept coming up in her mind at the oddest
moments, to the confusion of her work. It was the pressure of his
competition.

Hitherto Jinny had believed in mankind. Despite “The Seven Stages of
Life,” by which her Spelling-Book combined instruction in old English
print with detailed information on how the Devil blurs God’s image in
man; despite the testifyings of her fellow-Peculiars to their own
wickedness, she had regarded her fellow-beings as in the main virtuous
and kindly. What was she to think of human nature when she saw this
dashing innovator literally “carrying” all before him?

In her pique and distress she failed to allow for the sensation created
by the advent of the small second-hand coach with its pair of
high-stepping black horses. Nothing so great and momentous had happened
in Bradmarsh from time immemorial. Even in Jinny’s own mind it loomed as
large as any of the events in the Spelling-Book, from Noah’s Flood to
Trafalgar. Throughout all those somnolent Essex by-ways the passage of
the novel equipage brought everybody to door or window. It was equal to
the passing of the County Flyer on the main roads, a thunder of wheels
and a jingle of harness and a music of the horn. True, two horses are
not four, and a driver who blows his own trumpet has not the grandeur of
a coachman with a scarlet-coated guard, not to mention the absence of
relays to paw the ground and be switched without loss of a second to the
fiery vehicle. Still, with scarcely a hill to negotiate before
Chipstone, two horses and a man seemed velocity and magnificence to
villages accustomed to a crawling two-wheeled tilt-cart and a girl.

And the Flynt Flyer—as it styled itself in vainglorious paint—had
created a demand, as well as a sensation, even if the want had been
unfelt before. Starting three services a week instead of two, it
moreover dashed and zigzagged into corners and by-roads that Jinny had
never pretended to serve, the denizens of which had been content to wait
at cross-roads and landmarks, or to deal with her through intermediary
neighbours or houses of call. And besides these attractions of
convenience and novelty, there was the comfort for passengers of riding
in the body of the coach with their feet in the straw, instead of
dangling uneasily from the narrow side-ledges in Jinny’s cart or
sprawling in contorted adjustment to parcels and boxes. Persons who had
always walked, now found it simpler to jump into the coach than to fag
along in the heat. The carrying business saw itself transformed and
extended.

In this elegant and epoch-making vehicle the non-human freight
overflowing from the fore and hind boots was stacked on the roof, though
the lucky first-comer had always space to sit beside Will and hear his
stories of the great world. A shipmate from ’Frisco had boasted of
driving in kid gloves a polished silk-lined cab and spanking
fifteen-hundred-dollar steeds with silver-gleaming harness, and earning
his three hundred dollars a month. The vision beglamoured Will’s own
status on the box, and reconciled him to lifting the luggage of his
labouring inferiors. He aped it by driving in his best Moses & Son suit,
as though more of a sporting charioteer than a menial, touting for
custom. And parcels and clients flung themselves into his arms. What
wonder if the high-piled load soon out-topped Jinny’s, revealed in its
nakedness on these sweltering days when she drove without her tilt! For
gradually folk’s eyes seemed opened, unsealed of a spell. Without a word
spoken it was as if something unnatural and monstrous had been wafted
away, and the simple order of nature—in the shape of a male
carrier—had been restored. Without being quite conscious of how they
had lugged their own boxes for the puny female, customers were aware of
a new facility. They did not so much turn against Jinny as forget her in
this gravitation to the natural centre.

At first Will had—with a touch of considerateness—fixed his days on
Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays, not to clash with Jinny’s Tuesdays
and Fridays. But as his supply created new demands, as he found he could
widen his ambit as far even as Brandy Hole Creek or Blackripple, he took
on new circuits, first for Tuesday and then for Friday and dropping his
Wednesdays to give his hard-worked horses a solid rest in mid-week. It
was not these new routes of his that galled Jinny, nor his impinging on
her days—possibly she was not altogether displeased to meet the rival
vehicle. No, the iron that entered her soul was the loss of her previous
customers, who, despite Will’s comparative magnanimity, had changed
their day to suit the rival round. In the cases where she had imagined
herself a friend rather than an employee, it was heart-breaking.

Hence this new and rankling doubt of her species, waxing daily as her
business waned. Folk seemed to follow one another like sheep, and
whenever now on a bit of miry road she came upon the serried footmarks
of a flock, she shuddered with a sense of the ignoble pettiness of the
pattern: no massive individual stamp like Methusalem’s, not even a
characteristic dent like Nip’s, but an ignominious churning of mud by a
multiplication of innumerable little identities. Pigs, too, supplied her
with bitter comparisons when, with her cart void of passengers and
almost empty of parcels, she passed at some cross-road the Flynt Flyer,
stiflingly chock-full of both. For she had often noted in the feeding of
swine that however abundant the food at its snout, master pig will
always rush to the thickest jostling-point.

Such was the crowd, such was humanity, thought our little cynic; who
was, however, no mere soured philosopher, but a harassed housekeeper,
with a couple of aged dependents, whose rashers or oats were becoming
seriously endangered. Methusalem had always lived from hoof to mouth,
and as for her grandfather, had he not spent all his savings on her
Angel-Mother’s debts? There were still potatoes in the store, and half a
flitch in the larder, and beer in the barrel, and vegetables in the
ground, and milk in the goats’ udders, but the reserves of provender, as
of cash, were small, and Methusalem, whose appetite age could not abate,
now began to loom as a deficit rather than an asset. Nip was the first
to notice—and with pained astonishment—the parsimony of the new
regime. Why keep a mistress if one is to be practically thrown back on
one’s own resources?


                                   II

In these circumstances it scarcely seemed on a par with the ethics of
the Spelling-Book, or of a piece with Jinny’s character, that she should
go to Miss Gentry and order a new Sunday dress of pink sprigged muslin
of the latest design—a gown that but for its not hooking up at the back
was absolutely ladylike. Still less that she should drive in it on
Tuesdays and Fridays. Whether it was in emulation of her rival, on the
theory that fashionableness was a factor of his success, whether it was
to brighten up her spirits, or to exhibit a defiant prosperity, Jinny
did not reveal, even to herself. But that it was worn at Will rather
than on herself, may be deduced from the fact that the commission to the
“French dressmaker” followed hard upon her first encounter with the
Flynt Flyer at the cross-roads.

It was on this occasion—as at many subsequent meetings on Tuesdays or
Fridays—that Nip was torn almost literally in two by his desire to be
in both vehicles at once. That they should wish to pass each other
without a halt or even a hail was amazing to the poor animal, and if his
distraction usually ended in a leap on to the coach, where Will was
never without a beguiling biscuit, he was always careful to rejoin the
cart before the interval had become too spacious. Though a
Nip-o’-both-sides, he was disloyal to neither: indeed, if ever creature
did his best to bring two foolish mortals together, that creature was
Nip. But they no longer even saluted each other. At first, indeed, the
gentleman driver had doffed his hat gallantly, but Jinny’s face had
remained a stone, though that stone was a ruby. Will, therefore, when he
had to meet or pass her, flew by at a rate which by its air of insolent
superiority only increased her resentment. Later, he had begun to slow
down when he espied her lumbering along his route, and to play the “Buy
a Broom” polka on his horn with malicious accuracy.

By way of retort Jinny once tied a label to Nip’s collar, marked “In
charge of the guard.” It was meant to taunt Will with lacking the
dignity of a true driver, who never blew a horn. But the somewhat
periphrastic sarcasm seemed to miss fire, for Will took the label
literally, and when Nip had executed his usual leap on to the coach, he
kept him prisoner for several days. The faithful animal, though fed as
never before, was as unhappy, tied on the roof, as Jinny was, and when
her cart at last passed, and her horn blew imperiously for him, he made
such a supercanine effort that his cord snapped, and in an instant he
was snuggling hysterically in the legitimate lap; regardless of that
flowery summery fabric. His label, she found, now bore the words, “Pay
Up The Gloves.”

Alas, paying up—whether for wagers or fabrics—was out of Jinny’s
power. That very morning Miss Gentry had handed her the bill, delicately
wrapped in a tract. Such a situation was quite new to her, though not
unprovided against in the Spelling-Book:

        _Weigh ev’ry small Expence and nothing waste,_
        _Farthings, if sav’d, amount to Pounds in Haste._

This had been a large expense, yet she had not weighed it. It was her
debts and not her savings that had in such haste amounted to pounds. Woe
to the pride that had seduced her:

        _What the weak head with strongest bias rules_
        _Is pride, the never-failing Vice of Fools._

She did not need her book’s reminder of her head’s weakness—only too
dismally she recognized that strange slipperiness of memory which made
it more difficult to execute her commissions in proportion as their
number dwindled. Was not the little notebook, to which she must now have
recourse, the abiding symbol of this paradoxical humiliation?

She was not psychologist enough to understand that it was the very
perfection of her memory which was now tripping her up. So many of her
clients had for so long demanded the same things so seasonably that she
was automatically compelled to carry out commissions that had now
lapsed. She was like an actress who knows her part even backwards, but
is broken up and confused when cuts are made; finding the too familiar
words not to be ousted. Jinny would mechanically purchase items for
clients who had forsaken her, and then—so scatterbrained was she
become—leave them at other customers’ houses! And on the other hand,
she was capable of forgetting the orders of the few faithful. It was
thus that under the combined strain of Miss Gentry’s bill, the sultry
August weather, the sight of the packed coach and its jaunty driver, the
frantic return of Nip with his mocking message, Jinny, whom necessity
had compelled to keep Farmer Gale as a customer, clean forgot his urgent
need of a wedding-cake. It was not that she had forgotten to order it or
even to fetch it from the leading confectioner’s. The sudden union of
Farmer Gale with the wealthy land-surveyor’s widow, whose piano-playing
had excited the far-off admiration of Elijah Skindle, was too
sensational an event, especially to herself, to permit of complete
oblivion. It was only that she forgot to deliver the cake at Beacon
Chimneys. She was actually within sight of the stag-headed poplars that
marked the horizon of home, when, turning her head as Nip suddenly leapt
for a rabbit, she saw the great elegant carton in the cart. And the
wedding was on the morrow. Conscience-stricken, and morbidly feeling as
though the marriage would scarcely be legal without this colossal
confection, she resolved, worn out as she was with the heat, to drive
back to the house. But she had reckoned without Methusalem. To turn back
within the very smell of his stable was unprecedented: it violated every
equine code. Like Nip, he now became aware of the instability of
things—of a new order. But, more obstinate, he refused to recognize it.
Nothing short of the whip—which would have moved him, not out of pain
but out of astonishment—could have sufficed to turn him, and how could
a mistress who knew him in the right and herself in the wrong, resort to
that, especially after such a sultry day? So after every effort to coax
him or to lead him by the bridle had failed and almost twenty minutes
had been wasted, she decided—in view of her grandfather’s supper—to
make a special journey the first thing in the morning.

As she gave Methusalem his glad head, she remembered that it was just
before the turning to the hymeneal homestead that she had met that
scandalously successful coach.


                                  III

Before Jinny reached home that evening, a complainant had already called
at Blackwater Hall to unload his grievance. Such visitors were, alas, no
longer a novelty to Daniel Quarles, who had one day begun to find
himself no merely nominal representative of the business, but a
principal charged with derelictions. His virulent rebuttals of the
reproaches did but increase the defections. The flouted customers made
no allowances for the ferocities of senility, and, when told to go to
hell, simply went to the Flynt Flyer—a much pleasanter alternative.
Indeed, one suspects they welcomed the insult as justifying gravitation
to the new star. The indelicacy, however, of divulging its existence to
the nonagenarian was reserved for Mr. Elijah Skindle.

That rising practitioner’s patronage was not the least of Jinny’s
humiliations. Even after his proposal of marriage, she had not been able
to refuse to carry dogs to and from his establishment when so commanded
by her clients, though she had drawn the line at orders originating from
himself. Now, however, in justice to her grandfather, she could not but
accept his commissions, even though she was aware they were largely
artificial, mere canals for communication and courtship. Why, for
example, could not Mr. Skindle, whose gig was often at gardens buzzing
with beehives, not purchase his own honey? Why must she procure him an
article linkable with “moons” and permitting fatuous references to
“sweetness”? His protestations of lack of time were too brazen even for
his own mouth: he stuttered and blushed like a schoolboy. It will be
seen that Elijah’s deeper self had not accepted his “lucky” escape from
her. Hope springs eternal, especially when the desirable one’s pride is
bent, if not broken, by adversity. That proud stomach which had rejected
his proffered luxuries with disdain now bade fair to be empty. While he,
moreover, touched nothing he did not profit by, and through a lucky rise
in animal sickness was fast overtaking the respectable Jorrow.

With an audacity almost Napoleonic he had conceived the idea of at once
blazoning and curing his baldness, purchasing a hair-restorer through
Jinny herself, so that she might be an accessory to the improvement at
which he was—obviously for her sake—slaving. And there did actually
begin to sprout on his cranium microscopic dots, like pepper sprinkled
over an egg-shell. Elijah lost no opportunity now of lifting his cap at
the sight of her, though he had not yet acquired the habit of removing
it indoors.

“Whoa!” Elijah drew up his trap in the grassy lane before Blackwater
Hall and jumped down. The afterglow of sunset was in the sky, but the
Common was still torpid with the breezeless heat of the day. He was in
his best flannel suit and smartest cap, though the same old pipe stuck
in his blackened teeth. Removing it, he rapped at the door with it,
knocking out the ashes with the same taps. As nothing happened, he
tugged from his pocket a paper-wrapped pot and thudded at the door with
that. He had been simulating rage, for he had come to denounce a
mistake, though enchanted to have the opportunity of calling on Jinny.
But now for fear she was not yet back—and vexed with himself for not
choosing one of her domestic days—he began to get really ruffled. He
lifted the latch unceremoniously, but the door seemed bolted.
Re-pocketing the pot with an unsmothered oath, he moved towards the
living-room wall and peeped through the wide-flung little casement. Pah!
Only the Gaffer snoring in his favourite posture, head on the family
Bible. The shabbiness of the ancient earth-coloured smock-frock, like
the meanness of the furniture, added to Elijah’s disgust.

“Fancy her slaving in this heat,” he mused, “when she might be snoozing
on my horsehair sofa!” He shouted angrily, “Wake up, you old codger.”

The nonagenarian obeyed with a start. “What’s amiss, my little mavis?”
he yawned.

“I ain’t a mavis,” Elijah informed him irately, “I’m a veterinary
surgeon.”

Daniel Quarles sprang to his feet. “Marciful powers! Anything wrong with
Methusalem?”

“No, no—” Elijah assured him through the little window, “I’ve come
about Jinny.”

The old man tottered and caught at his chair. “An accident to Jinny?”

“Stuff and nonsense! She’ll be home any minute. Can I come in and wait
for her?”

Daniel growled and grumbled. “Don’t you see Oi’m busy readin’ the
Scriptures?”

“I won’t interfere with that.” He moved back to the door and rattled the
latch masterfully. He suddenly saw the possibility of pushing his suit
with the grandfather. “Why do you lock yourself in?” he demanded, as the
bolts creaked back.

“Don’t you see they’ve took the Dutch clock?” said the Gaffer pitifully.
“She desarts me all day long, and Oi can’t have my eyes everywheres.”

Elijah glanced up at the clock in the ante-room, ticking as
imperturbably as ever.

“Why, it’s up there!” he said, puzzled.

“Do ye don’t try to befool me. That’s the same face, but they’ve took
out the works and put in rubbidge. But it ain’t works we’re justified
by,” he added musingly.

Elijah, picking his way among the old cypress chests, followed him into
the living-room, sat down unasked on the settle, and mechanically pulled
out his pipe.

“Git out o’ my house!” roared Daniel.

Elijah’s pipe fell on the rush mat.

“Boldero hisself,” explained the ancient, “never durst smoke in my
nostrils. And who be you?”

Who was Boldero, Elijah thought a more sensible question. But he picked
up his pipe with an apology. “All right, uncle, no harm done.” He wiped
his forehead. “Warm, ain’t it?”

“Then why do ye want hell-smoke?”

“I shouldn’t quite call this hell-smoke,” Elijah deprecated.

“There’s no smoke without hell-fire,” Daniel explained. “Farmer
Thoroughgood, he smoked just such a pipe as yourn.”

“And he was thorough good, you see,” said Elijah with an air of
victorious repartee.

“Thorough bad,” chuckled the Gaffer with a still greater air of wit.
“Starved his missus to death. The neighbours as come, to see the corpse
found her on a bed made out of a common sheep-hurdle, stood on bricks.”
He tapped the Bible with a dirty thumb. “Do ye don’t yoke a hoss and ass
together, says the Book. But that evil-doer used to plough a field with
a cow and a donkey, and when it ploughed too hard, he’d harness an old
sow in front of the donkey—there’s currant-trees there now what pays
better, not needin’ no ploughin’.”

“Quite like the old song,” observed Elijah, still feeling superior and
witty. “_There was a cow went out to plough._”

“_Chrissimus Day, Chrissimus Day_,” hummed the old man. Set agoing, he
quavered on:

        “_There was a pig went out to dig_
         _On Chrissimus Day in the marning!_

“Set ye down,” he broke off genially, though Elijah was already
ensconced, leg over knee. “Jinny’ll be home in a jiffy.”

“I wonder she’s so long,” Elijah began tentatively, “when she’s got so
little to do.”

“Ay,” assented the ancient, souring again. “’Tis me that’s got the whole
work o’ the place. But gals likes to gad about in the summer, what
becomes o’ the old folks never troubles the young ’uns nowadays.”

“They might just as well be married,” ventured Elijah boldly.

“Ay, their husbands ’ud make ’em work,” said the Gaffer, his eye
gleaming maliciously. “But Oi don’t howd with starvin’ ’em, like Farmer
Thoroughgood did his missus. When they come to see her corpse they found
her on a bed made out of a common sheep-hurdle. Ay, and he used to
plough his fields with a——”

Elijah, groaning inwardly, composed himself to hear the story again.
Fortunately there was a fresh development at the finish. “One day ’twas
a team o’ bullocks and a blind hoss he started droivin’. Powerful warrum
it war—wuss than to-day—and the flies sow worritin’ that the bullocks
set their tails up and bolted. The poor blind hoss couldn’t see where to
goo and fell down. The oxen couldn’t drag him, and got tangled up in the
traces.” He roared with laughter at the picture, and Elijah grinned too.

“Those flies do worrit,” he agreed, flicking at his forehead. “But about
that Jinny of yours——” he added.

“She’ll onny have them harmless fly-papers, you see,” said Daniel,
pointing to a coloured patch on the ceiling, blackened by a happy
multitude. “Ef ye can’t wait for her,” he added amiably, “Oi’ll give her
your message. A wet you said?”

“A veterinary surgeon, Mr. Elijah Skindle,” said Elijah grandly.

“Skindle!” The old man groped agitatedly in his memory. “That’s a name
Oi know.”

“Known all over the Hundred,” said Elijah complacently. “Ay, and they’re
hearing of my success at Colchester, too, where I come from.”

“Cowchester!” The old man sprang up. “That’s it—the man as married
Annie! But that ain’t you—he had more hair to him.”

“Perhaps it was my father,” said Elijah, flushing.

“Nay, nay. Annie couldn’t have a son your soize,” the Gaffer pondered.

“My mother’s name _is_ Annie,” said Elijah.

A strange fire crept into the old patriarch’s eyes. “A big-boned mawther
of a girl, tall as the rod her father lit the lamps with, long raven
hair and eyes as black as sloes, and a wunnerful fine buzzom,” he said
with slow voluptuousness. “Your mother ain’t like that?”

“No,” admitted Elijah.

Daniel Quarles heaved a sigh. “Oi thought not, or you’d be more of a
beauty.”

“Well, you’re wrong,” retorted Elijah. “For I’ve heard that my
grandfather did use to light the lamps in Chipstone, and it’s a great
shame the way my brothers and sisters all dump her on me to keep.”

The old man seized him suddenly by the coat-lapels. “She’s back in
Chipstone?”

“Been back over two years—ever since father died.”

“He’s dead?” Elijah felt the hands trembling against his breast.

“Of course—and I’ve got her to keep, though I’m the youngest,” he
grumbled.

“That’s the same luck as Oi had,” said the Gaffer, “with this bit of
property, though Sidrach, he’s the first-born.” He dropped pensively
back into his chair. “But Oi count Annie’s better off where she is,
bein’ as Oi’ve got Jinny to keep and food gittin’ dearer every day, she
says, something cruel. And happen Sidrach’ll come back too when he’s
old, not havin’ landed property like me, ne yet no relations in Babylon.
Never been sech a year since he went away—the Brad was all froze over.”

Elijah imprudently recollected—to the old man’s annoyance—that it had
frozen equally in Queen Victoria’s first winter, and he brought up
“Murphy’s coldest day,” the proverbial lucky hit of an almanack-maker.
Fortunately the Gaffer recalled an ancient jest of Bundock’s: “Mother
Gander’s gin-bottle’s froze over,” and relaxed in genial hysterics. “Ay,
she’s conwerted now,” he said, wiping his rheumy eyes. “But what an
adulteress in them days! Ye couldn’t get drunk at ‘The Black Sheep’ ef
ye tried—beer without hops and wine without gripes.”

Mechanically drawing out his pipe and popping it back in alarm, Elijah
reverted to Jinny. Daniel now blamed Methusalem for her lateness.
Horses, too, were lazy and ungrateful, same as granddaughters.

“Why don’t you get rid of him?” said Elijah, with a sudden inspiration.
That would cut her comb, he thought. Jinny docked of Methusalem would be
ripe for the marriage-altar. “He’s long past his work.”

But Daniel Quarles shook his head. “Jinny wouldn’t like me to part with
that. Besides, who’d buy him?”

“I would,” said Elijah, with a feeling of “All for love, or the world
well lost.”

“You? Od rabbet, what for?”

“I’d give you a fiver!” parried the knacker in his reckless passion.
“Though most people let me have ’em for the trouble of killing ’em,” he
added incautiously.

The old man sprang up again. “Git out o’ my house! And don’t ye dare
cross my doorstep agen!”

Elijah cowered back in his seat. “But I’ve come on business,” he
protested.

“Oi bain’t a-gooin’ to sell Methusalem.”

“That’s not what I came for,” Elijah urged soothingly. “It’s about
Jinny.”

“Oi bain’t a-gooin’ to sell Jinny neither.”

Elijah winced. Was it divination or drivel, he wondered.

“You might as well sell her,” he said boldly. “Look how she’s mucking up
your business, muddling everything.” And rising and pulling out the pot
again, he banged it down on the table.

“My Jinny muddle things! Git out o’ my house!”

Before the Gaffer’s blazing spectacles and furious fangs Elijah backed
doorwards.

“Not before it’s set right,” he said, assured of his line of retreat.

“The Quarleses don’t make muddles. For a hundred year——”

“Oh, Jinny’s been all right the last hundred years,” he interrupted
impatiently. “It’s the last few weeks I complain about! I hope it’s not
sunstroke.”

“My Jinny!” The Gaffer’s anger died. “She went away singin’ as merry as
could be, my little mavis,” he said anxiously.

“Then what do you make of that?” Elijah indicated the pot.

The old man unwrapped it slowly, and readjusting his spectacles spelt
out the label. “Oliver’s Depil—Depil—” he stumbled on. “Is that
pills?”

“No, it’s for the hair.”

“Well, that’s what you want, ain’t it?” he said naïvely.

Mr. Skindle coloured up. “But this is to take off the hair,” he
explained.

“Well, you can’t do that,” chuckled Daniel, “bein’ more a ’Lisha than a
’Lijah.”

“Oh yes, I can,” said Elijah, his every dot bristling. “But if I hadn’t
been a noticing man, I should have undone all the good of months of my
pots of hair-restorer.”

“Whichever way it be, ’tis agen Nature,” said the Gaffer. “The Lord
giveth and the Lord taketh away. But pots be as like as peas. That’s the
shopman’s fault, not Jinny’s.”

“Oh, indeed!” cried Elijah savagely. “And what about her bringing me
hairpins?”

“Hairpins!” gasped the Gaffer. “Hairpins for a man without hair!”

“Even Samson in his prime didn’t want hairpins!” Elijah pointed out
angrily. “But that’s what she brought me a packet of last week, instead
of tobacco.”

“Sarve ye right, ye unswept chimbley,” the Gaffer growled, with a grin.

“That ain’t serving me right,” riposted Elijah. “That’s serving me
wrong,” he added with redoubled wit. “And wouldn’t take ’em back
neither, the little minx, maintained I’d ordered ’em for my ma.”

“Well, _she’d_ want hairpins, wouldn’t she, with all that beautiful
raven hair,” said the Gaffer, turning serious. “Happen you ordered ’em
for her.”

“I never order anything for her,” said Elijah, waiving the description
of her chevelure.

“More shame to you, then, young man. Ye don’t desarve to have her. Same
as ye’re too stingy to pay for the hairpins, ye’d best give ’em to her
with Daniel Quarles’s love.”

“I’m not stingy!” retorted Elijah hotly. “Would I be keeping my mother,
with the poorhouse so handy, and me the youngest, too, if Elijah Skindle
wasn’t the most generous man in Chipstone? But I won’t pay for Jinny’s
woolgathering. No wonder everybody’s going to the coach!”

“The coach?” repeated Daniel Quarles. “What coach?”

“Hasn’t Jinny told you?” cried Elijah, equally astonished. “The
handsomest pair of black horses——”

“A funeral coach?” half-whispered the Gaffer, paling. The notion of
slaughtering Methusalem had already brought the thought of death
unpleasantly near.

“You and Jinny may well call it so, old sluggaby,” said Elijah grimly.

The old man fell back into his chair. “Nobody never needed no funeral
coaches here!” he quavered. “Our shoulders on the corpse-path was good
enough for us. ’Twas onny that obstinacious little Dap, when poor Pegs
laid by the wall, as wanted one.”

“Who’s talking of funeral coaches?” snapped Mr. Skindle. “Anyhow I’ve
got to have that pot changed.”

“Git out o’ my house!” repeated the ancient for the fourth time, hurling
the pot out of the window. Luckily it fell on grass.

Elijah’s patience was at an end. Besides it had now occurred to him he
might cut off Jinny on the route, away from this tiresome nonagenarian.
The effort to woo her through him had been baffled by his inconsequence.

“Who’s hankering after your wooden chairs? I’ve got horsehair at home,”
he retorted crushingly.

As he climbed into his trap he heard the bolts shot behind him. But just
as he was clucking off his horse, the Gaffer’s head popped frenziedly
through the casement.

“Stop thief!” it cried. “Stop!”

“You be careful what you’re saying, old cockalorum,” said Elijah
angrily, lashing his horse with vicarious wrath. “And pick up that pot.
I shan’t pay for it.”

“You’ve stole my spectacles! Oi can’t find ’em nowheres!”

“Why, you’ve got ’em on!” Elijah called back contemptuously.

So eagerly did his horse respond to the whip and the homeward impulse
that Elijah had the satisfaction of passing the equally enthusiastic
Methusalem before he could pull up. He was not even sure that this
arrogantly gowned Jinny had acknowledged his salute. She would be at her
door before he could turn—confound it! Why had he not waited another
moment or started earlier and cut her off at a remoter point? To face
that old dodderer again would be an anti-climax.


                                   IV

So swiftly did Daniel Quarles nod again over his big Bible that by the
time Jinny had got Methusalem stabled, she could not rouse him to undo
the bolts, and all her merry whistling as she neared the latch was a
wasted pretence. This protective habit of his indoors was a recent
development, coinciding curiously with the advent of the coach she was
concealing from him, and these closed doors—even his bedroom was now
locked from within—annoyed and alarmed her. She had visions of him
agonizing in his bed and herself reduced to breaking open the door.
Perhaps even now he was ill, dying, dead! She dashed to the living-room
window—stumbling over a pot outside it. Ah, thank God, that dear,
peaceful grey head, that sonorous snore!

Pausing now to pick up the mysterious pot, she was distressed again. The
passing of Elijah was explained! Miss Gentry’s Depilatory she had
brought to Mr. Skindle, Mr. Skindle’s Hair Restorer to Miss Gentry. He
had come to complain, but unable to get admission, he had flung the pot
on the path. Oh, plaguy similarity of potted pomades—fatal double
error—she had killed two clients with one stone. Her eyes filled with
tears: even with a notebook she could not keep straight.

So guilty did she look as she scrambled noiselessly through the
casement, that an observer would have thought her a burglar. Creeping
past her grandfather, she opened the house-door,—the gigantic key that
used to hang on the beam was now always in the lock—brought in the
carton with the wedding-cake from the cart, and placed it on the chest
of drawers for unfailing reminder in the morning. Then swiftly changing
into her old frock and hanging up the new behind a corner-curtain, she
donned her apron and stole into the kitchen. Finally, to lay the table,
she must with loving hands uplift the venerable head.

The ancient had not slept off his perturbation, though he did not
remember the cause of it, and seeing his supper still unlaid, he was
righteously wroth. “A muddler, mucking up everything—that’s what you
be!” he said, repeating unconsciously Elijah’s indictment. And Jinny,
remembering the pot that now stood by the wedding-cake, went about
wanly, unresentfully, with movements lacking their wonted deftness. Her
grandfather had already forgotten the suggestion of sunstroke, much as
it had shaken him: for her actual pallor he had no eye.

When she finally brought in the meal, she found him risen and standing
tranced before the great wedding-cake, gazing dazedly at its elaborately
frosted architecture.

“You didn’t want to open it,” she cried with irrepressible petulance as
she hooked down the pasteboard lid.

He ignored the reproach. “Weddin’s and funerals in one day,” he brooded.
“Pomps and wanities.”

“Come to the table, Gran’fer,” she said more gently.

“Pomps and wanities!” he repeated. “Who’s this for?”

“It’s for Farmer Gale’s wedding—’twas too late to deliver it. Come
along.”

“In my day folks made their own weddin’-cakes. And dedn’t want no
funeral coaches neither. The church-path or the farm-wagon——”

“Come along!” She took his arm. “There’s no funeral coaches here.”

A whining and scratching at the door made a welcome diversion. Nip, back
from the hunting-path, sneaked in, aware of sin, with ears flat, tail
abased, and sidelong squint.

“Ain’t seen that for days,” said the Gaffer. “Where’s that been?”

“I don’t know,” she lied, glad of Nip’s guilty air, for to explain would
reveal the coach. “On the razzle-dazzle, I suppose.”

After supper, she remembered a box must be put in the ante-room that had
been left with her to be called for. It was stupid not to have brought
it in at once, ere the cart had been put in its shed—as stupid as her
pot-swapping. In a sudden fear that if unremoved to-night she would
carry it off to Farmer Gale’s wedding just when the owner would be
coming for it, she asked her grandfather to lend a hand with it. It was
an unfortunate request, for as the still sinewy veteran was dragging his
end over the sill, he said weirdly: “There ain’t no man in Bradmarsh
more lugsome’n that. Who wants your new-fangled coach?”

“What coach?” murmured Jinny, half puzzled, half apprehensive.

“The funeral coach.” He stood still. “Where else ’ould a coffin goo?”

“Rubbish, Gran’fer. There’s no funeral coach.” Her little silvery voice
rang out. “_Heave away, my Johnny._ Come along, Gran’fer, I’ve got to
rub down Methusalem—you’ll be too tired now.”

“No funeral coach?” he repeated slowly, loosing the box.

“You’ve been dreaming, Gran’fer.”

“But the two black horses——”

Her heart beat like a criminal’s on the eve of detection. “Nightmares!”
she laughed. “What did I say?”

“But he said——!”

“Who said?”

“Annie’s buoy-oy.”

“Annie’s——?”

“’Lijah, he calls hisself.”

“Elijah? And did he go up in a chariot of fire with the horses?” And
more than ever incensed against Mr. Skindle, she hastily started her
carrier’s chanty:

        “_There is Hey, there is Ree._”

Automatically his sepulchral bass exuded, and his arms reclasped the
box:

        “_There is Hoo, there is Gee——_”

Then together their antithetical voices rolled out joyously as the box
moved forward:

        “_But the bob-tailed mare bears the bells away._”

Inwardly she was thinking that a “funeral coach” was just what it was.
Did its bells not ring the knell of all the peaceful past? Yes, it was
the hearse of her past, of her youth. And somehow—somehow—she must
readjust herself to the strange raw cruelty of the present.


                                   V

She resettled him before his Bible. But when she returned from the
stable, he had wandered again to the chest of drawers, and was now
holding up the pot.

“And ye told me Oi was dreamin’!” he said angrily. “Why did ye lie to
me?”

“What do you mean, Gran’fer?” she said, flushing.

“How did that pot come here?”

“I brought it, of course.”

“No, you dedn’t. Annie’s good-for-nawthen son brought it.”

“But I brought it in,” she persisted. “It was lying on the path.”

“Ah! Oi mind me now—he threw it at me.”

“The wretch!” said Jinny, believing him. “Poor Gran’fer!” she cried with
self-reproach, patting his hairy hand. “But it’s bedtime. Come along!”

“Why did ye lie to me?” he repeated, unappeased.

“There’s no funeral coach,” she persisted. But even as she spoke, the
faint tooting of a horn was heard from afar. Nip, idly gulping at flies,
pricked up his ears; the ancient uttered a cry:

“The coach! The coach!”

Jinny’s hand clutched his more tightly. They could now hear the distant
rattling and jingling—the Flynt Flyer was incredibly coming their way,
along that grass-grown road. What was it doing by that lonely Common,
she wondered tremulously. What customers were there to steal here? Did
the pirate hanker even after Uncle Lilliwhyte?

“You’ll lose your beauty sleep, Gran’fer!” She drew him towards the
corkscrew staircase. But he broke from her convulsively and hobbled out
into the path, and stood with hand at ear towards the advancing clatter.
To be seen staring at its meteoric passing would be too dreadful.

“Go in, Nip,” she cried with unwonted harshness. “Are you coming,
Gran’fer?” she said, following the dog, “or shall I bolt you out? Must
bolt up against thieves, you know.” And she began singing cheerily:

        “_There is Hey, there is Ree_”

“Nay, ’tis the black hosses that bears the bells away, curse ’em. What
should coaches be doing in these parts?”

“Same as me, I suppose,” she said with desperate lightness. “It’s only
that young man who fancies himself a-driving and a-blowing.”

“A young man come to steal _my_ business!”

“Well, one can’t lock that up! Come in, Gran’fer.”

“Oi’ll lock _him_ up! What’s the thief’s name?”

“He’s not a thief. It’s the young man from Frog Farm.”

“That whippersnapper! Come with a coach to drive over you and me——!”

“That’s just what he’d try to do if we stand here! Come inside—the
jackanips’ll only think we’re envying his bonkka turn-out.”

The argument and the touch of idiom succeeded, though she could feel his
form shaking with passion as she drew him in. “Why did ye keep it from
me?” he asked pitifully.

“Because I knew you’d get in a state.” As she shot the bolts, the better
to shut Will out, she realized that her beating heart was somehow left
outside, and that it was drawing her after it through doors howsoever
barred and windows howsoever fastened, if only to watch the pageant of
his passing.

“A funeral coach,” the ancient was mumbling, “you and Jinny may well
call it so, ole sluggaby.”

“Yes, indeed, we may, Gran’fer,” she said, smiling. “For it’s his own
funeral he’s conducting. He’ll soon come a cropper.”

“Blast him!” growled the Gaffer.

“Hush!” Jinny was shocked. “It’s all as fair as fair.”

“For over a hundred year we’ve fetched and carried ’twixt Bradmarsh and
Chipstone, and now this scallywag with his new-fangled black hosses——”
A fit of coughing broke off the speech, and he suddenly looked so much
like the last stage of man in the Spelling-Book that Jinny had to put
him back into his chair.

“Didn’t I say you’d get into a state? But you know there’s more carrying
than I—than we can manage. Haven’t you sent lots of our customers
away?”

“Curse ’em!” said the Gaffer comprehensively. “Warmin! And Oi told ’em
sow to their head!”

“He’s only got our leavings, you see.” And she burst out in gay parody:

           “_There is black, both of black,_
            _Let ’em run till they crack,_
        _’Tis Methusalem bears the bells away._”

But the bells were now jingling nearer and nearer—jingling in
victorious arrogance. The old man started up again in his chair. “How
dare Caleb Flynt’s lad set hisself up agen me?”

“Don’t, Gran’fer.” She pressed him down. “Competition, folks call it.
He’s got to earn his living just like us.”

“Nobody shan’t come competitioning here.” He broke from her again.
“Daniel shall be an adder what biteth the hoss heels.” He began
unbolting the door.

“You’ll never be able to bite _his_ horse heels,” she urged. “They fly
by like the wind.”

She had a sick fear the old man would hurl himself at the bridles, be
dragged to death. But to her astonishment, ere he had lifted the latch,
she heard the horses slowing down. The eight sounding hoofs, the
clanging swingle-trees and harness, the great road-grinding equipage,
were actually coming to a halt at her porch.

“Whoa, Snowdrop! Easy there, Cherry-blossom!” She knew the humour of
these names of theirs, as she knew from a hundred channels of gossip
everything about their owner, even to the identity of the blonde young
female from Foxearth Farm who was so persistently a passenger.

So he had been forced to humiliate himself, to make the first
approach—it was she who had, after all, been the conqueror, who had
held out the longer! And in a swift flood of emotion she felt more than
ever the injustice of her grandfather’s standpoint. Will had not “come
competitioning.” It had all been unpremeditated. The horses had been
left on his hands by that harum-scarum Showman. And anyhow, was he not
serving the countryside better than she with her ramshackle little cart?
But whatever the rights and the wrongs, a scene between the two men must
be prevented.

“He’s come to eat humble pie, Gran’fer,” she whispered. “But we don’t
see people after office hours—and it’s your bedtime.”

“Oi’ll show him who’s who,” said the Gaffer, disregarding her.

“But you can’t do that like this!” she urged with the cunning of
desperation. “Put on your Sunday smock.”

“Ay, ay! Oi’ll larn him to come crakin’ and vauntin’.” His face lit up
with baleful satisfaction, as he thought of the rare stitching in the
gathers and patterns of that frock of fine linen.

As Jinny, relieved, was sheep-dogging him up to his room, they heard the
butt-end of a whip beating at the house-door.

“Daniel Quarles takes his time, young man,” the Gaffer observed to the
cobwebbed corkscrew staircase. And to Jinny, when she shut his door on
him, he called back: “Do ye don’t forgit to put out the beer. And two
glasses.”


                                   VI

That imperious butt-end gave no time to change back to her own
ostentatious costume. But she did not pause even to tear off her flecked
apron. After all, in face of his surrender, she could forgo arrogance of
appearance. Besides, he would scarcely have time to notice anything, so
swiftly must she be rid of him—however she might savour his
surrender—before her grandfather could re-descend upon him. True, the
call for beer showed a relaxed tension, but who could predict the effect
of quaffing it upon two hot-tempered males? Ignoring the injunction, she
hurried to the house-door.

“Good evening, Miss Boldero.”

She was a shade disconcerted by the formality. But a great waft of the
old friendship seemed to emanate from his frank eyes and the red hair
his hat-lifting uncovered. She felt herself drawn to that flame like a
poor little moth: she wanted to fall upon his magnanimous
morning-jacket, to sob away her sin of pride.

“Good evening, Mr. Flynt,” she murmured.

He was astonished at the sight of her, and taken aback. Mentally he had
shaken her off, had ridden over her by force of will, finding occupation
and exhilaration in his new and prosperous adventure; finding
consolation, too, in the creamy beauty of the girl who shuttled with
such suspicious frequency in the Flynt Flyer. Blanche suggested not only
cream but butter, so pliant and pattable did she seem, so ready to take
the impress of Will’s personality. That was very restful after the
intense irritativeness of the rival carrier.

For irritativeness still remained to him Jinny’s essence—even in their
alienation. Her horn-blowing still jarred, her pink muslin dress was a
new provocation. He was vexed at her jog-trot apathy when their vehicles
passed, an apathy that took the sting out of his speed. He was piqued
that she did not complain to any one of his competition, that she took
no steps of reprisal, made no objection even to Nip’s visits to him. But
the central irritation in all these fleeting glimpses and encounters had
been her prettiness.

Now, seeing her close for the first time since their quarrel at the
cattle-market, and without her being whisked away, he had a shock. Why,
she was not pretty at all: she was shabby and wan! Where was the sparkle
that had haunted the depths of him? The real Jinny was, it suddenly
became patent, a worn creature with shadows under her eyes and little
lines on her forehead. How could he ever have imagined her attractive?
Why, Blanche was like a sultana beside her.

But if the thrill he had expected to feel was replaced by this dull
disappointment, another emotion did not fail to supervene. It was
pity—pity not unmixed with compunction. Had it been so manly as he had
thought, to come interfering with her business, violating the immemorial
local tradition which assigned the carrying to a Quarles?

“Won’t you come in?” she was forced to say, seeing him silent and
petrified in the porch.

“Thank you—I’ve only brought this from Miss Gentry,” he answered in
awkward negation. He had come to jeer, but now he held the pot of Hair
Restorer apologetically.

Jinny went from white to red. It was the supreme humiliation. Not only
had he not come to make it up: he had come at the culminating moment of
his triumph—sent as a carrier to _her_! And sent not merely with a
parcel, but with the proof of her blundering!

“How kind of her!” she said, taking it, but neither her hand nor her
voice was steady. “Did she send any message with it?”

“Not particularly.” He had meant to rub in Miss Gentry’s denunciations
of female stupidity, to demand the other pot, but his heart failed.

“Well, thank her for her present,” said poor Jinny, struggling hard for
composure. “And tell her I’ll be giving her something in return on my
next round.”

He suppressed a smile; shamed from it by the pathos of her courage.

“I guess she means it for your grandfather,” he said chivalrously.

“Perhaps she does,” Jinny murmured. She turned away to close the door on
herself. The beautiful black horses pawed the ground impatiently. Will
shuffled and squirmed less gracefully—there seemed nothing to do but to
go. Had he not refused to step inside? But he had taken her at the end
of his long round, he had deposited all his passengers and packages, and
he felt loth to leave her thus. A resolution was forming within
him—generating so rapidly in the warmth of compunction and renewed
comradeship, that possibly the germs of it had already taken root in his
subconsciousness when Nip’s label brought him her sneer at his lack of a
guard.

“It’s very hot,” he fenced, lingering. “Can I have a glass of water?”

She started, remembering the Gaffer’s admonition.

“Oh, won’t you have a glass of beer?”

“No, thanks, just Adam’s ale.”

Almost liquefied herself by feeling this son of Adam needed her,—even
thus slightly—she moved swiftly to and fro, returning with the glass.
But not so swiftly that she had not smuggled Oliver’s Depilatory and the
wedding-cake into the kitchen in case he should yet come in. He took the
glass, managing to touch her cold trembling fingers.

“Much obliged,” he said, after a deep draught, and this time it was
_her_ fingers that were drawn, though less consciously, to touch his
round the returned glass. Then, swallowing something harder than water,
“I’ve been thinking about it all, Jinny, and I’m sorry——” he blurted.

“Ha!” Her heart leapt up again.

“Sorry for you,” he explained.

“For me?” Her face hardened.

“I—I—mean,” he corrected, stammeringly, “sorry to hurt your business.”

“You haven’t hurt my business! There’s room for both! It’s a fair
competition.”

“It’s very forgiving of you to say so. But I said I’d start a
coach-service and I had to make my word good, hadn’t I? A man can’t say
a thing and leave it empty air.”

“No.” In her new humility she was prepared to admire such solid manhood.

“But that’s no reason why we should be bad friends, is it?”

She had thought that it was; now, that attitude of hers seemed
childishly foolish. Self-abasement kept her dumb.

“No reason,” he repeated, mistaking her silence for obstinacy, “why we
shouldn’t shake hands.”

“Only this glass,” she flashed more happily. But it shook in her hand.

“Ah!” He sighed with satisfaction. The way to his proposition lay open.
He could broach it at once.

“Much better to pull together, eh?”

“Much,” she echoed. How sweet to see the mists of folly and bitterness
rolling away, to feel the weight lifting from her heart. Impulsively she
held out her left hand, and as he clasped it, the warmth that came to
him from its cold firmness somewhat shook his sense of Blanche’s
surpassing charm. Charm, in fact, seemed—to his bewilderment—to be
independent of beauty. Or was it that what radiated from Jinny’s little
hand was a sense of capable comradeship, missing from that large limp
palm which received but did not give? Well, but comradeship was what he
wanted, what he was now going to propose. And if charm was thrown in, so
much the better for the partnership.

“Aha, Son of Belial! So ye’ve come to bog and vaunt your horn here!”

It was her forgotten grandfather. Startled from her daydream, she
dropped the glass and it shivered to fragments. In the dusk Daniel
Quarles, wizened though he was, loomed prophetic over them in snowy
beard and smock, his forehead gloomed with thunder and his ancient
beaver.


                                  VII

Will drew out his white handkerchief, and tying it on his whip waved it
humorously.

The old man was disconcerted in his Biblical vein. “This be a rummy ’un,
Jinny. Is he off his head?”

“No, Gran’fer—that’s a flag of truce. A signal he’s got something
friendly to say.”

The Gaffer turned on her. “Then why don’t ye arx him inside like a
Christian, ’stead o’ breakin’ my glasses?”

“Thank you, Mr. Quarles,” said Will swiftly. He lowered the flag, and
almost rushed across the threshold. Jinny retreated before him, and the
trio passed silently through the ticking ante-chamber.

“Why don’t ye loight the lamp?” the Gaffer grumbled. Jinny gratefully
flew to hide her perturbation in the kitchen. True, she would only be
throwing more light upon it. But the breathing-space was welcome.

“Hadn’t you better have a look at my coach before it gets darker?” Will
was reminded to say.

“Curse your coach!” He had reawakened the prophet.

“Easy, there!” said Will, untying his handkerchief. “It’s to be a family
coach now, you see.”

“Family coach!” repeated Daniel, puzzled.

Jinny, fumbling at the lamp with butter-fingers, was glad it had not yet
illumined her blushes. For, mingled with the rapturous tumult at her
heart was a shrinking sense of impending publicity, of ethereal emotions
too swiftly and masterfully translated into gross commitments. How had
her mere passive acquiescence in a better relationship warranted Will’s
larger assumptions?

“Well, that’s what it’ll be if you accept my proposition, won’t it?” she
heard Will say.

“Set ye down, set ye down!” said Daniel. “What’s your proposition?
Jinny, why’re you lazying with that lamp?”

“In a moment, Gran’fer.”

She brought it in, its fat globe shedding a rosy glow over the dingy
wall-paper, the squat chairs, and the china shepherdesses. But for
herself she had no need of it. Everything seemed to her transfigured,
steeped in a heavenly light.

“Where’s that beer?” the ancient roared, its absence illumined.

She was glad to escape into the kitchen with her jug. Will moved towards
the front door.

“You come and see the coach, Mr. Quarles,” he persisted, “before it’s
too dark.”

“Dang your coach!” But the imprecation was mild and the ancient shuffled
to the door and surveyed the imposing equipage complete from box to
boot, with its glossy sable steeds. Will, swelling with renewed pride,
and mentally comparing it with the canvas-rotted, lumbering little
carrier’s cart and the aged animal on its last legs, awaited with
complacency the rapturous exclamations of the old connoisseur.

But they did not come. “Ay, quite soizable, not such a bad coach,
rayther top-heavy. Where’s the leaders?”

“You don’t want more than two horses on these roads. Ain’t there plenty
o’ pair-horse coaches? Besides it don’t set up for a coach exactly. I’m
a carrier mainly!”

The old man winced at the word.

“You’ve called her the Flynt Flyer,” he said, peering at the painted
legend.

“And fly she does!” said Will, recovering his complacency. “There’s life
and spirit for you!” he added, as the horses pawed and tossed their
heads.

“More like an adder biting their heels!” said Daniel balefully. “But Oi
thought Oi heerd they was black!”

Will was outraged. “The Devil himself couldn’t be blacker!”

Daniel shook his head. “Mud-colour Oi should call the offside hoss.”

“Well, there’s black mud, ain’t there?”

“Nearside hoss seems wheezy,” Daniel said sympathetically, as it snorted
with impatience.

“Wheezy? Cherry-blossom? Why, he could run ten miles more without
turning a hair.”

“Why, he’s sweatin’ like one o’clock!”

“So am I.” Will wiped his forehead furiously. “But that’s only the
weather.”

“Hosses don’t want to sweat when there’s nowt to carry.”

For a moment Will was knocked breathless. Recovering, he smiled
complacently. “Why, it’s all delivered. And it _was_ a deliverance. A
terrible load. Phew!”

“Nothing to ours! Lord, what a mort o’ custom! Look at that whopping box
we’ve just carried in.” He pointed to the ante-room. “And all they other
boxes!” he added with an inspiration, staring at the lumber of his
deceased and scattered family.

“Oh, I know,” Will conceded graciously, “that there are folks that stick
to Jinny—I mean to you—for old sake’s sake.”

“Ay, and you’re hankerin’ arter our hundred years’ connexion!”

“Eh?” said Will, dazed. He stole a reassuring glance at his magnificent
turn-out.

“Oi could see what ye were droivin’ at with your friendly proposition.
Want us to take you into pardnership.”

Will slapped his knee. “Well, I’m danged.”

Daniel chuckled fatuously. “Ho, ho! Guessed it, did Oi? Ye can’t keep
much from Daniel Quarles.” And in high good humour he laid his hand on
the young man’s shoulder and moved him back into the house.

They found Jinny, who had just deposited the beer-jug on the table,
flitting up the stairs.

“Where ye gooin’, Jinny?” the Gaffer called after her.

“You’ve got things to talk over,” she called back.

“It ain’t secrets,” he crowed.

“Don’t run away,” Will added. “You’re the person most concerned.”

But his blushing rival had disappeared. It was all too unnerving,
especially when the cracked mirror, aided by the fat lamp, showed her
what a shabby unkempt figure was setting out the beer-glasses on the
tiger-painted tray. As she could not change into her grand gown under
the invader’s eye, she was furtively carrying it up to her grandfather’s
bedroom.


                                  VIII

“Set ye down,” repeated the Gaffer. “Have a glass o’ beer.”

“No, thank you, I’ve had water.”

“And the glass too,” the old man chuckled. “That ain’t much of a chate.
Have a shiver o’ cake.”

Will did not like to refuse the slice till the Gaffer, after looking
round with growing grumpiness, brought in the great wedding-cake from
the kitchen, naked of its carton.

“Muddlin’ things away,” he was murmuring, as he posed it pompously on
the table, whence its high-built glory of frosted sugar shed a festal
air over the room.

“No, thank you!” cried Will hastily, divining a mistake—on the Gaffer’s
part, if not on Jinny’s. He guessed Farmer Gale was concerned with it,
for the whole countryside was agog with the meanness of a wedding that
did not include a labourers’ supper, nay, even a holiday for them. The
old man glared, bread-knife in hand.

“It would give me stomach-ache,” Will apologized.

The confession arrested the ancient. “Never had gullion in my life,” he
bragged, laying down the bread-knife. “But you young folks——!”

“It’s like this,” said Will, taking advantage of this better mood.
“There’s not enough business to keep both of us going. Suppose I buy you
out.”

“Buy me out!” The prophet of wrath resurged. His arm shot out for the
bread-knife, pointing it door ward. “Git out o’ my house. For a hundred
year——”

Will got angry. “If I do get out, it _will_ be a hundred years before I
come back. However,” he said, forcing a smile, “let’s put it another
way. Jinny shall come and help _my_ business.”

“Jinny’ll never give up Methusalem.”

“Well, Methusalem’ll give up Jinny before very long—he can’t last for
ever. And she can keep him for Sundays—yes, that’ll be a good idea. She
can drive to chapel with him, not being a business animal.” “And then
she’d be clear of successors to Farmer Gale,” a side-thought added.

“But Oi thought ’twas me you had a proposition for,” said the Gaffer
testily.

Will hastily readjusted his tactics. “Of course, of course. It’s really
lumping our businesses, instead of competing, don’t you see?”

“Well, dedn’t Oi say ’twas a pardnership you was arter?”

“Quite right. Only we’ll give poor old Methusalem a retiring pension.”

“He, he!” croaked the Gaffer. He added honestly, “But Oi don’t droive
much meself nowadays. ’Tis onny the connexion ye’d be getting and the
adwice and counsel.”

“Just what I want,” said Will enthusiastically. “And I’m willing to
share and share alike.”

“Snacks?”

“Snacks!”

“It’s not a bad notion,” admitted the ancient.

“It’s a ripping notion.”

“Arter all, as you say, there’s no reason we should come into
colloosion.” He dropped the knife back on the table, and looked out of
the still open window.

“Ay, it’s a grand coach!” he gurgled.

“The talk of the countryside—only needs a turnpike road to beat the
train!” said Will, expanding afresh. “Snowdrop and Cherry-blossom I call
these horses for fun—because they’re so black, you see.”

“Ay, black as the devil! And hark at ’em pawin’—there’s fire and
sperrit for you. That’s as foine a coach as ever Oi took up from. It’ll
not look amiss with Quarles painted ’stead o’ Flynt.”

“I beg your pardon,” said Will quickly. “Flynt must remain. The Flynt
Flyer—you can’t alter that.”

“Why can’t you?”

“You can’t say the Quarles Flyer—the Quarles Creeper runs better off
the tongue. The Flynt Flyer—that goes together.”

“But it’s you and me’s got to goo together,” retorted the obstinate old
man. “Anyways it must be the Quarles and Flynt Flyer.”

“That’s too long. Besides the Flynt Flyer’s become a trade-mark—known
everywhere.”

“And what about Daniel Quarles, Carrier? That’s a better known
trade-mark. We’ll paint that.”

Will shook his head. “I can’t do that, but I’ll paint Flynt and Quarles,
Carriers, underneath the name of the coach. And that’s the limit.”

“Daniel Quarles was always a peaceable man. . . . Quarles and Flynt!”
breathed the Gaffer beatifically.

“No, Flynt and Quarles,” Will corrected. “Flynt must go first.”

“Why must?”

“Don’t F come before Q? Folks would think we didn’t know our A B C.”

“It _would_ be more scholardy,” Daniel admitted.

Will proffered a conclusive hand. “Then it’s a bargain!” But Daniel let
the hand hover.

“Oi don’t droive much meself nowadays,” he repeated with anxious
honesty.

“We don’t expect it of the head of the firm,” said Will grandly;
“there’s substitutes and subordinates.” But his hand drooped with a
sense of bathos.

“Ay,” said the old man, swelling, “subordinators and granddarters.” He
fished for the hand.

“Oughtn’t we to let ’em know?” Will insinuated.

“Oi allus liked young Flynt, your father,” answered the Gaffer,
squeezing his fingers heartily. “And there warn’t much amiss with your
mother. A forthright family, aldoe Peculiar. Jinny droives a-Sundays to
chapel with the buoy-oys!”

At which sudden failure—or rather resurgence—of memory, Will felt more
urgently than ever the need of getting Jinny’s consent rather than the
nonagenarian’s.

“You’re mighty lucky,” he said craftily, “to have a granddaughter so
spry. I reckon we’d better have her down and tell her.”

“Ay, that Oi be,” replied the Gaffer. “’Tis heartenin’ to hear her
singin’ up and down the house.”

Indeed a little silvery trill was reaching them now. To Will it recalled
more than one moment of mockery, but he felt nothing provocative in this
song except its parade of happiness. It seemed to fling back his
compassion, to be ominous of a refusal of his proposition. Perhaps, on
second thoughts, it might be better to leave the old man to present her
with a finished fact.

“Well, I must be getting home,” he said. “Glad that’s settled.”

Daniel clutched the knife again. “And we’ll cut the cake upon it.”

“No, no.” Mistake or no mistake, it seemed sacrilegious to slice into
this quasi-ecclesiastical magnificence.

“But it’s a bargain. Jinny shall cut it. Jinny!” he called up.

“Just coming, Gran’fer.”

“That’s too grand for a bargain,” Will remonstrated. “Would almost do
for a wedding,” he added with sly malice.

“Well, ain’t this for a pardnership?” the old man cackled. He moved to
the door and stood looking out on the horses. “Steady, my beauties,” he
said proprietorially. He shuffled to them and rubbed a voluptuous hand
along the satiny sheen of their skins. “Flynt and Quarles,” he murmured.

Will had taken the opportunity to escape from the house. He now prepared
to light his lamps. Bats were swooping and darting, weaving their weird
patterns, but the air was still uncooled.

“Ye’re not a-gooin’ afore the cake’s cut!” the Gaffer protested.

“I’d best not see Jinny—she might only fly at me.”

“Rubbidge. When we’ve made it up!”

“But I’m late, and I shouldn’t wonder if there’s a thunderstorm.”

“Won’t take half a jiffy!” He dashed into the house and seized the
knife. Will was only in time to arrest his uplifted arm, and Jinny,
descending on the tableau, had a tragi-comic sense of rushing betwixt a
murderer and her lover.

“What are you doing, Gran’fer?” she gasped.

He surrendered the bread-knife blinkingly to her, and Will released his
arm, struck breathless by the change in Jinny. Not only were apron and
shabby gown replaced by the Gentry masterpiece, not only was her hair
combed and braided in a style he had never seen, but the face which
reduced all these fripperies to insignificance seemed years younger and
fresher. The little lines were gone from the forehead, the hard defiance
from the eyes, and the wanness from the cheeks: the whole face was
mantled with a soft light. How shrewd he had been to suggest this
partnership, he thought with a pleasant glow, forgetting its origin in
pity. For assuredly this softly radiant person made no call on that
emotion. The old man was equally astonished. “Why, Jinny, ye’re as smart
as a carrot!” he cried naïvely. “Bless ye.” He kissed her fondly.
“Willie wants to goo into pardnership—Quarles and Flynt.”

The young people looked at each other, both as carrots in hue.

“Well, Willie, where’s your tongue? Tell her how we’ve settled it.”

“He can tell me on Sunday,” said Jinny, not utterly unresentful of their
masculine methods.

“On Sunday?” the Gaffer gasped.

“After chapel,” Jinny explained.

“Oi won’t have no such talk a-Sundays. It’s got to be now. Goo ahead,
buoy-oy!”

“Oh, Gran’fer,” Jinny pleaded. “Can’t you go and light Will’s lamps?”

“Ye want to upset it all behind my back,” he said with a cunning air.

“No, I don’t.”

“Ye can’t diddle Daniel Quarles. It’s a fust-rate proposition, and don’t
ye dare say ‘Noa.’”

“But, Gran’fer!” Jinny hung her head. “You might understand.”

“Oi understand better nor you. Look at that coach now—a grand
coach—Quarles and Flynt.”

“Never mind the coach—light the lamps,” Jinny cried paradoxically.

Daniel moved out reluctantly. “It’s a hansum proposition, Jinny,” he
said. “Where’s your tinder-box, Willie?”

“Here’s matches,” said Will. He looked uneasy. Her grandfather seemed to
be irritating the girl—it boded ill for his proposition.

“Don’t be afeared, Willie. She won’t fly at ye now. Easy, my beauties.
Steady, Snowdrop!”


                                   IX

“You don’t mind my clearing up,” said Jinny, pouncing upon Farmer Gale’s
imperilled cake.

“Not if you don’t fly at me,” Will quoted with a nervous facetiousness.

Jinny smiled with equal nervousness: “Oh, I won’t fly at you—nor jump
at you, neither.”

Will flinched. Had he not felt committed to her grandfather, he would
have shrunk from the rebuff now menacing his proposition. Indeed, he was
not quite clear as to how he could really amalgamate the two concerns.
The notion of a girl guard, which had first flashed upon him as an
inspiration, was now felt to be beset by obstacles. True, the operations
of blowing such a long horn, taking so many fares, booking so many
parcels, and locking and unlocking the boots, were a serious discount
from the pleasures of driving, and a person familiar with the minutiæ of
carrying, and a ready-reckoner incarnate, (and so agreeably incarnate)
might well seem providential. But would the unfitness of so
unconventional an occupation be glossed over by the existing acceptance
of her in that line of business, and would his overlordship be a
protection or an added scandal? Still, he was in for it now, unless she
refused the post—which he hoped she would not! For after all, at the
worst, with all these new circuits of his, he might still leave to her
her little pottering round, counting it as a branch of the new Flynt and
Quarles business. He would still have won the monopoly of the local
carrying, and without the weight on his conscience of starving her out.

“I know you’ve got a deal of pride and all that,” he began diffidently,
“but you’ll bear in mind your grandfather’s tickled with the notion.”

“It’s hardly Gran’fer’s business,” Jinny murmured, blushing.

“Oh, I quite understand that. Of course it’s your business really.
Didn’t I ask you not to run away? I didn’t mean to reckon it settled
unless _you_ said ‘Yes.’”

“I should hope not,” said Jinny with a spirit that banished the blush.
She carried the cake back to the top of the chest of drawers.

“Of course it’s silly our going on separate, don’t you think so?”

“I haven’t thought.” She took up the beer-jug to remove it.

“Well, I have—I’ve thought a good deal—that’s why I figured that with
you as my partner—No, not for me, thank you.”

For Jinny was mechanically filling a glass. Flushing afresh, she poured
the beer back. “But who’s to look after Gran’fer?” she said, her eyes
averted. “How can I leave him?”

“I’ve thought of that—naturally when you’re so much with me, you can’t
be much with him. But, you see, there’ll be plenty of dollars to share
out—money, I mean—and we’d be able to get in a woman to take care of
him.”

To get in a woman! So he was prepared to let poor old Gran’fer live with
them! O exquisite, incredible magnanimity! It solved all difficulties in
a flash. “And what about Methusalem?” she asked, expectant of a
similarly sublime solution.

“Poor old Methusalem!” he laughed. “Won’t he like going to grass? Well,
if he’s so very keen, suppose he trots around once a week on his own
little affairs—hair-restorers and the like.”

Even the little dart failed to pierce. She was overwhelmed by this
culminating magnanimity. This was indeed surrender. So she was _not_
ignorant of horses, so her work had _not_ been improper. She smiled
responsively, but her voice shook. “You mean I can carry on?”

“Under the Flynt flag, of course.”

“You wouldn’t really mind?”

“All’s grist that comes to the mill. Besides, it would leave me free to
branch out to Totfield Major, and perhaps even Colchester. Tuesdays,
say, if you like.”

But she did not like. Her conception of a wife’s dignity boggled at the
notion of driving around as before. Unmaidenly it was not—he had
handsomely admitted it—but unwifely it assuredly was. A wife’s place,
she felt instinctively, was the home. She shook her head. “I don’t think
I ought to drive Methusalem any more.”

He gasped. “Well, you wouldn’t expect to handle a _pair_ of horses,
would you?”

If he meant she could not, Jinny was not so sure. But why argue so
irrelevant a point? “No, of course not,” she murmured obediently. “I
mean Methusalem _will_ like going out to grass.”

He breathed freely again. The path to his project was clear at last.
“But as a sort of guard now——” he ventured, With an indulgent air.

Jinny beamed at so facetious a picture. She saw herself in red, with big
buttons and shorn hair. “So I’m to blow your horn for you after all!”

“Sure—once you’ve paid up the gloves!”

She laughed merrily. Even Miss Gentry’s bill was a dissipated nightmare
now.

“But where shall I get the money?” she joked, for the pleasure of his
reply.

“Oh, you’ll take all the money,” he instructed her seriously.

“I’ll have to allow you some, though,” she pointed out gaily.

“Half,” he explained. “We divide the takings equally—that’s my
proposition. Snacks!”

“Oh, that’s much too much,” she protested as seriously.

The apparent admission pleased him, but increased his sense of
magnanimity. “Share and share alike,” he repeated magnificently.

“But you don’t want to spend half the takings,” Jinny persisted. “How
could I manage on a half?”

“Why, you’ll have much more than you ever had!”

Jinny was mystified. “But there’ll be the house to keep up and—and——”
She paused with shy flaming cheeks.

Will was getting a bit puzzled too. “And your grandfather? But I’ve
already offered to pay for him and his minder too—out of the joint
takings, I mean. Surely half and half is the most you can expect.”

But it showed once more how little our Jinny had really been changed
from early-Victorian womanhood by her exceptional experiences, that so
unconventional a system of joint housekeeping made no appeal to her. “A
quarter is the most _you_ can expect,” she retorted.

“What!” Will was even more revolted by her ingratitude than by her
impudence. “When you only bring in your wretched little cart, and I sank
all my capital in the coach!”

“Your capital?” Jinny repeated blankly.

“You know what I had to pay for the horses!”

It was an unfortunate memory to stir up, and it helped a flood of raw
light to burst upon her.

“You’re not really proposing I should be your guard?” she asked in a
changed voice.

“Yes, I am,” he reassured her.

“For money?” she breathed incredulously.

“Of course. You don’t suppose I ask it for love! Business is——!”

Jinny turned on him like a tigress—anger was the only thing that could
drown this dreadful sense of shame. “How dare you?” she cried. “How dare
you ask me to work for you for money?”

Will winced before her passion. “You promised not to fly at me,” he
reminded her glumly.

“I didn’t think you’d suggest that.”

“And what’s wrong in suggesting a partnership?”

“A partnership!” she sneered. “Do you suppose I’m going to pull you out
of the mud?”

Will’s blood was up in its turn. “You pull _me_?”

“What else? You find yourself stuck and you come to me to save your
funeral coach.”

“Funeral coach?”

“That’s what Gran’fer calls it. And you _will_ find yourself carrying
corpses if you go on cooping up your passengers in this weather. Your
silly concern hasn’t got a tilt to take off, but at least you might put
the luggage inside and the live-stock on top. Oh, don’t be frightened, I
won’t charge for my advice. But you being young and raw——”

“Here! Stow that!” Will banged the floor with his whip. “Then you refuse
my offer!”

“Offer? I call it a petition.”

“Me petitioning——!” His breath failed.

“It wasn’t me that came with a flag of truce.”

He snorted. “You’ll come one day with a cry for mercy.”

“Me! You’ll never see _me_ at Frog Farm. I’d rather go to the
poorhouse—to see you, I mean.”

Will set his teeth. “Very well then—my conscience is clear. I did think
I might have been hard on you. But now——!”

“Now,” she echoed mockingly.

“I shall crush you.”

She laughed tauntingly “Pride goes before a fall.”

“I shall crush you without pity.”

“You young rapscallion!” It was the Gaffer hobbling back. Having lit the
coach-lamps, he had lingered in voluptuous contemplation of what they
illumined. But the noise of high words had reached him, and now with the
astonishing muscularity that still lingered in his shrunken frame, the
ancient seized the whip and wrenched it from Will’s grasp. Jinny flew
between them, fearing he would strike as he stood there in prophetic
fury, palpitating in his every limb. Her earlier intervention, though
against a knife, had been comic: here was tragedy, she felt.

“You crush my Jinny! Why, Oi’ll snap ye in two like this whip.” And he
hurled the pieces of the stock at Will’s feet.

Nip leapt for the butt-end and brought it back in his mouth with
high-wagging tall, demanding another throw. He broke the tension of
foolish mortality.

“Don’t excite yourself, Gran’fer,” said Jinny, leading him to his chair.
“I’ll cut him out before he’s a month older.”

Will guffawed. “I offered her a fair chance, Mr. Quarles,” he said,
taking the butt from Nip’s mouth. “You yourself said it was a handsome
offer.”

“We don’t want your offers, ye pirate thief, nor your chances neither.
Ye’ve only got our crumbles. Oi’ve sent a mort o’ customers to hell, and
you can goo with ’em.”

“As you please.” Will picked up the whip-end quietly. But the old
volcano was still rumbling.

“You crush my Jinny—you with your flags and rags. Why, all Bradmarsh
’ould give ye rough music. Ye’d be tin-kettled.”

“Very well! Only don’t say I didn’t give you a fair and friendly chance.
Don’t blame me if you come to want bread.”

“Bread!” The old man sprang towards the chest of drawers and this time
the cake was stabbed to the heart. “Have a shiver?” he cried
magnificently, holding up a regal hunk on the knife-point.

Even Will was taken aback by this deed of derring-do. “Better save it
up,” he said sullenly.

“Save it?” repeated Daniel hysterically. Nip was already on his hind
legs begging for it—with a superb gesture the prodigal grandfather
threw it at the tireless mouth. “Never you darken my doorstep again!” he
cried to Will.

Will cracked his bit of whip with a scornful laugh. “Before you see me
in this house again, you’ll have to carry me in!”

“Carry him in? D’ye hear that, Nip?” The ancient chuckled
contemptuously. “That’s a good ’un.”

“Carry me in,” repeated Will fiercely. And holding up his hand, “So help
me God!” he cried.

“Spare your swearings, buoy-oy,” said Daniel grimly, throwing the
plaintive Nip another pile of sugary splendour. “Ye ’ont never cross
this threshold agen save on your hands and knees.” And sending his knife
quivering into the floor, he brought down his hand on his Bible. “On
your hands and knees,” he repeated solemnly.

Will turned and strode out stiffly. He looked almost tall. A moment
later they heard the clatter and jingle of the great equipage moving
forwards and the jubilant winding of the long horn.



                               CHAPTER X


                        HORSE, GROOM, AND BRIDE

                  _Then lay my tott’ring legs so low_
                    _That have run very far,_
                  _O’er hedges and o’er ditches,_
                    _O’er turnpike gate and bar,_
                  _Poor old horse! Poor old horse!_
                                       Somerset Song.


                                   I

NORMALLY the nonagenarian preserved scant memory of the happenings of
the present, vivid though his youthful recollections were: But the great
wedding-cake, served up at every meal for days, co-operated with the
intensity of the scene to stamp his quarrel with Will upon his feebly
registering brain. Especially did Nip’s standing supplication for his
quota revive and deepen the impression. “On your hands and knees!” he
would cry savagely, as he threw the lucky dog a luscious morsel. And
even when Nip was absent at meal-times—as his mistress contrived more
than once, in her anxiety to pamper neither him nor her grandfather’s
resentment—the old man would growl grimly: “Carry him in!” Aching
enough at heart from her own quarrel with Will, she had the wretched
feeling that if by some impossibility she and her rival could ever again
come together, the grotesque oaths of these two obstinate males would
keep the family breach unhealed.

But sentiment cannot retain its acuteness under business worries and
carking household cares. The rich cake eaten through so monotonously
became to Jinny a sort of ironic symbol of the declining fortunes of
Blackwater Hall. It contributed indeed no little to the decay of the old
business, not merely by the great sum that had to be paid to the
confectioner, but through the loss of the considerable customer whose
hymeneal festivities its absence overgloomed. Marie Antoinette’s advice
to the starving to eat cake did not come into the Spelling-Book,
otherwise Jinny might have reflected how near they were come to adopting
it. Not that her grandfather had as yet occasion to suspect the bareness
of the larder. Unlike Mother Hubbard he never went to the cupboard, the
cupboard always comfortably coming to him. Moreover, some rabbits shot
by the farmers as the falling crops uncovered them, and presented to the
ancient by annual custom, served to postpone the evil day. Jinny was
hardly conscious how much she stinted herself for his sake, so poor was
her appetite become. It was only once—-when passing the big Harvest
Dinner barn where Farmer Gale’s men roared drunken choruses—that she
felt a craving for food. This valuable freedom from hunger she
attributed to the heat: in the winter, she told herself, she could
always stoke for the week at the Tuesday and Friday meals so amiably
provided at Mother Gander’s. That worthy lady would also doubtless
refill grandfather’s beer-barrel at cost price. It was fortunate he did
not smoke or snuff. Methodism had its points.

A more serious problem was presented by Methusalem—growing distended by
overmuch grass—and even her goats coveted an occasional supplement to
the hedgerows and the oak scrub if their milk was to run freely. But of
hay or cabbages her store was small, and these finicking feeders, though
they condescended to eat horse-chestnuts, would not even accept a gnawed
apple. The poultry, too, must soon be eaten, if they could not be
properly fed, and the thought of instructing her grandfather to twist a
familiar neck made her blood run cold. With such a varied household to
cater for, our little housekeeper began to envy Maria, who, according to
Mrs. Flynt, raised her large and frequent families on everything and
anything on earth, rhubarb-leaves being the one and only pabulum pigs
turned up their snouts at. It was not the least painful part of this
novel pinch of poverty that Jinny felt herself compelled to forgo those
calls with little presents for the Pennymoles, the Bidlakes, and the
poor and the bed-ridden in general, with which she had diversified her
deliveries: she did not realize that her mere presence would have been a
creature comfort.

But of these pangs and problems the world knew naught, hearing her
little horn making its gay music and seeing her still jauntily perched
on her driving-board in her elegant rose-pink frock and with the latest
fancy whipcord edge to the straw of her bonnet. Her music, indeed, was
far livelier than the wheezy notes of the Flynt Flyer’s guard, though
otherwise the red-coated clodhopper who had been stuck up on the coach a
few days after its visit to Blackwater Hall, lent the last touch to its
fascinations. But if passengers, other than Elijah Skindle and one or
two equally unbusinesslike young men, were no longer content to crawl
along in her cart, that historic vehicle showed scant sign of defeat.
Already when the removal of the hoops in the hot weather had threatened
to expose too clearly the nakedness of the land, parcels of stones on
the model of the swain-chaser had begun to cumber it up, and when one
Monday morning the Flynt Flyer came swaggering in new pea-green paint,
the Quarles Crawler turned up on Tuesday mountainous with the old boxes
and cypress clothes-chests routed out of the ante-room, and emptied of
their litter.

It was at this point that the Gaffer had had to be put into the plot. He
had long since begun to smell a rat—having a super-sense for his
business, however his other senses might fail—and it would have been
impossible to heave up the boxes without him, or to explain their
removal without imparting some notion of the tragic truth. And the truth
did not diminish his resentment against young Caleb’s boy or his
vigilance against further robbers. “Carry him in!” he would cackle and
croak as he bore out the emptied “spruce-hutches” to the cart or
carefully permutated their positions in it. Then with hoarse thunder:
“On your hands and knees, ye pirate thief!”

But these ostentated boxes—while they saved the pride of the
Quarleses—did but damage the remainder of their custom. The faithful
few had been held back by solicitude for Jinny’s livelihood: seeing her
now so flourishing, the very tail-board lowered on its chains and
groaning under protruding “portmantles,” her last clients save Peculiars
lapsed in silent relief, one after another. Daily, poor Jinny expected
to see four horses on the rival vehicle and its circuit extended to
Colchester. But that would have meant for Will a grandeur inconsistent
with the petty commissions which he still deigned to execute: it would
have allowed some of her old custom to return to her. And he was
sullenly bent on driving her—literally—out of the business. But he
enhanced the dignity of his profession by copying from an old inn of the
pack-horse days its signboard of “The Carriers’ Arms,” depicting a rope,
a wanty-hook, and five packing skewers. These, painted in black on the
pea-green, seemed to proclaim his formal annexation and monopoly of the
local carrying trade.

Jinny began to think seriously of buying up from the barns some straw
from the reaped sheaves and competing with the cottagers in the
all-pervasive plaiting industry. Splitting straws was no despicable
occupation in the valley of the Brad, where it was done by enginery, and
provided even children of six and old men of eighty with the opportunity
of adding to the family income. Tambour-lace and other things also
entered into her thoughts. The only thing that never entered into them
was the idea of ceasing to ply. So long as the boxes and the cart held
together, the Flynt Flyer should always see the rival vehicle
imperturbably jogging. In every sense she would “carry on.”


                                   II

August was ending aridly. Methusalem’s sensitive nose was protected from
flies by green bracken. Calves snuggled in the hot meadows, meditatively
chewing, an image of somnolence, their tails flicking whitely. Stooks or
manure-heaps had reduced the fields to geometrical patterns. Tall
hollyhocks leaned dustily like ruined towers. Bucolic conversation was
of the absent rain. Rooks were more destructive than ever. Swedes were
doing badly and every one had waited to sow turnips, rape, or mustard.
They had no fodder even for winter stock. Master Peartree began to worry
over his sheep as they munched the sapless grass. In the waterless
little villages the ground was hard as iron, and Bundock strode over the
swamps around Frog Farm as fearlessly as now frequently. “A regular
doucher” was the general demand upon Providence, though it was
couched—for church and chapel—in less vivid terms. These prayers
enabled Bundock to work off one of his old aphorisms, saved for a
rainless day. “It’s no use praying for rain,” he chuckled to the
countryside, “till you see the storm-clouds.” “But you don’t scarce need
to pray then,” the countryside pointed out, to his disgust.

In Jinny’s soul, too, there was drought, and she seemed to share
Bundock’s view that prayer was waste of breath. Not that her evening
prayers were left unsaid, but in her apathy and weariness no private
plea was added to the prescribed form, though the Spelling-Book
commended the asking for extra mercies, provided also one begged for a
perpetual continuance of the Protestant Succession. What deliverance
could there be for her? God Himself, she felt obscurely, could not help
her, any more than she had ever been able to help little mavises fallen
from their nests and deserted by their mothers. Their thrilling-eyed
vitality and exquisite flutterings had only made her miserable. But
perhaps God was now as sorry for her.

One grown-up mavis, too, she remembered, a victim to the winter battle
of life, the neck half severed from the half-plucked body, the liquid
eye gazing appealingly at her, the legs stirring feebly in a welter of
feathers. She had nerved herself to grant its dumb plea: she had stamped
sharply on its skull and seen its eye fly out on the path like a bright
bead. Could God do aught less drastic for her? Not that she ever dreamed
of dying: she must live on, however mutilated, for it was impossible to
conceive her grandfather getting along without her. Consider only his
trousers! How loosely they were now flapping round his shrunken calves,
almost like a sailor’s. Soon the winter winds would be piping through
them. Without her to take in a tuck, where would he be? And who would
cut his hair and trim his beard?

It was her grandfather who was mainly responsible for the discontinuance
of her chapel habit on Lord’s Day. His increased fretfulness and
fractiousness since he was become aware of the rival power, made it
imprudent to leave him for long except unavoidably—not to mention the
danger to herself of awkward meetings at chapel with that rival
power—and there was the further difficulty of getting to Chipstone, now
Farmer Gale’s trap was out of the question. But she was not without a
nearer place of worship—for to the scandal of the Peculiars,
particularly Bundock, she now began to attend the parish church of
Little Bradmarsh, whose emptiness with its parade of free seats after
eleven o’clock was a standing pleasantry in the spheres of Dissent. The
convenience of proximity was not, however, its main attraction for
Jinny, and Miss Gentry would have rejoiced less had she understood that
a change of heart or doctrine or the magnetism of the Reverend Mr.
Fallow had as little to do with Jinny’s apparent conversion; though the
fact that Jinny had never forgotten her one childish glimpse of the
prayer-absorbed pastor doubtless served to reassure the girl as to the
not altogether ungodly character of his edifice.

She had entered to cart over to the Chipstone hospital some fruit laid
before the altar at the Harvest Thanksgiving by the one prosperous
worshipper. For Mr. Fallow was still an unwavering client of hers,
almost the last outside her own communion, possibly because having
neither family nor flock to distract him from his classics, he had
scarcely observed the coach.

In the “Speculi Britanniæ Pars,” in which he had once hunted out her
genealogy—to his own satisfaction and nobody’s hurt—Essex was compared
to Palestine for its flow of “milke and hunny.” And “hunny” was still
her staple link with the tall fusty-coated, snuff-smeared figure,
stooping over his hives or his Virgil, both sacredly fused for him in
the Fourth Georgic. She marketed his surplus, exchanging it for firkins
of butter and—O aberrations of the godliest—canisters of Lundy Foot.
And it was after disposing of some of his smaller tithes—for the parish
had remained outside the recent Commutation Act of 1836—that Jinny had
been thus led to set foot in his church. There were in those days no
floral decorations to mar the completeness with which the arches and
pillars ministered to her troubled mood. The outside she had always
found soothing, with its grey old stonework and its lichened tower
rising amid haystacks and thatched cottages with dormer windows. But how
much cooler the peace that fell upon her, when she passed through the
old, spiky, oak door and under the long, wooden, vaulted roof into a
dimness shot with rich stained glass. Mr. Fallow had been one of the
earliest clergymen of the century to remove the whitewash from the old
painted walls of his church, and though the royal arms—the lion and the
unicorn—still lingered over the chancel, there was no other jar in the
spiritual harmony except the stove, whose pipe went hideously up and
along the ceiling. Ignoring that, however, in the effect of the whole
and forgetting everything else, Jinny sank upon a pew-bench and
abandoned herself to the unholy influences of architecture, so restful
after her chapel with its benches and table-desk, ugliness unadorned.
Not even a gradual consciousness of neglected duty could impair the
divine tranquillity.

But the sober beauty of the place might not have sufficed to draw her
again, but for a strange circumstance. One of the stained-glass figures,
dully familiar to her from without as a leaden glaze, proved when seen
from within in all the glory of art to be an angel of the very type
under which her childish vision had imagined her hovering mother. And
that it actually was mystically interfused with her mother, as her
emotion had immediately intertwined it, was demonstrated by the fact
that even when she at last went forward to gather up the plums and
apples, the eyes followed her about in protection and benediction. Miss
Gentry’s legend of her moving angel lost its last shade of
improbability, and it was with a new humility that Jinny repeated to her
at the first opportunity her remorse for the permuted pot.

Nor did the angel’s emanation of guardianship prove illusory, for
outraged though Miss Gentry had been by the suggestion that her
moustache needed a hair-restorer, she graciously intimated—after the
second Sunday of Jinny’s attendance—that the debt for the dress could
be worked off in commission charges. It was a vast relief, for the
Bundock-borne rumour of her apostacy had alienated the bulk of her
co-religionists and exchanged the lingering remorse of earlier deserters
for a sense of rectitude and foresight. Bundock’s sympathy with the
Brotherhood almost reinstated him in its good graces. “But it brings its
own punishment,” he pointed out consolingly. “Fancy putting a parson
over herself to poke his snuffy nose into everything. That’s a pretty
dress, Jinny, he’ll say, is it paid for? Or, that’s a cranky old grandpa
you’ve got—why don’t ye put him in the poorhouse?”

It was as well poor Jinny did not overhear him, or she might have
doubted whether her load of boxes was so uniformly imposing as she
imagined. The Deacon, who did hear him, and who spent his life poking
into holes and reprimanding sinners, was even more righteously indignant
at the interference of parsons. “Inquisitive as warmin in a larder,” he
described them. “Fussing around the poor, but without a drop of rum in
their milk of human koindness.” Mr. Fallow—it would appear—had
interfered on behalf of his parishioner in the threatened lawsuit with
Miss Gentry: he had persuaded the guileless rat-catcher to promise to
clear her cottage for nothing, and this although Mrs. Mott was paying
her in full for his wife’s silk dress, the responsibility for which he
had righteously repudiated.

“_Oi’ll_ clear her cottage,” he added darkly, and it seemed to Bundock
that the parson had succeeded only in patching up the feud. But what was
to be expected of the canting crew, the postman inquired. The new
Chipstone curate had called on his father, and Bundock related with a
chuckle how the bed-ridden old boy had patronizingly regretted that,
being on his back, he could do nothing to help his visitor. “He sent him
away with a bed-flea in his ear,” gloated Bundock. Mr. Joshua Mawhood
recalled a bigger flea in the same clerical ear. The hapless curate had
offered him a ticket for a lecture on “Economy.” “Come with me Bradmarsh
way,” the rat-catcher had retorted, “and Oi’ll show you Mrs. Pennymole’s
cottage, and if you’ll show me how she can bring up her nine childer on
eleven shillings a week, Oi’ll eat your shovel-hat.” Bundock, unable to
find a still larger flea, fell back on hypothesis. “If I’d been a
Churchman and a chap in a white choker came to mine,” he said, “I’d tell
him to mind his own business, and I dare say he’d be insulted, though
I’d be giving him splendid advice. You know where the door is, I’d say,
for you didn’t come in by the chimney. Now walk out, or else——!” And
carried away by his own drama, Bundock administered a hearty kick to the
apparently still-lingering phantom.

Needless to say, Mr. Fallow exercised none of this imagined prying into
Jinny’s affairs. Like his pew-opener, whose long caped coat with the
official red border found now a fresh justification, he was only too
glad of her uninvited attendance, and the considerable accretion she
brought to his congregation. Her presence freshened up for himself his
old sermons: for her sake he even put in new Latin quotations. But Jinny
enjoyed more the three musicians in the gallery—’cellist, flautist, and
bassoonist—whose black frock-coats and trousers made them as important
in quality as they were in quantity, and when after they had played a
few bars the congregation sang:

        “_Awake my soul, and with the sun_
         _Thy daily stage of duty run,_”

Jinny felt herself rapt far indeed from her daily stage of duty. Even
the pew-opener shuffling about in his list slippers to poke up the stove
or a small boy, or to snuff the guttering tallow candles on dark
mornings, could not bring her to earth.

And another factor than the church and its mother-angel helped Jinny
over this dreary time. This was her dog. For only now did Nip emerge
into his full caninity, or at least only now did Jinny learn to
appreciate him to the full. In howsoever leaden a mood she started her
carrying work, Nip’s ecstasy soon tinged it with gold. His blissful
staccato barks, his tall inflated tail, his upleapings at her as she
harnessed Methusalem, his gallopings and gambollings round that stolider
fellow-quadruped, his crazy friskings and curvetings—who could resist
such joy of life? Often it seemed to Jinny that he was returning thanks
to his Maker for the sunshine or the good smells, rebuking unconsciously
her heart-heaviness, bidding her cry no more over spilt milk, but just
lap up what she could. “Cheer up, Jinny!” she heard him bark. “Men are
brutes and women fools and gran’fers grumpy and customers cruel, but
life is jolly and odours numerous and where there’s a way there’s a
Will.” And infected by these sentiments of his, she would crack her
whip, and Methusalem would prick up his ears and pretend for her sake to
go faster, and there would be a lull in the ache at her heart.

Nip, however, was less consoling when the rival carriers met on the
road. Then his invincible persuasion that the two were one brought Jinny
considerable discomfort. For Will persisted in his later tactics of
slowing down, whether to take stock of her appearance or to rub in the
odious comparison of their respective equipages, so that while these
were in proximity, Nip was able to feel himself shepherding them, and he
ran from one to the other, rounding them up. Even when Jinny manœuvred
off down the first by-way, Nip, not to be baulked, would travel between
one and the other, growing more and more desperate as they grew more and
more distant, till at last, fearful of losing both, he exchanged his
frenzied shuttling between them for a still more frenzied standstill
midway between the mutually receding vehicles—you saw him almost
literally torn in two. Finally, after plaintive ululations of protest,
he would trot back, with hang-dog look and drooping tail, to the shabby
cart, where his mistress throned, grim and pale, amid her manifold mock
parcels.


                                  III

But it was neither Mr. Fallows sermons nor Nip’s that gave Jinny her
first real sense of religion; not even the bass-viol and flute, though
she heard them with ecstasy, nor the collects and litanies, though she
perused them with interest. It came to her one pitch-black night when
she had too confidently ventured out to bring first aid—a jug of real
tea with some bread and butter—to poor rheumatic Uncle Lilliwhyte, whom
earlier that day, while gathering mushrooms for supper, she had
discovered in a deserted charcoal-burner’s hut.

She had not known before that Farmer Gale had carried out his threat of
evicting the nondescript from his cottage on the plea of needing it for
a labourer, and although she had been compelled to suspend the
ministrations which had set Mr. Fallow looking for the Lady Bountiful in
her blood, she felt vaguely responsible for Uncle Lilliwhyte’s declined
fortunes, so parallel to her own. Would, in fact, the Cornishman have
turned him out if Jinny had allowed that all-powerful arm to remain
round her waist at the cattle-market; nay, could she not have cheered
and nourished a subject countryside?

The unsavoury ancient was lying on some coarse sacking in a clearing
still half charred. Literally “sackcloth and ashes,” Jinny thought, as
she groped her way along the glade by the twinkle of his candle through
the chinks of his ramshackle hut. An old flintlock, some snares, nets
and rods, and a cooking-pot seemed all its furniture. She was horrified
to think—as she gazed at the gaps in the roof—that the prayer for rain
might be granted. But to her surprise the old man was sharing the
communal aspiration—“a good rine as’ll make the seeds spear”—though
not hopeful of the boon immediately. He did not want to be a “wet-’ead,”
he declared paradoxically, but the ground would be harder before the sun
met the wind. Such solicitude on behalf of soil belonging so largely to
the farmer who had evicted him seemed to Jinny touchingly Christian.

It was only when she had turned her back on his glimmering light and got
into the thick of the woods that they became curiously unfamiliar. Great
trees that she did not know existed came colliding against her, tangles
of roots tripped her up on her favourite paths; she stumbled into
unfriendly pricklinesses of every species. She seemed, indeed,
ridiculously lost within a furlong of her own door: how this black
labyrinth had got there she could not understand, but it looked as if
she might be all night escaping from it. She was even uneasily expecting
one of the snakes Uncle Lilliwhyte hunted to glide perversely under her
feet, she bruising its head and it biting her heel as the curse in
Genesis predicted. Of course, if she could spit into its mouth after
chewing some Spanish bugloss, it would instantly die. So at least Miss
Gentry had assured her. But how find the rare bugloss in this blackness,
or how spit accurately into the serpent’s mouth?

Why had she not brought a lantern, she asked herself. Was it really
because she was jug and package laden, or had it been only conceit? She
asked the question still more self-reproachfully when, after smashing
the empty jug in a stumble which left her knuckles bleeding, she heard
the gurgle of a water-hen and realized that she was far off her track
and nearly into the Brad. She could not swim, but even a swimmer in such
a moonless, starless void would not see the shore. Cautiously feeling
her way among the willows, she groped towards the pasture-land,
paradoxically pleased when she fell over a sleeping cow. She lay there
some minutes in the warm darkness, not anxious to move on, for the river
wound perilously in and out, one could still hear it rippling
deliciously in the reeds, and the odours of the night were as exquisite.
And then through the measureless blackness a faint suggestion of grey
began to make itself perceptible or rather divinable, so shadowy was it,
a lesser shade of black rather than an adumbration of light; it was as
if behind the blank firmament some star was striving to shine.

And suddenly, mystically, she felt that this hinted radiance was God,
the Light behind life’s darkness, and the words of the twenty-third
Psalm came to her mind with all the force of a revelation. “_The Lord is
my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures.
He leadeth me beside the still waters._” How divinely apt was every
word! So long as she had not wanted for aught, so long as she had not
needed to be led, she had not really felt the meaning of the words: now
that she was strayed and a-hungered, she knew overpoweringly that she
had a shepherd. He was behind her watching, as surely as she watched
over her grandfather. Now she understood what the Peculiars meant when
they got up to testify. She must go back to them, bear witness this very
next Sunday. Mr. Fallow’s church had no place for such testimonies.
Women could not speak even at Morning Service.

And as if to complete her conversion, there was a swift pattering, a
joyous bark, and a cold nose in her fevered palm. She had only to attach
her handkerchief to Nip’s collar to be guided safely home. But it was
Nip that was really her shepherd, she told herself, or at least her
sheep-dog: it was Nip that was leading her beside the still waters. Dog
was after all only God spelt backwards, she thought, with a sense of
mystic discovery. And remembering all that Nip had done to bring her
back to faith in life, she felt he was indeed a divine messenger. But
then it was borne in upon her that if she testified her true thoughts,
the Brethren would deem her irreverent. After all, it was Mr. Fallow who
might understand better, he who spoke of his bees with love, and had
once cited to her a passage from a Roman poet about bees being part of
the divine mind. The Roman writer was not a Catholic, he had explained
carefully, seeing her dubious face.


                                   IV

In her gratitude to the dressmaker, Jinny had become more than ever her
intellectual parasite, and a wealth of information from “The Christian
Mother’s Miscellany” and “Culpeper’s Herbal”—to say nothing of the
spinster’s own sibylline rhymes—enriched the walk to and from church,
which Miss Gentry graciously permitted her carrier and debtor to take in
her society next Sunday morning. They parted indeed inside, Miss Gentry
plumping herself unrebuked into the curtained three-benched pew of the
dead and gone squire whom old Farmer Gale had dispossessed. Jinny was
thus unable to exchange glances with her at the thrilling announcement
read out by the cleric, who after the Second Lesson declared curtly—as
if it were the most natural thing in the world—that Mr. Anthony
Flippance, widower, of Frog Farm, and Miss Bianca Cleopatra Jones,
spinster, of Foxearth Farm, both of this parish, proposed to enter into
holy matrimony. At once a whirligig of images circled round Jinny and
she saw dizzily the explanation of a disappearance that had puzzled her,
for Tony had vanished from “The Black Sheep” without leaving a tip, the
old waiter grumbled. What had led up to this adventure, she wondered,
and how was Polly taking her intended stepmother?

“Isn’t that the Showman you’ve spoken of?” Miss Gentry inquired, as the
congregation of seven streamed out, swollen by musicians, sexton, clerk,
and pew-opener. “The fomenter of ungodliness?”

“It certainly seems my old customer,” replied Jinny, somewhat evasively.
“But I didn’t know he was living at Frog Farm.”

“Didn’t you tell me he was going to turn your chapel into a playhouse?”

“So he said once, but nothing seems to have come of it.”

“More’s the pity,” Miss Gentry surprised Jinny by commenting. She added,
“Even a playhouse would do less harm.”

“I—I don’t see that,” Jinny stammered, protesting.

“It’s as clear as daylight. The Devil stamps his sign plainly on a
playhouse: he forges God’s name on a chapel. And who is this Miss
Jones?”

“I don’t know. I never heard of any girl at Foxearth Farm called
Cleopatrick—what a funny name!”

“Cleopatra,” corrected Miss Gentry grandly, her bosom expanding till it
strained her Sunday silk. “A great Queen of Egypt in the days of old.
Born under Venus and died of the bite of an asp!”

“What’s an asp?” said Jinny.

“It’s what they call the serpent of old Nile!”

“Good gracious!” Jinny exclaimed. “Couldn’t they have given Her Majesty
agrimony wine?”

“Neither horse-mint nor wild parsnip could avail: there is no ointment
against suicide,” Miss Gentry explained. “She killed herself.”

“A queen kill herself! What for?”

“What does one kill oneself for?” Miss Gentry demanded crushingly. “For
love, of course. But I hope her namesake is more respectable. Cleopatra
never published the banns. But how comes this Miss Jones to be at
Foxearth Farm? I thought the people were called Purley—hurdle-makers,
aren’t they?”

“Yes—it must be a lodger. They do take lodgers. I must ask Barnaby—I
meet him on the road sometimes.” She stood still suddenly, going red and
white by turns like the revolving lens of a lighthouse.

Miss Gentry stared, then smiled in sentimental sympathy “Is he a nice
boy?” she cooed.

“Who? Ye-es, very nice,” Jinny stammered. “But I’ve just remembered Miss
Jones isn’t his sister!”

“Who said she was? Oh, Jinny, Jinny!” Miss Gentry sometimes became
roguish.

“She’s only his stepsister,” Jinny explained desperately. “Mrs. Purley’s
first husband was called Jones.”

If the bride should really be the Purley creature—the fair charmer who
rode so often in Will’s coach as to be almost “keeping company” with
him! What a lifting of a nightmare! What a sudden horizon of rose! But
no, it was too good to be true!

“But I never heard she was called Cleopatra,” she wound up sadly.

“People often have a second name hidden away like a tuck,” said Miss
Gentry.

“But her first name isn’t the same either, it’s Blanche.”

“But Bianca _is_ Blanche!” bayed Miss Gentry, like an excited
bloodhound. “Only more grand and foreign-like.”

Jinny’s colours revolved again.

“Is it?” she breathed. But she remembered Mr. Flippance’s address had
been announced as Frog Farm. If he had thus ousted young Mr. Flynt, she
urged, how could he be living so amicably under his rival’s roof?
Besides, how should Mr. Purley’s second wife, a matron as famous for her
cheeses as her spouse for his hurdles, have christened her girl so
outlandishly? No, Joneses were as abundant as hips and haws, and this
Miss Jones could only have come to their out-of-the-way parish—like Mr.
Flippance—for reasons of statutory residence, though why the Showman
should bury himself to be married, Miss Gentry declared to be an
exciting enigma. Perhaps he liked a quiet wedding, Jinny suggested,
having too many acquaintances in towns, and with that she dismissed the
hope from her mind.

But it was not so easy to dismiss the topic from Miss Gentry’s. That
lady was rolling the hymeneal discussion under her tongue. She pointed
out that Foxearth Farm was not in Little Bradmarsh and was prepared to
discuss the romantic ramifications, if it should turn out on the
wedding-day that the bride was disqualified. But Jinny cruelly took the
sweet out of her mouth. Foxearth Farm _was_ in the parish, she declared.
“It’s one of those funny bits, lost, stolen, or strayed into other
parishes. I know because of the women from there who come upon our
parish for blankets when they’re laid aside——”

“Oh, Jinny!” deprecated Miss Gentry, to whom, maternity was as sordid
and surreptitious as matrimony was righteously romantic.

But Jinny, innocently misunderstanding, persisted. “Why, I remember the
fuss when the steam-roller tried to charge our parish for doing up a
scrap of the road beyond Foxearth Farm.”

They walked through the sunlit churchyard in constrained silence, Miss
Gentry feeling as if the steam-roller had gone over roses. But
stimulated by the iron pole and the four steps, by which ladies who rode
pillion anciently mounted and dismounted, she began wondering who would
be making the bride’s dress. That gave Jinny a happy idea. How if she
got Miss Gentry the work—that would be a slight return for all she owed
her!

“Why shouldn’t _you_ make it?” she inquired excitedly. “I could speak to
Mr. Flippance, now that I know where he is.”

“Hush, child, don’t profane the Sabbath! Men don’t count in wedding
matters,” said Miss Gentry in complex correction. “Nor would I care
about the patronage of stage people.”

“But she mayn’t be stage.”

“Like runs to like,” Miss Gentry sighed, and Jinny felt the Colchester
romance hovering again. But it did not descend. Instead, Miss Gentry
remarked that she ought to have known that it could not be a local
beauty. No play-actor with any brains at all could be attracted by
anything hereabouts, especially when they could not achieve the
acquaintance of women of real attraction and intellect, these preferring
the company of cats to that of strolling sinners. Nevertheless, far be
it from her wilfully to rob Jinny of a commission.

“I wasn’t thinking of my commission,” Jinny protested with a little
flush.

“I couldn’t dream of it otherwise. Squibs and I need so little and have
more work than we can manage.”

“Squibs?” Jinny murmured.

“The place is overrun with rats,” Miss Gentry explained. “What will it
be when the cold drives them in from the ditches? However, fortunately
that horrible old Mawhood stands compelled to clear the cottage before
winter. That was the compromise our too kindly pastor let him off with.”

“So you told me. Shall I order the Deacon at once?”

“The Deacon?” Miss Gentry sniffed. “Bishops they’ll call themselves
next.”

“There _is_ a bishop,” Jinny reminded her. “Bishop Harrod.”

“Wretched little rat-catchers!” Miss Gentry hissed. “Setting themselves
up against the Church Established. I’m so glad you’re done with them.”

“But I’m not,” Jinny confessed shyly. “I’m still Peculiar.”

“You are, indeed!” Miss Gentry cried, startled. “Do you mean to tell me
that after the glorious privilege of sitting under Mr. Fallow——!”
Words failed her, and they also failed Jinny, to whom this unfamiliar
metaphor conjured up a puzzling picture of the vicar perched on her
Sunday bonnet. The girl was the first to recover her breath.

“Gran’fer told me my mother wanted me to be Peculiar,” she explained. “I
can’t go against my Angel-Mother.” Then she blushed prettily, never
having mentioned the angel mother since childhood, and feeling somehow
as if she had profaned a sacred secret.

“If your angel mother was alive,” cried Miss Gentry with conviction,
“it’s to our church that she would come—to our grand old church with
its storied windows!”

A divine thrill ran through all Jinny’s frame. Her belief that her
mother and the painted angel were mysteriously one was sealed. The
oracle had spoken.

Miss Gentry, swelling at her silence—Jinny heard the silk
crackling—felt herself indeed an oracle. Squibs had his pick of the
plates at that Sunday dinner, enjoying a Sabbath rest from rats, and
basking in his mistress’s lap, a black curled-up breathing mass of
felicity.


                                   V

As Jinny jogged along next Tuesday morning, diverging from her usual
beat to take in the hurdle-maker’s home, that lay—like a geological
“fault”—in the wrong parish, the plan that formed itself in her mind
was to approach the question of the bride and the wedding-dress by way
of Barnaby Purley, the youth who had so chivalrously come to her rescue
by delivering at Uckford Manor the keg of oil overlooked by her on that
memorable journey with Elijah Skindle. It was because Foxearth Farm
possessed this hobbledehoy scion and a trap of its own that Jinny had
never done its marketing, nor come face to face with the creature of
whom with sidelong eye she caught tantalizing glimpses in the Flynt
Flyer. “Not bad-lookin’” was the countryside’s appraisal of her, which
was rather ominous, indicating as it did considerable beauty, and
conjoined as it was with a rumour of easy conquests, culminating in the
coach-owner. But a good square look at her had not been attainable, even
on Sunday, for though the family was Church of England—Mr. Giles Purley
being even a churchwarden—it preferred to worship in the parish church
to which it did not parochially belong. Jinny told herself she was
hastening at this first opportunity purely in Miss Gentry’s interest,
for fear the bridal gown had been ordered elsewhere. But she could not
quite disguise from herself her consuming anxiety to discover whether
this everyday Miss Jones was really a Cleopatra, though she called her
poignant emotion mere curiosity, and deemed herself as apathetic at
heart as the bumble-bees now crawling miserably about her cart, which
could be flicked into a feeble flight and drone, but which soon relapsed
into their torpor.

In truth the suppressed hope of finding Blanche safely paired with the
Showman was now quickening her pulses and restoring the wild rose to her
cheeks. The September day, too, for all the long-continued drought, and
despite the drowsy bumble-bees, was not devoid of animating influences,
especially the delicious smell of burnings from the fields, where men
tossed from their prongs brown masses of weed into red and smoking
heaps, or carried like merry devils fiery forks from one pile to
another. Monstrous fungi clove in pied picturesqueness to the
elm-trunks, and a hawthorn grove with its scarlet berries was like a
vast radiant smile. Overhead the sun, a shimmery thin-clouded sphere,
showed like an eye in a great white peacock’s wing. The hips and
blackberries were interfused in the hedges, the ivy flowered on the
squat church towers, the Virginia creepers were reddening the cottages,
and the dahlias grew tall in the little front gardens. In the orchards
the pear-trees and apple-trees were heavy with fruit. Around them the
turnip-fields looked more like spreads of mustard, so thick were the
slender yellow-flowering stems pushing between the crop proper. And
everywhere was life; pecking poultry scattering before Methusalem’s
feet, and little frogs playing leapfrog; swarms of the Daddy-long-legs
and gigantic spiders, great quarrelling families of rooks, quiet chewing
cattle, pigs nosing for acorns or windfall apples, hares or great rats
or weasels scuttling across the road, partridges straying fearlessly in
the stubble, swallows darting unpromisingly high, and when Jinny passed
over the little brick bridge, at which a black drainage-mill waved what
seemed its four crossed white combs, a pair of superb swans hissed their
proud protectiveness over a very drab cygnet.

Driving through an avenue of firs and hornbeam, and past a dirty pond
with two flagged mounds in the middle, she reached the clearing where
the hurdle-maker operated, with his farmhouse for base of his combined
industrial, agricultural, and pastoral occupations.

Mr. Giles Purley, a rosy-wrinkled apple-faced ancient, stood in his
shirt-sleeves, looking as pleasantly untidy as his farmyard, which was
full of felled logs and split wood, and bean and corn stacks, and
ramshackle sheds. He was planing off knots with a bill-hook, and as
Jinny drove up to the gate of the old timbered red house, he greeted her
with a cheery grumble at the drought which forced such winter work
prematurely upon him. Jinny was abashed to find no pretext for her visit
coming to her tongue, so she stammered out that she wanted to see
Barnaby, and the droll look that twinkled across his father’s face sent
her colour up still higher. “Always wants a change, they youngsters,” he
chuckled benevolently, “whether ’tis of work or sweet-hearts.”

At this point Jinny became aware of Barnaby himself, who, equally in his
shirt-sleeves, was smiling sheepishly up at her from the ditch which he
was discumbering with a hook. “Lilies of the walley they stick in their
buttonholes,” went on his father waggishly, “as if weeds was ever aught
but weeds. There ain’t one that showlders his sack o’ corn or sticks to
his dearie. Sheep’s eyes they can make, but as for sheep-hurdles——!”
The note was now earnest. It seemed an unpropitious moment to tackle
Barnaby.

And to make it more impossible, Blanche herself suddenly bounded from
the orchard, flourishing a great corroded pear.

“Nipped thirteen!” she cried gaily.

“Not bad-lookin’,” forsooth! To Jinny she appeared in her bloom and
colour like a rich peach dipped in cream: overripeness was the only flaw
her beauty suggested to this girl in her teens. But the chill at Jinny’s
heart did not prevent her crying out with equal gaiety, “What an unlucky
number—for the wasps!”

Barnaby laughed adoringly from his ditch, Mr. Giles Purley in simple joy
of the slaughter. The pigs, he explained gleefully, had gnawed at the
pear-bags and Blanche was “wunnerful masterous” at nipping the wasps as
they crawled out of the forbidden fruit. Asps, Jinny found herself
thinking, would have a bad time at such bold hands, though they made the
Cleopatra likelier—she slued her eyes round to see the rings on them,
but the engagement finger was hidden by the big pear, and Miss Jones,
her gaiety checked, was eyeing her like the intruder she was.

“She can kill two at once,” Barnaby called up.

“Like you with the lasses,” flashed his father, to his confusion.

“It’s nothing,” said Blanche coldly. “They haven’t time to curl their
tails round.”

“Who? The lasses?” asked Jinny, and to her relief the beautiful Blanche
vouchsafed a smile.

“You won’t be stung if you don’t think you’ll be,” the girl explained
more cordially. Then, unable to retain the proud secret longer, even
from the Carrier, she burst forth, “I’m going on the stage with it.”

“What!” Jinny gasped.

“Only as a beginning, of course. ‘Bianca, The Bare-Handed Wasp-Killer,’
it’ll be on the bills.”

“Rubbidge!” came explosively from Mr. Purley. “And where will Mr.
Flippance get the wapses in the winter? A circus-slut indeed—I wonder
what your mother can be thinkin’ of! And what’s Mr. Honeytongue going to
bill _you_ as, Barnaby? Not champion hurdle-maker, I’ll go gaff!”

“Wait till you see me,” said Barnaby with sullen mysteriousness. “You
don’t know a circus from a theaytre.”

“You’ll stick to your shackles and bolts,” said his parent grimly, “and
peel the bark off, too!”

At the mention of Mr. Flippance, Jinny’s heart beat fast: she felt
hovering on the verge of the revelation, and the Bianca and the
stage-project rekindled her hope. But Mr. Purley’s grievance had to be
worked off first. “They’re too lazy to peel the wood,” he explained to
Jinny. “But that’s the main thing for hurdles—to strip ’em well against
rain. Same as you was full-dressed in a pouring rain—the time it ’ud
take you to dry! If you was naked now——”

“Oh, dad!” Barnaby remonstrated, to his parent’s confusion, and enjoyed
this tit-for-tat.

“When do you expect Mr. Flippance, Mr. Purley?” Jinny asked him hastily.

“Oh, he never comes in the mornings,” Blanche replied, and this
appropriation of the question seemed to Jinny to continue the promise of
Bianca and the stage-project.

“Then can I speak to—to his intended?” she flashed brilliantly, with a
clever smile.

“She’s gone to her dressmaker,” said Blanche simply.

It was a double blow, and Jinny winced before it. In that twinkling of
her eye Blanche seemed years younger, diabolically handsome, a nipper of
buds as well as of wasps. But a worse blow awaited her, for she had
scarcely regained her composure when the distant sound of a wheezy horn
and a sense of an impending avalanche brought Blanche into bounding
activity again.

“Why, there’s Will!” she exclaimed with a comic, happy start. “And me
not dressed yet!” And without a word to the little Carrier, she ran
gaily into the house.

Frantically clutching Nip who was about to spring to meet the coach,
Jinny cried vague thanks to the hurdle-maker and hurried Methusalem down
a by-way so narrow that she could hardly squeeze through the untrimmed
“werges” neglected of Barnaby.


                                   VI

When she heard the coach well on its way again on the Chipstone road,
with Blanche divined within, she found herself possessed by an
unexpected urging towards Mr. Flippance. She had no real round any
longer—only the hours to fill and her grandfather to half deceive—and
perhaps, despite Miss Gentry’s own opinion, the bridegroom might yet be
able to prevent her being cut out by the rival pair of scissors. The
truth was, Jinny felt a physical need of the toning up the Showman
somehow imparted to life. To drive around the rest of the day with
practically no business but her own thoughts would be too dreadful. He
must surely babble happily about his bride, and apart from the interest
of her identity, some of his glow could not but radiate to her. And
there was Caleb and Martha to see, too—how were they faring, these
dear, simple creatures, too long unvisited? But then—thought that froze
the heart!—had she not declared she would never set foot in Frog Farm
again? No, she answered herself defiantly—and no memory of hereditary
quibbling, nothing of her sense of humour, rose to trouble the
reply—all she had said was that Will should never _see_ her there. And
Will was safely chained to the Chipstone road.

All the same she looked round apprehensively and with wildly beating
heart before she allowed Methusalem to lift the latch of the familiar
gate, and she had somehow expected so great a transformation in the
farmhouse under its new and sinister activities, and was conscious of so
vast a change in herself since she had last seen it, that its primitive
black front almost startled her, so unchanged did it appear. True, the
ferrets’ cages were gone, but their absence only made it more its old
self, and the moan of the doves was as reassuring as the singing of the
kettle on her own hearth. Caleb’s red shirt-sleeves looked for once in
keeping with the scene, arising as they did out of yellow flame-tinged
clouds from the rubbish-heap which he was burning, and the pleasant
pungent smell of which filled her eyes with tears, half smoke, half
emotion. Even in that glow the homely hair-circled face was capable of a
new illumination.

“Gracious goodness, there’s Jinny!” He ran to the house-door. “Mother!
Mother!” he cried in jubilant agitation.

Martha emerged at a hobbling run, apron-girded. Despite the glow, _her_
face darkened.

“You give a body a turn,” she grumbled. “I almost thought ’twas the
Golden City coming down.”

“’Tis nigh as good,” he retorted boldly, “bein’ as Jinny was same as
gone there. And bless me, ef she don’t look ghosty!”

“Good morning, Jinny!” said Martha coldly. “We don’t need a carrier
now—with our coach to get everything.”

Jinny’s cheeks turned far from “ghosty.” “I haven’t come to you—only to
Mr. Flippance.”

“But he gets everything, too, through Willie.”

“I know that—I merely want to speak to him.”

“You can’t now.”

“The missus means he’s abed,” Caleb explained, rushing to Jinny’s
relief, and indeed the information brought a smile back to her twitching
lips. “Minds me of a great old tortoise, diggin’ hisself into his
blankets. Do him good to be up with the sun, same as when Oi was a
scarecrow, soon as the wheat was sown.”

“You don’t want to tell everybody you began as a scarecrow,” said Martha
frigidly.

“Ef we’re rich now, dear heart, and can ride in our own coach, ’tis the
Lord’s hand, not ours. Oi watched over wheat and winter beans, and ’arly
peas, and winter oats, and then spring barley, but all the time the Lord
was watchin’ over me.”

“Not as a scarecrow,” said Martha severely.

“Oi warn’t a scarecrow ploughin’-time, bein’ set on the middle hoss to
flick the whip, and chance times when ’twas too frosty to plough Oi went
to Dame Pippler’s to school.”

“I never heard that before,” said Martha.

“Dedn’t like to tell ye,” he confessed, “being as ’twas too cowld to
howd the slate-pencil, and the book-larnin’ leaked out ’twixt the
frosts. ’Twas a penny a week wasted.”

Martha saw their visitor was amused at this revelation after fifty years
of wedlock. “Jinny wants to be going on,” she observed testily. “Look at
all her boxes.”

“Oi’m proper pleased to see ’em, for as Oi says to Willie, Oi hope as
you ain’t hart Jinny’s business and grieved the Lord. Ye can’t sleep, Oi
says, ef ye’ve grieved the Lord.”

“Then Mr. Flippance must be a saint,” laughed Jinny. But she was touched
to tears.

Caleb had, however, not finished his apologia for his lack of learning,
and was to be diverted neither by Jinny’s jests nor his wife’s grimaces.
“And in the summer,” he explained carefully, “Oi got to goo out with my
liddle old gun agin they bird-thieves, though peas and pebbles was all
the shot my feyther——”

“Can’t you try some at Mr. Flippance’s window?” interrupted Jinny,
fearful the fretful Martha would soon close her door upon her.

“Oi’d have to stand sideways for that!” He pointed to a hooked-back
casement. “Fust he kivers hisself up, then he opens hisself out”—he
chuckled contemptuously—“’tis ‘in dock, out nettle,’ as the sayin’
goos.”

Jinny lifted her little horn to her lips and blew a blast so literally
rousing that hardly had its echoes died than from the black casement
framework a red unshaven face, like the rayed rising sun on an inn
signboard, dawned above clouds of flamboyant dressing-gown.

“Jinny! Hurrah!” cried the apparition in delighted surprise. “The very
person I’ve been wanting for weeks!”

In the effulgence of that great rubicund sphere of a face Jinny’s mists
began to dissolve—after all, with all his faults he belonged to her
rosy past, to the good old times ere black horses or red men had arisen
to rend her. “Then why didn’t you let me know?” she smiled.

“Just what I was thinking of doing. So glad you’ve saved me a letter.
Never was so hard-worked in my life. Good morning, ma,” he threw to Mrs.
Flynt, whose set face now relaxed into a maternal mildness, “do I smell
breakfast?”

“Ye could ha’ smelt it afore seven, friend,” said Caleb, growing dour as
Martha grew soft. “And the missus a bit paltry to-day, too!”

“Am I late? I’m so sorry. Why, I thought it was Will’s horn!”

“Mr. Flippance overslept himself, dearie,” Martha said reproachfully.

“But you hate food spilin’,” Caleb protested.

“Not so much as _I_ hate spoilt food!” said Tony. “Not that a good
housekeeper like Mrs. Flynt would really let food spoil—any more than
you your wheat-patch.”

“Ef ye had helped gittin’ that bit o’ corn in,” retorted Caleb, “ye’d
fare to have more to sleep on.”

“There’s more than one kind of work, Caleb,” said Martha severely.
“There’s brain-work for them that have never been scarecrows.”

“Yes, indeed, Mrs. Flynt!” said Tony earnestly. “I’m worked to a
shadow.”

“And there was no such hurry to get the corn in,” Martha added.

“With all they prayers for rine gooin’ on, ye can’t be too careful,”
Caleb urged.

“But what work had you got, Mr. Flippance?” Jinny laughed.

“Getting married. Didn’t you know?”

She was startled. “But you’re not married already?”

“No such luck. When the lady says ‘Yes,’ you think all your troubles are
over. But they’re only beginning.”

Caleb’s face relaxed in a grin, whereupon Martha’s hardened to a frown.
“Marriage is no laughing matter,” she said, with a glower at her
husband.

“No, indeed, Mrs. Flynt!” endorsed Tony. “What with the forms and
questions and ceremonies and witnesses and what not, and rings to buy
and bouquets to order—it’s worse than a dress rehearsal!”

“But you’ve had the rehearsal,” Jinny reminded him.

“I was young and strong. Now you’ve got to help me.”

“_Me?_” Jinny was enchanted at this smoothing of the path for Miss
Gentry. “But I’m so busy,” she protested professionally. “I can’t wait
till you’re up.”

“Jinny’s too busy,” Martha corroborated. And in her eagerness to be rid
of the girl, she unconsciously clucked to Methusalem, and so exactly
like Jinny that the noble animal actually started.

“Wait! Wait!” Mr. Flippance shouted down wildly. “Do wait! Such a lot to
consult you about. Haven’t even got a best man yet. Find me one and I’ll
call down blessings on your head!”

“I don’t want you to call them _down_,” she jested up. “That’s the
trouble.”

“I’ll be down before you can say ‘Jack Robinson.’”

“I wasn’t going to suggest _him_!” And she reined in her fiery steed.

Martha had hurried to her kitchen to bring in the belated breakfast, and
the convulsion into which Jinny’s last remark appeared to throw Caleb
was left unchecked by wifely grimaces. The veteran alternated between
gurgles and roars so continuously that Jinny, flattered as she was by
the reception of her jest, began to feel uneasy.

“That fair flabbergasted him,” he gasped, getting his breath at last.
“How can Oi, says Oi, ef Oi’m a buoy-oy, Oi says.” He wiped the tears
from his whiskered cheeks and blew his nose into his great “muckinger.”

“But he didn’t ask _you_ to be best man,” she said, puzzled. “And you
aren’t a boy.”

“’Twas master as called me a buoy-oy,” he explained, his eyes still
dancing, “so as to keep down my wages. Oi’ve got three hosses same as
the min, Oi says, and can plough my stetch similar-same as them and cut
and trave up my corn better’n Bill Ravens as felt the teeth of the
sickle two days arter he started and couldn’t work no more, though
double-money time, as Oi can sartify bein’ as ’twar me what tied my
neckercher round his arm with the blood pourin’ down like sweat, and
lucky ’twarn’t his wife, Oi says, but another woman gooin’ behind him to
be larnt how, she bein’ in confinement. But master he wouldn’t listen to
nawthen. Oi’ll give you easy ploughin’ was all he promised, ye’re onny a
buoy-oy, he says, obstinacious like, and Oi stayed on a bit, not
mislikin’ the cans of tea the wives brought, all hot and sweet, and the
big granary with pillars and fower on us thrashin’ and rattlin’ on the
big oak floor, jolly as a harvest supper, and Bill Ravens—that be the
feyther of the rollin’ stone as shears chance times for Master
Peartree—singin’ like the saints in Jerusalem, all except for the
words. But at last, bein’ as feyther wanted the money and Oi needed time
to look for a farmer not so nippy, gimme a week off, says Oi to old
Skindflint. A week off! says master. What for? Gooin’ to git married?”

At this point the convulsion recommenced, and Jinny, though she
understood how the Flippance wedding had set his memories agog, had
still to wait for enlightenment as to why they were agrin.

“Married, Oi says! How can Oi git married, ef Oi’m a buoy-oy?”

It was out at last, the great repartee of his life, and Jinny felt he
was right to cherish its memory. She occupied the period of his renewed
cachinnation in descending from her seat and giving Methusalem his
impoverished nosebag. Her action reminded Caleb to offer to show her the
enlarged stables, with the old roof raised to admit the coach. Then,
colouring as if at an indelicacy, he hastily inquired how her
grandfather was, remarking with commiseration that he must be getting a
bit elderly.

Never had Jinny known him so loquacious—the absence of Martha was
combining with her own advent to loosen his usually ruly member. And at
last the pent-up flood of his grievances against the Showman burst
forth. The return of Will, Jinny gathered, had been dislocating enough,
even before his new-fangled coach had brought the stir of the great
world and Bundock almost daily, but now the house and the hours were all
“topsy-tivvy,” worse than in Cousin Caroline’s time. He would do Will
the justice to say that it wasn’t his fault—Will had been against
putting up a “furriner” in their spare bedroom—but the “great old
sluggaby” had come and ingratiated himself so with the rheumatic but
romantic Martha, and offered such startling prices—a pound a week for
board and lodging—“enough to feed the whole Pennymole family for a
fortnight”—that she had forced her will upon both the male Flynts. “The
trouble with Martha is,” Caleb summed up, “she allus wants what she
wants.” Mr. Flippance, he explained, “got a piper for her from her
Lunnon Sin Agog—funny name that for the Lord’s House, even in
Lunnon—and that piper fared to be all about the Christy Dolphins and
their doin’s—the _Loightstand_, Martha called it. And she read me a
piece out of it how Mr. Somebody, husband o’ Sister T’other, was
baptized by Elder Somebody Else; and she wanted me to goo and do
likewise.”

“But you _are_ nearly one of them, aren’t you?” Jinny smiled.

He looked uneasy.

“Oi don’t want to be baptized a Jew,” he said plaintively. “Martha she
argufies as Paul says _we_ are the Jews, bein’ Abraham’s seed in our
innards. So long as she calls us the Lord’s people, Oi fair itches to be
one, but that goos agin the stomach like to call yourself a Jew. Same as
she was satisfied with the New Jerusalem part, Oi’d goo with her. For ef
the Book says, ‘No man hath gone up to heaven,’ or ‘Whither Oi goo, ye
cannot come,’ that proves as heaven’s got to come to us, and happen
Oi’ll live to see it droppin’ down with its street of pure gold same as
transparent brass. But Oi won’t be swallowed up whole like a billy-owl
swallows a mouse.”

“What’s that you’re saying, Caleb?” said Martha, now perceived back at
her house-door.

“He was telling me about the _Lightstand_,” said Jinny glibly.

Martha beamed again. “Ah, it won’t be long before that light spreads,
though now the world is all shrouded in darkness and superstition. But
salvation is of the Jews.”

“That ain’t writ in the Book?” inquired Caleb anxiously.

“Salvation is of the Jews,” repeated Martha implacably. “John iv. 22.
There’s nine of us now in Essex alone, the _Lightstand_ says, not
reckoning London. They don’t know about another that’s on the way
Zionwards,” she added mysteriously.

“Meaning me?” said Caleb nervously.

“Meaning a man with brains and book-learning,” said Martha sternly, “and
he’s ready to see you now, Jinny.”

“Well, nine ain’t no great shakes,” Caleb murmured.

“We are the salt of the earth,” Martha reminded him. “A pinch of salt
goes a long way.”

“Ay, when it rolls in a pill-box,” Caleb reflected ruefully. “And hows
the old chapel, Jinny?” he said aloud. “Willy never goos now.”

Jinny coloured up: one of her pretexts for apostacy seemed null and
void.

“I’ll see you when I come out, I suppose,” she said evasively, as she
followed Martha within.


                                  VII

The parlour of Frog Farm had not the peculiar mustiness which greeted
Jinny’s nostrils when last she peeped into it that tragic morning of
Maria’s illness, but there was by way of compensation a reek of stale
tobacco and the odours of the breakfast bacon and mushrooms, while in
lieu of the sacrosanct tidiness there was a pervasion of papers, with a
whole mass of scripts sliding steadily from the slippery sofa. The
brown-lozenged text on the wall: “When He giveth quietness, who then can
make trouble?” seemed to shriek for Caleb’s answer: “Friend Flippance.”
Other documents bulged and bristled from both pockets of the
dressing-gown as from greasy paniers.

“Bless you, Jinny,” Tony gurgled from his breakfast-cup. He eyed her
rapturously. “What a pretty pair you’ll make at the wedding!”

“It’s no use, Mr. Flippance,” said Martha, beaming, “I’ve told you
before I won’t go into a church.”

Mr. Flippance, who had been mentally coupling his bride and Jinny,
replied with but the briefest muscular quiver, that the only thing that
reconciled him to Martha’s absence was that she was incapacitated by
matrimony from the rôle of bridesmaid. This morning he would not trouble
her to wait. “You can ‘withdraw’ from me,” he said jocosely.

Martha was jarred by this profane use of the sacred vocabulary, and
moreover felt it almost as improper to leave Jinny alone in her house,
even with a budding bridegroom. “Jinny’s got no secrets from me,” she
said tartly; and Mr. Flippance, divining his error, remarked blandly,
“Nor have I.” And as Martha started to dust the mantelpiece ornaments
and to discover cigar-ash in her china shoes, he drew Jinny’s attention
to the “beautiful” silk sampler that hung over them. “And all worked
with Mrs. Flynt’s own hand! What a wonderful lion—and as for the
unicorn, she’s got it to the life!”

“Oh, it’s only what I did when a girl,” said Martha, blushing modestly.
“Only I didn’t like to hang it up then, because I’d left no room for the
foreign trees like my sisters put in!”

“Well, but you’ve got in the alphabet, big and little, and all the
figures! Wonderful!”

“That’s where Willie learnt his A B C from,” said Martha, radiant.

“Ah, that gay deceiver!” sighed Mr. Flippance. “He told me he was a
Yankee, but now I find he’s only a yumorist. Still he’s a chap any woman
can be proud of—what do _you_ say, Jinny?”

Jinny, who had seated herself on the sofa, carefully steadied the
slipping manuscripts as she replied with a forced lightness:

“I say, if you want a best man, you can’t find a better.”

“Ah, that’s the trouble. He won’t take part in a Church ceremony
neither, he says he’s got to consider the old folks—at the chapel,” he
added promptly. “But at any rate we shall have the best bridesmaid.”

“You don’t mean me?” said Jinny, colouring under his admiring gaze.
“Because it’s impossible. I haven’t the time—or the money.”

“Is it the dress you’re thinking of? Surely the Theatre Royal,
Chipstone, can run to that?” And pulling a protrusive scroll from a
pocket of his dressing-gown, he unfurled it beatifically, exposing a
poster with the coupled names of Anthony Flippance and Cleopatra Jones
in giant letters.

“Anthony and Cleopatra!” he breathed in a ravishment. “The moment she
told me her second name was Cleopatra I knew it was useless fighting
against the fates.”

“But have you bought our chapel then?” Jinny inquired.

“Bought your chapel?” Mr. Flippance was mystified. “Why on earth should
I buy your chapel?”

“You—you might have turned it into a theatre!” she stammered
apologetically.

He waved the suggestion away with a jewelled hand. “Only a new Temple of
Thespis could live up to Anthony and Cleopatra. We are building!”

“Where?” Now it was Jinny that was mystified—she had seen no such
enterprise afoot.

“Here!” He tapped the other pocket of his dressing-gown. “Plans!” He
rolled up his poster reluctantly. “Cleopatra wanted to see it in print.
Didn’t I say what a work getting married was? But now that the
bridesmaid’s settled——!”

“But she’s not!” said Jinny, more alarmed than when he was trying to
cast her for the bride, perhaps because the danger of being sucked in
was greater.

“Oh, Jinny!” He looked at her with large reproachful eyes and
mechanically threw bacon to Nip, who had at last sniffed his way in, and
who, fortunately for Martha’s composure, caught it ere it reached her
carpet. “You see she wants to have the thing all regular and
respectable, and all her family are in Wales. She hasn’t got a parent
handy to give her away. And having led a wandering life, she hadn’t even
a parish to marry in. I never thought you’d desert an old pal.”

“But I’m no pal of hers—I don’t even know her.”

“Oh, Jinny!” And just arresting a paper-slide, he extricated a
photograph from the imperilled mass. “The new Scott Archer process,” he
declared proudly. “Knocks your daguerreotypes into the middle of last
week. Good gag that, eh?”

But it was Jinny who seemed knocked into that period; and not only by
this new triumph of the camera. For in this wonderful breathing image
she recognized—in all save size, for this seemed a Cleopatra swelling
to regal stature—the beauteous human doll she had last seen walking
down the steps of a toy house, conning a part.

“But she’s married!” she gasped.

“Not yet. Would to heaven it _were_ all over!” said Mr. Flippance
airily, but his great brow grew black for an instant ere he turned it
sunnily on Martha. “Oh, ma, _could_ I have more of these marvellous
mushrooms?”

“I’ll see, you greedy boy,” she smiled, retreating.

“Well, who could help saying encore to such items?” He turned
reproachfully on Jinny. “You nearly shocked the old lady.”

“But didn’t you—didn’t you call her the Duchess?” Jinny stammered. “Oh,
but perhaps it is Mrs. Duke’s sister—she looks taller.”

“That’s because she’s got no legs,” he explained paradoxically. “But
it’s all right—The Loveliest Leading Lady in London.” (Jinny heard the
capital letters distinctly.)

He went on to explain that London didn’t know this yet, and that some
time must elapse before Cleopatra would be in a position to demonstrate
it on the spot, owing to local jealousies. But Jinny came back
remorselessly to her point.

“But surely she was married to Mr. Duke!”

“Hush! Appearances are deceptive. They were just close friends.”

“You couldn’t well be closer—in that doll’s house,” said Jinny
scornfully. And her own words reminded her how he had denounced the
Duchess as a “squeaking doll” whose “golden” hair was spurious.

“Now you shock _me_, Jinny,” said Mr. Flippance severely. “Pure as the
driven snow is my Cleo, stainless as the Lady Agnes, shut up in that
great oak chest on her wedding morn, sweet as her namesake, Bianca, in
_The Taming of the Shrew_.”

“Why does she tame shrews?” asked Jinny, puzzled.

“That’s a play by Shakespeare”—the name not occurring in the
Spelling-Book, left Jinny unimpressed. “A shrew is a vixen.”

This natural history left Jinny still less impressed. “That’s nonsense,”
she said. “A shrew is tiny and lovely to look at, with darling rounded
ears. I buried one the other day, and its eye was as bright as life.”

“It’s only a way of speaking,” he explained, “as you call a woman a cat.
Katharina’s the polecat of the play that her husband has to tame with a
whip, but Bianca is a dove, gentle and spotless.”

“Doves are not so gentle,” said Jinny. “They peck each other dreadfully.
I like vixens better, at least they seem fonder of their family when you
peep down their earths.”

Mr. Flippance, who had never in his life seen either a shrew or a vixen
or a polecat or observed the habits of doves, was taken aback. He had
even a vague sense of blasphemy, some ancient religious images whirring
confusedly in his brain. “Understand this, Jinny,” he said sharply,
abandoning the shifting sands of metaphor, “Cleo gave Mr. Duke her
companionship and her artistic co-operation, but as for marrying
him—bring me that Book!”

He indicated the precious volume which Mrs. Flynt had left in the
parlour for his study of the text-evidence of the Christadelphian
teaching. But Jinny took his Bible oath for granted. Sincerity and
righteous indignation radiated from every round inch of his face, and
Jinny, despite her farmyard experience, was too nebulous in her ideas of
human matings not to be shaken. In truth he had been vastly relieved by
the discovery that the couple had pretermitted the ceremony and that he
was saved the tedium and expense of a divorce suit, though he wondered
why Mr. Duke with his meticulous book-keeping and contracts should be so
loose where women were concerned, while he, so averse from parchments
and figures, had a proper respect for the marriage-tie. Human nature was
devilishly deep, he thought: no wonder a man got drowned if he tried to
fathom himself.

But Jinny, though she now believed she had misunderstood the ducal
_ménage_, was not without an instinctive distrust. “She didn’t want to
live in the caravan,” she protested.

“No,” he agreed, misapprehending the local idiom. “It was that
pig-headed wire-puller who wanted it. Duke’s the villain of the piece,
abusing my darling’s innocence and exploiting her artistic aspirations.
He got round the poor girl, knowing her aunt had left her all her money.
Cleo, my dear Jinny, is the niece of the famous Cleopatra, the Cairo
Contortionist, after whom she was christened, and whose death a year or
so ago eclipsed the gaiety of Astley’s and Mr. Batty’s new Hippodrome.”

“Was she so beautiful?” asked Jinny, somewhat awed.

“I was in love with her myself in my youth,” Mr. Flippance replied
simply. “But though you could gossip with her round the coke-brazier at
the back of the ring, she always made you feel that no man was worthy to
chalk the soles of her tight-rope shoes. And her niece, as you have
doubtless perceived, has the same grand manner.”

“Then why did she keep company with Mr. Duke?”

Jinny returned to the sore spot, Mr. Flippance felt, like a buzzing
bluebottle.

“If you don’t believe me,” he cried, “show me the little Dukes and
Duchesses. Where are they? Produce ’em.”

He looked at her fiercely—as demanding a rain of coroneted cherubs from
the air.

The bold stroke put the climax to Jinny’s obfuscation. Marriage without
children was practically unknown on her round, though the children often
died. “Don’t you see he wanted to compromise her?” pursued Tony
triumphantly, after giving the cherubs a reasonable time to materialize.
“He thought she’d never dare break away with her money, and that he
could spend her last farthing on boosting himself into the legitimate.
He’s all right with the marionettes—a dapster as you say here,” Mr.
Flippance admitted magnanimously. “But as an actor he could no more
expect to please _my_ public than to keep Cleo hidden in a bushel. He
might throw up the sponge and go back to his _fantoccini_—but what
career was that for Cleo? She broke with him on the nail—the
partnership, I mean. And I ask you, ma,” he wound up, with an
appreciative sniff as Martha re-entered, not only with mushrooms but
freshly fried bacon, “what woman of spirit could do otherwise?”

Mrs. Flynt beamed assent, and her apparent acquaintance with the facts
contributed to lull Jinny’s uneasiness. Surely the pious Martha would
not connive at scandalous proceedings. Relieved, she sat silent;
wondering—while Mr. Flippance did jovial justice to the encore
dish—what the Duchess would think if she knew that she, Jinny, could
have anticipated her in the rôle of the second Mrs. Flippance. And what
would Polly have thought of her as a stepmother, she wondered still more
whimsically. Perhaps between them they could have made a man of him. She
had never seen his daughter over her cigar and milk or her sense of
Polly as a pillar of respectability might have been shattered.

“And how is Miss Flippance?” she said.

His face changed suddenly—rain-clouds overgloomed the sun. His fork
fell from his fingers. “You don’t know what daughters are,” he
blubbered. “She’s left me!”

“Left you?”

“Ask ma,” he half sobbed. It was infinitely pathetic.

“Don’t let it get cold again,” Martha coaxed.

“I can’t eat.” He lit a cheroot abstractedly, and the old woman and the
young girl followed his silent puffings with a yearning sympathy, while
Nip begged, unheeded.

“Mad on marionettes is Polly,” he said at last. “The moment I got rid of
’em, she packed up my things and was off.”

“Stole your things?” cried the startled Jinny.

“No—no. She knew I should be moving on for the banns—Cleo likes a
quiet place—so she left me tidy. That was her sole conception of her
duty to her legal pa. But she had always looked upon me as a thing to be
tidied—not a soul to be loved and cherished.” He wiped an eye with the
sleeve of his dressing-gown and asked brokenly for his brandy. Martha
hurried to his bedroom.

“But perhaps your daughter’ll come back,” Jinny suggested soothingly.

“God forbid!” he cried. “I mean they’d be at it hammer and tongs.
Perhaps Providence does all things for the best.”

“But where has she gone?” Jinny’s sympathy was now passing to Polly, as
she began to grasp the true complexity of her exodus.

“To her grandmother in Cork, I expect.” He blew a placid puff. “Did I
never tell you my pa’s real wife—the one he didn’t live with, I
mean—was originally the widow of a well-to-do cheesemonger? Polly
always looked up her nominal granny when we played Ireland. She likes
respectable people.”

“Is that why she won’t come to the wedding?” Jinny inquired cruelly, for
Polly’s refusal to countenance it again stirred up her doubts.

Mr. Flippance was angered afresh. “I tell you, my Cleopatra can hold up
her head with the whitest cheesemonger’s widow in the land. But it’s
hard,” he said, reverting to pathos and flicking his cigar-ash
mournfully into the just-dusted shoe, “to be left without a daughter at
such a crisis. Think how she would have stage-managed everything—even
bought the ring.” The tragedy of his situation mastered him. “Forgive my
emotion—I was always one to wear my heart on my sleeve.” He wiped his
eyes on it again. “Nobody will ever pack like Polly. Ah, thank you, ma,”
he said, as Martha reappeared with the brandy bottle. “Have you half a
crown?” he added, pouring himself out a careless quota. “You see,” he
explained, setting down his glass dolefully, and tendering Martha’s
half-crown to the astonished Jinny, “though old pals desert one at the
altar, Tony Flip doesn’t forget his obligations.”

“But what’s it for?” Jinny took the coin tentatively.

“You lent me it when that wicked Duke demanded money on the contract.”

“Oh, thank you!” Jinny was touched—a half-crown seemed as large as her
cart-wheel nowadays. Half remorsefully she suggested that a far better
bridesmaid would be the girl at Foxearth Farm.

He shook his head. “I’ve been into that. But there are—objections. It
doesn’t do, you see, for the super to be taller than the leading lady.
Now you being shorter——”

“But if Miss Jones were to wear very low heels——”

“But that would only make Miss Purley look still taller,” he said,
puzzled.

“I mean Miss Purley to wear the low heels—_she_ is a Miss Jones, too.”

“What?”

“Blanche Jones is her name—she’s only old Purley’s stepdaughter.”

He started up. “Then Mrs. Purley was formerly Mrs. Jones?”

“Yes.”

“Hurrah!” He seized the surprised Martha by the waist and began waltzing
with her, while Nip barked with excitement.

“Quiet, Nip! What’s the matter?” cried Jinny, smiling.

“A relation at last! Don’t you see that Mrs. Jones can give the bride
away?”

“But she’s not really a relation.”

“All these Joneses are one large family,” he said airily.

“But you don’t need a relation,” Martha pointed out. “A friend will do.”

“Really? I must study the stage-directions—I mean,” he corrected
himself hastily, “yours may be different from the Church of England.”

“But I know all the same, for we weren’t allowed to marry in our own
chapels, leastways not till after Willie was born.”

“Well, anyhow, I’m sure Cleopatra would prefer a relation. Mrs. Jones is
a Churchwoman, I hope. It’s necessary, ma, you know,” he apologized.

“Yes—her husband’s a churchwarden,” said Jinny.

“A churchwarden! Hurrah! Better and better. Then _he_ shall give Cleo
away.” He bumped the beaming, breathless Martha round again.

“But he isn’t even called Jones,” Jinny reminded him.

“A husband takes over his wife’s Jonesiness. Bless you, Jinny!” He
seized her hand and dragged her likewise into the circular movement.
“Now we go round the mulberry-bush, the mulberry-bush, the
mulberry-bush——”

Caleb, coming past the door at this instant, stood spellbound. Had Mr.
Flippance been really converted, and was it the joy of the New
Jerusalem? Or had Martha now “moved on,” and was this the new dancing
sect of which one heard rumours?

Martha’s caperings ceased at sight of him. “It’s the wedding,” she said
somewhat shamefacedly. “I’m just going to pickle your walnuts, dear
heart,” she added sweetly. “And Jinny must be getting to her work, too.”

At which delicate hint, Jinny, faintly flushing, rose to take her leave,
and Nip, who had been whining his impatience, was already gambolling
hysterically without, before she remembered she had forgotten the very
purpose of her visit.

“Oh, by the way, Mr. Flippance,” she said, as she followed Nip, “I
suppose the wedding-gown is ordered.”

“Wedding-gown!” he repeated. “You don’t think Cleo has any need of
wedding-gowns! Why the Lady Agnes dress—Act One—is the very prop. for
the occasion, and brand new, for she had just got Duke to put on _The
Mistletoe Bough_. Otherwise I should have been asking you for the
address of that wonderful French friend of yours—the bearded lady, you
know. But if you won’t be a bridesmaid, you’ve got to come to the
show—yes, and the wedding breakfast too—I won’t take any refusal.
It’ll be at Foxearth Farm, and I’m ordering oceans of sweet champagne.
Well, thank you a million times for finding Cleo a father. Good-bye,
dear. God bless you!” He had shuffled without and now kissed his hand to
the moving cart.

“What about a new wedding-gown for _you_?” Jinny called back. “A
dressing-gown, I mean.”

“Yumorist!” came his chuckled answer.


                                  VIII

Though not unconscious of a subterranean hostility in Martha, which she
put down to the new business rivalry, and though still perturbed about
the Duchess, Jinny felt distinctly better for this visit, not to mention
the half-crown, that now rare coin. She was still more heartened two
days later when Bundock brought a letter from Mr. Flippance stating
that, strange to say, Cleopatra did not find the Lady Agnes dress
suitable. It would make her feel she was only playing at marrying, she
said, and she was too respectful of holy matrimony to desecrate it by
any suggestion of unreality: indeed she was already being fitted by the
leading Chipstone artist. The dress was, however, turning out so
dubiously that she would be glad if Jinny’s French friend would call
upon her at Foxearth Farm with a view to preparing a “double.” As for
Jinny being bridesmaid, he must reluctantly ask her to abandon the idea,
as Cleopatra considered her too short.

“That’s the Flippance fist,” said Bundock, lingering to watch her read
the letter, “scrawls all over the shop. I don’t mind your answering by
post,” he added maliciously, “now I’ve got to go there so much. I often
kill—he, he, he!—two frogs with one stone now. So you’re to be
bridesmaid, Tony tells me.”

“Nothing of the sort,” said Jinny, “and mind your own business.”

“It _is_ my business,” he said in an aggrieved tone. “Didn’t he ask me
to be best man? As if in this age of reason I could take part in
superstitious rites!”

“I don’t see any superstition about marrying,” said Jinny.

“I’m not so sure—tying a man to a woman like a dog to a barrel. But
anyhow, why drag in heaven?”

“Because marriages are made there, I suppose,” said Jinny.

“Stuff and nonsense! And then the rice and the old shoes they throw!”

“I saw _you_ throw one when your sister got married.”

“Maybe. But I didn’t believe in it.”

“Then why did you throw it?”

He hesitated a moment. “They say if you don’t believe in it, it’s even
luckier than if you do.”

Jinny laughed heartily.

“I’m not joking!” Bundock declared angrily.

“If you were, I shouldn’t be laughing,” said Jinny.

“Oh well, _go_ to church!” Bundock retorted in disgust. “And I hope the
beadle will give you an extra prod next Sunday.”

“What do you mean?”

“Don’t pretend. Everybody knows that church is a double torture—first
the parson sends you to sleep with his sermon, and then the verger wakes
you up with his rod.”

Jinny laughed again.

“Don’t tell me!” said Bundock. “My own father was forced to go—all the
labourers on the estate, poor chaps, dead-sleepy after the week’s work,
and that rod used to puggle ’em about. No wonder dad chucked both squire
and parson.”

“It doesn’t happen in Mr. Fallow’s church,” Jinny assured him.

“Because nobody goes!” And Bundock hurried off with this great last
word, and Jinny saw his bag heaving with the mirthful movement of his
shoulders.

Somewhat to Jinny’s surprise, Miss Gentry from being Cleopatra’s
alternative dressmaker developed into her adorer, it appearing that the
lady displayed not only proportions most pleasing to the technical
eye—“just made for clothes,” Miss Gentry put it—but a positive
appetite for tracts. She loathed Dissent, it transpired, and to be
married by a minister would seem to her little better than living in
sin. A very paragon of propriety and an elegant pillar of the faith,
Miss Cleopatra Jones, spinster, worshipped regularly with the
churchwarden and his family in the wrong parish church. Miss Gentry,
ravished by this combination of respectability and romance, did not once
compel the fair client to attend upon her, travelling to Foxearth Farm
instead in Jinny’s cart. It was impossible for Jinny’s doubts of
Cleopatra’s immaculacy to survive Miss Gentry’s encomiums. While Miss
Gentry ascended to the bedroom of her beautiful and still golden-haired
client, posed in an atmosphere of old oak bedsteads and panelled linen
presses, Jinny would sit with the second Mrs. Purley in her dairy—a
cheerful, speckless room which enjoyed a specially spacious window,
dairies being immune from the window-tax—while that bulkier edition of
Blanche made cheeses and conversation. Mrs. Purley made conversation
irrespective of her auditor, for she needed no collaborator: indeed a
second party coming athwart this Niagara of monologue would have been
swept aside like a straw.

As a great musician can take a few simple notes, and out of this theme
evoke endless intricacies, enlargements, repetitions, echoes,
duplications, parallelisms, and permutations, and then transform the
whole into another key and give it you all over again, so out of a
simple happening, like her feeding of a sick chicken, or her discovery
that a hen had laid her clutch in the hedge, Mrs. Purley, without for a
moment interrupting the milling of curd or the draining of whey, could
improvise a fugal discourse that went ramifying and returning upon
itself _ad infinitum_. It reminded Jinny of Kelcott Wood, where every
day from three to five, on these September afternoons, hundreds of
starlings, perched like bits of black coal on the mountain-ashes, kept
up a ceaseless chattering, shrilling, clucking, querying, cackling.

But she soon ceased to hear Mrs. Purley, was even lulled by the cascade.
Very familiar grew every pan, dipper, vat, tub, press, cheese-cloth, or
straw-mat, while the one readable article she knew by heart. It was the
inscription on a china mug, in which Mrs. Purley sometimes put milk, and
it recorded the virtues of a black-haired, black-whiskered head painted
thereon. “The Incorruptible Patriot. . . . The Undaunted Supporter of
the People’s Rights. . . . The Father of the Fatherless. . . . The Pride
and Glory of his Country” . . . such were a few of the attributes
ascribed, with a profuseness resembling Mrs. Purley’s conversation, to a
certain Henry Brougham, Esq., who, as Jinny learnt from Miss Gentry, was
really and truly “a love,” having defended Queen Caroline when Miss
Gentry was a schoolgirl. Queens were as liable to ill-luck as herself,
Jinny began to suspect, recalling that Egyptian asp, and she became a
little anxious for Victoria, who now came to figure in her dreams, as
defended against French fire-eaters by this black-avised man, with the
protruding nose, retreating forehead, and weak chin. Somehow—it was
unintelligible when she woke up, but quite clear in her dream—the
defended Victoria was also herself, for was not Henry Brougham “The
Father of the Fatherless”?

Adjoining the dairy was a room, lit from it—to avoid taxation—by a
pane in the door. Jinny sometimes had an uneasy sense that Blanche was
inspecting her through that pane. Otherwise she hardly ever encountered
the vespacide, who betrayed indeed no sense of rivalry, for the
relations between Will and the little Carrier were unknown, and Blanche
would, in any case, have considered so humble a personage negligible or
at least nippable.

For if this handsome creature was—as she had struck Jinny-a shade
overripe, it was not for lack of volunteer pluckers, and the mutability
which Mr. Giles Purley had gently derided in his son had been even more
marked in his stepdaughter. Fortunately Will was unaware of the episodes
that had preceded his return to England. And not only did he regard
himself as the first male that had ever squeezed that fair hand, but,
untaught by its prowess as a wasp-killer, he believed her a passive
victim to his own compelling charm. And the apparent perfection of
Blanche’s surrender was the more grateful to him after the granite he
had kept striking in Jinny. But the mobility which had hitherto marked
Miss Blanche’s affections was now manifesting itself in a novel shape,
for like Miss Gentry, she had come under the spell of Cleopatra, though
a very different Cleopatra from the ardent Churchwoman who revealed
herself to the dressmaker. The Cleopatra who magnetized the
cheese-maker’s daughter, and who, carelessly abetted by Mr. Flippance’s
sketchy promises, filled the ignorant girl with dramatic and palpitating
ambitions, was a queen of the footlights, an inspirer of romantic
passions, and in her unguarded moments—as when you sat on her bed at
midnight with your hair down—a teller of strange Bohemian stories, a
citer of perturbing Sapphic songs, the melodies of which she could even
whistle. What wonder if Mrs. Hemans—Blanche’s favourite poet
hitherto—began to pall! She had been proud enough of her culture,
leaving, as she felt it did, the parental perspectives far behind her;
but now boundless horizons seemed opening up before her, and the _London
Journal_ which Cleopatra swallowed with her meals seemed to Blanche to
contain nothing so alluring as Cleopatra’s own career.

It was by quite accidentally overhearing a remark of Blanche’s, and not
by dint of Mr. Flippance’s repeated invitation, that Jinny was finally
strung up to attend the great wedding. The probability that Will and
Blanche would be at the feast was a drawback that prevailed over the
lure of a good square meal, and even over the glamour of that mysterious
nectar—champagne. But when she heard Blanche instruct her mother that
she would certainly not have to lay a place for “that common carrier,”
in a flame that might almost have consumed her letter-paper, Jinny wrote
her acceptance to Mr. Flippance, and expended his half-crown, which she
had laid by for a rainy day, on a wedding present which would do him
good—a Bible, to wit.

In prevision of the great day she left off wearing her best gown,
cleaned it, and by the aid of Miss Gentry and a bit of lace gave it a
new turn. After the wedding it must, alas, be pawned! Jinny, though she
had hitherto entered the pawnshop only to pledge or redeem things for
her customers, had schooled herself to the inevitable. So had Mr.
Flippance, whose idea of a best man had now sunk to Barnaby. But he was
used to handling unpromising performers, he said, though he regretted
the absence of a dress rehearsal, more especially for Mrs. Purley, who,
having been induced to mother Cleopatra (nothing would induce Mr. Purley
to father her), was unlikely, he feared, to confine herself to a simple
“I do.” That was not, he groaned drolly, her idea of a speaking part. He
deplored, too, that there were not enough bells or bell-ringers in the
Little Bradmarsh church to ring an elaborate joy-peal, as Cleopatra was
so anxious to have every property and accessory of holy matrimony
complete. It was for this reason, doubtless, that Miss Gentry, after
reducing the rival dress to a rag, ultimately emerged as the bridesmaid.


                                   IX

For the convenience of Foxearth Farm, as well as of Will, who, though a
bit sulky about his mother’s waiting on the Showman, was too entangled
with Miss Purley to refuse to grace the festal board, the ceremony had
been fixed for a Saturday at ten, and on that morning Jinny had meant to
rise with the sun, so as to do the bulk of her day’s chares in advance.
What was her dismay, therefore, to open blinking eyes on her grandfather
standing over her pseudo-bed in his best Sunday smock, whip in hand, and
to hear through her wide-flung casement Methusalem neighing outside and
the cart creaking!

“Am I late?” she gasped, sitting up. Then she became aware of a
beautiful blue moonlight filling the room with glory, and of a lambent
loveliness spreading right up to the stars sprinkled over her slit of
sky.

“’Tis your wedding-day, dearie,” said the ghostly figure of the Gaffer,
and she now perceived there were wedding favours on his whip, evidently
taken from Methusalem’s May Day ribbons, which he must have hunted out
of the “glory-hole” where odds and ends were kept.

Bitterly she regretted having excited his brain by informing him of her
programme. He was evidently prepared to drive her to the ceremony.

“But it’s too early,” she temporized.

“Ye’ve got to be there for breakfus, you said, dearie,” he reminded her.

“No, no,” she explained. “The wedding breakfast with fashionable folk is
only a sort of bever or elevener at earliest.”

He chuckled. “Ye’re gooin’ to be rich and fashionable—won’t it wex that
jackanips! Oi suspicioned ’twas you he war arter the fust time he come
gawmin’ to the stable. Ye can’t deceive Daniel Quarles. On your hands
and knees, ye pirate thief!” He cracked his whip fiercely. “Up ye git,
Jinny, ye’ve got to titivate yerself. Oi’ve put the water in your
basin.”

“But Gran’fer,” she said, acutely distressed, “it’s not _my_ wedding.”

“Not your wedding!”

“Of course not.”

“Then whose wedding be it?” he demanded angrily. “’Tain’t mine, seein’
as Oi’m too poor to keep Annie though she’s riddy of her rascal at
last.” He seized her wrists and shook her. “Why did you lie to me and
make a fool o’ me?”

So this was why Gran’fer had embraced her so effusively last night when
she avowed her programme for the morrow; this was why he had given her
blessings in lieu of the expected reproaches for her projected absence;
this was why he had gone up to bed humming his long-silent song: “Oi’m
seventeen come Sunday.”

It was a mistake, she felt now, to have stayed at home for his sake on
the Friday, changing the immemorial day of absence. He had been strange
all day, without grasping what was the cause of his unrest, and Nip’s
parallel uneasiness had reacted upon him. It was not, however, till she
had incautiously remarked that Methusalem too was off his feed, that he
cried out in horror that she had forgotten to go on her rounds.
Smilingly she assured him she had not forgotten: indeed the void in her
whole being occasioned by the loss of Mother Gander’s gratis meal had
been a gnawing reminder since midday. But imagining—and not indeed
untruly—that her work was gone, he had burst into imprecations on “the
pirate thief.”

As she sat up now on her mattress, helpless in her grief, her mind raced
feverishly through the episode, recalling every word of the dialogue,
unravelling his senile misapprehension; half wilful it seemed to her
now, in his eagerness to clutch at happier times.

“It’s nothing to do with the coach competition, Gran’fer. It’s only
because I’ve got to be out to-morrow for a wedding!”

“A wedding! She ain’t marrying agen?”

“Who?”

“Annie.”

“Annie? Which Annie?”

“There’s onny one Annie. ’Lijah’s mother.”

“Old Mrs. Skindle! What an idea! It’s a friend of mine, a gentleman
you’ve never seen.”

At this point she had had, she remembered, the fatal idea of showing him
her furbished-up frock to soothe him, for he was trembling all over.

“Would you like to see what I’m going to wear?”

She understood now the new light that had shot into his eye as he
touched the lace trimming.

“Similar-same to what your Great-Aunt Susannah wore the day she married
that doddy little Dap! Ye ain’t a-gooin’ to make a fool o’ yerself
similar-same. Who’s the man?” he had demanded fiercely.

“You don’t know him, I told you—it’s a Mr. Flippance!”

A beautiful peace had come over the convulsed face. “Flippance! Ain’t
that the gent what’s come to live in Frog Farm? That’s a fust-class
toff, no mistake. Uncle Lilliwhyte should be tellin’ me, when he come
with the watercress on Tuesday, as Mr. Flippance pays a pound a week for
hisself alone!”

That was the point at which her grandfather had kissed her with
effusion, crying: “Ye’ll be in clover, dearie!” while she, licking her
chaps at the thought of the morrow’s banquet, had playfully answered
that there would certainly be “a mort to eat.” The prospect set him
clucking gleefully.

“Spite o’ that rapscallion!” he had chuckled, enlarging thereupon to her
on the way the Lord protects His righteous subjects, and enlivening his
discourse with adjurations to “the pirate thief” to take to his hands
and knees. Had followed reproaches for hiding the news from him,
reproaches to Mr. Flippance for not calling on him, not even inviting
him to the wedding: soothing explanations from her that Mr. Flippance
knew he was too poorly to go that far; assurances she would be back as
early as possible.

She ought to have understood his delusion or self-delusion, she thought,
when he had clung to her in a sudden panic.

“Then ye will come back—ye ain’t leavin’ me to starve! Ye won’t let
that jackanips starve me out?”

And when she had reassured him, and caressed him, even promised to bring
him something tasty from the wedding breakfast, he had gripped her
harder than ever—she could still feel his bony fingers on her
wrist—but of course they actually were on her wrists as she sat there
now against her pillow—“ye’ll live here with me—same as afore!”

“Why ever shouldn’t I?” she had answered in her innocence. “We’ll always
live with you—Methusalem, Nip, all of us.” What unlucky impulse of
affection or reassurance had made her stoop down to kiss the dog in his
basket—all her being burnt with shame at the remembrance of her
grandfather’s reply, though at the time it had touched her to tears.

“God bless ye, Jinny. Oi know this ain’t a proper bedroom for you, but
Oi’ll sleep here if you like, and do you and he move up to mine.”

She had put by the offer gently. “Nonsense, Gran’fer. You can’t shift at
your age—or Nip either.”

“Oi bain’t so old as Sidrach,” he had retorted, not without resentment,
“and Oi doubt he ain’t left off bein’ a rollin’ stone. And Oi reckon Oi
can fit into that chest of drawers better than when Oi was bonkka.”

But the shrivelled form, with the hollow cheeks, flaming eyes, and snowy
beard, was still shaking her angrily, and her sense of his pathos
vanished in a sick fear, not so much for herself, though his fingers
seemed formidably sinister, as for his aged brain under this
disappointment. “Why did you say ’twas your wedding morn?”

The Dutch clock, providentially striking three, offered a fresh chance
of temporizing.

“There, Gran’fer! Can’t be my wedding morn yet, only three o’clock!”

He let go her hands. “Ain’t ye ashamed to have fun with your Gran’fer?”
he asked, vastly relieved. “But it’s a middlin’ long drive to Chipstone
before breakfus.”

“It’s not at Chipstone—the wedding’s at Little Bradmarsh.”

“Oh!” he said blankly.

“So there’s lots of time, Gran’fer, and you can go back to bed.”

“Not me! Do, Oi mightn’t wake in time agen.”

“I’ll wake you—but I’ll be fit for nothing in the morning, if I don’t
go to sleep now.”

“The day Oi was married,” he chuckled, “Oi never offered to sleep the
noight afore—ne yet the noight arter! He, he!”

“Go away, Gran’fer!” she begged frantically. “Let me go to sleep.”

“Ay, ay, goo to sleep, my little mavis. Nobody shan’t touch ye. What a
pity we ate up that wedding-cake! But Oi had to cut a shiver to stop his
boggin’ and crakin’, hadn’t Oi, dearie?”

“Quite right. Better eat wedding-cake than humble-pie!” she jested
desperately.

“Ef he comes sniffin’ around arter you’re married, Oi’ll snap him in two
like this whip!”

“Don’t break my whip!” She clutched at the beribboned butt.

“That’s my whip, Jinny! Let that go!”

“Well, go to bed then!” With a happy thought, she lit the tallow candle
on her bedside chair and tendered it to him. It operated as mechanically
upon his instinctive habits as she had hoped.

“Good night, dearie,” he said, and very soon she heard him undressing as
usual, and his snore came with welcome rapidity. Then she sprang out of
bed, pulled on some clothes, and ran out to release the angry and
mystified Methusalem from the shafts and to receive his nuzzled
forgiveness in the stable. But when she got back to bed, sleep long
refused to come; the sense of her tragic situation was overwhelming.
Even the great peace of the moonlit night could not soak into her. It
was impossible to go to the wedding now, she felt. When at last sleep
came, she was again incomprehensibly Queen Victoria hemmed in by foes,
and protected only by “The Father of the Fatherless” with his black
whiskers. She awoke about dawn, unrefreshed and hungry, but a cold
sponging from the basin her grandfather had prepared enabled her to cope
with the labours of the day. She looked forward with apprehension to the
scene with the old man when he should realize that the grand match was
indeed off, but she could think of nothing better than going about in
her dirtiest apron to keep his mind off the subject. The precaution
proved unnecessary. He slept so late and so heavily—as if a weight was
off his mind—that when he at last awoke he seemed to have slept the
delusion off, as though it were something too recent to remain in his
memory. As for the scene in the small hours, that had apparently left no
impress at all upon his brain. In fact, so jocose and natural was he at
breakfast, which she purposely made prodigal for him, that the optimism
of the morning sun, which came streaming in, almost banished her own
memory of it too: it seemed as much a nightmare as her desperate
struggle against the foes of Victoria-Jinny. The lure of the wedding
jaunt revived, and the thought of the domestic economy she would be
achieving thereby, made her sparing of her own breakfast. She had a bad
moment, however, when her grandfather suddenly caught sight of the
horseless cart outside.

“Stop thief!” he cried, jumping up agitatedly.

Jinny was vexed with herself. To have left that reminder of the
grotesque episode!

“It’s that ’Lijah!” he shrieked. “He’s stole Methusalem.”

“Hush, Gran’fer!” she warned him. “Suppose anybody heard you!”

But he ran out towards the Common and she after him. His tottering limbs
seemed galvanized.

“My horse is all right,” she gasped, catching him up in a few rods. “I
was too tired yesterday to put my cart away, that’s all.”

He turned and glared suspiciously at her. “That’s _my_ hoss—and my
cart, too! Can’t you read the name—‘Daniel Quarles, Carrier.’ But ye
won’t never let me put no padlock on my stable!”

“Your horse is there safe—come and see!”

He allowed himself to be led to the soothing spectacle.

“But Oi’ll put a padlock at once, same as in my barn,” he said firmly.
“Don’t, that rascal ’Lijah will grab him without tippin’ a farden!”


                                   X

The overlooked cart proved a blessing, not a calamity, for the operation
of padlocking the stable-door before the horse was stolen so absorbed
the Gaffer that Jinny found it possible, after all, to don her finery
and slip off to the wedding unseen even of Nip, who was supervising the
new measures for Methusalem’s safety. Curiosity to see Miss Gentry’s
creation in action had combined with the pangs of appetite and her
acceptance of the invitation to make temptation irresistible, and she
calculated that she could be back by noon, and that, pottering over his
vegetable patch or his Bible, the old man would scarcely notice her
absence.

When she reached the church, she found the coach stationed outside, and
though the liveried guard was lacking to-day, the black horses looked
handsomer than ever with their red wedding-favours, while the pea-green
polish of the vehicle reduced her to a worm-like humility at the thought
of the impossibility of her cart taking part in to-day’s display.
Evidently Will had brought the bridegroom from Frog Farm. Out of the
corner of her eye she espied Will himself, sunning himself on his box,
and her heart thumped, though all she was conscious of was the insolent
incongruity of his pipe with the occasion, the edifice, his new
frock-coat, and the posy in its buttonhole. Fearing she was late, she
hurried into the church. But nothing was going on, though the size of
the congregation—far larger than usual—was an exciting surprise. There
was no sign of any of the wedding-party, not even Mr. Flippance, and
after imperceptibly saluting her Angel-Mother, she sank back into a rear
pew, half pleased to have missed nothing, half uneasy lest there be a
delay. Turning over a Prayer Book in search of the Wedding Service, she
came for the first time, and not without surprise, on the Fifth of
November Thanksgiving “for the happy deliverance of King _James I_ and
the Three Estates of _England_ from the most traitorous and
bloody-intended massacre by Gunpowder: And also for the happy Arrival of
King _William_ on this Day, for the Deliverance of our Church and
Nation.” King William’s arrival struck her as providential but
confusing—for though he had apparently detected the Popish barrels in
the nick of time, how came there to be two kings at once? Suddenly she
was aware, by some tingling telegraphy, that the bride and bridesmaid
had arrived outside in a grand open carriage. Mr. Fallow in his surplice
came in at the clerk’s intimation and took up his position at the altar
rails, the musicians struck up “The Voice that Breathed o’er Eden,” and
then there was a sudden faltering, and a whispering took place ’twixt
parson and clerk, and Mr. Fallow was swallowed again by his vestry,
while the clerk disappeared through the church door. It was realized
that Mr. Flippance was not in the church, and it was understood that the
bride’s face was being saved in the vestry, where, however, as time
passed, the agitated congregation divined hysterics.

Jinny—thinking of her neglected grandfather—was what he called “on
canterhooks.” Had Mr. Flippance not then come in the coach, had he been
carelessly left in bed as usual? Catching her Angel-Mother’s eye, she
received a distinct injunction to go out in search of him, but she was
too shy to move in the presence of all those people, though she had a
vision of herself frantically harnessing Methusalem and carting the
bridegroom to church in his dressing-gown—would carpet slippers be an
impediment to matrimony, she wondered. Mr. Fallow came in again, looking
so worried that she recalled an ecclesiastical experience he had related
to her: how one of his parishioners, nowadays a notorious Hot Gospeller,
had “found religion” on the very verge of setting out to be married, and
had passed so much time on his knees, absorbed in the newly felt truth,
that it was only through his friend the bell-ringer stopping the church
clock that he was married by noon; if indeed—a doubt which ever after
weighed on Mr. Fallow—he was legally married at all. What if at this
solemn moment of his life Mr. Flippance should similarly find religion!
She devoutly hoped the discovery would be at least delayed till he was
safely married. Good heavens! perhaps the Bible she had given him was in
fault! Perhaps she was responsible for his rapt remissness. Disregarding
the congregation’s eyes, she went boldly into the vestry.

Here, sure enough, she found the heroine of the day supported by a trio
of ladies. The outstanding absence of Mr. Flippance left Jinny but a
phantasmagoric sense of a bride, still composed indeed, but so ghastly
that despite her glamour of veil-folds and orange-blossom she scarcely
looked golden-haired; of a bridesmaid hardly recognizable as Miss
Gentry, for the opposite reason that it was she with her swarthy
splendour, opulent bosom, and glory of silk and flowers who seemed the
Cleopatra; of a Blanche so appallingly queenly in her creamier fashion
under the art of the rival dressmaker, that her own cleaned gown seemed
but to emphasize her shabbiness and dowdiness. Acoustically the voice of
Mrs. Purley expatiating on the situation was the dominant note, but
through and beneath the cascade Jinny was aware of Miss Gentry
explaining to the bride that the horses which had brought the bridegroom
were not responsible for his disappearance. Not unpropitious, but of the
finest augury were these sable animals, omens going by contraries. So
they _had_ brought Mr. Flippance!

They were tossing their bepranked heads, Jinny found, and champing their
bits, as if sharing in the human unrest. Will was no longer smoking
placidly on his box, but in agitated parley with Barnaby and his father.
She heard the inn suggested, and saw the Purleys posting towards it. She
herself ran round to the tower, fantastically figuring Mr. Flippance on
his knees on the belfry floor amid the ropes and the cobwebs, but even
the one bell-ringer seemed to have sallied in search of the bridegroom,
or at least of the inn.

The churchyard was large and rambling and thickly populated—pathetic
proof there had been life in the church once—and it was in a
sequestered corner behind a tall monument that Jinny with a great upleap
of the heart at last espied the object of her quest, though he seemed
even more unreal than Miss Gentry in his narrow-brimmed top-hat, satin
stock with horseshoe pin, and swallowtail coat, while his face was as
white as his waistcoat.

“What are you doing?” came involuntarily to her lips.

“Reading the tombstones,” he said wistfully. “So peaceful!”

“But they’re waiting for you!”

“They’re waiting for everybody. That’s the joke of it all.”

“I don’t mean the gravestones.”

“Look! There’s a French inscription. And that name must be Flemish,
see!”

“I haven’t time!”

“Why, what have _you_ got to do?”

“I mean, _you_ haven’t got time. It’s your wedding!”

“Don’t rub it in! What long grass! So we go to grass—all of us. Thanks
for your Bible, by the way!”

So her apprehensions had been right. It _was_ religion that was bemusing
him.

“So glad you like it. Come along!” she said in rousing accents.

“All flesh is grass,” he maundered on. “And rank grass at that!”

“It’s only thick here because they can’t mow this bit,” she explained.
“Too many tombs!” She plucked at his sleeve.

“So it’s hay we run to!” he said, disregarding her “O Lord! Mr. Fallow’s
tithes, I suppose.”

“Well, why waste good hay? He’s waiting for you.”

“Well, _he’s_ got plenty of time by all accounts.”

“I mean, _she’s_ waiting,” she cried, in distress.

“Is she there already? Look at that bird cracking its snail on the
gravestone.”

“It’s an early bird—_you’ll_ be late.”

“Don’t worry. Tony Flip never missed his cue yet. Funny, isn’t it, how
it all comes right at night—especially with Polly there! Perhaps
_she’ll_ come, if we give her a little time.”

“But have you invited her? Does she know?”

“If she don’t, it’s not for want of telegrams to every possible
address.”

“But she may be in Cork, you said. You can’t keep the bride waiting.”

“She shouldn’t have come so early—it’s the first time I’ve known her
punctual. The early bird catches the snail, eh?”

“But it’s half-past ten! And there’s a crowd too—I don’t know where
they all come from. Come along!”

“One can’t consider the supers!”

“Well, consider me then. I’ve got to get back to Gran’fer!”

“The true artist always has stage-fright, Jinny. Give me a moment. I’ll
be on soon.”

“All right.” She was vastly relieved. “Have you got the ring?”

“Tony Flip never forgets a property. See!” And whisking it suddenly out
of his waistcoat pocket, he seized her left hand and slipped it on her
gloved wedding-finger. “That’s where it ought to be, Jinny!”

She pulled it off, outraged, and flung it from her.

“On your wedding day, too!” she cried.

“Now it’s lost,” he said cheerfully, “and the bearded bridesmaid will
have to go home with the unblushing bride.”

“You ought to have given it to Barnaby,” she said.

Anxious and remorseful, she went on her knees, groping feverishly in the
long grass. “On your hands and knees” kept sounding irrelevantly in her
brain. Mr. Flippance watched her like a neutral. “I’d forgotten that the
woman runs away with the piece,” he explained to her distracted ear. “I
thought marriage was a show with two principals. But if there’s got to
be a leading lady, why not stick to Polly?”

“You should have thought of that before,” she murmured.

“Correct as Polonius, Jinny. Even when I get the theatre, it’ll only be
hell over again. Why couldn’t I stick to the marionettes? I charge thee
fling away ambition, Jinny—by that sin fell the angels. But you’ve only
flung away my ring.”

“Here it is!” She pounced joyfully.

“Just my luck!” He took it ruefully.

“I thought you said she was so pure and wonderful!” she reminded him.

He winced. “That wouldn’t prevent her bullying me,” he replied somewhat
lamely.

“What about the taming of the shrew?” she asked.

“By Jove! You’re right, Jinny! Petruchio’s the game! Whips and
scorpions, what?” His face took on a little of its old colour. “It’s
getting up so early that has upset me. After all, Jinny, a lovely woman
who loves you and puts all her money on you isn’t to be picked up every
day.”

“Of course not. Anyhow it’s too late to change now.”

“Don’t say that! As if I didn’t want to change before there was anything
to change—oh, you know what I mean.”

“It’s too late now!” she repeated firmly. She stood over him, a
stern-faced little monitor of duty. “Come along!”

“Go ahead—the rose-wreathed victim will be at the altar.”

They moved on a little. He paused as with sudden hopefulness. “You don’t
happen to know if there’s a great oak chest with a spring lock in
Foxearth Farm?”

“How should I know?” she murmured, apprehensive now for his reason.

He sighed. “Well, never mind—it’ll all be all right at night. And
what’s it all for, anyhow? ‘Wife of the above,’” he read out weirdly.
“How they cling on!”

But Jinny had gone off into a reverie of her own. The tombstone formula
he had recited struck a long-buried memory, and in a flash she saw again
a quiet graveyard and a stone behind a tumbledown tower, and Commander
Dap’s black-gloved forefinger tracing out her mother’s epitaph to a
strange solemn little girl. All the wonder and glamour of childhood was
in that flash, all the strangeness of life and time, and her eyes filled
with tears. When the mist cleared away, Mr. Flippance was gone. She ran
frantically around among the tombs like a sheep-dog till at length the
sound of Mr. Fallow’s ecclesiastical voice floated out to her, and
hurrying back into the church, she felt foolish and tranquillized to
find the service well forward.


                                   XI

Jinny had misread Mr. Fallow’s look: it was not fear of dragging on
beyond the legal hour—noon was still too remote—but impatience at
being kept away from his antiquarian lore by such trifles as matrimony,
especially matrimony which was no longer, as in pre-Reformation days,
preceded by the Holy Communion and symbolic of the union of Christ and
His Church. Had there been a care-cloth to be thrown over the couples’
heads, such as existed in Essex churches in 1550, even matrimony might
have interested him. But as it was, his thoughts ran on old cheeses. He
had been comparing his Latin edition of Camden’s “Britannia” (1590) with
the two-volume folio translation, a century later, by a worthy bishop,
and was half scandalized, half excited, to find that the translator had
introduced a wealth of new matter. Incidentally Mr. Fallow had learned
the Hundred was celebrated for its huge cheeses—_inusitatæ
magnitudinis_—of ewes’ milk, and that to make them the men milked the
ewes like women elsewhere. And these huge cheeses were consumed not only
in England, but exported—_ad saturandos agrestes et opifices_—“to
satisfie the coarse stomachs of husbandmen and labourers,” as the bishop
put it. When had this manufacture of giant cheeses from ewes’ milk died
out in Essex? Mr. Fallow had already seized the opportunity of
interrogating Mrs. Purley, whose reputation as a cheesemaker had reached
him. But appalled by the voluminousness of her ignorance, he had taken
sanctuary in his church and was still brooding over the problem as his
lips framed the more trivial interrogatories of the ceremony.

For Jinny, however, it was a thrilling moment when Mr. Fallow
lackadaisically called upon the couple “as ye will answer at the
dreadful Day of Judgment” to avow if they knew any impediment to their
lawful union. That in face of so formidable a threat neither came out
with “Mr. Duke,” though she still half expected him to pop up in person
from the void, was for her sweet stupidity the final proof of the
bride’s immaculacy. And the whole service she thought beautiful and
moving, having missed the gross beginning thereof. She was startled to
hear the bridegroom addressed by Mr. Fallow as Anthony, and the bride
with equal familiarity as Bianca Cleopatra. Otherwise the ceremonial
seemed far too highflown for this terrestrial twain, though somehow not
at all transcending the relationship in which her own soul could stand
towards its spiritual comrade. But the replies of the three principals
came all in unexpected wise. Mr. Flippance’s “I will” was so ready and
ringing, and his countenance so rosy, that Jinny wondered which was the
actor—the Flippance of the churchyard or the Flippance of the church.
The ex-Duchess, on the other hand, still pallid, faltered her
affirmation almost in a whisper, at any rate it was not so loud as his
comment: “I’ve told you always to speak sharp on your cue.” Certainly no
husband could ever have asserted himself at an earlier moment—was he
perhaps already following Jinny’s hint, or was it only the stage-manager
responding mechanically to stimulus? As for Mrs. Purley, she showed even
more stage-fright, her “I do” failing even as a gesture, and having to
be prompted. “Too small a speaking part for her,” commented Tony later,
with a twinkle.

When everything was over and the register signed and Barnaby, breaking
down under the weight of his financial duties, had wished the bride many
happy returns—a felicitation only dispelled by his father saluting her
as “Mrs. Flippance”—that now reassured lady, sweeping regally to her
carriage, her train over one arm and her husband over the other—smiled
at the admiring avenue of villagers and small boys as though they had
thrown her the bouquet she held. When Mr. Flippance, gay and debonair,
had handed Mrs. Flippance, looking golden-haired again, into their
barouche, and been driven off with the hood up and his beautiful doll
beside him, Jinny perceived Will handing the gorgeously gowned Blanche
with parallel ceremoniousness into the coach, where the transmogrified
Miss Gentry was already installed behind the bulwark of her great
bouquet. And then Jinny became aware of Barnaby hovering shyly between
her and the trap which held his parents, and indicating dumbly that the
niche vacated by his sister was now for her. She had a sudden feeling
that they did not want her in the coach beside those grand gowns hunched
out with starched petticoats. As if she would have set foot in it! No,
not for all the gowns in the world! But they were right, she thought
bitterly—what had she to do with all this grandeur and happiness? The
honeymoon was even to be in Boulogne, she had gathered. And she heard
some force, welling up from the dark depths of herself, cry to Barnaby:
“I can’t come—I’m so sorry. But Gran’fer was upset in the night. Please
excuse me to Mr. Flippance.”

At this the bitterness passed from her soul to poor Barnaby’s. Everybody
was pairing off: the Flippances, his parents, Will and his sister: there
was nobody left for him but Miss Gentry.

“But there’ll be oysters as well as dumplings,” he pleaded. “Will
brought them from Colchester.”

Jinny’s famished interior—in making such a skimpy breakfast it had
counted on the wedding meal—seconded his plea desperately. But the
mention of Will was fatal. As a hermit’s sick fantasy conjures up the
temptation he knows he will resist, so Jinny saw yearningly, vividly,
but hopelessly, the spread banquet, the dumplings soused in gravy, the
brown bread and butter for the oysters, the juicy meats, the mysterious
champagne-bottles, the sunny napery, the laughing festival faces, and,
above all, the curly aureole of Will’s hair.

“I’m sorry,” she repeated veraciously.

In a panic the youth ran after the receding barouche. “Jinny won’t
come,” he gasped.

“Don’t stop, coachman,” said Mrs. Flippance sharply.

“Tell her,” called back Mr. Flippance, “she must—or I’ll never ask her
to my wedding again!”

Poor Barnaby tore back to the coach. “I say, Miss Gentry, you’re a
friend of Jinny’s—do make her come.”

“A friend of Jinny’s!” It was an even unluckier remark than the
reference to Will. A patron, an educator, an interpreter of herbs and
planets, gracious and kindly, who might even—in private—admit the
little Carrier to confidences and Pythian inspirations, yes. But a
friend? How came Mr. Flippance to commit such a _faux pas_ as to bring a
carrier into equality with her and Blanche? Why had not the adorable
Cleopatra been firmer with the man? “I can’t _order_ her to come,” she
reminded Barnaby majestically. “It’s not like for a parcel.”

As the horses tossed their wedding-favours and the coach jingled off
with its fashionable burden, even the trap moving on under the stimulus
of Mrs. Purley’s rhetoric, the whole scene became a blur to Jinny, and
standing there by the old pillion-steps, she felt herself dwindled into
a little aching heart alone in a measureless misery. How tragic to be
cut off from all this gay eating and drinking! There was almost a
voluptuousness in the very poignancy of her self-mutilation. What a
blessing we all do run to hay, she brooded, in a warm flood of
self-pity.

But if Jinny thus saw the wedding-guests through a blur of
self-torturing bitterness, their feast did not begin as merrily as she
beheld it, despite that Mrs. Purley, as soon as she had exchanged her
bonnet-cap with the net quilting for a home cap, served up unexpected
glasses of gin. Anthony, no less than Barnaby, was upset by Jinny’s
absence, and Cleopatra resented this fuss over a super. But still more
disgruntled by the gap at the table was, odd to say, Will. For his soul
had not been so placid as his pipe. The glimpses he had caught of Jinny
were perturbing. Overpowering as were the presences of the bride and
Blanche, or rather, precisely because they were overpowering, they
struck him as artificial by the side of this little wild rose with her
woodland flavour, and the memory of their afternoon in the ash-grove
came up glowing, touched as with the enchantment of its bluebells.
Blanche, for her part, was peevish at Will’s taciturnity. Miss Gentry,
still rankling under Barnaby’s suspicion that she was the Carrier’s
bosom friend, was particularly down upon that youth’s naïve attempt to
confine the conversation to Jinny, though it confirmed her suspicion of
the state of things between those two. Mr. Purley in his turn had been
dismayed by Blanche’s fineries: the young generation forgot that their
fathers were only farmers compelled to take lodgers in bad seasons. Thus
it was left to Mrs. Purley to sustain almost the whole burden of
conversation. But her preoccupation with her little serving-maid and the
kitchen, plus her uneasiness at eating in this grand room away from her
hanging hams and onions, interposed intervals of silence even in her
prattle, and the theme of her facetious variations—her fear in church
that the bridegroom had bolted—did not add to the general cheeriness.
The old wainscoted parlour, with its rough oak beams across the ceiling,
had seldom heard oysters swallowed with gloomier gulps.

Fortunately the pop of the sweet champagne brought a note of excited
gaiety into the funereal air, and glass-clinking and looking to one
another and catching one another’s eye were soon the order of the
early-Victorian day. Mr. Flippance, acknowledging the toast of the bride
and bridegroom, did not fail to thank Mr. and Mrs. Purley for the
precious treasure they had solemnly entrusted to his unworthy hands, a
being whose beauty equalled her brains, and whose virtue her genius. Mr.
Purley deprecatingly murmured “Don’t mention it,” meaning of course his
share in the production of this prodigy, but Mrs. Purley, fresh from her
church rôle, began to feel that she had dandled Cleopatra in her arms.
In replying for himself and his “good wife”—for the age assumed that
Mrs. Purley could not speak—Mr. Purley could not wish the newly married
couple anything better than to be as happy as they had been. “Literally
‘a good wife,’ eh?” interlarded Tony genially. “None better,”
asseverated Mr. Purley. “I’m close, but she’s nippy.” “You’re thinking
of Blanche,” Barnaby called out gaily, through the laughter. “I don’t
say as your mother’s nippy in words,” Mr. Purley corrected, with a
twinkle. He went on to wish as much happiness to all the unmarried
people present, at which Miss Gentry giggled and markedly avoided
Barnaby’s eye; while Will, reconciled to fate several glasses ago,
squeezed Blanche’s hand under the table. Even when Mr. Purley, becoming
a little broad, referred to the time when his “good wife” had first
ventured into “The Hurdle-Maker’s Arms,” Miss Gentry joined in the
hilarity. Her passion for the church-going Cleopatra had convinced her
that the stage was not necessarily of the devil—_The Mistletoe Bough_,
she had found, was only the same story that had been written as a poem
(“Ginevra”) by a Mr. Rogers, who, she had gathered, was a most
respectable banker, and she was looking forward to her Mistress-ship of
the Robes at the coming Theatre Royal, and even to witnessing her
darling’s debut as Lady Agnes from the front. Several hysterical
embraces had already passed between her and the bride—somewhat to
Blanche’s jealousy—and all things swam before her in a rosy mist as she
now pulled a cracker with Mr. Purley and read unblushingly:

        “_When glass meets glass and Friendship quaffs,_
         _From lip to lip ’tis Love that laughs!_”

a motto which caused the hurdle-maker to remark that it was lucky his
“good wife” had left the room.

That loquacious lady had fallen strangely silent. The wine which had
loosened all the other tongues seemed to have constricted hers. Perhaps
it was merely the already mentioned preoccupation with her pies or other
dishes still in the oven. Or perhaps it was the encounter for the first
time in her life with a great rival tongue. It consorted with this
latter hypothesis that she could be heard babbling now from her kitchen
like a cricket on the hearth, and her elaboration of a temperature theme
came distractingly across the larger horizons of Mr. Flippance’s
discourse, playing havoc with his account of Macready’s Farewell at
Drury Lane that March, and obscuring the moral of the vacant succession.
Charles Kean? Pooh! Not a patch on his father. Had they seen him in Dion
Boucicault’s new play at the Princess’s, _Love in a Maze_? No? Then
before voting for Charles Kean he would advise them to go—or, rather,
not to go. He had never denied the merits of the manager of Sadler’s
Wells especially as Sir Pertinax Macsycophant, though he knew his young
friend Willie preferred Mr. Phelps in _Othello_. “I say whom the mantle
fits, let him wear it,” summed up Mr. Flippance oracularly, and launched
into an exposition of how _he_ would run “The National Theatre.” No Miss
Mitford tragedies for him with Macreadys at thirty pounds a week, still
less Charles Kean _Hamlets_ at fifty pounds a night, but real plays of
the day—he did not mean the sort of things they did at the Surrey,
which were no truer to life than the repertory of the marionettes, but
why not, say, the Chartist movement and the forbidden demonstration on
Kennington Common? Or let Mr. Sheridan Knowles, instead of talking his
Baptist theology at Exeter Hall, write a “No Popery” play, with Cardinal
Wiseman as the villain. (Hear, hear! from Miss Gentry.) Of course there
was the danger the censor would quash such plays as he had quashed even
Miss Mitford’s _Charles the First_, but then he, Mr. Flippance, knew old
John Kemble, and would undertake to persuade him that times had changed.

Mrs. Flippance, who had displayed some restiveness under the long
appraisal of male talent, displayed yet more when Mr. Flippance was now
provoked to rapturous boyish memories of the censor’s sister, Mrs.
Siddons. But Blanche and Barnaby listened so spellbound that they ceased
finally to hear their mother’s inborne monologue at all.

It was at this literally dramatic moment that Bundock appeared at the
banquet with the explanation that nobody would answer his knocking, and
tendered the bridegroom a pink envelope which he had benevolently
brought on from Frog Farm on his homeward journey. Miss Gentry, unused
to these bomb-shells, uttered a shriek, which more than ever riveted the
postman’s eyes on her flamboyant efflorescence.

“Steady! Steady!” said Tony, opening the telegram with unfaltering
fingers. “Take some more fizz. And give brother Bundock a glass.”

He read the fateful message, and the anxious watchers saw strange
thoughts and feelings passing in lines across his forehead, and in waves
across the folds of his flabby clean-shaven jowl. Then his emotions all
coalesced and crashed into laughter, noisy, but not devoid of grimness.
“Listen to this!” he cried. “_‘Sincere condolences. Married Polly this
morning. Duke.’_”

Mrs. Flippance turned scarlet. “He’s married Polly!” she shrieked. “The
beast! The insulting beast!”

“Easy! Easy!” said the bridegroom to this second perturbed female. “It
isn’t him Polly’s married—it’s his marionettes. Chingford, the telegram
is marked. I expect the caravan is honeymooning in Epping Forest. Give
me Boulogne.”

But nobody was listening to him any longer. The hysterics that had been
only a rumour in church became a reality now. Miss Gentry had produced
salts for her darling and was calling for burnt feathers, and Blanche
and Barnaby, tumbling over each other kitchenwards, only set their
mother’s tongue clacking _fortissimo_. Even Mr. Purley was slapping the
bride’s hands as she shrieked on the sofa—he was deeply moved by her
convulsions, never having seen a doll in distress. Bundock alone
remained petrified, the empty champagne-glass in his hand, his eyes
still glued on Miss Gentry, and the bubbles in his veins re-evoking that
effervescence of the Spring in which even a rear-ward consciousness of
green mud had not availed to blunt the charm of opulent beauty. Through
the tohu-bohu Mr. Flippance calmly scribbled a counter-telegram:
“_Congratulations on your marriage. Condolences to Polly._”

“Pity we ain’t got some of that Scotch stuff to quiet her,” said the
agitated hurdle-maker.

“Whisky, do you mean?” said Tony.

“No, no! That new stuff they should be telling of—discovered by that
Scotch doctor—puts you to sleep, like, and onsenses you.”

“Oh, chloroform!” said Tony.

“Ay, that’s the name. Masterous stuff for females to my thinking.”

“So it is, I understand.” Mr. Flippance smiled faintly. “But not for
cases like this.”

“The parsons won’t let you use it!” Bundock burst forth. “They say it’s
against religion. I suppose they want the monopoly of sending you to
sleep.” He sniggered happily.

“_I’ll_ chloroform her,” Mr. Flippance murmured. He could well
understand Cleopatra’s fury at being replaced by a woman so
superficially unattractive as dear Polly, especially as she herself,
catching at any stage career in her impecunious days, had not even been
married by the fellow.

“Can you read my writing, Bundock?” he asked loudly, proceeding to read
to him in stentorian tones as if from the telegram. “Polly, care of
Duke’s Marionettes, Chingford. Come home at once and all shall be
forgotten and forgiven. Your heart-broken——”

But Mrs. Flippance was already on her feet and the telegram in fragments
on the floor. “I won’t have her here!” she cried. “You’ve got to choose
between us!”

“My darling! Who could hesitate? Try a little gin.” He hovered over her
tenderly. “Take down a different reply, Bundock, please.” He dictated
the message he had really written.

“Condolences to Polly!” repeated Mrs. Flippance, smiling savagely. “I
should think so. I doubt if he has even legally married her.”

“Oh, trust Polly for that! She’s got her head square on.”

At this Mrs. Flippance showed signs of relapse.

“Poor Polly!” said Tony hastily. “Fancy her being tied to a man like
that!”

“I don’t know that she could have done much better,” snorted Mrs.
Flippance.

“But fancy Polly being wasted on a man who packs for himself! Another
glass, Bundock?”

“Not while I’m on the Queen’s business, thank you,” said the postman.

“But you’re not. Aren’t your letters delivered?”

“What about your telegram?”

“True, true. O Bundock, what a sense of duty! You recall us to ours. We
must drink to the Queen! The Queen, ladies and gentlemen——” he filled
up Bundock’s glass.

“I can’t refuse to drink that,” sniggered Bundock. “Wonderful what one
day’s round can bring forth!” he said, putting down his glass. “I began
with a baby—I mean the midwife told me of one—went on to a corpse—and
now here am I at a wedding! It’s in a cottage by the holly-grove—the
corpse, I mean——”

“We don’t want the skeleton at the feast,” interrupted Tony. Bundock
hastened to turn the conversation to the grand new house Elijah Skindle
was building—Rosemary Villa.

Blanche pouted her beautiful lips in disgust: “Don’t talk of a
knacker—that’s worse than a corpse.”

But Bundock was anxious to work off that Elijah called his house
“Rosemary Villa” because rosemary was good for the hair, and having
achieved this stroke, prudently departed before the laughter died.
Blanche seemed especially taken with his gibe at that poor grotesque Mr.
Skindle.

After his departure, flown with stuff for scandal and witticism, headier
to him than the wine, the party grew jollier than ever. They played Pope
Joan with mother-o’-pearl counters and then Blanche sang “Farewell to
the Mountain,” by ear, like—a bird, without preliminary fuss or
instrumental accompaniment, and Mr. Flippance crying “Encore!” and
“Bis!” spoke significantly of the possibility of including an annual
opera season in English in his Drury Lane repertory. Why should Her
Majesty’s Theatre and the Italian tongue have a monopoly? Ravished,
Blanche gave “The Lass that Loves a Sailor,” her eyes languishing, and
this led Mr. Purley on to dancing the old Essex hornpipe, whose name
sounded like his own, with Barnaby banging a tray for the tambourine and
Will’s throat replacing the melodeon. To Miss Gentry, beaming in
Christian goodwill upon the merry company, it appeared strangely
multiplied at moments. But the more the merrier!

When the happy pair had departed for Boulogne _via_ the Chipstone
barouche, what wonder if Will, finding himself alone in the passage with
Blanche, and not denied a kiss, felt his last hesitations deliciously
dissolved. How restful to absorb this clinging femininity, this
surrendered sweetness! With what almost open abandonment she had sung
“The Lass that Loves a Sailor” at him, with what breaking trills and
adoring glances! Marriage was in the air—two examples of it had been
brought to his ken in one morning—and he now plumply proposed a third.
A strange awakening awaited him.

Blanche grew suddenly rigid. Her imagination had already been inflamed
by Cleopatra, clinging to whose aromatic skirts she saw herself soaring
to a world of romance and mystery. She had swallowed credulously the
exuberant play of Mr. Flippance’s fantasy round her feats of
wasp-killing, and was willing to do even that on the stage if it enabled
her soles to touch the sacred boards. In her daydreams Will had already
begun to recede. But now that Mr. Flippance had discovered a voice in
her too, and operatic vistas opened out under his champagne and his no
less gaseous compliments, she could not suddenly sink to the comparative
lowliness of a box-seat. That song which Will had taken for the symbol
of her submission was really the final instrument of his humiliation.

Rejected by the girl who has snuggled into one’s heart, evoked one’s
protective emotions, exhibited herself all softness and sweetness! It
was incredible! He did not know whether he was more angry or more
ashamed, and he was tortured by this warm, creamy, scented loveliness
which a moment before had seemed under his palms to mould as he would,
and was now become baffling, polar, and remote.

“Blanche! Blanche!” he cried, trying to retain her hand, and tears
actually rolled down his cheeks. But underneath all the storm he heard a
still small voice crying: “Jinny! Jinny! Jinny!”

So he had been saved from this fatuous marriage, from this supple,
conceited minx with her imitative scents and mock graces. The genuine
simple rosebud of a Jinny was waiting, waiting for him all the time, the
Jinny round whose heart his own heart-strings had been twined from
mysterious infancy, who touched him like the song of “Home, Sweet Home,”
heard when miserable in Montreal, the darling lovable little Jinny as
pretty as she was merry, no real exemplar of the unmaidenly, only a
dutiful supporter of her grandfather and his business, at most a bit
unbalanced by her mannish role; Jinny the girl with the brains to
appreciate him, and whom he alone could appreciate as she deserved! How
wonderful were the ways of Providence! How nearly he had been trapped
and caged and robbed of her!

“I don’t see what you mean by leading a fellow on!” he reproached
Blanche hoarsely, with no feigned sense of grievance, as he gazed at the
mocking mirage of her loveliness. But underneath the tears and the
torment, his heart seemed to have come to haven.

“Jinny!” it sang happily. “Jinny! Jinny! Jinny!”


                                  XII

On arriving home, Jinny’s first thought after giving the Gaffer his
dinner and swallowing a few mouthfuls to overcome her faintness—her
mood of self-torture would not allow more—was to give Methusalem some
oats extracted by stratagem from the old man’s padlocked barn. She had
scraped together a few handfuls and was bearing them towards his manger
in a limp sack when she perceived that the stable-door was open and gave
on a littered emptiness. Her heart stood still as before the
supernatural. True, the new padlock was clawing laxly at its staple as
if forced open, but then it had not been there at all till that very
morning, and for Methusalem to leave his stable voluntarily was as
unthinkable as for a sheep to abandon a clover-field. Yet there
stretched the bare space, looking portentously vast. What had happened?
She ran round the little estate, as though Methusalem would not have
bulked on the vision from almost any point, and then she peered
anxiously over the Common, as if he could be concealed among the gorse
or the blackberry-bushes. The hard ground of the road, marked only by
the dried-up ruts of her own wheels, gave no indication of his hoofs. It
flashed upon her that padlocks were after all not so ridiculous, but
examining more closely the one that drooped by the stable-door, she saw
that its little key was still in it. Evidently the old man had forgotten
to turn it. The cart was still in its shed, looking as dead to her now
as a shell without its snail, though the image was perhaps a little too
hard on Methusalem.

But to alarm her grandfather before she had made a thorough search would
only confirm him in his delusions. Peeping through the casement of the
living-room, she was relieved to see and hear him at the table, safely
asleep on his after-dinner Bible. With his beard thus buried in the
text, he might sleep for hours in the warmth and buzzing silence. Lucky,
she thought, as she tip-toed past, that he had not made the discovery
himself. He would probably have accused poor Mr. Skindle again, even set
out after the innocent vet. with his whip. Then perhaps actions for
assault and battery, for slander, for who knew what!

Horse-stealing was unheard of in these parts, and who save a dealer in
antiquities would steal Methusalem? No; as in a fit of midsummer
madness—under the depression of the drought and his depleted
nosebags—he had bolted! After all, old horses were probably as
uncertain as old grandfathers. Was there to be a new course of senility
for her study, she wondered ruefully: had she now to school herself to
the vagaries of horsey decay as she had schooled herself to human? But,
of course, she surmised suddenly, it was the dragging the poor horse up
in the middle of the night that had turned his aged brain, and the
hammering-in of the staple had lent the last touch of alarm. He had been
liable to panic even in his prime. Perhaps he had bolted before
Gran’fer’s very eyes, mane and tail madly erect. That might explain the
uneasy look with which the old man had met her return—a sidelong glance
almost like Nip’s squint after an escapade—his taciturnity as of a
culprit not daring to confess his carelessness, as well as his welcome
blindness to the wedding fineries she had been too desperate to remove.
But no, he would not have sat down under such a loss, or brisked up so
swiftly under the smell of dinner, or pressed the food so solicitously
upon her with the remark, “There’s a plenty for both of us, dearie—-do
ye don’t be afeared.” It would almost seem as if he had been noting her
self-denial: at any rate such an assurance could not coexist with the
loss of their means of livelihood.

It was a mystery. The only thing that was clear was that Methusalem must
be recaptured before her grandfather was aware of his loss. Such a
catastrophe, coming after the scene in the small hours, might have as
morbid an effect upon him as that nocturnal episode had evidently had
upon Methusalem himself.

Bonnetless, with streaming ringlets, in her lace-adorned dress, she
wandered farther and farther in quest of her beloved companion. It was
some time before she discovered that her other friend was at her heels.
Surely Nip would guide her to Methusalem, as he had guided her through
the darkness. But this abandonment to his whim only led her to the
cottages with which he was on terms of cupboard affection, and dragged
her into the very heart of the tragedy retailed by Bundock to the
wedding-party, to the home of a dead labourer.

“His fitten were dead since the morning,” the widow informed her with
lachrymose gusto. “At the end he was loight-headed and talked about
puttin’ up the stack.”

The neighbours were still more ghoulishly garrulous, and the odour of
this death pervaded their cottages like the smell of the straw steeped
in their pails, and as the housewives turned their plaiting-wheels they
span rival tales of lurid deceases, while a woman who was walking with
her little girl—both plaiting hard as they walked—removed the split
straws from her mouth to proclaim that she had prophesied a death in the
house—having seen the man’s bees swarm on his clothes-prop. She hoped
they would tell his bees of his decease. But desirable as it was to meet
a white horse—that bringer of luck—nobody had set eyes on a
wild-wandering Methusalem. Nor was he in the village pound.

She found herself drifting through the wood where she had once sat with
Will, and through the glade where the tops of the aspens were a quiver
of little white gleams. Had Methusalem perhaps come trampling here? That
was all her thought, save for a shadowy rim of painful memory. Bare of
Methusalem, the wood at this anxious moment was as blank of poetry as
the lanky hornbeam “poles,” or the bundles of “tops” lying around. One
aspen was so weak and bent it recalled her grandfather, and the
white-barked birches craned so over the other trees, she was reminded of
a picture with giraffes in Mother Gander’s sanctum. But of horses there
was no sign. Picking up a wing covert of a jay, not because of the
beautiful blue barring, but because it would make fishing flies for
Uncle Lilliwhyte, she now ran to his hut with a flickering hope that he
would have information, but it was empty of him, and she saw from the
absence of his old flintlock that he was sufficiently recovered to be
poaching. She emerged from the wood near Miss Gentry’s cottage. But the
landlady, who had the deserted Squibs in her arms, could only calculate
that Methusalem had left his stable at the same moment as the dead
labourer’s soul had flown out of his body, and that there was doubtless
a connexion. “Harses has wunnerful sense,” said the good woman. Jinny
agreed, but withheld her opinion of humans. She felt if only all the
horses jogging along these sun-splashed arcades of elms could speak, the
mystery would soon be cleared up. For Methusalem was of a nose-rubbing
sociability. But it was only the drivers of all these lazy-rolling
carts—fodder, straw, timber, dung, what not—that presumed to speak for
their great hairy-legged beasts. To one wagoner lying so high on his
golden-hued load that his eye seemed to sweep all Essex, she called up
with peculiar hope: he confessed he had been drowsing in the heat. “So
mungy,” he pleaded. Indeed the afternoon was getting abnormally hot and
stuffy, and Jinny had to defend her bare head from the sun with her
handkerchief. Hedgers and ditchers had seen as little of a masterless,
bare-flanked Methusalem as the thatcher with his more advantageous
view-point. Leisurely driving in the stakes with his little club, this
knee-padded, corduroyed elder opined that it would be “tempesty.” And
they could do with some rain.

That the rain was indeed wanted as badly as she wanted Methusalem was
obvious enough from the solitude about the white, gibbet-shaped
Silverlane pump and the black barrel on wheels round which aproned,
lank-bosomed women should have been gossiping, jug or pail in hand. In
the absence of this congregation Jinny had to perambulate the
green-and-white houses of the great square and hurl individual inquiries
across the wooden door-boards that safeguarded the infants. Only the
village midwife had seen a horse like Methusalem as she returned from a
case. She had been too sleepy, though, to notice properly. From this
futile quest Jinny came out on the road again. But wheelwright and
blacksmith, ploughman and gipsy, publican and tinker, all were drawn
blank.

Beside trees tidily bounding farms, or meadows dotted with cows and
foals, and every kind of horse except Methusalem, past grotesque
quaint-chimneyed houses half brick, half weather-board, the road led
Jinny on and on till it took her across the bridge. Here on the bank she
recognized the plastered hair of Mr. Charles Mott, who was fishing
gloomily. No, he had not seen a white horse—worse luck!—and would to
God, he added savagely, that he had never seen a black sheep. Jinny
hurried off, as from a monster of profanity, for Mr. Mott’s
disinclination for his wife’s society, especially on chapel days, was,
she knew, beginning to perturb the “Peculiars”; and with the sacramental
language of the marriage service yet ringing in her ears, it seemed to
our guileless Jinny ineffably wicked to be sunk in selfish sport instead
of cherishing and comforting the woman to whom you had consecrated
yourself.

She moved on pensively—the road after descending rose somewhat, so that
Long Bradmarsh seemed to nestle behind her in a hollow, a medley of
thatch and slate, steeple and chimney-stacks, hayricks and inn-signs,
and fluttering sheets and petticoats. But the forward view seemed far
more bounded than usual, deprived as it was of the driver’s
vantage-point: to the toiling pedestrian her familiar landscape was
subtly changed, and this added to the sense of change and disaster.

She passed Foxearth Farm near enough to see again the barouche now
awaiting the honeymooners, and to hear the voices of Will and Blanche
mingling in a merry chorus. There was an aching at her heart, but
everything now came dulled to her as through an opiate. Methusalem was
the only real thing in life. She wanted to make her inquiry of the
driver, but her legs bore her onwards to a glade where she could rest on
one of Mr. Purley’s felled trunks. Even there the chorus pursued her,
spoiling the music of the little stream that babbled at her feet, and
the beauty of willow-herb and tall yellow leopard’s-bane and those white
bell-blossoms of convolvulus twining and twisting high up among the
trees still standing.

It was well past five before, footsore and spent, she stopped on her
homeward road at the Pennymole cottage for information and a glass of
water. This must be her last point, for standing as it did at the Four
Wantz Way, it overlooked every direction in which Methusalem could
possibly have gone, had he come thus far, while the size of the
Pennymole family provided over a score of eyes. She found herself
plunged into the eve-of-Sabbath ritual—all the seven younger children
being scrubbed in turn by the mother in a single tub of water, and left
to run about in a state of nature, or varying stages of leisurely
redressing.

But neither the nude nor the semi-decent nor Mrs. Pennymole herself,
with her bar of yellow soap, had seen even the tip of Methusalem’s tail,
and the extinction of this last hope left Jinny so visibly overcome that
the busy mother insisted on her sitting down and waiting for tea. She
urged that “father” would soon be home, as well as the two elder boys,
all at work in different places, and “happen lucky” one of the three
would have seen the missing animal. Jinny felt too weak to refuse the
tea, and though the thought of her neglected grandfather was as gnawing
as her hunger, she reasoned with herself that she would really get to
him quicker if refreshed. The elder lads came in very soon, one after
the other, each handing his day’s sixpence to his mother and receiving a
penny for himself. But neither brought even a crumb for Jinny. Mrs.
Pennymole beguiled the time of waiting for the master and the meal by
relating, in view of the labourer’s death, how she had lost two children
five years ago.

No fewer than four were down at once with the black thrush. Two boys lay
on the sofa, one at each end, an infant in the bassinet under the table,
and a girl in the bed. One of the sofa patients had swellings behind his
ears the size of eggs, but they were lanced and he lived to earn his
three shillings a week. The other, a fine lad of thirteen, died at three
in the afternoon. The girl died at half-past eleven at night—beautiful
she looked; like a wax statue. The undertaker was afraid to put them in
their coffin; afraid to bring contagion to his own children. “Perhaps
your husband would do it,” he suggested to her. But her husband, poor
man, couldn’t. “How would you like to put _your_ childer in coffins?” he
asked the undertaker. The doctor wouldn’t let her follow the funeral,
she was so broken.

But it was Jinny who was broken now. These reminiscences were more
painful for her than for the mother who—inexhaustible fountain of
life—scoured her newer progeny to their accompaniment. Yes, existence
seemed very black to Jinny, sitting there without food, or Will, or
Methusalem, or anything but a grandfather; and the china owl with a real
coloured handkerchief tied round its head, which was the outstanding
ornament of the mantelpiece, seemed in its grotesque gloom an apt symbol
of existence. She was very glad when cheery, brawny Mr. Pennymole burst
in, labouring with a story in which whisker-shaking laughter bubbled
through a humorous stupefaction.

He had begun to tell the story almost before he had perceived and
greeted Jinny, and Methusalem’s disappearance, on which he could throw
no light, served to enhance it. To him, too, the day had brought an
earth-shaking novelty—there must be something in the moon. For thirty
years, he explained, as he took off his coat and boots (though not his
cap), he had risen at half-past four. But waking that morning at one
o’clock, he had got to sleep again, and the next thing he knew—after
what seemed to him a little light slumber—was a child saying: “Mother,
what’s the time?” Half-past five, mother had replied—Mrs. Pennymole
here corroborated the statement at some length; adding that it was
Jemima who inquired, she being such a light sleeper, and always so
anxious to be off to school: an interruption that her lord sustained
impatiently, for this was the dramatic moment of the story. Half-past
five! Up he had jumped, never made his fire nor his tea, never had his
pipe, and instead of leaving home at twenty to six, still smoking it, he
had rushed round to his brother-in-law’s, where fortunately he was in
time for the last cup o’ tea, and then out with his horses as usual!

“And _I_ made him tea and sent it round to the field,” gurgled Mrs.
Pennymole as she unhooked her bodice for the last baby. “He had two
teas!”

Mr. Pennymole and Jinny joined in her laugh. “Sometimes I’ve woke at
’arf-past three,” he explained carefully. “But _then_ I felt all right.”
He recapitulated the wonder of his oversleeping himself, as he drew up
to the table, where the bulk of his progeny was already installed, and
it overbrooded his distribution of bread and jam in great slices.

“And _I_ was up at four!” Mrs. Pennymole bragged waggishly.

“Yes, upstairs!” Mr. Pennymole retorted, sharp as his knife, and the
table was in a roar, not to mention the four corners of the room, where
those of the brood squatted who could not find places at the board.
Everybody sat munching the ritual hunk, though for the black strong tea
the adults alone had cups, two mugs circulating among the swarm of
children, whose clamours for their fair turn had to be checked by
paternal cries for silence. Mrs. Pennymole pressed both husband and
guest to share her little piece of fat pork fried with bread, but they
knew better what was due to a nursing mother. Jinny felt grateful enough
for the bread and jam and the tea, cheap but at least not from burnt
crusts, and sugared abundantly, despite that sugar—as Mrs. Pennymole
complained—had gone up “something cruel.” But though such a meal was
luxury for her nowadays, she could hardly help wistful mouth-watering
visions of the wedding-feast, from the known dumplings to the unknown
champagne. It was for a strange company she had exchanged the
wedding-party, she thought ruefully, as she refused a third slice of
bread. She could not well accept it, when each child, solemnly asked in
turn whether it would like a second, had replied with wonderful
unanimity in the affirmative, and Mr. Pennymole, with his eye on the
waning loaf, had remarked that children had wonderful healthy appetites,
though that was better than doctors. She was glad, however, to be given
a wedge of bread and cheese, though when her host jabbed his into his
mouth at the point of his knife, it called up a distressing memory of a
gobbet of wedding-cake thrown to a dog, and she became suddenly aware
that Nip was no longer with her. She remembered seeing him last as she
sat on the log, and she rightly divined that—wiser than she—he had
gone to the wedding-meal!

Before she could get away from her Barmecide banquet, the brother-in-law
and his wife came in, and then the whole story of the oversleeping had
to be laughed and marvelled over afresh. The more often Mr. Pennymole
told the story, the more his sense of its whimsicalness and wonder grew
upon him, and the more his audience enjoyed it. “_I_ made his tea,”
cackled Mrs. Pennymole. “I sent it round to the field. So he had two
teas!” The cottage rocked with laughter. Only the owl and Jinny
preserved their gravity. And even Jinny could not resist the infection
when Mrs. Pennymole boasted to her visitors that she herself had been up
at four, and Mr. Pennymole, with an air of invincible shrewdness,
pointed out that it was “upstairs” she had been. So that though neither
of the new-comers could throw light upon the Methusalem mystery, Jinny
left the cottage refreshed by more than tea, and with the flavour of the
corpse-talk washed away. The humour of it all even went with her on her
long homeward tramp. In imagination she heard the oddness of the
oversleeping and the duplication of the teas still savoured with grins
and guffaws, while the little ones dribbled bedwards, while the elder
boys were scrubbed in the scullery, and while the indefatigable Mrs.
Pennymole was washing the hero of the history down to his waist. Her
fancy followed the tale spreading over the parish, told and retold,
borne by Bundock to ever wider circles, adding to the gaiety of the
Hundred, abiding as a family tradition when that babe at Mrs.
Pennymole’s breast was a grandmother—the tale of how for thirty years
Mr. Pennymole had got up at half-past four, and how at long last the
record was broken!

Speeding along in this merrier mood, Jinny had almost reached home by a
short cut through the woods, when she espied a gay-stringed, battered
beaver and learned the tragic truth.


                                  XIII

Uncle Lilliwhyte was carrying by its long legs the spoil of his rusty
flintlock—Jinny was glad to see it was only a legitimate curlew with
its dagger-like bill. He offered the bird for sale, but she was afraid
it had fed too long on the marsh mud. She was glad to hear, though, he
had called that very morning and sold her grandfather truffles—Uncle
had a pig’s nose for truffles, and her grandfather a passion for them.

“He hadn’t got change for a foive-pun’ note,” Uncle Lilliwhyte reported.
“And Oi hadn’t, neither,” he chuckled. “So ye owes me tuppence.”

Jinny was amused at her grandfather’s magnificent mendacity—his lordly
way of carrying off his pennilessness.

“Never mind the twopence now,” she said. “You haven’t seen Methusalem, I
suppose?”

She had supposed it so often that she took the answer for granted. This
reply struck her like a cannon-ball.

“Not since ’Lijah Skindle took him away this marnin’!”

“Elijah Skindle took him!” she gasped, breathless yet relieved. “What
for? Where?” Had her grandfather’s fears been justified then?

“To his ’orspital, Oi reckon. Trottin’ behind the trap he was, tied to
it. A sick ’oss don’t want to goo that pace though, thinks Oi. ’Twould
be before bever,” he added, when she demanded the exact hour.

“When I was at church! But Methusalem wasn’t sick when I left home.”

“Must ha’ been took sick—or it stands to reason your Gran’fer wouldn’t
ha’ let him goo!”

“But Gran’fer didn’t know——!”

“Arxin’ your pardon, Jinny—Mr. Quarles waved to ’em as they went off.
And Oi’ll be thankful to you for the tuppence, needin’ my Sunday beer.”

She groped in her purse. “But if Mr. Skindle took him back to Chipstone,
how comes it nobody has seen him?”

“He went roundabouts by Bog Lane and Squash End, ’tis all droied-up
nowadays. And took Bidlake’s Ferry, Oi reckon, stead o’ the bridge.”

A sinister feeling, as yet formless, began to creep into Jinny’s veins.
Handing the nondescript his twopence and the jay feather, she ran out of
the wood and then in the dusking owl-light by a field-path, and through
a prickly hedge of dog-rose and blackberry that left her with scratched
fingers, into her own little plot of ground. The stable door was now
locked, though its aching emptiness was still visible through the
weather-boarding as she passed by; the house-door was even more securely
fastened, and all the windows were tightly closed. She rattled the
casement of the living-room and heard her grandfather finally hobbling
down the stairs.

He examined her cautiously through the little panes.

“Ye’ve left me in the dark,” he complained, turning the window-clasp.
“Oi’m famished. Where you been gaddin’ in that frock?”

“Did you send Methusalem away?” she cried impatiently.

He put a scooped hand to his ear. “What be you a-sayin’?”

“Open the door!” she called angrily. “You mustn’t shut me out.”

“We’ve got to be careful, Jinny.” He moved to the door. “There’s a sight
o’ bad charriters about.”

“Yes, indeed. What did Mr. Skindle want here?” she asked, as the bolts
shot back.

“Skindle!” He pondered. “Young ’Lijah, d’ye mean? He brought me a pot.”

“That was long ago—what did he want this morning?”

“This marnin’? Oh, ay”—the sidelong look returned with remembrance and
was succeeded by one of defiance—“That’s my business.”

A terrible suspicion flashed upon Jinny.

“You haven’t sold Methusalem?” she cried.

He winced. “That’s _my_ property. Daniel Quarles, Carrier. And by the
good rights, Oi——”

“You _have_ sold him!” she hissed in a fury strange to herself. And she
found herself shaking the old man by the arms, shaking him as he had
shaken her that very morning in the small hours. And he was cowering
before her, the fierce old man, cowering there on his own doorstep.

“Oi couldn’t see ye starve,” he pleaded.

“Oh, it’s not me you were thinking of!” she said harshly, not caring
whether she was just or not. “You might have trusted yourself to me
after all these years.” Indignation at Elijah’s supposed swindling
mingled with her wrath—the idea of his getting Methusalem, an animal
worth his weight in gold, for a miserable five-pound note! She gave the
old man a final shake, imaginatively intended for Mr. Skindle. “Where’s
the money?” she cried, letting him go.

He recovered himself somewhat. “That’s _my_ money,” he said sullenly.

“But where have you put it?”

Cunning and obstinacy mingled in his eye. “Oi’ve put it safe agin all
they thieves!”

“I don’t believe you’ve got any money!” she said, matching cunning by
cunning. “You just let Mr. Skindle rob you.”

“Noa, Oi dedn’t. Oi got more than Methusalem was worth.”

“Really? More than a sovereign?”

“A suvran!” He cackled with a crafty air. “More than double that!”

“More than two sovereigns?” said Jinny in tones of ingenuous admiration.

“More than double that!”

“More than four sovereigns?” Enthusiasm shone in her eyes through the
dusk.

He hurried towards the stairs.

“You’re not going to bed?” she called with mock anxiety. “You haven’t
had supper!”

“We’ll have plenty o’ supper now. He, he!” His gleeful cackle descended
from the winding staircase. Before he returned, chuckling still, she had
lit the lamp and put out some cold rabbit-pie and a jug of beer on the
tiger-painted tray.

“A foiver!” he cried, waving it.

She snatched at the note and tore it in two and let the pieces flutter
away.

“Help! Thieves! She’s robbed me,” screamed the Gaffer. He scrambled on
his knees after the fragments.

“Hush! How dare you sell Methusalem?” He cowered again before her
passion.

“That was eating us out of house and home!” he whimpered.

“Get up! There’s your supper.”

He rose like a scolded child, clutching the scraps of thin paper. She
put on her bonnet.

“Where ye gooin’?”

“To Mr. Skindle, of course.”

“Too late for that!”

“No, it isn’t.”

“But ye won’t git Methusalem back.”

“Oh, won’t I, though!”

“But ye’ve tore up his foiver!”

“I don’t care.” But alarmed at heart over her insane deed, she took the
pieces from his unresisting hand and put them in her purse. “Don’t bolt
me out or I’ll break the window.”

“But listen, dearie, Mr. Skindle won’t be there—the place’ll be shut
up!”

“All the better. I’ll break it in.”

“But what’s the good o’ that? Poor old Methusalem’s out o’ his misery by
now!”

Her heart stood still. “What do you mean?” She was white and shaking.

“’Lijah kills at seven,” he said, “afore his supper.”

“Oh, my God!” she gasped, the completeness of the tragedy impinging on
her for the first time. “You sold him to be killed! No, no!” she cried,
recovering. “He wouldn’t give five pounds just for a carcase!”

“Then ef that ain’t killed yet,” said the Gaffer, “that won’t be till
to-morrow night.”

A sensible remark for once, Jinny thought, subsiding almost happily into
a chair. It had been silly even to contemplate setting out afresh after
all the day’s journeyings. In this weather the doomed horses would be
shut up in Mr. Skindle’s field,—she recalled their joyous
gambollings—the first thing in the morning she would set out to the
rescue. And yet what if her grandfather should be wrong, what if Mr.
Skindle killed before breakfast! No, delay might be fatal, and she
started up afresh and, unlocking the stable-door, brought in her
lantern.

“Ye’re not gooin’ to Mr. Skindle at this time o’ day?” protested the
Gaffer from his soothing tray.

“I must.” She lit the candle in the lantern.

“Well, give my love to his mother!” She thought it sarcasm and went off
even more embittered against him.

She had not gone far before she met the returning reveller. Nip’s ears
were abased and his eyes edge-long, but in an instant, aware she was
glad of his company, he welcomed her roysterously to it. But the
blackness that now began to fall upon the pair was not wholly of the
night. Great livid thunder-clouds were sagging over them, and of a
sudden the whole landscape was lit up with blue blazings and shaken with
terrific thunder. And then came the rain—the long-prayed-for rain, with
its rich rejoicing gurgle. Providence, importuned on all sides, now
asserted itself in a pour that was like solid sheets of water, and the
parched soil seemed swilled in a few seconds. To plough along was not
only difficult but foolhardy. Heaven had clearly thrown cold water on
the project. She crept almost shame-facedly back to her still guzzling
grandfather.

“Got a wettin’,” he chuckled. “Sarve ye right to be sow obstropolus. And
sarve _you_ right too!” he added, launching a kick towards the shivering
and dripping animal. Nip, though untouched, uttered a dreadful howl, and
grovelled on his back.

“Do you want to kill them both?” cried Jinny. She was now sure that
Methusalem was beyond reprieve—the point of Mr. Skindle’s strategy in
purchasing him, so as to leave her no sphere but matrimony, was
penetrating to her mind, and, by the side of such “a dirty bit,” Will’s
frank and blusterous methods began to appear magnanimity itself. To have
found out, too, probably from Bundock, that she would be away at the
wedding! The sly skunk!


                                  XIV

For a full hour after Nip and her grandfather slept the sleep of the
innocent in their beds, she sat up watching the storm, with no surprise
at this unrest of the elements. No less a cataclysm was adequate to the
passing of Methusalem. This sympathy of Nature indeed relieved her, some
of her stoniness melted, and her face—as if in reciprocation—became as
deluged as the face of the earth-mother. All the long years with
Methusalem passed before her vision, ever since that first meeting of
theirs outside the Watch Vessel: their common adventures in sunshine and
snow, in mud and rain, her whip only an extra tail for him to whisk off
his flies withal: ah, the long martyrdom from those flies, especially
the nose-fly that spoilt the glory of July. She heard again that queer
tick-tack of his hoofs, his whinnying, his coughing, saw the spasmodic
shudder of his shoulder-joints, the peculiar gulp with which he took his
drench. How often they had gone together to have a nail fixed, or his
shoes roughed for the winter! What silly alarms he had felt, when she
had had to soothe him like a mother, coax him to pass something, and on
the other hand what a skill beyond hers in going unguided through the
moonless, swift-fallen winter night! How happily he had nibbled at the
beans in his corner-crib or the oats in his manger, what time he was
brushed and combed—would that beloved mane get into rats’-tails no
more? Was she never again to feel that soft nose against her cheek in a
love passing the love of man? Could all this cheery laborious vitality
have ended, be one with the dust she had so often brushed from his
fetlocks? That joy which had set him frisking like an uncouth kitten
when he was released from the shafts, was it not to be his now that he
was freed for ever? Was he to be nothing but a carcase? Nay—horror upon
horror—would he survive only as glove-or boot-buttons, as that wretch
of a Skindle calculated? Would that triumphant tail wave only at human
funerals, his own last rites unpaid? A remembrance of her glimpse at the
charnel-house made her almost sick. Fed to the foxhounds perhaps! Could
such things be in a God-governed world?

And her cart too would go—of the old life there would be nothing left
any more. She could see the bill pasted up on the barn-doors: “Carrier’s
Cart on Springs, with Set of Harness, Cart Gear, Back Bands, Belly
Bands——” But what nonsense! Who would advertise such a ramshackle
ruin? “A Shabby, Cracked Canvas Tilt, Patched with Sacking”—fancy that
on a poster! No, like its horse, it would be adjudged fit only to be
broken up. Perhaps somebody wearing Methusalem on his shoes would sit on
the bar of a stile made of its axle-tree.

She woke from her reverie and to the wetness of her face, streaming with
bitter-sweet tears. The moon rode almost full, and in the pale blue
spread of sky sparse stars shone, one or two twinkling. She opened the
door and went out into the night. What delicious wafts of smells after
the long mugginess of the day! The elms and poplars rose in mystic lines
bordering the great bare spaces. Surely the death of Methusalem had been
but a nightmare—if she went to the stable, there would he be as usual,
snug and safe in his straw. She sped thither, over the sodden grass,
with absolute conviction. Alas, the same endless emptiness yawned, the
manger looked strange and tragic in the moonlight. She thought of a
divine infant once lying in one, wrapped in his swaddling-clothes, and
then looking up skywards she saw a figure hovering. Yes, it was—it was
the Angel-Mother, so beautiful in the azure light. At the sight all her
anguish was dissolved in sweetness. “Mother! Mother!” she cried,
stretching up her arms to the vision. “Comfort thee, my child!” came the
dulcet tones. “Methusalem is not dead, but sleeping!”

At the glad news Jinny burst into tears, and, in the mist they made, her
mother faded away. But she walked in soft happiness back to the house,
and said her prayers of gratitude and went believingly to bed and slept
as when she was a babe.

So long did she sleep that when she woke, the old man was standing over
her again, just as the morning before, save that now he was in his
everyday earth-coloured smock and wore a frown instead of a
wedding-look, and the sunshine was streaming into the room.

“Where’s my breakfus, Jinny?” he said grumpily.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, yawning and rubbing her eyes. “I must have
overslept myself.” And then she remembered Mr. Pennymole’s story, and a
smile came over her face.

“There’s nawthen to laugh at,” he said savagely. “Ef ye goo out at
bull’s noon, ye’re bound to forgit my breakfus. And that eatin’ his head
off too! Ye know there’s no work for him. Ye dedn’t want to bring him
back.”

“Back?” she almost screamed. “Is Methusalem back?”

“As ef ye dedn’t know!” he said, disgusted.

Disregarding him and everything else, she sprang out of bed, rolling the
blanket round her, and with bare feet she sped to the stable. But she
had hardly got outside before the jet of hope had sunk back. It was but
another of her grandfather’s delusions.

But no! O incredible, miraculous, enchanting spectacle! There he was,
the dear old beast, not dead but sleeping, exactly as the Angel-Mother
had said, not a hair of his mane injured, not an inch of his tail less,
and never did two Polynesian lovers rub noses half so passionately as
this happy pair.

Jinny would have rubbed his nose still more adoringly had she known—as
she knew later—the rôle it had played in his salvation. The threatening
thunder-clouds had made Mr. Skindle put off his slaughtering till the
morning, so that he himself might get home before the storm broke. The
doomed horses he left shut in his field—who cared whether _they_ got
wet? But as soon as the coast was clear of Skindle and his
latest-lingering myrmidons, Methusalem had simply lifted the latch of
the gate with his nose and gone home. Mr. Skindle, oblivious of this
accomplishment of his, though he had seen it practised on his
never-forgotten journey with Jinny, had imagined him conclusively
corralled. Mr. Charles Mott, returning with some boon companions from a
distant hostelry where the draughts were more generous than he was
allowed at “The Black Sheep,” was among the few who saw the noble animal
hurrying homewards, and he told Jinny the next Tuesday that she ought to
enter Methusalem for the Colchester Stakes. His unusual rate of motion
was also reported by Miss Gentry, who, lying awake with a headache after
the excitement of the day, had heard him snort past her window just when
the storm was ebbing. He must have sagely sheltered while it raged and
have arrived at Blackwater Hall soon after Jinny had beheld her vision.

But as yet Jinny attributed the miracle to her Angel-Mother. And what a
happy Sunday morning was that, with the church bells all clearly ringing
“Come and thank God and her!” She did not fail to obey them, though not
without a sharp turn in that padlock, and with the little key safe in
her bosom. And having happily ascertained from Mother Gander that the
five-pound note was valid in pieces, she dropped them into Mr. Skindle’s
letter-box together with remarks that drew heavily on her
Spelling-Book’s “Noun Adjectives of Four Syllables.” _Cadaverous_
(Belonging to a Carcase); _Execrable_ (Hateful, Accursed); _Sophistical_
(Captious, Deceitful); _Sulphureous_ (Full of Brimstone); and
_Vindictive_ (Belonging to an Apology) were among her proudest
specimens. They were not calculated to encourage Mr. Skindle’s
matrimonial hopes.



                               CHAPTER XI


                             WINTER’S TALE

        _Thou barrein ground, whome winters wrath hath wasted,_
        _Art made a myrrhour to behold my plight._
                            SPENSER, “The Shepheards Calendar.”


                                   I

PITTER-PATTER was the dominant note of the rest of the year. The prayer
for rain had been only too successful, and the blackbirds whistled their
thanksgiving over their worms. But humanity grumbled with its wonted
ingratitude. There were warm and windy days, and cold and sparkling
days, but the roads never quite dried up. The short cuts to Frog Farm
became impassable for Bundock; in the coursing season the long-grassed
marshlands clove to the spectators’ gaiters, and when the beagles were
out, Jinny had the satisfaction of seeing Farmer Gale and breathless
bumpkins floundering over sodden stubble-fields or ankle-deep in mud,
what time baffled whippers-in piped plaintively, or jetted husky cries
at their scattered pack. Glad as she was to eat of the leporine family,
she detested sport for sport’s sake, even the fox-hunting, though her
poultry-run had just been raided and a dog-fox had snarled fearlessly at
Nip from the ditch. Once, when the hare, crossing her cart with the dogs
at his very heels, cleared the broad ditch with a magnificent leap,
Jinny clapped her hands as though at a Flippance melodrama.

Sport for life’s sake was another affair, and she looked back
regretfully to the good old times described by her grandfather, when the
farmer, having finished his day’s work, would go out rabbit-shooting to
preserve his crop, or when the fox could be shot, snared, or even
hooked, as a dangerous animal. Now, when poor old Uncle Lilliwhyte had
found Jinny’s vulpine enemy dead in one of his gins, caught by a claw,
that rising vet., Mr. Skindle, was called in to make a post-mortem
examination, and it was only because he certified that the sacred animal
had died of starvation, and not been poisoned, that the old woodman
escaped the worst rigours of the unwritten law. As it was, his crime in
setting the trap at all on land not his own, and his failing—through a
new attack of rheumatism—to examine it before the fox died, almost
resulted in his being officially driven from his derelict hut into the
Chipstone poorhouse; a fate he only escaped by passionate asseverations
that he had always been and till death would continue “upright,” by
which he meant “independent.”

That was in one sense more than Jinny could call herself, for her store
of barley or rye for her breadmaking was dangerously low, and she had
come to depend a good deal on the food brought by this queer raven at
prices more corresponding to his gratitude than to market value. She
still peddled her goats’ milk for a trifle among her neighbours, the
abundant blackberries gave her fruit (though she could not afford the
sugar for jam), she had gathered nuts as industriously as a squirrel,
she ensured jelly for her grandfather by making it out of her own
apples, while by exchanging the bad apples with a neighbour who kept
pigs, she got Methusalem some “green fodder” in the shape of tares. But
it was an unceasing strain to keep things going in the old style, and
Uncle Lilliwhyte’s spoils were more than welcome, for his activities
varied from codling-fishing to eel-spearing, and from fowling on the
saltings to collecting glass-wort for pickling. His rabbits and hares
came with suspiciously injured legs, and Jinny seeing the bloody-blobbed
eyes could only hope they had not been long in his wire loops. As she
felt the long, warm, beautiful bodies, she had to tell herself how
pernicious they were to the root-crops or the young apple-trees.

More legitimate spoils arrived when the old man was well enough to crawl
to the nearest salt-marsh with his ancient fowling-piece, for, when the
ebb bared the mud, countless sea-birds came to feed, and more than once
a brace of mallards offered Jinny a vivid image of her inferiority to
the rival carrier, so gorgeously shimmering was the male’s head, so drab
the female’s. For while the driver of the Flynt Flyer had been
blossoming out in the frock-coat he had first sported for the Flippance
wedding, Jinny had been refraining even from her furbished-up gown,
reserving it mentally for a last resource and feeling herself lucky that
it was still unpawned. But one day when the vehicles met—for despite
the heaviness of the going Jinny foolishly and extravagantly continued
to plod her miry rounds—she caught Will looking down so compassionately
at her spotting shoes that she straightway resolved to buy another pair
at any sacrifice. Savage satisfaction at her defeat she could have
borne, but this pity she would not brook. Better sell the goats,
especially as Gran’fer would need a new flannel shirt for the winter.
The animals were not very lucrative, and one out of the three would
suffice to supply milk for herself and—by its bleat—her grandfather’s
sense of stability. But she had reckoned insufficiently with this last:
he admitted he had no great stomach for her goats’ cheese, and felt a
middling need for flannel, but he clung to his nannies as though without
them his world would fall to pieces. That her shoes were doing so, he
did not remark.

In the end—though she shrank from the three golden balls on her own
behalf—there was nothing for it but to pledge her wedding-frock under
pretence it was a customer’s. But in her dread lest the pawnbroker
should recognize the dress, the sharpness which extracted the utmost
from him for her distressed clients was replaced by a diffident
acceptance of barely enough for the shoes.

This discussion about her live stock, however, gave her an idea. She
carted part of her poultry to and fro in a crate, and their clucking and
fluttering gave an air of liveliness to the business and made even Will
Flynt believe it had woke up again, especially as he saw the smart new
shoes on the little feet, supplemented presently by a new winter bonnet,
which, despite his experience with his own mother’s bonnet, he did not
divine was merely an old one, whitened and remodelled by Miss Gentry.

Thus the equinoctial season found the little Carrier still upon her
seat, defiant of competition and radiating prosperity from the crown of
her bonnet to the sole of her shoe. Even the plainness of her skirt and
shawl seemed only an adaptation to the weather. But she would have been
better off by her log fire, making the local variety of Limerick lace
with which she was on other days trying to eke out her infrequent
sixpences. Though the rain abated towards the end of October, halcyon
days and even hours alternated with hours and days of turbulent winds
and hailstorms, and the sky would change in almost an instant from a
keen blue, with every perspective standing out clear and sun-washed, to
a lowering roof of clouds spitting hailstones, and a gentle wind would
be succeeded by half a gale that stripped their flames from the poplars
and sent the reddened beech-leaves whirling fantastically. In November
these blasts grew more biting, Nip cowered in his basket within the
cart, and the calves in the fields sheltered themselves behind the
blown-down trunks of elms. Shivering, Jinny reminded herself that the
real object of her rounds was the bi-weekly gorge at Mother Gander’s.

They were indeed more generous than ever, these midday meals, so
relieved was Jinny’s hostess to find she had not really been baptized
into Mr. Fallow’s church. Mrs. Mott even had the Gaffer’s beer-barrel
replenished gratis. Not that she had any suspicion of the girl’s
straits. Though parcels were no longer left at the bar for Jinny, the
poor woman was too taken up with her own troubles to draw the deduction
from that. Beneath her imposing blue silk bodice beat a wounded heart,
and in Jinny’s society she found consolation for the lack of her
husband’s.

For a quarrel had begun between the Motts which was destined to shake
all Chipstone with its reverberations. Mr. Charles Mott had profanely
refused to be “Peculiar” any longer. The endeavour to draw him to the
Wednesday services had proved the last straw. To him religion and Sunday
were synonyms, and he had been willing to concede the day to boredom. He
was a sportsman and was ready to play fair. But his wife was not playing
fair, he considered, when she pretended that ratting, coursing, and
dicing remained reprehensible even on weekdays. Expostulatory elders had
vainly pointed out to him that it was only the Churchman who made so
much of Sunday and so little of every other day, and Deacon Mawhood had
been compelled to order several goes of rum at “The Black Sheep” to find
opportunities of explaining to its landlord that his cravat-pin and
plethora of rings were an offence. Let him note how his admirable wife
had given up her gold chain. “Well, I don’t want no chain,” Charley had
retorted, and his cronies still acclaimed the repartee. He had, in fact,
broken his chain and would not even go to the Sunday chapel.

“You and me have both got our cross to bear,” Deacon Mawhood sighed
sympathetically to the distraught lady. “There’s saints among us as
won’t even keep a cat or a bird because the thought of them may come
’twixt the soul and chapel. Oi sometimes suspicion it’s a failing in
roighteousness to keep a husband or a wife—partic’lar when they riots
on your hard-earned savings.”

The grievances which the poor hostess of “The Black Sheep”—now become a
keeper of one—poured into Jinny’s ear, fully confirmed all the
Spelling-Book had told her of the wickedness of man—its preoccupation
with the male gender had left woman unimpugned. But it was more under
Mr. Mawhood’s encouragement than Jinny’s that this female pillar of the
chapel now sent the Bellman round Chipstone with his bell and his cocked
hat and his old French cry, to inform all and sundry that she would not
be responsible for her husband’s debts.

It was a procedure which scandalized Chipstone. Since the day when a
neighbouring village had set up its “cage” for drunken men in the pound,
with the other strayed beasts, no such blow had been dealt at the
dignity of man. But Charley and his crew met it with derisory laughter.
All Mrs. Mott’s property was his—or rather theirs: he could sell the
lease of “The Black Sheep” over her head, if she did not behave herself.
Nay, he could sell her very self at the market cross, the bolder
maintained, not without citing precedent. By many the Bellman was blamed
for compromising the dignity of his sex: by none so contemptuously as by
Bundock. For the Crier, not taking his own announcement seriously, had
embellished it with facetious gags that set the street roaring. “I
wouldn’t say if they were funny,” complained Bundock. “Anybody can play
on the word ‘Peculiar,’ and certainly peculiar it is to put your husband
in the stocks, so to speak. I don’t deny Charley’s legs sometimes need
that support. But what can you expect if you marry your pot-boy? You
must take pot-luck. He, he, he!”

To which the bulk of Chipstone Christendom added that however prodigal
the ex-potman, he did not waste so much money as his wife lavished on
that ridiculous sect of hers. A hundred pounds for the bishop at his
jubilee birthday, it was said with bated breath—“a noice fortune!”
Really, Charley was only too long-suffering not to take his property,
including his wife, more strictly in hand, and when it was learnt that
lawyers’ letters were actually passing between the bedrooms of the
parties there was general satisfaction. In short, public opinion was as
outraged by Mrs. Mott’s treatment of her husband as by her original
acquisition of him. The only difference was that Mr. Mott was now a
martyr.

The insult to the male sex was especially resented by the tradesmen to
whom the martyr stood so profitably indebted, and under their incitement
a new ban might have been put on “The Black Sheep” but for the
reluctance of Will Flynt, who, though second to none in reprobation,
refused to shift the headquarters of his coach to the rival
establishment. That would only be hurting Charley’s business, he pointed
out, and indirectly themselves. The economic aspects of revenge had not
occurred to these muddle-heads, and they were grateful to the
coach-driver for the reminder. They did not know that his true motive
for sticking to “The Black Sheep” was that Jinny was to be encountered
in its courtyard on Tuesdays and Fridays. Nor was Jinny herself aware
how profusely she was repaying Mrs. Mott for her meals.

As if this scandal among the “Peculiars” was not enough, Deacon Mawhood
himself came into ill odour more literally. For in carrying out his
agreement to clear the Gentry cottage of rats, he had committed the
crime of which Uncle Lilliwhyte had been acquitted: he had operated by
poison, to wit, and the stench of the dead vermin in their holes nearly
crazed the excellent dressmaker, already sufficiently distracted by the
silence of her bosom friend, Mrs. Flippance, swallowed up in Boulogne as
in a grave. Miss Gentry, like Mother Gander, now wept on Jinny’s
shoulder, though it had to be done outside the garden gate, and even
there the wafts caught one. If it had not been for the prediction that
she would be drowned, did she ever set foot on a boat, she would have
been in Boulogne weeks ago with her darling, but, like a ghost, she
could not cross water. Indeed she would already have been a ghost but
for her strong smelling-salts, her decoction of scabious against
infection, and the fumigation of the cottage. Jinny did not shrink from
bearding her spiritual superior in his bar and giving Mr. Joshua Mawhood
a taste of her tongue. If that was his notion of religion, he ought to
be cast out of his chapel, and she would let Mrs. Mott know of what a
hoggish “illusion” he had been guilty—(_Illusion_, Sham or Cheat—“The
Universal Spelling-Book”).

But the Deacon, standing on the letter of his bond, was impermeable to
reproach—nay, had a sense of righteousness, as having incidentally
punished a distributor of tracts no less offensive than his dead rats.
Not even the remonstrances of Mr. Fallow, who had arranged the
compromise over Mrs. Mawhood’s dress, could bring the Deacon to a sense
of sin, still less of compensation. “Her rats were eating the pears like
hollamy,” he said, “and Oi’ve cleared cottage and orchard of ’em.” Mr.
Fallow was so interested to know what “hollamy” was, that he went away
with a diminished sense of failure. But neither dictionaries nor
octogenarians could throw any light on its etymology. The most plausible
conjecture he could reach was that it must be “hogmanay,” gifts made at
the year’s end.


                                   II

But if the Peculiar Faith was thus involved in scandal, Churchmanship
did not fail to provide its quota of gossip to the months that ended a
fateful year. It was not only that Miss Blanche of Foxearth Farm had
collected the scalp of yet another suitor (and one who, as Bundock’s own
eyes had witnessed at the Flippance wedding-feast, had been wantonly
encouraged); it was that the minx, whose brother Barnaby went about in
October saying Will Flynt was not good enough for her, became openly
engaged in November to that obviously inferior specimen, Mr. Elijah
Skindle. And old Giles Purley, tired of vagaries so incongruous in a
churchwarden’s family, was, said Bundock’s father, imperiously hurrying
on the match.

Although it was the postman who was the reference on the liberties
permitted to Will at the wedding breakfast, it was his bedridden parent
who became the leading authority on the new Blanche engagement. That was
because Barnaby, disappointed of the wider life of the Tony Flip
theatre, with no winter prospect but that of chopping down undergrowth
and laying it out in long rows for hoops and hurdles, and receiving no
consolation from Jinny when their vehicles passed, had discovered in the
postman’s youngest sister a being even more beauteous, and, when he had
to take the trap into Chipstone, never failed in devoted attendance on
the sick-bed. It was thus that all the world knew that the Flippances
had not written once from Boulogne, not even to send on the promised
cheque for the wedding-breakfast.

But even Bundock’s father had not the true history of the engagement,
constructing as he did from Barnaby’s chatter a facile version of a
“better match”: how dear ’Lijah was coining money far quicker than Will
with his petty fares and commissions, and fast ousting Jorrow, and with
what elegant furniture he was fitting up the bridal bedchamber. Barnaby
himself did not know that with the gradual vanishing of his sister’s
theatrical and operatic hopes, Blanche, immeasurably more embittered and
disillusioned than himself, had sought in vain to win back Will, and had
thrown herself first strategically and then despairingly into the arms
of Elijah, who, summoned professionally to the Farm, had found
unhoped-for consolation for his lost Jinny. Tongues would have wagged
still more joyously had it been known that Will for his part was trying
to win back Jinny, who in her turn was as adamantine to him as he to
Blanche. The two Carriers met not seldom on the miry, yellow-carpeted
roads awhirl with flying leaves, or in the rainy courtyard of “The Black
Sheep,” and for each the scene at once shifted to a sunny tangled
fairyland where the wood-pigeon purred, and oak, elm, beech, and silver
birch in ample leaf rose in a crescent, with crisp beech-nuts underfoot,
and baby bracken. But not even Nip could effect any visible
communication. Much more gracious was Jinny to Barnaby, as soon as she
was relieved of his “passing” adoration.

The weather improved for a space in mid-November. There was a bite in
the air and the sheep-bells tinkled keenly from the pastures. The
morning hoar-frosts held till noon. A great red ball of sun and a pale
yellow crescent moon would shine together in the heavens, early sunsets
seen through bare branches seemed to fill them with a golden fruitage
that changed slowly to lemon, and the haystacks rose magically through
enchanted hazes. But the cold only made Jinny hungrier and the
earth-beauty sadder. It was as if she had already forgotten the blessing
of Methusalem’s return, and as if carrying was not after all the heart’s
deepest dream—especially with nothing to carry.

It was a relief to be blocked occasionally by Master Peartree’s sheep,
billowing along like a yellow Nile, and to exchange conversation with
the shepherd, now at the most leisured moment of his year. Patiently she
would hear how the sheep got ravenous in the high cold winds, why he was
driving them out of yon danger-zone of rape and turnip, and how the only
real anxiety between now and Christmas was that one might fall on its
back, or the hunt frighten the ewes: for soon somehow he would be
speaking of his next-wall neighbours in Frog Farm, and somehow the
family would always narrow to Will. “A grumpy, runty lad,” he described
him once. “Sometimes he goos about full o’ mum: other times you can yer
him through the wall grizzlin’ and growlin’ like my ould dog, time my
poor missus had her fust baiby. He’d ha’ torn the child to pieces,” he
went on, diverging into an exposition of how sheep-dogs had to be
trained to prepare for babies. But she cut it as short as she dared,
inquiring, “But who’d he be jealous of?” “The baiby—Oi’m explainin’ to
you!” he said. “No, I mean, who’s young Mr. Flynt jealous of?” she
asked, wondering how Will could know that she had been shedding such
gracious smiles on Barnaby. And when the shepherd replied “’Lijah
Skindle, in course,” she winced perceptibly. But though the sting of the
reply rankled, she was not so sure as the rest of the world that it was
true.


                                  III

The abundance of black sloes, they said, foretold a hard winter, and as
the winter approached, Jinny’s outlook grew darker. Even to keep a roof
over their heads was not easy with the thatch everywhere holed by
starlings. Driblets came through the old man’s bedroom ceiling and were
caught in a pail. And as for the walls, Daniel Quarles cursed the
builder who had put in such bad mortar that “big birds came and picked
the grit out o’ the lime.” The rain drove even through the closed
lattices. To keep the living-room dry, he had made Jinny purchase putty,
of which he daubed no less than three pounds over the rotting woodwork
of the window. A stumpy piece of log he also nailed to the bottom of the
window to block up the crevices, though he could do nothing with the top
of the kitchen door through the little vine that grew over it, and which
in some years yielded several pounds of small white grapes.

And if it was high time that her Hall should be patched up, Jinny often
thought with commiseration of poor Uncle Lilliwhyte in his leaky hut
throughout all these rains. Even from a selfish point of view, his
health was a consideration. If he broke up, a main source of supply
would disappear, and any day he might be at least temporarily paralysed
by his rheumatism, and need provender instead of supplying it. A frail
reed indeed to rely on, and Jinny began to wonder if she had been wise
in training Nip so carefully _not_ to hunt rabbits. With food and
shelter thus alike insecure, Jinny, remembering the formula of her sect,
resolved to “ask in faith.” Perhaps too conscious a resolution impaired
the faith—at any rate Providence, even with an accessory at court in
the shape of the Angel-Mother, proved stony, and the Angel-Mother
herself appeared limited in her powers, however limitless her sympathy.
She could not even make folks demand tambour lace. Jinny began to wonder
if no terrestrial powers remained to be invoked in the old man’s behalf.
What had become of all the children, whose names were recorded in the
fly-leaf of his hereditary Bible, and only some of whom had their deaths
chronicled? Cautiously she probed and pried into corners she had never
dared approach before, instinctively feeling them full of cobwebs and
grime. And her instinct was justified—each child had been more
“obstropolus” than the others. One of the daughters was always “a
slammacks” and had married beneath her, another—a beauty even fairer
than Jinny’s mother—had, on the contrary, caught a London linen-draper
on his holidays and looked down on her father, who would starve rather
than eat a bit of her bread. One boy had “’listed,” another been
beguiled into the Navy by that “dirty little Dap,” a third—a lanky
youth nicknamed “Ladders”—had gone to London to see the coronation of
King William, and had disappeared, while his devil-may-care younger
brother had shot a rabbit at night and been transported to “Wan Demon’s
Land,” a name that made Jinny shudder. This last was the only son of
whose present locality he was even vaguely aware, though, oddly enough,
the sailor son had once sent him word that, landing with a boat’s crew
upon an island called “Wan Couver,” he had come upon “Ladders” in the
service of the Hudson Bay Company, living in a stockaded fort called
after the Queen, and surrounded by naked, painted Indians. But as none
of these children were ever to dare cross their father’s doorstep again,
there did not seem much help to be looked for from any quarter of the
globe that might contain them. And Jinny was sorry she had not left the
cobwebbed corners in their original mystery, for as the stories
multiplied, the old man began to loom as a sort of sinister raven that
drives out its own offspring, though gradually she came to see behind
all the stories the same tale of a cast-iron religion against which the
young generation broke itself. Or was it only a cast-iron obstinacy, she
asked herself, after working out that the first at least of these family
jars must have occurred before her grandfather’s oft-narrated encounter
with John Wesley.

It was with a new astonishment that she learnt he had been careful to
make his will, lest Blackwater Hall should fall into the hands of his
youngest surviving rascal. “And who’ve you left it to?” she inquired
innocently.

“Why, who has the nat’ral right to it? Sidrach, in course, as ought to
has had it ’stead o’ me, he bein’ the eldest. He’s been cut out o’ the
wote, too, what goos with the property and what’s worth pounds and
pounds.”

He was so convinced of the righteousness of this will, and appeared so
genuinely fond of his brother, that Jinny was afraid to suggest the
strong probability of Sidrach predeceasing him. Indeed Sidrach began now
to play a larger and larger part in his thoughts, his mind reverted to
the early days of the “owler,” and gradually the prosperity of those
days shone again over the patriarch in “Babylon.” Sidrach now loomed as
a star of hope, and Daniel spoke constantly of paying his long-projected
visit to him at Chelmsford, designing apparently to drive the cart
himself, and to inform his brother of the magnanimous bequest that was
coming to him—a legacy that would suggest to Sidrach corresponding
magnanimity in the living present. Afraid the Gaffer would actually set
forth on this dangerous and visionary quest, Jinny did her best to
discredit the notion of Sidrach’s opulence, and quoted “Rolling stones
gather no moss,” but the Gaffer argued tenaciously that if his eldest
brother had not been comfortably off, he would have come to seek the
shelter of their roof-tree, or at least applied for their assistance, as
he must be getting old, or at least (he modified it) too old to work.
Jinny offered to write to Sidrach to inquire, but her grandfather could
not find the ten-year-old letter inviting the visit. No, he would go
over and find Sidrach instead, and Jinny was reduced to pointing out
from day to day how unfavourable the weather was for the excursion. As
the days grew shorter and shorter, the project, finding no opposition to
nourish it, seemed to subside. Jinny was almost conscience-stricken when
one Sunday after church Mr. Fallow showed her a paragraph in the
_Chelmsford Chronicle_, stating that “another link with the past” had
been broken by the death “last Monday from a fall downstairs” in the
Chelmsford poorhouse of a centenarian named Sidrach Quarles, who claimed
to be a hundred and five, and who was certainly well over the hundred,
his recollections, which were a source of entertainment to all visitors,
going back to the days when England was still ruled by a “furriner,”
meaning thereby George II.

The shock Jinny received at this was more of life than of death. It made
her realize she had never quite believed in Sidrach’s existence, and
this sense of his substantiality almost swamped the minor fact of his
decease. She saw no reason why he should not remain substantial. Now
that she had perhaps been guilty of baulking her grandfather’s last
chance of seeing his beloved brother, she did not feel equal to robbing
him of his last hope of assistance. He might even agitate himself over
making a fresh will, and it was far better to let Providence or the
lawyer folk decide on his heir. No doubt when the dread necessity arose,
the youngest son would be raked up from somewhere. But that dark moment
still seemed far. The longer her grandfather lived, the more she had got
used to the idea of his never dying. True, Sidrach had died, though his
habit of living had been even more ingrained, but they did not take
proper care of you in a workhouse, and besides he had died of an
accident. She would keep Daniel from that fate, even as she would keep
him from the poorhouse.

As she sat at his side by the fire that Sunday night, knitting him a
muffler, her thoughts were playing so pitifully over poor old Sidrach in
his bleak pauper’s grave, that she was not at all surprised when her
grandfather announced with sudden decision that he would go to see
Sidrach the very next day. With a chill at her heart as though a dead
hand had been placed on it, she told him gently that it was nonsense and
that he must wait now till the spring.

But he shook his head obstinately. “Don’t seem as ef Oi’ll last out till
the spring.”

She laughed forcedly. “What an idea!”

“Not unless there’s an election and Oi can buy grub with my wote-money,”
he explained. “And Oi ain’t heerd as Parlyment is considerin’ the likes
of us.”

“You’ve always had plenty to eat!” she protested, colouring up.

“That ain’t enough in the larder when Oi looks, ne yet for Methusalem in
the barn. Ye’ve got to have a store like the beer in my barrel. Where’s
my flitch? Where’s my cheeses? Same as we’re snowbound, like the year
Sidrach went away, where would Oi get my Chris’mus dinner? ’Tis a
middlin’ long way to Babylon, but Oi’ll start with the daylight and be
back between the lights, and ef Oi’m longer, why the moon’s arly. Oi’ll
be proper pleased to see dear Sidrach again—he larnt me my letters and
Oi’ll bring him back to live with us, now he’s gittin’ oldish. It ain’t
good for a man to live alone, says the Book, and that’ll be good for us
too, he bein’ as full o’ suvrans as a dog of fleas.”

“Nip isn’t full of fleas,” she said with mock anger, hoping to make a
diversion. “Why, you scrub him yourself!”

But he went on, unheeding. “Daniel Quarles has allus been upright, and
he’d sooner die than goo to his darter or the poorhouse.”

She thought miserably that the poorhouse was where he would have to go
to find any traces of his beloved Sidrach, and she set herself by every
device of logic or cajolery to discourage this revived dream of the
journey. He might not even find Sidrach in such a big city, she now
hinted, but he laughed at that. Everybody knew Sidrach, “a bonkka,
hansum chap with a mosey face and a woice like the bull of Bashan and as
strong too. Wery short work he’d ha’ made of Master Will. Carry him in,
indeed! Carried him out—and with one hand—that’s what Sidrach would
ha’ done! Why, he’s tall enough to light the street-lamps in
Che’msford!”

These street-lamps, Jinny gathered, still figured in his mind as of oil,
and she was able by dexterous draughts on his reminiscences to put off
the evil day of his expedition. But whenever there was visible dearth at
table, the thought of his rich brother, flared up again.

Could Blackwater Hall perhaps be sold, she thought desperately, and the
money spent on his declining years. The thought was stimulated by a
meeting of the Homage Court which came from railhead in the “Flynt
Flyer,” and before which Miss Gentry’s landlady as a copyholder had to
do “suit and service” in the Moot Hall to the Lords of the Manor.

But Jinny ascertained that Beacon Chimneys, a ramshackle place with much
land, had been bought up recently by Farmer Gale for his new bride at
fifty shillings an acre, farm and buildings thrown in; a rate at which
Blackwater Hall would not even yield the forty shillings supposed to be
its annual value as a voting concern—whereas the Gaffer’s view,
cautiously extracted, ran: “Ef you spread suvrans all over my land, each
touchin’ the tother, you pick up your pieces and Oi keep my land.”
Moreover, Mr. Fallow, to whom she had broached the idea, reminded her
feelingly that old people could not be moved. He was keenly interested,
however, to learn that the tenure was an example of Borough English and
hunted up the local Roll of Customs (7th Edward IV) proclaiming that
“Time out of the Mind of Man” the “ould auncient Custom of the Bourow”
had been for the heritage to go to the “youngest Sonne of the first
wife.”

At heart Jinny was glad the idea of selling the Hall was impracticable:
for what would have become of Methusalem and the business of “Daniel
Quarles, Carrier”? To surrender before the “Flynt Flyer” would have been
a bitter pill indeed.


                                   IV

When all but the last swallows had departed, and Christmas began to loom
in the offing, the Sidrach obsession resurged, and there being a spell
of bright, clear weather, the only way she could devise to stave off the
expedition was to pretend to undertake it herself. This was the more
necessary as she was not certain the scheme did not cover a crafty
design to drive Methusalem back to the knacker’s for the five pounds.
She would start very early and go, not to Chelmsford, but to “Brandy
Hole Creek.” Instead of waiting her Christmas letter to Commander Dap,
she would visit him personally. He was, after all, a relative and would
not like to see his brother-in-law starve—of course she would accept
nothing for herself. Already she had intended to skirt the subject at
Christmas, but to ask assistance openly was painful, while if one was
too reticent one might be misunderstood. In conversation one could feel
one’s way.

So on a misty morning of late November, when the peewits were calling
over the dark fields, she set out, the old man watching her off with a
lantern.

“And do ye bring back Sidrach,” he called after her, “sow we can all
live happy.”

For answer she blew her horn cheerily, feeling this was less a lie than
speech. She would come back with help of some sort—that was certain.
Whether she would confess that the help came from Commander Dap or would
attribute it to Sidrach, or whether it would be wiser to come back with
the discovery of Sidrach’s death, trusting to its staleness to blunt the
blow and to the news of Dap’s assistance to overcome it, or whether it
would be imprudent to mention Dap at all, not merely because it would be
hard to explain how she had met the Commander of the Watch Vessel at
Chelmsford, but because her grandfather in his inveterate venom against
Dap was capable of refusing his favours—on all these distracting
alternatives she hoped to make up her mind during the day. Here, too,
she would perhaps have to feel her way. But she now miserably realized
the wisdom of the Spelling-Book’s “writing-piece”: “Lying may be thought
convenient and profitable because not so soon discovered; but pray
remember, the Evil of it is perpetual: For it brings persons under
everlasting Jealousy and Suspicion; for they are not to be believed when
they speak the Truth, nor trusted, when perhaps they mean honestly.” She
meant honestly enough, God knew, but into what a tangle she was getting.
She consoled herself with the thought that anyhow there would be no
pretending that day in her business—to spare Methusalem on so long a
journey the empty boxes had been left at home.

Single drops oozed upon her as she started, but as the mist lifted,
though it revealed sodden, blackened pastures on both sides of her
route, the underlying betterness of the weather manifested itself, and
soon under an arching blue Methusalem was almost trotting over withering
bracken and fallen leaves in a world of browns and yellows, while an
abnormally friendly robin perching on the cart-shaft, and the
scarlet-berried bryony festooning the hedgerows, contributed with the
gleaming holly-berries to colour her darkling mood. There was a certain
refreshment, too, in going off by this new route, where she for her part
was as unknown. It was odd how the mere turning her back on the
Chipstone Road transformed everything. Even the path—though this was
not so pleasant for Methusalem—had at first an upward tendency, and her
mere passing evoked stares and comments. This surprised her in turn till
she remembered Will’s disapprobation. She did not realize that the
visible emptiness of the cart, with its implication that she was not
plying, only driving it to some male headquarters, mitigated the
sensation, and she congratulated herself there was no old client to
observe the absence of cargo. In the first few miles she met no soul she
knew except the taciturn lout who had once directed her to Master
Peartree’s shearing-shed, and who was now preparing a feeding-ground for
the flock, pulling out mangolds with a picker and hurling them over the
hurdled field from a broken-pronged fork. The sheep had to go to this
higher ground for fear of floods, he informed her in a burst of
communicativeness, and it wasn’t half as eatable.

Passing a row of thatched, black-tarred cottages at a moment when the
mothers were coming to the garden gates to speed their broods to school,
she offered lifts till her space was packed with little ones. The old
cart was now alive with youth and laughter, and the flocks of rooks from
the elms were out-chattered. The road lay between great fields flanked
by broad ditches, along which argosies of yellow leaves went sailing,
and there were shooters with dogs, happy duck-ponds, old towers and
steeples, black barns, gabled old houses with verge-boards over the
windows, quaint inn-signs and mossy-tiled